A Good Scotch Haggis for Burns Night

How better to mark the birthday of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, than with a Good Scotch Haggis! Burns famously penned an Address to a Haggis, an ode to the ‘great chieftain o’ the pudding race’, which first appeared in print in the Caledonian Mercury of 20 December 1786.

This recipe was copied into our Georgian Cookbook from The Cook’s Oracle by Dr William Kitchener, who in turn had taken it from Mrs Maciver, a cookery school teacher in late 18th century Edinburgh. Susannah Maciver was practising her art of cookery around the time when Burns was immortalising the hearty haggis in poetry. 

A Scottish recipe for haggis,  borrowed from a Mrs Maciver of Edinburgh for Dr Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

A Scottish recipe for haggis, borrowed from a Mrs Maciver of Edinburgh for Dr Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

A  Good Scotch Haggis

Make the haggis bag perfectly clean. Parboil the draught. Boil the liver very well so as it will grate. Dry the meal before the fire. Mince the draught and a pretty large piece of beef very small. Grate about half of the liver. Mince plenty of the suet and some onions small. Mix all these well together with a handful or two of the dried meal. Spread them on the table and season them with salt and mixed spices. Take any of the scraps of beef and some of the water that boiled the draught and make about a choppin (sic.) a quart of good stock of it. Then put all the haggis meat into the bag and that broth in it. Sew up the bag, but be sure to put out all the wind before you sew it quite close. If you think the bag is thin, you may put it in a cloth. A large one will take two hours boiling. From Mrs Maciver of Edinburgh.

‘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!

Oysters for everyone!

Oysters today are considered a delicacy and the reserve of the rich. Back in the 18th century however, they were served up liberally and savoured by all levels of society. London’s many shellfish shops often offered an ‘oyster room’ where their wares could be sampled on site, and oyster-men did the rounds of the city’s theatres and public houses, selling produce from the oyster-beds of the Kent and Essex coasts. The shores of the Thames are still littered with oyster shells, discarded by Georgian Londoners at a time when the shellfish were considered fast, cheap food.

Whitstable is a fishing town that has that supplied the London markets for centuries. This weekend, hosts of Londoners will be making the journey over to Whitstable harbour for the start of the town’s annual Oyster Festival. It seems a fitting occasion to explore a couple of oyster dishes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

The recipes below each call for a hundred oysters, making them expensive dishes by today’s standards! While our unknown ladies’ oyster loaves recipe sees each crusty roll stuffed with 16 of the shellfish, Paul Hollywood’s modern version on the BBC website is scaled down to suit 21st century wallets.


This 18th century recipe for oyster loaves calls for 100 oysters!

This 18th century recipe for oyster loaves calls for 100 oysters!

To Make Oyster Loaves

Take half a dozen of French roules, cut of the top of the crust about the breadth of a shilling piece and scoop out all the crum and be sure not to breake the crust. Then take a hundred of oysters, open them and wash them very well in […] their own liquor. Then take the oysters and some crums of bread and two spoonfulls of their own liquor and a bout half a pint of white wine. Take some mace and cloves and a little nutmeg and pound them in a morter and put all these in your sause pan and stir them all together. When you find your oysters prity well stued, then take three prints of butter drawn very thick, put into your oysters. Take your Frensh roules and fry them in fresh butter, very crisp. Then put your oysters into them. Then put on the tops which you cutt of and keep them very hot till you serve them up.

Our second recipe is for an ‘oyester pye’. This is a hearty dish: oysters, sweetbreads, boiled eggs and chestnuts are just a few of the ingredients:

Extract from an 18th century recipe for "oyester pye" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Extract from an 18th century recipe for “oyester pye” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An Oyester Pye

Take an hundred of the largest oysters you can get. Wash them, when opend, in […] warm water. Strain all ther own liquor and put ye water yow wash ye oysters in likewise. Cut two large sweet breads in small bits. Have an half hundred bouled chesnuts peeled, six yolks off hard eggs, two anchovys shred, some lumps of whole marrow. Intermix all these in ye pye. Pour on ye liquor & a water glass full of white wine. Fill ye pye with what liquor it wants, with greawy. If you have not marrow, put in butter. Seasone it with salt, mace and cloves.

Calf’s head hash: a dish for brave cooks with big appetites

You may feel a bit too squeamish to try this recipe for calf’s head hash. But for those brave enough to take up the challenge, the  reward is a stunning centrepiece.

Preparing a whole calf’s head is not for the squeamish...

Preparing a whole calf’s head is not for the squeamish…

If you saw the BBC documentary Calf’s Head and Coffee, you may well remember Stefan Gates preparing a stuffed calf’s head from a recipe of 1755.
The calf’s head hash recipe in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies also dates from the Georgian period and should yield similar results.

It is a long recipe, and fairly difficult to unpick. Here is a basic outline of the method:

– First the calf’s head is cut in half. One side is covered in breadcrumbs and browned, while the other is sliced up as the ‘hash’.

– Next, beef is cooked on the stove to express its juices, made fragrant by the addition of pepper, allspice, winter savoury and onions. Butter is added to enrich the sauce, and when as much juice has been drawn from the meat as possible, it is strained and thickened.

– Oysters, anchovies, mushrooms, ketchup, a little mace and a touch of white wine are all stirred into the gravy. The sliced head hash is then boiled up in this surf-and-turf sauce, along with some bacon.

– Fresh forcemeat balls now need making up, and the calf brain boiled and then fried to make fritters.

– Finally, the presentation: the breaded half of the head is served with its garnish of fried brains, forcemeat, and lashings of gravy.

The calf’s head is used in this recipe – tongue, brains and all. It’s a fine example of how economical Georgian recipes could be while still making a spectacular showpiece of food.

18th century recipe for a calf's head hash. The head is breaded and garnished with brain fritters and forcemeat balls.

18th century recipe for a calf’s head hash. The head is breaded and garnished with brain fritters and forcemeat balls.

To Make a Calfs Head Hash

Boil the head fit for a hash. Take one half & drudge it with crumbs of bread & nutmeg greated. It must be first rubd over with the yolk of an egg. Baste it with butter & set before a good fire to brown. Slice the other half of the head & the tongue. Take two pound of fresh beef, slice it very thin, put it in the toss pan with some whole pepper and alspice, some winter savory & some onions slicd & a bout a quarter of a pound of butter. Cover it close with a plate or anything that will keepe it very close till the gravy comes all out. Pour of that gravy & put to the beef a bove a pint of water. Boil it till you git the good of the beef out. Put it to the other gravy & let it stand till cold & skim of the fit a gain. Strain all the gravy while it is warm. Put a bout a quarter of a pound of butter in the toss pan. Lit it boil in the pan till it leaves off boiling. Drudge it with flower & keep it stiring till it [is] brown but don’t make it to thick. Add all your gravy to it. Let it boil up. Let it stand & skim off the fat a gain. Put in a little pounded mace, some oysters, anchovys, mushroons, catchup & a little white wine. Put in your hash & some fryed bacon, give it a good boil & serve it up with forcd meat balls & the brains fryed.

You may make the forcd meat of any fresh meat. You must first parboil your meat & cut it in thin slices. Put to it some suet, some fat of bacon & some onion cut small. Season it with pepper, allspice & salt. Some crumbs of bread to it, then chop it as fine as possible. Mix it well to gether, taking out any strings. Wet it with a raw egg. Mix it well & role it into balls with a little flower. Fry them brown & keep them very hot. If you cant git suet, put same butter instead of it.

Boil the brains & beat them up. Put to thim an egg, a little creame, a little flower, some grated nutmeg & salt. Beat them well to geather & fry thim like fritters. Garnish the head with thim & the forcd meat. If the head is small, boil the sholder & slice some in the hash. It is best to make the forcd meate of it if you have it.

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!


Cow heel

Despite the current culinary revival of using offal and cheap cuts of meat, there are some recipes in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies which only the most adventurous of cooks are likely attempt today.

Among these intrepid cooks is historical food expert Annie Gray, who gave nineteenth-century cow heels a try.

A nineteenth-century recipe for fried cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A nineteenth-century recipe for fried cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cow Heel

This will furnish several good meals. When boiled tender, cut it into handsome pieces. Egg and bread crumb them, fry them a light brown, lay them round a dish and put in the middle sliced onions, fried.

The heel ready for boiling

The heel ready for boiling

Annie boiled the cow’s heel with a little carrot and leek to add flavour to the stock. Once cooked, she chopped the heel into pieces and coated them in breadcrumbs before frying up the whole lot in a deep pan of oil.

Once fried and drained of excess oil, the cow's heel is ready to serve

Once fried and drained of excess oil, the cow’s heel is ready to serve

What did she make of them?

It was not vile. Indeed, at first, they were rather pleasant. I would say that deep fried pigs’ ears, which are beginning to appear more and more on menus now, are better, as they have more crunch. These are a bit more gooey, and you do need to like the taste of cow – pork, I think, is a bit more accessible. As a starter or snack, they’d be great

Annie served her cow’s heel with cream and horseradish – a popular Georgian accompaniment. Alternatively, you could try it with ‘Mr Kelly’s Sauce for Boiled Tripe, Calf Head or Calf Heel’:

Garlick vinegar, a tablespoonful – of mustard, brown sugar & black pepper, a teaspoonful each stirred into half a pint of oiled melted butter.

Like many Georgian and Regency dishes, cow heel was highly economical to prepare. The stock formed when boiling the heel could be used to make jelly, and whole of the boiled heel could then be eaten, skin and all, with no waste.

If you take a liking to cow’s heel, you can even serve it as a sweet dish! In the following eighteenth-century recipe, the boiled heel is finely chopped and added to a fruited suet pudding mix:

Neat’s foot pudding, made with cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Neat’s foot pudding, made with cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Neat Foot Pudding

Let your feet be well boyled. Take half a pound of them chopd small, half a pound of beef shuit, half a pound of currants, four eggs well beatten, some sugar, three or four spoonfulls of flower, salt, sack, brandy and nutmeg. Mix all to gether. An hour will boyle it.