Gout gets even

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to my article in April’s History Today on gout and its resurgencehttp://www.historytoday.com/sally-osborn/gout-gets-even


The Vegetarian Society, Victorian style

Apologies for the lack of posts on this blog recently – I’m writing up my PhD thesis, and in the last three months have not only completed (most of) three chapters, but also two articles, one published and one forthcoming, and a one-hour public lecture. Doesn’t leave much time for anything else!

This post is a little later than my normal timeframe, but hopefully of interest nonetheless. Inside a late 18th/early 19th century recipe book in the Herefordshire Record Office (G2/1030) I found a leaflet advertising the Vegetarian Society, which was founded in 1847. It carries the following rather earnest declaration:

The objects of the Society are, to induce habits of abstinence from the Flesh of Animals as Food, by the dissemination of information upon the subject, by means of tracts, essays, and lectures, proving the many advantages of a physical, intellectual, and moral character, resulting from Vegetarian habits of Diet; and thus, to secure, through the association, example, and efforts of its members, the adoption of a principle which will tend essentially to true civilisation, to universal brotherhood, and to the increase of human happiness generally.

No ambition there, then! Unfortunately the recipes themselves are rather stodgy – no low carb here – and miles away from the varied and enticing vegetarian food we are used to today. Take a look and see if you fancy any of them:

1. Bread-crumb omelet.—One pint of bread-crumbs, a large handful of chopped parsley, with a large slice of onion minced fine, and a teaspoonful of dried marjoram. Beat up two eggs, add a teaspoonful of milk, some nutmeg, pepper, and salt, and a piece of butter the size of an egg. Mix altogether, and bake in a slow oven till of a light brown colour. Turn out of dish and send to table immediately.

2. Yorkshire pudding.—Flavour your batter with pot marjoram, lemon thyme, and sweet balm powdered, a little chopped parsley, and an onion minced fine. Bake in moderate oven; serve hot with gravy.

3. Macaroni pudding.—Two ounces of macaroni; boil till tender, drain the water from it, and add half-a-pint of new milk, and half-an-ounce of parsley chopped fine. A teaspoonful of lemon thyme powdered, some lemon peel, pepper, salt, and dash of nutmeg. Put it in a well buttered dish, and bake twenty minutes. If wanted richer, beat up an egg in the milk.

4. Buttered onions.—Take enough (rather small) onions to make a dish; let them all be of like size; peel them and throw them into a stew-pan of boiling water with some salt. Boil for five minutes; drain them, put them into a saucepan with a good thick piece of butter, a sprinkling of nutmeg, pepper, and salt; toss them about over a clear fire until they begin to brown; add a tablespoonful of mushroom ketchup, and a dessert-spoonful of sage, and marjoram and parsley. Do them gently for a quarter of an hour, and serve upon toast moistened in lemon-juice.

5. Mushroom pudding.—One pint of mushrooms, half a pound of bread crumbs, and two ounces of butter. Put the butter in the bread crumbs, adding pepper and salt, and as much water as will moisten the bread; add the mushrooms cut in pieces; line a basin with paste, put in the mixture, cover with paste, tie a cloth over, and boil an hour and a-half. It is equally good baked.

6. Buttered eggs, or rumbled eggs.—Break three eggs into a small stew pan, put a table-spoonful of milk and an ounce of fresh butter, add a salt-spoonful of salt and a little pepper. Set the stew pan over a moderate fire, and stir the eggs with a spoon, being careful to keep every particle in motion until it is set. Have ready a crisp piece of toast, pour the eggs upon it, and serve immediately. [This mode of dressing eggs secures that the white and the yolk shall be perfectly mixed. The white, which is so very nutritious, is insipid and unpalatable when the egg is simply boiled, fried, or poached.]

7. Potted lentils or haricots.—Stew a teacupful of lentils in water with a morsel of butter, and some mushroom powder. Beat up to a smooth paste. When cold, add an equal quantity of fine brown bread crumbs, with seasoning of salt, mace and cayenne, and the size of a walnut of old cheese. Beat all together with two ounces of butter. Press firmly into pots. (Haricot beans may be used instead of lentils.} If it is to be kept long, hot butter must be poured on the top.

8. Baked potatoes with sage and onion.—Peel as many potatoes as you require; put them in a pie dish, and a good sized onion, with half a teaspoonful of dried sage, two ounces of butter, and enough water to cover the bottom of the dish. Season with salt and pepper.

9. Barley soup.—Soak four table-spoonful of Scotch barley in cold water for an hour. Put it in stewpan with about a pint of cold water. Set it on a moderate fire; let it stew gently, and add three good-sized onions, two small turnips, a carrot, and head of celery. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When quite soft, add a table-spoonful of mushroom ketchup.

10. Groat pudding.—Pick and wash a half-pint of groats, and put them in a dish with a pint of water, a large onion chopped small, a little sage or marjoram, a good lump of butter, pepper and salt. The groats may be steeped thus for some hours before baking. Apples may be added, or substituted, for the onions and herbs. If substituted, use sugar instead of the seasoning. Bake in a moderate oven till the groats are tender.

11. Savoury pie.—Pare several potatoes and two or three onions. Slice them, if large. Place these in a buttered pie-dish, in layers, with a little well steeped tapioca, pepper, salt, and powdered sage upon each, also mushroom powder, or fresh mushrooms if liked. Slices of cold bread omelet, or a few Brussells sprouts, may be inserted. Cover with a plain crust; one made of ordinary bread dough, with a very little butter, is preferable to anything heavy. Keep the bottom of the pie supplied with hot water while baking, or it will be without gravy.

12. Vegetarian gravy.—This may be flavoured either with mushroom powder or browned onion, and coloured with a little chicory, the basis being made as plain melted butter, with less flour or thickening, and seasoned with pepper, salt, and mace, if approved.

There are some interesting seasonings there – the herby Yorkshire pudding looks worth trying, and trendy chefs have rediscovered mushroom powder – but the potato pie with tapioca, bread pudding and a bread dough crust? You’d put on half a stone just looking at it.

Nothing new under the sun

We all know it’s fashionable for chefs to take inspiration from old recipes, but I’m sure we don’t always appreciate quite how much of what is currently in vogue has been done before. Here’s a selection of recipes from one late 18th-century manuscript collection (MS 4992, Wellcome Collection) to illustrate the point.

First, those fancy powders that get scattered around the plate? Put to a different use here, but the product is the same:

Mushroom powder which you may use ½ a spoonful at a time to fish or any other sauce

Take the mushrooms & wash them well with salt & water rubbing them with a piece of flannel put them into a sauce pan & drain them out of their liquor season them with pepper & salt add 2 or 3 spoonsfull of vinegar a nutmeg sliced, some mace & cloves 2 or 3 bay leaves a top of rosemary a slice of onion a piece of butter as big as a walnut let them stew till the liquor is dryed up then put them on a tin plate in an oven after the bread.

Typical of contemporary recipes, what this one doesn’t tell you is that presumably the mushrooms will then be desiccated enough to be easily rubbed into powder, probably with the fingers.

Secondly, how about some fancy presentation (probably with some height here too):

To make a dish of birds nests

Make a good forced meat stiff, which must be formed in the shape of little birds nests, do them over with yolks of eggs lay the warm vermicelli upon them like straws, bake them in a slow oven, take care they are not discoloured, beat some yolks of eggs and boil them loosely, you may then form them, by lying them in small pieces of muslin, the size of birds eggs, and scalding them again put a ragout of sweet breads or any thing you like in the dish.

Turning to desserts, here’s an exotically flavoured cheesecake (not sure how it would taste though):

Potatoe cheese-cakes

To a ¼ lb potatoes boiled skined & beaten in a mortar add a ¼ lb of sugar & a ¼ of butter 2 eggs leaving out the whites of one the juice of a lemon & the peel of ½ a one grated sweet meats & currants if you like it, then add a glass of mountain or any sweet wine bake them with a puff paste round the tins.

Want to pair that with some jelly strips in different colours? Here’s how – first the jelly itself, then the colourings:

Orange Jelly

Over night boil 2 oz Isinglass in a pint of spring water till it comes to a ½ pint, also over night put ½ a lb single refined sugar into 3 pints water let it boil fast till half is consumed take the juice of 3 china & 1 seville orange & 1 large lemon pare them thin & put the peels into the juice let it stand covered close till next morning – then strain it off & put the isinglass into some hot water then melt the jelly, mix & stir all well together & put it into your moulds, let them stand till cold, then turn them out & lay thin shreds of the peels over it. N.B. After the isinglass is boil’d strain it thro’ a bit of muslin the jelly shod be stiff enough to cut with a knife & eat with a fork.

Ribbon Jelly

Red, with cochineal – Green, spinach – Yellow, safron – Blue, syrup of violets – White, with thick cream

And finally, that old favourite spun sugar for the ultimate decoration (watchers of today’s cookery programmes will be far more familiar with the type of method here than this rather convoluted description can convey):

To spin a gold web for covering a custard

Beat 4 ounces of treble refined sugar in a marble mortar, & sift it through a hair seive, then put it in a silver or brass ladle (silver makes the colour better) set it over a chafing dish of charcoal that is burnt clear, and set it on a table, and turn a tin cover or china bowl upside down on the same table, and when your sugar is melted it will be of a gold colour then take your ladle off the fire and begin to spin it, take a knife & begin to spin by taking up as much of the syrrup as the point of it will hold, and a fine thread will come from the point which you must draw as quick as possible backwards & forwards, and also round the mould as long as it will spin from the knife be very carefull not to drop the syrup on the web, if you do it will spoil it, then dip your knife into the syrup again and take up more, and so keep spinning ‘till your sugar is done, or your web is thick enough, be sure you do not let the knife touch the lump on the plate that is not melted, it will make it brittle & not spin at all. If your sugar is spent before your web is gone put fresh sugar on a clean plate & do not spin from the same plate again, if you do not want the web to cover the custard immediately set the web on a deep pewter plate or dish & cover it with a tin cover & lay a cloth over it, to prevent the air from getting to it, & set it before the fire; it requires to be left warm or it will fall abroad.


Catching up with catchup

Masterchef’s foray into cockle ketchup reminded me of a number of recipes for varieties of this condiment in manuscript recipe books. I haven’t actually seen one using cockles, but I can offer this one with oysters (although rather extravagant at today’s prices):

Take one hundred of oysters the largest you can get, with all their liquor, ½ pd of anchovies, three pints of white wine, 1 lemon sliced, with half the peel, let this boil half an hour, & then strain it thro’ muslin, add of cloves & mace ¼ of an ounce of each & one sliced nutmeg, boil it ¼ of an hour & then add two ounces of shallots, when cold bottle it, with the spice & shallots. (F76/A/33, Dunne family of Gatley Park, Herefordshire Record Office, 18th century)

Or you might want to try walnuts – only half a hundred this time:

Take walnuts when fit for pickling, beat them to a pulp & squeeze the juice. Let it stand to settle one day, then pour off the clear & to every pint of juice put a pound of anchovies, & an ounce of sharlots. Sett it over the fire till all the anchovies are dissolved, then strain it off & to a quart put a quarter of an ounce of mace ditto of cloves, ditto of Jamaica pepper; & half a pint of white wine vinegar. Boil all these together a quarter of an hour, & when cold bottle it, putting the spice into your bottles as equal as you can. A very small quantity will do in any hash. For fish sauce it must be quite clear; it will keep good two years.

N.B. Half an hundred of walnuts will make a quart of juice if properly beaten & prest. (D1928/Z2, Gloucestershire Archives, 18th century)

The first known printed recipe was in Eliza Smith’s Compleat Housewife, first published in 1727:


There are more mushrooms in this variety from the Heppington Receipts (MS 7999, © Wellcome Collection, 18th-19th century):


And finally, tomato ketchup – or rather, tomata catchup. Also known as love apples, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous so weren’t used in cooking until the 19th century, but this has since become the best-known flavour of ketchup, courtesy of HJ Heinz (whose recipe is, of course, a trade secret):

Take the tomatas when quite ripe, mash them with salt & let them stand two days, strain & press them hard thro’ a cloth. Set them on the fire & take the scum off as it rises. Then add some cloves, mace, nutmeg, ginger & whole peppers with 3 or 4 cloves of garlic. Boil 20 minutes – let it stand till cold then bottle it. (D3549/37/1/5 Gloucestershire Archives, Sebright/Fenwick family, early 19th century)

That one looks pretty straightforward, so I may just have to try it!


A tale of successful detection

Lady Elizabeth Hastings (1682–1739), known as Lady Betty,  daughter of the seventh Earl of Huntingdon,  lived at Ledston Hall in Castleford, Yorkshire. She never married (although her letters reveal many persistent suitors) and was a significant donor to various charities and institutions, including Queen’s College, Oxford; indeed, the trust she established continues in operation today (Lady Elizabeth Hastings Charities). She suffered from breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, dying just over a year later.

Ledston Hall

The following account of an attempt at coercion and the apprehension of those responsible was found among her papers:

Last Friday night whilst the servants were at supper a letter was stuck on one of the spikes of the little iron gate which is by the side of one of the porter’s lodges. The contents were summed up on the outside which was, “This is to let you now that your hal shal be bornet doun on Sonda nex if you do not li the mony ther whear this leter tels you.” The inside was much to the same purpose only that £100 which was the sum demanded was to be laid at the heel of the north gate on Saturday night or else the Hall should be blown up and the town set on fire. All possible care was taken to prevent the incendiary putting their wicked threat into execution and to detect the writer of the letter. In order to which the next day warrants were procured directed to the constables of seven neighbouring villages round about with orders to them to keep watch and ward and take up all vagrants that were then within their several constabularies or that might afterward pass through them. And watch was set about the barns it being thought they would be likelier to revenge the disappointment that they would meet with upon the hay and corn, than the house and watch was likewise set by the north gate where the money was ordered to be laid to see if any suspicious people passed that way on Sunday. But there was nobody passed but a young man about two or three and twenty that was the least so. He said he was a tailor and worked near Leeds and was going to a place near Byram where he had before worked and had left some linen which he was going to fetch but coming by again about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and varying in his story (though the first was true) they began to suspect him and pursuing him to Kippax the constable secured him who had a few hours before taken up an old man that sold ballads. The boy and him seemed strangers to each other and but that it was ordered that no person taken into custody should be discharged again without being carried before a magistrate they had both been let go without further examination they seemed so innocent especially the old man. On Monday they were both carried before Justice Ibettson at Leeds where they positively denied writing or knowing anything of the threatening letter being written but the Justice making the old man write part of the letter which he read to him and thinking the hands agreed ordered him to be secured and then tried to make the young confess which at last he did upon oath in substance as follows namely, that on Friday the 18th instant as he was standing at his master’s door at Whitchurch near Leeds the old man came to him with whom he had been before acquainted and told him he designed to leave a letter at Lady Betty Hastings gate to tell her that if she did not lay £100 at the place before named on Saturday he would burn her house and that if he, the said boy would go on Sunday and take up the money (for the old man seemed sure of its being laid) he should half of it for his pains and the boy having so good an excuse as the fetching some linen which would lead him by the place he undertook to do it.

Ledston, 23 December 1730

The first achievement was deciphering the bomb threat itself!

Source: George Hastings Wheler (ed.) (1935) Hastings Wheler Family Letters, West Yorkshire Printing Co.

Knit one, pearl one

Francoise Duparc, Woman knitting

Françoise Duparc, Woman Knitting.

The recipes collected in the books and bundles of papers that I’m researching weren’t only for culinary and medicinal recipes – they ranged over various household activities as well, as I have addressed before in this blog. One area I’ve now seen covered for the first time is knitting. Here’s a ‘recipe’ for ‘little children’s lambswool shoes’:

Cast 17 stitches. Knit 1 row plain. Add a stitch at both ends every other row, till you have 23 stitches. Knit 1 row plain. Add a stitch at the end only, every other row till you have 28 stitches.

Knit 1 row plain. Knit off 16 stitches leaving 12 upon the other pin. Knit 16 rows or 8 pearl. Cast 12 stitches. Knit 2 rows plain. Diminish a stitch only at the end of every other row till you have 23 stitches.

Knit 1 row plain. Diminish a stitch at both ends every other row till you have 17 stitches. Cast off. Fasten on for the ancle. Make 30 stitches including the 12 on the pin. Knit 3 pearls of white, then 4 of colour, then 4 of white then 4 of colour. Cast off.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Knitter asleep

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Knitter Asleep.

And the adults are catered for too, for example here’s how to make lambswool dressing shoes:

Cast 40 stitches. Knit 1 row plain. Add 1 stitch only at one end every other row till you have 50 stitches. Knit 10 rows plain. Cast off 25 stitches for the heel. Knit 10 rows for the toe. Cast on 25 stitches for the other side. Knit 10 rows plain. Diminish 1 stitch at one end only, every other row till you have 40 stitches left. Knit 1 row plain. Cast off. Fasten on for the ancle making 50 stitches round, knit 16 rows. Cast off. Sew it up on the wrong side, & then put on a duffield sole.

They look remarkably similar to modern patterns, although (like recipes for food or medicine at the time) they do require some prior knowledge that isn’t spelled out. For example, ‘Knit 16 rows or 8 pearl’ means (I think!) either 16 rows of knit or 16 of stocking stitch; that is, knit one, purl one. So for the ‘3 pearls of white’ etc. later in the pattern, presumably this is actually 6 rows of stocking stitch. There’s no mention of purl in the adult shoes, so were they made in garter stitch, or is stocking stitch implied by the instruction to ‘sew it up on the wrong side’? I don’t know enough about the history of knitting to be sure. I also think I might get rather confused with the ankle fastener, but maybe that’s my dodgy knitting skills.

Anyone fancy giving these a try?

Recipes from Lady Hotham’s recipe book, U DDHO/19/3, Hull History Centre.

A begging letter


Portrait of Nicholas Lechmere Pateshall, http://www.royprecious.co.uk

William Pateshall (1779-1832) was the second son of Ann and Edmund Lechmere Pateshall, whose fourth son Nicholas is pictured above. This wealthy family lived at Allensmore Court, 4 miles from Hereford. At the age of 17, William was on his travels and had to write the following letter to his mother:

I have the pleasure to inform you that I arrived here safe yesterday from Birmingham where I slept. I called upon Mr Conquest in the morning who wanted me to stop a day or two with him, but as Mr Rob was going to town, I thought it better not, he desires I will go there, any time I can make it convenient for a day or two. My expences were much more than I or you thought they would be, as you will see by this account

Breakfast at Ledbury                        1/6

Dinner at Worcester                          2/6

Coach from Hereford                        6/-

Coachman &c                                        2/-

Coach to Birmingham                     12/-

Coachman                                             1/-

Supper &c                                             4/-

Breakfast Bd &c                               3/6

Porter                                                     6d

From Birmingham                        11/0

£2 4/0

And after paying out of that which I have remaining 1/16 for my horse & about 15d for washing I shall not have any money in my pocket, leave alone money to pay for a pair of small cloths & waistcoat which I had made & shoemaker for shoes which you may remember I wanted very bad. Therefore I hope you will send me some as soon as you conveniently can (as I am in want of it as you may suppose) & stop it out of that which you promised to give me. I will send those stokins home as soon as I have an opportunity. I hope you will send me some in the place of them. You will excuse the shortness as I have something waiting for me to do in a hurry.

Mr & Mrs Conquest desire to be remembered to you & my brother. I remain your dutiful son

Wm Pateshall

I hope I shall heare from you soon.

Note the typical teenage strategies here – first of all I got here safely and I’ve being paying my respects as you would expect; then a list of expenses, which are noted to be ‘more than you or I thought they would be’; then the other things I’ve ordered that ‘I wanted very bad’, and of course I really need them, don’t I? He remembers his mother has asked him to send some stockings home, so he assures her he’ll do that  as soon as he can, but he doesn’t have time right now as ‘I have something waiting for me’ – something far more important than writing to his parents, no doubt! Finally, the pièce de résistance, ‘I hope I shall heare from you soon’, with the ‘you’ firmly underlined.

But this ‘dutiful son’ was to be disappointed. A small folded piece of paper wrapped inside the letter provides what is presumably a draft of the reply, which you’ll note comes from his father:

The 5 guineas I have here enclosed is cutting into a half yrs allowance Reconing the <illeg> you had before you left home the expences you have been at to <illeg> since the 1st of last June are no less than £100 according to a moderate calculation which she & myself made last night exclusive of Mr Robins’s fee & the fee to government. Mama will allow you what you pay for the horse at some future time.

William evidently survived, and was later to become a solicitor, town clerk and coroner, as well as being Lord Mayor of Hereford in 1820. His role as coroner gave him plenty of opportunity to reclaim expenses, as this extract from a set of contemporary accounts shows: