Category Archives: Nineteenth Century

The Corn Laws Part 2 – Repeal

The Corn Laws were in place between 1815 and 1842. During this time several petitions of repeal were made to Parliament; in all 1,414,303 signatures were presented within 467 petitions. There were, of course, signatures scribbled upon petitions against repeal of the Laws, but they were far fewer: just 145,855 signatures, a whole order of magnitude fewer!1 This goes to show just how powerful the country landowners were; no matter how bad things got, and no matter the number of signatures, Parliament would not budge. But there were folk chipping away at this issue, whether it be in the streets, in the townhouses, or in the corridors of power. Repeal would come, and there were several key players in the story, and in the second of my two posts on the Corn Laws, we shall meet them.

Thomas Tooke

Thomas Tooke (1774-1858)

An experienced merchant and economist, Thomas Tooke could see that the Corn Laws were having a deleterious upon the majority of the population. He argued that stopping the free grain in foreign grain was harmful to trade in broader terms, saying

There appears to be at the moment, a quantity of corn on one side of an impenetrable barrier, and a quantity of manufacturers on the other, which would naturally be interchanged, if it were not for the artificial hindrance occasioned by the present system.

The Laws were there to protect the landed gentry in the countryside at the expense of the income and quality of life of the working classes. It didn’t even help the farmers in the countryside because landowners charged them higher rents. As far as Tooke was concerned, making staple foodstuffs scarcer raised prices and adversely affected the working classes.2

Lord Liverpool, the Tory Prime Minister blocked his petition, but Tooke still presented his case to a House of Commons Select Committee in 1821. So impressive was his thinking and well laid-out his argument, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society later in the same year. So, whilst his petition wasn’t debated, he still got to say his piece, which reinforced the idea to lower tariffs and emboldened those for whom repeal of the Corn Laws was the only fair and sensible option.2

Richard Cobden and John Bright

As soon as the idea of implementing the first Corn Law was debated in Parliament, anti-Corn Law groups sprang up all around the country, but they were not a united, cohesive front. This changed however with two industrialists Richard Cobden and John Bright, who together formed what would become known as the Manchester School. Tooke had taken the argument for repeal to the Commons, but Cobden and Bright would be so effective in communicating their argument that would both become MPs.

Richard Cobden owned a calico[*] printing mill and was the son of a poor farmer from Sussex, so could appreciate the harm the Corn Laws were inflicting on industry, and both the urban and rural workforce. He created the Manchester Anti-Corn League in 1839. His writing and speeches were based on the notions that free trade benefited the majority, and that manufacturing and trade should be allowed to continue with minimal interference from Parliament. In short, the Corn Laws ‘were both economically disastrous and morally wrong.’3

In 1941, he invited John Bright to join him and help him develop the political, economic and moral argument against the Corn Laws.4 John, also an industrialist, was Lancashire born and bred, a devout Quaker and a skilled orator, who managed to make protest and debate entertaining, ‘produc[ing] an entire theatre of opposition activity.’5

John Bright (1811-1889) & Richard Cobden (1804-1865)

They made quite the team: John was the man of the people, the salt of the earth, able to communicate their ideas to the common man In the North of England. The country had – and still has – a strong north-south divide, and Cobden’s southern accent made his speeches in Parliament more palatable, allowing him to give insight into the economics of the industrial north. Together they began to turn the tide of opinion both within and without the House of Commons.


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Robert Peel

Robert Peel (1778-1850)

Sir Robert Peel became Prime minister for the second time in 1841. He had won his position – partially – on his view that the Corn Laws should stay in place. However, Cobden and Bright’s arguments persuaded him to rethink his position. Peel could see that the Laws were only benefiting landowners and that the working classes – and some of the middle classes too – were beginning to starve. It was not sustainable, and revolution was on the cards: the early 1840s had seen a series of wet summers, lowering production and raising prices greatly. Then, the Irish Potato Famine hit Britain received much of its corn from Ireland, but with a dying population, the workforce didn’t exist that could farm the grain; add to that, a great number of Irish emigrating to Britain to escape the crisis only exacerbated the problem.6 Something had to be done: the Corn Laws had to be repealed. The opposition party, the Whigs – the more liberal party of the day – were generally up for repeal, but two-thirds of the Tory party were vehemently against it. Peel had tried to pass an act to real the Corn Laws twice already, but as the Potato Famine reached its peak in 1942, he attempted to pass it one more time. This was a rare case of a Prime Minister going against their party majority, and he knew it would be career suicide should the act get through, and it did, with a majority of 98.

Peel resigned shortly afterwards, and the legislation surrounding the Laws was dismantled over the space of three years, leaving behind a country where the working and lower-middle classes were empowered and very much pro-free trade.6 The Manchester School had achieved its goal. The School is considered by many to be the first political pressure group, and a most successful one at that.

References

  1. Carpenter, K. Petitions and the Corn Laws. UK Parliament: Petitions Committees https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/326/petitions-committee/news/99040/petitions-and-the-corn-laws/ (2019).
  2. Smith, M. Thomas Tooke on the Corn Laws. Hist. Polit. Econ. 41, 343–382 (2009).
  3. Briggs, A. Richard Cobden. Britannica https://www.britannica.com/biography/Richard-Cobden (2022).
  4. John Bright. Quakers in the World https://www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/304/John-Bright.
  5. Philp, M. John Bright and Richard Cobden: The Corn Laws. To the Barricades https://barricades.ac.uk/items/show/103.
  6. Boudreaux, Donald, J. Repealing the Corn Laws, 175 Years Later. Discourse Magazine https://www.discoursemagazine.com/culture-and-society/2021/06/18/repealing-the-corn-laws-175-years-later/ (2021).

[*] Calico is a wafty thin-weave cotton fabric.

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The Corn Laws: Part 1 – The Landowners’ Monopoly

Britain in 1815 was a country exhausted. Under the Duke of Wellington’s command, Napoleon had been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. The country was victorious. But it had come at a huge cost.

The Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo

The country had been haemorrhaging money to pay for the war, and the series of naval blockades had prevented the import of certain key food imports. It had meant very lean times; Britain was far from being self-sufficient when it came to key cereal crops, and a poor domestic harvest in 1812 forced up prices, hitting the working poor hard. Indeed, the poverty had started to creep up to the middle classes. The next year saw a bumper crop, and prices dropped, but they were not decreased exactly in line, so the starving poor didn’t feel as great a benefit as they should in the good growing years.

The war may have brought the country to its knees, but it did bring the country landowners a monopoly; that significant drop in cheap imports, meant that the British, in the main, had to buy British. This came in contrast to the Britain before the wars: the idea and implementation of free (or nearly free) trade was driving down the prices of staples and luxuries alike, and the working classes were finding that they had a little surplus money to buy more of life’s luxuries. It also kept wages low, meaning that the new industrialists, who employed citizens in the factories could make a tidy profit. Low food prices, in short, were powering the people of the industrial revolution, and the tax from the profits were paying for the country’s empire building. There was, then, a tension between the landed gentry and landlords in the countryside and the industrialists in their towns and cities.

A Cruikshank cartoon from 1815 showing the English turning away cheap foreign corn whilst the poor starve

When the Napoleonic Wars came to an end, the landowners did not want a return to a world where competitive foreign imports drove down prices, forcing them to sell their grain for less than they were prepared to sell it, and so a plan was hatched to protect them and their grain prices. This plan was not done in secret, but in plain sight in the House of Commons. The landowners were powerful, indeed many of the country’s MPs were landowners. At this point in history, one could only vote if one owned a certain amount of land. Industrialists, though vocal, did not – in the main – own large amounts of land, and therefore there was a political bias toward the rich men of the countryside, and away from the rich men of the towns and cities.

At first glance their arguments seemed not just solid, but patriotic too: after all this war, and the lack of domestically-grown foods that came with it, Britain should never find itself in this situation again. We need to favour our own farmers and develop our agriculture so that we can be self-sufficient. Not only that, Britain had led the world in the agricultural revolution the century before, and without that, the industrial revolution would never have got off the ground. As 20th century historian C.R. Fay put it: ‘Producers’ strength pulled one way and consumers’ necessity the other. For wheat was a necessity of the poor, and agriculture was the symbol of productive strength at home.’ Britain’s agriculture had to keep going.1 Lord Liverpool leader of the Tory Party and Prime Minister argued that millions of British citizens ‘could not depend upon foreign nations for the necessities of life’.2

Tory Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool

This all sounds fine in theory doesn’t it? But the reality would be very different when Liverpool passed the Corn Law Act on 23 March 1815. You see, the Act allowed the free trade of grains imported into the country, but only after domestic prices reached a threshold amount. And it was high: 80 shillings per quarter3[*] in the case of wheat, these prices were ‘were near famine inducing levels’.4 The only way prices would go above the threshold would be when there were extreme droughts or crop failures from cold or wet weather. So despite there being cheap and plentiful cereals available from outside the country, because of their monopoly, British landowners could sell their grain at any price up to that threshold.

When the Act was announced there were riots in the streets, but despite the vocal lobbying from industrialists, they arguments fell largely upon deaf ears. Before the Act was announced Anti Corn Law Leagues were set up too, but their efforts came to nought.

The passing of the Act in 1815 incited rioting in the streets

As the poor became more destitute, the Acts were reissued with lower thresholds, but they were still too high. The Duke of Wellington during his tenure as Prime Minister introduced a sliding scale, allowing some foreign grain into the country, but not it was not freely-traded. Over the following decades (they wouldn’t be repealed until 1842), the working classes were ground down by degrees: never before or since was the country so close to revolution. In the 1840s, wages reached their lowest levels in a century, and staple foods were expensive and hard to come by.5 It didn’t just affect the urban poor either. A Shetland fisherman, who before the laws were passed happily traded his fish for grain from Spain and Germany. This cashless exchange of goods suited all parties, but after the pass he had to sell his fish within Britain for cash, and being able to buy British grain only, found he could afford to buy just have the amount he used to before the acts were passed.4

The country was stuck under the thumb of greedy landowners and the House of Commons, but they would be repealed, and in part two, we’ll look at the key players on both sides of the battle.


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References

  1. Fay, C. R. The Corn Laws and Social England. (Cambridge University Press, 1932).
  2. Thompson, T. P. Catechism on the Corn Laws: With a List of Fallacies and the Answers. (Westminster Review, 1834).
  3. An Act to amend the Laws now in force for regulating the Importation of Corn. (1815).
  4. Carpenter, K. Petitions and the Corn Laws. UK Parliament: Petitions Committees https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/326/petitions-committee/news/99040/petitions-and-the-corn-laws/ (2019).
  5. Drummond, J. C. & Wilbraham, A. The Englishman’s Food: Five Centuries of English Diet. (Pimlico, 1939).

[*] A quarter was a unit of measure used typically for dry goods rather than liquids and it was equal to 8 bushels, a bushel being 8 gallons. In metric units, a quarter is the equivalent of 291 litres.

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Welsh Rarebit & Locket’s Savoury


Want to know more? This podcast episode complements this blog post:


Straight off the heels of my last post, two more savouries.

Welsh Rarebit

Apparently, it is incorrect to call it a rarebit, it is a “false etymological refinement”; it should be called Welsh rabbit. Why? Well it’s a bit of a dour Welsh joke. The poor Welsh peasants of yore named this cheesy mixture – which is high in fat and protein – a ‘rabbit’ to make up for the fact they couldn’t get hold of any meat; they were not allowed hunt themselves, or even to eat the unwanted rabbits caught in hunts by nobles. Actually, no one really knows where it comes from, but that explanation will do me. See this post for more on hunting.

There are, in fact, three types of rabbit/rarebit: Welsh, English and Scottish. After the success of the integration of Welsh rarebit into posh folks’ savoury courses, the rest of the kingdom tried to jump on the rarebit bandwagon. I don’t know why, because they have many perfectly good savouries themselves. I have made these other rarebits, and they are pale imitations. In fact, the English rarebit was so disgusting, I ended up dry-retching into a sink, and I have a pretty strong constitution as I’m sure you all know by now! English rarebit is a slice of toast, with a glass of red wine thrown on it, topped with sliced cheese and grilled. The combination of soggy toast, congealed cheese and the breath-taking hit of hot wine in my mouth and nostrils tipped me over the edge.

Scottish rarebit is more sensible with the ingredients, but tricky to fathom:

Toast a piece of bread very nicely on both sides, butter it, cut a slice of cheese about as big as the bread, toast it on both sides, and lay it on the bread.

That recipe comes from 1747, and I have never worked out how you toast a piece of cheese on both sides without disaster!

These days we are used to a very thick cheese topping piled on our toast for Welsh rarebit, but traditionally it is quite liquid, soaking into the toast as it grilled. The base of the rarebit should be ale or stout, but the result is very rich, so if you prefer, cut it with some milk. This recipe makes quite a lot of the mixture, but if you don’t use it all, don’t worry as keeps in the fridge for five or six days.

50g butter

45g plain flour

250ml ale or milk or a mixture, warmed

250g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce (or 1/2 tbs of mushroom ketchup)

½ tbs English mustard

black pepper

salt (if needed)

1 slice of toast per person

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until the roux goes a pale brown colour.

Using a small whisk, beat in around one third of the ale. Once smooth, add another third and beat again before mixing in the last of it. To avoid lumps, make sure the ale is fully mixed into the roux before adding. Simmer gently for a few minutes, beating occasionally.

Remove from the heat and mix in the cheddar and seasonings except the salt. Taste and add salt if required – usually the cheese and other seasonings are salty enough. Return to a very low heat and stir until the cheese has melted into the smooth sauce. Be careful not to heat it too much as the melted cheese will split.

The topping can be used straight away or poured into a tub and refrigerated – the mixture can be moulded onto the toast not unlike cheesy Play-Doh.

Make your toast and spread, or mould, on the rarebit mixture. Make sure the mixture covers the whole of the slice, right to the edges. Place under a hot grill and toast until bubbling and the colour of a deep golden brown.

I like to eat Welsh rarebit with a rocket or watercress salad simply dressed with cider vinegar and salt, a dollop of chutney and a glass of the ale I made it with.

Variation: Locket’s Savoury

This might even be better than rarebit! Apparently, this dish comes from Locket, a Westminster gentleman’s club, but I can find no trace of the club on the interweb, so I’m taking that with a pinch of salt. The original recipe just asks for one to cover toast with pear and watercress, top with slices of Stilton and grill, but I think it works better with a roux-based sauce like the rarebit, which smothers the pears. I also prefer to serve the watercress as a salad leaf alongside grapes and walnuts, but feel free to pop it under the cheese mixture.

50g butter

50g plain flour

250ml milk, warmed

250g blue Stilton, grated

black pepper

half a ripe pear per person, peeled cored and thinly sliced

1 slice of toast per person

Make the topping just as for Welsh rarebit, grinding a good amount of black pepper.

Make some good, crisp toast, lay the pear slices over the toast, then liberally spread or mould on the cheesy topping.

Grill until a deep brown and serve with the salad.


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Filed under Britain, cooking, Dairy, food, General, history, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, The Edwardians, The Victorians

Spotted Dick

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on a good old British steamed pudding, and this is one of my all-time favourites. Spotted Dick is a great pudding because it lies somewhere in between a suet pudding and a sponge pudding and is borne of that period of prolific pudding invention: the Victorian Era.

If British puddings are new to you, I’ve already written a couple of posts on the history of puddings (the first one here, and the second one here).

If you’ve never heard of Spotted Dick, it is a spongy steamed pudding that contains suet instead of butter. It is only slightly sweet and flavoured delicately with lemon. The spots on the Spotted Dick come from currants. You don’t want a pudding that is too sweet, the sweetness – I believe – should come from the currants and the custard that must be served with it (for a custard recipe, click here).

For some unknown and crazy reason, Spotted Dick doesn’t appear in my favourite cook book of all, English Food by Jane Grigson (to see why it’s my favourite, see my other blog).

Now for the big question: who the heck is Dick?

The pud is first mentioned in a book from the 1850s by the famous Chef Alexis Soyer called The Modern Housewife, or, Ménagère. Alexis Soyer was the first celebrity chef and he deserves a whole post just to himself! He mentions Spotted Dick in passing when listing a typical week’s meals during tougher times. This was Tuesday’s dinner:

Tuesday. – Broiled Beef and Bones, Vegetables, and Spotted Dick Pudding’

The ‘Dick’ in Spotted Dick seems to come from the shortened Old English names for pudding: puddog or puddick. In Scotland it is often called Spotted Dog Pudding.

Spotted Dick is a very simple pudding to make; it can be steamed in a basin or be rolled out like a sausage and covered in buttered foil and then steamed. Sometimes it takes the form of a roly-poly pudding with the currants and some brown sugar making the filling. Personally, I prefer to use a basin.

Anyways, here’s the recipe:

For a 2 pint/1 litre pudding basin, that serves 6 to 8 people:

300g self-raising flour

150g suet (fresh or packet)

75g caster sugar

100g currants

Zest 2 lemons

275-300 ml milk

butter, for greasing

In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, suet, sugar, currants and lemons. Add the milk, mixing slowly until all is incorporated. You’re looking for a mixture of dropping consistency.

Liberally butter a 2 pint pudding basin and spoon in the mixture. Cover with a lid. It’s easiest to buy a plastic basin with a fitted lid. If you’re using a glass or porcelain basin, make a lid from a double sheet of pleated foil and secure with string. It is worth making a foil or string handle for the pudding so that you can get the basin out of the steamer safely.

Ready for the steamer!

Place in a steamer and steam for 2 hours. Make sure there’s a good brisk boil for the first 20 minutes and then turn the heat down to medium-low. If you don’t have a steamer, simply place an upturned saucer in the base of a deep saucepan and pour over it boiling water straight from the kettle. Gingerly place in the pudding.

Turn out the pudding onto a serving plate and serve immediately with plenty of custard.


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The Original (Quince) Marmalade

As I mentioned in my previous post about Seville oranges that the original marmalade was in fact made from quinces and not oranges, I thought I would give you a recipe that I have recently used for the stall. It’s a recipe that appears in Eliza Acton’s 1845 book Modern Cookery. It’s an easy recipe that would be a good one to start with if you have never made a sweet preserve as you don’t need to mess about with sugar thermometers and setting points. One of the great things about making preserves with quinces is the glorious colour they go. A relatively brief boil transforms them from a pale apple-yellow to a vibrant orange-coral.

The tricky thing is getting your hands on some quinces they are available from October, but I have recently seen some organic ones in the Manchester organic grocers Unicorn. If your local greengrocer doesn’t have them on their shelves, it is worth asking if they can get them. My grocer was very happy to get me a full tray for just a tenner, so I was very pleased with that.

I have recently found another slightly more complicated version of this recipe but I have not tried it – we’ll have to wait for next autumn for that one!


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Eliza Acton’s Quince Marmalade

2kg (4 1/2 lbs) quinces

water

granulated sugar

Wash and scrub any fluff of the quinces, then peel and core them. Place them in a large pan and pour over enough water to almost cover. Turn up the heat and when it begins to boil, turn heat down to a simmer and stew 35-45 minutes until the fruit is soft. Strain and pass fruit through a mouli-legumes.

2012-11-19 23.49.01

Put the pulp back in the pan with the strained juice and add 280g sugar for every 500ml juice or, 1 ½ lbs sugar for every pint of juice). Stir and dissolve under low heat then, simmer until it resembles ‘thick porridge’ and begins to leave the side of the pan when you stir it.

2012-11-20 00.37.10

Pour the marmalade into sterilised pots. It is very good as a jam on toast, with cheese or as an accompaniment to hot or cold meats.

2012-11-20 00.52.23

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Curried Beetroot Chutney

A while ago, I discovered a recipe for a 19th century British curry (see here for the original post). The recipe required me to prepare both a curry powder and a curry paste. It made a very good, strongly spiced curry, but ever since the jars have been sat in my fridge. I thought there must be something else I can do with these concoctions. After a little thought I came up with this chutney idea and it works very well: the earthy beetroot is very sweet which offsets the spices very well. I thought of beetroot because I often panfry beetroot in olive oil with cumin seeds and always thought the combination delicious. Because beetroot is so sweet and quite a lot of sugar is required for the syrup, I include a quantity of carrot, otherwise I think the sweetness and beetroot flavour may make it a little too rich.

It is delicious with cold meats or cheese and is also a great alternative to mango chutney as a condiment for a curry.

The recipes for the curry powder and curry paste needed for the pickle can be found here.

Ingredients

3 tbs flavourless cooking oil such as sunflower, canola, groundnut &c.

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbs 19th century curry powder

1 tbs 19th century curry paste

2 lbs beetroot, peeled and diced

1 lb carrots peeled and diced

1 med onion, chopped

2 tart apples, peeled, cored and grated

1 ¼ UK pints red wine vinegar

1 ½ lbs sugar

1 ½ tsp salt

Heat the oil in a stockpot or large saucepan – you need it quite hot, don’t be scared, the hotter the better. Toss in the cumin seeds and fry in the hot oil for around 30 seconds, then add the curry powder and paste. Stir and fry for around 2 minutes then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a steady boil, then make sure the sugar has dissolved before letting it simmer away for around 90 minutes until the beetroot is tender and the vinegar and sugar have formed a thick syrup.

Pot into sterilised jars. The chutney can be eaten as soon as it is cool, but it is best to leave it for a couple of weeks to develop its flavour.


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Filed under Britain, food, General, Indian food, Nineteenth Century, Preserving, Recipes, Vegetables

The Duck Press

The duck press was invented in France during the 1800s by a chef called Mechenet to make what is one of the most extravagant and macabre dishes ever created: Caneton de Rouen à la Presse, also known as Duck in Blood Sauce. It was popularised by Chef Frèdèric who was head chef at the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent where it became the signature dish. It is reckoned over a million were served there. What is particularly impressive is that the dish was made at the table in front of the guests.

At La Tour d’Argent you are given a card

telling you the ‘number of your duck’

The dish became very popular in Britain during that famously excessive (and thankfully brief) period of history, the Edwardian Era. London’s high society went to huge efforts to appear sophisticated; French cuisine has always been associated with sophistication and the dish Caneton de Rouen à la Presse was one of the best. The Savoy in the 1900s, which then had the formidable chef Escoffier at the helm, regularly served it.

Escoffier

To make the dish you first of all need a duck press which a large metal press usually made of bronze. It contains a spout low down on the press itself so that the blood and bone marrow can be collected easily and it stands on two our four heavy feet so that the whole thing remains stable; you don’t want to cover some count in blood goo unless you can really help it. Some of them have webbed duck feet. If you want to buy a duck press though it will set you back around £1000.

Once you have procured your press you need to prepare your duck. The best for this recipe would be a Rouen duckling, but a mallard would be a good substitute. First of all kill your duck by strangulation so that the blood remains inside the tissues than pluck it. Next day remove the innards, keeping aside the heart and liver, and roast it on the very highest setting on the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Liquidise the bird’s liver and heart. This is the point where the press and the duck are wheeled to the dining table for the guests to watch.

Remove the legs and set them aside for later, then remove the breast meat cutting it thinly and keeping it warm and covered on a serving dish with a cloche. Push and shove the carcass in the press to extract the blood and bone marrow from the bird, collecting it in a jug placed beneath the spout.

Make a sauce by gently warming the blood with the liquidised liver, some duck or veal stock and some brandy or cognac. Lastly, whisk in a good knob of butter to thicken the sauce and make it glossy. Pour the sauce over the sliced duck breast. Serve with a green salad.

The legs are usually taken away and grilled to be served up during the next course.

So there you have it; a simple and affordable family meal. I have to say, I am a lover of rare meats and I don’t find this sort of food scary at all and it is being served in some restaurants today. If I make my millions, I’ll buy a press and get you all round for dinner.

I found this YouTube video of one being used, but if you’re squeamish, you’re best not looking, I’d say.

For more duck history and recipes, click upon this very link.


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The Gentleman’s Relish

The Victorians and Edwardians had a real thing for what they called savouries, which were small dishes served alongside or after the dessert course at dinner. We don’t do this any more, all that survives is the cheese option one sometimes finds on the pudding menu at restaurants. I expect the gout is to blame. Savouries need a whole post to themselves so I won’t go into them here…

For me, Gentleman’s Relish is the savoury that really conjures up romantic images of that era, I think just for the name alone. I can just imagine the bank manager or maybe a member of the British Raj eating a slice of toast, relish melting and seeping into it, as he reminisces of home.

Gentleman’s Relish is essentially potted anchovies that are heavily spiced – it also goes by another name Patum Peperium which is Latin for ‘pepper paste’, and it should only be used “very sparingly”.

It was invented in 1828 by John Osborn an expatriate living in Paris which, when he unveiled it the Paris Food Show in 1849 and again in 1855, won a Citation Favorable. High praise indeed. It is still made now in Elsham, Hertfordshire, but what exactly goes in there is a closely-guarded secret.

FYI: the company have started making a salmon version called Poacher’s Relish. I’ve never tried it, but I am sure it is wonderful too.

Now, Patum Peperium is not to everyone’s taste – saying it is piquant would be doing it a gross injustice – it is very fishy, very salty and very spicy, so some may consider it totally foul. However, I love strongly tasting robust food like this. To show it off as its finest, it should be scraped thinly across hot toast. When you first try it, the first thing that hits you is the fishy odour, then you take a bite and find the fish taste is actually a perfect marriage between anchovy, salt and spice. You can’t have a marriage between three things can you? Make that a love triangle between anchovy, salt and spice. It is addictive stuff; if it is to your tasting, like Marmite, you either love it or hate it.

Gentleman’s Relish is a cooking ingredient in its own right: the fish, salt and spices all provide a great seasoning to stews, especially lamb, and is great stirred into scrambled eggs. It can be melted upon steaks, or used as a simple sauce with pasta. It is also used to make another amazing savoury called Scotch Woodcock.

After doing a bit of research I found that major players in the spice mix seemed to be nutmeg, mace, Cayenne pepper and black pepper – all classically Victorian, the amounts used vary from pinches to teaspoons, with the spices sometimes mixed equally, other times, one spice dominated.


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Here is my recipe – the dominant spice here is Cayenne pepper, because it provides a good punch of chili heat and not that much other flavour, which the other – what are often called warmer – spices do magnificently. You can include less of the mix in the relish, or change the ratios or even the spices to suit your own taste.

Ingredients

For the spice mix:

1 tsp Cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground mace

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

For the relish:

1 x 50 g can of anchovies, drained

120 g softened butter

1 tsp spice mix

Start off by mixing together the spices. To get maximum flavour it is best to freshly grind your spices, but it is not essential. What is essential, however, is to cook your spices. Do do this, melt between 1/3  and 1/2 of the butter in a small saucepan. When hot and bubbling fry the spices for around 30 seconds; mind the butter doesn’t burn though. Now mix it with the anchovies and the remaining butter. The idea is to produce a paste – there are several ways to do this: blender, food processor, pestle & mortar or fork will do the job, it is a trade-off between how homogenous you like your relish and how much washing up you can be bothered doing. Spoon the mixture into a small pot, cover with a lid or some clingfilm, and allow to cool.

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The Oriental Club’s Mid-19th Century “Mutton Curry”

The Duke of Wellington, the first (and only) President of the Oriental Club

In the mid-19th century, the British obsession with Indian curries and culture really started to take off (see this post for a brief history of Britain’s love of spice and India). It wasn’t just the spiciness, but the romance of the place. Queen Victoria loved the country and even had an Indian wing in the palace. Although she was the Empress of India, she never actually visited the country, leaving all that excitement to her sons.

Hanover Square in the 18th Century

Authentic – or very close approximations to authentic – curries were being made in one particular London gentleman’s club called the Oriental Club which could be found in Hanover Square. The club catered for high society – the Duke of Wellington was the President and all the chairmen seem to have been Sirs, Lords, Major-Generals or Vice-Admirals.  The Club was obviously a popular one; it opened in 1825 and in 1961 it moved from Hanover Square to Stratford House on Stratford Square, where it remains to this day. If you are a Londoner (and a man), you can still join, though it does cost between £240 and £850 per year to become a member.

Stretford House, the current home of the Oriental Club

In its hey-day, Chef Richard Terry was at the helm in the kitchen, who took full advantage of the first Asian grocery warehouses; Payne’s Oriental Warehouse on Regent Street and the Oriental Depot on Leicester Square. His recipes were ‘not only from [his] own knowledge of cookery, but from Native Cooks’ too. He published a book called Indian Cookery in 1861, where the recipe below is adapted from. The job of adaptation was not done by me, but Madhur Jaffrey, though I would like to get my hands on a copy.

To make the curry, you need to make a blend of curry powder and curry paste first.

Richard Terry’s 19th Century British Curry Powder

This makes 7 tablespoons of curry powder – enough for more than three curries using the recipe below. You can of course use it in any recipe that asks for ‘curry powder’ in its list of ingredients. All the spices required are ground, but don’t buy ground coriander, pepper, cumin, cardamom and cloves if you can avoid it. Instead, roast whole spices over a medium-high heat in a dry frying pan then grind using a coffee grinder after cooling. All you need to do is mix together the following:

2 tbs ground turmeric

5 tsp ground coriander seed

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp Cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp cardamom seeds

½ tsp ground cloves

Store in a cool, dry, dark place.


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Sir Ranald Martin’s British Curry Paste

Many old (and new!) recipes ask for curry paste, but don’t always give receipts for the paste itself.  This recipe from Ranald Martin, a Victorian doctor and foodie who lived in India during the 1840s provides us with this one below. He was told it was an old Madras concoction. According to Madhur Jaffrey, the ingredients are very common in Madras, but the combination is ‘totally alien’. Aside from being used in curries, it was also used in sandwiches. The recipe below makes around 12 fluid ounces of paste.

4 tbs whole coriander seeds

2 tbs lentils such as yellow split peas or chana dal

1 tbs whole black peppercorns

1 ½ tsp whole cumin seeds

1 tbs whole brown mustard seeds

1 tbs ground turmeric

1 tbs Cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 fl oz cider vinegar

6 tbs flavourless cooking oil such as sunflower or peanut oil

Dry-roast the whole spices and lentils in a frying pan until they turn a shade darker and emanate a delicious roasted aroma.

Remove from the heat, cool and grind in a spice or coffee grinder. Add the remaining ingredients except for the oil and stir well. Heat the oil in a frying pan and when hot, add the spice mixture and fry for around five minutes until the paste turns darker. Cool and empty into a jar. Store in the refrigerator.

The Oriental Club’s 19th Century Mutton Curry

Okay, you have made the paste and blended your spices, now you can get on with the curry. You can use either lamb or mutton, but bear in mind, the mutton – although more flavourful – will take longer to cook. If lamb is tricky to get hold of, goat or kid could be used as an alternative. The curry is pretty pungent, but good, dark and rich; I added a couple of peeled, chopped potatoes to add much needed-blandness. This curry serves 4 people and goes very well with plain rice, yoghurt and mango chutney. Would you believe, I forgot to take a photograph!?

4 tbs flavourless cooking oil

1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced

2 tbs 19th Century British Curry Powder

1 tbs 19th Century British Curry Paste

1 ½ lb cubed lamb meat, shoulder is a good cut for this

8 – 12 oz (i.e. a couple of medium-sized) potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

¾ – 1 tsp salt

Heat the oil in one of those wide, deep frying pans that come with a lid. Add the onions and fry until the onions have browned and become crisp. Add the paste and powder, stirring well for a few seconds. Now add the meat and half of the salt, stir, cover and turn the heat right down. Gently fry for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pint of water (that’s a British pint – 20 fluid ounces) and the potatoes, turn up the heat and when the curry comes to a boil, turn the heat back down, cover and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, around 60 to 90 minutes if using lamb, longer if using mutton. Taste and add more salt if needed.

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Filed under food, history, Indian food, Meat, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, The Royals, The Victorians, Uncategorized

Pea Soupers

London, Parliament: Sun Through the Fog by Claude Monet 1903

London in the mid-to-late nineteenth century must have been an amazing place. There’s nothing I like more than walking around London Bridge and its environs; it is just like walking around a Dickens novel, with the romantic remains of the Marshalsea prison and roads named after his characters such as Clennam and Copperfield Street. There was however, one rather unromantic aspect to London life and that was the intense and deadly pollution created from the huge amount of coal being burnt at the time.

We talk of the smog that lie over the big cities of the modern world, Houston certainly had one, but they all pale in comparison to London smog; it had a very strong sulphurous smell and a green-brown colour to it. The Sun didn’t burn it off, but actually intensified it. Hung-out washing would be visibly dirtier once it had dried. Thousands died from heart and lung problems – it was said that a 30 second walk was the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes – and rickets was widespread due the lack of sunlight. A miserable place indeed:

The fog was so thick that the shops in Bond Street had lights at noon. I could not see people in the street from my windows. I am tempted to ask, how the English became great with so little daylight? It seems not to come fully out until nine in the morning, and immediately after four it is gone…On the 22nd of the month, accidents occurred all over London, from a remarkable fog. Carriages ran against each other, and persons were knocked down by them at the crossings. The whole gang of thieves seemed to be let loose. After perpetrating their deeds, they eluded detection by darting into the fog. It was of an opake, dingy yellow. Torches were used as guides to carriages at mid-day, but gave scarcely any light through the fog. I went out for a few minutes. It was dismal.

Richard Rush, 1883

On several occasions, people fell in the Thames and drowned because they could not see the river right in front of them.

Victorian link boys guide people home

through the London smog

And so, for obvious reasons, the thick London smog became known as a ‘pea souper’. Dried pea based soups and puddings were very popular at this time, especially in the winter when there were no few fresh vegetables around. The soup became known as London particular because of a line from Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House: “This is a London particular…A fog, miss”, said the young gentleman.

The phrase London particular had actually been around for at least a century – it was used to describe food and drink particular to London, for example London Particular Madeira.


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London Particular

This soup is really more of a potage and is very simple and cheap to make. The best thing about it is the wonderful stock made from the addition of a nice ham hock. You can use smoked or unsmoked, or you could go for a couple of pig’s trotters. Either way, it shouldn’t cost you more than 50 pence at the butcher. He might even give you them for free if you bat your eye-lashes at him. The recipe also asks for two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, this might seem like a lot, but it really can take it.

Ingredients

1 lb dried split peas

2 oz butter

3 rashers of smoky bacon, chopped

1 onion, sliced

1 ham knuckle, ham hock or 2 pig’s trotters

pepper

salt

2 tbs Worcestershire sauce

Have a look at the packet of peas; see if they need soaking overnight. If they are non-soak but are particularly old, you might want to soak them.

Melt the butter in a stockpot or large saucepan, add the bacon and fry on a medium heat for five minutes. Add the onion and fry until softened. Drain the peas and stir them in, making sure they get a good covering of bacon fat and butter. In amongst the peas, place the hock, knuckle or trotters and cover with water. Add some pepper, but do not add salt at this stage. Bring to a boil and skim off any grey scum, then cover and simmer gently until the peas are all mushy; around 1 ½ to 2 hours. Give the potage a stir every now and then as the peas do tend to stick, particularly towards the end of cooking.

Take out the meat joint and place to one side. Liquidise or mill the soup and return it to the pan. Pick any meat from the joints and add to the soup. Season with salt (if needed), pepper and the Worcestershire sauce.

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Filed under food, history, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, Soups, The Victorians, Uncategorized