Category Archives: Food & drink

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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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.”

cock-pie-drury-lane

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.)

cock-pie-1840-2

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?

cock-pie-late-19thc

 

 

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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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A Georgian Foodie Delight – Potted Char

char dish

Sitting on my bedroom window ledge is an early 18thc pearl-ware dish. It is 16  cm across and 4 cm deep and fish are swimming all around the side. They look a little like trout but they have bright red fins, gills and lips. These  are the rare char and the dish was specially made for potted char, a Georgian delicacy.
Char (salvinus alpinus) are survivors from the Ice Age and occur in Britain only in a few deep, cold lakes – chiefly Windermere and Coniston in the Lake District and one or two in Scotland and Wchar-fishales – where the water temperature never rises above 20˚C. They have been a rare treat since at least Tudor times – Henry VIII used to have barrels of them sent to his palaces – but I have never tried one so I don’t know whether this is a case of rarity making something particularly desirable or whether they really are different and delicious. Apparently the flesh is delicate and pink-tinged. Perhaps a Lake District reader can tell me what they taste like!
Because of the distance from the Lake District to major centres of population the best way to get char to the market before refrigeration was to pot it – cook it with spices, salt and pepper, then seal it into a container with a thick layer of clarified butter on top to keep it sterile.
Intrepid early travellers to the area such as Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe wrote of eating potted char for breakfast in the local inns and its fame spread as improved transport and the passion for tourism in the Romantic Age opened up the Lake District to visitors.
Potted char began to spread all over the country, packed into the special dishes like mine, although if you search on-line for ‘potted char dishes’ you’ll find other designs as well.
Because most people would have bought char ready-potted it was difficult to find recipes in my collection of early cookbooks. However, here is one from The Housekeeper’s Instructor; or, Universal Family Cook by W.A. Henderson (1807).

char recipe
Potted char appears to have been eaten much as we eat potted shrimps today (those of us who are lucky enough to get hold of the real thing – tiny brown shrimps, not the big great big pink things!) – with crisp toast. And if you find a char dish, then snap it up. They are very rare survivors and mine was a lucky find at auction after I had seen one on Antiques Roadshow.

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It Is August In London – Eat Oysters on Oyster Day or Run Away to the Seaside?

August in London was the time to celebrate “Oyster Day” – the arrival of the first oysters at Billingsgate fish market. The scene on the streets is shown in the first print from Crucikshank’s London Almanac. This was a significant day for the poor for whom oysters was a cheap staple. In London Labour and the Poor Mayhew wrote that “the number of oysters sold by the costermongers amounts to 124,000,000 a year. These, at four a penny, would realise the large sum of £129,650. We may, therefore, safely assume that £125,000 is spent yearly in oysters in the streets of London.”

London August

In the scene working people queue up at two trestle tables to buy oysters. The vendors are opening them and on the left we can see a coal heaver or dustman, distinguished by his hat with a protective neck flap, pouring some kind of relish or ketchup over his.

A small boy is rummaging under the trestle for empty shells and on the right one lad is building them into a construction while other children holding up shells mob a respectably-dressed couple begging for coppers. An article in the Illustrated London News of 1851 explains what must be happening.

“We will not pursue the calculation into how many grottoes might be built from the shells of a year’s supply of oysters…. The coming-in of oysters is observed as a sort of festival in the streets; and in such a nook of the metropolis as the present locality, the grotto is usually built of inverted oyster-shells piled up conically with an opening in the base, through which, as night approaches, a lighted candle is placed within the grotto, when the effect of the light through the chinks of the shelly cairn is very pretty. It is but fair that the young architects should be rewarded for their trouble accordingly, a little band, of what some churl may call urchins, sally forth to collect pence from the passers-by ; and the usual form of collecting the tax [is] by presenting a shell…”

Of course, you might choose to leave the heat and dust of London in August (to say nothing of the smell of discarded oyster shells) and go to the seaside. Brighton, Margate and Ramsgate were closest (if one leaves aside Gravesend, which even in the Georgian period was getting a reputation for being somewhat rough).

Brighton AugustCruikshank has chosen to show bathing machines at Brighton with four burly female “dippers” dunking their quailing customers in the sea. The machines have boards showing the names of the dippers – two for “Mrs Ducks” and one for “Mrs Dipps”. In the foreground a lady is entirely enveloped, head and all, in a flannel “case” while in the middle two dippers are about to plunge a slight figure – a teenage girl perhaps – in backwards. A furious baby is getting a relentless ducking at the far end.

The Margate design of bathing machine, invented by Quaker Benjamin Beale, had a hood which came down to shelter the bather’s modesty, and perhaps divert some of the force of the waves, but these were not used at Brighton.

Although the seaside holiday is often thought of as a Victorian invention they were very much a feature of the Georgian scene for those who had money and leisure. By 1800 every English county with a coastline had at least one seaside resort. Brighton is perhaps the most famous example, but it was by no means the first – Scarborough probably has best claim to the title, although Margate and Brighton were close behind and all three were flourishing in the 1730s, long before the Prince Regent made Brighton notorious.

Brighton did have the benefit of closeness to London that Scarborough did not. In 1821 Dr John Evans remarked on stagecoaches doing the journey in six hours and predicted that balloon travel would reduce it to four hours in the future and in 1823 Cobbett wrote of “stock-jobbers…[who] skip backwards and forward on the coaches, and actually carry on stock-jobbing, in ‘Change Alley, though they reside in Brighton.” In 1834 four hundred and eight passengers arrived by coach in Brighton in one day, and 50,000 were recorded for the year.

Just as beach-wear and cruise-wear figure in the fashion magazines today, outfits for seaside visits were carefully chosen. Here is one from La Belle Assemblée designed by Mrs Bell for “Sea Coast Promenade”. personally I think the wearer has located the gentlemen’s bathing beach and has no intention of promenading any further…

1809 telescope

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Coach-fevered, coach-crazed and coach-stunn’d

“Coach-fevered, coach-crazed and coach stunn’d” was how the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described himself after arriving at Hatchett’s Hotel, Piccadilly in November 1817 after an all-night journey on the Bristol to London mail coach. It made me wonder if everyone had such a ghastly experience of coach travel and the result of my research is my new book Stagecoach Travel, out in the UK this month from Shire Publications (September in the US).

The first 1-Stagecoach coverstagecoaches appeared in the mid-17th century – and wise passengers made their will before setting out as well as allowing considerable time – the 182 miles from London to Chester took six days in 1657 (if the weather was kind). But at least in those days speed was not going to kill you and the coach would stop overnight so you had a chance of a meal at your leisure and a night’s sleep. (Prudent travellers would bring their own bed linen). If you were very hard up and could not afford the £1 15s for the London-Chester route you could perch on the roof (no seats or handrail) or ride in the basket with the luggage. To be ‘in the basket’ became slang for being hard-up. Passengers riding this way can be seen in this print of the quite fabulous sign (below) for the White Hart, Scole, Norfolk. The sign really was this ornate and was unfortunately demolished as a traffic hazard in the 19th century. The inn is still operating.

inn sign

 

By the early 19th century roads had improved greatly, at least along the turnpike routes, coach design incorporated lighter bodies and better springs and reliable timetables were in place. But although this meant the passengers got to their destination faster and on time it did not necessarily translate into greater SONY DSCcomfort or safety. I measured the interior of one of the few, genuine, surviving stagecoaches – the Old Times (Shown left in Birmingham Museum stores). It carried six inside passengers who would have been wearing bulky outdoor clothing. Each had 14 inches (35 cm) width on seats 13.5 inches (34 cm) deep. They and the passenger seated opposite had 18.5 inches (47 cm) of leg room to share. It makes budget airline seating seem luxurious.

Then there was the question of your fellow passengers who might be smelly, noisy, offensive or simply excessively chatty. As the Hon. John Byng ranted “…box’d up in a stinking coach, dependent on the hours and guidance of others, submitting to miserable associates and obliged to hear their nonsense, is great wretchedness!” Nor were the live human passengers the only source of discomfort. Coaches might carry the occasional turtle (live and strapped to the roof) on its way to some nobleman’s soup tureen, a smuggled veal calf (also live) in the guard’s box (definitely against regulations) or the sinister ‘box of book’ containing a body-snatcher’s ill-gotten corpses addressed to a London surgeon for dissection.

Travelling outside was cheaper and you were in the fresh air, but you were also exposed to the weather. Jane Austen’s nephews Edward and George arrived in Southampton in October 1808, “…very cold, having by choice travelled on the outside, and with no great coat but what Mr Wise, the coachman, good-naturedly spared them of his, as they sat by his side. They were so much chilled when they arrived, that I am afraid they must have taken cold.” They were fortunate, during very cold spells passengers sometimes died of exposure on the outside seats.

Then there were the inns, another source of misery, although foreign travellers usually wrote with admiration of “…that picture of convenience, neatness and broad honest enjoyment, the kitchen of an English inn.” (Washington Irving). With overnight stops a thing of the past, the 19th century innkeeper had to make his money where he could which meant over-priced, rushed meals. A useful trick was to serve it slowly and make it very hot but to prevent passengers removing any uneaten portions of the meal once the coach was ready after its 20 minute stop. The half-eaten food would go back in the pot for the next arrivals. You could, of course, bring your own picnic or buy from a vendor. The scene below is of an inn yard with passengers waiting to board their coaches with, to the left, the pie-seller carrying his wares on his head.inn yardI’ll post again about the pleasures of coaching, its dangers – from the highwayman (uncommon) to overturnings (all too frequent) – and those essential ingredients of the experience: the coachman, the guard, the vehicle and, of course, the horses.

Stagecoach Travel is available from Shire Publications http://tinyurl.com/ot6p2os, Amazon.co.uk  http://tinyurl.com/nafrkfs and, for pre-order, Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/k52g7bd

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Eating Out In Georgian London 2 – Some Recipes

In my last post I wrote about the world of Regency London eating places described by Ralph Rylance in his Epicure’s Almanac, so this time I thought I’d track down some typical recipes of the period.
These are all taken from original cookery books in my collection, but I haven’t tried them all myself, so experiment at your own risk!

Oysters were one of the most easily obtainable cheap fast foods and could be bought for home consumption in oyster warehouses, eaten in speciality oyster shops or from itinerant oyster-sellers in taverns such as the Cock in Fleet Street. ‘Marsh, the oyster-man, attends here the whole season with his Native’s, Milton’s, and Pyfleet’s…he has the dexterity of the squirrel in opening them.’
The Cock Inn is not the same as the building of that name today which is a heavily restored building of the 1880s, close to, but not on the same site as the original.

Cook & Albany

The title page from The Housekeeper’s Instructor by Jacob C Schnebbelie (1807) with his portrait above the front of the Albany where he was head cook.

March the oyster-man’s oysters would have been eaten raw, but The Housekeeper’s Instructor by Jacob C Schnebbelie, principal cook at the Albany (1807) has ten oyster recipes: fried; in Bechemel sauce; stewed; scalloped; fricassee; in a ragoo; sauce; loaves; pickled and soup. Here is the one for oyster sauce:

When the oysters are opened, preserve the liquor, and strain it through a fine sieve. Wash the oysters very clean, and take off the beards. Put them into a stew-pan, and pour the liquor over them. Then add a large spoonful of anchovy liquor, half a lemon, two blades of mace, and thicken it with butter rolled in flour. Put in half a pound of butter, and boil it up till the butter is melted. Then take out the mace and lemon, and squeeze the lemon juice into the sauce. Give it a boil, stirring it all the time, and put it into your sauce boat.

Oyster sauce seems to have been a relatively quick and cheap way of adding interest to boiled meat. Boiled fowl and beefsteaks in oyster sauce were two staples of club and chop house fare and it was to avoid both that the Prince Regent suggested to his chef, Jean-Baptise Watier, that he establish a gentlemen’s club with fine dining. As a result Watier’s, the “dandy club”, opened in 1807 on the corner of Bolton Street and Piccadilly. Brummell was perpetual president and fortunes were won and lost at the high-stakes macao tables.

To Fry Beef-Steaks from The Female Economist by ‘Mrs Smith’ (1810).
Take rump-steaks; beat them well with a roller; fry them in as much butter as will moisten the pan. For sauce, put to the gravy that comes out of them a glass of red wine, half an anchovy, a little nutmeg, pepper, salt and a shallot, cut small; give it a boil; pour it over the steaks, and send them hot to table.
If you like them done in a plainer way, you may put a little flour and water into the pan, with the gravy, when you have taken the steaks out; and a spoonful of ketchup and walnut-pickle, and use onion, or shallot, as you like, and omit the wine and anchovy.

Recipes0001

Frontispiece from A New System of Domestic Cookery (1817) showing a servant surrounded by ingredients

To Boil Chicken, from The Housekeeper’s Instructor

After you have drawn them, lay them in skimmed milk for two hours, and trus [sic] them. When you have properly singed, and dusted them with flour, cover them close in cold water, and set them over a slow fire. Having taken off the scum, and boiled them slowly five or six minutes, take them off the fire, and keep them close covered for half an hour in the water, which will do them sufficiently, and make them plump and white. Before you dish them, set them on the fire to heat; then drain them and pour over them white sauce, which you must have made ready in the following manner:
Take the heads and necks of the chickens, with a small bit of scrag of veal, or any scraps of mutton you may have by you, and put them into a saucepan, with a blade or two of mace, and a few black peppercorns, an anchovy, a head of celery, a slice of the end of a lemon, and a bunch of sweet herbs. Put to these a quart of water, cover it close, and let it boil till it is reduced to half a pint. Then strain it, and thicken it with a quarter of a pound of butter mixed with flour, and boil it five or six minutes. Then put in two spoonful of mushrooms, and mix the yolk of two eggs with a tea cup full of cream, and a little nutmeg grated. Put in your sauce, and keep shaking it over the fire, till it is near boiling; then pour it into your boats and serve it with your chickens.

Turtles were a luxury food and so popular that mock turtle soup features in most family cook books. The unfortunate turtles were shipped into the country alive from the West Indies towards the end of May and then kept in vast tanks to be sent to caterers, taverns or private buyers. One of the main suppliers was Mr Bleaden at the King’s Head in Poultry – very conveniently situated for supplying elaborate City banquets. He kept large tanks in his yard and had scores of turtles at any one time.
When I was researching for my new book Travelling By Stagecoach in Britain (Shire, July 2014) I came across a mail coach superintendent who declared that, ‘such a thing as a turtle tied to the roof directed to any gentleman once or twice a year might pass unnoticed, but for a constancy cannot be suffered.’ The guard would have received a sizable tip for accepting the turtle and the mail coach companies tried to stamp out such private enterprise.

Schnebbelie gives detailed and complex instructions on how to kill, prepare and cook your turtles, but this is something no-one would want to do these days so here is a recipe for Mock Turtle Soup from Mrs Smith.
Scald a calf’s head with the skin on; saw it in two, take out the brains; tie the head up in a cloth, and let it boil for one hour; then take the meat from the bones, cut it into small square pieces, and wash them clean in cold water; then put the meat into a stew-pan, with as much good broth as will cover the meat; let it boil gently for an hour, or until tender; then take it off the fire; put a piece of butter into a stew-pan, and half a pound of lean ham, or gammon, cut very fine; some chopped parsley, sweet marjoram, basil, three onions, chopped mushrooms, and a few shallots; put a pint of broth or gravy to the herbs and butter; put them on a stove or slow fire, and let them simmer for two hours; put as much flour as will dry up the butter; add good broth or gravy, so as to make two tureens; also add a pint of Madeira, or sherry; let it boil a few minutes, rub it through a sieve, and put it to the calf’s head; put force-meat balls and egg-balls; season it with Cayenne pepper, and a little salt, if wanted; squeeze two Seville oranges and one lemon; add a little fine spice and sugar to make it palatable. You may add oysters if you like.

Pineapple0001

The ultimate luxury ingredient, a pineapple, from one of the leading confectionery cookbooks of the day – Fred Nutt’s The Complete Confectioner (1815)

This is obviously very time-consuming, and not very cheap either, with its spices and wine. Finally, to take our mind off the poor turtles, we can follow Rylance on a country walk to Chalk Farm tavern where there was ‘a large room for public tea-drinking, an oven for baking hot rolls, and a stock of milch cows for the supply of milk for syllabubs.’
Here is Schnebbelie’s recipe for Common Syllabub which does require that you have a cow to hand so that it could be milked directly into the bowl, thus creating a thick foam.
Put a pint of cyder and a bottle of strong beer into a large bowl, grate in a small nutmeg, and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk from the cow as much milk as will make a strong froth. Let it stand an hour, and then strew over it a few currants, well washed, picked and plumbed before the fire and it will be fit for use.

First, catch your cow!

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Eating Out In Georgian London – A Regency Good Food Guide

My starrylanceting point for this post is a book that will fascinate anyone interested in Georgian London  – The Epicure’s Almanac: Eating and Drinking in Regency London by Ralph Rylance, edited by Janet Ing Freeman (British Library 2012).

In 1815 Rylance published the first guide to London eating, with, as he put it, the intention of guiding his readers to those establishments where they might ‘dine well and to the best advantage.’  Incredibly, Rylance claimed to have investigated all the locations himself, over 600 of them. His recommendations range from smart Mayfair hotels, inns, chop houses, markets, tea gardens and cake shops. Poor Rylance must have hoped his work would go into many editions, but it survived only the one and the publisher, Longmans, did not reprint.

Janet Ing Freeman has taken Rylance’s original text and investigated all the establishments he mentions, giving us notes on location and lots of interesting snippets about how they developed, who ate there and quotes from other sources. There are original maps to assist. Her detailed scholarly work turns Rylance’s book from a curiosity into a useable guide for the modern reader.

In addition to the places where one might eat there is a ‘Review of Artists Who Administer to the Wants and Conveniences of the Table’ ie shops for kitchen equipment and ingredients. These include Deakin’s Philosophical Kitchen Range which may be obtained from the inventor at 47, Ludgate Hill.  We are told it ‘combines economy with simplicity. It contains an improved oven for bread or pies; a capacious boiler, a place for several stewpans and saucepans with the addition of a moveable steaming apparatus…’ The boiler can also be used for distilling. The editor explains that ‘philosophical’ is used in the sense of ‘scientific’  and in 1817 prices ranged from 11 to 20 guineas.

One of the most frequently mentioned type of eating place is the oyster room. Oysters were cheap fast food and could be eaten at various shellfish warehouses and in most other eateries. Rylance mentions many oyster rooms such as Lynn’s at 145 Fleet Street where ‘the best accommodations are upstairs’, and Sawyer’s, St Martin’s Lane noting that it is, ‘One of the largest concerns of the kind in London, for the sale not only of shell-fish, but also of pickled and dried salmon, spruce beer and other beverages.’

In my collection I have this print, ‘A noted Oyster Room near the theatres -Time 3 o’Clock in the Morning’. (Drawn by Samuel AlOyster rooms_0001ken, published 1823). A very good time is being had by everyone and I strongly suspect that the gentlemen are not accompanied by their wives!

Another popular type of eating place was the coffee house, a very masculine preserve, where coffee was drunk, newspapers read and matters of business and politics discussed. Food was also served in many of them, for example the Piazza Coffee House in Covent Garden, founded by actor Charles Macklin, where ‘dinners for large and small parties are served up in the most consummate style of elegance.’

This illustration from Ackermann’s Repository of October 1811 shows the Auction Mart Coffee Room in Throgmorton Street. Auctions were often held in coffee houses and the Auction Mart was an attempt to move some of them into a purpose-built venue, although of course it still had to have its coffee room.  RylanAuction martce observes that it was ‘fitted up in very neat style. Here soups, and the usual coffee-house refreshments, are served up.’ The notes in the Repository are only concerned with the architecture, not the refreshments unfortunately, and the illustration shows an unconvincingly  quiet and uncrowded space.

Finally, for another type of establishment, we have the confectioners. As I have an invoice from Parmentier’s in my collection I’ve chosen that one from the many that Rylance describes. Parmentiers was located in Edwards Street (now part of Wigmore Street). ‘Here every article is perfected in the true Parisian style of excellence. You find eau de Cologne, pâte de guimauve [marshmallow confections], cachou à la rose, cachou à l’orange et à la violette [lozenge-shaped sweetmeats], papillottes avec devises [small candies wrapped in paper containing jokes or mottoes]. Here are to be had preserves and conserves, wet and dry, jellies, jams, coloured transparent pastes, fruits dried or preserved in French brandies, comfits, lozenges, drops of every colour and flavour, superior macaroons, and rout cakes of the most fanciful forms, with ices and creams.’ My invoice is for lemon and orange syrups.

Parmentier0001It is still possible to eat in some of the establishments that Rylance mentions. For example The Cheshire Cheese is still in Wine Office Court off Fleet Street, and close to the Bank of England you can eat at Simpson’s Tavern in Ball’s Court and the nearby George and Vulture in George Yard.

For my next post I’ll be discovering some recipes for popular foods in Georgian London.

 

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