The Cooking Up History Sessions – 4: salmagundi and cheesecake

We’d been hoping for a sunny day for our latest Cooking Up History session. With a summery menu of salmagundi salad and lemon-scented cheesecake on the menu, we were all set for a picnic-style celebration. As it turned out, the British Summer caught us out. But no matter – despite the grey skies there was plenty of cheer in the Archives Centre kitchen as we welcomed back our volunteers to try out more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

‘Salamon Gondy’

Making up our first dish, the so-called ‘salamon gondy’, turned out to quite an entertaining experience. Our lengthy list of ingredients seemed fairly formidable, comprising fish, turkey, onions, beetroot, capers, gherkins, apple, boiled eggs and celery. The method was, by contrast, incredibly simple: chop and slice our ingredients into small pieces, then make up a basic vinaigrette as a dressing.

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Assembling our dish was the most technically challenging and exciting aspect of the recipe. We knew that colourful salads like this would have been carefully arranged to form eye-catching centrepieces for the Georgian dining table, and wanted to make sure that our version made a similarly striking impression.  We discussed how best to arrange our ingredients, and checked out a few examples of similar salads online – not least Revolutionary Pie’s impressive version. Inspired, we set about constructing our spectacular salad.

The finished 'salamon gundy'!

The finished ‘salamon gondy’!

We were all very pleased with the finished design, a brightly coloured array of ingredients positioned in rings around the central portion of turkey breast. Archives staff member Hilary joined us for the tasting. She, along with the rest of the team, found much to be enjoyed in this eclectic salad, and thought it would make a great centrepiece at a special dinner today. Christina added that she ‘wouldn’t be ashamed to have it on my own table’.

Some of us had been a bit nervous about trying the salad, as the prospect of turkey mixed with salty fish and sweet apple and beet was something of an unknown quantity. For some of us, the tastes were to be a completely new experience – Rachel, for one, had never tried herring before.

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

In the end we were all pleasantly surprised, and our enjoyment of the finished dish matched the fun we’d had creating it. With so many different flavours, at first every mouthful we ate was very different from the last. But as we continued to taste it, the flavours merged well, with the salty anchovies offsetting the sweetness of the apple, and the turkey acting as a nice, neutral counterbalance to the punchy onion.

Of course, our unknown ladies’ version of the salad may have tasted quite different had they opted for ingredients that had been preserved in other ways. We’d chosen fresh beetroot, and anchovies and herrings in oil. If the 18th century cooks had instead gone for fresh fish or pickled beetroot, the final effect could have been quite different. As with so many of the recipes in the Cookbook, the vague listing of ingredients leaves room for interpretation.

Would we make it again? It was certainly one of the healthier recipes we’d tried from the Cookbook. Rachel found the combination of flavours and textures was actually quite modern – the sort of thing you’d pay an arm and a leg for at a swanky London café.

The Georgians may have been less concerned with the healthy attributes of the dish, but they did pay considerable attention to making sure each meal comprised a balanced selection of dishes. What better counterpart to a stomach-filling roast than a fresh, light salad? And, as Judith pointed out, the salmagundi was another example of how the 18th century cook could concoct something spectacular out of economical, everyday ingredients.

Lemon Cheesecake

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter - plenty of muscle work required!

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter – plenty of muscle work required!

We prepared a lemon cheesecake for second course, mixing together almonds, lemon, eggs and a large amount of butter. The recipe offered us the choice of adding either orange blossom water or rose water to our recipe. Rachel suggested that orange would enhance the citrus tones of the lemon, and Kim recalled how rosewater was sometimes pretty overpowering when we’d used it in other dishes, so we plumped for orange blossom.

Our lemon cheesecake

Our lemon cheesecake

The finished cheesecake – so named because of its cheese-like-texture rather than any cheese in the recipe – delighted us all. Fresh out of the oven, it had an extremely pleasing appearance: a lovely golden brown with a firm consistency. The combination of citrus fruits was really delicious. Hilary enjoyed the subtle fragrance of our orange water with its ‘scented after-taste’ and Christina was so taken with it she said she’d bake the dish again at home.

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Previous dishes tried out by our Cooking Up History group, such as the almond puddings of our first session, had included so much butter that they’d been rather too rich for modern tastes. We’d feared something similar this time round, there being 220g to just 150g of almonds in the mix. But we needn’t have worried – the cheesecake wasn’t too rich at all.

Today we think of butter as a staple ingredient, and indeed it was too in the 18th century. But Rachel reminded us evidence that our Cookbook compilers churned their own butter. The effort that had gone into making their cheesecakes was therefore far more considerable than the 30 minutes it had taken to get our cakes in the oven. Food for thought…

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

If you’d like to give any of our recipes a go, check out our Cooking Up History pages!

[Kim]

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Salad dressings for summer days

As the warm weather shows no real sign of abating, are you starting to tire of summer salads? Today’s three recipes, taken from Dr Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, offer Regency-era tips for giving your lettuce an extra lease of life.

The first dressing is subtitled the ‘oxoleon’, a word of Hellenistic Greek origin that signifies a mixture of oil and vinegar. The term had fallen out of popular usage by the time The Cook’s Oracle was being compiled, but the archaism is easily explained: Kitchiner lifted both the recipe and its title from an earlier text, John Evelyn’s Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699):

Kitchiner's oxoleon dressing owes much to Evelyn's recipe in his Discourse of Sallets of 1699

Kitchiner’s oxoleon dressing owes much to Evelyn’s recipe in his Discourse of Sallets of 1699

Dressing for a Salad (the oxoleon)

Take a good oyl olive, three parts of vinegar, lemon or orange juice one part, and steep  them in some skins of horseradish & a little salt. Some in a separate vinegar. Bruise a pod of ginny pepper and strain it on the other. Then add as much mustard as will lie on a half crown piece. Beat and mingle these well together with the yolks of two new laid eggs boiled hard, pouring it over your salad.

So faithful is Kitchiner to Evelyn’s work (or plagiaristic, depending on your outlook) that he even retains the wording ‘ginny pepper’. Guinea pepper is nothing more than an early term for Cayenne pepper, an ingredient which Kitchiner uses in a great number of his dishes. As indeed he does in our next recipe, where a dressing for cold meat is spiced up with a hot dash of Cayenne:

A dressing for cold meat or fish, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

A dressing for cold meat or fish, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

A Salad or Sauce for Cold Meat, Fish &c.

Pound together an ounce of scraped horseradish, half an ounce of salt, a tablespoonful of made mustard, four drachms of minced eshallots, half a drach of celery seed and half a ditto of Cayenne, adding gradually a pint of vinegar. Let it stand a week in a jar and then pass it through a sieve. The salad mixture much improved by a little jelly of cold meat

And finally we have a creamy, mustard vinaigrette, which can be sweetened or salted to taste:

This dressing with mustard and cream is the most indulgent out of the three. Any surprise that it's our favourite?

This dressing with mustard and cream is the most indulgent out of the three. Any surprise that it’s our favourite?

Boil a couple of eggs twelve minutes. Rub the yolks (when quite cold) through a sieve with a wooden spoon and mix them with a tablespoonful of cream, then add two of oil or melted butter. When well mixed, add by degrees a teaspoonful of salt or powdered lump sugar and the same of made mustard. When united, add three tablespl. of vinegar. Garnish with white of egg.

A salad for Europe

Tips from the kitchens of France, Italy and Holland offer this simple salad some sophisticated continental twists.

Today’s recipe originally appeared in William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oraclefirst published in 1817. This cookery manual was aimed at British and American ‘plain cooks’, and was principally concerned with the preparation wholesome meals with good economic sense. However, Kitchiner was also careful to acknowledge new fashions in food, and many of his recipes showed how the cook could balance gastronomic tastes with abstemious habits in household management.

Suggestions for a boiled salad, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Suggestions for a boiled salad, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Boiled salad

Boiled or baked onions, some baked beet root, cauliflower or brocoli, and boiled celery and French beans, or any of these with the common salad dressing. Also a small quantity of raw lettice &c strewed on the top. This is much more wholesome than the raw salad and is much eaten when on the table.

The French add to the above black pepper and some savoury spice. The Italians mince the white meat of chickens into the sauce. The Dutch add cold boiled turbot or lobster – or sometimes grated cheese.

As another cheap but flavoursome variation, Kitchiner also suggests that meat jelly could be used instead of an oil dressing. It’s very likely that our unknown ladies may have had  jelly ready from preparing cow heel, another recipe in the Cookbook. It is another example of the Georgians’ knack for balancing a passion for good and exciting food with a tendency for thrift.