Cooking the books…

raspberrycream_headerWe’re all getting geared up for our new adventure involving our manuscripts – using them as the basis for an historic cookery demonstration.

It’s taken a while to get this blog up and running, so there has been a short hiatus between the first blog and this one, but I now have a good reason to get it going properly.  At present, we’re focusing on the Cooking the Books event next month.  Well, I’m helping and my colleague is doing all the heavy lifting, organising, co-ordinating and various other all-round efficiencies. I’m very much looking forward to it as it has been stewing gently for a while, and is building up to a good rolling boil.

Sarah Siddons’ farewell performance at the Theatre Royal Bath. (©Bath in Time: 24343)

In the manuscript collection are five notebooks written by Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) – a famous Georgian actress who was from the Kemble family and started her professional acting career in the Theatre Royal Bath.  She moved on to fame and fortune at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and returned occasionally to Bath to great fanfare.  The notebooks contain all sorts of things: poetry, quotes, letters, comments, and also recipes.  Some are food recipes, but many are for throat and cold medicines – her voice was, after all, her livelihood.  Amongst these recipes are several for curries, which were apparently a great favourite with her.  She even recommends the best shop in London for curry powder.


These notebooks set my colleague off to find other manuscript recipes and related housekeeping material.  We have a cook’s notebook started in the 17th century with a range of recipes, including medicines, reminding us that a housekeeper or mother was as much nurse as she was cook.  We also have a number of 18th century housekeeping manuals giving advice on cleaning, keeping linen, dealing with servants, how to lay a table and choose a menu for a dinner party or set the meals for the family for a week.  I have to admit, some of the ingredients and end products of these recipes do not sound particularly appetising to modern tastes.  Others are quite intriguing.

With the hope of having a taste of history, my colleague set off to see if she could set up an event, with tasting sample based on some of these recipes.  She was recommended to contact Dr Annie Gray, possibly best know for her occasional appearances on the Great British Bake Off showing historic methods of baking, but equally well known for her pieces on BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet. Dr Gray does public events and lectures, often costumed, although we haven’t asked her to dress up for us on this occasion.

Sally Lunns, Lilliput Lane
Sally Lunns, Lilliput Lane

The tasting samples are to be produced by Dale Ingram, head chef at Sally Lunns restaurant in Bath.  Sally Lunns is probably more famous as the home of the Bath Bun – or the Sally Lunn Bun.  Housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city, there has been a bakery here for centuries – the orgins of Sally Lunn herself are a little more unclear.  Whilst the Bun itself has been famous for centuries, recently Dale has been instrumental in the introduction of a more historic menu to the restaurant – which also serves lunches and dinners – including Trencher meals. These are served on trencher bread – hard bread softened by the juices of the meal and eaten at the end.  No washing up at least!  Dale is an expert in historic recipes and theri techniques, and we are fortunate that he is able to participate in our event.

So curry, custard tart and cake anyone?  I can’t wait!



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