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!

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The Cooking Up History sessions – 2: kidney florentine and fruit dumplings

Following the successful launch of our Cooking Up History sessions last month, we were inspired to put on our pinnies again to try out some more recipes from our Georgian cookbook. Willing volunteers David and Christina joined us in the Archives kitchen, and enthusiastically took up the challenge of recreating a couple of rather unusual recipes.

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

First up on the menu was a sweet and savoury dish called ‘Veal Kidney Florentine’.  Baked in a pastry case, the dish didn’t look anything out of the ordinary: a generously filled pie with a decorative latticed topping. We all agreed, however, the flavour was distinctly out of kilter with today’s cuisine, and tasted nothing like anything we had ever tried.

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

Not everyone was keen, but David was fairly positive. He thought the dish was “not unpleasant, but very unusual and exotic”. Perhaps not surprising given the unfamiliar blend of ingredients used in the filling: a tongue-tingling mix of kidney, apples, orange peel and lettuce, spices (mace and nutmeg) and a good glug of sherry.

Christina felt it was “more of a sweet dish like an apple pie rather than a savoury one”, and rather unusual therefore to find served as a first course. The method was easy to follow, and everyone agreed that the dish looked stunning, even if the taste didn’t quite live up to its appearance! We wondered whether the recipe could be tweaked for modern palates by adding more meat, and decreasing the fruit content, as the taste of the apple was pretty overpowering.

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Moving on from the florentine, we had a go at ‘Orange and Lemon Dumplins’. To make these, we scooped the flesh out of lemons and oranges, and filled the zesty casings with a spice and brandy infused almond breadcrumb mixture.

The batter resembled the texture of thick porridge as we spooned it into the fruit shells. The ‘lid’ of each fruit was then put back, and secured by wrapping the whole citrus in muslin. We then faced an agonising decision. How long should we cook them for? The recipe suggested that they would “take as much boyling as a piece of beif”. How long is a piece of string?

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

In the end, we did cook the fruit too long. Overboiled, the dumplings were at the point of near collapse when we took them out of the pan.

The orange and lemon dumplings received a mixed reaction. Someone described the filling as “good comfort food” whilst David preferred the zestiness of the actual lemon and orange casings that held the mixture. We all thought  the dish was somewhat lacking in flavour. On reflection, maybe we hadn’t sweetened the mix enough. As with many other recipes in the Cookbook, there were no quantities to go by – only the vague instruction to add ‘some sugar to taste’.

The dumpling ingredients – sugar, brandy, almonds and citrus – had led us to think of the dish as a dessert, but in fact the Cookbook describes it as an accompaniment for a main course. Perhaps the blandness of the dish was intended to balance the flavour of the richer main course dish. Maybe we missed a trick by tasting the florentine and dumplings one after the other rather than together.  It is possible that eating the two dishes together would have offered us quite a different taste experience.

Tempted to take up the challenge? See our Cooking Up History page for all the recipes our intrepid volunteers have tried to date.

We’d love to know how you get on with these, or any other recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies… Email your photos and findings to archives@westminster.gov.uk, or post a comment on the blog!

[Georgina]

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!

Georgian puddings, recreated…

We’ve received these wonderful photos from Catherine, who’s been following our blog over the past few months and trying out the Cookbook recipes in her own kitchen…

First up, this rather stunning apple pudding, accompanied by a perfectly baked Naples biscuit:

Catherine made her own Naples biscuit to accompany her Georgian apple pudding.

Catherine made her own Naples biscuit to accompany her Georgian apple pudding.

Catherine says:

This Apple Pudding is very quick to make and a different way to serve apples.  Modern sponge fingers would work well, but I made a batch of Naples biscuits up since you can’t just go out and buy them these days.  I served it with one.  Now I just need a recipe to use the rest up….

Inspired? Find the recipe in our Biscuit Basics post!

She also made this very fine Spanish pudding:

We love the look of this 18th century style Spanish pudding, created by Catherine from a The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe.

We love the look of this 18th century style Spanish pudding, created by Catherine from a Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe.

How did it taste? Well, Catherine tells us that while the combination of flavours might seem unusual, “it has a very pleasant, fresh ‘botanical’ flavour from the bay and rosewater”.

We love what Catherine’s created from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Why not get creative too, and serve up an 18th century style pudding tonight? If you do, be sure to send us the photographs (archives@westminster.gov.uk) or leave a comment here on the blog to let us know how you get on!

In the footsteps of the Unknown Ladies…

Some of our readers have been intrepidly trying out our Cookbook recipes at home.

Here are some fabulous pictures sent in by Catherine, who has been inspired to have a go at the recipes for chocolate cream and saffron cake.

We’re very impressed by the results!

Catherine's Georgian chocolate cream

Catherine’s Georgian chocolate cream

The chocolate cream was “rich and unctuous”, although it proved tricky to get a good froth on the top…

She also baked saffron cakes, reducing the quantity of saffron for “a lovely light cake with a delicate colour and flavour”:

Saffron cakes made, "as the woman at the Blew Peel does", by Catherine

Saffron cakes made, “as the woman at the Blew Peel does”, by Catherine

Here are her tips for making delicious Georgian saffron cakes:

The proportions I used were 1lb flour, 1tsp caraway seeds, 2oz sugar, 2 oz butter, ½ tsp saffron, 2 floz milk, 2 eggs, 5 tbs sourdough starter. Bake in two 7 inch round loose bottom cake tins (the Georgians used hoops) for 15m at 200 degrees C, cover with paper and bake for a further 15m at 180 degrees C.

We’d love to see more pictures of your cooking from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipes.

Share your stories and photos by emailing us at archives@westminster.gov.uk, or post a comment on the blog.

Happy cooking!

The ‘Cooking Up History’ sessions – 1: puddings

On Friday 1 March, ‘Cooking up History’ volunteers David and Angela joined us to whip up some dishes from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Our Archives Centre kitchen was transformed with the sights and smells of the Georgian kitchen as we rolled up our sleeves, put on our pinnies, and got busy baking!

Our librarian Judith with Angela and David, the Cooking up History team!

Our librarian Judith with Angela and David, the Cooking up History team!

We began the first in our series of historic cookery adventures with a selection of sweet recipes from the Cookbook: two 18th century recipes for almond puddings, and three buttery, boozy pudding sauces from the early 19th century. Perfect warming food to cheer us through the recent cold spell.

Our first challenge was to ‘translate’ the original recipes for use in our modern kitchen. Easier said than done. While the 19th century sauce recipes were pretty thorough, the earlier pudding methods were riddled with omissions! Filling in the gaps reinforced how these 18th century would have been been compiled by an experienced domestic cook, who was well versed in basic cooking methods, and judged most quantities and cooking temperatures by their own experience of what ‘felt right’.

One of the original recipes we adapted for the cookery session

One of the original recipes we adapted for the cookery session

There were plenty of potential pitfalls to avoid. Both of the pudding recipes called for huge quantities of eggs, but as those used in the Georgian kitchen would have been much smaller, we needed to adjust the quantities accordingly. We had to decide on which ‘weight’ of cream to use (we plumped for double rather than single) and even what spirit to substitute for ‘sack’.

And inevitably, there were some pitfalls that we failed to dodge. Without any instructions about how mix our ingredients, our first pudding batter turned out extremely lumpy and rather grey. But some good old-fashioned elbow grease with a wooden spoon got it looking more the part, and disaster was narrowly avoided.

Cross-barring our first almond pudding - almost ready to go in the oven!

Cross-barring our first almond pudding – almost ready to go in the oven!

Once our puddings were snugly in the oven, we sat back with a cup of tea to reflect on how things had gone so far. We’d taken plenty of short cuts in recreating these recipes – such as using ground almonds rather than pounding them by hand – and Angela remarked how time-consuming these puddings would have been without all the kitchen aids we have today. This got us thinking about all the other difficulties that a Georgian cook would have faced.

Even getting hold of ingredients seemed to be easier today. We found nearly everything we needed at the supermarket, and the more exotic ingredients (mace, rosewater) we got hold of from our local Indian grocery. Whereas other recipes in the Cookbook indicate that our 18th century ladies would have sourced some of the ingredients from their smallholdings – eggs from their own hens, and milk and cream from a domestic cow.

The timer interrupted our chat and it was time to try the puddings…

Almond pudding in a pastry case: the first pudding we tasted

Almond pudding in a pastry case: the first pudding we tried and tasted

As we cut into our first almond pudding, we realised that something had gone a little awry, as the mixture was still fairly sloppy, and wasn’t keeping its shape as we’d expected. On taste, though, it didn’t disappoint. David was the first to comment: “ This is delicious!”. Rosewater was the predominant taste, and the nutmeg came through well too. Angela was the first to remark that it ‘tasted of Christmas’, and funnily enough, we all agreed.

David gives almond pudding no. 1 the thumbs up!

David gives almond pudding no. 1 the thumbs up!

The second pudding turned out like something between a bakewell pudding and a baked custard, and was literally oozing with butter. We’d used sherry in place of sack, which came through fairly delicately.

The second almond pudding - a cross between baked custard and bakewell pudding

The second almond pudding – a cross between baked custard and bakewell pudding

Angela serves up our second almond pudding

Angela serves up our second almond pudding

The 19th century sauces were less subtle. ‘Pudding catsup’ was rather heavily laced with sherry and brandy. The alcohol-free ‘Justin’s Orange Sauce’ was a bit more refined, and complemented rather than overpowered the puddings.

We were all surprised at how different these puddings tasted from the ones we are used to today. None of were used to using rosewater or mace in our day-to-day cooking, and the large quantities of butter in the recipes made the puddings seem incredibly rich to our modern palates. Nevertheless, we all felt we’d come one step closer to discovering the tastes of the Georgian kitchen, and to the lives our ‘unknown ladies’ would have lived.

To try out these recipes in your own home, take a look at our Cooking up History page, where we’ve published all of the recipes for your enjoyment!