Directions to the Cook for March

Shivering as the snow is whirled round the house by winds of over 40mph I’ve turned to my Georgian cookery books for inspiration for today’s blog in the hope of something warming.

The New London Family Cook or Town and Country Housekeeper’s Guide by Duncan MacDonald “Head Cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel [on site of present Maple Leaf, Maiden Lane], Covent Garden, and Assistants” is probably the most comprehensive cookery book I own. My copy, dated 1812, is battered and without its covers or any of the index after “Daffy’s elixir, old receipt for…” but it has a large section of “Instructions for Marketing”, monthly guides to what is in season and several suggestions for entire dinners and recipes and carving instructions. The “Family Recipes” section provides solutions for everyday problems – thinning and falling hair, cramp, scorched linen – and “restoring the life to drowned persons.”

You can see Duncan MacDonald in the damaged frontispiece above surrounded by the tools of his trade. He looks a good advertisement for his recipes!

Many of these recipes and receipts occur in other cookery books – trying to work out who was stealing whose recipes – or copying wholesale, come to that – is a work of archaeology.

For March, Mr MacDonald informs us, beef, mutton, veal “house-lamb” and pork are the meats in season. The poultry and game are turkeys, fowls, capons, chicken, duckling, tame rabbits and pigeons. (I’m not clear what the difference between a fowl and a chicken is.) A wide range of fish is in season including oysters, flounders, eels, roach, crab, turbot and mackarel [sic]. The vegetables he lists are mainly roots and the cabbage family including borecole – what we now call Brussel Sprouts – plus mushrooms, tansy, parsley, fennel and celery. Lettuce and cucumbers are listed – presumably grown under glass – and a wide range of herbs.

The list of fruit is sometimes baffling – “Golden pippins (an apple variety dating from the 17thc), rennetings (one of the group of apples called reinettes now), love (no idea – unless it is ‘love apple’ ie tomato), pearmain and John-apples (there are a number of apples whose name includes ‘pearmain’ but I can’t trace John-apples), the bon-chretien (nowadays usually known as the Williams pear) and double blossom pear, oranges and forced strawberries.

Here is the menu and table layout for the first of his suggested March dinners. This is service à la française – the dishes are brought out all together in two or more ‘courses’ for the diners to help themselves and each other to whatever combination they like, as opposed to service à la russe, the modern method, where each dish is served separately by a waiter or footman.

Given how cold the weather is, I’ll give the two soup recipes – and a warning – I haven’t tried these, so I cannot vouch for what they’ll taste like if you try them at home!

Soup Sante or Gravy Soup

“Take turnips and carrots, shred them small with celery heads about two inches long; wash and steam them separately in a little water until nearly done; when quite done, cut the white of the celery small, likewise a small quantity of leeks, cabbage, cos lettuces, endive and chervil; put all the vegetables to boil til quite tender, with three quarts of cleared brown consumes [presumably consommé]; if in season, add green peas, tops of asparagus, and button onions, stewed, etc.

You may put in a small piece of bouille beef stewed; but dry it with a cloth, and put it in the soup with the vegetables when you serve it. This, however, is not very general.”

Rice Soup

“Put a pound of rice and a little cinnamon [stick, not powder] into two quarts of water. Cover close, and let it simmer till the rice is quite tender. Take out the cinnamon, sweeten it to your taste, grate in half a nutmeg, and let it stand until cold. [This sounds more like a cold rice pudding than a soup.]”

“Another way

Wash a handful of rice in warm water, put it into a stewpan, with as much stock as it is wanted to make, and let it simmer slowly for two hours. Season it to your taste, and serve it up.”

I’m now going to go off and try out the recipe for Portable Soup…

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Directions to the Cook for March

  1. Sounds like cold rice pudding to me too! Presumably to be eaten with the almond tarts. Not a lot in the way of fresh veg, is there? Then again, I suppose it is March.

  2. I’m impressed that they had all those vegetables available in March.

  3. lesley2cats

    Portable Soup???

    • A rich beef stock reduced to a jelly, cut into thin strips and air-dried, then stored in an air-tight tin – it was used like stock cubes or when travelling. “A piece as big as a large walnut will make a pint of water very rich.”

  4. Elizabeth Bailey

    Interesting. Glad to hear about the portable soup. I had heard of it, but didn’t know how it was made. Just like beef stock cubes then really.

  5. Pingback: Directions for the Cook in March by Louise Rule | The World of HEYERWOOD

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