The Cooking Up History Sessions – 7: Shrove Tuesday pancakes

‘Dutches of Cleaveland’ Pancakes versus Pancakes and Fritters 

Christina and David were once again the willing volunteers who joined Kim and Trish for our seventh cooking challenge. And what better way to celebrate Shrove Tuesday than with a cook-off with two unique takes on the classic pancake.

The Duchess of Cleveland’s pancakes

Beginning our pancake cook off with a recipe for the ‘Dutches of Cleaveland’ pancakes, we were struck by the quantity of eggs and butter involved – eight eggs in one batter? The quantities were overwhelming!  We decided to downsize the recipe, roughly halving each of the quantities. While we beat up the batter, David regaled us with tales of the Duchess of Cleveland, Barbara Villiers; a Catholic who maintained an infamous relationship with Charles II as his mistress from 1660 to 1668.

Getting busy with the batter for 'Dutches of Cleaveland' pancakes

Getting busy with the batter for ‘Dutches of Cleaveland’ pancakes

We mixed the batter thoroughly; David expertly folding the butter into our mixture. With this completed and our pan heated, Trish was given responsibility for flipping our pancake. Our first attempt stuck stubbornly to the pan, even though there was a good deal of butter in the mixture. We were dry frying the batter as the recipe suggested, but it seemed to be ruining our chances of getting the perfect pancake flip! Thankfully, things got better… the second and third batches were easier to cook now that the pan had been ‘seasoned’ by our first fritter.

As the pancake was cooking, Christina remarked that neither of our recipes made no mention of lemons or oranges – nowadays we are so used to having pancakes served up with a squeeze of lemon juice a little grate orange zest. We had a chat about our expectations, all agreeing that it was easiest to picture the end result when we could compare the Georgian dishes to a modern day equivalent. David, however, raised the point that the modern pancakes were were used to would inevitably colour our opinion of these historical recipes.

Our Duchess of Cleveland pancakes turned a lovely golden brown but proved difficult to flip!

Our Duchess of Cleveland pancakes turned a lovely golden brown but proved difficult to flip!

Chatting over, it was time for the tasting! The pancake looked appetising but, served up on its own, it was not sweet enough for us. David compared it to a ‘mini Yorkshire pudding’ in both taste and texture, and wondered whether this was now what we’d regard as a pudding pancake. We were glad that no additional butter had been added to the pan as the result was rather oily.

Furthermore, with no definite measure of nutmeg in the recipe we felt this flavour was a little muted in this first attempt. Were our palates missing the stronger flavours of perfumed rose water from other recipes?! We decided to add an additional sprinkle of nutmeg to each subsequent batch of batter we cooked, and with some success: it considerably enhanced the flavour.

Pancakes and Fritters

Our 19th century style pancake on the stove

Our 19th century style pancake on the stove

Our second batch of pancakes was inspired by a 19th century recipe with the title ‘Pancakes and Fritters’, sourced again from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. The recipe allowed a ‘walnut’ of butter to be used in the pan, but contained no butter in the actual mixture. Our pancake flipping was eased by this additional butter – Trish making many successful flips – but unfortunately the end result was a much drier affair and almost rubbery in texture. We added sugar and lemon to this round of pancakes to enliven the taste and bring our own traditional view of pancakes into the mix.

We turned our 19th century style pancake into something more familiar to our palates by adding a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar

We turned our 19th century style pancake into something more familiar to our palates by adding a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar

With pancakes such a well-loved treat in Britain today, our Unknown Ladies had a lot to live up to. Our Cooking Up History group enjoyed comparing our recipes with the pancakes we’ve re so used to today. Although both recipes had their pros and cons, we definitely felt the second batch of ‘Pancakes and Fritters’ was the more successful of the two. If you’re tempted to have a go at the Georgian pancake challenge, try out one of our recipes today!

From feast to famine

Mrs Phillips’s Irish Stew; Hunters Pie as at Morrison’s

Here are two hearty recipes to set you up for today’s St Patrick’s Day festivities…

Nineteenth-century recipe for Mrs Phillips’s Irish stew, taken from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Nineteenth-century recipe for Mrs Phillips’s Irish stew, taken from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle 

Mrs Phillips’s Irish Stew

Take two pounds of mutton chops, four pounds of potatoes. Peel them and cut them in halves. Six onions peel and slice also. Put a layer of potato, first, at the bottom of your stewpan, then a couple of chops and some of the onions & so on till the pot is quite full, a small spoonful of white pepper, one and a half of salt, and three gills of broth or gravy. Cover all very close in to prevent the steam getting out. Let them stew two hours. A small slice of ham is a great improvement.

Just as fortifying is this recipe for ‘Irish Stew or Hunters Pie’, which Dr Kitchiner has taken from a Mr Morrison of the Leinster Hotel, Dublin:

Irish Stew or Hunters Pie as at Morrison’s

Take part of a neck of mutton. Cut it into chops. Season them well. Put it into a saucepan. Let it brase for half an hour. Take two dozen of potatoes, boil them, mash them and season them. Butter your mould and line it with the potatoes. Put in the mutton. Bake it for half an hour, when it will be done. Cut a hole in the top and add some gravy.

With its mashed potato crust, this dish is more commonly known to many of us as Shepherd’s Pie.

The potato had been introduced to Ireland in the mid 17th century as a delicacy for the gentry. By the early 19th century it was eaten by people of all classes, and was the staple food of the Irish poor.

Irish dependency on the potato had become a national stereotype by the early 1800s, as demonstrated by the popular song The Yorkshire Irishman or the Adventures of a Potatoe Merchant.  

Songsheet illustration for The Yorkshire Irishman by G. Nicks (1805). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Songsheet illustration for The Yorkshire Irishman by G. Nicks (1805). Image property of Westminster City Archives

The song tells of a Yorkshireman who learns from his mother that he is the son of an Irish potato grower. The song ends making a living for himself as a potato merchant in Covent Garden Market. Hard-drinking and with the gift of gab, his successful potato business sees him fulfilling the cultural destiny supposedly prescribed by his alleged parentage.

Ireland’s reliance on the potato as the staple diet of its working poor meant that the population was extremely vulnerable to harvest failures. 28 years after these recipes were first published, a  new type of potato blight ravaged Ireland’s potato harvests. Over the following decade, over 1 million people died as the result of blight, and yet more fled the famine, leaving the country and their livelihoods behind.

The story of the Great Irish Potato Famine is now told by Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. You can find out more about the history of the famine by visiting their website: http://ighm.nfshost.com