Archive | March, 2013

Cake shape and Bristol Fashion

27 Mar

Recipe for Bristol Cakes from The New London Family Cook, by Duncan Macdonald, 1808


‘Mix with the hand, in an earthen pan, six ounces of sifted sugar, six ounces of fresh butter’

‘four whites and two yolks of eggs’


‘and nine ounces of flour;’


‘add three quarters of a pound of picked currants,’



‘drop the mixture with a spoon on tin plates, rubbed with butter, ‘


‘and bake it’


Learning your limes

24 Mar


limes on sale in my local Loblaws grocery store

While we were preparing for the Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus event at Fort York this February I was struck by the fact that none of the recipes that we were testing included any limes.  As a commonplace citrus fruit into today’s kitchen it seemed like either a surprising or deliberate omission.  Bridget, the Heritage Food Programme Officer at the Fort, confirmed that it was the latter.  ‘Well,’ she said, when I asked her why we weren’t making any biscuits or cakes with lime in, the recipe, ‘it’s because they didn’t use limes for cooking cakes or biscuits in the 18th or early 19th century’.

So when do limes start to become part of the baking artillery?  Today it’s impossible to come across an on-trend cookery book without some sort of recipe for a delicate lime sponge or biscuits iced with a lime infused frosting (see for example the recipe for mini lime-syrup sponges in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – p.242).  In fact it often feels as if limes are the 21st century sophisticated version of lemons, adding zest to sparkling water and gin and tonics, packing a punch in Mexican food or adding a sharp contrast to the sweetness of Vietnamese dishes at smart, upscale restaurants.  But I was interested to try and trace something of the lime’s culinary history.


A gin and tonic with lime – the perfect end to a day

The fruit lime, as the OED defines, is ‘the globular fruit of the tree Citrus Medica, var. acida, smaller than the lemon and of a more acid taste; more explicitly sour lime. Its juice is much used as a beverage. Sweet lime n. Citrus Medica, var. Limetta.’ The OED’s earliest cited mention in English is in 1638 when T. Herbert writes in Some Yeares Trav. ‘The Ile [Mohelia] inricht us with many good things;..Orenges, Lemons, Lymes’.  The lime gets a brief mention in the epic poem The Task, by the 18th century writer William Cowper which talks about ‘The ruddier orange and the paler lime’.  As a cooking ingredient however it seems to get short shrift throughout the 18th and 19th century in England.  The only place where it seems to surface is when the juice is used in a beverage.  For example the London Gazette in 1704 talks about ‘A Parcel of extraordinary good Rum and Lime-juice’.  And in 1774 a P V Fithian records ‘We had after Dinner, Lime Punch and Madaira.’


lime juice in the age of convenience shopping

Of course lime juice wasn’t only good as a mixer for alcoholic drinks.  The importance of lime juice to the British navy in the 19th century as a method of staving off attacks of scurvy for sailors going for long periods without fresh fruits and vegetables was so great that it earned sailors and by extension all Brits the sobriquet of ‘limeys’.  There’s a fascinating account of the complacency and misunderstanding which surrounded the use of lime juice (and that of other citrus fruits) to control scurvy on naval voyages on the Idle Words blog.
Lime takes time to emerge in other British culinary products.  For example it’s not until the 1930s that the reassuringly British Rose’s lime marmalade appeared. Interestingly the strength of the original Mr Rose’s business was built on supplying the British Navy with lime juice but it seems that it took him a number of years to experiment with it as flavour for marmalade.


Rose’s lime marmalade, a nursery staple from the 1930s

In fact until relevantly recently the most likely mention of ‘lime’ in British cook books is likely to refer to the calcium oxide product, for use in cleaning and other household tasks.  Not the lovely vibrant green lime at all.  For example in Mrs Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management she advises that ‘To preserve bright Grates or Fire-irons from Rust’ one should ‘Make a strong paste of fresh lime and water, and with a fine brush smear it as thickly as possible over all the polished surface requiring preservation. By this simple means, all the grates and fire-irons in an empty house may be kept for months free from harm, without further care or attention.’
So back to the issue of limes in baking.  Perhaps the best known dessert recipe using limes is the iconic Key Lime Pie from Key West, Florida (anyone who watched last year’s Great British Bake Off will remember Ryan’s perfect Key Lime Pie that wowed judges Mary and Paul).  It appears that its it exact lineage has been clouded in the mists of time but most stories contain the following suggestion, that the dish originated with the cook of William Curry, the first millionaire of Key West.  The dessert used the distinctive key limes grown in the area (the 1926 storm wiped out most of the local production) and condensed milk.  The comparative isolation of the islands, without cows, meant that the only source of milk was the sweetened condensed milk, first made available by canned condensed milk in mid 19th century before the advent of modern refrigeration.  As many of the websites I looked at suggested, the smaller key limes are very different from the more familiar vibrant green lime variety and a true Key Lime Pie should be tinged a delicate yellow, not a strong green colour.

The difficulty comes when you try and pin down the first written Key Lime Pie recipe.  I’ve been looking for a number of days now without success.  A number of sources suggested that I wouldn’t have any success pre-1930 and so I began looking at a number of American classics from The Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer’s Boston cookbook to James Beard’s American cookery.  None of them contains a recipe for Key Lime Pie.  The very helpful woman in the Cookbook Store, Toronto pointed out to me that it might well be that the recipe first appeared on the back of a condensed milk tin.

In fact finding any recipe using limes for much of the 20th century is tricky.  I felt hopeful when I looked at the promisingly titled Zestful recipes for every meal: Pure Gold and Silver Seal oranges, lemons, grapefruit published in California sometime in the 1930s by the Mutual Orange Distributers.  Alas, no lime recipes. When you do fine pre-1950s lime recipes they tend to be for cocktails or for marinating fish. For example The Modern Cook Book for the Busy Woman, by Mabel Claire, published in 1932 contains a recipe for a lime rickey and a non alcoholic lime cocktail.  Mrs Vaughan Moody’s 1931 Cook Book tells you how to make a lime sherbet with 12 limes and a Hawaiian cocktail to marinate fish with limes.  The Patio Cook Book from 1951 includes Joe Tilden’s Garlic Sauce (created we’re told by one of California’s most famous amateur chefs) which incorporates lime to create a sauce perfect for French bread, fish or jacket potatoes.

By this point I was beginning to feel really despondent – where was I going to find any written proof of the beginning of our love affair with lime as a baking ingredient?  Well, my perusing on a local bookshop shelf of American cookbooks did reveal something slightly more helpful.  A reprint of the first Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book from 1950 contained a range of lime recipes; its Lime Meringue Pie recipe was contributed by a member of staff from Florida (could this be a Key Lime Pie in disguise?) and it was accompanied by a Lime Cake Pudding and a Lime Chiffon Pie.  At last, the lime seems to have made its mark on the baking scene!

There’s plenty of gaps in this culinary account of limes, especially in terms of their use in Mexican, Indian and south East Asian cooking (one of my favourite discoveries in Singapore last year was lime juice, refreshingly sharp, with just a hint of sweetness below, the perfect drink for a bakingly hot day).  I would love to be presented with an earlier recipe using limes in the baking of something sweet.  And please, please do let me know if you come across a recipe for Key Lime Pie pre-1950.  For this amateur historic cook there’s plenty more lime learning to do.

Kensington Palace Recipes 4 – Sebastian’s stain remover

10 Mar




Title page from the Compleat Servant-Maid by Hannah Woolley (1677) image from Design your life

Would you turn to Nigella for tips on household cleaning?  Or how about consulting Jamie about how to treat a common cold, or reduce a swelling?  Our modern separation of food from medicine from cleaning products is one which would probably have seemed strange to our ancestors who would have expected to produce a range of all three at home.  Many books which we might now term cookery books were so much more than this; offering the housewife or housekeeper advice on a diversity of household management topics, including the making of herbal remedies and preparations for cleaning clothes, furniture and textiles.  A sample of some of their titles not only underlines this point but also demonstrates the value placed on the skills of good household management:


  • Domestic management, or the art of conducting a family; with instructions to servants in general.  Addressed to young housekeepers, c.1800


  • The Housekeepers Manual of Cookery and Domestic Economy, 1859


  • Housekeeping A Guide to Domestic Management by Mrs Humphry (Madge of Truth) 1893


As Mrs Humphry warned readers in her introduction ‘Good housekeepers are comparatively rare.  To keep house efficiently needs a combination of qualities which Nature seems niggardly in doling out.’  Books of domestic management therefore were needed to guide women in the arts of housekeeping, so that they could be an asset to their husband/employer.


Medicines and cleaning products, just like cakes, soups and preserves, would all be prepared using  what was known as a ‘recipe’ or more commonly before the 19th century a ‘receipt’.  The Oxford English Dictionary etymology shows how the word developed from the Latin verb recipere, to receive, which in its 2nd singular imperative, was written by physicians at the top of their prescriptions.  The earliest use the OED cites for recipe/receipt being used to describe the ingredients and methods for making an edible preparation is 1595 when the Widowes Treasure talks of  ‘A notable receite to make Ipocras.’  And in his 1755 dictionary Dr Johnson defines ‘receipt’ (derived from recipe) as a ‘prescription of ingredients for any composition’.


It’s in this broad context of household management that we find in the lengthily titled The Housewife, being a most useful assistant in all domestic concerns, whether in a town or country situation (1785?) by Laetitia Montague, (Sometime companion to a lady in one of the first families in the Kingdom) the fascinating ‘recipe’ For an earwig gotten into the ear;


‘Get rue, and stamp it in a mortar; then strain off the juice, and put it into the ear; then lie down to rest on the contrary ear, and when you awake the juice will come out and the earwig will be dead.


The juices of wormwood, southernwood, and rue equal quantities, put into the ear will also kill any vermin that is got into it.’


While Mrs Humphry (1893) advises that To Dislodge a Fish Bone from the Throat;


‘Take an emetic compounded of four grains of tartar emetic dissolved in a tumberful of warm water.  Immediately afterwards, drink down the white of four eggs.  This will be efficacious in causing sickness and the bone will probably come away with it’


No-one offered me a medicinal receipt in my Kensington book of Historic Royal Recipes but the contribution from Sebastian was a receipt for the cleaning of household linen.  Sebastian is the softly spoken Deputy Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, full of wise and witty advice and a fount of knowledge on a whole host of subjects including the furniture of royal palaces (look out for his Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber opening at Hampton Court on 27 March!)  He was also responsible for handling the return of one of my favourite portraits to Hampton Court, the wonderful Van Dyck painting of the young Princess Mary (eldest daughter of Charles I) which is believed to have hung in the palace while Charles was living there under house arrest during the English Civil War.


Now, I’m more than prepared to try most of the recipes in my book but this one I have not verified by practical experimentation (not only did I not want to mess about with the necessary ingredients, I didn’t have any ink stained clothing to practise on).  You’ll be even more delighted to hear that this means that there is no photographic evidence to accompany it.  Here is Sebastian’s recipe (courtesy of Hannah Woolley) in full:


To get Spots of Ink out of Linne Cloth


‘Before that you suffer it to be washed, lay it all night in urine as if you were washing it in water; then lay it in more urine another night and then rub it again, and so do till you find they be quite out.’


Hannah Woolley, The Compleat Servant-Maid (1677)


It’s ironic in a way how important urine has been in the preparation of cloth and the care of clothes, given how much time is spent trying to remove human waste from laundry.  Fulling the process of cleansing newly made cloth to remove impurities and make it thicker used urine (or wash as it was known) to soften and whiten the cloth.  The medieval toilet, the garderobe, gained its name because clothing was hung there so that the ammonia rich environment would kill the fleas and other insects.  As Hannah Woolley’s spot remover demonstrates urine continued to be important in the care of clothes and urine from chamber pots and privies was collected for the purpose.


Of course a fabric cleaning recipe is a very appropriate choice for a curator of historic dress (this was not a technique we ever used to try and get rid of ink spots at Kensington) and despite my reluctance to begin testing this within the confines of our modern apartment I am fascinated by the history of keeping clothes clean, not least because a brief trawl through the history of clothes laundering and cleaning quickly reminds you how pain free modern appliances and commercial dry cleaning have made the business of keeping clothes clean.  No longer the messy, arduous and sometimes highly dangerous business of preparing your own soap and urine stain removers, poking clothes through mangles and lifting heavy piles of soaked washing from boiling coppers.  When you next lift your clothes from your user-friendly washing machine or treat the coffee spill on your shirt with a neatly packaged, pre-prepared stain remover you can be glad that you don’t have to think about setting your urine aside for future use!  Thanks for the recipe Sebastian.  See below for a few more clothes cleaning recipes and links to some of my favourite historic laundry pictures.




Housekeeping A Guide to Domestic Management by Mrs Humphry (Madge of Truth,) 1893

‘To take out a wax candle or sperm stains Lay a piece of blotting-paper on the stain.  Put a live coal from the fire into a kitchen spoon, hold the spoon on the blotting paper.  The heat will cause the latter to absorb the grease’


The New England Cook Book, or Young Housekeeper’s Guide, n.d


36. To clean Silk Stockings.

Wash the stockings in mildly warm hard soap suds, rinse them in soap suds and if you wish to have them of a flesh color, put in a little rose, pink or cochineal powder; if you prefer a bluish cast, put in a little indigo. Hang them up to dry without wringing, when nearly dry, iron them on the right side, till perfectly so. If you wish silks of any kind to have a gloss on them, never rinse them without soap in the water.


39. To clean Light Kid Gloves.

Magnesia, moist bread and India Rubber, are all of them good to clean light kid gloves, if rubbed on thoroughly.

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton, 1861

Silks, when washed, should be dried in the shade, on a linen-horse, taking care that they are kept smooth and unwrinkled. If black or blue, they will be improved if laid again on the table, when dry, and sponged with gin, or whiskey, or other white spirit.


The Easiest Way In Housekeeping And Cooking. Adapted To Domestic Use Or Study In Classes by Helen Campbell, 1903


‘If any fruit-stains are on napkins or table-cloths, lay the stained part over a bowl, and pour on boiling water till they disappear. Ink can be taken out if the spot is washed while fresh, in cold water, or milk and water; and a little salt will help in taking out wine-stains. Machine-oil must have a little lard or butter rubbed on the spot, which is then to be washed in warm suds. Never rub soap directly on any stain, as it sets it. For iron-rust, spread the garment in the sun, and cover the spot with salt; then squeeze on lemon-juice enough to wet it. This is much safer and quite as sure as the acids sold for this purpose. In bright sunshine the spot will disappear in a few hours.’



The Fortress of Konigstein: Courtyard with the Magdalenenburg by Bernardo Bellotto, 1756-8, which shows on the right hand side women putting the linen out on the grass to dry and bleach in the sun.  (Manchester City Art Galleries)

Manual Labour: An Interior with Three Figures Folding Laundry by Wyn Casbolt, 1943 (UCL Art Gallery)

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Morland, c.1765-82 (Tate Galleries)

Restored Cathedral with Washing on the Drying Green by H Eadie, 1907 (Dunblane Museum)

Y Lein Ddillad (The Washing Line) by Helen Steinthal, 1964-1966 (Bangor University)