Handwritten history from Georgian kitchens

Westminster City Archives has today launched a new blog exploring the history of English cooking and the culinary landscape of Georgian London.

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies blog will share recipes from a remarkable manuscript cookbook in Archives Centre’s collection. The book’s handwritten recipes span 150 years of British cookery, providing a fascinating insight into culinary craft of the 18th and 19th centuries.

18th and 19th century recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Image property of Westminster City Archives

18th and 19th century recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The identity of the recipe book’s authors is a mystery, hence the blog’s unusual title. But there are some clues dotted about the cookbook, and we hope that our readers will play a part in helping us to trace the original compilers of the manuscript.

During our research into the Cookbook, we’ve been struck by the surprising parallels with today’s food fashions. There was an emphasis on the ‘fun’ of food, and on creating dishes to amaze and delight. Recipes for puddings of carrots, lumber pie and whipped syllabubs display innovations worthy of Heston Blumenthal.

There are also parallels with today’s ‘slow food’ movement. Kitchens drew largely on seasonal, locally-sourced produce, and as far as possible used food produced in their own smallholdings and gardens. The compilers of the Cookbook make their own cheese from freshly drawn milk, fearlessly stuff calves heads, and demonstrate considerable skill in butchery. They appear deeply connected with the food they eat and where it comes from.

A mackerel seller on the streets of early 19th century London. Image property of Westminster City Archives

A mackerel seller on the streets of early 19th century London. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The recipe book is also a launch pad for exploring the history of food in Westminster and the wider London area. Through the blog, we’ll recreate the sights, sounds and smells of London through its food industry and domestic kitchens, from the city’s famous street cries to the day-to-day life of the Georgian cook.

As part of the project, we’ll be rolling up our sleeves to try out some of the recipes in a modern kitchen. We’ll share our experiences on The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies blog. We hope you’ll get involved too, by giving the recipes a go in your own kitchens, and sending your photos of the results!

[Judith]

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