Recipes recreated: news from our readers

A big thank you to our reader Catherine, who has sent in these fantastic photographs of dishes she’s created from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Catherine followed our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe to create this tasty gooseberry pudding

Catherine followed our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe to create this tasty gooseberry pudding

The first picture shows her take on the Cookbook‘s 18th century gooseberry pudding. Not only does it look extremely appetising, but it also tasted great too. As Catherine told us:

This produces an excellent tart, with the sharp taste of gooseberries enhanced by the other flavourings, none of which dominates.  I found it produced a sponge-like layer on top with a more fool-like layer underneath.  Only putting pastry round the sides of the dish is a neat trick to avoid a soggy bottom!

Catherine’s stunning recreation of an 18th century sweet spinach tart proved to be a very enjoyable dessert

Catherine’s stunning recreation of an 18th century sweet spinach tart proved to be a very enjoyable dessert

Catherine also took the brave step of serving up our sweet ‘Spinach Tort‘ as a dessert for one of her friends:

“I rather surprised a lunch guest by serving Spinach Tart for dessert.  She always says how much she likes spinach, but she’d never had it like this before.  I had a bowl of strawberries in the fridge, just in case, but she happily finished off the portion of tart.  She said it had a subtle flavour and she wouldn’t have realized there was spinach in it had it not been green!”

We love the look of this dish, and Catherine’s beautiful decorative pastry work really sets it off nicely!

If you, like Catherine, have been trying your hand at recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, do get in touch! You can leave comments here on the blog, or email your cooking experiences and photos to westminster@archives.gov.uk

We look forward to hearing from you…

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“Appel dumplins”

Apples being sold in Stratford place at the beginning of the 19th century

Apples being sold in Stratford place at the beginning of the 19th century

Today’s 18th century style apple ‘dumplins’ are baked rather than boiled, making them a little less messy than the orange and lemon versions our Cooking Up History tried out.

Appel Dumplins

Scoop some of the largest appels you can get & fill their skin with some good stewed appels. The[n] is the pap sweetned. Stick a piece of citron in the middle of them & set them in the oven that will bake tarts. Let them stand in the oven half an hour, then serve them with melted butter, rose water & sugar. This is for a first course.

Although sweet to taste, the dumplings were intended to be set out on the table as part of an array of first course dishes.

Today we structure our meals quite differently, and these baked apple skins would probably be thought of by most diners today as a dessert. If you are tempted to part with Georgian dining tradition, why not go the whole hog and serve them with a jug of warm custard…

The Cooking Up History sessions – 3: summer tea party

Our Cooking Up History volunteers returned to the Archives kitchen at the end of June to try out some more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. And how better to celebrate the onset of summer than with a table laden with lemon creams, Savoy biscuits and a jug of refreshing spring fruit sherbet?

We were all excited about the menu, and pleased to find we were starting to become familiar with the tastes of the Georgian period. As Christina set to work zesting the lemons for our ‘lemmond cream’, she remarked how popular citrus seemed to be with the Cookbook’s compilers. In the early part of the 18th century oranges and lemons were still relatively expensive, and it is unlikely that our unknown ladies had their own orangery or glass-house where the fruits could be grown. We can only assume that their household brought in enough income to allow them the luxury of lemons in their puddings! 

Christina zests the lemons for our "lemmond cream"

Christina zests the lemons for our “lemmond cream”

“Lemmond Cream”

Our first recipe sounded rather appetising: a refreshing mix of lemons, sugar and eggs would go into making our Lemmond Cream. It was quick and easy to make up the mixture, although we all observed that it took much longer to thicken on the heat than we’d anticipated. Perhaps this was a touch of 21st century impatience coming into play?

Thickening up the lemon cream on the hob

Thickening up the lemon cream on the hob

The end result was a sweet-smelling and “extremely strongly flavoured” dish which defied all the expectations the name had given us. A splash of orange flower water lent the creams a highly-perfumed flavour, but the appearance was rather less appealing. We’d all expected a light creamy colour, but they actually turned out a rather lurid yellowy brown!  Maybe the long process of thickening the mixture on the stove had led to the sugar caramelising a bit. The texture looked a little grainy but was in fact very smooth to the taste.

Our lemon creams!

Our “lemmond cream”!

On balance, we all quite liked the creams, but a few felt the flavours were a little on the over-powering side. David, on the other hand, could have done with even more of a punch: he felt that by straining the mixture and removing the zest we’d lost a strong element of our ingredients, which could have provided added layers of extra texture and taste.

“Spring Fruit Sherbet”

Kim had prepared the Spring fruit sherbet earlier on in the day: an infusion of rhubarb, water, lemon and sugar syrup. It had been cooling in the fridge for some five hours by the time we came to try it.

The spring fruit sherbet went down well with some...

The spring fruit sherbet went down well with some…

Everyone admired the pretty pink colour of the drink – a bit like pink lemonade or a summery Pimm’s punch – but its taste really divided opinion. Some were extremely keen. Georgina felt the blend quite purifying whilst David claimed it to be ‘very tart’ – not necessarily a bad feature in David’s opinion! And Kim was at the other end of the scale, needing to add extra sugar to her glass as it was far too bitter for her. Angela stood somewhere in the middle on all this, finding it not bad at all, but wondering whether a more dilute version might be better.

“Savoy Biscuitts”

The Savoy biscuits were the highlight of our afternoon’s cookery escapades.

Dropping the Savoy biscuit batter on to the prepared trays

Placing the Savoy biscuit batter on the floured trays

The method was easy to follow. David commented that these biscuits seemed likely to have been made in large volumes, although following the extremely lengthy whisking of our eggs we questioned how easy this method would have been for a greater quantity in a Georgian household. Today we would normally have resorted to an electric beater but perseverance by Angela and a fork eventually paid off to give us the desired soft peaks!

Angela drew the short straw of whisking the egg whites

Angela drew the short straw of whisking the egg whites and sugar

The biscuits took 20 minutes in our electric oven and were very aesthetically pleasing, with a light brown colour. This, combined with the soft and slightly chewy meringue texture, meant they went down really well with all of the team.

The recipe specified that these biscuits would be “proper with tea in an afternoon” and so we popped the kettle on and enjoyed a good brew. A relief to Kim, who had been less than keen on the spring fruit sherbet!

Savoy biscuits, lemon creams and spring fruit sherbet: our Georgian-style spread!

Savoy biscuits, lemon creams and spring fruit sherbet: our Georgian-style spread!

What a lovely afternoon! David and Christina both commented how well everything had turned out, and what a nice spread it had been. A proper summer tea, which was certainly well-deserved by our Cooking Up History team!

"Cheers to a wonderful afternoon!" Our Cooking Up History group raise a toast with a glass of rhubarb sherbet

“Cheers to a wonderful afternoon!” Our Cooking Up History group raise a toast with a glass of rhubarb sherbet

Fancy having a go at these recipes at home? Visit our Cooking Up History section for all the details!

Shrewsbury cakes

The origins of the Shrewsbury cake – or biscuit –  are shrouded in mystery. Some believe these buttery biscuits were first baked in the 15th century or so. According to others, the biscuit we know today didn’t appear on the scene until 176o, when a Mr Palin is said to have sold the first batch from his shop by Shrewsbury Castle.

The problem of establishing this history is, to a large extent, one of definitions. What exactly is a Shrewsbury biscuit?

Variations abound, but almost all take the form of a crisp round biscuit with a short crumb. The biscuits are usually flavoured with lemon or orange zest, and often studded with dried fruits.

Our unknown ladies’ recipe for Shrewsbury cakes diverges from this a little. Caraway seeds are incorporated into the mix to provide a hint of aniseed, and rosewater replaces the lemon zest to give the biscuits fresh, floral overtones.

There’s a heavy emphasis on giving the biscuits a ‘correct’ appearance. They are to be patted out, not rolled, and must be cut with a large glass. Before they’re put in the oven, the biscuits are cross-barred with a comb to add a decorative touch:

An 18th century recipe for Shrewsbury cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An 18th century recipe for Shrewsbury cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Shrewsberry Cakes

Take three qrs of a pd of loaf sugar, a pd of flower, 1 ounce of carraway seeds. Mix these together & rub in a pd of fresh butter very small. Make it into a paste with the white of an egg beat to a froth & rose water. Work it well & pat it over with yr hands & fold up. Then patt it out broad & let it be pasted out to the thickness of saffron caks. Then turn down ye bowl of a glass on it to mark it & cut yr caks exactly of that size. It must be a large glass. Bake them on papers well flower’d & butter’d. Mark them with  cross barrs with a clean comb. Let yr butter be bare weight. Dont tuch them with a rolling pin.

Fancy a go at these regional treats? Here’s our version:

  • 175g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1-2 tsp caraway seeds (according to taste)
  • 225g butter
  • 1 small egg
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC
  2. Line a baking tray with grease-proof paper
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, flour and caraway and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  4. Separate the egg and beat the white to a froth
  5. Add the egg white and rosewater to the other ingredients and mix to form a dough. Add more rosewater if necessary
  6. Use your hands to roll the dough into a ball
  7. On a clean and lightly floured work surface, pat out the dough until it is approximately 1.5 cm in thickness
  8. Use a tumbler or a large round pastry cutter to cut out your biscuits
  9.  Place the biscuits on your lined baking tray
  10. Use a knife to cross hatch the top of each biscuit
  11. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until a light golden brown

Almond pudding, another two ways…

If you felt inspired by the almond puddings baked by our Cooking up History team last month, here are another couple of recipes to try…

To make an almond pudding, 18th century style

To make an almond pudding, 18th century style

To Make an Almond Pudding (modernised spelling)

Take half a pound of almonds, pound them with half a pound of white sugar till the come to a paste. Then take 3 ounces of fine flour of rice, a pint of good cream boiled & cold, a quarter of a pound of butter melted, 4 spoonfuls of rose water. Half an hour bakes it. You must put in the yolks of 4 eggs well beat.

An 18th century almond pudding "ye best way"

An 18th century almond pudding “ye best way”

An Almond Pudding the Best Way  (modernised spelling)

Take the yolks of 12 eggs. Beat them well with 3 quarters of a pound of loaf sugar, 3 quarters of a pound of almond[s] pounded with rose water as small as possible, 3 quarters of butter drawn & pretty cool, 3 spoonfuls of orange-flower water or rose water. 3 quarters of an hour bakes it. If you think the butter too much & you don’t like it so rich, leave out a quarter of a pound.

Biscuit basics

Savoy biscuits are known to many of us as ladyfingers, the kind of spongy biscuits still used today to create the base of English fruit trifle.

But for our unknown ladies, they were too good for sousing with sherry. Here, we find out how to make delicate, orange-flower-scented savoy biscuits that are   ‘proper with tea in an afternoon’:

An eighteenth-century recipe for Savoy biscuits or ladyfingers from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An eighteenth-century recipe for Savoy biscuits or ladyfingers from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Savoy Biscuitts

Beat up 12 eggs, half the whites. Strow in a pd of loaf sugar, sifted. When the eggs & sugar are beat white as cream, put in 4 spoonfulls of orange flower water, a pd of the finest flower, dryed & sifted. Mix all well together. Make them into what shapes you please. Bake them on tin plates, first flowerd, in a slack oven. These are proper with tea in an afternoon.

By contrast, our ladies never suggest serving Naples biscuits with their tea. These rusk-like biscuits are closely related to the Savoy biscuit, but in our Cookbook they are always destined for the cooking pot rather than the tea tray.

Our ladies would have probably bought Naples biscuits from a local baker or confectioner. Naples biscuits were rarely prepared in the 18th century home, and there are no recipes for them in the Cookbook.  But in the hands of an able cook, this simple confection becomes a versatile ingredient.

In The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies Naples biscuits are grated and crumbled into cooking mixtures as a thickening agent. They are used in a wide range of dishes, from cheesecakes to meat pies. In this recipe for Apple Pudding, crushed Naples biscuits give body and texture to a creamy, fruity and boozy dessert:

18th century recipe for apple pudding, using Naples biscuits

18th century recipe for apple pudding, using Naples biscuits

To Make an Apple Pudding

Take twelve pipins, roast them, take out all the pulp and put 6 spoon fulls of sack, caraway seeds and sugar to your last, as much Naple biskets as the pulp. Then, take a little thick cream and then beat it up with the rest and put it into a dish, putting in severall places a good of any red or white jellys of sweet meats.

There was another use for Naples biscuits: with their long shelf life, they were perfect stock for ships stores. Travelogues, naval memoirs and correspondence from this period record the Naples biscuit as an essential component of a seafarer’s diet.