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?

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Preserving fruits the sugar-free way

Two sugar-free recipes for preserving fruit.

The first, for green plums or apples, uses a layer of melted suet to seal the fruits from the air – a method commonly known as potting. We like the idea of boiling the fruits with kale leaf to them a lasting, vibrant green colour:

A method for potted plums or apples from the 18th century compilers of our The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A method for potted plums or apples from the 18th century compilers of our The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Preserve Green Plumbs or Apples

Take the plumbs and pare them very thin and as you pare them, throw them into cold water, parings and all. Then put them in to scald and green them with a cale leaf. When they are green, take them of and let them coole, Then take the ordinary plumbs or apples and boyle them to mash and when they are all cold, take an earthern croc well scalded, and lay a layer of pulp and a layer plumbs till your pot is full. Then take rendred seuit and power on them so the will keep all the year.

Regency cookery writer Dr William Kitchiner has another method up his sleeve – in this case gently heating fruit in wide-mouthed bottles, and then sealing them with corks to create an effective vacuum:

Dr Kitchiner’s instructions for bottling fruit, as transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Dr Kitchiner’s instructions for bottling fruit, as transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Preserved Fruit Without Sugar

Take damsons &c when not too ripe, pick off the stalks and put them into wide mouthed bottles (put in only those that are whole). Shake them well down. Stop the bottles with new soft corks, not too tight. Set them in a very slow oven (nearly cold) four or five hours. When they begin to shrink in the bottles, it is a sure sign that the fruit is thoroughly warm. Take them out and, before they are cold, drive in the corks quite tight. Set them in a bottle rack or basket with the mouth down.

Potting

We’ve already looked at a number of preserving methods, from pickles to jams and jellies. In today’s recipe, our unknown ladies have a go at ‘potting’ wildfowl:

18th century method for potting duck or woodcock from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century method for potting duck or woodcock from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Pot Wild Fowl

Take half a dozen woodcocks & the like number of ducks. Split them and break all their bowns. Take pepper, salt & nutmeg & season yr fowl with it. Take 1 ounce of salt peter & half a pint of clarrit. Mix them together. Lay yr fowl in a close earthen pot, then pour on yr wine & half a pnd of butter & cover them with brown paper. Bake them an exact hour & half. When they are baked, pres out all the liquor, then boyle half a pnd of butter with 1 shallet & a little pepper. Then pour yr butter over them.

The birds are plucked and gutted, then seasoned and cooked in an earthen pot with red wine and plenty of butter. When baked, any excess liquid is pressed out. Finally, melted butter is poured over the top and allowed to set, forming an effective air-tight seal over the meat.

As with so many of the recipes in the Cookbook, the method seems to be written for confident and experienced cooks, who break no bones (if you’ll excuse the pun) over skinning and gutting all kinds of animals.