I enjoy cooking shows, and was a fan of the Two Fat Ladies. In series 2, Clarissa Dickson Wright made a salmon dish based on a recipe from Robert May’s cookbook. Her version of the recipe is included in THE TWO FAT LADIES RIDE AGAIN, written by Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. During the episode, Clarissa gave a little information about Mr. May which intrigued me. Since I also enjoy old cookbooks, when I ran across a facsimile of Mr. May’s work, I ordered it and it arrived today. I’ve learned that he was born in 1588. His father was cook for Lord and Lady Dormer, and taught Robert how to cook. Robert was sent to Paris by Lady Dormer, where he studied cookery for five years before returning to become cook in the Dormer’s kitchen under his father. After several years passed and Lady Dormer died, Robert went on to cook for other nobility. He died in 1664.
Mr. May’s cookbook, THE ACCOMPLISHT CHEF OR THE ART AND MYSTERY OF COOKERY was first published in 1660 in London. He was chef for noble households (primarily Catholic) during the reign of Charles I, the English Civil War and Parliamentary era, and into the reign of Charles II. In today’s terms, Mr. May was something of a celebrity chef. Robert’s cookbook is very large, and includes his own recipes (as well as some borrowed from others, to whom he apologized). I obtained a copy of the 5th edition published in 1685, which is pictured above. The cookbook was dedicated for the use of master cooks and young hopeful cooks. It addressed carving and serving, and contained bills of fare for each season and special days, The recipes were arranged in alphabetical order and the book contains a useful table of contents.
In perusing Robert May’s cookbook, I was able to find a recipe that I believe may be the one which inspired Clarissa Dickson Wright’s adaptation. (It must be said that hers, being geared for the modern cook, seems simpler to prepare as quantities are clear and it is designed for 4 people.) It involves cooking a thick cut of salmon from the middle of the fish in red wine with slices of orange, orange juice and spices and served with toast points. I have not yet attempted this dish, due (in part) to the logistics of acquiring the right cut of fish in my area. However, it sounds very different from other salmon recipes I’ve seen and I want to try it. It could be a delicious dish for a special occasion dinner. Robert May’s cookbook itself is another treasure, with its insight into another era.
May, Robert. THE ACOMMPLISHT COOK OR THE ART AND MYSTERY OF COOKERY. A facsimile of the 1685 with foreword, introduction and glossary supplied by Alan Davidson, Marcus Benn and Tom Jaine. 2012: Prospect Books, London. Reprinted 2018. (See recipe on page 232.)
Paterson, Jennifer and Dickson Wright, Clarissa. THE TWO FAT LADIES RIDE AGAIN. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York. Originally published in 1997 by Ebury Press in Great Britain. (See recipe on p. 39.)
Over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, I wrote about one of my favorite characters on the series VICTORIA (season 3 now showing on PBS).
I have been enjoying the series Victoria on PBS. (It was so exciting that series 3 premiered in the U.S. BEFORE showing in the UK!) One character I particularly like is Mr. Francatelli, the chef in the palace. While it is true that Queen Victoria’s household did include a cook named Francatelli, there is a big difference between the way he is depicted in the television series and the known facts about him.
Charles Elme’ Francatelli is believed to have been born in London in 1805, to Nicholas and Sarah Francatelli. He actually grew up in France. He studied cooking at the Parisian College of Cooking, from which he received a diploma. He had the good fortune to study under the renowned chef Marie Antoine Careme (1784-1833), who served as chef de cuisine for the British Prince Regent (the future George IV) and was invited to Russia (although he left before cooking for the czar). When Francatelli returned to England, he cooked for various aristocratic households, until in late 1838 or early 1839, he went to work at Crockford’s. To read more, go HERE.
As noted before, I really enjoy old cookbooks. The information they contain tell us so much about life in earlier times. Not only do they tell us what people ate and how their food was prepared, they contain information about medicine, sanitary concerns and other things. For some time, I have wanted a copy of that stalwart of the Victorian home, MRS BEETON’S BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. Finally, a facsimile of the original volume published in 1861 surfaced. Not only does it contain the original material, including illustrations, the print matter is enlarged so it is easier for me to read. (I am increasingly appreciative of larger print.) It is a rather bulky volume, but a delight to read none the less.
One of the things I particularly like is Mrs. Beeton’s list of foods in their seasons. She divided them into categories (Fish, Meat, Poultry, Game, Vegetables and Fruit), then discussed what is available each month, including commentary on possible quality. For example, in February, she listed several fish that were still available for purchase in February but were not as good as they were in January, as well as other fish that were not subject to that concern. While other books have similar information, Mrs. Beeton’s seems to be more detailed. This kind of information can bring a story to life in many ways, ranging from a dialogue between characters about what to buy to a detail about a character’s favorite dish. If nothing else, it gives an author confidence about the accuracy of the details in the story.
The illustrations are black and white drawings, and the use of the illustrations is interesting as well. Mrs. Beeton included drawings of the ingredients before cooking (herbs, chickens, trees, etc.) as well as pictures of the final dishes.
For example, in the section of recipes for chicken, she included pictures and details regarding different varieties of chicken. See below:
I’m sure this was intended as a help to the ladies of the house, but it’s very interesting to the modern reader as well.
This is a useful and fascinating addition to my library. I look forward to using it.
Beeon, Mrs. Isabela. MRS BEETON’S BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. Originally published in 1859-61 in monthly supplements to S. O. Beeton’s The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. First published by S. O. Beeton in 1861 as one volume entitled THE BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT. Enlargement: London: Chancellor Preess, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987.
My post on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog…
It’s officially autumn (even though the temperatures do not reflect it where I live), and my menu planning is making a seasonal shift. As temperatures cool and winter approaches, a richer and more sustaining menu appeals. Soup is a favourite of mine for this time of year. An ancient dish, I suspect it evolved as soon as man figured out how to put edible things in a pot of water over heat. Soup is featured in virtually all culinary traditions and, of course, is a significant part of food history in Great Britain. As a history enthusiast, I enjoy reading details of normal life, including food, whether I’m reading fiction or non-fiction, as it gives an immediacy and life to the material.
Peasant fare, elegant fare, or invalid fare, soup was a staple of the British diet. Early cookery books don’t show as many recipes for soup as for other dishes. I suspect this is because it was assumed that individuals already knew how to make the standard daily dish for the household, made from local ingredients to personal taste. THE FORME OF CURY, a cookbook from c. 1390 (originally a scroll showing authorship by “the Chief Master Cooks of King Richard II”), contained some soup recipes designed to be served to the nobility. The names frequently included “soppes” or sowp” as the dish was served over bread. One was “Fenkel in Soppes” ….
I do enjoy old books, especially cookbooks, so you can imagine how pleased I was to find The Virginia House-wife by Mary Randolph on a Friends of Library sale shelf, waiting to go home with me. This little gem includes a facsimile of the first edition of Mary’s cookbook as published in 1824, with supplemental material from the 1825 and 1826 editions. Historical notes and commentary by Karen Hess, a culinary historian, which is extremely useful. Being particularly interested in English history, it is fascinating to see recipes typical to 17th and 18th century English cookbooks still in use. Even more fascinating is seeing these recipes amended and adapted based on other culinary influences (French, African Creole, etc.) and ingredients available in the colonies as well as typically English ingredients. An interesting note is the number of vegetables for which she has recipes. Her recipes are organized by food type (i.e. Port, Bee, Vegetables, etc.) so her book is fairly easy to find one’s way around. One rather confusing matter is the inclusion of grains, fruits, desserts and mixed dishes in with vegetables, but the index at the front is very clear so they are easy enough to find. At the end is a section entitled “Dishes for Lent,” making it simple for cooks to find inspiration on what to cook during this religious season of year. This is a delightful little book, and one I will enjoy using as a reference. I may even attempt one or two of Mary’s recipe’s.
Mint sauce has a long history in England, traditionally served with roast lamb. Mint sauce consists of mint leaves, finally minced, and mixed with vinegar and some sugar. This is very different to the mint jelly served with lamb when I was growing up in America. This type of “sweet and sour” sauce goes back to medieval times, and similar mint sauces were very popular in France and Italy where mint was more widely used. Traditional has it that, in an effort to slow consumption of lamb and mutton to protect the wool trade (less lamb eaten meant more sheep to shear), Elizabeth I decreed that lamb and mutton could only be eaten with bitter herbs. Mint is one of the bitter herbs, and cooks discovered quickly that it pairs well with lamb and mutton. Clarissa Dickson Wright considered mint sauce to be the last culinary link with the Crusades. At any rate, mint sauce has been a favorite condiment with lamb and mutton since the 16th century. As with any popular food product, mint sauce has been tweaked over the centuries. While regular mint sauce seems to be considered essential for lamb, other sauces have been devised for use with other meats, such as a gooseberry and mint sauce recommended for port and goose.
In 1200 ENGLISH RECIPES by Ethel Meyer, she took 2 T of finely chopped mint leaves, 1T of granulated sugar (American) or castor sugar (British), and 6 T vinegar. After mixing the mint and sugar, the mixture must sit for an hour; then the vinegar can be added added gradually, mixing well between each addition. (This quantity is recommended for 4-5 people.) This seems to be the basic recipe. Some add a squeeze of lime or lemon. Some use white wine vinegar; I found another using malt vinegar. Some specify spearmint leaves, while others go with peppermint. Several recommended that the finished sauce have the consistency of thick cream. As you can see, this is a very flexible recipe and can be easily adapted to personal taste.
“20 Quirky Facts About British Food.” https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=interesting+british+food+facts
Love to Know. “List of Bitter Herbs.” http://herbs.lovetoknow.com/List_of_Bitter_Herbs
Meyer, Edith. 1200 ENGLISH RECIPES. Originally published 1898: Murray, London. Published 2010: Salzwasser-Verlag, Bremen, Germany. GoogleBooks: https://books.google.com/books?id=Sb5LF9ztzFgC&pg=PA199&lpg=PA199&dq=how+to+make+traditional+english+mint+sauce&source=bl&ots=xeAyxn309w&sig=0Mg9MmYR6OlWKVJHtlLrHdDrHog&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDUQ6AEwBDgoahUKEwj2j6f9xpfIAhWOuB4KHV9RA_U#v=onepage&q=how%20to%20make%20traditional%20english%20mint%20sauce&f=false
Dickson Wright, Clarissa. A HISTORY OF ENGLISH FOOD. 2011: Random House Books, London.
Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2
Edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard
An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.
From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.
I am so honored to be included in this volume!
Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Castles-Customs-Kings-English-Historical/dp/0996264817
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Castles-Customs-Kings-English-Historical/dp/0996264817
Visit these fantastic sites in the Blog Hop (they are coming live at different times so check back if you can’t find it the first time!):
1. Whisky vs Brandy http://huntersjones.com/2015/09/29/whiskey-vs-brandy/
2. Hunting the Wren in Wales and Ireland http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/hunting-wren-in-wales-and-ireland.html
3. Archery in Tudor England http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8960148
4. A Curious Variant on Wassail http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8960621
5. 17th Century Marriage Day Customs http://www.shapingthefacts.blogspot.com/
6. Harvest Moons and Customs http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8962474
7. 17th Century Medicine http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8961953
9. A Quirky Look at the History of Nursery Rhymes http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8962600
9. Animals on Trial http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8961874
10. What was it like to live as a 16th century nun? http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8962444
11. Historical Custom: The Flitch of Bacon Custom http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8961380
12. Michaelmas in Medieval Britain http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8962619
13. The Peculiar Custom of Electing Kings http://www.linkytools.com/click_linky.aspx?entryid=8962286
14. Queen for a Day-of Bride Crowns of Gold and Myrtle https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/queen-for-a-day-of-bridecrowns-in-gold-and-myrtle/
15. Deadly Cat Customs http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/deadly-cat-customs.html
16. “Name that Member”: Weird Parliamentary Customs https://alwayswantedtobeareiter.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/name-that-member-weird-but-wonderful-british-parliamentary-customs/
17. Sweating with the Mohocks http://www.madamegilflurt.com/2015/09/sweating-with-mohocks.html
18. The Evil Eye and Vampires: Superstition in the Ottoman World http://www.kathryngauci.com/blog-06-feb-11-2015-evil-eye-vampires-superstition-ottoman-world/
19. Megaliths in the Popular Imagination http://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/negotiating-with-unexplained-megaliths.html
20. Odd Medieval Celebrations http://lanawilliams.net/home.html
21. The Unusual Marriage Customs of Medieval Ireland http://empowell.blogspot.com/2015/09/polygamy-divorce-more-unusual-marriage.html
I grew up in an area where apple orchards were easy to find. Late August, September and October were beautiful months where the various fruits and other crops ripened and were gathered, leaves changed and hayrides were the order of the day. I remember riding with groups of friends in wagons filled with hay that were pulled by horses or tractors. These were usually late afternoon or evening events and frequently ended with bonfires where marshmallows were roasted, apples crunched and apple cider was drunk. Although not a traditional harvest celebration, it’s easy to see these activities as a continuation of harvest celebrations in general.
The blessing of a good harvest has been celebrated for thousands of years by all cultures. Pagan rites were adapted into Christian celebrations. In England, Lammas was celebrated on August 1 to celebrate the wheat harvest. (“Lammas” comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas which means “loaf mass”.) It was also known as the Feast of First Fruits. The English Catholic Church celebrated this until Henry VIII separated the Church from Rome. The harvest festival evolved to a local tradition, celebrated with local customs, and not necessarily on an annual basis. Even the date could vary, with the traditional August 1, Michaelmas (September 29), or the harvest moon (falling in September or Oct, depending on the year) all as possibilities. Whenever the celebration fell, it was a time of feasting on foods in season, in appreciation for a time of plenty. One fairly common tradition was the Harvest Cake, which was distributed to farm workers after the harvest was done.
I looked for recipes for a traditional English harvest cake that might have been available during the Georgian era. To my surprise, instead of heavy cakes loaded with apples, nuts and cinnamon, I found that seed cakes were popular. Made with caraway seeds, these seeds were symbolic of the wheat harvest. I found two recipes for seed cake in The Compleat HOUSEWIFE by Eliza Smith (my copy is a facsimile of the 16th edition which was first published in 1758). Although not specifically designated a harvest cake, it is easy to see that it would serve a large group. The recipe for “A good Seed-Cake” includes 5 pounds of flour, 4 pounds of sugar, 4 pounds of butter, a pound and a half of caraway comfits (candy-coated caraway seeds, about the size of a grain of rice), a half-pound of candied orange peel and a half-pound of citron. When mixed and put in the “hoop”, it was baked in a quick oven for 2 to 3 hours. This would yield a big cake! I can see that a few cakes like this would serve a lot of people, especially as part of a feast. (It’s interesting to note that caraway comfits were popular in Elizabethan time as a digestif, the anise-flavored seed being recognized as beneficial for indigestion and flatulence.)
As summer ends and autumn draws in, I think it is almost instinctive to think of the seasonal foods: apples, root vegetables, heartier dishes, and desserts to match. Last year at Christmas, I baked my first fruitcake and plan to do another this year. Maybe this year, for Thanksgiving, I will try a seed cake with plenty of caraway seeds. There is something so satisfying about bring old customs into my modern celebrations.
Recently, I posted about my secret fondness for fruitcake, and my intention to make one this year. Well, I did it, and it was a success! I went through several cookbooks, searched on-line for a recipe, and finally selected Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake (find it HERE: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/free-range-fruitcake-recipe/index.html). I did not follow it exactly (some differences in the fruit used, the liquid used to soak the fruit, and the nuts) but the method worked extremely well, and the fruitcake is delicious! Moist, dense, spicy, packed with fruit and nuts. My husband, who ducks and runs when fruitcake is mentioned, tasted it and liked it. (He ate the whole slice!) Here it is:
I’m so glad I made this cake, and plan to make it again. Not only is it delicious, but it’s part of a tradition going back hundreds of years. From Eliza Smith’s “Plumb Cake” in The Compleat Housewife and Hannah Glasses “Rich Cake” in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy to fruitcake of today, the ingredients and methods are strikingly similar. Baking from scratch is a special pleasure, one I had almost forgotten as I do it so seldom. Friends and family, who knows what may be in that Christmas gift next year? Just taste it before you make that face – I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
I was at the grocery store today, and found myself picking up containers of raisins and currents. I looked for dried cherries, but will have to look elsewhere for those, and a few other items. With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching, I have found my mind drifting toward … fruitcake.
Dare I confess? I really like fruitcake. Unfortunately, I rarely get to indulge because few people of my acquaintance will have a fruitcake anywhere in sight. If the subject comes up, it is met with either groans, laughter or (worst of all) the eyebrow lifted in disdain. Somehow, though, there is something about a cake full of dried fruits, nuts and spices that I really like (especially if a little good rum or brandy is introduced along the way).
Fruitcake of one kind or another has been around since the Romans. In my Georgian-era cook books, I’ve found a couple of recipes for different cakes with currants. However, my Fanny Farmer edition of 1896, and my great-grandmother’s 1894 copy of THE FAVORITE COOK BOOK have lots of recipes for fruitcakes of all descriptions. Apparently fruitcake was a specialty treat in the Georgian era and really came into its own in the Victorian era. They were a true special occasion cake, and were often used for wedding cakes. In fact, Fiona Cairns made a huge, tiered fruitcake for Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding cake (see it here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1381944/Royal-Wedding-cake-Kate-Middleton-requested-8-tiers-decorated-900-flowers.html). Every culture seems to have some version of a fruitcake or fruit bread. There is no clear indicator of when or why it became limited to a primarily Christmas dish, but that seems to be the tradition today.
When I was a child, I can remember fruitcake being a holiday staple, always around but more of a grown-up treat (thanks to the alcohol addition!). Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, it had become a mass-produced block and was considered unnecessary at best.
For the last several years, I have considered digging out a recipe and making one. Some of the recipes are quite complex and time-consuming. A few items like the candied citron and the neon-green candied cherries will definitely not be included. However, this may just be the year I go for it. I’ve already made a start on getting the ingredients together. Who knows, a home-made-from-scratch fruitcake might find a welcome this year!