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Maids at work in a large kitchen, circa 1890.
Cooking with calf's head and cow heel may not sound like the most
palatable way to spend an afternoon, but it's all in a day's work for
librarian Judith Finnamore of London's .
With help from food historian , Finnamore has been cooking – and — her way through The Unknown Ladies Cookbook,
a 300-year-old British compendium of family recipes. Jotted down by
hand by several different women between 1690 and 1830, the recipes
provide insights into the cooking habits of the Georgian and Regency
periods. They also tell us quite a bit about how much culinary craft has
changed over the centuries.
Westminster City Archives
This handwritten recipe for veal kidney pie, from The Unknown Ladies Cookbook, includes
a surprising combination of ingredients, including kidney, lettuce,
apples, currants and rosewater. It is heavily spiced with mace, cinnamon
and nutmeg and sweetened with sugar.
To Make a Veal Kidney Florentine
the kidney small fat & all, half a handfull of young spinage, 2
sprigs of parsley, a lettice all shread small, 3 pippins par'd &
shread, half the peel of a sivil orange boyled & shread small, some
pounded mace & cinnimon, nutmeg, sugar, salt to yr taste, an
handfull of currants, a large handfull of greated bread, 3 spoonfulls of
sack, 3 of rose water, 3 eggs. Mix all well together & put them in a
dish with puff paste at bottom & cross bar it at top. Bake it in a
slow oven. This is for first course side dish.
Inventive Cooking With Carrots: These garden
vegetables feature heavily in the cookbook, and were popular for lots of
things beyond salad and carrot cake. Women of the Georgian period used
carrots frequently because, like potatoes, carrots have a longer harvest
and less spoilage. Cooks of the era also used them inventively, with
recipes like carrots mashed with sugar, or carrots boiled, scooped out
and filled with dried fruit and sugar, both typically served as a second
course. "What we think of today as dessert, they would have served as a
second course," Gray tells The Salt. "Their third course, or dessert,
would be ice cream, biscuits or fruit. But today, we tend to serve those
things at the same time to end a meal."
Brits Of Old Were Serious About Eating The Whole Animal: When
people kept their own animals, they were much more conscientious about
using as much of it as possible, because they had intimate, first-hand
knowledge of what it takes to raise and slaughter their meat source.
That ethos is reflected in many recipes that call for offal prepared
using slow-cooking techniques to tenderize the tougher cuts. (There's
even a recipe for mince pie made with cow's tongue.)
Gray says in the 20th century, people became more urbanized and squeamish, abandoning rich offal dishes such as ,
made with almonds, cream, rosewater, candied fruit, chicken and marrow
in puff pastry. But the habit also died, Gray says, because – as we've —
World War I and World War II took a heavy toll on the culinary skills
in British middle- and upper-class kitchens: "Quite a lot of [these
offal recipes] require a lot of cooking and processing," Gray says. "So
when you start to lose a lot of servants during war times, it becomes
more difficult. The skill level declines, because people only cook with
the ingredients they have access to."
Incredibly Expanding Eggs: Some recipes call for
as many as 30 eggs to bake a cake; others suggest whisking for an hour.
But if you were to try out these recipes today, you'd need to use just
two-thirds or even one-half of the eggs indicated, Gray says, because
eggs have grown larger over the last century. As eggs began to be
classed by quality and weight, farmers culled smaller chickens in favor
of larger ones that produced bigger eggs.
Even in 1940, Gray
says, egg cups were much smaller than they are today, indicating a
gradual change. While whisking for an hour sounds like a workout, with
servants to do the actual work, the women running a household wouldn't
have minded. Gray says she has actually whisked eggs for a full hour,
and it does make a difference in texture. So if you have servants to do
it, why not?
Recipes From The Cookbook Of Unknown Ladies
'An Oyester Pye:' This
recipe shows how the relative price of ingredients has changed. In the
18th century, people from all levels of society enjoyed oysters. This
recipe for an oyster pie calls for 100 oysters.
an hundred of the largest oysters you can get. Wash them, when opend,
in [...] warm water. Strain all ther own liquor and put ye water yow
wash ye oysters in likewise. Cut two large sweet breads in small bits.
Have an half hundred bouled chesnuts peeled, six yolks off hard eggs,
two anchovys shred, some lumps of whole marrow. Intermix all these in ye
pye. Pour on ye liquor & a water glass full of white wine. Fill ye
pye with what liquor it wants, with greawy. If you have not marrow, put
in butter. Seasone it with salt, mace and cloves."
'To Make a Spineage Tort:' Sweet
spinach tart – a surprising combination of sweet and savory
ingredients. This recipe has been largely forgotten in Britain, but a
very similar dish is still made in a parts of Provence during the
Christmas celebrations. This would be served as a second course.
6 eggs, yolks & whites. Beat them well with a pint of sweet cream, a
qr of a pd of crums of bread, a good handfull of spinage cut small,
half a qr of currons, half a qr of almonds pounded wth a little rose
water, half a nutmeg, half a pd of white sugar. Half a pound of drawn
butter, 3 spoonfulls of brandy. Mix all well together. Lay paist thin at
the bottom & sides of the dish & cross bar at top. 3 qrs of an
hour bakes it."
'Lemmond Cream:' This recipe for lemon cream was a favorite with the Cooking Up History volunteers who gave it a test run.
four large lemmons squeesd put 3 qrs of a pd of the finest loaf sugar, 8
or 9 spoonfuls of water & a piece of the peel. Set it over the fire
untill the sugar tis melted. Put in the whites of 4 eggs & strain
it through a diaper napkin, doubled. Sett it on ye fire a gain &
stir it all ye while. When it grows thick, take it off. Put in two
spoonfuls of orange flower water. Lay some shreds of boiled lemmon peel
at the bottom of the glasses."