JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Old English cookery

My friend DD rang this morning to ask if I could mind her shop for an hour while she popped out. Great - a good chance for a browse, as if I need any more books in this house. But I do ...

First was a paperback copy of Michael Smith's Fine English Cookery for £2. This is a real classic of English cookery, elegant English cookery before all those French cooks fled from revolutionary France and we got the taste for anglicised foreign cuisine. Jane Grigson says in the blurb: "He starts from the reasonable assumption that people who sat on Chippendale chairs in elegant houses were unlikely to be eating filthy food from their Wedgwood dinner services. Therefore what they ate is worth exploring." I can't wait to cook from it.

The second was a real bargain, £10 for an original 1814 copy of Elizabeth Raffald's The Experienced English Housekeeper, for the use and ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks &c, written purely from practice; dedicated to the Hon Lady Elizabeth Warburton, whom the Author lately served as Housekeeper; Consisting of several Hundred Original Receipts, most of which never appeared in print Great title, and one of the sources for Smith's book. It was a bit of a bestseller, and this copy (leather-bound and with the original owner's inked notes) is "A new edition, in which are inserted some celebrated receipts by other modern Authors"

It belonged to Elizabeth Cooper of Ox Close House, near Ripon, and when she died in 1859 it was given to her granddaughter Annie Harland. They both obviously used it a great deal, because the binding has been mended, and needs mending again. In the back, Annie has written a detailed instruction to take the stains out of flannel, which begins: rub with yolk of egg before washing.

The book falls open at the recipe "to preserve oranges carved", which turns out to be marmalade (topical, as I'm just making a batch of marmalade now). On the same page is a recipe for preserving quinces which will be useful in the autumn. Some of the recipes have charming names - bride cake for a wedding. Some sound dire but may well be worth pursuing: to make a peas soup for Lent, for which you need "blue boiling peas" - I can only suppose that she means Puy lentils, in which case, absolutely delicious with anchovies, onion, cloves, carrots, parnsips and a bunch of herbs.

And what about this? I'm posting it in its entirety:

To make a catchup to keep seven years
. Take two quarts of the oldest strong beer you can get, put to it one quart of red wine, three quarters of a pound of anchovies, three ounces of shalots peeled; half an ounce of mace, the same of nutmegs; a quarter of an ounce of cloves, three large races of ginger cut in slices, boil it all together over a moderate fire till one third is wasted, the next day bottle it for use; it will carry to the East Indies.

Industrial quantities of a wonderfully flavoursome brew - but I suppose you would need them if you were sailing to the Far East with only barrels of rotting food to eat. I might work on reducing the quantities, because it sounds good (although I have no idea how you'd find out what is a race of ginger - trial and error, I suppose).

I am SO looking forward to confounding the idea that English cooking is, at best, dire, and, at worst, doesn't exist.


mrsnesbitt said...

Every time Icome over to read your blog I go away feeling hungry!
I love cheese scones, philadelphia and smoked salmon or anchoves!

See what I mean?
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm now Masterchef last night....smoked eel fishcakes now then ....

Claire said...

I know this blog posting is a couple of years old but I came across it while googling something else...I also have a copy of the Experienced English Housekeeper and as my copy is fairly fragile I'm in the process of transcribing the recipes to my computer.....utterly fascinating to read these old recipes. I find my mind imagining the whole cooking process of each recipe. My copy came to me years ago through my grandmother and to her from her mother and so on. It's one of my most precious possesions.

Joanna said...

Claire what a wonderful project, and how kind of you to comment here. Are you going to cook from the recipes, or re-publish them? Whatever, it's a great project ... I'd really like to hear more about it, but perhaps email is the way forward

joannacary AT ukonline DOT co DOT uk