Closing the book

With Tuesday’s Georgian pancake recipes, our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies project draws to a close…

We have had a wonderful time discovering the dishes in this extraordinary manuscript. Working through the Cookbook’s varied recipes has brought us closer to understanding the way our ancestors lived and worked. From lavish royal banquets to the harsh workhouse diet, from the noisy cries of London’s itinerant street traders to the semi-rural idyll of its market gardens, our Unknown Ladies’ recipes inspired us to delve deeper into our city’s Georgian past. What’s more, we’ve been able to to enjoy some tasty eighteenth and nineteenth-century treats along the way.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment on our recipes and articles throughout the project, and to those of you who bravely gave the recipes a go at home. It has been a privilege to share this adventure with you.

Special thanks goes to Annie Gray who provided invaluable advice and support throughout the project, and even tried out a rather gungy and gooey cow heel recipe on our behalf! We are also indebted to Maya Pieris, Alycia Smith-Howard and Janet Ing Freeman, all of whom contributed insightful and delightful articles on British food history.

And finally, we are hugely grateful to our merry band of volunteers, the Cooking Up History Group.

We hope you have enjoyed the project as much as we have.  If you have any questions about the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies or this project, get in touch with the team at Westminster City Archives: archives@westminster.gov.uk.

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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!

The Cooking Up History Sessions – 6: festive fare

Before we knew it, Advent was upon us and it was time for us to roll out some mince pies and mulled wine for our final Cooking Up History Session this year. Our seasoned cookery volunteers Christina and David joined us to create Lemon Caudle and Mammas Mince Pyes from our Georgian-era Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. We were also delighted to welcome food historian Annie Gray to our session. With a professional in our midst, we were keen to show off the knowledge and skills we’d accumulated over the past year, as well as learning some new tips on historic cookery.

Our mincemeat pies were based on the recipe for Mammas Mince Pyes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Our mincemeat pies were based on the recipe for Mammas Mince Pyes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

We began with our mince pies. The recipe was met with some hesitancy by the group, as the list of ingredients included a rather hefty amount of beef tongue. Fruit, spice, sugar… and meat? It challenged our preconceived idea of a mince pie should be! But Annie allayed our fears, telling us that once we’d tasted a proper mince meat pie, we’d never want to go back to modern shop bought ones. We determined to stay true to our 18th century ladies and forged ahead with the recipe.

David kicked off our mince pie preparation by shredding the ox tongue

David kicked off our mince pie prep by shredding the ox tongue

David began dicing our meat: cured ox tongue. We’d decided against preparing the tongue from scratch, as the skinning and boiling would have taken more time and space than we had available. There was the added bonus, of course, that for the more squeamish among the group the meat looked and handled just like ham. We then added an fruity mix of apples, currants, raisins and sweetmeats (dried apricots, dried cranberries and candied peel and ginger) to the mixture, stirring well to combine. Sugar and spice were then sprinkled in, along with a good measure of sherry.

The mincemeat mixture, ready for putting in the pie cases

The mincemeat mixture, ready for putting in the pie cases

Christina had expertly rolled and lined a muffin tin with shortcrust pastry. We filled some of the pastry cases with the meaty mincemeat and others with vegetarian mincemeat so that we could compare ‘Mammas mince pyes’ with their modern day counterparts.

Annie showed us how to make and fill a hand-raised pie

Annie showed us how to make and fill a hand-raised pie

Annie then showed us how to craft a hand-raised mince pie, building up the pastry little by little to create a free-standing pie case. We were all very impressed by Annie’s expertise!

Annie’s hand-raised pie case, filled and ready for the pastry lid

Annie’s hand-raised pie case, filled and ready for the pastry lid

After just over half and hour in the oven, it was time to take out the pies and have a taste. Golden brown with crisp short-crust pastry, they were a proper festive temptation and an ideal start to our Christmas celebrations. Our concerns about the meat had been unwarranted. Much to our surprise, the ox tongue added a richness to our mince pies which really enhanced the taste.

Our golden mincemeat pies, ready for tasting!

Our golden mincemeat pies, ready for tasting!

Christina noted that there was something extremely satisfying about all the ingredients – apples, raisins, sultanas etc and that they blended surprisingly well. The sherry gave the mixture real depth, and the nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and ginger provided the warm spice flavours that we have come to associate so closely with Christmas. But unlike the mince pies we buy in the shops today, these 18th century style ones weren’t too sweet – the sugar was really well balance by the saltiness of the tongue. The effect was really very pleasing.

Annie's hand-raised pie was the star of the session!

Annie’s hand-raised pie was the star of the session!

Lemon caudle

Mince pies baked, we went on to make our lemon caudle. It was a quick and relatively easy recipe.

Christina getting the lemon juice ready for our caudle

Christina getting the lemon juice ready for our caudle

We gently heated our milk on the stove and curdled it with freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Once we were sure that all the milk had turned, we strained off the curds and discarded them. The whey was then poured over a couple of egg yolks in a large bowl, whisked all the while, and once combined was returned to the saucepan on the hob. We were really careful to keep stirring the mixture and not let it heat up too much, as while we wanted it to thicken, we definitely didn’t want the mixture to split a second time!

Curdling milk to make lemon caudle. We turned the milk with lemon juice.

Curdling milk to make lemon caudle. We turned the milk with lemon juice.

As the caudle cooked, we began to get a better idea of what we might expect from it in terms of taste and texture. Christina thought the caudle would be a bit like custard, while Annie suggested that it would be warming and comforting – perfect for warding off the cold of winter.

Lemon caudle, ready for serving!

Lemon caudle, ready for serving!

We were pleased to find our end product a pleasant, milky drink, which led some of our group to compare it to our modern day equivalent of ‘Ovaltine’. The rose water, now so strongly associated with our Georgian cookery, still added the slightly unfamiliar taste to our drink, despite the little we had added. Still unsure of this perfumed taste, Christina and Kim agreed that one glass of this was more than enough, despite its soothing taste and texture.

As a post dinner treat, the combination of our mince pies and lemon caudle worked surprisingly well together. Christina was so blown away by our mince pies, she claimed they were the best she’d ever tasted! A comment to be cherished! Although our lemon caudle hadn’t tickled anyone’s tastebuds to quite the same extent, we had also enjoyed trying it out. Relaxing with a glass of mulled wine, we went on to discuss the pros and cons of historic food recreation with Annie…a lovely conclusion to a busy afternoon!

You can find the recipes we followed for the mince pies and lemon caudle on our Cooking Up History page. Why not give them a go?

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!

Potted salmon with warming spices

This potted baked salmon is flavoured with cloves, mace and nutmeg: spices we’ve come to closely associate with the culinary world of our Unknown Ladies:

This potted salmon recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies produces a fish dish with distinctive 18th century flavours

This potted salmon recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies produces a fish dish with distinctive 18th century flavours

To Pot Salmon

Take a side of salmon & take all the skin of & chop it very fine with half a pnd of fresh butter. Then take half an ounce of cloves & mace, a nutmeg, half an ounce of pepper, a large ounce of salt. So season yr fish and put it in to a small close pot and let it bake an hour & half exactly. Then strain all the liquor very dry from it & then cover it with drawn butter for your use.

The melted butter which is used to cover the fish would set upon cooling, sealing the potted salmon from the air. This way, the salmon could be kept in a cool place for several days: far longer than a fresh, untreated fish ever could.

The product of this recipe is a rich, buttery fish dish, which would work very well warmed up and spread on toast. Our Cooking Up History team have come across similar spice combinations many times now: in almond puddings, as well as in veal florentine and citrus dumplings. For some of them, cloves, mace and nutmeg ‘tasted of Christmas’. So here’s an idea: why not ditch the smoked salmon blinis and mackerel pâté at your Christmas party this year, and make 18th century style potted salmon the talking point of your festive table?

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…

The Cooking Up History Sessions – 4: salmagundi and cheesecake

We’d been hoping for a sunny day for our latest Cooking Up History session. With a summery menu of salmagundi salad and lemon-scented cheesecake on the menu, we were all set for a picnic-style celebration. As it turned out, the British Summer caught us out. But no matter – despite the grey skies there was plenty of cheer in the Archives Centre kitchen as we welcomed back our volunteers to try out more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

‘Salamon Gondy’

Making up our first dish, the so-called ‘salamon gondy’, turned out to quite an entertaining experience. Our lengthy list of ingredients seemed fairly formidable, comprising fish, turkey, onions, beetroot, capers, gherkins, apple, boiled eggs and celery. The method was, by contrast, incredibly simple: chop and slice our ingredients into small pieces, then make up a basic vinaigrette as a dressing.

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Assembling our dish was the most technically challenging and exciting aspect of the recipe. We knew that colourful salads like this would have been carefully arranged to form eye-catching centrepieces for the Georgian dining table, and wanted to make sure that our version made a similarly striking impression.  We discussed how best to arrange our ingredients, and checked out a few examples of similar salads online – not least Revolutionary Pie’s impressive version. Inspired, we set about constructing our spectacular salad.

The finished 'salamon gundy'!

The finished ‘salamon gondy’!

We were all very pleased with the finished design, a brightly coloured array of ingredients positioned in rings around the central portion of turkey breast. Archives staff member Hilary joined us for the tasting. She, along with the rest of the team, found much to be enjoyed in this eclectic salad, and thought it would make a great centrepiece at a special dinner today. Christina added that she ‘wouldn’t be ashamed to have it on my own table’.

Some of us had been a bit nervous about trying the salad, as the prospect of turkey mixed with salty fish and sweet apple and beet was something of an unknown quantity. For some of us, the tastes were to be a completely new experience – Rachel, for one, had never tried herring before.

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

In the end we were all pleasantly surprised, and our enjoyment of the finished dish matched the fun we’d had creating it. With so many different flavours, at first every mouthful we ate was very different from the last. But as we continued to taste it, the flavours merged well, with the salty anchovies offsetting the sweetness of the apple, and the turkey acting as a nice, neutral counterbalance to the punchy onion.

Of course, our unknown ladies’ version of the salad may have tasted quite different had they opted for ingredients that had been preserved in other ways. We’d chosen fresh beetroot, and anchovies and herrings in oil. If the 18th century cooks had instead gone for fresh fish or pickled beetroot, the final effect could have been quite different. As with so many of the recipes in the Cookbook, the vague listing of ingredients leaves room for interpretation.

Would we make it again? It was certainly one of the healthier recipes we’d tried from the Cookbook. Rachel found the combination of flavours and textures was actually quite modern – the sort of thing you’d pay an arm and a leg for at a swanky London café.

The Georgians may have been less concerned with the healthy attributes of the dish, but they did pay considerable attention to making sure each meal comprised a balanced selection of dishes. What better counterpart to a stomach-filling roast than a fresh, light salad? And, as Judith pointed out, the salmagundi was another example of how the 18th century cook could concoct something spectacular out of economical, everyday ingredients.

Lemon Cheesecake

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter - plenty of muscle work required!

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter – plenty of muscle work required!

We prepared a lemon cheesecake for second course, mixing together almonds, lemon, eggs and a large amount of butter. The recipe offered us the choice of adding either orange blossom water or rose water to our recipe. Rachel suggested that orange would enhance the citrus tones of the lemon, and Kim recalled how rosewater was sometimes pretty overpowering when we’d used it in other dishes, so we plumped for orange blossom.

Our lemon cheesecake

Our lemon cheesecake

The finished cheesecake – so named because of its cheese-like-texture rather than any cheese in the recipe – delighted us all. Fresh out of the oven, it had an extremely pleasing appearance: a lovely golden brown with a firm consistency. The combination of citrus fruits was really delicious. Hilary enjoyed the subtle fragrance of our orange water with its ‘scented after-taste’ and Christina was so taken with it she said she’d bake the dish again at home.

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Previous dishes tried out by our Cooking Up History group, such as the almond puddings of our first session, had included so much butter that they’d been rather too rich for modern tastes. We’d feared something similar this time round, there being 220g to just 150g of almonds in the mix. But we needn’t have worried – the cheesecake wasn’t too rich at all.

Today we think of butter as a staple ingredient, and indeed it was too in the 18th century. But Rachel reminded us evidence that our Cookbook compilers churned their own butter. The effort that had gone into making their cheesecakes was therefore far more considerable than the 30 minutes it had taken to get our cakes in the oven. Food for thought…

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

If you’d like to give any of our recipes a go, check out our Cooking Up History pages!

[Kim]