The Cooking Up History Sessions – 4: salmagundi and cheesecake

We’d been hoping for a sunny day for our latest Cooking Up History session. With a summery menu of salmagundi salad and lemon-scented cheesecake on the menu, we were all set for a picnic-style celebration. As it turned out, the British Summer caught us out. But no matter – despite the grey skies there was plenty of cheer in the Archives Centre kitchen as we welcomed back our volunteers to try out more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

‘Salamon Gondy’

Making up our first dish, the so-called ‘salamon gondy’, turned out to quite an entertaining experience. Our lengthy list of ingredients seemed fairly formidable, comprising fish, turkey, onions, beetroot, capers, gherkins, apple, boiled eggs and celery. The method was, by contrast, incredibly simple: chop and slice our ingredients into small pieces, then make up a basic vinaigrette as a dressing.

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Assembling our dish was the most technically challenging and exciting aspect of the recipe. We knew that colourful salads like this would have been carefully arranged to form eye-catching centrepieces for the Georgian dining table, and wanted to make sure that our version made a similarly striking impression.  We discussed how best to arrange our ingredients, and checked out a few examples of similar salads online – not least Revolutionary Pie’s impressive version. Inspired, we set about constructing our spectacular salad.

The finished 'salamon gundy'!

The finished ‘salamon gondy’!

We were all very pleased with the finished design, a brightly coloured array of ingredients positioned in rings around the central portion of turkey breast. Archives staff member Hilary joined us for the tasting. She, along with the rest of the team, found much to be enjoyed in this eclectic salad, and thought it would make a great centrepiece at a special dinner today. Christina added that she ‘wouldn’t be ashamed to have it on my own table’.

Some of us had been a bit nervous about trying the salad, as the prospect of turkey mixed with salty fish and sweet apple and beet was something of an unknown quantity. For some of us, the tastes were to be a completely new experience – Rachel, for one, had never tried herring before.

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

In the end we were all pleasantly surprised, and our enjoyment of the finished dish matched the fun we’d had creating it. With so many different flavours, at first every mouthful we ate was very different from the last. But as we continued to taste it, the flavours merged well, with the salty anchovies offsetting the sweetness of the apple, and the turkey acting as a nice, neutral counterbalance to the punchy onion.

Of course, our unknown ladies’ version of the salad may have tasted quite different had they opted for ingredients that had been preserved in other ways. We’d chosen fresh beetroot, and anchovies and herrings in oil. If the 18th century cooks had instead gone for fresh fish or pickled beetroot, the final effect could have been quite different. As with so many of the recipes in the Cookbook, the vague listing of ingredients leaves room for interpretation.

Would we make it again? It was certainly one of the healthier recipes we’d tried from the Cookbook. Rachel found the combination of flavours and textures was actually quite modern – the sort of thing you’d pay an arm and a leg for at a swanky London café.

The Georgians may have been less concerned with the healthy attributes of the dish, but they did pay considerable attention to making sure each meal comprised a balanced selection of dishes. What better counterpart to a stomach-filling roast than a fresh, light salad? And, as Judith pointed out, the salmagundi was another example of how the 18th century cook could concoct something spectacular out of economical, everyday ingredients.

Lemon Cheesecake

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter - plenty of muscle work required!

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter – plenty of muscle work required!

We prepared a lemon cheesecake for second course, mixing together almonds, lemon, eggs and a large amount of butter. The recipe offered us the choice of adding either orange blossom water or rose water to our recipe. Rachel suggested that orange would enhance the citrus tones of the lemon, and Kim recalled how rosewater was sometimes pretty overpowering when we’d used it in other dishes, so we plumped for orange blossom.

Our lemon cheesecake

Our lemon cheesecake

The finished cheesecake – so named because of its cheese-like-texture rather than any cheese in the recipe – delighted us all. Fresh out of the oven, it had an extremely pleasing appearance: a lovely golden brown with a firm consistency. The combination of citrus fruits was really delicious. Hilary enjoyed the subtle fragrance of our orange water with its ‘scented after-taste’ and Christina was so taken with it she said she’d bake the dish again at home.

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Previous dishes tried out by our Cooking Up History group, such as the almond puddings of our first session, had included so much butter that they’d been rather too rich for modern tastes. We’d feared something similar this time round, there being 220g to just 150g of almonds in the mix. But we needn’t have worried – the cheesecake wasn’t too rich at all.

Today we think of butter as a staple ingredient, and indeed it was too in the 18th century. But Rachel reminded us evidence that our Cookbook compilers churned their own butter. The effort that had gone into making their cheesecakes was therefore far more considerable than the 30 minutes it had taken to get our cakes in the oven. Food for thought…

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

If you’d like to give any of our recipes a go, check out our Cooking Up History pages!



To fatten chickens in 4 days

Today’s extract adds to the growing body of evidence the our unknown ladies of the Cookbook kept some of their own animals, perhaps on a small farm. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily had a purely rural existence: they well have lived within a short walk of the bustling markets of London. The 18th century city petered out into fields just a few blocks north of Oxford Street, and you didn’t need to go far west of where Westminster Archives stands today to find yourself in acre upon acre of common land and market gardens. Bowles’ map of 1775 shows St Ann’s Street right on the edge of London’s urban development.

Today’s recipe is the strongest indication yet that our unknown ladies kept chickens. And there’s nothing sentimental about our ladies’ attitude: these are no fluffy farmyard pets, but livestock being raised for their eggs and meat. Here we learn an 18th century method for fattening up chickens, presumably for the pot:

The first part of the recipe doesn't sound too bad...

The first part of the recipe doesn’t sound too bad…

...but the idea of 'cramming' the paste rolls down chickens' throats - or 'sticking them behind' - is less appealing

…but it soon becomes less appealing when we’re instructed to ‘cram’ the paste rolls down the chickens’ throats – or ‘stick them behind’.

To Fatten Chickens in 4 Days

Take a pint of wheat, a pint of flower and a qr of a pd of brown sugar. Wet it with warm new milk into a paste. Make them into small rolls & cram down thier throats. Ye last two days, Stick ym behind.

It doesn’t sound like much fun for the chickens. So if you’re thinking of keeping chickens, best refer to modern government guidelines rather than the hints and tips of our unknown ladies!

Picnicking through the past

We are delighted to welcome Maya Pieris as today’s guest author. As a founding member of Bridport’s History Girls group, she has plenty of experience in recreating historic recipes. She has even brought her love of historical cookery to her business Four Seasons Preserves, with a range of pickles inspired by recipes from the past.

In today’s article, Maya takes us through the evolution of the picnic, from adhoc snacks for workers in the fields to formal outdoor dining…

Al fresco dining in 1905.

Al fresco dining in 1905.

“If you go down to the woods today …….”

Mention the word picnic to me as a child and I was in instant heaven! From Chaucer’s garden picnic in the Franklin’s Tale to Jane Austen’s disastrous outing to Box Hill and Ratty’s deliciously overloaded wicker basket the picnic has long had an important place in the English heart and stomach. My catering group, The History Girls, was recently asked to create a Thomas Hardy themed picnic hamper and yes, there was apple cake, Blue Vinney cheese and cider!

The word “picnic” is French in origin and may derive from piquer (to pick or peck) and nique, being a thing of little importance. I rather like to think of it being like scrumping and have visions of children picking and nicking ripe fruit! The word first appears in English in a letter from Lord Chesterfield in 1748 but can be found in French from at least the 1690s.

No doubt people from earliest times were obliged to eat on the hoof (so nothing new about fast food) and generations of invading armies were expected to eat in an alfresco style, but the idea of formal outdoor eating does occur in many cultures – the Chinese will feast by a graveside as did the ancient Romans, while the Japanese picnic is often a deliberate aesthetic experience organised to celebrate events such as the flowering of cherry blossom.

Evidence for the formalising of the picnic dates from the 1300s and is found in works like Gaston de Foiz’s Le Livre de Chasse of 1387. This was a period which also saw the development of the private garden and the hunting parks of the wealthy. Hunting feasts or breakfasts became a part of the entertainment and could include a selection of cold meats like mutton and meat pies and perhaps the cooking of the kill.

The semi-rural idylls of pleasure gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall provided popular spots for a light meal outdoors

The semi-rural idylls of pleasure gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall provided popular spots for a light meal outdoors

The English tradition, however, owes a lot to London of the 17th and 18th century when many of the large parks and pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall were created, “allowing bevies of gallant ladies, some singing… devouring cheesecakes, marchpanes and china oranges”: a sight which Pepys describes as “mighty pleasant”. This rather sets the scene for the early picnics as adult affairs and sometimes an opportunity for dalliance! The Fetes Champetres were another interpretation of informal eating though these were more complicated staged events with performers and sometimes held, curiously, indoors! In 1802, however, the picnic formally arrives with the founding of the Picnic Society in London – and attendees were each required to provide a dish of food! These picnics were also indoors events accompanied by staged entertainments. It was this element that caused friction with the theatrical establishment and saw the demise of the society after only a year.

The concept of the picnic continued to gain ground with the growing middle class and skilled working class as a family affair, and was no doubt aided by the gradual improvements in transport. Days out to the seaside or to big sporting events like Derby Day and Henley were opportunities for relaxed eating, at least while the sun shone. Endorsed by Queen Victoria and Mrs Beeton with her advice on picnic menus, and with Fortnum and Mason and Harrods producing hampers for all occasions, the picnic was well on its way to being part of our culinary tradition, even if in a “wet and wasp-haunted field” as described by Georgina Battiscombe in her book, English Picnics!

So whether you incline to an egg and cress sandwich, potted asparagus or a freshly barbecued beach mackerel let’s hope the sun shines, the wasps aren’t flying or the ants crawling!


FHistory Girlsor more information about Four Seasons Preserves or The History Girls group, contact Maya. The History Girls also regularly appear at the annual Bridport Food Festival. To see what they got up to this year, check out the festival blog!

A tale of gambling, girls and… sandwiches

The sandwich is not an 18th century invention. People across the world had already been eating snacks of bread and cheese, or bread and meat, for many hundreds of years. But it was during the Georgian era that the sandwich gained its name and became a recognised dish in its own right.

So what is the story of the sandwich? It starts in the mid 18th century with a piece of gossip about a Member of Parliament and his curious eating habits.

One of the earliest textual references to the rumour can be found in Pierre-Jean Grosely’s Londres, which first appeared in 1770. A guide to the people, customs and traditions of London, it was based on his Grosley’s own experiences of the city during a visit in 1756:

Extract from Pierre-Jean Grosley's three volume work Londres gives one of the earliest references to the sandwich.

Extract from Pierre-Jean Grosley’s three volume work Londres gives one of the earliest references to the sandwich.

A State minister spent 24 hours in a public gambling game, constantly occupied to the point that, during these 24 hours, he only lived off a few slices of grilled beef, which he had served to himself between two pieces of toasted bread, and which he ate without quitting the game. This new dish gained favour during my stay in London: it was christened the same name of the minister who had dreamt it up to save time. 

Grosely’s anonymous minister was none other than John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

Whether the rumour was true or not, it certainly gathered momentum very quickly. People began asking for their bread and meat ‘the same as Sandwich’ and soon the snack itself became known by the minister’s name.

The appellation was the source of some amusement for satirists, who adopted the term to allude to the Earl’s complicated love life. In this cartoon of 1788, the Earl is shown ‘sandwiched’ between two admiring females:

'A Sandwich': an 18th century satirical cartoon.

‘A Sandwich’: an 18th century satirical cartoon.

Sandwich died in 1792 but his name survived him as the term for this bread-based snack. By the time William Kitchiner was composing his Cook’s Oracle the name ‘Sandwich’ had well and truly stuck. Here are Kitchiner’s suggestions for some satisfying sandwich fillings:

Ideas for sandwich fillings, transcribed in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle.

Ideas for sandwich fillings, transcribed in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle.

Materials for Sandwiches

Cold meat or poultry, potted or savoury ditto, ditto cheese, or grated ham or tongue, German sausages, hard eggs pounded with butter and cheese. Mustard, pepper and salt as necessary.

Next time you tuck into your lunch, spare a thought for the 4th Earl of Sandwich…

Short and fat or long and thin: changing dining style c.1700-1850

Annie fearlessly preparing a calf's head

Annie fearlessly preparing a calf’s head

We are delighted to welcome food historian Dr Annie Gray as the guest author for today’s post.

Annie is an expert in the history of 18th and 19th century food. Her research interests have led her to recreate many Georgian dishes at home in her kitchen. You may also have heard her giving historic food insights on BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet, or seen her talking Sue Perkins through the history of the cupcake on the Great British Bake Off.

Here, Annie talks us through the surprising differences between 18th and 19th century dining conventions and the way we eat today…

The Cookbook of the Unknown Ladies covers a long chunk of time, stretching from the tumult and monarch-swapping of the late Stuarts, to the smug, world conquering ethos of the Victorians. Its contributors lived during what I believe to be the most exciting and formative period in British history. You just cannot beat a good bit of anything Georgian.

One of the ways in which the period was formative was in dining style. The recipes of the Unknown Ladies cannot really be understood without knowing the context in which they were served. Recipes for slightly subversive, quirky, dishes such as puddings inside carrots or the orange dumplings (as cooked by the Cooking Up History group in a previous post) were integral parts of a polished whole, served as textural and visual counterparts to a range of other dishes, all present on the table at once. This was a way of dining which allowed for personal choice, encouraged a sense of shared enterprise, and was frankly stunning for all the senses.

Carrot puddings and orange dumplings are just two of the quirkier dishes that might have graced a Georgian dining table

Carrot puddings and orange dumplings are just two of the quirkier dishes that might have graced a Georgian dining table

A formal, à la Française dinner consisted of three courses. There were also scaled down one course versions which were, of course, the norm for the less wealthy, and for informal or family dining in general. For each course, the diner could expect anything between five and fifteen different dishes to be on the table at once. The first course consisted of soup, usually at either end of the table, fish, occupying the next place in on an imaginary line drawn from top to bottom, and what were called ‘made dishes’, later known as entrées.

These latter were a display of skill and culinary dexterity, usually based around meat or fish, with sauces, pastry, dual cooking methods or fanciful ingredients, marking them out as something a bit special. Often they were French-influenced, but could just as easily be pies, patties, salad or, by the end of the 18th century, curry.

Diners would start with the soup, move onto the fish and then the rest of the dishes would be uncovered. Often the host and hostess would serve, with the ability to carve being the mark of a gentleman. Footmen or, in less wealthy circles, maids, would be on hand to serve drinks and pass plates around, but the set up encouraged sharing, with gentlemen urged in etiquette guides to attend to the needs of the ladies around them. Every diner could choose to eat or avoid what they wished, within reason. Once finished, the dishes would be cleared, and the second course brought in. Once more, symmetry dictated the arrangement of the dishes, with advice to footmen including the tip that correct placement could be assured by simply sighting along the table to pick out the indentations left by the first course dishes.

The second course was somewhat heavier, with roast and boiled meats, both farmed and the all-important roast game. The roast was a symbol of Englishness and enabled the host to hint at the good management and largess of his estate, from whence the game was supposed to derive. Also on the table were more ‘made dishes’ or entremêts, this time around based on vegetables or fruit, and including sweet dishes such as puddings, tarts, jellies and creams. This conflation of sweet and savoury would strike us today as somewhat odd, used as we are to an absolute division between what we call pudding and mains. In the Georgian period, however, the division was more between the substantial dishes of the first and second course, and dessert. Dessert, which followed the two main courses, was intended less as an excuse for sweet titbits, and more as a way of cleansing the palette, lightening the gastronomical load and showing off the produce of one’s greenhouses. It usually involved ice creams, especially in summer, and fruit, both cooked, preserved in wine and syrup, and raw. Nuts and small, sweet biscuits intended for eating with wine could also be served.

Dining table plan from Raffald's Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769

Dining table plan from Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769

In every course, the layout of the table was paramount. Not only could the status of diners be indicated by the choice of dish in front of them, but many items, such as pies and roasts, were directional, and could quite literally point to people. Dishes both complemented and contrasted with each other across the table, and cookery books increasingly contained ideal table plans in order to aid the hostess (or host, but more usually hostess) in arranging her table to impress. Hence the carrot puddings, which may well have been served as a first course dish, replaced with carrots in gravy for the second course. Or how about answering to a potato pie, made with sugar, lemon juice and candied peel?

The Georgian table afforded a chance to show off the skills of one’s cook as well as revel in the cleverness of the table plan. But it demanded vast amounts of tableware, a large table, and a kitchen with both the equipment and staff to turn out all those dishes all at once, piping hot, and ready for service. It was ideal for aristocratic circles. It was rather less suited to the ever growing number of middling sorts, people who could certainly afford two or more servants, but who lived in smaller, suburban villas and didn’t necessarily have country estates bursting with game and managed for out-of-season fruit and other gastronomic rarities. There was also that pesky class of somewhat lower middling sorts, those who had only one servant, and where the mistress probably did most of the cooking. People, indeed, like Isabella Beeton.

From the early part of the 19th century, a shift in dining style was apparent. For most, à la Française continued to be the style to aspire to, but increasingly ‘removes’ crept in, wherein a dish or set of dishes was literally removed to make way for another (soup for fish, for example). By the time Beeton published her Book of Household Management in 1861, she felt able to advocate a version of the style which now consists of four separate courses, plus dessert. Dishes were still presented symmetrically on the table, but now there were fewer dishes in each course, and more courses. This was ideally suited to smaller kitchens, fewer staff, and smaller dining spaces. She also noted that a new style was beginning to catch on: à la Russe. Promoted by those with new money, and nothing to lose, it was a style which took almost a hundred years to become the norm. Yet today, we could barely countenance anything else.

A la Russe emerged from around the 1820s. The nascent gastronomic criticism movement promoted a linear style of serving, one dish following the other, as a better way to fully appreciate each dish in its own merits. Cooks liked it, as it was much easier to manage, and writers were quick to appreciate that here was a style which was less fluid and more open to instructional writing than the old way of eating. Old money resisted it – after all, they had the plates, the staff, the room and the habit. New money -slowly- embraced it. It was satisfyingly pricy to put on, requiring more servants than previously, and, at its peak, a lot of specialist equipment. An à la Russe menu looks much like a tasting menu in a high end restaurant today. A few choices were given – two soups, four entremêts, sometimes a couple of fish- but it was much more restricted. Dishes were brought into the dining room on large platters and served by waiting staff from one side. The table risked being empty, but in practice the room was quickly filled with the proliferation of affordable objects so characteristic of the later Victorian period. The new style radially took over, impacting in turn upon kitchens and their technology, as well as the organisation of staff. Today we barely even nod toward the older style.

If you decide to have a go at any of the recipes published here – and I hope you do – then have a go at more than one! Combine the tastes and textures, revel in the different look, smells, and feel. Eat your way to a Georgian high, and salute an older, more complicated and more joyous way of dining.

[Annie Gray]

To find out more about Annie’s  research and historic food activities, visit

The taste of Shakespeare

Although the recipes of our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies were compiled during the Georgian period, quite a number of the dishes made their first appearance further back in history. We’ve already seen how tort de moy graced the table of James II at his coronation feast in 1685. Other recipes have even earlier origins. Yesterday’s green pea soup or the kidney Florentine prepared at our Cooking Up History session would not have looked out of place at a Tudor banquet.

Kidney florentine, as prepared by our Cooking up History group

Kidney florentine, as prepared by our Cooking up History group

The Food of Love

The Food of Love

We’re delighted to introduce Alycia Smith-Howard, co-author of The Food of Love: The Taste of Shakespeare in Four Seasonsas our guest author today! Her research for the book highlights how, by using food as an effective theatrical device,  Shakespeare sheds light on the culinary landscape of early modern England…

“Cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast!”

Comedy of Errors

As a literary device, food encapsulates a range of significant meanings throughout Shakespeare’s plays and poems. For example, food is used metaphorically to express an extremity of feeling or longing, such as Bullingbrook’s declaration in Richard II, wherein he describes his time wandering in exile as: “Eating the bitter bread of banishment” (III.i. 21). This evocative turn of phrase immediately sets a taste in the mouth and gives us, as readers, a profoundly intimate awareness of the character’s depth of feeling. Shakespeare’s creative use of familiar food items in this and other passages are both philosophical and sensuous.

Feast held for the visit of the Spanish Ambassador to the court of James I, 1623

Feast held for the visit of the Spanish Ambassador to the court of James I, 1623

Food, in the shape of feasting and banquets, as in Macbeth, Titus Andronicus and The Tempest, provides the means of bringing people (and enemies) together, yet these occasions also serve a higher, and often darker, purpose. Banqueting, in these contexts, becomes a dark ritual. The act of ‘breaking bread’ facilitates the revelation of a horrid truth and the recognition of crimes committed.

Food is also used as a distraction, such as Richard of Gloucester’s odd request for strawberries in Richard III (III.iv.1984). A skillful manipulator, Richard keeps those around him on their toes and always guessing. His call for strawberries serves as a brilliant delaying tactic as he and Buckingham solidify their plans and alliances.

However, being the great master-revealer of life in all its myriad shapes and forms, Shakespeare’s works also provide an insight into the culinary delights of the world that surrounded him. More often than not, food in Shakespeare’s works is a symbol of home, hearth, family and community. Shakespeare repeatedly and feelingly evokes the simple, rustic pleasures of life, pleasures with which he would have been undoubtedly familiar, thanks to his idyllic, Warwickshire upbringing.  It is also worth noting that in many of these “hearthy” references, women take centre stage, as providers of sustenance and nourishment:

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick, the Shepherd blows his nail,
And Tim bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;

When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing,drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
A’ Marian’s nose looks red and raw.

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Love’s Labours Lost (V.ii.2860-2875)

While conducting research for our Shakespeare cookbook, The Food of Love: The Taste of Shakespeare in Four Seasons, Chef Alan Deegan and I pored over age-old recipe books, and trawled through dusty archives to uncover the food that Shakespeare would have known and enjoyed. It was humbling to encounter the scrawled notes of countless, nameless “Greasy Joans” to whom we owe debt of thanks for preserving and passing on our culinary heritage. It is also what makes projects such as The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies so important. It is essentially a chronicle of the commonplace concerns  and knowledge of common folk.

Ellen Terry as Mistress Page in 1902

Ellen Terry as Mistress Page in 1902

Shakespeare’s autumnal comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor, is unique among his works as the one play that is focused exclusively on the everyday lives of ordinary, middle class, Elizabethan folk. The play’s two principal characters are the quick-witted Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. Like Greasy Joan’s simmering pot, the formidable Mistress Page reminds us of wonderfully filling foods that comfort us against a brisk chill: “Come, we have a hot venison pasty to dinner!” (I.i.178).

Shakespeare’s most explicit (and delightful) “food as food” reference appears in The Winter’s Tale, where we are treated to an actual grocery shopping list!

Clown. Let me see; what am 
I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound 
of sugar, five pound of currants, rice,—what will this sister of mine do with rice? But my father 
hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on. I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates?—none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I 
may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of 
raisins o’ the sun. 


Playbill for The Winter's Tale, 1802

Playbill for The Winter’s Tale, 1802

Perdita’s extraordinary sheep-shearing feast is only outdone by the celestial celebration in Shakespeare’s last, and some would argue, his greatest work, The Tempest, where he depicts a feast hosted by the great goddess Ceres herself (“Most bounteous lady of wheat, rye, barley, oats and peas!” IV.i.1771). The word ‘feast’ itself, in fact, appears over 100 times throughout Shakespeare’s plays.  And, for me, Shakespeare has always been a feast for the senses.

Samuel Johnson called Shakespeare’s works “a Map of Life.” Without a doubt, food is an essential part of the journey, and there are over 2,000 culinary references in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Working alongside Chef Deegan to produce The Food of Love: The Taste of Shakespeare in Four Seasons afforded me the enviable opportunity to explore these references and the works of Shakespeare from a fresh and delectable perspective. And, what a delicious treat it has been!

[Alycia Smith-Howard, PhD]

The Food of Love

The Food of Love

Try recipes inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and Tudor tastes with Alycia and Alan’s beautifully-produced cookbook The Food of Love, or find out more about Alycia’s work at

An award, and a bit more about us…

We’re thrilled to have received a Very Inspiring Blogger Award for The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies!

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

We were nominated for the award by Karen Hammonds, who writes the wonderful Revolutionary Pie blog. Inspired by a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, she is now documenting her own mission to re-create the tastes of the 18th and 19th century in her New York apartment. Her site is beautifully illustrated and bursting with enthusiasm for food history – definitely worth a look!

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award is a way in which fellow web writers can show their appreciation for other blog sites. To accept the award, you just have to follow the following rules:

  • Thank and link back to the person who nominated you
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers and comment on their blogs to tell them

What a great opportunity to share a few facts about Westminster City Archives and what we do! Here goes…

7 facts about Westminster City Archives

  1. Westminster City Archives is a free, public service, dedicated to documenting and sharing Westminster’s rich history. Our local studies library and archive are open to everyone: you’ll find us in St Ann’s Street, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey

    The Searchroom at the Archives Centre

    The Searchroom at the Archives Centre

  2. The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is our first foray into the blogosphere, but there are lots of ways to discover our collections online. Visit our Archives Showcase hub to explore more of our digital projects, or follow us on Facebook!

    Discover The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk, our online Victorian diary project

    Discover The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk, our online Victorian diary project

  3. The earliest item in our collections dates back to 1256 and the reign of King Henry III

    Letters patent of 1256: the oldest document in the Archives

    Letters patent of 1256: the oldest document at Westminster City Archives

  4. All of the items at the Archives help to tell the story of the development of Westminster, and we have particularly strong collections in Art & Design and West End Theatre.

    Interior view of the New Queen's Theatre, 1834

    Interior view of the New Queen’s Theatre, 1834

  5. Many people visit us to trace their ancestors who lived in Westminster. Within our parish records you will also find some well-known names. Purcell, Cromwell, Byron and Constable are just a few of the famous figures you might stumble across in the Archives!

    Haydn witnessed this marriage at St James, Piccadilly, in 1795

    Haydn witnessed this marriage at St James, Piccadilly, in 1795

  6. Our Cooking Up History  group members are among 30 fabulous volunteers who regularly dedicate their time to supporting the work of the Archives

    Volunteer Jim Garrod researching political cartoons for one of our projects

    Volunteer Jim Garrod researching political cartoons for one of our projects

  7. We run a busy programme  events, including tours, talks and exhibitions, and give the public a behind-the-scenes look at the Archives for the annual Open House London event. You can find out what’s on by checking our Facebook page or visiting our dedicated events page

    Our Pass the Flame exhibition was held to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012

    Our Pass the Flame exhibition was held to celebrate the London Games in 2012

So that’s us! Now for our nominations. Being new to blogging, we’re still discovering the many fascinating sites out there, but here are a few of our favourites so far…

The Old Foodie – The author of Pie: a global history offers rich pickings for anyone interested in the history of food!

Food History Jottings – Ivan Day’s blog never fails to fascinate with its informative and entertaining articles on British culinary heritage.

History is Served – This historic foodways blog from Colonial Williamsburg is delightfully presented and a great way to discover cooking techniques from centuries gone by.

Bites of Food History – Historic recipes, step by step in words and pictures.

Westminster Walking – Few people know London as well as City of Westminster Guide Joanna Moncrieff does.

Tired of London, Tired of Life – Something to do in London every day of the year, including lots of great suggestions for history enthusiasts!

The Library Time Machine – A great blog from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Local Studies Library. Indepth articles along with fantastic images from their collections.

Jane Austen’s World – A bit of fun for Jane Austen fans, this lively blog covers everything Austen, and offers a good insight into life in the Regency period.

These are just a few of the blogs that have caught our eye. There are many more great sites about food heritage and London history… get Googling!