Peristaltic Persuaders

Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies contains quite a number of home remedies, tackling anything from rheumy eyes to whooping cough. Today’s recipes take on common but uncomfortable ailments. The first up is the wonderfully titled ‘peristaltic persuaders’, Dr Kitchiner’s cure for constipation:

These "peristaltic persuaders" contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

These “peristaltic persuaders” contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

To Make Forty Peristaltic Persuaders

Turkey rhubarb, finely pulverized, two drachms
Syrup, by weight, one drachm
Oil of caraway, ten drops (minims.)
Make into pills, each of which will contain three grains of rhubarb.
Two or three to be taken according to the constitution.

Rhubarb was a well known laxative, and was easy to get hold of. It was even sold by itinerant street traders in Regency London. To find out more, check out our ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb‘ post.

The next recipe claims to combat ‘gravel’ – that is, pain experienced when passing urine, sometimes due to crystalline deposits. Ouch!

"For Ye Gravel": an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“For Ye Gravel”: an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Ye Gravel

Take two table spoonfuls of syrup of march mallows & one spoonfull of oyle of sweet almonds in half a pint of spring water, every morning before breakfast & every night going to bed for thirty one days & nights without missing a dose. You may warm the water a little if you chuse, but dont boile it.

As with all our Georgian recipes, please don’t try these at home! If you’re suffering from either of the above ailments, best check in with your doctor or pharmacist for modern medical advice.

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!

Rhubarb rhubarb…

This image, taken from William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London (1804), shows a man in Turkish garb, selling rhubarb in Russell Square.

Rhubarb seller from William Craig's Itinerant Traders of London, 1804

Rhubarb seller from William Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London, 1804

His wares are carried in a wooden box which hangs from his shoulders, and in his hand he carries a small pair of scales.

His trade was in rheum palmatum – Chinese or Turkey rhubarb. This rhubarb was not destined for the dining table, as in the spring fruit recipes we looked at yesterday, but rather sold dried as a medicine.  Well known for its purgative and antibacterial qualities, dried rhubarb root was commonly used as a laxative.

Rheum rhabarbarum (edible rhubarb) started to be used in English kitchens from the end of the 18th century, when sugar became more affordable.

In 1815, the accidental discovery of the ‘forcing’ technique at Chelsea Physic Garden led to another boost in its popularity. ‘Forcing’ extended the rhubarb season by several months, and gave a product with a sweeter flavour.  Today, forced rhubarb is best known as Yorkshire produce, but it is interesting to find that it has its ‘roots’ in London.

A savoury soup (and other nineteenth-century rhubarb recipes)

Spring Fruit Pudding, Spring Fruit Tart and Spring Fruit Soup

Today’s recipes are all drawn from Dr William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, which was first published in 1817.

Our Cookbook contains transcriptions of several of Dr Kitchiner’s ‘spring fruit’ recipes, all of which use rhubarb as the main ingredient.

Some of the rhubarb recipes would not look out of place on a dining table today. Spring Fruit Tart sees the rhubarb sweetened with loaf sugar before being covered with pastry and baked in the oven. There are also Spring Fruit Pudding recipes, in which the rhubarb is flavoured with spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg), reduced over heat with sugar, and combined with eggs and butter before being baked in pastry.

Recipe for a rhubarb tart from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for a rhubarb tart from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

However, the recipe that really caught our eye is one for a savoury soup:

Spring Fruit Soup

Peel and well wash four dozen sticks of rhubarb. Blanch it in water three or four minutes, drain it on a sieve and put it into a stewpan with two onions sliced, a carrot, an ounce of lean ham and a good bit of butter. Let it stew gently over a slow fire till tender. Then, put in two quarts of good consommé, to which add two or three ounces of bread crumbs. Boil about fifteen minutes, skim off all the fat, season with salt and Cayenne. Pass through a sieve and serve with fried bread.

The recipe has found its way into the modern cooking repertoire courtesy of Jane Grigson (Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, 1982). Grigson takes the recipe not from Kitchiner, but from 1930s cookery writer Ruth Lowinsky, who had included the dish in her menu for a “dinner to impress your publisher and make him offer ridiculous sums for the privilege of printing your next book”!

It is fascinating to find that this recipe of 1823 has survived the best part of two centuries with no alterations to quantities, flavourings or method.