‘Sheeps head soop’

This could be considered the perfect Georgian dish: economical and flavoursome, dished up with a strong (albeit a little gruesome) performance element.

Recipe for sheep’s head soup, part 1: "Take the sheeps head and put it down with as much water as will cover it..."

Opening of our Unknown Ladies’ recipe for sheep’s head soup: “Take the sheeps head and put it down with as much water as will cover it…”

A Sheeps Head Soop

Take the sheeps head & put it down with as much water as will cover it, a faggot of sweet herbs, a little all spice & pepper. Let it stew softly till the head be very tender. Then, take up the head & strain the broth & have 2 or 3 onions cut small & an head of white cabbage cut small. Put these in the broth & let it stew till it be very tender. Than have a qrt of new milk boyled, the yolks of 2 eggs brewed in it. Stir this into the soop. You must have one side of the head kept very hot & serve it in the middle of the soop. Put a little salt in.

The method is quite straightforward. The sheepshead is stewed in water with herbs, spices and seasoning until the meat is tender and its juices have flavoured the broth. The head is then taken out, and onions and cabbage are added to the remaining liquid. When the vegetables are tender, a custard-like mixture of hot egg yolks and milk is poured in to thicken and enrich the soup.

The soup is now just about ready for serving, but there’s one final step to both visually amaze the diner and add some meaty textures to the dish. Half the sheeps head, which has been kept hot, is lowered into the serving dish and the rich soup is poured in around it. Then a sprinkle of salt, and it’s ready for the table.

This soup may not be to many modern British diners’ tastes, but there is no denying that nutritionally, economically and as a theatrical pièce de résistance, it is hard to beat!

To collar meat

We last looked at ‘collaring’ when we put together a Regency menu of beef and Yorkshire pudding for St George’s Day. Today’s first two recipes use the same technique of tightly rolling and binding meat, which is then pickled for use at a later date.

Nowadays, brawn (in its culinary sense) is often used to refer to a jellied preparation of pig’s head and tongue. In this Georgian recipe for collared brawn, it refers to the raw head meat. The meat is stripped from the skull before being salted, seasoned and boiled in a vinegar solution. Then, rolled up tightly in cloth, it is steeped in a strong pickle until tender and ready for use:

An 18th century recipe for collaring and pickling brawn from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An 18th century recipe for collaring and pickling brawn from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Collar Brawn

Take a quarter of brawn, lay it in salt three days. Then take some all spice, cloves & mace & season it. Boyle it in a cloath very soft with some vinegar, salt & water till it be tender. Then rowl it over new with another cloath & fresh tape as hard as possible. Then let it be cold. Then boyle yr pickle with some brawn with a little fresh water. Let it be cold & keep ye brawn constantly in it tyed up. Make fresh liquor once a fortnight.

A very similar method is used to prepare breast of veal:

18th century recipe "to collar a breast of veal" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

18th century recipe “to collar a breast of veal” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

To Collar a Breast of Veal

Bone a large breast of veal, wash it clean, soak it in 2 or 3 waters. Dry it well. Season it with salt, pepper, cloves & mace, some sweet herbs. Dip it all over in a batter of eggs. Roll it up hard in a cloth. Boyle it in salt & water, vinigar & allspice. Boyle it well & skim it. Take out yr collar & keep it in this pickle when both are cold.

But collared meat needn’t be pickled at all. In the following recipe for mutton collars, the meat is served up hot in a rich, flavoursome gravy with a colourful garnish of lemon and red cabbage. There’s also an innovative technique for keeping the mutton moist: it is baked in a pot along with white bread and water and sealed with a pastry lid:

This 18th century recipe for collaring mutton creates a colourful impression of work in the Georgian kitchen

This 18th century recipe for collaring mutton creates a colourful impression of work in the Georgian kitchen

Mutton Collars

Take a breast & neck of mutton, bone it, spread it on ye dresser. Take ye yolks of 3 eggs boyled hard & shred small, half a lemon peel shread, 3 anchoves shred, some shives, thyme, some pepper & allspice pounded. Strow these all over ye in side of ye meat but first rub ye in side with the white of an egg. Then clap the breast on the neck & roll ym up hard with a tape & cloth in a collar. Bake it in a crok with white bread, fill’d up with water & cover’d with paste. When it coms out, take it out of ye crok & let it lye till next day in ye cloth. Then take it out & cut it in 3 collars the height of yr hand. Then toss up a sauce of strong greavy, white wine, anchoves shred, lemon peel & onion, thyme & parsley, pepper, all spice, a lump of butter roll’d in flower. Toss these up together, then heat the collars in it. You must have a good deal of liquor, for you must allow for waste in heating yr collars. Garnish yr dish with slices of lemon & red cabbage.

There’s some lovely imagery in this recipe – the meat being spread out on the kitchen dresser, the ‘clap’ as one cut is laid on the other for rolling… Further clues as to what work was like in the kitchens of our ‘unknown ladies’.

A surf and turf soup

Oysters, crab and lobster are the stars of this rich stew, which is based on a thick broth of mutton and veal.

To make crab and lobster soup: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To make crab and lobster soup: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Crab & Lobster Soop

Take a neck of mutton & a nuckle of veal. Put them over the fire and make some strong broath with a bunch of time, 2 whole onyons & a little whole pepper. Then take all the fish out of 6 lobsters & as many crabs and put it in the strong broath & let them stew one hour over a slow fire with a pint of clarret. Then, strain yr liquor through a hair sieve, put it over the fire with 4 handfulls of grated bread, about a score of oysters & let them stew all together with a qr of a pnd of fresh butter melted in a little flower, with half a greated nutmeg. So thicken it over the fire then serve it up with a broyled crab in the middle & garnish yr dish with sliced lemon and crabs claws.

Lobsters fished from British waters could be bought more cheaply in the 18th century than they are today, and oysters were also used liberally in the Georgian kitchen.

Mutton and oysters were a celebrated combination of the period. Several Georgian cookery books include a recipe for roast mutton, in which oysters are stuffed into slits in the meat before cooking.