Currant jelly

Yesterday’s lemon cheese recipe recommended a garnish of currant jelly. Unsure how to make it? Never fear, Dr Kitchiner has just the answer!

This recipe, transcribed into the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, presents a way of making jellies of currants, grapes or raspberries – take your pick!

Regency recipe for currant, grape or raspberry jelly

Regency recipe for currant, grape or raspberry jelly

Currant, Grape or Raspberry Jelly 

Are all made the same way.

When your fruit is nicely picked, put it into a jar and cover it down very close. Set the jar in a saucepan about three parts filled with cold water. Put it on a gentle fire and let it simmer for half an hour. Take the pan from the fire and pour the contents of the jar into a jelly bag (do not squeeze). To each pint of juice add a pound and a half of good lump sugar, pounded. When it is dissolved, put it into a preserving pan, set it on the fire and boil gently, stirring and skimming it the whole time (about twenty minutes) i.e. till no more scum rises. Pour it, while warm, into pots. When cold, cover with paper wetted in brandy. 

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A quick fix for soft fruits

This neat little recipe makes a quick and easy preserve out of plums, gooseberries, cherries or currants.

This 18th century preserving recipe can be used on many soft fruits, including cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries

This 18th century preserving recipe can be used on many soft fruits, including cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries

How to Preserve Horse Plumbs, Damsons, Wheaten Plumbs or Cherrys Whole or Red Gooseberrys or Currans for Torts

Gather your fruit in a dry day. Your gooseberrys or currans must be puld off the stalks. Your cherrys must be stoned and puled off ye stalks. Wheaten plumbs & horse plumbs must neither be stoned nor ski[n’d], but cut the stoane in ye cleft. Your fruit must be all full ripe. Then, when you have done all this, weigh to every pound of fruit 3 qrs of a pound of lump sugar & only dip it in water & set it on the fire to clear ye sirrup. Then put in the fruit & let them boule exceed[ingly] quick till the are clear & very rich. Keep them down with ye back of a spoon. Then put them in crocks for use. When cold, put a paper dipt in brandy over them & tye other papers over ye crock.

Varieties of both red (horse) plums and white/yellow (wheaten) plums are specifically mentioned in this recipe. We can only assume that these types were the most easily obtainable for our unknown ladies, growing perhaps in their own walled garden. Alternatively, they may have bought their fruits  or sold by touring street traders, like this cherry seller:

A cherry seller pictured outside St James’s Palace.

A cherry seller pictured outside St James’s Palace.

Plums were certainly popular fruits in the 18th century. Writing in his treatise on land management, The Whole Art of Husbandry (1708), John Mortimer finds the plum “a more pleasing, but not so wholesome a fruit” as the cherry. He goes on to list more than 60 kinds of plums – far more than we could ever get hold of in a supermarket today.

Some of the fruit varieties our 18th century cookbook compilers may well have been lost to history. But there are organisations dedicated to preserving Britain’s ‘heritage’ varieties, such as the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale. So if you’re interested in discovering the tastes of an 18th century orchard, or even growing a heritage fruit tree in your own garden, why not give Brogdale a call?

The etymological adventures of the apricot

The apricot has long played apart in European culinary history. Originating in China, the fruit’s popularity gradually spread westwards. It is referred to in Ancient Greek texts as melon armeniakon (Armenian apple), suggesting that it was introduced to the Mediterranean region via Armenia.

The Romans also enjoyed these peach-like fruits, and the modern English word ‘apricot’ has its roots in their term for it, praecocium (the early fruit). But it also bears the influence of Arabic, via the Portuguese (albricoque) and Spanish (albaricoque).

In this recipe, we meet the word part way through its etymological evolution, as ‘apricock’. Later the suffix ‘cot’ would be borrowed from the French and become the norm in English spelling.

'How to preserve ripe apricocks': an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

‘How to preserve ripe apricocks’: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

How to preserve ripe apricocks

Take ye fairest & largest apricocks gatherd in a dry day, weigh them with down weight of double refind sugar, then pare them nicily with a small knife & take out the stone at one end with a bodkin & take greate care of bruising them. Cover them in the sugar as you do them, but crack ye stone of every one of them. Do them with a hammer, carefully lest you break ye kernall. Peel the kernal & put it in where you took it out ye stone. Then take all ye parings & two other apricock that was not weighd, bruise these two apricocks & boyle them & ye parings in four spoonfuls of water till it is half consumed. Then strain it to the apricocks, sugar & boyle them till they are rich, skiming ye sirrup when it is melted. Let thim boyle very fast. Keep them down with ye back of a spoon. Take care of breaking them. Take ye preserving pan off the fire now & then. Lit ye heat fall, then set them on again. Keep them in glasses. Put brandy papers over when cold. If you have many, you must mark more apricocks & put more water but this will do for a pound. Pound your sugar & cover them in ye presirving pan with a plate whilst ye water is boyling. Take care of boyling them slowly or burning ye sirrup.

The instruction to ‘take ye fairest & largest apricocks gatherd in a dry day‘ suggests that our unknown ladies were growing these fruits themselves. It is unlikely that they would have had access to expensive glasshouses, and the mention given to ‘a dry day’ corroborates this. However, they may well have kept a walled garden, where delicate fruit trees such as the apricot could be cultivated in a sunny but sheltered spot.

It’s another clue on the way to discovering more about our unknown cookbook compilers and the way they might have lived…

Butter milk pudden

Today you can easily obtain cultured buttermilk from the supermarket, but  buttermilk used in today’s recipes is the traditional kind, formed when the cream from cow’s milk is churned to make butter. Through this process, clumps of solid butterfat develop. Once the butter is taken out, you are left with a thinnish, sour-tasting liquid known as buttermilk.

Both of these recipes repeat the churning stage of the butter-making process with a mixture of buttermilk and fresh (sweet) milk. Once the liquid whey has separated from the milk solids (curd), the pudding-making can begin!

In the first of today’s recipes we are given the option of making either a boiled or baked pudding. The curds are pounded, combined with beaten eggs and melted butter, flavoured with lemon and white wine, and sweetened to taste. Once boiled or baked in buttered cups, they are served with a butter, sugar and white wine sauce:

Recipe for buttermilk puddings from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for buttermilk puddings from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Butter Milk Pud[ding]

2 quarts of sweet milk. Turn it with plenty of butter milk that the curds meant be hard. Drean the whay from it. Pound them in a mortar very well. If the are for beaking, take the yolkes of 8 eggs & whites of 2 – if for boiling, 4 whites – ye juce of halfe a lemon & the rine greated, 3 ounces of melted butter, a cup of strong white wine. Mix them all well to geather, sweeten them to your taste. Butter your cups. Half an hour bakes them. Make sauce of butter, sugar & white wine for them.

There next recipe is very simliar in terms of method, but uses different ingredients to make a richer and more substantial dish. A grated bread roll and ground almonds lend extra body to the curd pudding, and brandy and cream enrich the mix. The pudding (or puddings, as the mixture can be divided between individual “bowles”) is also decoratively studded with almonds before being baked:

A Butter Milk Pudden

Tak 3 quarts of new milk with 3 pints of buttr milk. Squeese the curd through a sive. Then, take ye yolkes of eight eggs well beat & white of one, a role grated, the juce of a lemon with the peel grated, two ozs of almonds pounded, a quarter of a pound of melted butter, two spoonfull of creame, a little brandy. Sweeten to your taste. Beat all too gather and put into a bowle or bowles. Stick them with almonds and have brandy, sack and a little melted butter for sauce. If you pound the curds well in a morter, it will do better than puting ym throu a sieve. 

“Please to remember the grotto”: London’s Oyster Day

Greengrocers rise at dawn of sun –
August the fifth – come haste away!
To Billingsgate the thousands run, –
‘Tis Oyster Day! – ’tis Oyster Day! 

The above verse is taken from an anonymous poem in William Hone’s Every-day Book (1827), and captures the excitement surrounding the arrival of the season’s first oysters at Billingsgate Market. Oyster festivals occurred across the country through late July and August, and popularly the old-style St James’s Day on 5 August was considered ‘Oyster Day’. But in London, the festival started one day before. An article published in the Illustrated London News (12 August 1843) explains:

Formerly the commencement of the sale on the 4th was so punctually observed, that the market was opened immediately after the clock had struck twelve on the night of the 3rd, when, in the rush to obtain the first supply of oysters, it being dark, a life or two was lost annually.

‘Oyster Day’ was an important occasion for Georgian and Victorian Londoners. As costermongers picked up their wares from Billingsgate and customers from all walks of life enjoyed the first oysters of the harvest, children rushed to collect the discarded shells.

An oyster-shell grotto depicted in a satirical cartoon of 1829

An oyster-shell grotto depicted in a satirical cartoon of 1829

Before long, streets in the poorer parts of the city were littered with ‘grottoes’ made from oyster shells and any flotsam that local youngsters could get their hands on. Those passing by these ad-hoc constructions would be greeted with an outstretched hand holding an empty oyster shell, and a request to “remember the grotto” by giving a few coins.

Although the custom is likely to have had its origins in the 18th century, the children’s practice of grotto-building seemed to gain momentum from the 1830s.

Some were charmed by this annual tradition of grotto-building, while others were irritated by the begging. One rather commentator took a rather cynical view, writing for the August edition of The Leisure Hour in 1856: 

No sooner do you walk out in morning, in whatever direction you will, than you are saluted with the cry of, “Please to the Grotto,” emanating from some unwashed, untended little wanderer, who runs capering before you, clutching in his dirty fingers an oyster-shell, which serves him as a begging-dish. If escape from one, it is only to fall into the hands of another, or of a dozen or a score of others, awaiting you round the corner. All boy-dom is in a conspiracy to-day to whine and wheedle out of your coppers.

The Leisure Hour no. 241, p. 501.

Despite such criticism, the children of London continued to build their festive grottoes well into the 20th century. However, the custom dwindled in the post-war period. The last area to witness widespread  grotto-building is said to have been the London Borough of Mitcham in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Pickling the pick of the cauliflower crop

“Take the whitest and choicest collyflowers…”

For Georgian cooks, pickling was an important way of preserving the best of the season’s produce. We may now have the luxury of freezers, but gardeners and allotment owners with an abundance of produce still know the value of pickling!

In today’s recipe, the pick of the cauliflower crop is parboiled in milk and water before being bottled with a mix of vinegar, cloves, nutmeg, mace and black pepper.

Why not give this cauliflower pickle a try? It would work well as an antipasto, or make a tasty side dish at your next curry night!

A pickle of cauliflowers: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A pickle of cauliflowers: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Pickle Collyflowers

Take the whitest & choicest collyflowers you can. Cutt them the length of yr finger from the stalk. Boyle them a very little in a cloth in milk & water but not till they are tender. Then let them cool. Then take vinigar, cloves, mace & nutmeg grated, some whole pepper. Let these boyle together. When cold, put in the collyflowers, cover it close. They are a pickle. Will keep but a very little while with a colour.

The story of Hyde Park cheesecake house

Hyde Park has long been famous as a place for Londoners to gather and enjoy themselves. The park was London’s playground back in the 18th century, just as it is today. People would promenade in a circle of trees in the north of the park known as ‘The Ring’ taking a leisurely walk or riding their horses. It was the fashionable place to be seen, in your best outfit with your friends.

Hyde Park was the place to be and be seen for Georgian Londoners. This view of 1804 shows the park on a Sunday.

Hyde Park was the place to be and be seen for Georgian Londoners. This view from 1804 shows the park on a Sunday.

Another attraction for the Georgian Londoner were the Park’s refreshment rooms. Samuel Pepys spoke of a lodge in the middle of the park that served cheesecakes and other delicacies. It was known by lots of different names including the Cheesecake House, the Cake House, the Mince-Pie House, the Keeper’s Lodge and Price’s Lodge (Gervase Price being the chief keeper in its early years).

The Hyde Park Cheesecake House sketched in 1776.

The Hyde Park Cheesecake House sketched in 1776.

The Cheesecake House is thought to have been a timber and plaster building near the Serpentine, that was accessed over the water via a small footbridge. An investigation by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in 1993 found no trace of the building but we know it existed from many drawings and paintings.

Depiction of the Hyde Park Cheesecake House by artist W. H. Knight (1823-1863)

Depiction of the Hyde Park Cheesecake House by artist W. H. Knight (1823-1863)

There are also several references to the house in literature, including this extract from Howard’s English Monsieur (1674):

Nay tis no London female; she’s a thing that never saw a cheesecake, a tart, or a syllabub at the Lodge in Hyde Park

The Cheesecake House was such a feature of London life, you wouldn’t be considered a Londoner unless you’d enjoyed the refreshments on sale at this Hyde Park lodge.

So that’s a bit about the building and its business. But what did the famous cheesecakes taste like?

In the next Cookbook of Unknown Ladies article we’ll be taking a look at an 18th century cheesecake recipe…

[Jo]