I was having a very busy time, planning a holiday, sorting out the family, finishing one book, starting another, looking at the dust highlighted by the spring sunshine…
So what to do first?
I decided to take part in an online course on Regency cooking. What else???
It was a distraction technique, and writers know all about those. When you are desperate to finish a chapter and the words just won’t come or a you can’t work out a twist in the plot. Suddenly a morning’s ironing looks like a very attractive prospect….
But I digress.
How it started
I follow a charming Regency food enthusiast on twitter, Paul Couchman (@TheRegencyCook). He mentioned he would be running a short course on Regency cooking. I was intrigued.
Regency is my bag, as it were, but I had never tried my hand at Regency cooking. I often refer to food in my books. After all, my characters must eat. I have copies of some original cookbooks, Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England, for example. And Louse Allen’s little gem of recipes from a middle class housewife of the 1820s.
And by chance, on a recent trip to Inverness, I picked up a facsimile of recipes by Elizabeth Cleland, a cook and teacher in Edinburgh in the mid 18th century.
I also thought that living in the Highlands would not be a problem. Regency Cooks wouldn’t be using out of season ingredients or exotic fresh fruits from far flung lands, would they???
The course promised main course recipes to try. Nothing too difficult. With videos to help us along, plus side helpings of information on food and cooking methods of the Georgian period.
Inspiring, education and fun. I signed up!
Most early recipes are for vast quantities. The authors were usually cooks from large establishments, planning meals for a dozen people or more. Thankfully Paul had modernised the recipes for his course. The quantities were sufficient for two people, and some of the ingredients had been changed. For example, we used ground almonds and almond extract instead of the bitter almonds of the original recipe. Bitter almonds just happen to be toxic!
Note to self – perhaps I could use that for a murder mystery….
How it started
The first week’s recipes and shopping list arrived. It included Marrowfat peas. I hadn’t heard of these little beauties for decades, and I don’t think I have ever used them. According to Wikipedia these are peas that have been left to grow and dry out naturally in the field before being harvested. They are available dried or ready cooked in cans, so I went hunting.
I didn’t have to hunt very far. Our local shop actually has cans of them on the shelves!
I browsed through some of my old cookery books; I couldn’t find a mention of marrowfat peas. However I did find a “sailing-boat method” of keeping peas (Hartley). They are shelled, boiled 5 (yes, five!) times then packed into jars and covered with clarified mutton fat. Not low calorie, obviously.
Then a quick search on the internet came up with this Rowlandson picture.
Forget the peas, this is far more fun!
My first attempts at Regency cooking
The first Regency cooking week went well. I made soup. The first, a delicious white soup, which is not too far removed from the soup I make from the leftovers of a roast chicken. I don’t usually add almonds or cream, though. I was surprised to add an anchovy fillet (somehow I think of these little beauties as a modern convenience).
It was a success!
Making the white soup required grated nutmeg, and this was when I was able to try out a technique I had seen demonstrated at Quebec House, a picturesque National Trust property in Kent and the childhood home of General James Wolfe. It was suggested that cockle shells were used for grating things like nutmeg. I tried it, and it works. It also collects the grated nutmeg in the shell – well, most of it.
However, it is a little tough on the fingers. I will not be giving up my modern metal grater anytime soon!
Then there was the Summer Pease Soup. This is where we used the aforementioned marrowfat peas. The recipe also calls for cucumber (which I detest). Thankfully the words “in season” meant I could happily ignore that and just add the required lettuce. The result was surprisingly good. In fact, I shall definitely make both recipes again!
Week Two of Regency cooking
So, bread pudding couldn’t be difficult, could it?
It wasn’t, although sadly I have no photo to show you. The others on the course provided photos of such beautifully presented little puddings that I think my camera decided to give up in shame!
I did, however, manage the cabbage pudding, basically meatloaf wrapped in cabbage. This one used more suet or lard than one is accustomed to seeing these days, but actually, the finished pudding was quite delicious and not nearly as fatty as I thought it would be. My cabbage leaves lost some of their vibrancy after being cooked in a bain marie for over an hour, but we served it with mustard and pickle, and it was declared a success.
Two down, more to come…
Sadly, a sudden infection laid me low and I have not yet managed the oranges filled with layers of orange jelly and white blancmange, the ratafia cakes or the Fanchionettes, but I live in hope that I shall still manage them before too long.
I have bought the rosewater now, so I must use it up!
I am enthused!
Sometimes one needs to step outside the box and do something new. Paul’s course was great fun, and informative, too.
It was great fun to see old cooking techniques in action and to see everyone’s variations on the recipe. I am enthused to try more old recipes now and I have noticed that, in my latest book, the characters do seem to be spending more time in the kitchen…
The Georgians ate well! At least those who could afford it. Has it inspired me? Yes, it has also given me an admiration for the cooks and their minions. They slaved away without all our labour-saving devices, lifting pans that weighed a ton and working in conditions that today’s Health and Safety executive would have condemned as far too dangerous!