Currant wine

This makes a seriously large amount of currant wine: 86 pounds of sugar to over 100 pints of water and 80 pounds of red or blackcurrants… Wow!

"To make a quarter cask of curran wine": a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“To make a quarter cask of curran wine”: a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Quarter Cask of Curran Wine

86 pds of the best Jamaica sugar

27 half gallons of fine soft cold water

80 pds of pickid whole carrans full ripe

10 eggs put in to the cask hole.

The liquor is put in the caske & 2 qurts of good brandy

Not to be dranke till 4 years old

Brandy was added to fortify the wine, and the eggs to clarify it. The only yeast included in this recipe is that which is found naturally on the fruit skins. But while the list of ingredients looks reasonable enough, the method is minimalist to say the least. For a better idea of what was involved in brewing this kind of fruit wine, this second recipe is worth a look:

Currant Wine

Take 16 pounds of full ripe currants. Break them small, stalks & all, in an earthen pan. Put to them 16 quarts of pipe water. Let it stand 24 hours, stiring it 3 or 4 times. Strain it throw a hair sieve. Then put [for] every four quarts of liquor 3 pounds of ye best Jamaica sugar. Let it stand 2 or 3 days, to work. Then fill up your cask. Save some of the liquor to keep ye vessel full till it done workeing. When it has done working, stope it close. It will be fit to bottle at Christmass.

It’s worth noting that this recipe calls specifically for pipe water rather than the river water used in our Irish Sack recipe – and consequently requires a lot less time in skimming the liquor for scum!

Sweet treats from the Georgian kitchen

Today we take a look at two sugary treats.

The first is for ‘clear cakes’, little jellies with a sugar crust which were generally made of fruit juice finely powdered sugar. They could be cut into any number of decorative shapes – lozenges, rounds, squares – and incorporate any number of flavourings.

Our recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a twist on these traditional clear cakes. Instead of fruit juice, pounded almonds provide the main substance of these sweets. Rosewater is added for flavour:

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Almond Clear Caks

Boyle the sugar to a candy height as you do for Clear Caks. Blansh some Jordon almonds & pound them [with] rose water. Mix them in yr candy as you do jelly. Put it in pans or cards in yr stove to dry, or in a very cool oven.

Our second recipe is derived from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle and presents something a familiar to us today: caramel.

Without sugar thermometers, cooks needed to gauge the temperature of the sugar by sight . A quick way to check it was to drop a little of the melted sugar in cold water. It it went hard and solid, it was said to be at ‘the degree called crack’.

This caramel was intended for use as a kind of ‘spun sugar’. Cast in thin threads over an oiled mould to form a decorative sugar cage, it could be placed over ‘small pastry of any description’ to give it a stylish finish.

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

To Boil Sugar to Caramel

Break into a small copper or brass pan one pound of refined sugar. Put in a gill of spring water. Set it on a fire and when it boils skim it quite clear and let it boil quick till it comes to the degree called crack which may be known by dipping a teaspoon or skewer into the sugar and let it drop to the bottom of a pan of cold water. If it remains hard, it has attained that degree. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and let it remain one minute longer on the fire, then set the pan in another of cold water. Have ready moulds of any shape. Rub them over with sweet oil. Dip a spoon or fork into the sugar and throw it over the mould, in fine threads, till it is quite covered. Make a small handle of caramel or stick on two or three small gum paste rings by way of ornament and place it over small pastry of any description.

If you do have a go at either of today’s recipe, do be careful when you boil the sugar as it will become extremely hot. To avoid burns, make sure you follow the caramel recipe’s advice: cool the sugar for a few moments before you handle it by placing it another pan of cold water.

Barley sugar

The perfect traditional sweet treat: barley sugar twists. These candies were originally prepared by boiling sugar in barley-infused water, but here a little lemon essence is the only flavouring.

The sugar is boiled ‘to a crack’, the temperature at which it starts to become brittle. Our unknown ladies record a rather perilous method for checking this point: “dipping your fingers into the sugar and then into cold water, and if you find the sugar to crack in moving your finger, it has boiled enough”. We say, don’t risk burning your fingers – use a sugar thermometer instead to bring the temperature of the boiling sugar between 132ºC and 142ºC. At this, the ‘soft-crack’ stage, the sugar will form stiff but malleable threads, making it perfect for forming your sugar twists.

A nineteenth-century recipe for barley sugar from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A nineteenth-century recipe for barley sugar from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Barley Sugar

Clarify three pounds of refined sugar. Boil it to a crack. Squeeze in a teaspoonful of the juice and four drops of the essence of lemon. Let it boil up once or twice. Set it by for a few minutes. Have ready a marble slab rubbed over with sweet oil. Pour over the sugar. Cut it into long stripes, twist it a little, and keep in a canister from the air.

London and the sugar trade

Over the course of the 18th century, sugar became integral to the British diet, and our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is crammed with recipes for sweet puddings, cakes, biscuits, syrupy drinks and sauces. Georgian kitchens burst forth with sugary delights, from cheese cakes and blancmanges to exotic beverages and that wildly popular treat, hot chocolate.

But there was a dark side to the nation’s sweet tooth, as it fuelled the intensification of sugar cultivation in the West Indies. With the growth of the plantations, more and more Africans were transported across the Atlantic to work the land.

Sugar cane farms had sprung up in the Caribbean in the mid 17th century.  A century later, much of the land in the West Indies was devoted to the culture and trade of sugar, and the business of growing, harvesting and transporting the produce of these extensive plantations  required veritable armies of labourers. The vast majority of these workers were acquired through an international trade in slaves.

Extract from the inventory of slaves owned by Godschall Johnson and employed on his estates in Antigua, 1789. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Extract from the inventory of slaves owned by Godschall Johnson and employed on his estates in Antigua, 1789. Image property of Westminster City Archives

An inventory of Mr Godschall Johnson’s estate in Antigua, taken in 1788, itemises each slave on the plantations along with their designated occupation. Carpenters, coopers, grooms, carters, seamstresses and cooks were needed to support the main work of the plantation: cultivating, harvesting and processing the crop. Those two young to work in the field were made to pick grass to feed the working horses and mules on the farm. In total, the workforce of slaves numbered 254.

The West Indian sugar that graced British tables in the Georgian era was almost exclusively the product of this kind of slave labour, but even with rising calls for abolition in the 1780s, consumers were reluctant to recognise the human suffering caused by their sweet tooth. In his poem Pity for Poor Africans (1788), William Cowper satirises how the British allowed their passion for sugar to quashed their moral qualms about slavery:

I own I am shock’d at the purchase of slaves
And fear those who buy them and sell them are knaves;
What I hear of thcir hardships, their tortures, and groans
Is almost enough to draw pity from stones.

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum,
For how could we do without sugar and rum?
Especially sugar, so needful we see?
What? give up our desserts, our coffee, and tea!

Devonshire Place and Wimpole Street, as seen from Marylebone Road in 1799. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Devonshire Place and Wimpole Street, as seen from Marylebone Road in 1799. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

There was also the wealth that this triangular trade in sugar and slaves brought to London. Godschall Johnson was just one of a large network of slave-owners who lived in Marylebone. Considered ‘new money’, the sugar magnates of the Caribbean had difficulty integrating into wealthy Mayfair society, and so set up their households in the new areas of Harley Street, Wimpole Street and Portland Place.

Even after the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, there was little official recognition of the damage that had been caused to the lives of those enslaved, and the plantation owners of Marylebone were heavily compensated by the government for the loss of their human property.

It is a sobering thought that many of the most prestigious addresses in Marylebone were built on money made through the use of slave labour.

You can find out more about Westminster and the transatlantic slave trade by taking a look at our online exhibition.