A taste of the past

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Historic recipes are windows into everyday life in the past, helping us to imagine what life was like for our ancestors. Recipes tell us what people ate and drank, and how food was prepared and flavoured in a world before supermarkets, mass imports, convenience food or refrigeration, and during times of rationing. There can also be surprisingly exotic ingredients and styles of cooking, telling us something about the interconnectedness of the world in the past.

Not only do they tell us about food and drink, many historic recipe books also include instructions for making medicines, for both humans and animals. In a time with no paracetamol or antibiotics or any other modern medicines, these recipes can tell us about the health issues that our ancestors battled and how treated illnesses at home.

Speaking to the good people at the Recipes Project has inspired us to dig a little deeper into the recipes to be found amongst our collections. The project is a blog devoted to the study of recipes from all time periods and places, run by an international group of academics. Over the last few years both scholarly and popular interest in historic recipes has been growing, and the project is celebrating its fifth year by hosting a virtual conversation on the theme ‘What is a recipe?’ (2 June-5 July 2017).

The online conversation will take place on social media, so if you are interested in what might come up you can follow and join in by following the project on Twitter, and the hashtag #recipesconf.

Searching our catalogue Essex Archives Online for ‘recipe’ finds 214 results. The oldest date from the late 16th century, and the most recent from 1998. There are whole volumes of recipes, handwritten and typed, and individual sheets amongst larger bundles of papers. Some recipes are still entirely recognisable today, hundreds of years after they were written, others seem totally outlandish to modern eyes. Authors include housewives, doctors, and a cartman concerned with caring for his horses.

In terms of the question ‘what is a recipe’ posed by the Recipe Project, there is much that a dive into the ERO recipe books might be able to contribute.

With so many potential interesting avenues to pursue within these records, it is difficult to pick just one thing to write about, but I shall try to be disciplined and stick to just one of our recipe books, before highlighting a few others that are ripe for further investigation.

Mrs Elizabeth Slany’s Book of Receipts &co 1715

Elizabeth Slany’s recipe book (D/DR Z1) is one of the most substantial recipe books in our collection, and has already received some attention from authors and scholars. It has also been digitised, and images of the book can be viewed free of charge on Essex Archives Online. The first part of the book is, we believe, in Elizabeth’s own writing, and then another hand takes over later, perhaps her daughter.

Elizabeth was born near Worcester, and in 1723 married Benjamin LeHook, a factor (or agent) in the City of London. Elizabeth lived to the age of 93, dying in 1786. Her eldest daughter Elizabeth LeHook married Samuel Wegg who was the son of George Wegg of Colchester, a merchant tailor and town councillor. It was through the Wegg family that the book ultimately made its way to ERO.

Her recipe book provides fascinating insights into her life in charge of a well-to-do eighteenth-century household. Some of her recipes are for very rich food, and there is a focus on preservation of food. There are also several medicinal recipes throughout the book, none of them especially appealing. Some of the recipes are surprisingly exotic – I certainly didn’t expect to find recipes for fresh pasta or a ‘Chinese method’ for boiling rice.

Here is Elizabeth’s recipe for preserving raspberries by making a jelly (interestingly called a jelly rather than a jam):

Raspberry Jelly 1080 watermarked

To make Jelly of Rasberries

Take to a pint of the juice of Rasberries a pound of Loaf Sugar put them on the fire & as they boyl scum them it may boyl ¼ of an hour you may put 2 or 3 spoonfulls of the juice of Currans in the pint it will make the jelly the firmer if you woud have whole Rasberries in you must gather them without bruising them in the least & when your jelly is almost boyl’d enough then put them in & let them boyl a little & scum them & put them in your pots or glasses

Scattered throughout the recipes for food are methods for making medicinal concoctions. Here is Elizabeth’s almost semi-magical recipe for a cure for the bite of a mad dog:

Mad dog bite cure 2500 watermarked

To cure Man, Woman or any Living Creature that is bitten with a Mad Dog if they are taken 2 or 3 Days after they are bitten


The first morning take of the herb call’d the star of the castle 3 roots & leaves & wash them very clean & if they are for a Christian dry the leaves & roots over a gentle fire or in an oven then beat them to powder in a mortar then give the person that is bitten all the powder in a little white wine & let them fast an hour or 2 after the second morning you must prepare 5 of the same roots as aforesaid and give to the person in the same manner & let them fast an hour or 2 the 3rd morning you must prepare 7 of the same roots as aforesaid & give to the person in the same manner & give him no more but let him be sparing in his dyet for a week & with the blessing of God the person need not fear but he shall do well you must give for any other Creature the same number of roots that you give to a Christian that is 3 the first morning 5 the second & 7 the last if for a horse give him the powder in a little butter or anything you can make him take it in.

Intriguingly, there are two recipes for something called ‘snail water’, apparently a popular treatment for consumption, although here Elizabeth also recommends it for rickets. Lisa Smith of the Recipes Project tells me that this is the smallest number of snails she has seen for this type of recipe, and that they usually call for a horrifying amount of the creatures such as a peck (16 pints). Indeed, an earlier recipe in Elizabeth’s book calls for a peck of snails – perhaps this version which uses just 10 was a revision after an attempt to collect such an enormous quantity.

Snail grewel 1080 watermarked

The Snail Grewel for a Consumption

Take ten garden snails, pick off their shells then boil ’em in a quart of spring water with one spoonful of pear[l] barley and one spoonful of hartshorn shavings, till it is wasted to a pint then strain it, add to it half a pint of milk, sweeten it to your taste with eringo root let the person drink half a pint of this first thing in the morning & last thing at night going to bed, if their stomach can bear as much, every other day is often enough to make it, its very good for the rickets

Amongst the later recipes in the book are these rather exotic ones, which have already attracted the attention of researcher Karen Bowman, who has previously written about the curry recipes in the book. On the pages following the curry recipes, we find others describing how to make fresh pasta, and a ‘Chinese Method of Boiling Rice’:

Maccaroni Paste 1080 watermarked

To make Maccaroni Paste

Take one pd of Flour, the yolke of three Eggs, two oz of Butter, melted in as much water as will mix it, let it stand till cold, then mix it with the flour &c then roll out this paste as thin as possible, & cut it into strips about the width of Ribbon Maccaroni, lay it upon Dishes till quite dry, when it will be fit for use.

Chinese method for boiling rice 1080 watermarked

Chinese Method of Boiling Rice

Take a certain quantity of Rice, & wash it well in cold water, after which drain it off through a sieve then put the Rice into boiling Water & when it is quite soft, take it out with a Ladle & drain it again through a sieve: then put it into a clean vessel & cover it up; let it remain till it is blanched as white as snow, & as hard as a Crust, when the Rice becomes a most excellent substitute for Bread.

There is much more that Elizabeth’s book has to tell us about life in an eighteenth-century household, but I have already written too much for one blog post so should leave it there for now. Do have a rifle through her book on our online catalogue if you want to see more.

If this little nibble at one of our recipe books has left you wanting more, there are plenty of others in our collections, such as:

  • Abigail Abdy’s book of recipes, begun in 1665, including recipes for plague water and consumption water (D/DU 161/623)
  • Veterinary and medical recipe book, containing 40 formulas for medicines for horses and 24 for humans, c.1899 (D/DU 892/1)
  • Recipe book for use in British Restaurants and Canteens, with hints on catering in view of rationing restrictions, including adding carrots or beetroot to jam in puddings. All quantities are based on catering for 100 people (D/UCg 1/7/10)

A search for ‘recipe’ on Essex Archives Online will bring up even more recipes to explore – do let us know what you find.

To make minc’d Pye meat without meat

A little while ago we brought you some recipes from the kitchen of Mary Rooke of Langham Hall, and today we see the sort of things that she got up to at Christmas.

You can view images of Mary’s entire recipe book on Seax here (D/DU 818/1).

To make minc’d Pye meat without meat (image 25) 

Mary Rooke's recipe for minced meat (D/DU 818/1 image 25)














3 pounds of apples grated 2 pounds of Beef Suet chop’d very fine 2 pounds of Currants wash’d well & pick’d clean, 2 pound of raisins chop’d, the Rind & pulp of 2 Lemons boil’d very tender, and pounded in a marble mortar, half a Pint of Brandy the same of Port Wine, the juice of 4 Lemons, Sugar to your taste,  half a pound of almonds blanch’d & sliced thin, mix these ingredients very well together put them into small jars covered with Bladder to be tied close down that the air may not get into it, when open make your Pyes have Citron Orange & Lemon / candy’d / cut in small slices put in them more on top as you like, & have in a bottle ready mix’d Brandy and Port Wine put a little of it in them it makes them moist & just as of fresh made. 

Orange Cakes (page 45 image 24) (in a different hand)

Mary Rooke's recipe for orange cakes (D/DU 818/1 image 24)

Take fresh seville oranges weigh them and take their weight in sugar beat small, cut the oranges in two, cross way take the pulp out free from strings and pippins and the strings from the insides of the skins then cut the skins into thin pieces and shred it very fine beat it as while in a marble morter you may by degrees put in the sugar and pulp beating it  till it is very fine then drop it upon a pewter dish in cakes the size of a Crown and dry them in a stove or any warm place to a pound of orange put two very large spoonfulls of Lemon juice.

Mary Rooke of Langham Hall

We thought we’d take a little break from historic moustaches today to have a look at some more historic recipes.

Our next recipe book from the archives belonged to Mary Rooke, nee Marriott (D/DU 818/1). Mary was the daughter of Joshua Marriott and his wife Mary Edge. Joshua was a Manchester entrepreneur involved in the cloth industry, and Mary married in Manchester in 1774 to Captain George Rooke.

She began keeping her recipe book in 1770 before her marriage, when she was living in Ardwick House in Lancashire. At some point before 1777, Mary and George took up residency at Langham Hall in north east Essex.

As with the other recipe books we have looked at so far, this one contains a mixture of culinary and medicinal recipes, carefully entered and indexed. The book is mostly in Mary’s hand, although the indexes were largely entered by a second hand. The second hand must have belonged to an assistant of some kind, as Mary has gone back and corrected some of its work; she has commented on the second hand’s instructions for ‘Marseilles vinegar against the plague’ that they were a ‘disgrace to the person who began & left the receipt in such an unfinished state’.

You can view images of the whole of Mary’s book on Seax here, but we have picked out a few of our favourites to share with you, including Langham Biscuits, named after her home.

Lemon Cake (image 10)

Take fiveteen eggs leave out half the whites ten ounces of sugar beat and sifted whisk the eggs sugar and the rinds of two lemons grated half a pound of rice flour for half an hour butter your mug that it is bak’d in put it into a quick oven half an hour will bake it dozen bitter almonds will add to the cake.


Waffles (image 10)

D/DU 818/1 image 10 waffles






A pint of new milk half a pound of fresh butter four eggs a little mace or nutmeg a spoonful of brandy & as much flour as will make it as thick as a pancake make your tongs  hot fill them & turn them quick make your sauce of melted butter wine & sugar 


A Rice Pudding (image 13)

D/DU 818/1 image 13 rice pudding

Two ounces of ground rice a pint of cream set ‘em over the fire when it’s thick add half a pound of butter five eggs a quarter of a pint of sack sugar to your taste then put it on a dish with a pastry round it & bake it add to it a quarter of a pound of blanch’d almonds


Langham Biscuits (image 16)

D/DU 818/1 image 16 Langham biscuits





A pound of flour two ounces of butter a few carraway seeds knead it with warm milk roll it into thin cakes bake them two ounces of sugar

‘Mistress Elizabeth Slany’s Book of Receipts &ca’

Our recipes series is back! We had a little break in transmission while we prepared for and then recovered from our Heritage Open Day, but we’ve plenty more recipes from the archives to share with you.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become rather hooked on the BBC’s Great British Bake Off, and it really brings home to you the knowledge and skills that you need to be a really successful baker. 

It must have been even more challenging, then, with no refrigerators to keep your ingredients fresh, and no easy switch to flick to turn on your oven to the desired temperature. This makes the elaborate recipes we find in the archives even more amazing. 

One of the most extensive recipe books in the ERO belonged to Elizabeth Slany, who began recording her recipes in 1715. Elizabeth was born near Worcester, and in 1723 she married Benjamin LeHook, a factor (or agent) in the City of London.

 Title page of Elizabeth Slany's recipe book 

As mistress, Elizabeth would have been responsible for the running of the household, and the health of its members. Her book suggests that she embraced this challenge with gusto; not only does it include sections on meat and fish, pies, pastries, cakes, sweets, preserves, pickles, cordials and wines, it also includes medicines, salves and ointments. All of these recipes were carefully indexed at the back of the book.

Index in Elizabeth' Slany's book of receipts

Eighteenth-century food (at least for those with a substantial income) was rich and elaborate, and required a great deal of preparation. Dishes – savoury and sweet – tended to be heavily flavoured to disguise the flavour of tainted meat or butter. 

Caraway seeds, almonds, mace, cloves and other spices were frequently used to flavour cakes, as evidenced in these recipes fromElizabeth’s book:

Cake recipes in Elizabeth Slany's book 

To Make Good Cakes

Take a pound of fine flower & a pound of fine sugar and some carraway seeds beaten then take 7 yolks of eggs & 3 whites & mix them altogether with your flower & then put them in a stone mortar & beat it well then butter your moulds well or they will stick fill them about 3 parts full and put them in the oven & let them stand till they are enough if you please you may put in more currans.

To make a Good Seed Cake

Take 5 pound of flower put 2 pound & better of sweet butter when it is well rub’d in put to it at least a pint & ½ of the best ale yest [yeast] 6 spoonfulls of cream 4 or 5 spoonfulls of sack [a type of white wine] 6 eggs & 3 whites well beaten with this all mixt together which will make it much thinner than dough & after it is well kneaded & mixt with your hands cover it with a clean cloth & let it lie before the fire ¾ of an hour in which time your oven must be ready hot then take it up & work into it a pound & a ½ of carraway comfitts &1/2 a pound of fine sugar & butter your tin pan & put it down close all round & set it in. An hour & ½ will bake it.

To make a Plumb Cake

Take 4 pound of flower and 4 pound of currans ½ a pint of sack plump the currans then take a quart of ale yest ¾ of a pound of sugar 10 eggs & half the whites a little nutmeg mace & cinnamon & a few cloves a pound of almonds blanch’t & beaten fine orange flower water a quart of cream boyl’d + when you take it of the fire put a pound of fresh butter in it heit [heat] till it is blood warm then mix the spices currans & a little salt with the flower then put in yest almonds cream eggs & mix them with a spoon then set it rising you may put in some musk & ambergrease [a waxy substance that originates in the intestines of the sperm whale, with a pleasant smell, which is also used in perfumery]your oven must be very quick and you must put it in a hoop an hour or a little more will bake it your bottom must be paper.

Note that the plumb cake mixture should be heated until ‘blood warm’ (and also that it doesn’t include any plums!). 

Elizabeth lived to the grand age of 93, dying in 1786. Her eldest daughter Elizabeth LeHook married Samuel Wegg, who was the son of George Wegg ofColchester, a merchant tailor and town councillor. It was through the Wegg family that the book came toEssexand ultimately to the ERO. 

The book is catalogued as D/DR Z1, and you can view images of the entire book here by the magic of Seax. Let us know if you try out any of the recipes! 

See also: ‘Mistress Elizabeth Slany’s Book of Recipes’, Daphne Smith, Essex Countryside, Feb 1966, vol. 14 – in ERO Library

‘To make a cake the Preinces of Oringes way’

We recently brought to you some recipes from the pen of Abigail Abdy, who lived in Kelvedon and Coggeshall in the 1660s and 1670s. She carefully recorded her recipes, for medicines and for food, in a book which she titled ‘Mrs Abigail Abdy her book’ (D/DU 161/623).

Abigail died in 1679, but this was not the end of the use of her book; two more hands fill the remaining pages.

The second hand is a mystery, but in the 1930s Miss A.D.Harrison made a conjecture who the third hand may have belonged to (D/DU 161/661).

Three years after Abigail’s death, her husband Sir Mark Guyon remarried, to a Mrs Augurs, his waiting-maid, and Miss Harrison suggests that it was Mrs Augurs who wrote the later recipes.

The author clearly had her sights set on high society, with her recipes including ‘The Kings majesties excellent receipt for the Plague’, and ‘To make a cake the Preinces of Oringes way’, which is another giant of a cake:

To make a cake The Preinces of Oringes way

Take nine pound of very good flower serced [sifted] and dried and a pound and a half of suger serced and dride a pound of Almons well beten an ounce of spices of all sorts mingell these well into the flower then take a pinte an a halfe of creame and three pound of butter and mingell in the creame a littell hotter then milke from the cow a pinte an a halfe of Ale yeast and pore in the yeast to the flower then pore in the creame with the butter melted in it then put in the eges which is to be foreteene halfe whites well betten then to one a lettell flower over it and cover it up hote and let it stand halfe an houer to worke and then make it up with nine pound of minced resons and put it into a paper hoope. 

We especially like the instruction to use cream ‘a littell hotter then milke from the cow’. 

More recipes from the archives coming soon!

‘To make a good cake’

Today, not only is it Julia Child’s 100th birthday, but last night the third series of The Great British Bake Off began on BBC2, and we thought that this was a good excuse to delve into some of the recipe books in our archive. People in the past enjoyed their cooking (or their eating) just as much as we do today, and went to great lengths to produce elaborate edible creations.

In this first of a special series of posts about some of the handwritten recipe books which are held at the ERO, we begin with one of the earliest recipe books in our collections, dating from around 1680 (D/DU 138/2).

Unfortunately there is no name inscribed on the book to give us a clue to its author, but we do know that it was handed down between generations of the Clapton-Rolfe family of Rayne Hall.

The first recipe in the book is for a cake of enormous proportions:

(Click for larger version)

Take 6 pound of fflower & 5 pound of butter and worke or rub it into your flower then take 3 poynts of ale east [yeast] and putt itt in the meddle of your flower and butter, 3 nutmegs, beate & sett it by to rise then take a poynt of Milk or Creame & half a poynt of Sack [white whine], make a possett [made by boiling the milk or cream before mixing it with the wine] & put 5 yellows of Eggs into your possett & Suger according to your pallet, then take a graine of Musk and Ambergrease [a waxy substance that originates in the intestines of the sperm whale, with a pleasant smell, which is also used in perfumery], and grinde itt with a little Suger well together, then mix all this together & worke it with your hande till itt bee prety stiff, then worke in 8 pounds of currantes & a pound of Carrawayes and sume Candied Oringe and Lemon peale & scitterun [citron] slices & soe worke itt till it bee all alike, butter your hoope and papers well, & putt your Cake into it, & bake itt.

And for the icing:

Then take 5 whites of Eggs & double refined Suger sifted throu a Sciprus Sive [a sieve made of cypress wood, which was durable and had a nice smell] & put into your whites of Eggs till it bee thick enough to spread with a knive, & beate itt till itt looke glassy & clare [clear], you can’t beate it too much, when your Cake is drawen spread your Ice one itt with a knife, & lett it dry: but put itt no more into ye [the] Oven for itt will make your Ice yellow.

As well as making us grateful for the modern use of full stops, this recipe uses fairly staggering quantities used – 6 pounds of flour, 8 pounds of currants – and must have been quite an extravagant affair.

Eliza Vaughan, who wrote about the recipe book in the 1930s, imagined the cake as an ‘ice-coated monster’ crowning the tea table at Rayne Hall, or being prepared perhaps as a wedding cake.

The book also includes a recipe for a pound cake, which is much more recognisable to modern eyes:

(Click for larger version)

Take a pound of fflower & drey itt by the fire, & A pound of butter & wash itt in Rose water, & A pound of suger well beten, & worke your butter in ye suger a grate while; then take 6 yelkes & 4 whites of Eggs & halfe a Nutmeg grated; then worke all together A grate while & you mush bake them in such pans, & bake them in A slow oven.

The book includes just 12 recipes in total, but also covers the art of pastry making and the preparation of certain meats, including chicken, rabbit, veal, lamb, pigeon, and turkey.

You can view digital images of the rest of the book on Seax here. Look out for more baking-themed posts over the next few weeks!

Further reading: Eliza Vaughan, ‘High baked meates and patty pan past’, in Essex Review, 1937, vol. 46