The Cooking Up History sessions – 5: potato pudding and warden pie

Chelsea and Christina were our willing helpers and ‘guinea pigs’ for the latest Cooking Up History session. They joined us in the Archives kitchen on a rather grey and damp autumnal day. It was perfect weather for sampling a seasonal menu of warm potato pudding and a warden pear pie, both 18th century dishes from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Potato Pudding

18th century style potato pudding

18th century style potato pudding

Potato pudding was a rather comforting prospect on a cold and damp Friday afternoon. Having peeled, boiled and cooled our potatoes in the morning, we were all set to combine our ingredients at the start of the session. Chelsea mashed our potatoes vigorously with a fork before adding the melted butter, cream and sugar. We then whipped up egg whites with a fork (foregoing the modern kitchen aid of an electric whisk) and added this to our mixture along with ground nutmeg, orange juice and a generous tablespoon of brandy. The pudding didn’t looking particularly appealing at this point but we were pleased that the method had been so straight forward. Happy that everything seemed to have gone to plan, we popped the pudding in the preheated oven.

Mashed and mixed and ready for the oven! Our potato pudding just prior to baking...

Mashed and mixed and ready for the oven! Our potato pudding just prior to baking…

Even though the unknown ladies’ recipe gave us a suggested cooking time for the pudding, there was no indication of oven temperature. We kept a close eye on it while it was cooking, removing it from the oven only to return it several times, until we were satisfied that it had cooked through. After 1 hour and 15 minutes of cooking time, and a further 10 minutes to allow the dish to cool and set, our patience paid off and we were able to sit down and enjoy the end result!

Fresh from the oven, our 18th century style potato pudding

Fresh from the oven, our 18th century style potato pudding

While Chelsea dished up, Christina remarked that the potato pudding seemed very similar in appearance to many of the other 18th century dishes we’d tried over previous sessions. Thinking back, we all agreed that many of the puddings we’d tried – from almond puddings to cheeseless cheesecakes – had a similar smooth consistency and golden colour. But each dish had something different to offer in terms of flavour, and we were sure that the potato pudding would be no exception…

A hearty portion of potato pudding, served up by our Cooking Up History group

A hearty portion of potato pudding, served up by our Cooking Up History group

In fact, it was delicious! The delicate flavouring of the nutmeg was particularly pleasant and, balanced by the brandy, was not overpowering. The potato provided a nice texture and we didn’t even mind the few lumps that had escaped Chelsea’s fork! Our conversation turned briefly to modern day equivalents of this dish, with Hilary noting its resemblance to semolina and Chelsea commenting on the similarities between our dish and sweet potato pie, a traditional dish from the American South.

Warden Pye

Chelsea in the middle of preparing our warden pie

Chelsea in the middle of preparing our warden pie

Our warden pie was keenly anticipated by the archives staff, all of whom wanted to try a piece of our fresh pear pie. For our Cooking Up History team, however, it was going to be one of their most technically challenging recipes to date.

The recipe had proved tricky to adapt for our modern kitchen, as it offered two separate methods for preparing the pears: either stewing them in water with alum, or baking them in a pot with white bread. Both methods were ways of softening the pears without them discolouring. We decided to part slightly from the original, poaching the pears and then dipping them in lemon juice to keep them from browning.

We did follow the recipe’s advice of peeling and coring the pears after they’d been cooked, but in hindsight we felt they would have been easier to handle had we done this before the poaching. It was a pretty fiddly job!

The pears arranged in our warden pie, ready for the pastry top!

The pears arranged in our warden pie, ready for the pastry top

Having peeled and cored five of our six pears, we arranged them around the edge of our pastry-lined pie dish and stuffed each one with a colourful mixture of brown sugar, candied peel and cinnamon. We then peeled the remaining pear and placed it at the centre, scattering the remaining sugary stuffing mixture in the gaps between the fruits.

Chelsea and Christina put the finishing touches to our warden pie’s pastry lid

Chelsea and Christina put the finishing touches to our warden pie’s pastry lid

Finally, we placed a sheet of pastry over the top – with a steam hole cut around our central pear – trimmed down the edges and added a few pastry decorations. Chelsea commented that it all looked rather ‘fancy’!

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

Our Warden pie spent a good hour in the oven before we dished it up. The pastry had collapsed a little, but overall it looked incredibly appetising. A layer of sweet, juicy syrup had been created at the bottom of our pie, but we were all pleased to see we had not fallen into the trap of a Great British Bake Off style ‘soggy bottom’; our pastry was crisp all over. The cloves, one placed on top of each of our 5 stuffed pears, offered a stronger punch alongside the candied citrus fruits. None of the ingredients proved overpowering and we all agreed that the pie was well suited to modern palates.

The moment of truth...

The moment of truth…

The pie went down really well with everyone!

The pie went down really well with everyone!

We were really pleased that both of our recipes had been such a great success. Replete and enjoying a well earned rest, Chelsea mentioned that at the beginning of the session she hadn’t been able to envisage what our dishes would end up looking or tasting like. It is certainly true that the vague instructions given in many of our Cookbook’s recipes make it difficult to imagine the finished dishes. We noted the usefulness of visual imagery such as photos and drawings in contemporary recipe books. It’s a pity the lady compilers of our 18th century Cookbook hadn’t illustrated it with explanatory drawings and diagrams!

You can find recipes for both of these dishes in our Cooking Up History pages. If you try them out at home, don’t forget to let us know how you get on!

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Shopping on the move: the street traders of Georgian London

Pictures of London’s street traders provide a colourful and characterful insight into how Georgian Londoners shopped, and the range of goods that were made available to them from the city’s streets. In today’s blog post, Archivist Jo Buddle explores a selection of images from the collections City of Westminster, capturing the energy and vigour of Georgian street traders at work.

Traders, hawkers and pedlars were an important part of London street life in the Georgian era. They could be found on street corners, at major landmarks, and perhaps even under your window, selling a wide variety of goods including food. Men, women and children were involved in the various trades, and many different nationalities were represented.

From fat geese to hat boxes, almost anything could be bought from pedlars on London's streets

From fat geese to hat boxes, almost anything could be bought from pedlars on London’s streets

The street traders brought colour, variety and vibrancy to the streets of London, and many became famous characters, instantly recognisable by their distinctive cries. “Fair Lemons and Oranges!”, “Twelve Pence a Peck, Oysters!”, “Four for Sixpence, Mackerel!”, “”Sixpence a Pound, Fair Cherries!” echoed throughout the city.

"Fair lemons and oranges" was a familiar street cry in Georgian London

“Fair lemons and oranges” was a familiar street cry in Georgian London

This street trader sold rabbits round and about Portland Place

Rabbits sold at Portland Place

One trader near Portland Place sold rabbits for eighteen or nineteen pence each, a much cheaper rate than was available in the shops. A man known simply as ‘The Turk’ sold rhubarb in and around Russell Square for many years. The criers also acted as early equivalents of fast food: baked apples could be prepared and sold to busy pedestrians using a lighted pan of charcoal and a tin plate.One man operating near the Pantheon on Oxford Street sold gingerbread cakes for one halfpenny each as a winter-warmer treat. During the summer, he sold Banbury and other cakes.

This man cried "Hot Spiced Gingerbread" as he sold sweet treats to passersby in Oxford Street

This man cried “Hot Spiced Gingerbread” as he sold seasonal treats to passersby in Oxford Street

Though resented by some shopkeepers as unfair competition, the traders and their street cries were a source of much fascination to the local population. Illustrated books depicting the criers were extremely popular. Although in the later 19th century street traders would become – unfairly – associated with the criminal poor in London, well into the Regency period they were appreciated and celebrated as an integral part of city life and the capital’s flourishing economy.

Lessons in cheesemaking with Mrs Lewis and Mrs Hayne

Have you ever made your own cheese? Cheesemaking seems to have been a common activity in the 18th century kitchen, as our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies provides us with a multitude of recipes for preparing soft cheeses. Today we’ll explore two recipes handed down from ‘Mrs Lewis’ and ‘Mrs Hayne’.

Recipe for Mrs Lewis's Cream Cheese (18th century) from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for Mrs Lewis’s Cream Cheese (18th century) from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Mrs Lewis’s Cream Cheese (modernised spelling)

Take 3 pints of water and set it on the fire, and when it is scalding hot take [off] half of the water and let the rest boil. Then take 3 pints of cream, and do with it as you did with the water, and mix them together. Then, take 3 quarts of milk and mix it with the cream and water, and when milk warm, put to it a spoonful of rennet and stir it well. When it is come, take up the curd without breaking it and lay it in the fat with a cloth over it, with a weight of half a pound at first, adding, till it comes to 2 pounds. Turn it every hour. Rub a little salt on it then lay nettles on it. Turn it every morning and night, and clean it as you turn it and put fresh nettles [on] it. It will be ripe in ten days if the weather is hot

The nettles in this recipe are used to aid the ripening process, but this natural covering would also lend its delicate flavour to the cheese.

Mrs Lewis’s recipe is thorough, and offers an insight into the time, knowledge and skill required to make good home-made soft cheese. Our second recipe today, attributed to a ‘Mrs Hayne’, is sketchier but no less fascinating.

Mrs Hayne's recipe for dried cream cheese (18th century)

Mrs Hayne’s recipe for dried cream cheese (18th century)

Mrs Hayne’s Dried Cream Cheese  (modernised spelling)

Take 12 quarts of strippings, 2 quarts of cream, 2 spoonfuls of the juice of marigolds and about a teaspoonful of rennet. So whey it and press it as you do other cheese, shifting it every half hour with dry cloths.

Mrs Hayne’s recipe asks for milk ‘strippings’, the last milk drawn from the udder, which has a high cream content.  This suggests that the recipe was written for a household keeping its own cow, or ‘neat’.

The area north of Oxford Street was barely developed in the mid 18th century. (Section of John Rocque map, 1746)

The area north of Oxford Street was barely developed in the mid 18th century. (Section of John Rocque map, 1746)

It is quite likely that the ‘unknown ladies’ who compiled our cookbook lived in households that kept a number of domestic animals, or even managed a small farm. But even with this land and rustic lifestyle, they could quite easily have been living in and around London. By the mid 18th century, much of the Parish of St Marylebone still consisted of fields, common land and small rural settlements. London’s urban development petered out half-way along Tottenham Court Road, as shown in John Rocque’s map of 1746.

For flavouring and colouring, Mrs Hayne’s dried cream cheese adds marigold juice. Another key ingredient is rennet, an essential ingredient for separating curds from whey in the cheesemaking process. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how this rennet would have been made…

Mrs Bracken’s recipe for orange jelly

Fine Sevil oranges, fine lemon, fine;
Round, sound and tender, inside and rine

(An old street cry of London)

Seville oranges have been a familiar taste in English cookery since the late Medieval period. But it wasn’t until the mid 17th century that sweet oranges, commonly known as ‘China oranges’, became part of the English culinary landscape. Their sweet flesh contrasted pleasingly with the better-known bitter oranges of Spain, and they quickly became popular.

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Bitter and sweet oranges were widely available in London from the late 17th century onwards. Nell Gwyn famously sold oranges at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane before taking to the stage, and orangeries sprang up at aristocratic houses across the country. By the time our ladies were compiling the Cookbook, oranges were being grown in glasshouses on many landed estates.

Despite their popularity, oranges remained expensive and were regarded as a delicacy. The authors of our cookbook’s recipes are careful to avoid any unnecessary waste. In this one for orange jelly, both the flesh and the zest are used:

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the 'Cookbook of Unknown Ladies'

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the ‘Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’

Making Mrs Bracken’s orange jelly (modernised text)

Grate the rind of 2 China oranges, 2 Seville oranges, 2 lemons. Put it in to steep in the juice of 9 Seville oranges. Put half a pound of fine sugar, a quarter of a pint of water. Boil it to candy. When almost cold, mix the juice with 2 ounces of isinglass well boiled in a quart of water. Leave it till it is mixed. Then, mix it all together and strain it. Stir it till almost cold, then fill your moulds. You may add the juice of lemon or China orange if you like it.

Mrs Bracken uses Isinglass as the jelly’s setting agent. Derived from fish bladders, it has fallen out of common usage today, but is still sometimes used in viticulture to clarify wines. If you fancy making your own version of Mrs Bracken’s jelly, you might want to substitute it for gelatin.

The writer also asks you to boil the syrup to candy. 18th century cookbook writer Susanna MacIver  says you can recognise this stages “by the sugar boiling thick like pottage” (Cookery and Pastry, 1789 p.205)

The recipe gives us our first clue as to the social circle in which our unknown cookbook writers were living in. We don’t know whether Mrs Bracken was a fellow domestic servant, or a well-known local cook, but she is our first named reference in our search for the identity of our mystery recipe writers…

Fancy giving this orange jelly a go? If you do, make sure you let us know how you get on!