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.
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.
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.
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!