Heroines from the History of English Domestic Cookery – Mrs Mary Holland

Interior of a farm worker's cottage in 19th century rural England before electricity. Countryside Museum, Breamore House, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.

At the weekend I indulged in one of my favourite pastimes, rummaging around secondhand bookshops.  Having spent a considerable amount of time scouring dusty shelves, perching precariously on footstools, sitting cross-legged amongst the spiders, I am delighted to be able to share with you here extracts from some of my best finds.

There is very little biographical information available on Mrs Mary Holland the author of The Complete Economical Cook and Frugal Housewife: An entirely new system of Domestic Cookery.   Her cookbook and advice on household management was first published in the early 1800s.  It has gone through numerous reprints spanning the Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods.  I find much of her writing just as relevant today as it would  have been over 200 years ago, for example the impact of poor diet on your health and well-being.  Another example is her insistence on eating a proper breakfast, she states ‘…the practice is not uncommon to eat a light breakfast, and a heavy supper: but the latter of these is hurtful, often producing apoplexy, and always indigestion and nightmare.  Where this is not practiced, there will generally be found a disposition to make a more hearty breakfast.’ (1853:p.xxv) I am as guilty as anybody of skipping breakfast on a regular basis.  However,  I know that when I do sit down to a proper cooked breakfast, usually on a Saturday or Sunday, my hunger is kept at bay well into the afternoon, negating the need to snack between meals or tuck-in to a heavy supper.   The extracts below are taken from the 17th edition, published in 1853 by William Tegg & Co.  Mrs Holland’s recipes do not separate ingredients and method, unlike Mrs Beeton but seem fairly easy to follow nonetheless.  Enjoy, it really is a fascinating read.  I have selected some of her most unusual recipes.

‘The subject of cookery is, in general, either despised by women as below their attention, or, when practically engaged in, it is with no other consideration about it than, in the good housewife’s phrase, to make the most of everything, whether good, bad, or indifferent; or to contrive a thousand mischievous compositions, both savoury and sweet, to recommend their own ingenuity.’ (1853:xv-xvi)

‘The leading consideration about food ought to be its wholesomeness.  Cookery may produce savoury and pretty looking dishes without their possessing any of the qualities of food.  It is at the same time both a serious and ludicrous reflection that it should be thought to do honour to our friends and ourselves to set-out a table where indigestion and all its train of evils, such as fever, rheumatism, gout, and the whole catalogue of human diseases, lie lurking in almost every dish…..when a man at a public house dies of a surfeit of beef steak and porter, who does not exclaim, what a beast.’ (1853:xvi-xvii)

‘A house fitted up with plain good furniture, the kitchen furnished with clean wholesome-looking cooking utensils, good fires, in grates that give no anxiety lest a good fire should spoil them, clean good table linen, the furniture of the table and sideboard good of the kind, without ostentation, and a well-dressed plain dinner, bespeak a sound judgement and correct taste in a private family, that place it on a footing of respectability with the first characters in the country.  It is only conforming to our sphere, not the vainly attempting to be above it, that can command true respect.’ (1853:xvii)

Coffee

‘It is allowed that coffee promotes digestion, and exhilarates the animal spirits; besides which, various other qualities are ascribed to it, such as dispelling flatulency, removing dizziness of the head, attenuating viscid humours, increasing the circulation of the blood, and consequently, perspiration; but if drank too strong, it affects the nerves, occasions watchfulness and tremour of the hands; though in some phlegmatic constitutions, it is apt to produce sleep.’ (1853:xxxvi)

Recipes

  • Larks;
  • Shrimps to pot;
  • Sorrel sauce;
  • Love in disguise;
  • Cowslip pudding;
  • Tench pie;
  • Wafers;
  • Almond cakes;
  • Clarified butter;
  • Elder-flower vinegar
  • Green food colouring;
  • Yellow food colouring.

Larks

When you have picked them properly, cut-off their heads, and the pinions of the first joint.  Beat the breast-bone flat, and turn the feet close to the legs, and put one into the other.  Draw-out the gizzard, and run a skewer through the middle of the bodies.  Tie the skewer fast to the spit when you put them down to roast.  Wheat-ears, and other small birds, must be done in the same manner.

Shrimps to pot

After having boiled your shrimps, season them with pepper, salt, and some pounded cloves.  Put them close into a pot, set them for a few minutes into a slack oven, and then pour over them clarified butter.

Sorrel sauce

Wash, squeeze, and chop fine, plenty of sorrel, and put into a stewpan with a bit of fresh butter; stew it till the liquor is nearly wasted, and add a little strong cullis.  The sauce must be of a good thickness.

Love in disguise

After well cleaning, stuff a calf’s heart, cover it an inch thick with good forcemeat, then roll it in Vermicelli, put it into a dish with a little water, and send it to the oven.  When done, serve it with its own gravy in the dish.  This forms a pretty side dish.

Cowslip pudding

Cut and pound the flowers of a peck of cowslips, half a pound of Naples biscuit grated, and three pints of cream.  Boil them a little, then beat-up sixteen eggs, with a little rose-water sweetened.  Mix all together, butter a dish, and pour it in.  Bake it; and when done, sift fine sugar over, and serve it up hot.

Tench pie

Cover the bottom of the dish with butter, and grate in nutmeg, with pepper, salt and mace; then lay in the tench, cover them with butter, and pour in red wine, and a little water, put on the lid, and when baked, put in melted butter mixed with rich gravy.

Wafers

Beat-up for half an hour a spoonful of orange-flower water, two spoonfuls of flour, two of sugar, and same of milk.  Make your wafer-tongs hot, and pour a little of your butter in to cover your irons.  Bake them on a stove fire, and, as they bake, roll them round a stick like a spigot.  When cold, they will be very crisp, and are proper to be eaten with jellies or tea.

Almond cakes

Take two ounces of bitter and one pound of sweet almonds, blanch and beat them with a little rose or orange-flower water, and the white of one egg; and half a pound of loaf sugar, eight yolks and three whites of eggs, the juice of half a lemon, and the rind grated.  Mix the whole well together, and bake it either in one large pan or several small ones.

Clarified butter

Put some fresh butter into a stewpan, with a spoonful of cold water; set it over a gentle fire to oil; skim and let it stand till the sediment is settled; then pour off the oil, and when it begins to congeal put it over the respective articles.

Elder-flower vinegar

Put two gallons of strong alegar to a peck of the pips of elder-flowers.  Set it in the sun in a stone jar for a fortnight, and filter it through a flannel bag.  When drawn-off, put it into small bottles, in which it will preserve its flavour better than in large ones.  When mixing the flowers and alegar together, be careful not to drop any stalks among the pips.

Green food-colouring

Trim spinach leaves, boil them for half a minute in water.  Strain it off clear, and it will be fit for use.

Yellow food-colouring

Rub gambouge on a plate with a little water in it.  Or take the heart of a yellow lily, infuse the colour in milkwarm water, and preserve it in a bottle well-stopped.

Mrs Holland’s Menu Recommendations

October

First Course = Mock Turtle removed with Sweetbread à la Dauphine

Lamb cutlets,  Haricot of Venison, Larks

Mutton chops à la Maintenon, Fricandeau of Veal, Fricassée of Pigs’ Ears

Rump of Beef, removed with Rice Soup

Second Course = Ducklings, Pintard à la Daube and truffles

Ragout of Lambs’ Tails

Almond Cakes, Tartlets, Ribs of Lamb, Crayfish

Blancmange, French Beans à la Crême, Roasted Capon

November

Single Course =  Salmon Trout, Apple Tarts, Custard

Boiled Fowl, Ham, Roast Fowl, Spinach

Mince Pies, Hare, Damson Tarts.

To find-out more about Breamore House and Countryside Museum, near Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Click here.

The 'backhus' of a 19th century farm worker's cottage. Breamore House and Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.

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