Thursday, 29 March 2012

Charles Carter's 1730 Prunella and Tamarind Tort

Charles Carter's Tamarind Tort
When I started collecting antiquarian cookery books as a teenage schoolboy nearly half a century ago, the third or fourth one I bought was Charles Carter's The Complete Practical Cook (London: 1730). This magnificent volume is well known to collectors for its spectacular plates of baroque table layouts, but for me it is one of the truly great English books out of which to cook. Carter's recipes are distinctly different from those of his contemporaries. Some are spectacular. I have already posted a page on my website about his marvellous Banniet Tort, a kind of pancake pie with preserved peel, but my favourite pastry dish from his recipe collection is one he calls a prunella and tamarind tort.

Prunellas, or prunellos were dried plums, what we call today prunes. During Carter's lifetime these were imported to London from Portugal and Spain. A few of the celebrated prunes de brignolle also found their way here from France, but most appear to have come from the Iberian Peninsula and the Straights. After explaining how many prunellos were imported in 1694-5, John Houghton F.R.S. tells us 'they are something used in physic as a gentle purging medicine, but I think their greatest consumption is ordinary folk selling them stewed, and what is put into plum-pottage at Christmas. The quantity at first sight seems large, but if there be eight millions of people in the kingdom, it is not an ounce and quarter for each; for it makes but 9972480 ounces.'* So with an annual consumption as low as this, prunes were not as common as they are now. I have made Carter's tort with prunes a number of times and it is excellent, but I prefer to use his alternative of tamarinds, a fruit which was much rarer in eighteenth century England. This delicious custard tort is a spectacular use of this wonderful acidic fruit, which found its way here via the East India Company.

A tamarind tree from Pierre Pomet, A Complete History of Drugs (London: 1714)
Tamarind tree in Old Bagan, Myanmar
Tamarind pods on the tree
Harvested pods
Cracked open tamarind pod 
The stringy inner casing has to be removed from the tamarind flesh
Seeds removed from tamarind pulp, which is rolled into little balls 
It is not clear from Carter's recipe whether he intended us to put the prunes or tamarinds into the tort intact, including their stones. Prune stones are easy enough to remove, but tamarinds are a little more troublesome. We have all become such lazy eaters nowadays that we expect the kitchen to have already removed bones, pips and stones from our food before it is placed before us. Our ancestors were not so fussy, so it is likely that the prunes or tamarinds were put in whole, just as pigeons were into pies. However, what I do is to remove the seeds from the tamarind pulp and roll the flesh into little balls which I scatter round a blind baked pastry case before I pour in the cinnamon and mace flavoured custard.  

I serve slices of Carter's tamarind tort with a truly delicious tamarind ice cream, which I make from a recipe from another marvellous book - John Conrade Cooke's Cookery and Confectionery (London: 1824). Here it is below. Cooke also gives us a stunning Tamarind Water Ice. So in English cookery, tamarind was not just an ingredient of Worcester Sauce.

Carter's Tamarind Tort teamed up with Cooke's Tamarind Cream Ice

* John Houghton, A Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade. London 1727. III. pp.14-15.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hot Cross Buns and Grains of Paradise

Grains of paradise flavoured hot cross buns together with a bun docker

Just before Christmas I was in St Alban's Cathedral recording an interview on twelfth cakes and other Christmas food with Edward Stourton for the BBC Radio 4 programme Sunday. After the recording I had an interesting conversation with Dr Jeffrey John, the dean of St Alban’s about another traditional, but more local cake – the St. Alban’s Bun. This is sometimes described as the ancient prototype of the well-known hot cross bun, which was once only eaten on Good Friday. Hot cross buns can now be bought all year round in most supermarkets. Even ‘gourmet’ versions are appearing on the scene. Heston Blumenthal’s Earl Grey and Mandarin Hot Cross Bun was recently launched by Waitrose, who also market another flavoured with cherry and dark chocolate. The British are a curious race. We allow most of our real domestic traditional foods to become totally extinct and then happily buy a factory-made one all the year round that was intended just to be eaten on one day!

According to Dr. John, there is an extant recipe for St Alban’s buns kept at the cathedral. It is said to date back to 1361, when a local monk called Thomas Rockcliffe first started distributing them on Good Friday to the poor of the city. As far as unusual ingredients are concerned, Rockcliffe’s recipe could give Heston Blumenthal's a run for its money, as the ancient bun is flavoured with 'grains of paradise'. This spice is hardly known today, but was common enough in medieval English cookery. It was a costly, high status ingredient, though a cathedral close or monastic kitchen is the sort of place you might have found it in the fourteenth century. Abbots and their kind had aristocratic tastes, but did they want to share the expensive contents of their spice cupboards with the poor?  I guess if you are going to spice up a bun with religious significance, grains of paradise would be an appropriate choice. I have not seen the recipe, so do not know if it is in an original manuscript or in the form of a later transcription. Who am I to doubt the word of a man of God? But as someone who is very sceptical about the phenomenon of the 'ancient secret recipe', I would want to see the original before I am completely convinced of its authenticity. 

Grains of Paradise, sometimes called Meleguata pepper

Another unique feature claimed by the dean for the St Alban’s bun is the way in which it is embellished with a cross. Rather than having two crossed lines piped across the top, which is the modern way of embellishing the bun, the mark of the cross is pressed or slashed into it. This last fact interests me a great deal, because I remember that the hot cross buns we ate in the 1950s, were marked in this way. And my family did not live in St. Albans. Those piped with lines of dough only started to appear later in my childhood. There are directions to stamp buns with a cross in some nineteenth century recipes. The Victorian baker Frederick Vine in Saleable Shop Goods (London: 1898) even gives us illustrated instructions on how to make a bun docker, the tool used to do the job. For some years now I have been using one of these to mark my hot cross buns. If you want to make one yourself, here are Vine's instructions.

How to Make a Bun Docker.

Take two thin pieces of hard wood about 3 ins. long,
  2 ½ ins. wide, and ¼ in. thick. The sides of a cigar box
 would supply it very well, and then with a fine, sharp
 meat-saw cut a slot in each piece (as shown in Fig. 38).
 Now by reversing one piece, and fixing the two slots 
together, you form a cross. 

Fig. 38

Having made the blades, the next thing is to get a solid piece of wood about 3 ins.
square and l ¼ ins. thick, and with the saw cut a groove evenly in it, in which to tightly fix the cross. Have
 four long French nails and drive them into the block,
 one between each blade of the cross, as shown in the sketch (Fig. 39), and then file them up to sharp points;
 have some glue melted and fix in the blades, sharpen 
up with a knife, and your docker is complete. 

Fig. 39

 will find this wooden cross far and away before any made 
of metal you can use for the purpose, as it will not cut
 the buns into four separate pieces, but only just sufficient
 for your requirements.

After proving and moulding the buns are docked

When baked they have a distinct cross which bakes lighter

When the docker is pressed hard into the bun you also get a cross on the underside - buy one get one free!

The dean and his colleagues have recently been in the headlines for wanting to claim the hot cross bun back for Good Friday. They dislike the fact that it is available all year. I agree with them. I see no reason why Heston's bun (which I have tried and it is delicious) and all the other mass-produced ones that appear all year round in the shops should be marked with a cross. They would taste just the same if they were made without one and were just called buns. There is something special about a dish that is eaten on one day of the year only. But of course, the supermarkets will never agree to this. Recently, however the Sainsbury in-house bakery in St. Alban's have been making some Alban buns for the cathedral. They have substituted cardamom for the original grains of paradise. The latter are a cardamom relative, though they come from West Africa rather than Asia and have a very different flavour. I made an experimental batch with real grains of paradise yesterday and they were tasty, but pungently peppery. I will make them again on Good Friday morning. 

St Alban's cathedral has a bit of a history when it comes to unusual flavours (and for duping its visitors). When the humanist scholar Humphrey Duke of Gloucester died in 1447, his body was buried in the cathedral in a beautiful perpendicular gothic tomb. In the eighteenth century,  his coffin was opened and the body was discovered to be perfectly preserved in alcohol. All who saw it were amazed at how well he had weathered four centuries in his marinade of aqua vitae. The cathedral vergers started selling the Humphrey-flavoured liquid in small bottles as a cure-all and cosmetic wash to counteract ageing. When it ran out and the body started to decay, they went to the local taverns to buy more spirit to top up the coffin! 

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester's tomb in St Albans

Coming back to hot cross buns, these cakes actually have a rather opaque history, which is too complex to deal with in a mere blog posting. It would need a sizeable book to do justice to the subject. As with a lot of folk foods, they possess a remarkable power to continue to generate myths about their origins. As was their wont, eighteenth and nineteenth century antiquarians like John Brand, William Hone and Robert Chambers were all keen to link them with rituals and foods from classical antiquity and the pre-christian era. Their interesting, yet conjectural theories form the basis of much of the hot cross folklore that survives to this day. This has happened to such an extent that a number of journalists have recently questioned St Alban's claims to the oldest bun. 'But they had hot cross buns in ancient Greece' they cry, - or 'the hot cross bun evolved from a ritual cake sacred to the pre-Christian goddess Eostre, its four quarters symbolising the four phases of the moon.' As if this were all indisputable truth. Here is a link to a clip of a St Alban's cleric being interrogated in this fashion -

Watch an interview with Canon Kevin Walton of St Albans for ITV News on the subject of Alban buns  

I often get interviewed by the media at this time of year about hot cross buns and their history. Here is a link to a BBC website article from 2010.

How did hot cross buns become two a penny?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Edible Artistry

An eighteenth century rococo dessert I created at the Bowes Museum in 1994 using a Chelsea botanical dessert service, Derby fruit baskets and figures. The sugar paste palace is surrounded by parterres filled with coloured sugar sands (sables d'office). All the confectionery items are made from eighteenth century recipes. The panelling in the room was taken from Chesterfield House, which had the earliest rococo interior in England.

I have always been fascinated by the aesthetics of food and how it relates to prevailing trends in the mainstream visual arts of a given period. Dine in a good contemporary restaurant these days and your various menu choices will almost certainly be arranged rakishly on the plate with a garniture of gestural smears, dustings and drizzles. The prevailing aesthetic seems to be a culinary form of abstract impressionism.  I had a nice lunch a couple of days ago in a promising new local brasserie. My starter was not quite an Arshile Gorky, my main course definitely a Willem de Kooning and my dessert a Mark Rothko, though painted crimson in coulis, sorbet and wild strawberry tuile rather than acrylics. But it must be said that what might seem like a cutting edge arrangement of food sitting on a dinner plate today will in a few years almost certainly look dated. 'Did we really eat like that?' you will probably ask, 'And did we really call it molecular gastronomy? How embarrassing!' Food is as subject to the vagaries of fashion as clothes, popular music and most other cultural manifestations.

In the past, the prevailing styles of decorative art not only dictated the form and ornamentation, lets say, of a silver or porcelain dinner service, but frequently also the appearance of the food that was served on it. Some high status dishes in the medieval and early modern periods were not merely decorative, but adorned with images of allegorical, heraldic or religious significance. Witness the sixteenth century Portuguese almond paste mould below, carved with an image of Orpheus playing music to the beasts and birds - or the early modern French multi-purpose food mould with hunting scenes and coats of arms.

Photo: courtesy of Errol Manners

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, pies with incredible baroque pastry decorations similar to those on plasterwork and woodcarving were a common element at important feasts. The pastry cooks who made these extraordinary food items possessed skills which were frequently as well developed as those of artists who worked in more conventional media.

An eighteenth century dessert like the one illustrated at the beginning of this post might be surrounded with ice creams, flummeries and blancmanges moulded in the form of obelisks, tromp l'oeil baskets of fruit and other spectacular delights. The smears and drizzles of twenty-first century restaurant food, though attractive to us, would have seemed puzzling to an eighteenth century diner who expected a dessert dish to look more like this - 

Flummery made from a Wedgewood creamware mould c.1790

When the manufacture of food moulds started on an industrial scale in the nineteenth century, it was not just the wealthy who enjoyed artistically wrought food. Moulded dishes both savoury and sweet became fashionable at most levels of society. In the early Victorian period some diners even celebrated the accession of their young monarch with a jelly moulded in the form of her profile, rather like that on the celebrated penny black stamp issued in 1840.

Nineteenth century English food was certainly intricate and highly decorated, as appearance was just as important as taste. 

The extraordinary Victorian Belgrave jelly with its internal spirals of cream 

Watch the above video of the remarkable Belgrave Jelly in motion

A basket of flowers - this time made in fruit-flavoured water ices rather than flummery 
By the 1880s this highly ornamental style of cuisine was being practiced by home cooks as well as professionals. Cookery schools like that of Mrs Agnes B. Marshall in Mortimer Street, London were not only teaching housewives and domestic cooks how to make these spectacular dishes, but also sold you the necessary moulds, cutters and other equipment.

So if you wanted to make the bundle of asparagus made of water ice like that above, you could not only buy the necessary moulds from Mrs Marshall's shop, but also learn the very tricky art of using them in one of her cookery lessons. By the way, all the food depicted in this post was made by me or by my students in my cookery classes. I can teach you how to make technically challenging dishes like this using original period equipment. So have a look at the courses page on my website. 

Mrs Marshall with her cookery class. Her apron and cuffs were as fancy as her culinary creations

I have said that food presentation has always been subject to the influence of fashion, but it can also reflect more important issues, such as those of sensibility. For instance, the four ways of dishing up larks below, from Mrs Marshall’s The Cookery Book (London: 1885) may have looked appetizing and even charming to a Victorian diner, but a restaurant serving these little guys today would probably get a brick thrown through its windows. These steel engravings do illustrate just how food ornamentation has dramatically changed.

The manner in which the food was actually served at table also had a profound effect on the style of presentation. Nowadays, restaurant food is delivered to each diner in the form of an individual plated-up serving, nicely manicured and tweaked by the chef. Mrs Marshall’s food was not designed for restaurants, but for serving in homes. Her dishes were cut up and served out at the table, so the aim was to have larger, often striking arrangements from which portions would be cut and shared out. Some of these dishes, especially the entrées and entremets, would look spectacular when first delivered to the table, but once attacked with a knife, the result would often be a mess. The salmon dish below, which I made from a recipe in Jules Gouffe, The Royal Cookery Book (London: 1868) with its ermine-like contised fillets of sole, truffled quenelles of whiting, whole truffles and crayfish looks far too amazing to eat! Such a pity to cut it all up and destroy the effect.

Salmon à la Chambord 1868

Mrs Marshall died in 1905. Her fussy, highly ornamental food represented a style of dining that went back to the Second Empire and eventually to Carême. It was enjoying its final sunset in those years leading up to the Great War and she was one of its last advocates. A couple of years after her death Picasso painted Les Demoisseles d'Avignon and the world shifted dramatically on its aesthetic axis. Modernity kicked in and the presentation of food was inevitably influenced by the new zeitgeist. Minimalism in food presentation eventually triumphed over the highly embellished and figuratively moulded creations of the nineteenth century with their fussy garnitures. Skilled kitchen workers and servants who could work in this demanding labour-intensive genre also became scarce as a result of the Great War. In addition a stoicism in food matters set in through the influence of military culture and the privations of war. Fussy Victorian food started to look old fashioned and wasteful. Time-consuming dishes which required specialist moulds and a kitchen full of skilled servants lost their appeal. 

One highly decorative and technically demanding dish, which to me represents this lost culinary world, is the chartreuse. Antonin Carême offered recipes and illustrations of these spectacular creations in some of his books, and most other nineteenth century cookery writers follow suit. Originally they were savoury dishes in which vegetables cut into geometric shapes were used to line charlotte moulds. But there were sweet versions too. Here is one which I made a couple of days ago from Mrs Marshall's  Cookery Book (London: 1885) called a Chartreuse of Peaches à la Royale.

Chartreuse à la Royale, a fancy late Victorian entremet invented by the food writer Agnes B. Marshall

Marshall was a clever and very entrepreneurial bunny. You will notice that in her recipe the bavaroise filling for the chartreuse is the same as that used in another of her dishes called Almond Charlotte à la Beatrice. Well this recipe is not in the same book. To get it you would have to buy her Larger Book of Recipes! She tells us to divide the bavaroise into three portions and colour them separately with her patent food colours of course- Marshall's carmine and vegetable green, which you had to buy from her shop.

Cutters like these were essential for making chartreuse
The finished chartreuse with its garniture and hatalet

A plain charlotte mould was the other requirement

When sliced, the bavaroise is revealed in three pastel shades
Apart from lunatics like me, very few cooks make chartreuses nowadays. You need the patience of Job, a fine sense of detail and an expensive collection of antique culinary equipment. If you do want to have a bash, here is a recipe from 1932 (Anon. The Illustrated Cookery Book) for an easy one and probably the last surviving member of its race - a banana chartreuse. Just go easy on the gelatine to get the softest set and mouthfeel and you will have made a spectacular and delicious dish.

Banana chartreuse 1932 - no chefy drizzles or smears here!

Banana Chartreuse 

1 pint of cream; 2 oz. of sugar ; ½ oz. of gelatine ; 1 gill of clear 
jelly; ½ pint of banana purée; 1 gill of water; 1 oz. of pistachio
 nuts; 2 bananas.

A plain Charlotte mould should be lined with jelly, the 2 bananas 
cut into thin rounds, and the bottom of the mould lined with these
 rounds. Chop and blanch the pistachio nuts finely and sprinkle the
 spaces between the rounds with the nuts. Pour a little jelly over the 
decorations very carefully with a spoon and let this set, then decorate
 the sides of the moulds with the banana rounds and pistachio nuts in 
any pattern desired. Set the decorations with a little clear jelly. Rub sufficient bananas through a hair sieve to make half a pint of puree.
Dissolve the gelatine and the sugar in the water, and strain them 
into the purée. Whip the cream and add lightly. When cold, fill 
the prepared mould with the mixture. Leave it in a cold place or
 on ice until set. Turn out the mould on to a glass or china dish and 
garnish with a little chopped jelly.

A gill is 5 fluid ounces

As well as sweet chartreuses, there were also many savoury ones like these below.

This is a vegetable chartreuse made with discs of carrot and cucumber embedded in a partridge forcemeat

Sometimes a chartreuse was made in a ring mould. The hollow in this one is filled with a fresh pea purée around which the  grilled lamb cutlets have been arranged to form what was known as a 'turban'
A steel engraving from Urbain Dubois, Cosmopolitan Cookery. (London: 1870. Showing how a vegetable chartreuse was used to create a turban, in this case Fillets of Pigeons à la chartreuse.

Listen to BBC Radio 4 programme on food and art - Architects of Taste - available until 22 March 2012. Presented by Ian Kelly with contributions by Roy Strong, Anne Willan, Ferran Adria, Jane Asher, Ruth Cowan and Ivan Day. Some of Ivan's contributions to this programme were chosen by Simon Parkes for BBC Radio 4's prestigious Pick of the Week programme. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Culinary Chatterton?

 Courtesy of the Wellcome Library

One of the most useful resources for scholars studying the food and domestic medicine of the seventeenth century is the collection of digitised cookery manuscripts on the Wellcome Library website. The library's policy of open access to its manuscript collections through high quality digitised versions is truly groundbreaking and anyone who is unaware of this resource should take some time to explore it. The American pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome (1853-1936) started seriously purchasing books related to the history of medicine in London in the 1890s. The scope of his collecting was wide and included subjects ancillary to medicine, such as diet, nutrition, cookery, alchemy, ethnography and even witchcraft. Since Wellcome's death, the library has energetically continued to augment the collection with an ongoing acquisition programme.

Over the years I have consulted many of the Wellcome's recipe manuscripts. The collection includes a number of national importance, such as those of Lady Ann Fanshawe, Hannah Bisaker and Edward and Katherine Kidder. However, one very small manuscript has puzzled me for a long time. This volume consists of just 5 leaves of vellum. The front board has the title 'Herbes to season. herbes to cure'. On the paper lining inside the top cover in red ink is written the name 'Grace Acton, May 1621', presumably that of a previous owner. The manuscript was purchased in 1931, probably by one of the many book dealers who acted as Mr Wellcome's agents. It has the accession number 75906 and is entered as MS.1 in the catalogue.

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

The very first time I examined this slim volume it reminded me immediately of something from my childhood. When I was a kid I was very keen on playing at pirates - you all know the game - the eye patch, homemade wooden cutless and knotted headscarf etc. One other essential prop was a tattered map of a tropical island, usually marked with an X signifying the whereabouts of a buried chest full of treasure. Since I was the artistic one in the gang, I was always given the job of drafting out the map. I remember even once taking the trouble of using a quill pen to draw one. When completed, I would 'antique' it by crumpling it up, rubbing some dirt into the paper and sometimes even burn the edges with a lighted match. My fake maps were much admired by my pirate friends. So when I first opened 'Herbes to season. herbes to cure', I thought this is just like one of those fake pirate maps I used to make when I was about ten years old.

The more closely I examined MS.1, the more I was convinced that it was a fake. The handwriting seemed to me a kind of pastiche script rather than a genuine hand. It was far too easy to read and was an entirely different hand from that which had penned the signature of Grace Acton on the inside front cover, which seemed to be genuine. But it was the recipes and the language in which they were written that appeared most suspect. I began to think that maybe the book was a prop from an old Carry On film, perhaps 'Carry on Banqueting'. Though some of the medical remedies read like they had been lifted straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Yes, hedgehogs, asses' milk and hares' tails all crop up as ingredients in early remedial receipts, but their juxtaposition in the recipe below just did not convince me. And just look at that terribly clumsy faux period handwriting.

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

Many genuine early medical recipes include outlandish ingredients such as ground woodlice, powdered Egyptian mummy, man's urine etc., but who is the author of this remedy for bed wetting trying to kid? 

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

The same could be said for the recipe below for curing a wen in the neck. A wen was a name for a scrofulous sore, tumour, wart or any other lump on the skin. All the medicinal recipes in this small collection contain outlandish ingredients like adder's tongues, mice and hedgehog lard (yes, I know there is a plant called adder's tongue, but that is not meant here). It is possible that these recipes have been extracted from an original source, but if this is the case it is the nature of the selection that makes me think that the author was trying to impress his readers with the bizarre and comedic nature of his ancient remedies. However, if any of you have seen any of these specific formulae in other texts, I would be interested to hear from you.

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

In the cough remedy below a half quartern of glycerine is called for. This is a suprising ingredient to find in a seventeenth century recipe as it was not discovered until 1779 by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. According to the OED, the earliest usage of the word in the English language was not until 1838. By being a little careless our author has been rumbled - the manuscript is definitely a pastiche. Interestingly, a linctus made from lemon, glycerine and honey is still available from Boots and other pharmaceutical outlets. Does anyone know about the origin of this popular remedy?  

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

As far as the cookery recipes are concerned, the author was familiar with medieval dishes such as leche lumbarde, egredouce, flampoynts, cockatrice, urchynnes, mawmene etc. However most of these would have been as unfamiliar in 1621 as they would be now. They are medieval dishes that would have been pretty archaic by early Stuart times. Some of these are listed in a bill of fare for a three course meal at the end of the book. Here it is - 

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

This is quite convincing as it is typical bill of fare for a high status English meal of the 14th or 15th century. There are extant recipes for all of these dishes in 14th and 15th century manuscripts. The boar in egredouce in the third course is particularly interesting because there is also a full recipe for this dish in the manuscript, which is below. 

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

The source for this is almost certainly a transcription of a medieval cookery manuscript published by the Society of Antiquaries in A Collection of Ordinances and Regulations. London: 1790. p. 459. The original source manuscript was in the Library of the Royal Society, Arundel Collection, N.344. p. 27-445. This collection was published again the following year by Richard Warner in Antiquitates Culinariae. London: 1791, p. 79. Warner copied the text directly from the Society of Antiquaries' book. Other medieval cookery manuscripts have recipes for this dish, but it is usually called brawn or browne in egurdouce. The spelling boor in egredouce seems to be unique to the Arundel Collection manuscript. This makes me think that the author of MS.1 gleaned his or her knowledge of medieval cookery either from a copy of A Collection of Ordinances or Warner's Antiquitates Culinariae. As you can see by comparing Warner's text, the wording of the recipe in the Wellcome manuscript is slightly different, as is the spelling of 'boor' as 'boar', but it could be based on the Arundel recipe, though as a paraphrase with some of the Middle English words modernised.

Boor in egredouce from Warner's Antiquitates Culinariae 

The title page of Richard Warner's Antiquitates Culinariae, a possible source of  some of the recipes in MS. 1.
There are other recipes in MS.1. which may be based on ones in the Arundel text, including one for serving a peacock in its skin and another for leche lombard. The novelty dish normally known as a cockentryce is called a cockagris here and is mentioned in the third course in the bill of fare. This exact spelling is unique to the Arundel manuscript, so I expect our author found it in The Collection of Ordinances or Warner. Nearly all of the cookery recipes are based on medieval sources. One however for a syllabub is more typical of the early modern period. 

Perhaps the author found an old notebook with a number of leaves of blank vellum and wrote the text in a fake hand in order to pretend that this was a book of ancient recipes. The notebook may have belonged to a Grace Acton, or perhaps the faker has used an old binding to use as a cover for his manuscript which conveniently had her name in it. I am certain that whoever wrote the book had access to a copy of A Collection of Ordinances, or maybe Warner's book. As to when it was composed the occurrence of the word glycerine is the best clue - so any time between 1834 and 1931, but certainly not 1621. 

A folded octavo sheet of old paper is inserted between the top cover and the first leaf. On this sheet is a list of food items with costs in the same hand as the manuscript text. Here it is:

Courtesy of Wellcome Library

Again the style of the language is more like that of a Sir Walter Scott romance than of a genuine early modern period cookery book - 'Divers spicery', '1 Pottel of fresh grease', 'Porterage of water by the water bearers'. '1 kilderkin of good ale' and 'Given to minstrels - 1.4' are all too corny to be true. The feel of this text is like that of a Victorian village pageant, or one of those rather cheesy and inaccurate medieval re-enactments. Perhaps the whole thing was written by Baldrick for an episode of Blackadder which was never broadcast.

I often wonder who it really was who put this little collection together and their motivation for doing so. It always makes me think of the story of Thomas Chatterton, the Bristol teenager who faked medieval manuscripts of poetry in the 1760s. Perhaps there was once a culinary Chatterton. If so, the last laugh was certainly on him, because he fooled the antiquarian book dealers of the 1930s. The manuscript has also been scrutinised by many experts since, but none so far have questioned its authenticity.

I would like to thank Helen Wakely, Archivist at the Wellcome Library for allowing me to publish the pages from Wellcome MS.1. All these images are © The Wellcome Foundation.

Have a look at the full manuscript by visiting the Wellcome Library Website
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