Oxford holds the distinction of being the location of the first coffee-house in England; an establishment trading under the sign of the Angel was opened in 1650, acting as a centre for gossip, news and academic discussions in equal measure. Coffee-houses were soon open in London and elsewhere and their popularity grew. Their heyday was the eighteenth-century. In time, they adapted to meet the requirements of their clientele; Lloyd’s Coffee House was a favourite haunt of merchants and sailors and so shipping information was shared and deals conducted. It is better known today as the insurer, Lloyd’s of London. The Grecian Coffee-House in Devereux Court just off Fleet Street catered for the Whigs while the nearby Rainbow attracted Freemasons and French refugee Huguenots. Slaughter’s (later Old Slaughter’s) establishment, on St Martin’s Lane, boasted an artistic clientele while the British Coffee-House on Cockspur Street was popular with the Scots in London and privy to Jacobite plotting. Some, such as Moll King’s coffee-house in Covent Garden, catered for lower tastes.
So, how to make the perfect cup of Georgian era coffee? Mrs Maria Eliza Rundell, in A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1808, gives us a recipe.
To make Coffee
Put two ounces of fresh ground coffee, of the best quality, into a coffee-pot, and pour eight coffee-cups of boiling water on it; let it boil six minutes, pour out a cupful two or three times, and return it again; then put two or three isinglass-chips into it, and pour one large spoonful of boiling water on it; boil it five minutes more, and set the pot by the fire to keep it hot for ten minutes, and you will have coffee of a beautiful clearness.
Fine cream should always be served with coffee, and either pounded sugar-candy, or fine Lisbon sugar.
If for foreigners, or those who like it extremely strong, make only eight dishes from three ounces. If not fresh roasted, ay it before a fire until perfectly hot and dry; or you may put the smallest bit of fresh butter into a preserving pan of a small size, and, when hot, throw the coffee in it, and toss it about until it be freshened, letting it be cold before ground.
Isinglass is a clarifying collagen, produced from the swim bladders of fish, prior to 1795 from sturgeon but after that also from cod; nowadays we’d use gelatin. Lisbon sugar, otherwise known as clayed sugar, was manufactured in the colonies of France, Spain and, as the name suggests, Portugal. Wet pipe-clay was laid on top of the sugar and water poured over which removed the molasses. Sugar candy is formed of large crystals of sugar, today known as rock candy or sugar.
Coffee, then as now, was a popular breakfast drink and an alternative to chocolate. Mrs Rundell also gives us a recipe for the ideal breakfast coffee.
Boil a desert-spoonful of ground coffee, in nearly a pint of milk, a quarter of an hour; then put into it a shaving or two of isinglass, and clear it; let it boil a few minutes, and set it on the side of the fire to grow fine.
This is a very fine breakfast; it should be sweetened with real Lisbon sugar of a good quality.
While tea was often drunk from a dish, or saucer, coffee (and chocolate) was usually – but not exclusively – drunk from cups with or without handles (often referred to as a coffee can). Saucers of the time were generally deeper than those we use today, and where coffee was tipped from the cup into the saucer, it was possibly in order to cool the drink more quickly.
An advert for a sale of chinaware in 1750 suggests that handled coffee cups were sold without saucers and that those with saucers were predominantly intended for breakfast.
A neat assortment of CHINA WARE, consisting of Table and Tea Table China, Soup Dishes, Fruit or Salad ditto, Bowls of all Sizes, Tea Pots, Milk Pots, Spoon Boats, Variety of Tea Cups and Saucers, Handled Coffee Cups, Coffees and Saucers, or Breakfast Cups, Chocolates and Saucers, Water Plates, Bread and Butter, or Breakfast ditto, Quart and Pint Mugs, Coffee Pots, Sauce Boats; with several other Pieces too tedious to mention.
Newcastle Courant, 28th July 1750
We’ve all heard of reading your fortune in the tea leaves in the bottom of your cup, but coffee grounds prove just as useful.
Here’s luck in the bottom, dear Jane, only see!
My dream & my coffee in a wedding agree.
But ah! my dear Sister, what fate me befall.
I fear I can wait, for no wedding at all.
In coffee ‘tasseography’ it is generally considered unlucky to read your own cup. If you want to know how to read fortunes in coffee, it is explained in the book, The Fortune-teller; or, Peeps into futurity by Louisa Lawford. Wavy lines are good, straight ones bad, circles denote money and human figures are positive omens, as are dogs but other animals are not so lucky.
In the 1770s, advertisements began to appear for English coffee, made to a balsamic recipe from herbs, barks and plants which extolled a myriad of health benefits for those who partook. A typical letter of fawning recommendation, published in regional newspapers alongside information on where the coffee could be bought, described the grateful customer as previously suffering from headaches, drowsiness, trembling, belching, wandering pains which flew from one part of the body to another, loss of appetite and more. A canister of this magical coffee, and a cup morning and evening, instantly banished all the complaints. (It perhaps was akin to dandelion coffee, a known coffee substitute.)
Towards the end of the eighteenth-century, in Britain coffee declined somewhat in popularity, losing out to tea which was cheaper and simpler to make.
Bread, a staple of part of the diet today as much as it was in the Georgian era. Hardly something controversial or so you would think.
In 1757 the weight of a penny loaf was set to reflect the local cost of wheat. Parliament tried to get people to eat lower quality bread by creating the ‘Household Bread’ Act, which stated that half of all bread sold must contain a high proportion of coarse grain – this proved extremely unpopular. Bakers, on the other hand, began to adulterate the basic bread mixture with the addition of less wholesome ingredients such as alum, which they used to make bread appear whiter.
In order to prevent such bad practice it was decided that bakers convicted of adulterating their bread, or of having in their possession any mixture or ingredients with an intention to adulterate the purity of meal, flour or bread, should forfeit a sum not exceeding ten shilling, nor less than two shillings and by the same statute, that the magistrate before whom any such conviction should be made, could cause the offender’s name and place of abode to be published in or near the county, city or place where the offence was committed.
Last Wednesday Thomas Smithers, baker near the butcher row in East Smithfield, was convicted before John Fielding Esq; in the penalty of five shillings for having in his possession a quantity of undissolved alum and a quantity of dissolved alum, with an intention to mix and adulterate the purity of the product. The penalty of 5 shilling was repaid to Mr Fielding, for the use of Magdalen House.
There was an interesting article on this subject, in the Hampshire Chronicle dated 27th July 1795 regarding the Prince of Wales who, as we know, was a lover of food; was he trying to improve his diet or simply trying to cut down on the spending?
The Prince of Wales has ordered brown bread to be introduced at his own table at Brighton and forbidden the use of any other amongst his household. At Brighton camp, the officers have been given orders that they had resolved on the use of brown bread only, at their tables, under forfeiture of one month’s pay from each who shall break this resolution. The allowance of bread to each man at the above camp has been reduced from a pound and a half to one pound per day. The deficiency of bread has been made up for with meat and vegetables.
Bread was a continual source of angst for the government of the day. Towards the end of the century, there were successive bad wheat harvests resulting in the price of wheat doubling and with it pushing up the price of bread. This ultimately caused food riots up and down the country. The country turned against King George III attacking his carriage when he went to open Parliament, so again it was debated to work out what grain could be used as an alternative product.
The debate in the House of Commons went something like this:
The speaker of the House of Commons, Henry Addington, proposed that where families made use of vegetables in their diet the consumption of bread should be restrained to a quartern loaf (i.e. one weighing four pounds) a head per week. The harvest was looking better for this year so it was anticipated that the scarcity of bread would diminish.
However, he felt that bread made from full grain, bran as well as flour would be more nutritious. His wish was to remove the prejudice against brown bread. There was, of course, an objection to this proposal, that being that mixed bread was likely to be subject to adulteration than white bread. His opinion was that this notion was incorrect and that was easier to detect ingredients in brown rather than in white.
Lord Hawkesbury agreed to a certain extent but felt that such advantage might be over-rated, because swine and other creatures, whose flesh constituted part of human food, were fed by the very part of the meal, which was separated from the white flour, and thus possibly, the very article of bread itself might become scarcer if the practice of making white bread was totally discontinued; for a certain class of persons would be compelled to consume more bread than they do now if they had less animal food. In a word, he thought there was sufficient to make it a matter of recommendation, but not of compulsion, to make bread of the whole meal.
After much debate, the Speaker strongly recommended Lord Sheffield was fully persuaded of the necessity of making a compulsory law to enforce the use of only one kind of bread. Mr Wilberforce agreed and gave notice that he would bring in a Bill. The report was agreed to and ordered to be printed.
So, in 1800, the ‘Making of Bread’ Act, also known as the ‘Brown Bread Act’ or the ‘Poison Act’ came into effect which prohibited millers from producing flour other than wholemeal. For many people, bread formed almost half of their diet and this Act proved so unpopular and difficult to enforce that on November 6th, 1801 it was repealed.
Still Life with Bread and Wine, Henri Horace Roland de la Porte (c.1724–1793), York Museums Trust
Tea, coffee or something a little stronger? Very much as today, the Georgians enjoyed their tea and coffee with coffee houses appearing all over London, but less so away from the capital. If you wanted something a little stronger, then ale or gin were popular choices. Those Georgians were nothing if not inventive and if they thought something could be used to make a drink they would certainly give it a go. They would also partake of some more unusual drinks that would perhaps have less appeal to us today.
If you read a popular book of the 1790s entitled ‘The Housekeeper’s valuable present: or, lady’s closet companion’, you would find a recipe or receipt as they were then known as, for Birch wine. This wine was made from birch trees when then sap was rising in early spring.
The recipe states that to every gallon of birch water you should add two pounds of sugar, boil it for half an hour, pour away the grounds, then work it well with yeast and pour into your cask with brimstone. The author also recommended adding a small bag of raisins before leaving it to stand for three to four months before bottling it.
Take three gallons of water and one quart of honey, if not strong enough add more honey. Boil it for an hour, then put it into a tub with ginger and spices, add the whites of eight eggs, work it well with yeast and when you perceive it to be done, bottle it.
Take two quarts of milk, a quart of good brandy, the juice of six lemons and half a pound of sugar. Mix them well and strain through a jelly bag, add a little lemon peel. Strain the mixture and bottle it. It will keep for some considerable time.
Take three gallons of molasses brandy, three and a half ounces of nutmeg. Infuse the nutmeg in the brandy. Add three grains of amber grease, one and a half pounds of bitter almonds and three pounds of Lisbon sugar. Infuse it all for seven or eight days before using.
To six gallons of water put thirty pounds of Malaga raisins; boil the water for two hours, and then measure it out of the copper upon the raisins, which must be chopped small and put into a tub; let them work together for ten days, stirring it several times a day, then strain it off and squeeze the raisins hard to get out their strength. Take two spoons of good ale yeast, mix with six ounces of syrup of lemons, gradually add in three pecks of cowslips. Let all the ingredients work together for three days, stirring it three or four times a day, at the end of four months bottle it.
Mix well pounded Jordan almonds that had been blanched. Add a little orange water, two quarts of water strain through a fine sieve. Put the strained mixture into seven pints of sugar, boil to the degree called crack’d. Let it simmer for ten minutes, leave to cool, then bottle.
Not feeling well, then why not try Dr Boerhaave’s sweet buttermilk
Take the milk from the cow into a small churn, of about six shillings price; in about ten minutes begin churning and continue till the flakes of butter swim about pretty thick, and the milk is discharged of all the greasy particles and appear thin and blue. Strain it through a sieve and drink as frequently as possible.
As recommended by Maria Eliza Rundell. No, we’re not sure about that one either!
Would any of these recipes work or be palatable to us today, we really couldn’t comment, but it might be fun to try them.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
For anyone unfamiliar with this extract, we have the words of the poet, John Keats, summing up the season in his beautiful poem ‘Ode to Autumn‘, composed on the 19th September 1819. The weather is now changing and we’re now into Autumn, so we thought we would take a look at some Georgian recipes from 1797 for using up that glut of fruit you may have acquired.
Scald eight or ten large codlings and skin them as soon as they are cold. Beat the pulp very fine with a spoon and then mix the yolks of six eggs and the whites of four. Beat all together as fine as possible, and put in grated nutmeg and sugar to taste. Melt some fresh butter and beat it till it is like a fine cream. Then make a fine puff paste, cover a patty pan with it, and pour in the ingredients, but do not cover it with the paste. Bake it a quarter of an hour, then flip it out of the patty pan onto a dish, and strew over it some sugar finely beaten and sifted.
To make an Apple Pie
Having laid a good puff paste round the sides of the dish, pare and quarter your apples, and take out the cores. Lay a row of apples, thick, throw in half the sugar you intend to use, throw over it a little lemon peel minced fine, and squeeze over them a little lemon; sprinkle in a few cloves, and then put in the rest of your apples and your sugar. Sweeten to your palate, and squeeze a little more lemon. Boil the peeling of the apples and the cores in water, with a blade of mace, till it is very good. Strain it, and boil the syrup with a little sugar, till it is considerably reduced in quantity. Pour it into your pie, put on the upper crust and bake it. You may beat up the yolks of two eggs, and half a pint of cream, with a little nutmeg and sugar. Put it over a slow fire and keep stirring it till it is ready to boil. Then take off the lid and pour in the cream. Cut the crust into little three corner pieces, stock them about the pie and send it to the table cold.
To make a Codling Pie
Take some small codlings, put them into a pan with spring water, lay vine leaves on them, and cover them with a cloth, wrapped round the cover of the pan to keep in the steam. As soon as they grow soft, peel them, and put them in the same water as the vine leave. Hang them high over the fire to green, and, when you see them of a fine colour, take them out of the water, and put them into a deep dish, with as much powder or loaf sugar as will sweeten them. Make the lid of a rich puff paste and bake it. When it comes from the oven, take off the lid, and cut it into little pieces, like sippets, and stock them round the inside of the pie, with the point upwards. Then make a good custard, and pour it over your pie.
To make a Cherry Pie
Having made a good crust, lay a little of it round the sides of the dish, and throw sugar at the bottom. Then lay in your fruit and some sugar at the top. You may, if you please, add some red currants, which will give an additional flavour to your pie. Then put on your lid, and bake it in a slack oven. You may make plum or gooseberry pieces in the same manner.
Put two quarts of gooseberries into a saucepan, just cover with water, scald them till they are tender, and then run them through a sieve with a spoon to a quart of pulp. Have ready six eggs well beaten, make you pulp hot and put in one ounce of fresh butter. Sweeten it to your taste, put it over a gentle fire till they are thick; but take care that they do not boil. Then stir in a gill of the juice of spinach and when it is almost cold, stir in a spoonful of orange-flower water or sack. Pour it into basins and serve it up cold.
Have recently made the most delicious ginger and lemon cake from a modern, detailed, step by step recipe on the internet it seemed an opportune time to see what the recipes for cakes and puddings were like in the early 1800s. The recipe books seem to give ample instruction regarding quantity, but as to what to do with those quantities having weighed them out, is, in some instances sadly lacking; they have the most spectacular ability to go horribly wrong.
This first recipe for gingerbread bears little relationship to the one made the other day!
To make gingerbread
Take half a pound of flour dried, and half a pound of brown sugar dried and two ounces of ginger fresh pounded, three pounds of treacle, one pound of orange-peel cut small, two ounces of carvie seeds, if you like it, one pound and a half of butter melted and all well kneaded together, rolled out, cut it into cakes, baked very hard but not turned. It should be a rather quick good oven. A little citron may be added also, if you like it.
Two pound of flour, eight eggs, one pint and a half of milk, and one pound and a quarter of butter, half a pound of pounded almonds, half a pound of citron, one pound of currants and some yeast. It is very good for a cake and must stand before the fire to rise.
Take four eggs, beat well with half a pound of flour; melt a quarter of a pound of butter in a pint of milk; let the milk and butter stand till they are almost cold, then mix them with the flour and eggs with one spoonful of yeast and a little salt; be sure to beat them well; let it stand three or four hours to rise before you put it in the waffle iron, and bake them on a quick fire.
A custard pudding
Take the yolks and whites of four eggs, well beat up with a spoonful of flour, a little nutmeg, about half a pint of milk and sugar to your taste, boiled in a small china bowl. The sauce – white wine and butter.
To make sponge biscuits
Take the weight of nine eggs in double refined sugar, beat and sifted; break the whites into a pan and beat them up to a froth, then put in the yolks and a little lemon peel, grated; put in the sugar and mix them well together. Then take the weight of five eggs, and mix it with the rest; put them in paper shapes into the oven: let the oven be no hotter than you can bear your hand in it.
And, when you’ve finished all the baking, time to put your feet up and have a well earned rest!
The new practice of cookery, pastry, baking, and preserving: being the country housewife’s best friend
Feature image – Kitchen Interior, John Cranch, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
We all like a good pancake so we thought we would take a trip back in time to look at some eighteenth-century recipes as well as some newspaper articles about pancakes. And like now, people didn’t just eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
Caledonian Mercury, 13th August 1724
London, August 6. We hear from Harrow-weel, near Stanmore in Middlesex, that a Labourer’s Wife in that Parish, having been delivered on the Wednesday of a fine Child, was found the next Day by the Midwife, with her Stays lac’d on, frying Pancakes for her Husband’s Dinner.
Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 23rd March 1767
Cork, March 5 – Monday last, at Mallow fair, a man choaked himself by excess of eating. He had laid a bet with his companion that he would eat three pennyworth of new bread and two pounds of cheese, while the other could sip two quarts of ale with a table spoon; and while the deceased was taking the last bit, he declared he had never before got such a delicious feast of the kind, but he was afraid it would spoil his meal of pancakes the next day. [Shrove Tuesday fell on the 3rd March that year.]
Stamford Mercury, 1st April 1773
Extracts of a letter from Exeter, March 19.
Wednesday last Matthew Hutton, an ostler in this city, was committed to the gaol of this city for the murder of his wife; it appeared upon examination before the coroner, that on Friday last he came home and ordered his wife to get some pancakes for supper, which she did, and when she had fryed one, he took it to his plate, and then sent her out for some beer, during which time it is supposed he put some arsenic in the batter, as he ate no more, and she died the next morning at eight o’clock in great agonies; and on opening the body some arsenic was found, and several symptoms to corroborate the suspicion, and influence the Jury to bring in their verdict, wilful murder.
What adds to the general opinion that he is guilty is, that he endeavoured to poison her about a month ago in coffee, and never came home till the above evening for a long time past, keeping company with another woman. The remainder of the batter is taken care of, and is intended to be analysed.
[NB he was named Robert Hutton in a report of him being committed to gaol in the Bath Chronicle, 25th March 1773.]
Perthshire Courier, 16th August 1810
The warm approbation and applauses given by the generous inhabitants of the City of Perth, to the Exhibitions now in the Theatre here, are extremely flattering to Mr HERMAN BOAZ, and highly honorable to his labours; he seeks not to conceal that the love of public fame, more than private interest, is his chief thirst, and the applauses which every spectator have bestowed on his Performances, have amply gratified his expectations and wishes; he therefore, begs leave to render his unfeigned thanks to the numerous audiences who attended him the three first evenings, and begs leave to inform the Public, that he exhibits again on FRIDAY Evening, the 17th inst. August.
N.B. MR BOAZ begs leave to observe, that on the above evening, he will Fry Hot Pancakes, in a Gentleman’s Hat, without the assistance of Fire, or damage to the Hat. The Performance will conclude with the Grand Coup de Main.
The Doors will be opened each Evening, at half-past Seven o’clock, and the operations begin precisely at Eight, and finish at Ten.
PIT, 2s. – GALLERY, 1s.
Chester Courant, 26th February 1811
SHROVE TUESDAY – The following account of the origin of frying pancakes on this day, is copied from Mr Gale’s Recreations:- One Simon Eyre, a shoe-maker, being chosen Lord Mayor of London, instituted a pancake feast on Shrove Tuesday, for all the apprentices in London; and from that it became a custom. He ordered that, upon the ringing of a bell in every parish, the apprentices should leave off work, and shut up their shops for that day; which being ever since yearly observed, is called the Pancake Bell. In that same year he built Leadenhall, viz. 1406, so that the present Shrove Tuesday will be the 365th since its institution.
Chester Chronicle, 14th February 1812
Shrove Tuesday was celebrated in this city with the usual solemnities – pancakes, cockfighting, and fuddling, were the orders of the day; and scarce a snip or a snob were to be found within the hills of mortality – at work: it was a holiday for them, as it always has been from time immemorial – all the close pits in the neighbourhood were thronged with eager spectators of the royal pastime! As night spread around her dusky mantle, the participators in the festivities of the day staggered towards home, with head and pockets ‘light as air,’ many of them ornamented in the most luminous part of their person.
And we thought we would end with a few recipes, should you fancy trying something a little different this Pancake Day.
A recipe for Rice Pancakes (from the Oxford Journal, 20th February 1796)
Boil a quarter of a pound of ground rice in a quart of milk till the rice is tender, then strain it; put to the Rice four or six eggs, leaving out half the whites; cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar to your taste, and a large spoonful of flour; mix it some time before you fry them. Great attention must be given whilst frying them, lest they burn.
To make fine Pancakes
Take a pint of cream, eight eggs (leave out two of the whites) three spoonfuls of sack or orange flower water, a little sugar, if it be agreeable, a grated nutmeg; the butter and cream must be melted over the fire: mix all together, with three spoonfuls of flour; butter the frying pan for the first, let them run as thin as you can in the pan, fry them quick, and send them up hot.
To make a pink coloured Pancake
Boil a large beet root tender, and beat it fine in a marble mortar, then add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of good cream, sweeten it to your taste, grate in half a nutmeg, and put in a glass of brandy; beat them all together half an hour, fry them in butter and garnish them with green sweetmeats, preserved apricots, or green sprigs of myrtle. – It is a pretty corner dish for either dinner or supper.
The things we subject ourselves to in the name of research! Just recently Jo visited her local Christmas Market in the city of Lincoln and returned having purchased two packets of ‘18th Century Hot Chocolate Drink’, one for her and the other which she kindly sent to me, an acknowledged ‘chocoholic’ to sample.
I’m writing this blog with a most wonderful cup of the chocolate at the side of me. I have to say the taste is totally different to the usual brands of hot chocolate you buy in the supermarket today, it’s a much richer, creamy ‘chocolately’ taste and has been infused with long pepper, cardamom and cinnamon – the perfect drink for a frosty winter morning.
So the aim is that the blog should be written in the time it takes me to drink this lovely concoction!
As we all know chocolate has been enjoyed for centuries but as we focus on the 18th century it seems only right to take a quick peek at how the Georgians preferred to make the drink.
We begin with a recipe from a cookery book we have referred to before by M E Rundell:
Those who use much of this article will find the following mode of preparing it both useful and economical:
Cut the cake of chocolate in very small bits; put in a pint of water, and, when it boils put in the above. Mill it off the fire until quite melted, then on a gentle fire till it boil; pour into a basin and it will keep in a cool place eight or ten days or more. When wanted, put a spoonful or two into milk, boil it with sugar and mill it well.
This, if not made thick is a very good breakfast or supper.
We then move on to The experienced English house-keeper, consisting of near 800 original receipts by Elizabeth Raffald which suggests a slight variation on this method.
To Make Chocolate
Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour one quart of boiling water on it, mill it well with a chocolate mill and sweeten it to your taste; give it a boil and let it stand all night, then mill it again very well; boil it two minutes, then mill it, it will leave a froth upon the top of your cups.
Finally, I have found a recipe by Hannah Glasse for preparing the chocolate itself which seems to be the closest match in taste to the drink I have just finished!
The Family of the Duke of Penthièvre in 1768, also known as The Cup of Chocolate. Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1768, oil on canvas, Château de Versailles.
With Christmas fast approaching, we present a miscellany of Christmas pies, puddings and cakes for your enjoyment, taken from recipe books and interesting articles in the newspapers.
Christmas pudding started out as plum porridge or pottage and this receipt (or recipe) is from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, first published in 1747. Plum was actually another name for a raisin and does not refer to the fruit we know as a plum today.
To make Plum-Porridge for Christmas
Take a leg and shin of beef, put them into eight gallons of water, and boil them till they are very tender, and when the broth is strong strain it out: wipe the pot and put in the broth again; then slice six penny loaves thin, cut off the top and bottom, put some of the liquor to it, cover it up and let it stand a quarter of an hour, boil it and strain it, and then put it in your pot.
Let it boil a quarter of an hour, then put in five pounds of currants, clean washed and picked; let them boil a little, and put in five pounds of raisins of the sun, stoned, and two pounds of prunes, and let them boil till they swell; then put in three quarters of an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, two nutmegs, all of them beat fine, and mix it with a little liquor cold, and put them in a very little while, and take off the pot; then put in three pounds of sugar, a little salt, a quart of sack, a quart of claret, and the juice of two or three lemons.
You may thicken with sago instead of bread if you please; pour into earthen pans, and keep them for use.
Hampshire Chronicle, 1st January, 1776
The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland gave orders for the neighbouring poor at Windsor Lodge to be entertained three days of the holidays with beef, plum puddings, and mince pies; and likewise for one hundred guineas to be distributed among the distressed families.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 25th December 1766
An ESSAY on CHRISTMAS-PYE.
I presume I need not say any thing of the high and grateful flavour whereby the Christmas Pye recommends itself to the almost universal taste of both sexes: But I cannot forbear wondering, since we can be so well furnished with this rich and nourishing food, that there should be any such thing as a fricassée or ragoût in the kingdom; and that we should be so foolishly fond of foreign fashions, as, to the expence of our constitutions, to imitate the cookery of a fantastical nation, whose natural scarcity of provisions puts them upon tossing up the little that they have a hundred ways, to supply, as well as they can, their want of the British plenty.
There is something in the crust of this pye, too remarkable to be passed by; I mean the regularity of the figures into which it is sometimes raised; which seem to owe their original to the martial genius of our nation. For in many of them, the rules of military architecture are observed with that exactness, that each of them would serve for the model of a fortification; and a board of well-raised pyes, look like so many castles in miniature. From whence I conjecture, that it might have been anciently the amusement of our British Ladies, while their spouses and lovers were engaging their enemies abroad, to describe in paste, the glorious dangers they encountered; and that it might be their custom to form these pyes from the publick draughts of the towns and castles, against which they expected them to march, that so they might have the pleasure of storming and taking them, in effigy.
As to the reason why this dish is most in vogue at this time of the year, some are of the opinion, that ‘tis owing to the barrenness of the season; that there being little or no fruit remaining for any variety of tarts, and the scarcity of milk denying any affluence of cheese-cake or custard, therefore the ladies, being at a loss for a desert, invented this excellent compound.
But I rather think, from its regularly making its revolution with the present festivity, that it bears a religious kind of relation to it, and that from thence it had its name. What confirms me in this opinion, is the opposition which it meets with from the people called Quakers; who distinguish their feasts at this time by a certain heretical sort of pudding, known by their name, inveighing against Christmas Pye, as an invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, a hodge podge of superstition, popery, the devil and all his works.
I am particularly concerned to take notice of another sort of people, who, while they indulge themselves in the free enjoyment of this excellent food, are for cutting out the clergy from having any share in it; under pretence that a sweet tooth and a liquorish palate are inconsistent with the sanctity of their character. Against these persons, the famous Bickerstaff rose up; and with a becoming zeal, defended the chaplains of noblemen, attacked in this tender point; and asserted their ancient and undoubted right to Christmas pye. After having exposed the injustice of such an encroachment, he rallies those who had been guilty of it, very agreeably. The Christmas Pye, says he, is, in its own nature, a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction; and yet ‘tis often forbidden to the druid of a family. Strange! that a sirloin of beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire, is exposed to his utmost depredations and incisions; but if minced into small pieces, and tossed up with plumbs and sugar, changes its property, and forsooth is meat for his master.
I must beg leave of the ladies, for presuming to offer them my thoughts upon a subject which they must needs understand better than myself; But if they think I have been impertinent, they may at the same time take their revenge upon me, and bring my dissertation nearer to its subject, by putting it under the next pie they raise.
Morning Post, 26th December 1805
It is estimated that the quantity of plum pudding devoured yesterday, in the United Kingdom, if collected in a heap would in size be about equal to Primrose-hill.
Stamford Mercury, 15th January 1808
At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant, there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs.!
Once again we turn to Hannah Glasse, and her receipt for a Yorkshire Christmas-pie, which bears a resemblance to that served by Earl Grosvenor.
To make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie
FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon.
Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together.
Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge, cover them; then the fowl, then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth.
Cut it to pieces; that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wildfowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven and will take at least four hours.
The crust will take a bushel of flour. These pies are often sent to London in a box as presents; therefore the walls must be well built.
Now, a cautionary tale of a Christmas cake with an added deadly ingredient!
Bury and Norwich Post, 9th January 1811
Another instance of the melancholy effect of want of caution in the disposition of poison, for the purpose of destroying vermin. – John Vellum, shepherd to Mr. Calthorpe, of Gosberton, in Lincolnshire, having invited a party of friends to keep a Christmas feast with him, on Thursday se’nnight, his wife prepared a cake for their entertainment, but the flour running short in the composition of the cake, she unadvisedly added to it a quantity of flour which stood in a jar, already mingled with mercury for the destruction of rats.
A deadly sickness soon pervaded the frames of 13 persons, the unfortunate partakers of this unfriendly benevolence. It was not long however before the cause was discovered, and the skill and activity of Mr. Brocklesby and Mr. Pickworth were exerted in sufficient time to save the lives of 12 out of the 13 persons. It is hoped by this timely interposition the 12 may recover, but before the surgeons arrived, Matthew Slater was dead, having left a wife and daughter to mourn his fate.
Matthew Slater, of Quadring, was buried at Billingborough in Lincolnshire on the 29th December 1810, two days after the fatal Christmas feast.
We move on to a couple of early 19th century recipes for mince pies and offer one traditional meat-based mince pie and one without meat, both taken from A New System of Domestic Cookery, formed upon Principles of Economy, and adapted to the use of Private Families, by ‘A Lady’ (Maria Eliza Rundell), 1808.
Of scraped beef free from skin and strings, weigh 2lb., 4lb. of suet picked and chopped, then add 6lb. of currants nicely cleaned and perfectly dry, 3lb. of chopped apples, the peel and juice of two lemons, a pint of sweet wine, a nutmeg, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, ditto mace, ditto pimento, in finest powder; press the whole into a deep pan when well mixed, and keep it covered in a dry place.
Half the quantity is enough, unless for a very large family.
Have citron, orange, and lemon-peel ready, and put some of each in the pies when made.
Mince Pie without Meat
Of the best apples six pounds, pared, cored, and minced; of fresh suet, and raisins stoned, each three pounds, likewise minced: to these add of mace and cinnamon a quarter of an ounce each, and eight cloves, in finest powder, three pounds of the finest powder sugar, three quarters of an ounce of salt, the rinds of four and juice of two lemons, half a pint of port, the same of brandy. Mix well and put into a deep pan.
Have ready washed and dried four pounds of currants, and add as you make the pies, with candied fruit.
And finally, a couple of references to that age-old gastronomical battle between the French and the English.
Hampshire Telegraph, 20th January 1823
Dr. Schomberg of Reading, in the early part of his life, spent a Christmas at Paris with some English friends. They were desirous to celebrate the season, in the manner of their own country, by having as one dish at their table, an English plum-pudding, but no cook was found equal to the task of compounding it. A clergyman of the party had, indeed, an old receipt-book; but this did not sufficiently explain the process. Dr. Schomberg, however, supplied all that was wanting, by throwing the recipe into the form of a prescription, and sending it to the apothecary to be made up. To prevent all possibility of error, he directed that it should be boiled in a cloth, and sent in the same cloth, to be applied at an hour specified.
At this hour it arrived, borne by the apothecary’s assistant, and preceded by the apothecary himself, drest, according to the professional formality of the time, with a sword. Seeing when he entered the apartment, instead of signs of sickness, a table well-filled and surrounded by very merry faces, he perceived that he was made a party in a joke that turned on himself, and indignantly laid his hand on his sword; but an invitation to taste his own cookery appeased him, and all was well. – Hawkin’s Anecdotes, just published.
Hampshire Chronicle, 27th June 1825
A French author, who has recently published a “Tour through England,” calls plum pudding poudin de plomb (lead pudding).
Mrs DUBOIS’s Portable Soup, or Solid Broth, useful on Journies or at Sea, and not disagreeable to chew when Hunting, and a Chace proves long; or for the ready making Gravy Sauce; made in Cakes of a proper Size to make one Mess each, in Quantity three or four Gills. This Soup is made after the receipt of her late Uncle, Paul Monlong, Cook to the late Duke of Argyll, and with his Grace in Flanders during Queen Anne’s Wars. The Conveniency of which is late well known to several Gentlemen of the Navy, from whom she has Letter with great Commendations. This useful Commodity will never spoil, if kept dry, and is dissolv’d in a few minutes in boiling Water. She has also succeeded (a Thing never attempted by any) in making some of Veal and Fowls, some of Fowls only, and some of Mutton entirely, in which the Herbs are as fresh as when first made. All the above Soups or Broths are 6d each, or 5s. a Dozen, in a Tin Box, for Conveniency of Carriage, and to keep them dry at Sea, are sold at the Golden Head in Prujean-Court, in the Great Old Baily.
General Advertiser, 2nd January, 1748
Mrs Elizabeth Dubois had been advertising the sale of her portable soup in the British newspapers since at least November 1746 when they appear to have first been available in this country. Previously she had sold them in the Netherlands through Mr Arnoldus Brunel Toyman in the Spuy Straat at The Hague (Den Haag). When they first appeared for sale her plan, as stated in the newspaper, was to sell them under the following names: Gravy Soup, Mutton Broth, Chicken Broth, Veal and Fowls. In later years, for Lent, she produced a soup using fish and shellfish, which was also suitable to be stored for many months. To prevent mistakes her cakes of Portable Soups were stamped with her name, Dubois. Whilst she didn’t invent Portable Soup, she is the first person to market it with any degree of success and seems to have been something of an 18th century entrepreneur.
The idea had been about for half a century or so already; something similar was known in France as bouillons en tablettes from at least 1690 and obviously Mrs Dubois’ uncle Paul Monlong (actually her uncle by marriage) had been producing portable soup whilst on campaign with John Campbell, British Army Officer and the 2nd Duke of Argyll and 1st Duke of Greenwich (1680-1743), in the early 1700’s during the War of the Spanish Succession. It is mentioned in a play of 1738 by Robert Dodsley, Sir John Cockle at Court: Being the Sequel of the King and the miller of Mansfield when Sir John Cockle’s French Cook offers to make him ‘portable soup to put in your Pocket’, described as a dish ‘de Englis know not[h]ing of.’
We give a recipe for Portable Soup at the end but, in brief, to make it ‘portable,’ soup was made as normal but then reduced until it was gelatinous and dried. It could then be reconstituted with boiling water and used as soup or gravy and alternatively could be treated more as a biscuit and eaten as it was. Most commonly it was made from the ‘offal’ of a cow; in the 18th century this referred to legs and shins of beef, not what we would term offal today and this misconception has given rise to the notion it was used to prevent scurvy. However it was of particular interest to naval officers as an easily transported and stored provision on board ship and for a nourishing food for the sick and wounded.
I beg leave to remind my former Customers, as well as such Gentlemen as at this Season are setting out on their Travels, but particularly those who are going long Voyages by Sea, of that useful Commodity, viz. Portable Soup, or Solid Broth, sold at the Golden Head, a Print-Shop, the Corner of Burleigh-street, near Exeter Exchange in the strand, by their very humble Servant, Elizabeth Dubois.
General Advertiser, 24th April, 1750
Although some naval men were using it from as early as 1743 it was not until 1756 that Mrs Dubois obtained a contract to supply the navy together with the aptly named William Cookworthy, a Plymouth apothecary. She was certainly advertising herself as Portable Soup Maker to His Majesty’s Navy from October, 1757. Captain Cook extolled its virtues and used it on his South Sea journeys, and it was still in use in the early 1800’s when Lewis and Clarke took Portable Soup as one of the provisions on their expedition.
We hear that Orders are issued by the Commissioners of the Victualling Office, to appropriate for the future all the useful Offal of Oxen, &c. to be prepared into portable Broth or Soup, for the better Accommodation of the Seamen employed on board his Majesty’s Fleet, which it is expected at this dear Time will prove of great Service to the Navy.
Oxford Journal, 6th May, 1758
A couple of adverts in 1750, giving Mrs Dubois’ address as a print shop at the Golden Head on the corner of Burleigh Street, near Exeter Exchange in the Strand, reveal the identity of her husband, Isaac Du Bois, who carried on the trade of a chaser (engraver) and printseller at this address. Isaac had been born in 1704, the eldest child of Isaac and Jane Elizabeth Dubois, née Monlong. He traded under the sign of the Golden Head at various addresses and is probably the same Isaac Du Bois who was declared bankrupt in 1748 (giving his wife a reason to market her Portable Soups to provide for herself) but he seems to have picked up his trade again afterwards.
On the 2nd May, 1750, he placed an advert in the Daily Advertiser informing his customers he was leaving town on account of his health and selling his stock. Later in the year Elizabeth was living at East Ham in Essex although she was still selling her Portable Soup through her shop on the corner of Burleigh Street and by 1752 was at the Golden Head in Brownlow Street near Long Acre.
By November 1756 he had died and the widowed Elizabeth Dubois had married again and was running the business with her new husband, Edward Bennet, a Sheffield man. The couple were living at her former marital home, the Golden Head in Brownlow Street before moving to Fleet Street. The cakes of Portable Soup were henceforth marked with the Elizabeth’s new surname, BENNET.
Edward Bennet and spouse, (late Du Bois) the original portable soup-maker to his Majesty’s Royal Navy, at the Golden-Head, in Fleet-Street, opposite Water-Lane, London, makes and sells portable soups, or solid broths, in cakes of a proper size to make one mess each. (1760)
Bennet’s parents had been amongst the first people in Sheffield to welcome the Reverend John Wesley into their house. Edward moved to London, married Elizabeth Dubois, and made a success of running their joint business from Fleet Street. Edward died in December 1788 and a lengthy obituary of him appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine shortly after, including the following information:
His father was a grinder at Sheffield, and he was brought up to the same employment; but he was endowed with too large a share of abilities and emulation to walk long in so narrow a sphere. He came up to London, in quest of a better occupation; and was for some time engaged at the Tower, in repairing and polishing the armour. Here he became acquainted with Mrs. Dubois, a person of good character and circumstances, whom he married, and with whom he lived in Fleet-Street, and entered into a profitable branch of business, that of making portable soup for exportation. This he followed with great diligence and success, till, by repeated experiments of his own, he had so far made himself master of sugar-refining as to enable him to set up a small house in his native town, which he enlarged as his capital increased and his business extended, till it came to be one of the most considerable in the country.
Edward Bennet’s sugar house was at the bottom of Coalpit Lane in Sheffield and the Methodist minister George Whitefield sometimes preached from its doors. Around 1780 Bennet built an independent chapel near his refinery and officiated there himself as a pastor until his death.
Whilst Edward Bennet concentrated on his sugar refinery in Sheffield, he sold on the portable soup enterprise in London (his wife seems to have ceased advertising in 1771 and it is possible that this marks her death) and by 1780 Benjamin Piper had taken over Mrs Dubois’ business and premises, for the following adverts appeared.
Benjamin Piper, successor to Messieurs Bennet and Dubois, the original portable soup-makers to His Majesty’s Royal Navy, at the Golden Head in Three-King-Court, adjoining to No. 149, in Fleet-Street, opposite Water-Lane, London, makes and sells portable soups, or solid broths. (1780)
RICH FOREIGN CORDIALS, PERFUMERY, &c. AT the PERFUMERY WAREHOUSE, No. 14, Conduit-street, Hanover-square (removed from No. 3 Mill-street) all sorts of rich Foreign Cordials, (liqueurs) warranted genuine and neat as imported, sold wholesale and retail. Where also may be had every article of Perfumery, both English and Foreign, of the best quality: Great choice of Pocket Books, Silk Purses, and all the most approved Family Medicines. Piper’s (late Dubois’) Portable Soup, wholesale and retail, very serviceable at sea and in private families, as an expeditious method of making gravy.
The upper part of a large House to lett, ready furnished. Enquire as above.
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 9th February, 1780.
Benjamin Piper lasted a mere six years at the most, for Thomas Vigor was at the helm by 1786, still supplying the navy and listed in the Sun Fire Insurance registers at Three King Court, Fleet Street as a Portable Soup Maker.
Whilst we can’t be sure that the following recipe matches that of Elizabeth Dubois, passed down to her by her uncle, it is a contemporary one.
Recipe for Portable Soup from The Complete Housewife; Or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, E. Smith, 1773
Take two legs of beef, about fifty pounds weight, take off all the skin and fat as well as you can, then take all the meat and sinews clean from the bones, which meat put into a large pot, and put to it eight or nine gallons of soft water; first make it boil, then put in twelve anchovies, an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, an ounce of whole pepper black and white together, six large onions peeled and cut in two, a little bundle of thyme, sweet-marjoram, and winter-savoury, the dry hard crust of a two-penny loaf, stir it all together and cover it close, lay a weight on the cover to keep it close down, and let it boil softly for eight or nine hours, then uncover it, and stir it together; cover it close again, and let it boil till it is a very rich good jelly, which you will know by taking a little out now and then, and letting it cool. When you think it is a thick jelly, take it off, strain it through a coarse hair bag, and press it hard; then strain it through a hair sieve into a large earthen pan; when it is quite cold, take off the skum and fat, and take the fine jelly clear from the settlings at bottom, and then put the jelly into a large deep well tinned stew-pan. Set it over a stove with a slow fire, keep stirring it often, and take great care it neither sticks to the pan or burns. When you find the jelly very stiff and thick, as it will be in lumps about the pan, take it out, and put it into large deep china-cups, or well-glazed earthen-ware. Fill the pan two-thirds full of water, and when the water boils, set in your cups. Be sure no water gets into the cups, and keep the water boiling softly all the time till you find the jelly is like a stiff glue; take out the cups, and when they are cool, turn out the glue into a coarse new flannel. Let it lie eight or nine hours, keeping it in a dry warm place, and turn it on fresh flannel till it is quite dry, and the glue will be quite hard; put it into clean new stone pots, keep it close covered from dust and dirt, in a dry place, and where no damp can come to it.
When you use it, pour boiling water on it, and stir it all the time till it is melted. Season it with salt to your palate. A piece as big as a large walnut will make a pint of water very rich; but as to that you are to make it as good as you please; if for soup, fry a French roll and lay it in the middle of the dish, and when the glue is dissolved in the water, given it a boil and pour it into the dish. If you chuse it for a change, you may boil either rice or barley, vermicelli, celery cut small, or truffles or morels; but let them be very tenderly boiled in the water before you stir in the glue, and then give it a boil altogether. You may, when you would have it very fine, add forcemeat balls, cocks-combs, or a palate boiled very tender, and cut into little bits; but it will be very rich and good without any of these ingredients.
If for gravy, pour the boiling water on to what quantity you think proper; and when it is dissolved, add what ingredients you please, as in other sauces. This is only in the room of a rich, good gravy. You may make your sauce either weak or strong, by adding more or less.
If you would like to see how to make portable soup today, this video has been recommended by one of our readers.
Sources used not already mentioned: General Advertiser, 10th November, 1746, 23rd April, 1747 and 30th June, 1752; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17th November, 1756 and 15th September, 1764; Read’s Weekly Journal, 8th October, 1757; London Evening Post, 8th December, 1750; The Country Journal, Or, the Craftsman, 1750; Feeding Nelson’s Navy: The True Story of Food at Sea in the Georgian Era, Jane Macdonald, 2004; Reminiscences of Sheffield, R.E. Leader