A Mad Dog in a Coffee House, Thomas Rowlandson, 1809.

A brief history of coffee in the Georgian era

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.

A Mad Dog in a Coffee House, Thomas Rowlandson, 1809.
A Mad Dog in a Coffee House, Thomas Rowlandson, 1809. Yale Center for British Art, The William K. Rose and Eugene A. Carroll Collection

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.

Girl with a tray, Philip Mercier, late 1740s.
Girl with a tray, Philip Mercier, late 1740s. The State Hermitage Museum

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.

Coffee Milk

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.

Breakfast by Jean-Étienne Liotard, c.1752.
Breakfast by Jean-Étienne Liotard, c.1752. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen – Alte Pinakothek München

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.

The Woman Taking Coffee by Louis Marin Bonnet, 1774.
The Woman Taking Coffee by Louis Marin Bonnet, 1774. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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.

Telling fortunes in coffee grounds, 1790.
Telling fortunes in coffee grounds, 1790. Lewis Walpole Library

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.

Three Women Telling Fortune in Coffee, 1780s, Pehr Hilleström.
Three Women Telling Fortune in Coffee, 1780s, Pehr Hilleström.
(Stockholms universitets konstsamling, J. A. Berg Collection #158)

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.)

Mrs Ellen Sharples by Rolinda Sharples, c.1814.
Mrs Ellen Sharples by Rolinda Sharples, c.1814. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

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.

What’s Your Tipple?

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.

Drink to me only with thine eyes, and I will pledge with mine!
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Birch Wine

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.

White Mead

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.

Milk Punch

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.

The Brilliants. Courtesy of the British Museum.
‘The Brilliants’. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Ratafia Cordial

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.

Cowslip Wine

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.

Orgeat Syrup

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.

Sweet Buttermilk

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.

Featured Image

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

A Miscellany of Christmas Pies, Puddings and Cakes

The Christmas pudding

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

WHEN LITTLE JACK HORNER, SO CLOSE IN A CORNER,

SAT EATING OF CHRISTMAS PIE,

HE PUT IN HIS THUMB, AND HE PULLED OUT A PLUM,

AND SAID – WHAT A GOOD BOY AM I!

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.

Xmas day 1800
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

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.

(c) Chester Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Earl Grosvenor (c) Chester Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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.

Mince Pie

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).

Plumb pudding in danger
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library