A masterclass in simplicity

One of the tenets of modern gastronomy is simplicity: allowing good ingredients to take centre stage.

Today’s recipes reveal the Georgians as the masters of this art. There are no lengthy lists of ingredients, complicated cooking processes or extravagant proposals for presentation. Instead, we are offered a masterclass in moderation, as even the cheapest meat and fish are given the space to shine on the plate. 

The first recipe, for lamb stove or stew, comes from William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle. With a little parsley and onion and a good helping of spinach and beef stock, lamb’s head and lungs are turned into a warming winter stew:

Regency recipe for Lamb Stove. Our unknown ladies borrowed this recipe from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

Regency recipe for Lamb Stove. Our unknown ladies borrowed this recipe from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Lamb Stove or Lamb Stew

Take a lambs head & lights. Open the jaws of the head and wash them thoroughly. Put them in pot with some beef stock made with three quarts of water and two pounds of shin of beef strained. Boil very slowly for an hour. Wash and string two or three good handfuls of spinach. Put it in twenty minutes before serving. Add a little parsley & one or two onions a short time before it comes off the fire. Season with pepper & salt & serve in a tureen.

Next comes herring pie, a simple dish of seasoned herrings, onion and butter in a puff pastry shell:

18th century recipe for 'Herring Pye' from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for ‘Herring Pye’ from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Herring Pye

Season yr herrings with pepper & salt. Put a good deal of sliced onion with then & good store of butter. Soe bake them in puff paste & eat them hot.

And finally, water souchy. The dish’s curious name comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and it seems possible that this soup may have become enshrined in the English culinary repertoire around the time of William of Orange’s accession to the throne in 1689. Today, the Belgians still enjoy a traditional fish stew known as waterzooi.

The version of water souchy given in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is another recipe taken from Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle. Flounder, whiting, gudgeon and eel are suggested as suitable fish varieties for the soup, but other fish could also be used according to availability: 

William Kitchiner's recipe for water souchy, a fish broth, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

William Kitchiner’s recipe for water souchy, a fish broth, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Water Souchy

Is made with flounders, whitings, gudgeons or eels. They must be quite fresh & nicely cleaned, for what they are boiled in makes the sauce. Wash, gut & trim your fish. Cut them into handsome pieces. Put them into a stewpan with as much water as will cover them, with some parsley, an onion minced, a little pepper & salt. Some add scraped horseradish and a bay leaf. Skim it carefully when it boils. When done enough, (which will be in a few minutes) send it up in a deep dish with bread sippets and some slices of bread & butter on a plate.

 

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Pumpkin inspiration from a Regency kitchen

The supermarkets are full of pumpkins for Halloween. If you’re not one for jack-o’-lanterns you can still join in the fun… Here are four tasty Regency dishes from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, all of them perfect for using up small pumpkins or squashes: 

Early 19th century recipe for a warming gourd stew

Early 19th century recipe for a warming gourd stew

Gourds (or Vegetable Marrow) Stew

Take off all the skin of six or eight gourds. Put them into a stewpan with water, salt, lemon juice and a bit of butter or fat bacon. Let them stew gently till quite tender and serve up with a rich Dutch sauce or any other.

This recipe for Gourd Soup was transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner's The Cook's Oracle.

This recipe for Gourd Soup was transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle.

Gourd Soup

Should be made of full grown gourds but not those that have hard skins. Slice three or four and put them in a stewpan with two or three onions and a good bit of butter. Set them over a slow fire till quite tender. Be careful not to let them burn. Then add two ounces of crust of bread and two quarts of good consommé. Season with salt & Cayenne. Boil ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. Skim off all the fat, pass through a tammis. Make it quite hot & serve up with fried bread.

Regency recipe for fried gourds in breadcrumbs, borrowed from William Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle for the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Regency recipe for fried gourds in breadcrumbs, borrowed from William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle for the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Fried Gourds

Cut five or six gourds in quarters. Take off the skin and pulp. Stew them in the same manner as for the table. When done, drain them quite dry. Beat up an egg and dip the gourds in it, and cover them well over with bread crumbs. Make some lard hot and fry them a nice colour. Throw a little salt & pepper over them and serve up quite dry.

These pumpkin slices are fried in hot lard and seasoned with salt and pepper: a tasty Regency treat from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

These pumpkin slices are fried in hot lard and seasoned with salt and pepper: a tasty Regency treat from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Fried Gourds Another Way

Take six or eight small ones nearly of a size. Slice them with a cucumber slice. Dry them in a cloth and then fry them in very hot lard. Throw over a little pepper & salt and serve up on a napkin. If the fat is hot they are done in a minute and will soon spoil.

Shin of beef stewed

As southern Britain is buffeted by strong, wintry winds, here’s some hearty, comforting fare to warm us up:

Shin of beef stewed: a Regency recipe by William Kitchiner, transcribed here in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Shin of beef stewed: a Regency recipe by William Kitchiner, transcribed here in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Shin of Beef Stewed

Have the bone sawed into three or four pieces. Just cover it with water. When it simmers, skim it clean. Then put in a bundle of sweet herbs, an onion, a head of celery, a dozen berries of allspice, same of black pepper. Stir very gently for about four hours. Boil till tender some carrots, turnips & button onions. About fifteen minutes will do. Carrots twice as long cut in dices. When the beef is ready, thicken a pint & half of the gravy. To do this, mix three tablespoonsful of flour with a teacup full of the broth. Stir it well together. Scum & strain. Put your vegetables in it to warm, season. Make soup of the rest as directed for Bouilli…

It’s a while since we last took a look at one of William Kitchiner‘s Regency recipes, which our unknown recipe compilers lifted from his domestic manual The Cook’s OracleThis method for stewed beef is another fine example of how Kitchiner’s work paved the way for writers such as Isabella Beeton later in the 19th Century. His recipes often betray the same concern for good household management for which Beeton herself would become famous. Here, he puts the leftovers to good use by turning them into a Bouilli Soup:

Kitchiner's recipe for Soup Bouilli, written into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Kitchiner’s recipe for Soup Bouilli, written into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Soup Bouilli

Cover your meat [with water] and a quart more, set it on a quick fire to get the scum up, which take off, then put in 2 carrots, turnips, onions, heads of celery, some parsley and sweet herbs. Set it by the side of the fire to simmer gently for 4 or 5 hours. Put a large carrot and turnip, an onion into the soup whole and some whey. Take them out when done enough, and when cold cut them in square. Strain the soup into a clean stewpan, remove the fat & warm the vegetables in it. If you thicken the soup, take 4 large tablespoonsful of the clear fat from the top of the pot and 4 spoonsful of flour. Mix it smooth together by degrees. Stir it into the soup, which simmer ten minutes longer at least. Skim it well and strain, then add the vegetables. Ox tails and heels make excellent soup. Two hours will do the first, the meat to be taken off the bone.

Nutritious, economical and full of flavour… what’s not to like?

Stewed oysters on toast

Oysters were extremely popular in the Georgian era and, selling for remarkably low prices, were enjoyed by people at all levels of society. The unknown ladies behind our Cookbook certainly had a taste for them – we’ve seen them serve oysters in soups, bake them in bread rolls and add them to pies in their hundreds.

Here, they set out how to make a simple repast of stewed oysters on toast:

Method for stewing oysters from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Method for stewing oysters from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

How to Stew Oysters

Take an hundred of large oysters unopened, save all their own liquor. Pick out all splinters from them. Put them in a stew pan with an anchovy shred, half a nutmegg grated, a few blades of mace, half a pint of white wine. Sett to stew on ye fire slowly till ye oysters are done. Then, take half a pint of sweet cream that has been first boyld & is cold. Put in to a lump of butter roll’d in flowere. Toss these up with y oysters, shakeing them well untill ye flower is not raw. Let them get a boyle or two together. Take care it is not burnd. [Serve] them with white bread sippits toas[t]ed under them.

From feast to famine

Mrs Phillips’s Irish Stew; Hunters Pie as at Morrison’s

Here are two hearty recipes to set you up for today’s St Patrick’s Day festivities…

Nineteenth-century recipe for Mrs Phillips’s Irish stew, taken from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Nineteenth-century recipe for Mrs Phillips’s Irish stew, taken from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle 

Mrs Phillips’s Irish Stew

Take two pounds of mutton chops, four pounds of potatoes. Peel them and cut them in halves. Six onions peel and slice also. Put a layer of potato, first, at the bottom of your stewpan, then a couple of chops and some of the onions & so on till the pot is quite full, a small spoonful of white pepper, one and a half of salt, and three gills of broth or gravy. Cover all very close in to prevent the steam getting out. Let them stew two hours. A small slice of ham is a great improvement.

Just as fortifying is this recipe for ‘Irish Stew or Hunters Pie’, which Dr Kitchiner has taken from a Mr Morrison of the Leinster Hotel, Dublin:

Irish Stew or Hunters Pie as at Morrison’s

Take part of a neck of mutton. Cut it into chops. Season them well. Put it into a saucepan. Let it brase for half an hour. Take two dozen of potatoes, boil them, mash them and season them. Butter your mould and line it with the potatoes. Put in the mutton. Bake it for half an hour, when it will be done. Cut a hole in the top and add some gravy.

With its mashed potato crust, this dish is more commonly known to many of us as Shepherd’s Pie.

The potato had been introduced to Ireland in the mid 17th century as a delicacy for the gentry. By the early 19th century it was eaten by people of all classes, and was the staple food of the Irish poor.

Irish dependency on the potato had become a national stereotype by the early 1800s, as demonstrated by the popular song The Yorkshire Irishman or the Adventures of a Potatoe Merchant.  

Songsheet illustration for The Yorkshire Irishman by G. Nicks (1805). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Songsheet illustration for The Yorkshire Irishman by G. Nicks (1805). Image property of Westminster City Archives

The song tells of a Yorkshireman who learns from his mother that he is the son of an Irish potato grower. The song ends making a living for himself as a potato merchant in Covent Garden Market. Hard-drinking and with the gift of gab, his successful potato business sees him fulfilling the cultural destiny supposedly prescribed by his alleged parentage.

Ireland’s reliance on the potato as the staple diet of its working poor meant that the population was extremely vulnerable to harvest failures. 28 years after these recipes were first published, a  new type of potato blight ravaged Ireland’s potato harvests. Over the following decade, over 1 million people died as the result of blight, and yet more fled the famine, leaving the country and their livelihoods behind.

The story of the Great Irish Potato Famine is now told by Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. You can find out more about the history of the famine by visiting their website: http://ighm.nfshost.com