A Christmas dinner with all the trimmings

A roast turkey dinner, 18th century style! This spit-roasted bird is stuffed with a tasty chicken forcemeat and served up with a rich white wine gravy, flavoured with anchovies, oysters, celery, mushrooms, artichokes and mace.

A Georgian recipe for spit-roast turkey with a rich white wine and oyster gravy

A Georgian recipe for spit-roast turkey with a rich white wine and oyster gravy

A Forc’d Turkey

Take a large turkey. After a day kild, slit it down ye back, & bone it & then wash it. Clean stuf it as much in ye shape it was as you can with forc’d meat made of 2 pullits yt has been skin’d, 2 handfulls of crumbs of bread, 3 handfulls of sheeps sewit, some thyme, & parsley, 3 anchoves, some pepper & allspice, a whole lemon sliced thin, ye seeds pick’d out & minced small, a raw egg. Mix all well together stuf yr turkey & sow it up nicely at ye back so as not to be seen. Then spit it & rost it with paper on the breast to preserve ye coler of it nicely. Then have a sauce made of strong greavy, white wine, anchoves, oysters, mushrooms slic’d, salary first boyl’d a littile, some harticholk bottoms, some blades of mace, a lump of butter roll’d in flower. Toss up all together & put ym in yr dish. Don’t pour any over ye turkey least you spoyl ye coler. Put ye gisard & liver in ye wings. Put sliced lemon & forc’d balls for garnish.

Bread sauce for turkeys: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Bread sauce for turkeys: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Bread Sause for Turkeys

Take stale bread & crumble it in as much water as will cover it. Shred a large onion in it & a little pepper, then give it a scald to heat & soften it. Then put as much cream as will make it very white, a little bit of butter, & set it over ye fire & let it stew, stirring it all ye while till you see it look thick & taste well.

How about some vegetables? This recipe for creamed celery would add a touch of indulgence to the meal:


Take your sallary and cut it small. Then boyle it tender in fair water. Then take it and stew it in fresh cream and a little nutmeg. And when it is so stewd, put in a little white wine and gravy and melted butter as you think proper, and so serve it up.

And here are two suggestions borrowed from the Regency cookery writer Dr William Kitchiner. Red beetroot will bring some colour to the plate, while ‘potato snow’ sounds fitting for a winter-time feast…


Red Beet Roots

Are dressed as carrots but neither scraped nor cut till after they are boiled. They will take from an hour & half to three hours in boiling. Send to table with salt fish, boiled beef &c.


Potato Snow

The potatoes must be free from speck[s] and white. Put them on in cold water. When they begin to crack, strain them and put them in a clean stewpan by the side of the fire till they are quite dry and fall to pieces. Rub them thro’ a wire sieve on the dish they are to be sent up in, and do not disturb them.

Merry Christmas to all of our Cookbook followers! xxx

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Fish sauce four ways

A selection of sauces for serving with fish, from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

The Cookbook features four rather hearty recipes for wine-based sauces, each with an injection of heat from horseradish, a spicy pickle or a touch of cayenne pepper. All but one use red wine or port as a base. These hot, rich and tangy sauces may threaten to overpower the modern palate, but they were served as typical accompaniment to white fish well into the 19th century.

18th century recipe for sauce for bass, mullet or turbot, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for sauce for bass, mullet or turbot, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Sauce for Base Mullit or Turbet

Set half a pint of claret on ye fire with an onion shred, a little grose [coarse] pepper, a shillat, 2 anchoves, a little horse reddish scrape’t. Let it boyle till you think it has ye strength of ye spice, dren draw a good deal of fresh butter & mix it with yr wine. So pour it on yr fish.

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Sauce for Fish Another Way

Get some strong greavy, anchoves, shillot, nutmeg, & all spice. Set ym on ye fire together. Let ym stew a good while. Then strain it & draw a good deal of fresh butter, very thick, a glass of claret or white wine, ye body & pea of a lobster, or body of a crab. Mix all together. So serve it wth pickles.

The ‘pea of a lobster’ refers to the lobster’s coral, or egg sack.

The next recipe also suggests using shellfish as a flavouring. It asks for ‘oyster’s liquor’ or ‘cockle liquor’, the residual liquid found inside the shells:

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

How to Make Sauce for fish with out Gravey

Take a print of butter and brown it. Shake some flower. Then, if you have oysters liquor or cockell liquor, pour it to it, if not, clean water. Then put in anchoves, a fagot of sweet herbs, parsley. Slice thin a lemond, scrap som horse reddish, put it into half a pint of white wine. Then put in a pound or more of butter and draw it up all to gether. Great nutmeg and put it into it. So pour it on.

Our last recipe comes from the early 19th century, but draws on the same principle ingredients: a fortified red wine, shallots,  anchovies and a spicy kick from cayenne:

19th century recipe for fish sauce from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

19th century recipe for fish sauce from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Fish Sauce 

Two wineglasses of port, two of walnut pickle, half a dozen anchovies pounded, same of eshallots pounded & shied, a drachm of cayenne pepper. Let them simmer gently for ten minutes. Strain & when cold, put into bottles well corked & sealed. Twill keep a long time.

As well as a glug or two of full-bodied wine, all these recipes have another ingredient in common: the humble anchovy. This little fish has long been employed by chefs to add ‘oomph’ to sauces, and is commonly eaten used around the world in bottled condiments such as Worcestershire sauce and nam pla (Thai fish sauce). In his latest TV series, Nigel Slater featured the anchovy as a ‘secret’ ingredient for a flavoursome sauces . Our Cookbook shows that the anchovy’s potential to transform a sauce was far from secret in the Georgian era.

The ‘Cooking Up History’ sessions – 1: puddings

On Friday 1 March, ‘Cooking up History’ volunteers David and Angela joined us to whip up some dishes from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Our Archives Centre kitchen was transformed with the sights and smells of the Georgian kitchen as we rolled up our sleeves, put on our pinnies, and got busy baking!

Our librarian Judith with Angela and David, the Cooking up History team!

Our librarian Judith with Angela and David, the Cooking up History team!

We began the first in our series of historic cookery adventures with a selection of sweet recipes from the Cookbook: two 18th century recipes for almond puddings, and three buttery, boozy pudding sauces from the early 19th century. Perfect warming food to cheer us through the recent cold spell.

Our first challenge was to ‘translate’ the original recipes for use in our modern kitchen. Easier said than done. While the 19th century sauce recipes were pretty thorough, the earlier pudding methods were riddled with omissions! Filling in the gaps reinforced how these 18th century would have been been compiled by an experienced domestic cook, who was well versed in basic cooking methods, and judged most quantities and cooking temperatures by their own experience of what ‘felt right’.

One of the original recipes we adapted for the cookery session

One of the original recipes we adapted for the cookery session

There were plenty of potential pitfalls to avoid. Both of the pudding recipes called for huge quantities of eggs, but as those used in the Georgian kitchen would have been much smaller, we needed to adjust the quantities accordingly. We had to decide on which ‘weight’ of cream to use (we plumped for double rather than single) and even what spirit to substitute for ‘sack’.

And inevitably, there were some pitfalls that we failed to dodge. Without any instructions about how mix our ingredients, our first pudding batter turned out extremely lumpy and rather grey. But some good old-fashioned elbow grease with a wooden spoon got it looking more the part, and disaster was narrowly avoided.

Cross-barring our first almond pudding - almost ready to go in the oven!

Cross-barring our first almond pudding – almost ready to go in the oven!

Once our puddings were snugly in the oven, we sat back with a cup of tea to reflect on how things had gone so far. We’d taken plenty of short cuts in recreating these recipes – such as using ground almonds rather than pounding them by hand – and Angela remarked how time-consuming these puddings would have been without all the kitchen aids we have today. This got us thinking about all the other difficulties that a Georgian cook would have faced.

Even getting hold of ingredients seemed to be easier today. We found nearly everything we needed at the supermarket, and the more exotic ingredients (mace, rosewater) we got hold of from our local Indian grocery. Whereas other recipes in the Cookbook indicate that our 18th century ladies would have sourced some of the ingredients from their smallholdings – eggs from their own hens, and milk and cream from a domestic cow.

The timer interrupted our chat and it was time to try the puddings…

Almond pudding in a pastry case: the first pudding we tasted

Almond pudding in a pastry case: the first pudding we tried and tasted

As we cut into our first almond pudding, we realised that something had gone a little awry, as the mixture was still fairly sloppy, and wasn’t keeping its shape as we’d expected. On taste, though, it didn’t disappoint. David was the first to comment: “ This is delicious!”. Rosewater was the predominant taste, and the nutmeg came through well too. Angela was the first to remark that it ‘tasted of Christmas’, and funnily enough, we all agreed.

David gives almond pudding no. 1 the thumbs up!

David gives almond pudding no. 1 the thumbs up!

The second pudding turned out like something between a bakewell pudding and a baked custard, and was literally oozing with butter. We’d used sherry in place of sack, which came through fairly delicately.

The second almond pudding - a cross between baked custard and bakewell pudding

The second almond pudding – a cross between baked custard and bakewell pudding

Angela serves up our second almond pudding

Angela serves up our second almond pudding

The 19th century sauces were less subtle. ‘Pudding catsup’ was rather heavily laced with sherry and brandy. The alcohol-free ‘Justin’s Orange Sauce’ was a bit more refined, and complemented rather than overpowered the puddings.

We were all surprised at how different these puddings tasted from the ones we are used to today. None of were used to using rosewater or mace in our day-to-day cooking, and the large quantities of butter in the recipes made the puddings seem incredibly rich to our modern palates. Nevertheless, we all felt we’d come one step closer to discovering the tastes of the Georgian kitchen, and to the lives our ‘unknown ladies’ would have lived.

To try out these recipes in your own home, take a look at our Cooking up History page, where we’ve published all of the recipes for your enjoyment!