As a child, I was fascinated by culinary history. Blame my father: he read Gourmet Magazine, which at the time had interesting articles on the food of bygone days. This eventually led to trying to cook traditional dishes.
Some things, however, I will not try. In the eighteenth century, the period in which my books are set, people ate things that would turn me pale. Very little of any meat animal went uneaten, and in addition to the usual vegetables, they also ate plants we usually ignore, like purslane, tansy, angelica, and others, in ways we wouldn’t think of.
In the interests of historical accuracy, when my characters dine, odd things sometimes appear on the table.
From Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion (1730):
Pigs’ ears ragooed (i.e., cooked in a ragout); Pickled Sparrows or Squab Pigeons; Chervil Tart; Marjoram Pudding
From Susanna MacIver, Cookery and Pastry (1789):
Boiled tongue and udder with roots (i.e., root vegetables); Stewed celery; Stewed peas and lettuce; Dressed calf’s or lamb’s head (no, not in a frilly cap; but the recipe is complicated and disgusting); Brain cakes
And as the holiday season is approaching, it’s time for recipes, or receipts as they were originally called. Today we’ll take a look at plum cake.
Take six pounds of Currants, five pounds of Flour, an ounce of Cloves and Mace, a little Cinnamon, half an ounce of Nutmegs, half a pound of pounded and blanched Almonds, half a pound of Sugar, three quarters of a pound of sliced Citron, Lemon and Orange peel, half a pint of Sack, a little Honey water, and a quart of Ale yeast, a quart of Cream, a pound and half of Butter melted and poured into the middle thereof; then strew a little Flour thereon, and let it lie to rise; then work it well together and lay it before the fire to rise, then work it up till it is very smooth; then put it in an Hoop with a Paper floured at the bottom. From The Compleat Housewife, Or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion: Being a Collection of Upwards of Five Hundred of the Most Approved Receipts, by Eliza Smith (1730).
Note: No, there is no indication of how hot the oven should be or how long it should bake. If you were cooking in an 18th century kitchen, you would have learned this at your mother’s knee. Personally, I want to see that Hoop: I’m perfectly sure I don’t have a cake pan that size.