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Shrewsbury Cakes – A history and the recipe

Shrewsbury cakes

Maria rundellShrewsbury Cakes – The history 

Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell is famed for her New System of Domestic Cookery. As the forward to her work claims, her purported goal was to offer assistance to the middle class housekeeper and wife, as many of Jane Austen’s heroines would wind up being:

“As the following directions were intended for the conduct of the families of the authoress’s own daughters, and for the arrangement of their table, so as to unite a good figure with proper economy, she has avoided all excessive luxury, such as essence of ham, and that wasteful expenditure of large quantities of meat for gravy, which so greatly contributes to keep up the price, and is no less injurious to those who eat than to those whose penury obliges them to abstain. Many receipts are given for things, which being in daily toe, the mode of preparing them may be supposed too well known to require a place in a cookery-book; yet how rarefy .do we meet with fine melted butter, good toast and water, or well-made coffee! She makes no apology for minuteness in some articles, or for leaving others unnoticed, because she does not write for professed cooks. This little work would have been a treasure to herself when she first set out in life, and she therefore hopes it may prove useful to others. In that expectation it is given to the Public; and as she will receive from it no emolument, so she trusts it will escape without censure.”

A Shrewsbury cake or Shrewsbury biscuit is a classic English dessert, named for Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire. They are made from dough that contains sugar, flour, egg, butter, and lemon zest. Shrewsbury cakes can be small in size for serving several at a time, or large for serving as a dessert in themselves.

The playwright William Congreve mentioned Shrewsbury cakes in his play The Way of the World in 1700 as a simile  (Witwoud – “Why, brother Wilfull of Salop, you may be as short as a Shrewsbury cake, if you please. But I tell you ’tis not modish to know relations in town”). The recipe is also included in several early cookbooks including The Compleat Cook of 1658. First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams brought this recipe to The White House, when her husband, John Quincy Adams, son of American President, John Adams, became President of the United States in 1825.

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Neat’s Tongue

Perhaps one of the most famous recipes in literature begins, “Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–“. This is, of course, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but when I came across the following recipe in Eliza Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery, it seemed as if it might fit right in to the list of inedible ingredients. “Cold Neat’s Tongue”, as it was called, was suggested as an appropriate side dish for a supper party in 1807,

Hot suppers are not much in use where people dine very late. When required, the top and bottom, or either, may be Game. Fowls. Rabbit. Boiled Fish, such as Soles, Mackerel. Oysters stewed or scalloped. French Beans. Cauliflower, or Jerusalem Artichokes, in white Sauce. Brocoli with Eggs. Stewed Spinach and ditto. Sweetbreads. Small Birds. Mushrooms. Potatoes. Scallop, &c. Cutlets. Roast Onions. Salmagundy. Buttered Eggs on Toast. Cold Neat’s Tongue. Ham. Collared things. Hunter’s Beef sliced. Rusks buttered, with Anchovies on. Grated Hung Beef with butter, with or without Rusks. Grated Cheese round, and Butter dressed in the middle of a plate. Radishes ditto. Custards in glasses with Sippets. Oysters cold or pickled. Potted Meals. Fish. Birds. Cheese, &c. Good plain Cake sliced. Pies of Bird, or Fruit. Crabs. Lobster Prawns. Cray-fish. Any of the list of sweet things. Fruits. A Sandwich set with any of the above articles, placed a little distance from each other on the table, looks well, without the tray, if preferred.


The lighter the things the better they appear, and glass intermixed has the best effect. Jellies, different coloured things, and flowers, add to the beauty of the table. An elegant supper may be served at a small expense by those who know how to make trifles that are in the house form the greatest part of the meal.

The Hereford Bull was undoubtedly a common sight in Austen's Day.
The Hereford Bull was undoubtedly a common sight in Austen’s Day. Exports of this breed began in 1816.

 

I, for one, though, could not imagine what a “Neat” was, let alone how to prepare it’s tongue, hot or cold. Continue reading Neat’s Tongue

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“The Poultry Yard: The Management of Fowls”, Regency Style

duck isolated on whiteIt seems as though everywhere you go today, there are articles, advertisements and public service messages about using, growing or purchasing locally grown produce, dairy and even meat. On my suburban street alone, three families have set up hen houses, and free range chickens are becoming almost as common a sight as cats and dogs around town (of course, it wasn’t until my neighbor added a rooster to her brood that we really began to notice just how farm like our neighborhood had become!) With the local Tractor Supply offering adorable chicks and ducklings for sale each spring, the idea of starting your own brood seems simpler than ever. After all, what’s not to love? They eat kitchen and vegetable scraps, and in return provide unending fresh eggs and the occasional fryer.

I will admit, even I was swept away in the furor of home farming and could not resist the adorable ducklings for sale. Knowing that my sister in law intended on setting up a hen house that summer, I thought that the sweet little Mallard ducklings we found would be a fantastic present for her April birthday.

We only planned to get six.

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Cookery for the Poor

Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young ladies from tolerably regular exercise; and on the morrow, Emma had a charitable visit to pay to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury…Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away,

“These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling they make every thing else appear! I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and yet, who can say how soon it may all vanish from my mind?”

“Very true,” said Harriet. “Poor creatures! one can think of nothing else.”

“And really, I do not think the impression will soon be over,” said Emma, as she crossed the low hedge, and tottering footstep which ended the narrow, slippery path through the cottage garden, and brought them into the lane again. “I do not think it will,” stopping to look once more at all the outward wretchedness of the place, and recall the still greater within.
-Emma

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To Dress Broccoli

The soup, ladled from a large tureen, was nameless and savourless, but Miss Gateshead and Mr. Cranbrook, busily engaged in disclosing to one another their circumstances, family histories, tastes, dislikes, and aspirations, drank it without complaint…The mutton, which followed the soup was underdone and tough, and the side dish of Broccoli would have been improved by straining…
Night at the Inn, Pistols for Two (1960)
by Georgette Heyer

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Georgette Heyer is acknowledged as one of the most respected Regency historians in the world of fiction authors. Her novels are as full of Regency customs and cant as they are daring sword fights, flights to Gretna Green and comic turns of phrase. Her collection of short stories, Pistols for Two, is no exception.

Amused by the description of the poor inn fare served in Night at the Inn, I was curious enough to search for a period recipe. I finally found one in one of my favorite Regency Era cookbooks, A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Eliza Kettelby Rundell (1806).

Despite my children’s protestations that Broccoli is not a “real” food at all, rather a product of scientific gene mutation and not intended by God for the table, the truth is that it is an ancient vegetable, perfected (some may say) by the Romans and eventually introduced to England in the mid-18th century by Peter Scheemakers; which is why I decided to “dress Broccoli.”

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Bubble and Squeak

Alas! I must leave undescribed the gibier,
The salmi, the consommé, the purée,
All which I use to make my rhymes run glibber
Than could roast beef in our rough John Bull way:
I must not introduce even a spare rib here,
“Bubble and squeak” would spoil my liquid lay:
But I have dined, and must forego, Alas!
The chaste description even of a “bécasse;”
Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto XV

Bubble and squeak is a traditional English dish made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The main ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables can be added. The cold chopped vegetables (and cold chopped meat if used) are fried in a pan together with mashed potatoes or crushed roast potatoes until the mixture is well-cooked and brown on the sides. It is often served with cold meat from the Sunday roast, and pickles.

The meat was traditionally added to the bubble and squeak itself, although nowadays it is more commonly made without meat. The name comes from the bubble and squeak sounds made as it cooks. The earliest printed recipe can be found in  Mrs. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s 1806  edition of,  A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families.

 A New System of Domestic Cookery was the most popular English cookbook of the first half of the nineteenth century; it is often referred to simply as “Mrs. Rundell”. The first edition  was a short collection of recipes published by John Murray. It went through dozens of editions, both legitimate and pirated, in both Britain and the United States, where the first edition was published in 1807. The frontispiece typically credited the authorship to “A Lady”. Later editions included many contributions by Emma Roberts.

Bubble-and-Squeak
Cut slices from a cold round of beef; let them be fried quickly until brown, and put them into a dish to keep hot. Clean the pan from the fat; put into it greens and carrots previously boiled and chopped small; add a little butter, pepper, and salt; make them very hot, and put them round the beef with a little gravy. Cold pork boiled is a better material for bubble-and-squeak than beef, which is always hard; in either case the slices should be very thin and lightly fried.
A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families

by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell

The major ingredients of “Bubble and Squeak” are potatoes and cabbage, though it can include other veggies (consider Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots. ) Chopped meat is also often added, although the original recipe suggests serving it with “raredone beef, lightly fried.”

Mainly prepared using previously cooked “left over” ingredients, it is a quick snack and often prepared for breakfast.  It is such a quintessential British recipe– as much a comfort food as Macaroni and Cheese is to Americans, that it was served (in elegant, royal form) as an appetizer Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding reception last April!

The modern version begins with left-over, boiled vegetables and mashed potatoes (Food Network Chef, Jamie Oliver,  suggests that the recipe should be a bit more than half potatoes.) Chopped meat, such as sausage, bacon or the end of a roast can be added.

  1. Heat some butter or oil in a pan.
  2. Mash your potatoes and vegetables together and mix in the meat.
  3. Create a thick “vegetable pancake” and fry it in the oil.
  4. Flip the mixture so that both sides are crispy and lightly browned.

Serve hot or cold!

 


 

Historical information from Wikipedia.com. Recipe suggestions from Bubble and squeak: A British breakfast favorite.

 

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Scotch Eggs

Scotch Egg by Sam Breach

A Scotch egg consists of a hard-boiled egg (with its shell removed) wrapped in a sausage meat mixture, coated in breadcrumbs or rolled oats, and deep-fried. The London department store Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented Scotch eggs in 1738,but they may have been inspired by the Moghul dish nargisi kofta (“Narcissus meatballs”).The earliest printed recipe is the 1809 edition of Mrs. Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery. Mrs. Rundell – and later 19th-century authors – served them hot, with gravy

Cooks.com offers many recipe variations for this Georgian treat, including the following:

8 hard boiled eggs, peeled
Flour
1 lb. bulk pork sausage
3/4 c. bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. sage
1/4 tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
2 eggs, well beaten
Vegetable oil

Roll each hard boiled egg in flour. Form a large, flat patty out of 2 ounces of the sausage. Carefully work the sausage around one of the floured eggs. Repeat with other eggs. In a shallow bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, sage, salt, and pepper. Dip each sausage egg in the beaten egg and roll it in the bread crumb mixture. Heat 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a 3 quart saucepan to 360 degrees. Fry the eggs in the oil 4 to 6 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Photo by Sam Breach, Becks & Posh blog