To fatten chickens in 4 days

Today’s extract adds to the growing body of evidence the our unknown ladies of the Cookbook kept some of their own animals, perhaps on a small farm. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily had a purely rural existence: they well have lived within a short walk of the bustling markets of London. The 18th century city petered out into fields just a few blocks north of Oxford Street, and you didn’t need to go far west of where Westminster Archives stands today to find yourself in acre upon acre of common land and market gardens. Bowles’ map of 1775 shows St Ann’s Street right on the edge of London’s urban development.

Today’s recipe is the strongest indication yet that our unknown ladies kept chickens. And there’s nothing sentimental about our ladies’ attitude: these are no fluffy farmyard pets, but livestock being raised for their eggs and meat. Here we learn an 18th century method for fattening up chickens, presumably for the pot:

The first part of the recipe doesn't sound too bad...

The first part of the recipe doesn’t sound too bad…

...but the idea of 'cramming' the paste rolls down chickens' throats - or 'sticking them behind' - is less appealing

…but it soon becomes less appealing when we’re instructed to ‘cram’ the paste rolls down the chickens’ throats – or ‘stick them behind’.

To Fatten Chickens in 4 Days

Take a pint of wheat, a pint of flower and a qr of a pd of brown sugar. Wet it with warm new milk into a paste. Make them into small rolls & cram down thier throats. Ye last two days, Stick ym behind.

It doesn’t sound like much fun for the chickens. So if you’re thinking of keeping chickens, best refer to modern government guidelines rather than the hints and tips of our unknown ladies!

A white frygasy of chickens

In Georgian England, cooks bought live chickens from street sellers

In Georgian England, cooks bought live chickens from street sellers

Here’s a recipe for someone who knows a bit about butchery!

Many of us have lost these skills now that poultry and other meat can be bought fully prepared and packaged from the supermarket.In the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies there are no such shortcuts. Georgian cooks had to be prepared to get their hands dirty, as chickens were sourced live from small-holdings or street traders.

Vendors announced their arrival with the cry of ‘Buy my fat chickens‘ as they walked the London streets with cages of chickens slung over their shoulders.

In this recipe for a white fricassée, three large chickens need to be gutted, skinned and jointed before being popped in the cooking pot.

To make a white frygasy - fricassée - of chickens: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To make a white frygasy – fricassée – of chickens: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a White Frygasy of Chickens

Take 3 large chickens, skin them & cut them joynts & wash them very white & rub them with a dry cloath & then boyl very well in water whitend with a little flower. When the are boild enough poure of the water & take a little cream & stire them a little in it & then take near half a pint of cream & thicken it up with 3 yolks  & 2 or 3 prints of butter drawn thick. Beat all these together. When the chickens have stued a while in the cream, put about a nagin of white wine wth some cloves & mace & when it is near redy, put in the thickning. 

There are a couple of antiquated terms in the recipe, which are worth explaining:

A print of butter

Dairies would use a carved wooden stamp to ‘print’ their pats of butter. The print design could feature a simple emblem, such as a thistle, or even comprise the producer’s initials. As well as being decorative, it marked the butter as the work of a particular producer. Once stamped, each pat of butter would be wrapped in linen for sale.

A ‘nagin’ of white wine

A nagin or ‘noggin’ was a measurement of spirits, equivalent to ¼ of a pint.