Category Archives: Reconstructing Recipes

Recreating a Historical Recipe: Blanch Creame

The moment I got this assignment I knew I wanted to reconstruct a historical recipe: I love cooking so historical reconstruction is a particular interest of mine. I decided to reconstruct the recipe for “Blanch Creame” from folio 13 verso of manuscript Va429. I chose this recipe because it seemed a relatively simple recipe that would be easy to follow and I had, perhaps naively, assumed that it would be easy to assume what the result would be.

To make things easy I used my transcription of the recipe finished in class.

The original “blanch creame” recipe

“To make a blanch Creame ​

Season a pinte of th​e​ thickest Creame with
Rose water and Suger set it to boile then take th​e​
whites of 10 Eggs doe away th​e​ treads beat them wi​th​
a little could creame then stirr them into you​r​
creame when it boiles upp and stirr it continually​
untill it​ comes to curd then take it up and passd –
it through a haird sive beat it with a spoone
till it be could and then dish it”

I then did some research on what kind of dish I should be aiming for: I knew it would be a sweet dish since it involved cream, sugar, and rosewater but I wanted to be sure in terms of consistency and ingredients. My searches for “blanch creame” did not turn up anything so I instead focused on “blanch” on the OED. I assumed it would refer to the cooking process but instead this was the definition:

“blanch, adj. Obsolete exc. Historical.
1. White, pale. Chiefly in specific uses, as blanch fever, blanch powder, blanch sauce. Obsolete.
1475 Liber Cocorum (Sloane) (1862) 28 (heading) Blaunche sawce for capons.
1584 T. Cogan Hauen of Health cxxvi. 110 A verie good blanch powder, to strow upon rosted apples.”

From this I learnt that the ‘blanch’ referred more to the colour of the sauce than the cooking process and I was able to make my first important decision. I would usually use unrefined brown sugar to cook with to maintain historical accuracy but I chose to use a white sugar so as to preserve the colouring it was named after. I then did some research as to what a “creame” could be, starting with Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell’s blog “Cooking In The Archives”. Cooking In The Archives became an invaluable source for me throughout this recipe reconstruction, from the research stages to the cooking.

I looked for any “cream” recipes on the blog and found two recipes that came in the most useful: “Rashberry Cream” and “Snow Cream”. Snow Cream involved large amounts of cream flavoured with rosewater, and the Rashberry Cream involved boiling cream with sugar and eggs until thickened. Neither were exactly what I was looking for, but they helped me to decide on rudimentary measurements for my recipe. I had intended to reduce the volume of the recipe like Marissa usually does but I ended up making the full 1 pint of cream, 10 egg whites recipe.

(“Cooking In The Archives”, Rare Cooking, https://rarecooking.com/2016/10/05/to-make-rashberry-cream/, https://rarecooking.com/2016/07/08/snow-cream/, accessed 17 November 2019)

Here is my reconstructed recipe for “Blanch Creame”.

1 Pint Cream
10 egg whites
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp rose water

The ingredients I used for the recipe

 

1: Combine cream, sugar and rose water in saucepan. Set on a medium-low heat to boil.
2. Separate egg whites and yolks, removing the “threads” from the whites
3. Beat eggs with a little leftover cream
4. Pour in eggs to boiling cream and mix quickly until thick
5. Pour into basin and mix until cooled

The cooked and cooled mixture

 

Optional step:

6. If not happy with taste or consistency, put in pastry case and bake into a more appealing tart.

The finished tart

 

As you can see, something happened at the cooking stage of the creame. The biggest problem with reconstructing historical recipes is that so much of the recipe is presumed knowledge: what constituted “seasoning” the cream and what was a “curd”? As I was unsure how the recipe would taste after cooking I added 4 tbsp extra sugar and about 5 tsp of rosewater as I cooked. I boiled and stirred the mix until it thickened to a point where I did not think it would thicken anymore – , was that a curd? A quick look at a Lemon Curd recipe advised far slower cooking than my recipe but I was using many more eggs so I stuck to my keeping it on high heat after boiling. I tried to pass the mix through a sieve but it was far too thick; I gave up and left it lumpy. 

Beating it as it cooled didn’t seem to have any effect on the texture so I popped into the fridge and let it set overnight. The next day the cream had thickened into a custard texture that tasted very sweet and also strongly of rosewater. People did enjoy it, surprisingly enough, and here are a few of their comments:

M said that it “tasted weird and was not very good by itself.  The texture was like a cheesecake filling and very sweet”.

D said that the texture was “the weirdest” but he liked the light flavour.

S said that he thought it would be “good with strawberries” and reminded him of a filling for cake or French pastries. 

This focus on it as a filling led to a moment of inspiration, and with a trip to Tesco a pastry shell was procured and the rest of the filling put in it. 20 minutes in the oven and what came out was a floral custard-y tart that was completely finished over three days. So, a success in the end.

Writing this up has helped me come to a few conclusions if I ever wanted to make this recipe again: first, I added far too much sugar and rosewater. Second, I should have cooked it slower especially when adding the eggs. Third, I should have the effort to put it through the sieve a little at a time and beat it afterwards. Finally, I think serving it with fruit would have been a nice accompaniment. 

It was both fun and frustrating to make a recipe that I had no outside help on: I couldn’t google other recipes to double check or ask anyone else, and I had no pictures or outside information to know what I was aiming for. In the end it was a fun experiment and I hope to make more historical recipes soon.

A plum cake: (A ‘slight’ modern adaptation to an old classic)

my version of a 1725 plum cake

welcome library Debora Branch’s book recipe by Lady Backs for a plumb cake  https://wellcomelibrary.org/item/b1874350x#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=26&z=0.0591%2C0.468%2C1.0916%2C0.6968

I came across a recipe for ‘A plum cake’ by lady Backs in Debora Branch’s recipe book dating back to 1725 and I felt inspired to recreate it. However, while studying the ingredients list, I have found that it is not as straight forward as it appears to be. This meant that after some considerable research, some minimal adaptations had to be made to the original recipe, but I did follow the methodology as in scripted.

Ingredient list:

  • 2 pound of flour   – 907g
  • Quarter pound of sugar – 113g
  • Half an ounce of mace- 14g
  • Cloves
  • nutmeg
  • 11 eggs- 8 whites
  • Quarter pint orange flower- 142ml
  • Half pint of ale yeast- 284ml
  • Pound and a quarter of butter- 566g
  • 3 quarters of a pint of cream- 426ml
  • 3 pounds of currants – 1.360kg

Firstly I have to address the fact that although this is a plum cake, the ingredients list does not contain any plums. The recipe does however call for 3 pounds of currants, so I took the liberty of looking up the definitions of the two in the oxford dictionary which I have demonstrated below.

‘Plum is the edible fruit of the tree Prunus domestica (family Rosaceae), which is a fleshy drupe of variable size, usually having purple, red, or yellow skin with a dull powdery bloom when ripe, a sweet pulp, and a flattish pointed stone. Of the many varieties, the sweeter and juicier kinds are used as dessert fruit and are dried as prunes, while more astringent types are used in cooking and in making jams and alcoholic drinks.’https://0-www-oed-com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/view/Entry/146028?rskey=qVeI43&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid

Currants on the other hand are raisins or dried fruit prepared from a dwarf seedless variety of grape, grown in the Levant; much used in cookery and confectionery. currants can also be a small round berry of certain species of Ribes called Black and Red Currants. Currants were introduced into English cultivation some time before 1578, when they are mentioned by Lyte as the Black and Red ‘Beyond sea Gooseberry’. They were believed at first to be the source of the Levantine currant; Lyte calls them ‘Bastarde Currant’, and both Gerarde and Parkinson protested against the error of calling them ‘Currants’.https://0-www-oed-com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/view/Entry/46089?redirectedFrom=currant#eid7552580

In this case, as well as with other plum cake recipes of the time ‘Plum cake’ refers to a wide range of cakes made with either dried fruit (such as currants, raisins, or prunes) or with fresh fruit. Plum cakes made with fresh plums came with other migrants from other traditions in which plum cake is prepared using plum as a primary ingredient.https://bakeryinfo.co.uk/news/archivestory.php/aid/1848/18th_Century_plum_cake.html

I also came across another ingredient referred to in the recipe as ‘orange flower’, unsure of what this was I consulted similar recipes for plum cake at the time as found a couple of examples of an ingredient called orange flower water such as the example shown below and is most likely referring to orange ‘blossom’ water. 


The Dudley book of cookery and household recipes 1909

Orange Blossom Water was a very popular flavoring in the 18th and 19th centuries in American and English cookery. It is derived from the distillation of orange flowers from the Seville Orange tree or other varieties of orange trees. The use of orange blossom water in cookery comes to the west from North Africa, The Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The flavour of this distilled water is flowery but not too overpowering.http://atasteofhistorywithjoycewhite.blogspot.com/2014/10/cooking-with-orange-flower-water-orange.html

Because I couldn’t get my hands on orange blossom water I instead opted to use the zest of 3 oranges, although it may not have achieved the same effect, neither of the ingredients is too overpowering so I don’t think it strayed too far from the original outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

Another error that I encountered was that the original recipe calls for ‘ale yeast’ this would be easily accessible in an early modern household because it was common to brew your own beer at home. However, I instead used bakers yeast in my cake because it more readily accessible in supermarkets today. this meant that instead of using half a pint of ale yeast I used 14 grams of bakers yeast as this was the correct quantity per the amount of flower I used and I mixed that into half a pint (284ml) of water to create a similar effect.

lastly, the recipe calls for mace which I did not have and doesn’t specify how much nutmeg and cloves to use so because mace and nutmeg have a very similar flavour, I used 18 grams of nutmeg to make up for the two. Along with 4 grams of cloves which I ground up into a powder.

In the end I mixed all the dry ingredients together and then all the wet ingredients together before throwing everything into one big.. big bowl and combinng it all together. I let it proof twice to let it rise, this was done before and after I added all my mixed dried fruit and I left it to bake on 180c for 45-50 mins before turning the oven down to 110c for an extra 10-15 mins. I took my cake out of the oven and let it cool down completely before serving.

 

 

 

 

The Science and Secrets of Cooking

By Abbie Burnett

In his book Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, Ken Albala includes a guide explaining ‘how to cook from old recipes’. To those unfamiliar with early modern recipes the inclusion of this guide may seem unusual and even unnecessary as recipes today are explicit in detailing how a recipe should be recreated, therefore a guide to aid them is redundant. However, what is apparent to those who have familiarised themselves with early modern recipes is that there is a large amount of assumed knowledge between their lines. 

Albala argues that “modern recipes are written scientifically, even though for the most part cooking is not a science.”[1] While cooking may not be a science, the scientific nature of recipes today can be easily recognised by their list of precise ingredients, exact measurements which are standardised internationally, and their explicit instructions, cooking times and temperatures. A modern recipe can be reproduced by almost anyone who follows its strict instructions, with no previous knowledge or skills necessary. (A blessing to inexperienced chefs of the twenty first century!) In addition, it is likely that due to the clear cut  and explicit nature of modern recipes they will be easily replicated to the same standard in 200 years time as they are today, providing cooking appliances do not drastically change.

In contrast, recipe books from the early modern period are much more difficult to follow. Recipes from this period did not have explicit instructions or standardised measurements, they were characterised by vague instructions and ambiguous guidance which was open to much interpretation by the reader. There was also a high level of implied knowledge in recipe books from this period, to which a contemporary reader would have been expected to have been aware of in order to follow a recipe successfully. Within Margaret Baker’s recipe book the assumed knowledge behind the measurements for ingredients has been highlighted well in Karen’s blog post ‘Methods of measurement and delight.’

A recipe for a powder of tertian feauer in Margaret Bakers Recipe Book, V.a.619 “as much as will lye on a six pence”

But why are modern recipes so explicit while early modern recipes left much to interpretation? It may be because recipes today are globally exchanged, they have the potential to reach thousands of readers and be recreated in many kitchens around the world. For this reason recipes are required to be specific and universal; to allow for anyone to easily cook from them despite cultural or geographical differences. However, in the early modern period recipes were expected to reach a much smaller audience.  Evidence of sociability of recipes can be seen in Margaret Bakers recipe book, she mentions contributors such as Mris FamesSir Walter Rallyes and Mris Denis, among others.  Specific recipes may have been expected to be shared among families or neighbours, but recipes traditionally travelled through lines of inheritance.

Only rarely would a recipe reach fame nationally or internationally if it was especially successful, such as Dr Lucatella’s balame. Margaret Baker claims that she was the first to record Luatella’s recipe, it then appears in many other recipe books from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, as well as being sold seperately. Here it is found as ‘Lucatelles balsam’ in 1669 in a memorandum book contributed to by unknown authors, and as late as 1820 the balme is recorded in John Knowlson’s book The Complete Farrier; Or Horse- doctor; Being the Art of Farriery Made Plain and Easy… With…a Catalogue of Drugs

Mathew Lucatalla’s Balme in Margaret Baker’s recipe book V.a.619

Today, some recipes would be impossible to recreate exactly or simply fail without the level of literal detail that modern recipes include. For example Bearnaise sauce, included in this article as number 3 of the 10 toughest dishes in the world to recreate, is evidence of how precisely a recipe must be followed. A particular temperature must be maintained during the cooking and specialist equipment is required for a Bearnaise sauce to be correctly reproduced; “This sauce is made in a bain-marie (a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water), but if it gets too hot, the eggs will scramble and there is no turning back.” It may be that early modern people used simpler dishes as Bearnaise sauce was not said to be created until the early nineteenth century, however it is more likely that during the early modern period this information was conveyed in other ways than direct instructions within a recipe book. In the early modern period in which Baker wrote, recipes and the methods to recreate them took on secret like qualities. They were passed on verbally, taught by elder family members to their young, from chefs to servants, from neighbours to friends, rather than being shared openly to everyone and anyone.

Implied knowledge in early modern recipes displays the limited reach of recipe books in the early modern period, authors expected their readers to be aware of unsaid rules or at least be close enough to ask them personally if they required more information. While the secret like quality of early modern recipes romanticises early modern cooking, the consequences of the existence of assumed knowledge in recipe books is that we may never be truly able to reconstruct recipes from this period. As Florence’s blog post displays, reconstruction of early modern recipes includes a lot of guess work. Information which was implicit to contemporary readers has not been passed on which has turned recipes from the early modern period into a  truly secret code to be deciphered by historians. As mentioned earlier, Albala takes an optimistic approach to this problem by arguing that “despite changes in ingredients and procedures, what tasted good hundreds of years ago still tastes good today,”[2] and therefore by trial and error we can gradually work to reconstruct near authentic replicas of dishes from early modern recipes. However, I fear that the silences in early modern recipes in which assumed knowledge was meant to fill may remain silent, and true recreations of recipes from this period may therefore be impossible.

[1]  Ken Albala Cooking in Europe 1250- 1650 (Westport, 2006), p. 27.

[2] Ken Albala Cooking in Europe 1250- 1650 (Westport, 2006), p. 28.

The Creation of the Kitchen

By Tracey Cornish

The reading for this week’s seminar was a topic that I had not thought much about before.  Just as I had never really thought about recipes and their meaning in the early modern period before I began studying this module.  The topic in question is kitchens.  I suppose I had thought that kitchens had always existed in the way in which we think of kitchens now.  When you visit castles or stately homes there is always a kitchen where the hustle and bustle of daily life took place.  The kitchen in Hampton Court is indeed huge.  It was built in 1530 and was designed to feed at least 600 members of the court, entitled to eat at the palace, twice a day.

The kitchens had master cooks each with a team working for them.  Annually the Tudor Court cooked 1240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar.  That is without mentioning the chickens, peacocks, pheasant and vegetables which were also on the menu.[1]

Hampton Court Kitchen plan

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace also has a chocolate kitchen.  The royal chocolate making kitchen which once catered for three Kings: William III, George I and George II is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country. Recent research has uncovered the precise location of the royal chocolate kitchen in the Baroque Palace’s Fountain Court. Having been used as a storeroom for many years, it is remarkably well preserved with many of the original fittings, including the stove, equipment and furniture still intact.[2]

 

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace

The only original 17th century kitchen to be preserved is at Ham House. In the basement  there are several small rooms comprising of the kitchen, the scullery, the servants hall, a laundry, several pantries, a wet larder, a still house, a wash house and a dairy room. All these rooms would have had servants working in them and would have made the workings of the kitchen easier as it would have provided room to prepare and cook food.[3]

Original 17th Century kitchen

Of course, this is an example of a palace so what about everyday houses?  Peasants in the middle ages lived in one room which served as a room for cooking, general living and eating.  It consisted of a hearth stone, a fire with a pot of the top.  Sara Pennell suggests in The Birth of the English Kitchen 1600-1850 that kitchens in the early 1600’s were ‘unfixed and at times contested’[4] and that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that kitchens were ‘distinctive yet integrated spaces in the majority of households.’[5] Food could be prepared in any room with a table and could be cooked in any room with a fire.  However it was the need to provide space for the works of the kitchen and other ‘food’ rooms such as pantries, larders and sculleries which reallocated eating to its own distinctive space.[6] Pennell argues that histories of the domestic interior and its evolving design neglected the kitchen and yet arguably the kitchen is and was an important room in a household. [7]

Margaret Baker never mentions in her recipes as to where the production of the recipes should take place, one just imagines that she is in her kitchen trying out the recipes (the ones which she did try) and writing them down.  Of course, the fact that her kitchen would have been nothing like our kitchens today should also be taken into account if a reproduction of one of her recipes takes place.  As Florence mentions in her  blog,  Replicate, Authenticate and Reconstruct Baker uses ‘learned knowledge’ in her recipe book.  There would have been no modern oven to set to a certain temperature as they would have used a fire.

17th Century Kitchen

Evolution of the kitchen was linked to the invention of the cooking range or stove and the supply of running water.  The living room began to serve as an area for social functions and became a showcase for the owners to show off their wealth.  In the upper classes cooking and the kitchen were the domain of servants and the kitchen was therefore set away from the living rooms.

The kitchens of elite households were not originally in the basement.  In fact basement level kitchens were almost unheard of in England before 1666.  Yet by 1750 kitchens were found in the basement.  One could argue this was to keep the kitchen staff out of sight of the main household and to ensure that the kitchen smells did not overwhelm the main living accommodation.

A 17th Century Distiller

So what about the medical and scientific recipes?  Many kitchens or basements formed laboratories for people to experiment and write down their medical recipes.  It was popular for higher class women to have stills and alembics in their kitchens for making essences. .  Even the lower classes would gather herbs together and make remedies in their kitchens.

Experiments took place in many places such as coffee houses, laboratories and universities but the private residence was a popular place to experiment.  Many renowned scientists used their kitchens as a ‘laboratory’ including Frederick Clod who was a physician and a ‘mystical chemist’ who used his father in law’s kitchen to experiment. [8]

It could be argued that the design of kitchens have come full circle with many people preferring to have open plan living areas which include the kitchen with people enjoying socialising whilst cooking and enjoying all those cooking smells.

References:

[1] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

[2] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 20th March 2017.

[3] https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

[4] Sara Pennell, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850, (London, 2016) p.37.

[5] Ibid p.37.

[6] Ibid p.39.

[7] Ibid p.38.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Clod accessed 21st March 2017.

Images:

Hampton Court Kitchen plan – http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace –  http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 21st March 2017.

Original 17th Century kitchen –  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

17th Century Kitchen –  http://www.homethingspast.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/cotohele-kitchen.jpg accessed 20th March 2017.

A 17th Century Distiller – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/f1/6f/b0/f16fb0f555b48fd576bf6dc1621a041d.jpg accessed 21st March 2017.

 

Currying Favour with the Empire… in the ERO

It was a revelation to me to find that curry was part of eighteenth century cuisine. I had not seen it in Baker and, my curiosity aroused I looked to the Essex Record Office to see if this phenomena of east meets west was something I could see locally. I wasn’t disappointed. With access to digital images on the their SEAX website I found Mrs Elizabeth Slany’s recipe book.

The Fly Leaf of Slany’s recipe book dated 1715 – ERO D/DRZ1

The ERO has a blog featuring an overview of Slany’s recipes which also points to an article in  Essex Countryside magazine dated February 1966 written by Daphne E Smith who judges Elizabeth to  be ‘a most efficient housewife who nurtured her family with care.’ Smith also assumes that the recipe book was started in preparation for her forthcoming marriage. However the 1715 date on the fly leaf is a full eight years before Elizabeth married  Benjamin LeHook in 1723 so if true it was quite a lengthy  engagement.

With Benjamin a London agent it is probable Elizabeth did not reside in Essex . However, her eldest daughter did, marrying into the Wegge family of  Colchester. As the ‘hand’ within the book changes halfway through it can be assumed it was she who entered the ‘currey’ recipe, giving me the local Essex location I was looking for.

I admit, realising the recipe was probably the daughters not her mothers did dilute my first ecstatic light-bulb moment of ‘I’ve discovered curry in England as early as 1715 !’ into ‘stop jumping to conclusions and analyse, you’re a historian!’  However, on reflection it was just as exciting to realise young Elizabeth’s ‘currey’ was realistically contemporary with Hannah Glasse’s inclusion of this hot and spicy dish in her book The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy  1747.

Madhur Jaffrey, in the introduction to her book Curry Nation dismisses Glasse’s recipe  as little more than a spicy gravy, consisting of pepper and Coriander seeds which were to be ‘browned over the fire in a clean shovel’ before being beaten to a powder. At this point the rice was added during cooking. Nevertheless,  it gave the women who cooked these exotic dishes a connection to Britains growing empire. It also gave the recipients of such meals a way to ‘virtually tour’ the wider world. Though such recipes were effectively Anglicised claims that they were ‘true’ Indian dishes seems not to have been questioned.

The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. 1758

 

Inevitably the  taste and composition of the dish gradually changed, as seen in subsequent editions of  Glasse’s book plus by the end of the century a commercial curry powder blend had became available.  Bickham, in his study of C.18 culinary imperialism, Eating the Empire  tells us how curry recipes were included in mass produced affordable cookery books. Aimed at a lower to middling sorts these women  would have used curry powder for convenience buying it from grocers shops who in turn sourced it directly from spice wholesalers or from larger shops.

Elizabeth LeHook’s receipt book lists two curry recipes and the first does appear to be a glorified stew consisting of 2-3 Lbs of mutton and onions. She then recommends it be thickened with ‘the curry stuff’ plus to add the juice of two lemons,  some salt and cayenne pepper, adding a note at the end,

NB. 2 large spoonfuls is be sufficient for a curry of two pounds and so in proportion – add to the curry powder about a fifth of turmeric.

A Lady at the Hearth. Pehr Hilleström.

Her second recipe calls for chicken , lamb, or duck to be prepared in the same fashion, stewing the meat in enough water to see it become tender. Shallots or onion are added. Then the gravy is strained off, thickened with a tablespoon of ‘the powder’  and returned to the pan so everything stews together for a further half an hour or,

‘until it is of a proper thickness to be sent to the table’.

Rice was then to be served up as usual.

Elizabeth Slany’s connection to the empire is still visible over the page. Here she  tells us how to make a Turkish pilau. Interestingly as featured in my previous post Methods of Measurement and Delight , Elizabeth uses money as a visual aid stating the pound of mutton required should be cut up small about the size of a crown piece.

On the opposite page are instructions  as to the Chinese way of boiling rice. This reflects on the importance eighteenth century housewife’s placed on authenticity or at least the pretence of it, in connection with their perceived social status. The process was simple,   the rice being washed in cold water then boiled in hot until soft. It was then left in a clean vessel to blanch until snow white and as hard as crust. By then it had apparently become an excellent substitute for bread!

To find the exotic in Essex was gratifying and I was fortunate to have found what I was looking for in one of the few recipe books in the ERO to have been digitalised. It was not a  groundbreaking discovery; after all I hadn’t found curry in 1715 had I ?  But, I had found local evidence of what we, as HR650 students had been seeing in recipe books far grander than Elizabeth Slany’s.  If nothing else its a testament to shared domestic knowledge and the proof of domestic involvement in what was then a new and expanding British empire.

 

 

Political Recipes

By Sarah Osho

During my second seminar class for the digital recipes module, we discussed and debated what a recipe was and its conventional functions. My initial and general understanding of what a recipe encompassed was the transmission and exchange of personal knowledge, usually for the use of cooking. During the seminar, we also realised it would depend on the context and how the information is interpreted. This would help determine whether it was indeed a recipe. However, after reading ‘Constructing the Politics of Cookery: Authorial Strategy and Domestic Politics in English Cookery Books, 1655-1670’ by Claire Saffitz, the concept of a recipe is not a straightforward as it seems. I found the possibility of an early modern cookery book being used to spread royalist propaganda very fascinating. Who would have thought that recipes would not only be of a domestic nature but have a political dispute between the comparisons of two Queens too?

Image result for The Queens Closet Opened 1656
The Queens Closet Opened (1668)

The first section of Saffitz’s article looks at The Queen Closet Opened (1656), credited to Henrietta and Maria and The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth (1664) credited to Elizabeth Cromwell.  Saffitz’s suggests these book illustrate how good housewifery and the strength of nation was seen as connected in the early modern era. Madeline Bassnett and Laura Knoppers point out that they were used as

polemical political tools in the decades before and after Charles II’s restoration to emphasize aristocratic and royalist social networks, promote courtly practices of the early Stuart era, and link the wellbeing of the national household to the monarchy.[21]

This very insightful as this indicates how both the domestic and political spheres have a connection just as the public and private ones do.  This could indicate the popularity and thereby influence it had in the early modern period. However, Saffitz argues that due to “male authorship and female subjectivity,” the attempt to merge political polemic with cookery book genre has resulted in the instability of these two texts.  Additionally, its structure conflicts its function as a practical cookery guide.

Saffitz also suggests there is an anxious tone to these two texts in the exposing and making private feminine spaces public.  The idea that William Montangu has pirated Henrietta Maria recipes, thereby ‘opening the Queen’s closet’, alludes to the idea of making her private hidden secrets, and in this case her political competence, known. As one goes through the recipes, it is apparent that the style is of a detached nature, showing how it does not contain any personal tastes and preferences in recipes and therefore no sense authorship. It reveals

a troubling tension between what is presented as a window into the private life of the Queen and her absenteeism from this space she is supposed to occupy.

This showed me how there were many more ways of reading and interpreting a recipe. If analysed closely, it can be informative in terms of tracing personality traits and the social aspects of a person or family home. Which recipes they used and from what backgrounds they originated from could be relatively useful in making social and political links.

Another aspect of the article was the idea that Henrietta Maria’s portrayal was that of an ideal queen and housewife, whereas Elizabeth is represented as a queen who was as “stingy toward her husband’s table as she is toward the nation”. Her reputation at the time was not a pleasant one amongst the poor.  During her reign 75% for the price of food increase and agricultural labour wages drastically fell as well. Knoppers stated Elizabeth was unwilling or unable to act hospitably in her role as protectoress. [29] The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth implies Elizabeth’s poor household management indicates and is linked to her incompetency as a wife and ruler, which are both damaging to England. This presents yet another way in which to interpret recipes and the authorship behind the different editions made. This book also shows me how women were conceived and judged by their domestic abilities and if inadequate, can be used against them.

To conclude, clearly recipes cannot be strictly defined in a singular sense. Their uses are never-ending and can be quite informative. Some can be used to just transmit knowledge from one family member to another, and others used to show and support a political statement.