“Hot Spiced Gingerbread!”

This man cried "Hot Spiced Gingerbread" as he sold sweet treats to passersby in Oxford Street

This man cried “Hot Spiced Gingerbread” as he sold sweet treats to passersby in Oxford Street

Hot Spiced Gingerbread, sold in oblong flat cakes of one halfpenny each, very well made, well baked and kept extremely hot is a very pleasing regale to the pedestrians of London in cold and gloomy evenings. This cheap luxury is only to be obtained in winter, and when that dreary season is supplanted by the long light days of summer, the well-known retailer of Hot Spiced Gingerbread, portrayed in the plate, takes his stand near the portico of the Pantheon, with a basket of Banbury and other cakes.

Itinerant Traders of London (1804)

This ‘gingerbread man’ was one of over 30 street traders featured by William Marshall Craig in his book, Itinerant Traders of London. Craig himself seemed pretty impressed by the cakes, describing them as ‘very well made’ and ‘well baked’, and cheap at the price of a ha’penny.

We don’t know whether the unknown ladies of our Cookbook ever patronised this street trader’s stall at the Pantheon, but we do know that they were fans of gingerbread. They recorded two recipes for this spicy cake in their manuscript recipe book.

The first recipe comes to us courtesy of Mrs Ryves, whom we last met when she was making cream cheese. Here, we share her simple method for a classic gingerbread:

"To make gingerbread Mrs Ryve's Way"

“To make gingerbread Mrs Ryve’s Way”

To Make Ginger Bread Mrs Ryves’ Way

Take two pound of fine flower, half a pound of white sugar, won ounce of pounded ginger all well dryed and sifted, a pound and a quarter of treacle, half a pound of fresh butter. Boyle the butter and treacle together then take it of and make it into a past with the things above nam’d and make it into what shapes you pleas. Butter your papers very well you bake them on. Your oven must be as hot as for Chease Cakes.

The second recipe is a little different from the gingerbread we’re used to today. Along with the ginger, caraway seeds and candied citrus are used to flavour the mix. It sounds rather intriguing… one to try as warming treat at tonight’s Bonfire Night celebrations? The mixture also contains eggs, so although our ladies make no mention of cooking, don’t forget to bake it!

A Georgian gingerbread recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

A Georgian gingerbread recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

To Make Ginger Bread

Take fore qurts of flower, a pinte of treacle, & not quite halfe a pound of butter, four eggs, halfe an ounce of pounded ginger, halfe an ounce of carraway seeds, a qr of a pd of brown sugar, a nagin of brandy, som canded lemmon or orange. Mix all these in the flower. Melte the treacle & butter to geather. So mix all very well.

A white frygasy of chickens

In Georgian England, cooks bought live chickens from street sellers

In Georgian England, cooks bought live chickens from street sellers

Here’s a recipe for someone who knows a bit about butchery!

Many of us have lost these skills now that poultry and other meat can be bought fully prepared and packaged from the supermarket.In the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies there are no such shortcuts. Georgian cooks had to be prepared to get their hands dirty, as chickens were sourced live from small-holdings or street traders.

Vendors announced their arrival with the cry of ‘Buy my fat chickens‘ as they walked the London streets with cages of chickens slung over their shoulders.

In this recipe for a white fricassée, three large chickens need to be gutted, skinned and jointed before being popped in the cooking pot.

To make a white frygasy - fricassée - of chickens: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To make a white frygasy – fricassée – of chickens: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a White Frygasy of Chickens

Take 3 large chickens, skin them & cut them joynts & wash them very white & rub them with a dry cloath & then boyl very well in water whitend with a little flower. When the are boild enough poure of the water & take a little cream & stire them a little in it & then take near half a pint of cream & thicken it up with 3 yolks  & 2 or 3 prints of butter drawn thick. Beat all these together. When the chickens have stued a while in the cream, put about a nagin of white wine wth some cloves & mace & when it is near redy, put in the thickning. 

There are a couple of antiquated terms in the recipe, which are worth explaining:

A print of butter

Dairies would use a carved wooden stamp to ‘print’ their pats of butter. The print design could feature a simple emblem, such as a thistle, or even comprise the producer’s initials. As well as being decorative, it marked the butter as the work of a particular producer. Once stamped, each pat of butter would be wrapped in linen for sale.

A ‘nagin’ of white wine

A nagin or ‘noggin’ was a measurement of spirits, equivalent to ¼ of a pint.

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.

Mrs Bracken’s recipe for orange jelly

Fine Sevil oranges, fine lemon, fine;
Round, sound and tender, inside and rine

(An old street cry of London)

Seville oranges have been a familiar taste in English cookery since the late Medieval period. But it wasn’t until the mid 17th century that sweet oranges, commonly known as ‘China oranges’, became part of the English culinary landscape. Their sweet flesh contrasted pleasingly with the better-known bitter oranges of Spain, and they quickly became popular.

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Bitter and sweet oranges were widely available in London from the late 17th century onwards. Nell Gwyn famously sold oranges at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane before taking to the stage, and orangeries sprang up at aristocratic houses across the country. By the time our ladies were compiling the Cookbook, oranges were being grown in glasshouses on many landed estates.

Despite their popularity, oranges remained expensive and were regarded as a delicacy. The authors of our cookbook’s recipes are careful to avoid any unnecessary waste. In this one for orange jelly, both the flesh and the zest are used:

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the 'Cookbook of Unknown Ladies'

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the ‘Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’

Making Mrs Bracken’s orange jelly (modernised text)

Grate the rind of 2 China oranges, 2 Seville oranges, 2 lemons. Put it in to steep in the juice of 9 Seville oranges. Put half a pound of fine sugar, a quarter of a pint of water. Boil it to candy. When almost cold, mix the juice with 2 ounces of isinglass well boiled in a quart of water. Leave it till it is mixed. Then, mix it all together and strain it. Stir it till almost cold, then fill your moulds. You may add the juice of lemon or China orange if you like it.

Mrs Bracken uses Isinglass as the jelly’s setting agent. Derived from fish bladders, it has fallen out of common usage today, but is still sometimes used in viticulture to clarify wines. If you fancy making your own version of Mrs Bracken’s jelly, you might want to substitute it for gelatin.

The writer also asks you to boil the syrup to candy. 18th century cookbook writer Susanna MacIver  says you can recognise this stages “by the sugar boiling thick like pottage” (Cookery and Pastry, 1789 p.205)

The recipe gives us our first clue as to the social circle in which our unknown cookbook writers were living in. We don’t know whether Mrs Bracken was a fellow domestic servant, or a well-known local cook, but she is our first named reference in our search for the identity of our mystery recipe writers…

Fancy giving this orange jelly a go? If you do, make sure you let us know how you get on!