All I want for Christmas

For Stir-Up Sunday, here are some early Christmas recipes. The first is for plum pudding; Christmas pudding probably didn’t make an appearance as a name until Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families in 1845.

The first is probably late seventeenth century:

Recipe for plum pudding

Image © Wellcome Collection

To make a good Bakt plum pudding, Ann Porter

Take 2 penyworth of white bread and slice it, boyle a quart of milk & put it hot over the bread, when it tis pritty coole then put a pound of suet cut very small take 6 egges leave out 2 whites, half a pound currants & one nutmagg greated sweeten it to your taste if you please you may add half a pd of raisons alsoe, Butter the dish & let it bee well bakt be sure not to wett the bread to much when puddings are to limber the fruit goes to the Bottom, no flower must be put to these puddings nor the almond ones. (Wellcome Collection, MS MSL2)

Here’s another one, although from adjacent evidence this dates to the 1870s:

Recipe for plum pudding

Image © Wellcome Collection

1lb Raisins

1lb Currants

1lb Suet

1lb Flour

1lb Bread Crumbs

2 oz Blanched Sweet Almonds

2 oz Candid Lemon

2 oz Candid Orange

2 oz Candid Citron 1/2 a Nutmeg

a blade or two of Mace

1/4 lb Lump Sugar

a little salt     10 Eggs

1/2 pt Cream

1/2 a gill of Brandy (Wellcome Collection, MS 7892)

Turning to mince pies, here’s a recipe for the pastry, from the Dropmore Papers in the eighteenth century:

a pound of fine flour a quarter of a pd of double refin’d sugar, sifted, beat the yolks of two eggs with two spoonfuls of sack, take half a pound of butter melt it, and let it stand till it is cold, then mix it with the eggs &c and make your past, set it by the fire to rise Butter and flour your pans the oven must not be very hot (British Library, Add MS 69409)

Here is ‘A receipt to make mince pyes as they are made at Easthampstead [House]’, from an early eighteenth-century recipe book in the Trumbull Papers (note the unexpected ingredient to modern tastes):

Take two pound of neats tongue, three pound of suet, three pound of currants, one pound of ston’d raisins shread, half an ounce of spice cloves mace & nutmeg, the peel of four lemons grat’d, salt & sugar to your tast, about a dozen of pippins hack’d, some candied orange lemon & citron, a large wine glass of vinegar with the juice of half a lemon & half a civil [Seville] orange, a pint of white wine & half a pint of sack, Mix these ingredients well together & put them down close in a pot. (British Library, Add MS 72619)

And finally, another recipe for mincemeat, this time including an unspecified meat (other recipes suggest beef or veal) and probably again from the late seventeenth century:

Recipe for mince pies

Image © Wellcome Collection

Shread 2 pound of meat with 3 pound of suet season it with A quarter of an ounce of cloves & mace, halfe as much Cinnamon, one large nutmeg, halfe A pound of Candid orange, lemmon & cittron sliced, 2 pippins shread, halfe A pound of Shugar, A glas of Sack the juce of 3 lemons or verjuce; 2 or 3 pound of fruit; with all thease mixed fill the pyes. (Wellcome Collection, MS 7997)



Straight from the cow

Syllabub (or sillabub, and other variants) had been known in England since the sixteenth century, but by the eighteenth century this alcoholic dessert had become particularly popular, especially in its whipped variety.

Mrs Raikes’ ‘Everlasting sylabubs’ is a typical recipe:

a pint & ½ a Gill of cream a Gill of Rhenish ½ a Gill of Sack 2 Lemons half a pd of loaf sugar; sift the sugar, put it to the cream, put in the rinds of the Lemons grated, squeeze the juice into the wine, and put that to the cream. Whip it with a whisk just half an hour. (British Library, Add MS 69409)

Notice that deceptive ‘just half an hour’; another recipe suggests ‘beat it with a spoone an houer’ (Wellcome Collection, MS 8002), which must have been an arm-aching task.

And here is a recipe for ‘whipt syllabubes’, which makes it clear that it was the froth from all that whipping that was the desired result:

Take a pint of white wine or Rhenish wine, a quart of creame pair the rind of a lemon or two thin & let it lye in the wine some time, and sweeten it to your tast, then put in your creame & stir it well together & if it be strong enough of the lemon peel take it out, if you have time, let it stand about an hour, and either whip it up with a whisk, or mill it with a chocolate mill in a pot, & take off the froth as it rises and lay it into your glasses. They generally are best to be made at night for the next days dinner. (British Library, Add MS 72619)

For flavouring, other recipes add 2–3 spoonfuls of rose water or some grated nutmeg or cinnamon, and some use a bunch of rosemary sprigs as a whisk, like this one from Frances Springatt (Wellcome Collection, MS 4683):

Syllabub recipe

Image © Wellcome Collection.

Elizabeth Hannover, proprietress of the Lactarium in St George’s Fields, seems to have been a formidable promoter of the joys of such confections. In 1773 she proclaimed:

ELIZABETH HANNOVER humbly hopes the People of Fashion who went out of Town last Year without tasting her Syllabub, won’t this. She has a Tray, that they may have it in their Carriages… She intends to have Whipt Syllabub every Day. (Public Advertiser, March 13, 1773)

She stressed the civility and propriety of her establishment for those who wished to engage in this fashionable pastime:

LADIES may go by themselves to the Lactarium in St. George’s Fields, have a Syllabub, the Benefit of Air and Exercise, and read a Newspaper; on the Outside is no disorderly Person admitted, and in the Inside LACTARIA is determined to stand up for the Dignity of her Lactarium, which is the Temple of Hygiea, and paradise of Children. Buy or hire Dr. Smith’s Account of Milk. Ladies have often Milk, &c. in their Carriages. (Daily Advertiser, June 20, 1774)

Because of its insubstantial and frothy nature, the syllabub lent itself readily to metaphorical use. A pre-publication review of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela recommended that it be published without altering the first-person narrative, complaining that any ‘Strokes of Oratory’ would ‘frenchify our English Solidity into Froth and Whip-Syllabub’ (Weekly Miscellany, October 11, 1740). And the Public Advertiser advised those seeking government office to employ ‘a sufficient Quantity of the whipt Syllabub of abject Flattery’ (June 21, 1765).

Definitely unmetaphorical, however, was the practice of milking a cow straight into the dish. The Times of January 10, 1798 carried the following advertisement:

MILK.– The universal Reputation Mr. HUTCHINS has justly established, by supplying the Public with pure MILK, at his Wharf, in Water-Street, Strand, where he now has a considerable number of Cows for that purpose, has induced him, for the accommodation of those Families in the City, who, from their great distance, cannot conveniently send for it, to engage commodious Premises at No. 3, St ANDREW’S-HILL, DOCTORS COMMONS, near the end of Creed-Lane, Ludgate-Street, where they may be supplied with that truly valuable and nutritious Article every Morning, from 6 to 10 o’clock; and Afternoon, from 3 to 6, at 4d. per quart: and see the Cows milked, the same as at his Wharf… Any Customer wishing for a Syllabub may have it milked into their bason at the usual times of milking…

Indeed, a Mrs Coppin’s recipe for ‘syllibub’ recommends just that:

Take a quart of the best wine vinegar, putt it into the milke paile & milke to it as long as it raiseth curd, then take the curd off, & putt to it a quart of creame, or as much as you thinke fitt, putt to it halfe a pint of sacke or white wine, sweeten it with fine shugar, beat them all twogether, & soe serve it up. If it stand till next day it will eat the better. (Wellcome Collection, MS 7851)

Syllabub recipe

Image © Wellcome Collection.

Now what would the Food Standards Agency make of that?

Gilding the gingerbread

Advertisement from Daily Journal, October 9, 1727

Gingerbread has been a favourite confection since at least mediaeval times. One can find frequent references to the occupation of gingerbread bakers or gingerbread women, whose wares were sold from shops, at markets and fairs, at coronations (as can be seen from the advert above) and even at executions – Hogarth’s ‘The Idle Prentice executed at Tyburn’ features Tiddy Doll, a famous itinerant gingerbread seller, in the bottom right-hand corner.

Image of gingerbread seller Tiddy Doll

Tiddy Doll – detail from William Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness, Plate 11: ‘The Idle Prentice Executed at Tyburn’

You can see from the picture that the gingerbread we are talking about here was in the form of small discs. Joan Trask, Ben Johnson’s gingerbread seller in the play Bartholomew Fair, seems to be selling gingerbread in the form of figures – what we would today call gingerbread men – from the reference to them as ‘gingerbread progeny’, although hers are made of ‘stale bread, rotten eggs, musty ginger, and dead honey’. Some rather more appealing ingredients are included in this recipe from a late seventeenth-century recipe book:

Two Pounds of Treacle 2 ounces of raze [grated] Ginger 3 Quarters of a Pound of Sugar 3 Quarters of Butter a Quarter of a Pint of Brandy as much Flower [flour] as will make these ingredients stiff. (MS.7851, Wellcome Collection)

Catherine Godfrey’s recipe from the same period is a little more specific about the method; this is for ‘gingerbread cakes’, but seems still to be referring to biscuits:

Take three pound of flower one pound shugar both well dryed a quarteen of butter rubed in fine one nutmegg two ounces of pouderd ginger two pound of treacle mix them well into a light past, make them in little cakes as great as you please & bake them in a quick oven, they must be set upon tin plates if you please to put in some sweetmeats oronge & citron they will be the better. (MS.7999, Wellcome Collection)

‘Mrs Denny’s way is to ‘make it up in a paste to role out and put them upon pieces of paper, prick it and bake itt’ (MS.MSL.2, Wellcome Collection) and Mary Faussett says you can ‘make it up in what shape you please’ (MS.7999, Wellcome Collection). Moulds were sometimes used for this purpose, as in this earlier recipe for ‘gingerbread of allmonds’, which uses quite different ingredients from the previous ones:

Take allmonds blansh & beate them to perfett past with ginger as you doe for marchpane [marzipan] stufe then take a litle powder of cinemon & ginger anyseede lycoris & a litle rosewatter mould itt print them with moulds & gilde them. (MS.144, Wellcome Collection)

The reference to gilding is to decoration added by painting with egg white and then gold leaf, although on occasion this was a dangerous practice, as in this nineteenth-century explanation:

It may be here remarked generally, that for various species of gilding, an article known by the name of Orsidue, Dutch metal, Dutch Leaf and Dutch Foil is very frequently used… The composition of this imitation of gold leaf is not generally known; but there is good reason to believe, that it is extensively manufactured in England, as hundreds of tons have been exported to India… In England and elsewhere, it is used by the Jews, to gild picture frames: likewise by the lower class of bookbinders and painters, in coarse gilding. It is also put on ribbons, and on toys, dolls and gingerbread for children: but the use of this poisonous material for gilding gingerbread and sweetmeats, cannot be too much reprobated. (One Thousand Experiments in Chemistry, Colin MacKenzie, London, 1822)

The majority of recipe for gingerbread in the manuscript collections I have studied are for the biscuit variety, but, although I haven’t tried it, I’m tempted to think that the following recipe and its variation would make something rather more like a cake.

Gingerbread recipe

Image © Wellcome Collection

Tak one pottle of flower rub in a pound of Butter put in one ounce of ginger one ounce of culliander [coriander] seed one ounce of carriway seed a quarter of a pound of six penny sugger half a pound of orings & Lemon pill [peel] canded then wet it with a pound & half of treacle let them stand in the oven one hour.

Marginal note: Mrs Wroths was half a pound of sugar three ounces of Ginger two nutmegs & a half grated no seeds nor sweetmeats but when these things was mixed then melt your butter in hast & put it in as also your Treacle & a quarter of a pint of cream a quick oven les then half an hour will bake it. (MS.8575, Wellcome Collection)

I’m not sure what variety is being referred to in this final example, but it shows that gingerbread had other uses!

When the Convicts were lately carry’d on board a Ship at Limehouse-Hole, in order to be transported to Virginia, some few of them it seems were rich enough to lay in a little Geneva and Gingerbread for a Viaticum; and a Gingerbread Cake belonging to one Dalton, (who was once before transported, and whose Father was hang’d) was accidentally broke up, in which there was a File so well bak’d, that none of their Hand-Cuffs could long withstand its Operation; upon this Discovery he was ty’d to the Geers, and dealt with in a Manner that is sometimes found necessary on board; but we do not find that he hath made any Confession, so that it pass’d for an Act of some Relation or Friend of his without his Privity. (Daily Post, August 15, 1721)

A likely story…



Sausages the 18th-century way

In British Sausage Week, it seems appropriate to offer some recipes for making what we now see as a commodity product. Different varieties of sausages have been made for centuries the world over, but the most frequent recipe I have found in eighteenth-century manuscript books is similar to this fairly basic one:

Take a leg of Pork, Parboil itt, take hogs sowit [suet] and sage, and mix them together very small, put in a good deal of Pepper & Salt as much as you think fitt, stir itt well together, then take Sheeps Gutts and scower them very well with salt and fill them, tye them up in Links and hang them up smoaking till you use them (MS 7998, Wellcome Collection)

They would be hung near the fire to dry, although this recipe is a useful reminder that doing so would have added a smoky flavour. 

Other recipes note that the sausages can be made from mutton or veal as well, and add more herbs, such as ‘a little fennells seed bruised a very litle thym, marioran, penny-royall, winter savory, parsly a good deale of sage, chop all together’ (MS 4054, Wellcome Collection). And some observe that you can dispense with the skins, frying the resulting patties in butter or a form of stock, as in this pleasant-sounding example:

Take either mutton, veale or pork (you may cut it from the legg as much as will make a reasonable dish & not deface the legg) then take of any ruff suet as much as your quantity of meat is, then beat it & shread it very small, and putt to it a little sage shread small, & season it with salt, pepper & nutmegg if you please, then take one egg white & all mix them alltogether very well, Rub your hands with a little flower so rowle it up in rowles twice as long as your finger, as thick as pig puddings, frye them with butter or any other liquor, or you may stew them in mutton broath with apples & onions. (MS4054, Wellcome Collection)

The Johnson family recipe book helpfully advises ‘If you propose keeping them long omit the egges, for they wont keep so well, but if they be for eating within a few days they are much the better for them’ and offers this rather more exotic recipe for Mrs Walter Johnson’s Oyster Sausages:

Half a pound of lean Veal, Pork, or Beef, Half a pound of Beef Suet, One Score of Oysters just warmed in their own liquor, all to be chopped very fine and mixed together with two Eggs well beaten, a very little Cayenne, Salt and Nutmeg, and one or two Cloves, make them into flat Cakes or Balls, roll them in Crumbs of Bread, and fry them of a pale Brown, add the liquor of the Oysters to the Sausages. N.B. If the Oysters are small it will require two Score. (MS 3082, Wellcome Collection)

Of course, oysters were a staple and inexpensive food in the eighteenth century, but using 40 of them today would put that recipe in the gourmet category!