Category Archives: Food & drink

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…


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Bringing Spice to the Kitchen – Or the British and ‘Curry’

The British in India, from the 17th century onwards, cheerfully lumped the many and varied styles of cooking, and the subtle differences in dishes they encountered, under the term ‘curry’, a word copied from the Portuguese. Pietro della Valle (died 1652) described as ‘caril’ or ‘carre’ the ‘broths… made  with Butter, the Pulp of Indian Nuts… and all sorts of Spices, particularly Cardamons and Ginger… besides herbs, fruits and a thousand other condiments [which are] poured in good quantity upon … boyl’d Rice.’

The British in India ate ‘curry’ with every meal, using the term to cover anything in a spicy sauce. No British lady would dream of undertaking her own cooking, so she would have no idea about how the dishes her Indian household served up were made. Eventually curry powder came to be considered a spice in its own right, completely ignoring the infinite varieties and combinations that might be used. Anglo-Indians might think they were immersing themselves in local culture – like the young East India Company employee above, listening to Indian musicians amongst his European furniture – but they seemed to have no appreciation of the subtleties of the cuisine.

As East India Company officials came back to Britain they brought their taste for curry with them and often they brought their Indian cooks with them. These men had learned to create the first Anglo-Indian cookery style to suit their employers and soon curry began to appear in ordinary household cookery books.

One enterprising India entrepreneur, Sake Dean Mahomed [Sidi Deen Mahomet in some sources], opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain in 1810. I discovered it (or, rather, where it had been) when I was researching for Walking Jane Austen’s London. It was located on the corner of George Street and Charles Street, just North of Portman Square, a fashionable area and one that was home to many retired Anglo-Indians.  The Hindostanee Coffee House even had a smoking room where patrons could smoke hookahs. Despite serving ‘Indian dishes in the highest perfection… allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequaled to any…ever made in England’ the business became bankrupt the following year. Possibly his choice of location was unfortunate and many of the Anglo-Indians could eat curry at home made by their own Indian cooks or they preferred to combine business with curry by patronising the various City coffee houses that served curry alongside English food. Norris Street Coffee House on Haymarket had been serving curry since 1773 when its ‘Mistress’ advertised in The Public Advertiser ‘true Indian curey paste.’ ‘At the shortest Notice [she would send] ready dressed Curey and Rice, also Indian Pilaws, to any Part of the Town.’ East India Company merchants had created almost a club for themselves at the Jerusalem Coffee House on Cornhill. No specialist Indian restaurant appeared again in Central London until the 1920s.

Sake Dean Mahomed (right. Painted by Thomas Mann Baines c.1810) had far more success with his bathing establishment in Brighton. “Mahomed’s Baths. These are ascertained [sic] by a native of India, and combine all the luxuries of oriental bathing. They are adapted either for ladies or gentlemen, and the system is highly salutary in many diseases, independently of the gratification it affords, particularly to those who have resided in the East.”  [W. Scott. The House Book or Family Chronicle of Useful Knowledge (1826)] The ‘luxuries of oriental bathing’, I learned when I was researching for The Georgian Seaside, included shampooing – not of the head, but of the whole body in a foaming massage.

The Epicure’s Almanac (1815) has a section on seasonal foods and for July mentions that ‘various preparations of curry afford a delectable repast to those who have acquired a taste for this Indian diet.’ Ready-made curry powder could be bought alongside other spices and was first mentioned in Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery (1747).

Here is a recipe for curry made with curry powder from The New London Family Cook (1811) by Duncan McDonald, head cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel, Covent Garden. The Bedford Tavern and Hotel was a large establishment on the Great Piazza. It opened in 1726 and continued in business throughout most of the 19th century.

And this is from A New System of Domestic Cookery (1807)

curry 2

curry 3 For a fascinating history of Europe’s love affair with curry, try Lizzie Collingham’s Curry; a biography (2005).


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The Agonies of Gout

Another cartoon I acquired with some sheets of a 19thc scrapbook was this one of an unrepentant port drinker ignoring advice from the vicar about his gout.

“My dear Friend don’t drink that filthy stuff, its yr greatest enemy,” says the cleric.

“But you know we are commanded to love our enemies, so here goes!” retorts his parishioner, watched by the bust of the Duke of Wellington on the mantelpiece.

Gout was a painful problem in the 18th and 19th century and is still just as painful today, although less common. We now know that it is caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints leading to inflammation and swelling and severe pain. It used to be thought a result of drinking too much port, but the NHS website is less clear about causes, or why, with people with similar diets, some are affected and some are not. Certainly heavy consumption of red meats and offal and alcohol are implicated, and that fits the diet of most well-off Georgian males!

The print shows the sufferer’s heavily bandaged foot propped up on a simple gout stool which is constructed from two pieces of wood, often padded. It protects the foot and the angle adjusts automatically as the sufferer shifts in his chair.

I turned to The House Book; or, Family Chronicle of Useful Knowledge, and Cottage Physician (1826), of which I have a disintegrating and obviously heavily-used copy, to see what remedies might be used at the time.

To be honest, it is no help at all on the causes and even less on cures. It quotes Theophrastus who believed that music cured the disease, the professor of mathematics at Bologna who turned to geometry on the advice of Galileo as a diversion from the pain, and cheers up its readers who may be suffering by observing that, “The torture of the gout must be dreadful, as it has often driven its victims to terminate their miseries by a violent death.” Dogs do not come out of this well – having a dog licking the afflicted part “is said to assuage the pain” or you can take your dog to bed with you in the hope the symptoms will transfer to the unfortunate animal. The author does observe that gout afflicts the rich far more than the poor, which “is not difficult to explain.” He then fails to explain it, although we can deduce that it is because of a diet richer in meat and strong alcohol.

The book does give the ingredients of a number of patent medicines, including Wilson’s Gout Tincture which “is merely an infusion of colchicum, or meadow saffron, as satisfactorily proved by Dr. Williams of Ipswich.” Colchicum is still used in homeopathic remedies for gout.




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A Fishy Business – Billingsgate Market

The New Family Cookery or Town and Country Housekeepers’ Guide by Duncan MacDonald (1812) begins its General Directions for Marketing with fish and with Billingsgate Market:

The comment in the penultimate paragraph is ironic, considering Billingsgate’s colourful reputation! When I was researching for my book Regency Slang Revealed I discovered that to talk Billingsgate meant to use particularly coarse and foul language.

Billingsgate Market was sited at the foot of Lower Thames Street from at least the 10th century until it was moved to the new market site on the Isle of Dogs in 1982. The first set of toll regulations covering it dates from 1016 and by the time of Elizabeth I it was dealing in corn, malt, salt and vegetables, although fish was always the main reason for its existence at the highest point where fish could be unloaded straight from the boats before London Bridge. It can be seen in Horwood’s map of London (c1800) below with the deep indentation of the dock taking a bite out of the waterfront and London Bridge on the left. This dock vanished with the Victorian rebuilding of the market in 1850. That building proved inadequate and was replaced with the present handsome structure by Sir Horace Jones, opened in 1877. It was refurbished after the closure and is now used for various commercial purposes. During the 1988 work extensive remains of the late 12th century/early 13th century waterfront were revealed.

The engraving from a print of 1820 shows the view of the dock from the river. At this date there was no covered market building, simply stalls and tables set out around the dock. In the days before a ready supply of ice dealers would come into Billingsgate from places within about twenty five miles – an outer ring that included Windsor, St Albans and Romford – and fish was sold in lots by the Dutch auction method where the price falls until a buyer is found. Many of the fish were caught in the Thames and in 1828 a Parliamentary Committee took evidence that in 1798 there were 400 fishermen, each owning a boat and employing one boy, who made a good living between Deptford and London catching roach, plaice, smelts, flounders, shad, eels, dudgeon, dace and dabs. One witness stated that in 1810 3,000 Thames salmon were landed in the season. By the time of the Commission,eighteen years later, the fishery had been destroyed by the massive pollution of the river from water closets and  the waste from gas works and factories that went straight into the river.

It was the fishwives of Billingsgate who became its most notorious feature. They were tough women, as they needed to be to thrive in such a hard, competitive business, and they did not shrink from either physical violence or colourful language. In Bailey’s English Dictionary (1736) a “Billingsgate” is defined as “a scolding, impudent slut.” Addison referred to the “debate” that arose among “the ladies of the British fishery” and Ned Ward describes them scolding and chattering among their heaps of fish, “ready enough to knock down the auctioneer who did not knock down a lot to them.”

The women of Billingsgate were an inevitable attraction to young bucks and gentlemen slumming, as the two prints below show. The top one is a drawing by Henry Alken for the Tom and Jerry series – “Billingsgate: Tom and Bob taking a Survey after a Night’s Spree.”  Below that is “A Frolic: High Life or a Visit to Billingsgate” from The London Spy.

Here two sporting gentlemen stand out in the crowd of working people as they watch a fight that has broken out between two bare-breasted fishwives. Another has just been knocked to the ground. Amongst the details note the woman sitting on a basket smoking a clay pipe, another (far left) taking a swig from a bottle and the porter’s hat on the man in the centre foreground with its long ‘skirt’ to protect the neck.

This print below is not dated, but as there is the funnel of a steam boat in the background amongst the masts it is probably 1820s.

Here a determined-looking lady in a riding habit, her veil thrown back and her whip under her arm, is negotiating the sale of a large fish head. Behind her is a smartly-dressed woman, perhaps a merchant’s wife, and an elderly gentleman in spectacles is talking to another fish seller on the far right. There are two men in livery, perhaps accompanying the lady in the riding habit. The man standing behind the seated fishwife is a sailor, judging by his tarred pigtail, and the porter walking towards us is wearing one of the black hats whose ‘tail’ can just be glimpsed over his shoulders. It is all fairly orderly and respectable, despite the crowd (and the smell, no doubt) but a hint to the other activities in the area may be the couple in the window!














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Keeping a Diary – and a lady who didn’t

I recently deposited my late father’s 40+ years-worth of diaries with the Great Diary Project , an incredible undertaking to preserve diaries of all kinds.  It made me think about keeping a diary – and how many good resolutions there must be to do just that which are never fulfilled. Which reminded me that I own a ladies’ memorandum book for 1822 –  and the owner didn’t use it either.

The book is beautifully bound in plain red Morocco leather with a tab to keep the covers closed and measures just over 4.5 x 3.25 inches.

But even though it contains no fascinating insights into the daily life of a lady in 1822 it is a lovely item in its own right, and it does contain two handwritten recipes and a mass of other useful printed material including “New Songs and Melodies”, instructions for country dances and quadrilles, the price of stamps and “Enigmas, Charades and Rebuses.”

The diary belonged to “Elizabeth Plant. Greatwood Lodge.” I did not have much confidence that I could find her – but an on-line transcript of a deed appointing Thomas Plant “Farmer of Greatwood Lodge in the parish of Eccleshall in the county of Staffordshire” as a trustee in 1879 gave me the parish. Greatwood Lodge is still there, a red-brick farmhouse that was perhaps quite new in Elizabeth’s time, and still a farm.

The frontispiece has a fashion plate and a view of a fine country house in Suffolk

As the frontispiece says the diaries were sold by a Bury St Edmund’s bookseller and throughout East Anglia the choice of a Suffolk house was probably for marketing purposes. Perhaps Elizabeth received it as a gift from a friend or relative.

I wonder if she took the picture of the walking dress to her local dressmaker, or even attempted it herself – and did she and her friends try out the country dances the book contained?

Amongst the poems I particularly like this cynical view off London – perhaps intended to convince the country-dwelling owners of the diary that they were in the right place:

The only things that Elizabeth wrote in her diary were two recipes, one for gingerbread and one for “toufy” or toffee, both on the accounts page for January. The  gingerbread sounds tasty!





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The Cock and Pie Public House – “A Specimen of Ancient Architecture.”


This print “View of the Cock & Pie Public House in Drury Lane” was published in 1807 as the frontispiece to volume 52 of The European Magazine. I was amused by the heading “Specimen of ancient architecture” making it sound as though the Druids, at least, were responsible for it! It isn’t easy to work out just how old it is – certainly 17th century, I imagine. It is said that it was where Nell Gwynne had her lodgings and where Samuel Pepys once saw her standing at the door.

I have been trying to place it along Drury Lane but with no success. It is certainly on the western side because one of the churches in the Strand to the south can be clearly seen at the end. The British Museum notes on their copy of the print that this is St Clement Dane, but I’m not convinced. Looking at maps of the time it seems more likely to be St Mary-le-Strand which stood opposite the end of Drury Lane.

The detail is fascinating. This was not a very respectable area, close to Covent Garden and the theatres (Nell Gwynne again!), and the gentleman walking away from us with a bundle on his shoulder is recoiling in surprise (disgust?) as the on the other side of the street woman toasts him with a wine glass. She is slumped drunkenly against a shop front, a basket of plucked chickens at her feet. Perhaps it was gin in that glass. The odd shape hanging in front of the inn is a bush, or bundle of greenery, the sign for home-brewed liquor being available that stretches back to Roman times. “ELLIOT & Co’s ENTIRE” is painted across the front and translating this took me into the history and mythology of ale, beer and porter making.

According to the Brewery History website which explains all this in exhaustive detail, “Entire, or “intire”, was an expression used by brewers to indicate a beer where the first, second and third mashes had been mixed and fermented together to make one grade of beer, rather than brewed separately to produce three different-strength beers…” This is another name for porter, as opposed to stout, a strong beer made from the first mash, which was the strongest. (If you want to be further confused with the different terms for beer and ale, have a look at my Regency Slang Revealed where I identified over thirty terms for ale and beers.)

The inn sign itself shows a cockerel on the ground and a magpie perched on a branch, a literal depiction of the name. Victorian writers maintain that this is a corruption of “Peacock in Pie” referring to the great banquet dish. Drury Lane was also a cock-fighting area and the cock may reflect that. (An area to the north-west of Drury Lane where St Martin’s Lane  met Long Acre and which became the notorious slum of Seven Dials, is shown on William Morgan’s map of 1682 as “Cock and Pye Fields” – it may have the same derivation.)


By the time  Old and New London (Edward Walford 1874) was published the building was still standing, although by then it had become “Stockley’s Cheap Bookshop”. The print of 1840 from that book, shows it when it was still a tavern, and indicates how buildings were constantly being adapted and changed. The middle upstairs window has been closed off and the sign is now on that bit of wall, the bush is no longer being displayed and the sheltering overhang over the ground floor front has been continued around the side. It is now “Gooding & Co’s Entire Celebrated Stout and XXX [ie strong] Ales” that are advertised for sale and the buildings on either side have also changed. A barber’s striped pole can be clearly seen and there is street lighting on the opposite building.

Finally here is a 19th century photograph of the poor Cock & Pie, now showing part of it as Stockley’s Bookshop. Does anyone know when Drury Lane was cleared and these old buildings swept away?








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Catching a Cawchery in a Slap-Ang Shop – Eating In the Regency Underworld

lodgingsYou are slumming it in Regency London – perhaps you’re in cheap lodgings avoiding your creditors, or dodging a furious father armed with a shotgun or your gambling habit has got the better of you and you are seriously out of pocket. You have found your cheap lodgings – a miserable, unheated room that you share with bedbugs, fleas, mice and the other inhabitants of your straw pallet – now you need to find something to eat. [The print above is of Logic’s lodgings in one of the Tom & Jerry tales by Pierce Egan. Note the dome of St Paul’s behind and the pawnbroker’s shop with its three gold balls on the left.]

A respectable eating house with a decent daily ordinary might be within your means, otherwise you’ll be looking for a grubbery and, in this kind of area, it is probably a hand-in-pocket shop where ready money is expected and no credit is given or even a slam-bang or slap-ang shop, the lowest form of cook shop. Even if you are clammed, sharp-set or positively gutfoundered, you’ll still be hoping that it isn’t run by a cook ruffian, a really bad cook who’ll beat all to a todge, or unrecognisable mess.

If all you can afford is buster and beeswax or bread and cheese, it will taste better if it has been toasted to make a Welsh rabbit or, failing the cheese, you may have to make do with a scratch platter or tailor’s ragout of bread and sliced cucumbers slopped in vinegar.

If there’s a smell of cooking meat the chances are it will be a sheep’s head  – baked to make a Bloody Jemmy or Field Lane Duck or boiled with onions which makes a German Duck. But that might be too expensive so you settle for a galimaufry, a hodge-podge of leftovers or a cawchery, a stew (best not to investigate the ingredients). If you are lucky it might be padded out with some naked boys – rather lumpy dumplings. Below is a detail from “Tom and Jerry Masquerading Among the Cadgers in the Back Slum in the Holy Land” with the diners tucking into their food next to the stove while a riot breaks out in the background.

slum eating

Just when it all seems hopeless and you are contemplating a diet of flummery – oatmeal and water boiled to a jelly – one of your friends turns up with a loan and you can foul a plate and polish a bone with them and treat yourselves to an alderman – a fine roast turkey with a garland of sausages in place of the alderman’s chain of office.

As for what you’ll drink with your alderman, that’s another story – but the chances are you’ll be washing it down with a tankard or two of heavy wet.

GroseFrancis Grose toured the back-slums and the rookeries of London in the 1780s collecting cant and slang terms for his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,  assisted (or possibly supported) by his servant Batch. Judging by his portrait Grose had sampled plenty of naked boys, aldermen and Bloody Jemmys himself. He inspired a number of imitators (and downright plagiarists) but all these late Georgian slang dictionaries are arranged in alphabetical order of the terms defined.  Regency Slang Revealed  takes four of them and organises them thematically, with an index – the perfect guide for the explorer of the Regency underworld. Regency Slang Revealed Cover MEDIUM WEB








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