The Highly Spiced Cuisine of 18th Century England

Henry Howard’s book England’s Newest Way In All Sorts of Cookery, Pastry, and All Pickles that are fit to be used was published in London in 1726.

In the book, we find sweet and savoury snacks, such as candied ginger and pickled walnuts. To make the pickled walnuts, writes Howard, the nuts should be soaked in a mixture of white wine vinegar, cloves, mace, nutmeg, ginger, whole white pepper, mustard seeds, seven cloves of garlic, and seven shallots.

Then there are the main courses. Beef is, of course, an iconic British food. A typical modern recipe for roast beef (found on the BBC Food website) calls for the use of black pepper and mustard powder, and red wine in the gravy. A beef recipe in Howard’s book, however, seasons the meat with red sage, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, mace, cloves, ginger, salt, and pepper. The beef is then to be soaked for six hours in a pint of claret with ‘an onion and two or three cloves of garlic’ before cooking.

Fish in sauce is to this day a popular dish in Britain, and a typical recipe for fish in parsley sauce can, again, be found on the BBC Food website. Howard’s fish sauce recipe, however, calls for thyme, horseradish, lemon peel, whole pepper, anchovies, and white wine.

Howard also lists plenty of rich desserts. ‘White pudding’, for example, is made using half a pound of almonds, two grated nutmegs, rosewater, candied citron, a pound of sugar (4 cups), a quart of cream (that’s 4 cups or two pints!), and ten eggs.

Should a cook put this collection of dishes from Howard’s book together for a dinner party, they would need to use cloves, mace, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, mustard seeds, horseradish, garlic, shallots, onions, red sage, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, ginger, lemon peel, and citron.

Hannah Glasse’s highly influential (both in England and the United States) book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747, likewise illustrates the taste for highly seasoned dishes amongst the wealthy of 18th century Britain.

Using recipes from Glasses’s book, you could, for example, serve pickled peaches as a starter. The recipe calls for peaches to be pickled in white wine vinegar with mustard, garlic, ginger, cloves, mace, and nutmeg. The stones are to be removed and the fruit then stuffed with a mixture of mustard, garlic, horseradish, and ginger.

Main courses include a dish of pickled beef, seasoned with garlic, cloves, salt, Jamaica pepper [allspice], mace, white wine, and onions; or salmon, seasoned with Jamaica pepper, black pepper, mace, and cloves.

‘Milk water’ is an extraordinary drink found in Glasses’s book. The recipe calls for a gallon of milk to be heated gently for a day with a mixture of agrimony, endive, fumetory, baum, elderflowers, white nettles, water cresses, bank cresses, sage, eye-bright, brook lime, and celandine; the roses of yellow dock, red madder, fennel, horseradish, and liquorice; raisins, sliced nutmeg, winter bark, turmeric, galangal, carraway and fennel seed. ‘You may add a handful of May wormwood’, Glasse adds.

This is, of course, a far cry from the kind of bland cuisine often presented as typical ‘British food’ and shows again that, for the better off at least, the English cookery of past centuries was highly spiced and featured a wide variety of seasonings.

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