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London: Hidden hoard of Georgian recipes uncovered

A hidden hoard of eighteenth century recipes has come to light for the first time in nearly 200 years in a central London archives centre.
Staff at Westminster City Council’s Archives Centre came across the recipes earlier this year in a digital project where some sources were posted online and began sharing its culinary delights in the “Cookbook of Unknown Ladies” blog.
With more than 350 recipes dating from 1690 to 1830, followers of the online blog will be able to find out how to make dishes such as ‘Veal kidney Florentine,’ a pastry tart with kidney, apples, lettuce, orange peel, spices and currants, or ‘Mammas Mince Pyes’, made with a mince mixture of candied fruits and cow’s tongue.
And for dessert? Subscribers to the blog can round off a Georgian supper with a ‘Sweet spinach tart’ cooked using almonds, nutmeg and half a pound of sugar,  before washing it all down with a Tewahdiddle, a regency cocktail of beer, brandy, sugar, ginger, nutmeg and lemon peel.
The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’ blog is so-called because the authors of the handwritten recipes are unknown, but the dishes are believed to be typical of those which would have been cooked in the Georgian family home.
Local historians are now trying to piece together the information to find out more about the unknown cooks of the seventeenth century.
Judith Finnamore, Local Studies Librarian at Westminster City Council’s Archives Centre, said:
“There are some clues in the names in the recipes, such as a ‘Mrs Edwards almond cake’  or ‘My Mama’s mince pies’, and a reference to the Blue Peel, which we think is a bakery, but it is still quite difficult to piece it all together.
“We think it is likely that these people are from London because of the range of different foods they are eating and able to get hold of, but they also seem to have their own small holding or little farm.
“At that time in London, the urban development stopped at the top of Tottenham Court Road, so it is quite possible that they were living on the outskirts of London, had access to all the markets, but lived a semi-rural existence.”
If the blog is a success, archivists will look to release the recipes as a cookbook after the last of the Georgian kitchen secrets is posted in March next year.
Cllr Steve Summers, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services said:
“These recipes show that our archives not only have information for historians to delve into, but that there is plenty there for food lovers also; and so this blog helps provide an opportunity for people to try new things in the kitchen, but also to work with our librarians in helping to piece together the culinary delights of the past.
“Looking through some of the recipes it’s easy to see why they have ended up in the archives and are not found so much kitchens today, but some would certainly tempt the twenty-first century diner.
“Perhaps the uncovering of these recipes will mark the beginning of a renaissance for eighteen century English cuisine?”
Staff at Westminster’s Archives Centre are hoping that any historians that follow the blog might be able to help solve the mystery over who the unknown ladies are, or where they are from.
Until then, the ‘Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’ is how this collection of recipes shall be known.
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5 August 2013
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