Our language is alive and well. I know this because I am trying to interpret the menus and recipes (receipts) from 1764, and many of the words I can’t even find on the internet, the techniques are lost to the ages through mists of time and generations of human memory.
Here is a sample menu for the month of April, early spring. The only vegetable found in this menu is the asparagus, which is an early spring arrival in gardens:
First Course. At the Top stew’d Fillet of Veal. At the Bottom a roast Leg of Mutton. Two Side-dishes, Salt Fish and Beef-Steaks. In the Middle a Hunters Pudding.
Second Course. At the Top roast Chickens and Asparagus. At the Bottom Ducks. In the Middle preserv’d Oranges. For the four Corners. Damasin Pie, Cream Curds, Lobster, and cold Pot.
Elizabeth Moxon. English Housewifery / Exemplified in above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions / for most Parts of Cookery (Kindle Locations 2185-2188).
These are all of the recipes that I could find in this ancient cookbook, written before the invention of the dictionary or the editor. I have highlighted the words that I don’t understand, and quite a few of the menu items are not found anywhere else in the cookbook, so they must have been so easy that everyone knew how to cook these things without further help.
31. To stew a FILLET of VEAL. Take a leg of the best whye veal, cut off the dug and the knuckle, cut the rest into two fillets, and take the fat part and cut it in pieces the thickness of your finger; you must stuff the veal with the fat; make the hole with a penknife, draw it thro’ and skewer it round; season it with pepper, salt, nutmeg, and shred parsley; then put it into your stew-pan, with half a pound of butter, (without water) and set it on your stove; let it boil very slow and cover it close up, turning it very often; it will take about two hours in stewing; when it is enough pour the gravy from it, take off the fat, put into the gravy a pint of oysters and a few capers, a little lemon-peel, a spoonful or two of white wine, and a little juice of lemon; thicken it with butter and flour the thickness of cream; lay round it forc’d-meat-balls and oysters fry’d, and so serve it up. Garnish your dish with a few capers and slic’d lemon.
WHITE POTT another Way. A layer of white bread cut thin at the bottom of the dish, a layer of apples cut thin, a layer of marrow or suet, currans, raisins, sugar and nutmeg, then the bread, and so on, as above, till the dish is fill’d up; beat four eggs, and mix them with a pint of good milk, a little sugar and nutmeg, and pour it over the top. This should be made three or four hours before it is baked. Sauce. Wine and butter.
131. A HUNTING PUDDING. Take a pound of fine flour, a pound of beef-suet shred fine, three quarters of a pound of currans well cleaned, a quartern of raisins stoned and shred, five eggs, a little lemon-peel shred fine, half a nutmeg grated, a jill of cream, a little salt, about two spoonfuls of sugar, and a little brandy, so mix all well together, and tie it up right in your cloth; it will take two hours boiling; you must have a little white wine and butter for your sauce.
341. To preserve ORANGES or LEMONS. Take seville oranges, the largest and roughest you can get, clear of spots, chip them very fine, and put them into water for two days, shifting them twice or three times a day, then boil them whilst they are soft: take and cut them into quarters, and take out all the pippens with a penknife, so weigh them, and to every pound of orange, take a pound and half of loaf sugar; put your sugar into a pan, and to every pound of sugar a pint of water, set it over the fire to melt, and when it boils skim it very well, then put in your oranges; if you would have any of them whole, make a little hole at the top, and take out the meat with a tea spoon, set your oranges over a slow fire to boil, and keep them skimming all the while; keep your oranges as much as you can with the skin downwards; you may cover them with a delf-plate, to bear them down in the boiling; let them boil for three quarters of an hour, then put them into a pot or bason, and let them stand two days covered, then boil them again whilst they look clear, and the syrrup be thick, so put them into a pot, and lie close over them a paper dip’d in brandy, and tie a double paper at the top, set them in a cool place, and keep them for use. If you would have your oranges that are whole to look pale and clear, to put in glasses, you must make a syrrup of pippen jelly; then take ten or a dozen pippens, as they are of bigness, pare and slice them, and boil them in as much water as will cover them till they be thoroughly tender, so strain your water from the pippens through a hair sieve, then strain it through a flannel bag; and to every pint of jelly take a pound of double refined sugar, set it over a fire to boil, and skim it, let it boil whilst it be thick, then put it into a pot and cover it, but they will keep best if they be put every one in different pots.
251. To make CREAM CURDS. Take a gallon of water, put to it a quart of new milk, a little salt, a pint of sweet cream and eight eggs, leaving out half the whites and strains, beat them very well, put to them a pint of sour cream, mix them very well together, and when your pan is just at boiling (but is must not boil) put in the sour cream and your eggs, stir it about and keep it from settling to the bottom; let it stand whilst it begins to rise up, then have a little fair water, and as they rise keep putting it in whilst they be well risen, then take them off the fire, and let them stand a little to sadden; have ready a sieve with a clean cloth over it, and take up the curds with a laddle or egg-slicer, whether you have; you must always make them the night before you use them; this quantity will make a large dish if your cream be good; if you think your curds be too thick, mix tho them two or three spoonfuls of good cream, lie them upon a china dish in lumps, so serve them up.
I am fascinated, I have over four hundred of these antiques, and each of them contains its own little bit of mystery. Knowing that the stoves, ovens and tools were all of the very most rudimentary, that there was no refrigeration, that every ingredient they describe was either fresh, salted or pickled, I can’t begin to imagine what one of these meals would taste like.