Georgian Recipes and Remedies: A Country Lady’s Household Handbook
Michael J. Rochford
Pen & Sword History (2021 – first published 2020)
Paperback, 240 pages
Illustrations: 50 black and white
In Georgian Recipes and Remedies, Michael J. Rochford has presented a scrumptious treat of a book, which opens the world of the Georgian kitchen and shows us how we can feast just as the Georgians would have done.
Rochford’s work is compiled from a collection of recipes in Nostell Priory, near Wakefield in North Yorkshire. Drawn from the personal collection of Sabine Louise D’Hervart (1734-1798), wife to Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet (1739-1785), the recipes offer a taste of Georgian cooking from one of the great houses of England, ranging from savoury dishes including pies, meats, fish, and cheeses, to recipes for cakes, jams, and jellies. Additionally, Rochford has chosen to include some interesting recipes from an 1807 collection of ‘receipts’ – the Georgian description for recipes – which can be found in A Universal Repository of Useful Knowledge, a collection of over 600 Georgian recipes.
To enable the reader to fully engage with these ‘receipts’ the author has followed modern standards for recipe books and reordered the recipes by separating the ingredients from the method, rather than the original style of presenting the ingredients and method in a single block of prose as used in Georgian recipes. Having tried out some of the recipes, this approach makes the instructions easy to follow without losing the authenticity of the prose used to describe the original method of preparing these dishes.
The first half of this book is devoted to the kitchen, with the second providing details of a range of recipes for medicinal concoctions, replete with pills and salves for common ailments including colds, dropsy and even a part-medicine part-spell to cure a mad dog! As Rochford comments, unlike the recipes from the kitchen, these pills and lozenges are perhaps best left to idle curiosity rather than active recreation, particularly the cure for mad dogs which involved force feeding the afflicted dog with a buttered piece of parchment inscribed with an incantation. Whilst it would be best to take the author’s recommendation and not attempt to sample these included cures, they do provide a wonderful insight into common ailments of the period and the blurred borders which science straddled at the time, partly trial and error and partly magical.
To fully embrace with this work, I thought it only right to try a couple of these recipes to see how easy they are to follow and to have the opportunity to sample some Georgian fayre myself. Leafing through the pages I alighted upon the recipe for Stewed Haddock or Perch and served this with a preparation for Sparagrass (asparagus) and a dessert of Seed Cake Another Way. Commencing with the main course, the asparagus was a flavourful departure from our contemporary preparations for this vegetable. The recipe calls for the asparagus to be boiled with mint, drained, served with cream, and seasoned with nutmeg, and is an excellent accompaniment to the stewed haddock. Whilst I was cautious embarking on the fish element of the meal, as several previous attempts at historical fish-based recipes were not always successful. However, this recipe was a true delight, rather than stewing, the haddock is fried, so the stew comes from the liquor sauce which is boiled alongside and served on the plate. This liquor is a real treat and will become a must have sauce at my dinner table going forward. The base consists of white wine and water flavoured with onions, anchovies, and sweet herbs such as thyme and marjoram, the result is light but packs a punch. As a testimony to how good this liquor is I’ve been using the leftovers as a condiment to pies and even a dipping sauce for sandwiches.
Finally, the dessert, Seed Cake Another Way, which calls for two hours beating eggs to produce the necessary rise to the cake. After some cross-referencing with a Ukrainian recipe book, which utilises a similar technique, and the benefit of a mixer, I was able to cut the time down to five minutes. The final result was thicker than many contemporary cakes, but the main flavouring of caraway seeds produced a light taste, as a great end to any meal.
This was the joy of reading through these recipes as each offers the opportunity to experiment with recreating the originals in a very accessible way. This is due to Rochford’s work on transcribing and reordering these recipes to match the current trends in cookbooks, which makes it easy for any reader to pick up this book and start experimenting with a wonderful selection of Georgian recipes. Georgian Recipes and Remedies is a great addition to the works on the culinary history of Britain and the home remedies of the era.