The Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

Georgian era recipes for cheesecakes, custards, tarts and syllabubs

In our last blog, we looked at the Cheesecake House in Hyde Park where you could feast upon all manner of delicious cheesecakes, custards, tarts and syllabubs. Today, we thought we would share a few Georgian era recipes for these delicacies. One thing we need to get straight from the start, you don’t need cheese to make these cheesecakes… they were more akin to a Yorkshire curd tart.

The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park by Paul Sandby, 1797.
The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park by Paul Sandby, 1797. Royal Collection Trust

Observations upon Creams, Custards, and Cheesecakes

When you make any kind of creams and custards, take great care your tossing-pan be well tinned, put a spoonful of water in it, to prevent the cream from sticking to the bottom of your pan, then beat your yolks of eggs, and strain out the treads, and follow the direction of your receipt.

As to cheesecakes they should not be made long before you bake them, particularly almond or lemon cheesecakes, for standing them makes them oil and look sad, a moderate oven bakes them best, if it is too hot it burns them and takes off the beauty, and a very slow oven makes them sad and look black: make your cheesecakes up just when the oven is of a proper heat, and they will rise well, and be of a proper colour.

The Sense of Taste, English, c.1750.
The Sense of Taste, English, c.1750. Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of New Zealand.

To make Cheesecakes

Set a quart of new milk near the fire, with a spoonful of rennet, let the milk be blood warm, when it is broke drain the curd through a coarse cloth, now and then break the curd gently with your fingers, rub into the curd a quarter of a pound of butter, a quarter of a pound of sugar, a nutmeg and two Naples’ biscuits grated, the yolks of four eggs, and the white of one egg, one ounce of almonds well beat, with two spoonfuls of rose water, and two of sack, clean six ounces of currants very well, put them into your curd, and mix them all well together.

To make Citron Cheesecakes

Boil a quart of cream, beat the yolks of four eggs, mix them with your cream when it is cold, then set it on the fire, let it boil till it curds, blanch some almonds, beat them with orange-flower water, put them into the cream, with a few Naples’ biscuits, and green citron shred fine, sweeten it to your taste, and bake them in tea-cups.

Enter Cowslip with a bowl of cream.
Enter Cowslip with a bowl of cream. © The Trustees of the British Museum

To make Bread Cheesecakes

Slice a penny loaf as thin as possible, pour on it a pint of boiling cream, let it stand for two hours, then take eight eggs, half a pound of butter, and a nutmeg grated, beat them well together, put in half a pound of currants well washed, and dried before the fire, and a spoonful of brandy, or white wine, and bake them in raised crusts, or petty-pans.

To make an Apple Tart

Scald eight or ten large codlings, when cold skim them, take the pulp, and beat it as fine as you can with a silver spoon, then mix the yolks of six eggs, and the whites of four, beat all together as fine as possible, put in grated nutmeg, and sugar to your taste, melt some fine fresh butter, and beat it till it is like a fine thick cream, then make a fine puff paste, and cover a tin petty-pan with it, and pour in the ingredients, but do not cover it with your paste; bake it a quarter of an hour, then slip it out of the petty-pan on a dish, and strew fine sugar, finely beat and sifted all over it.

Detail from Mock Turtle, Puff Pastry by Thomas Rowlandson. Royal Collection Trust (from their website: a buxom female chef rolls out pastry as she is caressed by a lascivious footman wearing green livery. On the table are coddling tarts, apple dumpling and batter pudding.)
Detail from Mock Turtle, Puff Pastry by Thomas Rowlandson. Royal Collection Trust (from their website: a buxom female chef rolls out pastry as she is caressed by a lascivious footman wearing green livery. On the table are coddling tarts, apple dumpling and batter pudding.)

To make Solid Syllabubs

Take a quart of rich cream, and put in a pint of white wine, the juice of four lemons and sugar to your taste, whip it up very well, and take off the froth as it rises, put it upon a hair sieve, and let it stand till the next day in a cool place, fill your glasses better than half full with the thin, then put on the froth, and heap it as high as you can; the bottom will look clear, and keep several days.

The Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.
The Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

To make Lemon Syllabubs

To a pint of cream put a pint of double refined sugar, the juice of seven lemons, and grate the rinds of two lemons into a pint of white wine, and half a pint of sack, then put them into a deep pot, and whisk them for half an hour, put it into glasses the night before you want it: it is better for standing two or three days, but it will keep a week, if required.

Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.
Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

To make a common Custard

Take a quart of good cream, set it over a slow fire, with a little cinnamon, and four ounces of sugar; when it is boiled take it off the fire; beat the yolks of eight eggs, put to them a spoonful or orange-flower water to prevent the cream from cracking, stir them in by degrees as your cream cools, put the pan over a very slow fire, stir them carefully one way till it is almost boiling, then put it into cups, and serve them up.

The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778. An officer can be seen eating a custard or syllabub.
The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778. An officer can be seen eating a custard or syllabub. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Almond Custards

Put a quart of cream into a tossing-pan, a stick of cinnamon, a blade or two of mace, boil it and set it to cool, blanch two ounces of almonds, beat them fine in a marble mortar with rose water, if you like a ratafia taste put in a few apricot kernels, or bitter almonds, mix them with your cream, sweeten it to your taste, set it on a slow fire, keep stirring it till it is pretty thick, if you let it boil it will curdle, pour it into cups, &c.


The experienced English house-keeper, consisting of near 800 original receipts by Elizabeth Raffald, 1808 (first published in 1769)

Dessert Still Life by John F. Francis.

Strawberries and cream: a Wimbledon tradition with a long history

With the commencement of Wimbledon, our thoughts – naturally – turn towards that perennial British summer favourite, fresh strawberries and cream.

Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (or rather, his cook!) is often credited with first serving this treat; legend has it that the king and court descended on Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court and the harassed cook, in an inventive moment, decided to serve wild strawberries and cream as one of the desserts at the banquet. Perhaps he was running out of time to produce anything more complicated? Dairy produce was considered  ‘peasant food’ but, if the king ate it, then everyone else was going to as well. And so the combination gained popularity which continued, and during the long eighteenth-century people enjoyed their strawberries and cream just as much as we do today.

Dessert Still Life by John F. Francis.
Dessert Still Life by John F. Francis. Yale University Art Gallery

A popular cookbook, Cookery reformed; or, The Lady’s assistant, 1755, had this advice:

There are two sorts of strawberries, those that grow in gardens, and those that will not. The garden strawberries are best, and most in esteem, of which some are red, and some are white. They should be chosen large, ripe, full of juice, with a fragrant smell, and a vinous taste. They are cooling, quench thirst, promote urine and take off the heat of the stomach. They may be eaten after dinner with cream, and sugar, or with wine, without any prejudice, avoiding excess. They are very useful in hot weather, especially to those of warm constitutions.

Still Life with Wild Strawberries, Adriaen Coorte, 1705.
Still Life with Wild Strawberries, Adriaen Coorte, 1705. Mauritshuis


ARCHIBALD DICK informs his friends, and the public in general, that he continues as formerly to sell STRAWBERRIES and CREAM, at his house on Leith Walk, the first above the Botanic Garden. Besides the different apartments in the house, he has pitched two Marquees in his garden, for the better accommodation of company.

Families in the New Town may be served with the above, at his Spirit Shop, west end of Register Street, where the fruit will arrive fresh from the garden three times every day, viz. at six o’clock in the morning, one o’clock in the afternoon, and seven in the evening. Other FRUITS likewise in their season.

Calendonian Mercury, 19th June 1788

Strawberrys, Scarlet Strawberrys from The Cries of London, 1795.
Strawberrys, Scarlet Strawberrys from The Cries of London, 1795. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The basket in hands of the seller above is a pottle, and up to around 50 or 60 of these would be carried in the large basket balanced on her head.

Strawberries – Brought fresh gathered to the markets in the height of their season, both morning and afternoon, they are sold in pottles containing something less than a quart each. The crier adds one penny to the price of the strawberries for the pottle which if returned by her customer, she abates. Great numbers of men and women are employed in crying strawberries during their season through the streets of London at sixpence per pottle.

A Lady in Full Dress, Seen from Behind by Samuel Scott.
A Lady in Full Dress, Seen from Behind by Samuel Scott. The Tate

In June 1813, Lady Smith Burges held a public breakfast on the terrace of her Piccadilly townhouse, resembling a fête champêtre. As the guests arrived, at the fashionably late hour (for a breakfast) of 3 o’clock in the afternoon, serenaded by Mr Gow’s Band, they were provided with delicacies laid out on various tables, all provided by the well-known Regency caterers, Gunters. Strawberry and cream ices were a highlight of the repast.

Frederick Nutt, formerly apprenticed to the confectioner Domenico Negri (who sold ice cream from his shop under the sign of The Pot and Pineapple in Berkeley Square from the 1760s), published a recipe book, The Complete Confectioner, in 1789. From that book, we have a recipe for strawberry ice cream which may be similar to that served by Gunters.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Take a large spoonful of strawberry jam, add a pint of cream and a little cochineal; put it into your freezing pot and cover it; put the freezing pot into a pail, and some ice all round the pot; throw a good deal of salt on the ice in the pail, turning the pot round for ten minutes, then open your pot, and scrape it from the sides, cover it up again, and keep turning it for some time, till your cream is like butter, and as thick; put it in your moulds, put them into a pail, and cover it with ice and salt for three quarters of an hour, till you find the water is come to the top of the pail; do not be sparing of salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze: dip your mould into water, and turn it out on your plate to send to table.

A basket of strawberries
A basket of strawberries, English school. Christie’s

So, in what other ways did the Georgians devour strawberries. Well, never mind deep fried Mars Bars today, how about battered strawberries? From Cookery reformed; or, The Lady’s assistant, 1755, we offer a recipe for Strawberry Fritters.

Having made a batter with flour, a spoonful of sweet oil, another of white wine, a little rasped lemon-peel, and the whites of two or three eggs, make it pretty soft, so as just to drop with a spoon. Mix it with some large strawberries, and drop them with a spoon into the hot fritters. When they are of a good colour, take them out, and drain them on a sieve. When they are done, strew some sugar over them, and glaze them.

Basket of Strawberries, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1761.
Basket of Strawberries, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1761. The Athenaeum

The 1808 (unofficial) edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s, The Experienced English Housekeeper (first published in 1769) contains recipes for preserving strawberries and for making strawberry jam, both perfect to make the fruit last through to the colder months.

To preserve strawberries whole

Get the finest scarlet strawberries with their stalks on before they are too ripe, then lay them separately on a china dish, beat and sift twice their weight of double refined sugar, and strew it over them, then take a few ripe scarlet strawberries, crush them, and put them into a jar, with their weight of double refined sugar beat small, cover them close, and let them stand in a kettle of boiling water till they are soft, and the syrup is come out of them, then strain them through a muslin rag into a tossing-pan, boil and skim it well, when it is cold put in your whole strawberries, and set them over the fire till they are milk warm, then take them off, and let them stand till they are quite cold, then set them on again and make them a little hotter, do so several times till they look clear, but do not let them boil, it will fetch the stalks off; when the strawberries are cold, put them into jelly glasses, with the stalks downwards, and fill up your glasses with the syrup; tie them down with brandy papers over them.

They are very pretty among jellies and creams, and proper for setting out a dessert of any kind.

Still Life of a Bowl of Strawberries, Standing Cup, a Bottle of Rose Water, a Sugar Loaf and a Box of Sugar; The Merchant's House
Still Life of a Bowl of Strawberries, Standing Cup, a Bottle of Rose Water, a Sugar Loaf and a Box of Sugar; The Merchant’s House

To make Red Strawberry Jam

Gather the scarlet strawberries very ripe, bruise them very fine, and put to them a little juice of raspberries, beat and sift their weight in sugar, strew it among them, and put them in the preserving pan, set them over a clear slow fire, skim them and boil them twenty minutes, then put them into pots or glasses for use.

Sources not mentioned above:

Morning Post, 24th June 1813

Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume with Notices of Remarkable Places given in the Background, William Marshall Craig, 1804

The Greedy Queen: historic recipes recreated at York Mansion House

We are thrilled to be able to welcome Danielle Bond, Communications officer, for City of York Council to our blog and Dr Annie Gray, food historian and lecturer who has been recreating historic recipes for Georgian gem York Mansion House. We will now hand you over to Danielle to tell you more.

Dr Annie Gray, author of The Greedy Queen, in the kitchen of York Mansion House.Dr Annie Gray leans over the brick chafing stove posing for photos with two woodcocks tightly gripped in her hands as little droplets of blood spatter on the ground. One thing that becomes quickly apparent when meeting Annie Gray is her passion for what she does and the constant question from people who surround her ‘are you squeamish?’ for reasons you can well understand.

She wasn’t able to get a chance to cook in the York Mansion House kitchen just yet as its completion has been slightly delayed, but the bones of this Georgian kitchen are there with a roasting spit, a chafing stove (used for warming and pictured above) and a wood burning oven. The Georgian kitchen is one of the most exciting restoration projects and will help to illustrate three centuries of cooking and eating in the house and interpret and explore the lives of those who have worked there. This is a fully restored 18th century kitchen using original artefacts and architectural features: any modern recreations are made in the traditional manner, including bricks handmade from local clay.The Greedy Queen by Dr Annie Gray.

As we watch Annie finish preparing her historic recipes she pauses to peel open her beautifully covered, recently released book ‘The Greedy Queen’. The fantastic images of Queen Victoria’s dresses include her petite wedding dress and then a notably larger dress, clearly showing the aptness of the book’s title. Annie smiles delightedly, eyes sparkling and reads a passage about her favourite dish – the hundred guinea dish, a ghoulish-sounding monstrosity including, most notably, turtle heads arranged to look as though they are vomiting skewers of sweetbreads.

“Oh I think it sounds wonderful,” she says exuberantly to my grimacing face.

Dr Annie Gray in the kitchen of York Mansion House. "The copper egg mixing bowl was a vital part of the 18th century kitchen."We step into a room prepared for filming and silence falls. I look across to see beef alamode sat ready to be cooked with bacon artfully needled throughout the rump as the smell of fresh garlic pierces the air. A whole nutmeg is smashed in an enviable brass pestle and mortar and a lovely copper bowl used for egg mixing is pulled in to the shot from the side.

“The copper egg mixing bowl was a vital part of the 18th century kitchen,” Annie exclaims. “if you want to replicate how the copper bowl stiffens the eggs you have to add a bit of lemon juice.”

Her love of food and history is not lost on anyone who meets her and it makes the whole experience just plain fun to watch.

I had the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions as well:

1. Danielle Bond: What drew you to the history of food?

Dr Annie Gray: I have always loved history, and I’ve been a keen cook (and eater) since I lived in France when I was 16. In 2003 I did an MA in historical archaeology at the University of York, as part of which we studied food and the rituals around it, and I realised that I could combine both of my passions. I knew I wanted to work with museums and heritage sites and within the field of public history, so I was looking for a field which had the potential for wide public engagement. Everyone eats, and everyone eventually admits to an opinion on food, so it’s a great way to bring people in and then use it to explore wider historical themes.

2. Danielle Bond: What do you find intriguing about the York Mansion House kitchen?

Dr Annie Gray: It’s been fascinating working with Mansion House from the very beginning of the Opening Doors project. Watching the layers of time being progressively peeled back from a kitchen which has been in use from the 18th century to the present day is a really special and quite unique opportunity. 

3. Danielle Bond: Why have you chosen the recipes of Beef alamode and woodcocks specifically?

Dr Annie Gray: We’ve used a menu from 1789, so we know these dishes were cooked at the Mansion House, and woodcock bones were found in the course of archaeological work in the courtyard. 

4. Danielle Bond: What is your favourite piece in the York Mansion House kitchen and why?

Dr Annie Gray: The spit, which is a 19th century addition. Spit roasting was so prestigious in the past, and yet now it’s almost completely lost. I know from working in country houses with spits that as an object it’ll be really interesting for visitors, but more than that, it was the sole object which remained in the kitchen to give a hint of its past when I first looked round them over five years ago.

5. How do you think a kitchen and food can give us a unique view on history?

Dr Annie Gray: Food is a universal: we all eat, and we do it a lot. It’s the one thing we all have in common, and yet we all do it so differently. Through food we can gain insights into class, and beliefs, and lives as lived, not merely as reported. There’s a growing realisation that history isn’t all about men with guns charging across the world, but is made up of little moments, and countless people whose names we may never even know. Food helps us get beyond the stuff so many of us were taught at school and into the grimy, violent and unbelievably exciting underbelly of the past.

Here’s to more cooking and history from Annie Gray, I’m looking forward to seeing her first cooking experience in the York Mansion House’s kitchen.

York Mansion House: a Georgian gem

I am so excited for this Georgian gem in the heart of York to re-open after its extensive and careful restoration with Richard Pollitt, Mansion House curator at the helm. The Opening Doors Restoration project for York Mansion House was made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, funding from City of York Council and a variety of grants and generous donations totalling £2.3 million. The project improves the visitor experience by beautifully restoring this unique piece of York’s architectural and civic history, allowing more people than ever to enjoy it.

York Mansion House will be open to visitors in the early Autumn, please like us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on events and happenings.

Still Life of a Bowl of Strawberries, Standing Cup, a Bottle of Rose Water, a Sugar Loaf and a Box of Sugar; The Merchant's House

‘The Whole Duty of a Woman’ in 1737

Well, who would have believed it, in 1737 a book was written outlining how a woman should behave!  It is a fascinating little book as combined with The Duty of a Virgin, a Wife and a Widow we have cookery recipes, modesty, religion and best of all ‘a wife’s behaviour to a drunkard’.

It could possibly have been a Georgian equivalent of a ‘Mrs Beeton’ maybe.  The book was written to provide a woman with guidance about how to live her life during all three stages and appears to have been written from a female perspective although whether it was actually written by a woman seems unclear.  In all likelihood, it was written by a man and there appear to be some suggestions that it could have been written by a William Kenrick, but whether correct or not we will never know as the book had no author named.


Rather than looking at the duties of a woman in this blog, we are going to look at the cookery section and for those with an interest in Georgian cuisine, it is full of amazing recipes and most notably their immense obsession for adding nutmeg to nearly every recipe! There are recipes for virtually every day of the year, along with meals planners, so no shortage of ideas. Below we offer a sample for your delectation.

Gravy for White Sauce

Take part of a knuckle of veal or the worst part of the neck of veal, boil about a pound of this in a quart of water, an onion, some pepper, six cloves,  a little salt, a bunch of sweet herbs,  half a nutmeg sliced, let it boil an hour then strain it off and keep for use.

An Oyster Soup

Your stock must be of fish, then take two quarts of oysters, set them and beard them; take the hard part of the oysters from the other and beat them in a mortar with ten hard yolks of eggs, put in some good stock, season with pepper, salt and nutmeg, then thicken up your soup as cream; put in the rest of your oysters and garnish with oysters.

A Neck of Lamb - a Round of Beef - and a Scrag of Mutton
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Salmon in Cases

Get a piece of salmon, take off the skin; mince some parsley, green onions and mushrooms. Put your parsley and green onions into a stew pan with some butter , season with pepper and salt then put in your salmon without putting it over the fire again and toss it up to give it a taste; place your slices of salmon in a paper case. Put your seasoning upon it and strew crumbs over all, let it bake to a fine colour. Your salmon being done serve it up with lemon juice for a small entrée.

Beef Fillets

Fillets or slices of beef larded, marinated with vinegar, salt, pepper, cloves, thyme and onions must be roasted leisurely on a spit and then put into good gravy with truffles and garnished with marinated pigeons or chickens.

Oatmeal Pudding

Get a pint of fine oatmeal, boil it in new milk and cream, a little cinnamon and nutmeg and beaten mace and when it is about the thickness of a Hasty Pudding, take it off and stir in half a pound of sweet butter and eight eggs (leave out the whites) very well beaten and put in two or three spoonfuls of sack and make a puff paste and lay round your dish and butter it very well and bake it well, but not too much.

The chop house Finucane delint
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

 Stewed Red Cabbage

Cut your cabbage fine and small, stove it with gravy and sausages and a piece of ham; season with pepper and salt before you sent it away , put in a little elder vinegar and mix it well together which will turn it a reddish colour to serve away hot.

Quaking Pudding

We take a pint and somewhat more of thick cream, ten eggs, put in the whites of three only, beat them well with two spoonfuls of rose water. Mingle with your cream three spoonfuls of fine flour; mix it so well that there are no lumps in it. Put it altogether and season it according to your taste. Butter a cloth very well and let it be thick that it may not run out and let it boil for an hour as fast as you can, then take it up and make a sauce with butter, rose water and sugar and serve it. You may stick some blanched almonds upon it if you please.

The dinner spoild
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Header image

Still Life of a Bowl of Strawberries, Standing Cup, a Bottle of Rose Water, a Sugar Loaf and a Box of Sugar; The Merchant’s House