Category Archives: Food & drink

Fishy Business – And A Moral

In my last blog I posted about a charming children’s book I had discovered and mentioned the Fish Machine – so here it is –

fish machine

It seems to be a ‘machine’ in the same way that any vehicle with a specific purpose was called a machine, even if it had no engine other than the horse – bathing machines, for example. As well as describing the purpose of the vehicle Jane and Ann Taylor, authors of Rural Scenes; or, A Peep Into the Country for Good Children (this version 1813), point up a moral about co-operation in business and make a passing reference to the importance of fresh fish for the benefit of future housewives. I have seen lorries on Japanese harboursides for just the same purpose.

“This man is driving to some great town, to sell his fish to the inhabitants. he not only serves them, but also the fishermen and himself. Indeed, they find a mutual help in each other; for it would be very difficult always to find a market on he sea-coast, and equally inconvenient to the townspeople to go there for them. If he carries fish only, he pays no turnpikes.”

The authors also use every opportunity throughout the book to encourage children to be kind to animals while, at the same time, being very up-front about the use of animals as food, including being quite positive that the human position of power over other creatures was divinely ordained, as in the text that accompanies the two fishermen hauling in their net of river fish.

fishermen

“These two men are labouring very hard to get an honest livelihood, and are, therefore, very commendable. Dominion was given to man over the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea, and the beasts of the field, which, with vegetables and fruit, were appointed for his food. As it is necessary to kill animals for our support, it is our duty to do it in the most humane methods we can invent, so as to give them as little pain as possible; therefore it is better to take fish with a net, than with a hook and line. I have read of a boy who was endeavouring to reach a plate off a shelf, to put some fish in which he had caught when, just in the same manner as he caught the fish, a sharp meat-hook that hung close by, did catch him in the chin.”

And here is the fisherman with road and line, rather uncomfortably perched on a bridge with the moral of the tale in verse below.

rod & line

moral

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From India to Fulham – On the Track of a Love Story

Some time ago I bought a battered little book from an on-line auction site for a few pounds. It measures approximately 8 x 6.5 inches (10 x 6 cm), the cover was battered and the thin spine had given way completely. The pages inside were loose and covered in handwriting in ink that, in places, had faded badly.

whole thing

Many pages were difficult to read but I saw at a glance that it was what I had hoped – a book of household recipes and hints  that some careful 19th century housewife had collected. But who was she and when did she keep her notebook?

Inside one cover was “9, High Row 60£” and “G.G.Mills Esq, North End Terrace, Fulham”.  Somehow I didn’t think that Mr Mills himself was carefully collecting recipes for raspberry vinegar or fish sauce. The other cover, amidst various scribbled notes, had, “Mrs Bernard Ryan”, the date 31st August 1812 and “Kensington Wilds Library Hornton St.” There was also a strip that had been torn from a letter and stuck in with instructions for restoring the lustre to silverware written on it. The letter had been addressed to Mrs Mills. The glue obscures the notes in the top left hand corner of the inside cover but it is possible to read “1819 Sept 21st”, “G.G.M 10th Dec 1819” and very faintly below that “To make good curry.”

inside cover

So, I had a Regency housewife’s notebook – but if this belonged to Mrs Mills, who was Mrs Bernard Ryan? And why had someone apparently tried to copy Mrs Bernard Ryan’s name in wobbly handwriting above it as “Mrs Renard Ry”? A child, perhaps?

I began with the library by digging in on-line newspaper indexes and soon found that F. P. Wild’s Library at 8, Hornton Street, Kensington appears in newspaper advertisements for newly-published books  between 1816 and 1825. It seemed I was definitely dealing with someone living in London

Then I turned to genealogy websites and discovered that a George Gillam Mills was resident at North End Terrace, Fulham when he died in May 1844 aged 74. He was buried in the District Chapel of the Parish of St Mary’s, North End, Fulham on 17th May. I tried to find North End Terrace on maps but could not pin-point it but but North End Road joins Hammersmith Road just where St Mary’s Chapel, now a church, stands. It seems likely that it was at the northern end of the road that Jean and George lived. Until the late 19th century North End was a scattered hamlet of houses along North End Road surrounded by fields and market gardens and included many substantial properties and villas owned by prosperous middle class and aristocratic families.

Now I knew Mr Mills’ first names I could chase him further and found that on the 15th May 1815 he had married Jean Ryan, a widow, at St Luke’s, Chelsea. They had married by licence and on the bond which he signed to obtain the licence George stated that he was over twenty one years of age, unmarried and living in the parish. It seemed highly likely that Jean Ryan was the Mrs Bernard Ryan named on the inside cover of the book.

I was able to find George’s christening record at St Alfege’s church in Greenwich on 24th November 1771 with the note that he had been born that month. His parents were Samuel Gillam Mills, a surgeon, and Catherine. So George was from a middle class home and was forty four when he married Jean Ryan.

Could I find ‘Jean’ marrying a Barnard Ryan? To my delight I found that on 26 August 1805 Lieutenant Bernard Ryan married Miss Jean Forbes in Secunderabad in British controlled India. But sadly the marriage lasted only six years. He died, a Captain in the 12th Regiment of Native Infantry of the Honourable East India Company, aged twenty eight and was buried 17th October 1811 at Fort William in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His will leaves everything to his wife Jean.

This image of the fort is from 1754, but it must have looked very much like this when the Ryans knew it, and having seen it when in Kolkata myself, it is still recognisable today.

Fort_William 1754

In September 1812 the records of the Lord Clive Military Fund Pensions Committee in the Madras (now Chennai) Presidency show that a pension of two shillings and four pence a day was granted to Mrs Jean Ryan, widow. Soon after this she must have set sail for England, a voyage of perhaps a year unless she was very lucky with the weather.

How did the widowed Mrs Ryan meet Mr Mills? How old was she? That at least I could answer because her burial record for 19th March 1825 gives her age as only forty. She had been twenty when she married Bernard and thirty when she married George. But her second marriage to a man fourteen years her senior seems to have been a happy one  because below a recipe for stewing flounders she wrote: “13th April 1820 – recd. a New Crown Piece from Darling Husband. Keep Sake.”

What happened to George? He was a prosperous businessman and civil servant, it seems. In 1815 he was Cashier of Half-Pay at the Army Pay Office in Whitehall and in 1819 had been promoted two steps up to Ledger Keeper. The Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register for 1817 and 1819 lists him as one of the directors and an auditor of the British Fire Office, “for assuring Houses, Goods and Ships” located at Cornhill in the City. How did he pass the nineteen years of widowerhood? I hope he had a good housekeeper who cooked him some of the familiar recipes from Jean’s notebook.

The notebook itself has a wide selection of recipes with notes on who gave them to her, a good selection of curries – not surprisingly perhaps – and notes on everything from making mistletoe grow to polishing a mahogany table. I transcribed the whole book and Mock Oyster Sauce and a Cure For Corns: A Regency Lady’s Receipt Book is out in April but available to pre-order now.

Cover 2

 

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Spice Up the New Year

I’ve been trying out gingerbread and spice cake recipes as warming treats so here are some genuine 19th century recipes for you to try (Warning! I haven’t tried these as they are, so it is at your own risk!).

DSCN0184

I made mine using the smaller of the the three antique biscuit moulds that I own – the only one that will produce a biscuit small enough for a modern oven.  This is the result – not quite firm enough, I think, it has lost definition so more experimentation needed. It tastes great though.

gingerbread

First here are Gingerbread Cakes, a simple recipe from The Housekeeper’s Instructor; or Universal Family Cook (1807). Given the amount of nutmeg these might be quite hallucinogenic!

Take three pounds of flour, a pound of sugar, the same quantity of butter rolled in very fine, two ounces of beaten ginger, and a large nutmeg grated. Then take a pound of treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, and make them warm together. Work up the bread stiff, roll it out and make it into thin cakes. Cut them out with a tea-cup or small glass, or roll them round like nuts, and bake them in a slack oven on tin plates.

DSCN0188There’s a very similar recipe in The Complete Confectioner (1815) by Fredrick Nutt with the note: N.B. These are very good for the stomach in cold weather.

Mr Nutt has a more elaborate recipe for Spice Biscuits. It uses Lisbon sugar – cane sugar imported from the West Indies and double-refined in Portugal leaving it an off-white colour. A third refining was necessary to make it pure white, which would be more expensive.

Take three pounds of flour, and three pounds of sweet almonds cut in half, and put them with the flower [sic] and three ounces of spice, such as cinnamon and mace pounded, and one pound of powdered sugar, and mix them together on your dresser; then take three pounds of Lisbon sugar, and put it in a saucepan with some water, and just boil it, then mix it with the other ingredients on the dresser; when it is all mixed to a paste, heat your oven very hot, and put three papers next your plate; then roll your paste to the size of a large rolling-pin; then put it on your paper and flat it down with your hand about three inches wide, but higher in the middle than at the ends, then put them in the oven; when they are baked take them out, while hot, cut them with a sharp knife about the eighth part of an inch thick, in the form of a rusk, and you will see the almonds very well in them.

The third of my moulds is so long that it wouldn’t fit in any modern domestic oven – and it is a pig to photograph, but here goes!

DSCN0186

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Time For A Pudding

The evenings are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air – what better time to think about making a warming pudding?

Recipes0001

I’ve been consulting A New System of Domestic Cookery formed upon Principles of Economy and Adapted to the Use of Private Families by A Lady. It was published in 1829 by John Murray (Jane Austen and Byron’s publisher) and cost seven shillings and six pence.

Some of the recipes certainly would have been very economical, using up left-overs in a way that resonates with today’s concern about food waste. There are a number of recipes using bread such as this one:

A Rich Boiled Bread Pudding

Over half a pint of crumbs (from a previous recipes I think these must be stale white bread crumbs) pour half a pint of scalding milk; cover for an hour. Beat up four eggs, and when strained, add to the bread, with a tea-spoonful of flour, an ounce of butter, two ounces of sugar, half a pound of currants, an ounce of almonds beaten (I assume these would be ground almonds), with orange-flower water, half an ounce of orange, ditto lemon, ditto citron (juice??). Butter a basin that will exactly hold it, flour the cloth and tie tight over and boil one hour.

I rather like the sound of this savoury pudding although I’d add  more cheese myself. I imagine it would be baked in a pie dish:

A Cheese Pudding

Grate three ounces of cheese and five of bread (stale, I assume); and having warmed one ounce of butter in a pint of new milk (making this today I would use full fat milk), mix it with the above; add two well-beaten eggs and a little salt. Bake it half an hour.

Another one that I’d like to try is:

An Exceedingly Good Orange Pudding

On half a pound of crumbs of bread pour a pint of milk; let it boil up; stir in two ounces of butter and one of marrow (I think I might give the marrow a miss and add a bit more butter!), keeping the pan over the fire until all is incorporated. Let it become cold then mix in two eggs, two ounces of sugar, the same of orange marmalade, and a spoonful of orange flower water. Choose a basin that will exactly hold it, and tie over with a floured cloth very closely. Boil it an hour and a quarter. For sauce, melted butter, sugar, a little lemon-juice, and a spoonful of brandy.

Finally here’s a real novelty. I’m trying to persuade the cook in our household to try it to see if it lives up to its name. If I succeed, I will let you know!

Transparent Pudding

Beat eight eggs very well; put them into a stew-pan with half a pound of sugar pounded fine, the same quantity of butter, and some nutmeg grated. Set it on the fire and keep stirring it until it thickens.  Then set it in a basin to cool; put a rich puff pastry round the edge of the dish; pour in your pudding, and bake it in a moderate oven. It will cut light and clear. You may add candied orange and citron, if you like.

I haven’t tried any of these – so if you do, it is at your own risk! Happy baking.

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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. (The cartoonist was

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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