Are you fascinated by historical food? Would you like to recreate the Christmas flavours of the past? Come and join a Christmas cooking workshop in a unique historic Regency kitchen in Hove. Down in the basement we will work with historic recipes recreating the tastes […]
Author: Paul Couchman
Amelia Simmons’s book American Cookery appeared in 1796 and it sought “the improvement of the rising generations of females in America”. Almost nothing is known about the author herself except, mentioned by herself in the cookbook, that she was brought up as an orphan. I […]
Have you ever wanted to cook from an old recipe book? Just to find out what something from the past could taste like?
I’m lucky enough to be able to use a beautiful, handwritten cookbook that was donated to The Regency Town House. On page 99 this recipe for Lemon Mince Pies appears. It is coming up to Christmas. I had to find out how mincemeat from the 1830s was different.
Here’s the recipe as it appears at the top of the page in the photo above:
A pound of currants, a pound of suet and three lemons, squeeze out the juice, then boil the lemons in water and change the water to take off the bitterness, when they are boiled quite tender rub them through a sieve, then mix juice and all together with near three quarters of a pound of sugar, when you make your pies put in orange and citron and a few almonds.
I have simply changed the quantities to grams so I could measure easily. I followed the method exactly. The old Regency kitchen where I tested the recipe was being used for a writing workshop. I prepared the mincemeat in the old scullery.
I made the recipe below: 564 grams or 1lb currants 564 grams 1lb suet 3 lemons 423 grams 3/4 1lb sugar Orange and citron A few almonds
The ghost story writing workshop was taking place as I heated the mincemeat up, slowly in the oven. The basement scullery smelled deliciously of Christmas. As I filled the sterilized jars I could hear the stories being read out. Tales of paralyzed fear, blood on shoes and door slamming shut filled the kitchen as I screwed on the lids to the full jars.
The lids popped beautifully after I had displayed them on our dresser as if on cue, when pauses came in the stories. I wasn’t happy with the look of the mincemeat. They did look beautifully old-fashioned but would people buy these jars, thick with the white of the suet? Would you?
They looked so different to the mincemeat we are used to today. I did sell two jars but it might be too risky.
I will set out to try a different recipe and this time I will turn to my battered 1970s copy of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families first published in 1845. Next to be tried is Superlative Mincemeat. Wish me luck.
The damp fug of a pudding gently boiling in a old kitchen. The rattling of the saucer I put in to let me know all is still good. The air getting colder. To me these are all signs of Christmas coming up and although it […]
This was the first ever historical recipe that I tried. It was a cold February in 2017. I was at home in my kitchen doing food experiments. It was raining outside. I remember the anticipation. I remember being very excited about trying out an old […]
One of the earliest pickles to become popular in England was piccalilli.
A recipe of 1694 states: ‘To pickle lila, an Indian Pickle’ describes a vinegar and brine sauce which was flavoured with ginger, garlic, pepper, turmeric and mustard seeds. In the sauce was cabbage, cauliflower and other vegetables.
The recipe is the rather wonderful 1830s recipe book that the Town House holds is similar.
The recipe ‘to make Picca Lilla’ calls for race (or root) ginger, garlic, and a similar mix of spices with the addition of long pepper and allspice.
The Town House’s cookbook also suggests the addition of fruit. “As they grow take French beans, cucumbers, onions, apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, or nectarines”.
The recipe below is something that would have been made in the Town House in the 1830s. Pickling was done in the kitchen and often stored in the cool and dark cupboards in the housekeeper’s room under lock and key.
I have added cornflour and sugar. This gives both the consistency and the sweetness that we are used to in 2018.
I have, however, included spices that are not so familiar. Allspice and long pepper give the Picca Lilla it’s Indian like flavourings.
If you’d like to join me in the kitchen at The Regency Town House and make Piccalilli and Pickled Peaches in a workshop in September 2018, the link is here.
The day before:
- 150g fine sea salt
- 1,5 litres water
- 1 small cauliflower
- 2 cucumbers or 2 large courgettes
- 450g shallots
- 225g plums, peaches or apples (depending upon what is in season)
Make a Brine
Dissolve the salt in 500ml boiling water. Then dilute it with 1 litre of cold water. You now have 1500ml of brine. Let this cool.
Prepare the veg
Cut cucumbers in half and deseed them and cut into the same sized pieces as everything else. The courgettes simply needs dicing.
Separate the cauliflower florets, peel the shallots and then quarter or halve them (depending on size). All the vegetables should be cut to the same size as the cauliflower florets.
Cut plums, peaches or apples to the same size as the other veg. I like to leave the skins on for extra crunch but do peel them if you feel the urge. A quick way to peel peaches is in my recipe for Pickled Peaches.
Place all the prepared veg into the cooled brine, cover and leave for 12-18 hours.
The salt in the brine will draw out the moisture from the vegetables. This is important as to not dilute the vinegar and prevent it from pickling the vegetables properly.
The old Town House cookbook recipe, rather wonderfully, calls for a three day long process of salting and then a three day long process of drying outside in a clothes basket. You can see me doing this in the video above. By using the brining method we only have to wait one day. Luckily.
The next day:
Drain the veg of the brine and then wash thoroughly in cold water.
Drain the vegetables in a salad spinner or alternatively lay out some freshly ironed clean teacloths and drain your vegetables on them for 20 minutes.
Put clean jam jars and their lids, enough to hold 1,8 kg of Piccalilli, onto a baking sheet. Put them into a prewarmed oven 100 c, 200 F or Gas 2 for 20 minutes.
Make the sauce
- 2-3 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you love it or not)
- 30g fresh root ginger
- 750ml of white wine vinegar (6% acidity)
- 55g mustard powder
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 30g of cornflour (not traditional but I prefer piccalilli to be gloopy, do leave it out if you want to be completely authentic)
- 1 tsp of whole black pepper
- 1 tsp of whole long pepper (see instructions above)
- 1 tsp of whole allspice (or as it was called Jamaican pepper)
- 225g white sugar
Peel the garlic and the ginger and blend together in a food processor or cut up finely and pound into a paste with a pestle and mortar. (This prevents the garlic looking blue in the finished pickles, something which always surprised me but is perfectly normal. By using a paste of the garlic the blueness is avoided!)
In a small bowl mix the mustard powder, turmeric, cornflour and sugar together with 250ml of the white wine vinegar. You want to form a paste without lumps.
Put the paste into a large saucepan, big enough to take the veg and the vinegar. Add the rest of the vinegar.
Add the whole black pepper, long pepper and allspice berries.
Put the pan onto a hotplate on a low heat and simmer the sauce, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes. The idea is to cook the cornflour so it doesn’t taste of cornflour. At the end of cooking you should have a thick sauce.
Add the dried vegetables and fruit to the sauce. Stir well.
Cook over a gentle heat, stirring often. You want the vegetables and fruit to slightly soften. It will take about 10 minutes.
Take the baking tray with the jars out of the oven.
Spoon the piccalilli into the hot jars, pressing it down well. Make sure all the vegetables are covered by the sauce, not bits poking out. If necessary you can add a tiny bit of cold vinegar to achieve this.
Screw the lids on the jars and leave to cool.
The Town House cookbook calls for bladder or even leather instead of a lid.
Leave a week before opening so that the flavours can develop. I like to leave mine for at least a month.
We store the jars in the Town House where they used to be stored, in the housekeeper’s room, in a cool, dark place.
If you’d like to try the Piccalilli but don’t want to make this recipe you can buy a jar. I sell pickles and homemade preserves to raise money for The Regency Town House. Just come along to one of the Town House’s events.
As a volunteer I often get asked the question how the Town House’s basement managed to stay untouched for so long.
An Elderly Lady Living in Squalor
I tell people who asked the true story of an elderly lady living in squalor. It’s also a story of a young curator who discovered that she was living in an historical time capsule. And it’s a story of the people of Brighton and Hove putting their hands in their pockets to save this unique space for the future.
The basement is at 10 Brunswick Square in Hove. It is part of the Regency Town House project. It is visited by groups during the year and is also an exhibition space, used by artists during events such as the Brighton and Hove Photo Fringe Festival.
Many years ago, back in the early 1990s, Nick Tyson, the current curator of the Town House, became friends with an elderly lady that lived in the basement of №10 Brunswick Square. He would fetch her groceries. He discovered that her home was a ‘time capsule’ full of original Regency features. It was virtually untouched by time. It has features such as:
- a meat safe, a meshed cupboard that was ventilated and used to store both raw and processed meat.
- a wine cellar, complete with the original wax seal used to test whether anyone had attempted to use its lock
- a kitchen with an original skylight
- a floor with its original flagstones
- a courtyard with a well
The old lady’s parents had worked as housekeepers/caretakers in 9 & 10 Brunswick Square. Both 9 and 10 Brunswick Square were owned by the Diocese of Chichester. In the 1920s number 10 was converted into flats and the basement was used as the living space for the caretakers. The old lady had arrived in the 1920s with her parents who were the original caretakers. After their death, she stayed on in that position at a wage of £2.6s a week. She would gladly allow Nick Tyson to tape record all her memories when he visited but she would never pose for a photograph, saying she didn’t want any fuss. She was always embarrassed at how old fashioned and plainly decorated her home was. She found it difficult to believe she was living in an architectural gem!
Later, when she was in her 80’s and in poor health, she was moved into sheltered accommodation and the whole building was sold to developers. It was then that Nick decided to try to preserve her wonderful home.
Buying the basement to save it!
The development company gave the Regency Town House three months to raise the money – the race was on! A bid to the newly created National Lottery was made but more money was needed and so a huge fund raising campaign was started.
People were invited to visit the basement and see for themselves how valuable it was.
Nick recalls: ‘The interest in №10 was phenomenal. People were so impressed with what they saw that many visitors made contributions on the spot and even sent in second donations. They were determined not to sit back and let an historical gem end up in a builders skip. The general public gave nearly £15,000 and the developers kindly agreed to wait a few more months. It was announced in June 1995 that the Regency Town House was the recipient of the first ever Heritage Lottery Fund grant in the South East and with their support the basement was saved”.
Daily Struggle to maintain it
Buying the basement paved the way for the project as it is seen today. It also greatly increased the physical repair demands faced by Nick Tyson and the Town House team of volunteers.
Since the basement at №10 Brunswick Square was bought in 1995, there has been a daily struggle to stay ahead of the fabric maintenance demands the two properties dictate.
“Our buildings decay daily, in response to the vagaries of the UK weather. There’s a never-ending list of works to do” says Nick Tyson
Each year, the Town House team of volunteers have laboured hard to stop decomposition and do a little more too.
Much of the maintenance work is unseen by the general visitor. It occurs on locations such as parapets or roofs, out of site. Or it replaces a modern material with a traditional one. An example of this happened a few years ago.
It was decided to replace the concrete screed covering the back yard with York stone slabs. This was to re-establish the original finish. Either material provides a hard and weather resilient finish to the back yard so it is not immediately obvious to visitors that one has been removed and the other introduced.
But Nick argues that it is a demanding and significant task.
Nick says, “There were obvious benefits of reinstating stone. The project, though, also led to us discovering the original and functional well to the House. That was an exciting find. I thought it might have filled in long ago.”
Housekeeper’s room finished!
The restoration of the basement has started in the housekeeper’s room. It’s the same room that was pictured at the start of this article. Through volunteer hard work it has been transformed. Here is a list of just a few things that have changed:-
- a concrete floor has been removed and replaced with a wooden floor. The wood comes from a factory from the 1830s.
- all the walls have been repaired using traditional lime plaster, the material they were made of originally. The volunteers were taught to use this challenging material.
- a new cast iron fire place has been put back
- the walls were decorated and painted in the original green colour
- all woodwork has been painted and wood grained in an oak finish
The housekeeper’s room will act as a template for all the other rooms in the basement. One by one the whole basement will be restored back to its former glory.
If you would like to visit the Town House on a guided tour with the curator, please visit the Regency Town House website.
Devoted to Hannah I have been devoted to Hannah Glasse. She’s helped me through all the fundraising events Dine Like A Servant and Lunch with the Curator at the Regency Town House. I owe her a great deal. But this week I decided I had […]