“Hot Spiced Gingerbread!”

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 sweet treats to passersby in Oxford Street

Hot Spiced Gingerbread, sold in oblong flat cakes of one halfpenny each, very well made, well baked and kept extremely hot is a very pleasing regale to the pedestrians of London in cold and gloomy evenings. This cheap luxury is only to be obtained in winter, and when that dreary season is supplanted by the long light days of summer, the well-known retailer of Hot Spiced Gingerbread, portrayed in the plate, takes his stand near the portico of the Pantheon, with a basket of Banbury and other cakes.

Itinerant Traders of London (1804)

This ‘gingerbread man’ was one of over 30 street traders featured by William Marshall Craig in his book, Itinerant Traders of London. Craig himself seemed pretty impressed by the cakes, describing them as ‘very well made’ and ‘well baked’, and cheap at the price of a ha’penny.

We don’t know whether the unknown ladies of our Cookbook ever patronised this street trader’s stall at the Pantheon, but we do know that they were fans of gingerbread. They recorded two recipes for this spicy cake in their manuscript recipe book.

The first recipe comes to us courtesy of Mrs Ryves, whom we last met when she was making cream cheese. Here, we share her simple method for a classic gingerbread:

"To make gingerbread Mrs Ryve's Way"

“To make gingerbread Mrs Ryve’s Way”

To Make Ginger Bread Mrs Ryves’ Way

Take two pound of fine flower, half a pound of white sugar, won ounce of pounded ginger all well dryed and sifted, a pound and a quarter of treacle, half a pound of fresh butter. Boyle the butter and treacle together then take it of and make it into a past with the things above nam’d and make it into what shapes you pleas. Butter your papers very well you bake them on. Your oven must be as hot as for Chease Cakes.

The second recipe is a little different from the gingerbread we’re used to today. Along with the ginger, caraway seeds and candied citrus are used to flavour the mix. It sounds rather intriguing… one to try as warming treat at tonight’s Bonfire Night celebrations? The mixture also contains eggs, so although our ladies make no mention of cooking, don’t forget to bake it!

A Georgian gingerbread recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

A Georgian gingerbread recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

To Make Ginger Bread

Take fore qurts of flower, a pinte of treacle, & not quite halfe a pound of butter, four eggs, halfe an ounce of pounded ginger, halfe an ounce of carraway seeds, a qr of a pd of brown sugar, a nagin of brandy, som canded lemmon or orange. Mix all these in the flower. Melte the treacle & butter to geather. So mix all very well.

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!

A teatime treat

This nineteenth-century recipe for shortcake biscuits translates well to the modern kitchen.

Rub together the flour and butter, sweeten with soft brown sugar and add currants for flavour. Combine with a beaten egg and milk and then bake in the oven for a simple but tasty teatime treat!

Nineteenth-century recipe for short cakes, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Nineteenth-century recipe for short cakes, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Short Cakes

Rub in with the hand one pound of butter into two pounds of sifted flour. Put one pound of currants, one pound of moist sugar and one egg. Mix all together with half a pint of milk, roll it out thin and cut into round cakes. Lay them on a clean baking plate and put them in a middling hot oven for about five minutes.

Readers’ cookery: sampling Shrewsbury cakes

Many thanks to Emma, who sent in these impressive pictures of Shrewsbury cakes she has baked from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe.

Emma's Shrewsbury cakes, baked to our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe

Emma’s Shrewsbury cakes, baked to our adapted recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

What did she make of them?

“I was really pleased with how they turned out. They looked beautiful and the taste was very moreish! I love caraway, and I thought it went really well with the rosewater. However, I can imagine that if you didn’t like aniseed it would be less appealing”.

Emma's friend Sarah with one of the Georgian Shrewsbury cakes

Emma’s friend Sarah with one of the Georgian Shrewsbury cakes

Have you given any of our Georgian recipes a try? If so, you can share your recipe results by emailing archives@westminster.gov.uk or by posting a comment on the blog!

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

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.