This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Lead Cook not into Temptation

It has been a summer of visits, friends, family and other distractions.  Time for experimental cookery, non existent.    What has continued though, has been the reading of old recipe books and household management books ... not Mrs Beeton's.

10/- a Head for House Books, An Indispensable Manual for Housekeepers is just one of several which I am enjoying right now.

It was written about 120 years ago, when ten shillings (50p) had the purchasing power of approx £50, so not an ungenerous budget.    There are many woeful tales of how much food is probably wasted by 'Cook' and how this may be reduced by creating a new dish out of leftovers.

"The remains of milk puddings must not be thrown away, for if beaten up with some more milk and re-baked in a smaller dish, with perhaps the addition of a layer of jam or marmalade, the family will be unaware that they are not being regaled on a brand-new pudding.   Wise is the woman who thus bamboozles her family."

Bamboozles, I love that word!

She says:    "the man who will turn with disgust from the orthodox rice pudding will eat with pleasure precisely the same concoction if baked in a cup or mould, turned out and served with a little finely chopped preserved ginger in a sauce composed of the ginger syrup slightly diluted with water and made hot."...mmmn.

I'm not convinced of that one, sorry Mrs Peel.

In the chapter dealing with Luncheon Dishes

"Let us suppose we are catering for a family of eight, consisting of master, misstress, two children, and four servants.   The orders for butchers and poulterers for the week would probably be as follows:

Week 1: Sirloin of beef, neck of mutton, two rabbits, shoulder of mutton.
Week 2: Silver side (fresh) of beef, one chicken, loin of mutton, 2.5 lb steak, one chicken."

Her tip for making the most of a chicken:

"..the chicken is then stuffed with minced veal, ham, tongue and sausage meat until it regains its original shape...One chicken thus treated will suffice for eight people, without touching the pinions or legs."

Finally, "A great temptation is offered to cooks by rag and bone merchants, who are ready to buy every kind of article.  These persons should not be allowed inside the area or back yard."

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Wild Plums Falling from the Sky

The wild plums have begun falling from the sky.   It is time to go foraging for more, before the farmer comes along with his hedge trimmer and destroys them.     It is always touch and go.

In our little Owl Wood there is a plum tree, an unusually tall plum tree, far too high to harvest without the aid of a very long ladder.   Luckily it ripens just before the smaller plum trees, and plums fall onto the woodland floor.   This is my signal to check to see how the others are doing, to think about how soon we can begin to 'harvest' them.

Will they ripen before rain stops the harvest in the fields and the Farmer T turns his attention to hedge trimming and other maintenance jobs until the weather improves?

This is the first dish of tart and tangy plums.   
We don't eat them as plums, nor do we make jam or preserves with them.   

All of these, and more, were turned into wild plum coulis.   We make it every year and treat like the seasonal treat that it is, something to be enjoyed to the full and then eagerly anticipated next year.

These wonderful baubles of dark purple and blue are washed, picked over, any stalks are removed and then they are placed in a heavy stainless steel saucepan, with just a little water.  Put the saucepan lid on, then gently bring them to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.

No sugar, no additives.   We keep it very simple.

Once they are soft I remove them from the heat.   Allow them to cool a little and then rub the resulting mush through a sieve.   Use a wooden spoon and take your time.  Enjoy the jammy, plummy aroma and soak up that wonderful colour.

We like to swirl that rich red bounty through thick Greek yogurt.     One of these days I will get around to experimenting a little, using it in other recipes...perhaps in one of those bumper crop years.

Meanwhile, we'll keep on enjoying it in this deliciously simple way.

There is a lovely basinful sitting in the fridge, that will last a few days.  Then the memory of this seasonal treat will have to satisfy us until next year.   Unless I find some more wild plums, of course.

I also need to get out there and pick some sloes, cousin to the wild plum and even more tart.   We could make them into jam or add them to chutneys, etc but this year I intend to make several bottles of sloe gin, they make wonderful Christmas presents.

Of course, this all depends on whether I can get some picked before the farmers trim back the hedges...

The farmers try to harvest before the rains come and we try to harvest before the farmers come and destroy the hedgerow bounty.   Busy times in the countryside.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Expensive Lavender Water and a Spot Healing Cream

One could cost you a fortune, the other could cost you your life.

The first recipe has a note that it would have cost £2 6s 6d to make a gallon - Lavender Water, that is.

Well that sounds pretty cheap until you take a look at the date the book was published then work out the equivalent cost today as being around £230!    A huge amount of money for eight pints of lavender water.

Just on the off-chance that you may like to try this at home:

Lavender Water

Oil of Mitcham Lavender - 4 fluid oz or 8 tablespoonsful.
Musk, 20 grains
Triple rose water, 8 fluid oz
Rectified spirits of wine, 1 gallon.

Keep the bottle well corked and sealed for at least 3 months, the longer the better; shake frequently.   If necessary it can be filtered through white paper, which has been previously warmed in the oven.

A well tested recipe.

I haven't done the costings for actually purchasing all the ingredients today but I guess it could well exceed the £230 equivalent cost from 1905.

The second one I'm offering up today is a recipe for

Healing Spots on the Face

Take of oxide of zinc, 2 drams
Calamine powder, 2 drams
Glycerine, 2 drams
Bisulphide of mercury, 2 grains
Rose water, 2 oz

Paint on with a camelhair brush at night.

Please do not try this recipe at home, mercury is dangerous.

Just as a side note:  My brother and I were given blobs of silver mercury to play with - by our older brother.    We knew nothing of the potentially harmful effects, we just found it fascinating as we chased those quivering silver blobs around on our hands.

 Even 55 years on, the jury is still out over whether he knew what he was doing!

Obviously, we survived to tell the tale, so we were lucky.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

A Kitchen Supper

Last night eight of us were treated to a magnificent feast of Chinese food - and it didn't come from a takeaway shop.

Poppy cooked up a storm for us.  She was a little apologetic because she didn't have all the ingredients to make things in quite the same way that she would have in Shanghai, but we were more than happy.


Meat dishes and vegetarian dishes, even the vegan was happy with what was on offer.   Poppy cooked a lots of wonderful dishes and they ranged from hot and spicy through to mild and lightly spiced.   All were delicious.    Here are just a few.

This was the most authentic dish, according to Poppy.  It was belly pork with fresh chillies, pickled chillies, assorted vegetables, ginger, garlic and spring onions.   The meat eaters dived in, the brave ones used chopsticks, the wimps stuck to knives and forks.

This jar of pickled turnip helped to add a different dimension to the taste sensations.

A big dish of delicious spiced tofu - even Max enjoyed this one.

And then there was this...........

a vast dish of spiced lotus root with mangetout and vegetables.   Everything was delicious,  but this dish was absolutely my favourite.  

The colours were like Christmas and the taste/texture was sublime.    

I could eat it any day of the week.

No recipes, sorry.  

I'll try to take notes next time.

Kitchen suppers don't come better than this.

Poppy, you are simply the best.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Herb de St Pierre

I was beginning to despair -  here we are, almost to the middle of August,  and we haven't had any samphire (local pronunciation samfer) yet.    That salty, seasonal treat which grows freely along the mud flats,  not too far away from here.  

Today we managed to get some - hurrah!

I added an assortment of red and yellow tomatoes from the garden and a beautiful piece of salmon fillet to a generous portion of samphire, a drizzle of dressing and found I had a meal fit for a king.

The salmon was simply pan fried, the homegrown tomatoes were oven roasted and full of flavour, both went perfectly with the wonderful green and salty samphire.     It was a simple and delicious meal, my kind of food.

If you have never had samphire/Glasswort/Herb de St Pierre you are missing out on a delicious treat.

It is a peculiar looking, dark green succulent plant with many branching thick segments instead of leaves.  It is at its best in July and August, after that it is best used for pickling as the structure becomes rather woody with age.

You don't have to go down to the mud flats to pick your own, I bought mine from our greengrocer in a small market town.  He obtains a small supply every year.   I stop by frequently, checking to see whether it has arrived yet.    It wasn't there on Monday but yesterday my daughter managed to get some for me.

To prepare: wash it in many changes of water, you need to get rid of all the sand and any bits of algae.   It is worth doing this thoroughly, you don't want sand in your samphire.

Then simply bring some water to the boil, add the samphire, put the saucepan lid back on and let it cook for a few minutes.  You could also steam it.

When cooked, the fleshy part will easily pull back from the ribs of the plant.   Do not add salt!  It is already naturally salty.   I don't even bother to add butter or vinegar, but you could.   Just don't drown it in vinegar!

In a restaurant one eats with more decorum and it is served in much smaller pieces, but traditionally it is eaten by holding the root end of the cooked plant, then simply stripping the fleshy parts from the ribs...with your teeth!  No need for cutlery!

However you choose to eat it, I hope you enjoy this salty seasonal delight.

Friday, 5 August 2016

...and with a feather anoint well...

I am won over by the charm and quaintness of a little book which I found in a charity shop recently.

The title "A Taste of Capel Manor" subtitle 'Madam Susanna Avery's Still Room Book - 1688.'  It is a slim volume, a facsimile reproduction of a 1922 copy of the original text.   Alas, the original Still Room book has been lost, which is a real shame.

Susanna Avery began her collection of recipes in 1688 in a book which was handed down through the generations.  Contents include sections on Wines, Fruits, Picklings, Cakes, Puddings, Biscuits, Meats, Salves, Waters, for Coughs, Colds, etc, The Toilet, with a big section on herbs and their uses.

I thought I would share a cake recipe although I haven't tried it out yet.


Take four pound of flower dryed in an oven after bread is drawn, five pound of corance washt, picked and dried, four nuttmeggs, as much mace beaten, six ounces of lofe sugar, a pint of barme, three or four spoonsfuls of sacke, 8 eggs, but four white; beat them; a quart of cream boyled, and cold again; first rub in two pound of butter to flower again in the flower; then mixe all the other with it, but kneall it not; then put cap paper about a hopp and two sheets at the bottom, and butter it well with other butter, not with any of the waight; so power in the cake and shake it even; then take two ounces of leofe sugar beaten small, and mix with it the whites of three eggs, and with a feather anoint well all over just as you set it into the oven; so let it bake an hour; so take it forth, and anoint it all over with rose water and sugar boyled to a candy height, and set it a little while in the oven again; then into the hopp, and take it with the paper away; this is all.

Madam Susanna Avery

Monday, 1 August 2016

Spice up your Cos Lettuce

Are your Cos lettuce running to seed?  

Fear not, I have an old recipe which can help you transform them into Jamaican Ginger, or so it says.  

I have not tried it myself, we are growing  only weeds this year - an exaggeration, but not by much!

Image borrowed from newlifeonahomestead
"When Cos lettuce is beginning to go to seed - cut off the stalks and pull off the string then cut into pieces the size of West India ginger.    

Put it into water as fast as you can and wash.

Sugar and water in the proportion of 1lb of sugar to 9 pints of water, two large spoonfulls of powdered ginger laid in a piece of muslin, then boil it and let it stand 2 days then boil it again for half an hour.

Repeat this four or five times in the same syrup then put it in a sieve to drain and then wipe the pieces dry, then put it into a strong syrup with a great deal of ginger.  boil it in this syrup 2 or 3 times till it looks quite clear and tastes like Jamaica Ginger.

Some lemon peel cut very thin and boiled in the syrup improves the colour of the ginger mock."

This recipe is attributed to a Mrs P Atkinson.

This particular recipe comes from the large black handwritten book on top of the pile.

I am particularly fond of this one - but to tell the truth I love each one of them, for the story of each one unfolds as I hold them in my hand and read the recipes.

Only one of my small collection has the name of the woman who gathered and cooked the recipes, the rest are unknown, which is a shame. 

These old books with their well-worn covers and much thumbed pages, splashes of grease or splodges of gravy are a constant source of pleasure.  The handwriting is not always easy to decipher but they speak to me in ways beautiful, modern, pristine recipe books cannot.

ps I think Romaine lettuce gone to seed would work just as well.