It was 1848 when she opened her new leather-bound journal. On page 1 she wrote her name and address: Caroline Peirce, Navigation House. She then turned the page and wrote out the recipe for Hunters Beef, attributed to a Miss King. This was the first of more than 200 recipes that are a remarkable snapshot of the Victorian middle-class diet. By the 19th century, it had become normal for young women to copy their mother’s recipes — both as handwriting practice, and as a resource for when they were running their own home. Less usual is that Caroline continued to collect recipes long after she married, drawing on her family’s connection with new industrial wealth and old land-owning stock. In short, they are the recipes donated by a wide range of residents of some of the most beautiful big houses in Llangattock, Crickhowell and Merthyr Tydfil.
Her kitchen would have had a range with a coal fire that heated an adjacent oven. In terms of refrigeration, she would have had a cold pantry and, possibly, game larder. So it is understandable that many recipes include spices to improve shelf life, as well as anchovy, almond and soy flavourings.
In a gentleman’s household, even a family dinner would have started with soup (hare, mock turtle, or giblet) and the next course would have comprised several dishes such as oyster patties, stewed eels, jugged hare, potted woodcocks, roast beef and bullock’s liver gravy. Caroline’s book contains a number of recipes for relishes and pickles to perk up dull fare. However, when visitors came to dine, special desserts, sweetmeats and other delicacies came into their own. Cakes, biscuits and fruit wines were clearly popular, especially when visitors came to afternoon tea. Isinglass to make “set” deserts appears from the start of the book while gelatine that was new to the market in 1852 appears in only one recipe. Interesting, too, is the absence of baking powder, invented by Alfred Bird in 1843, following the success of his egg-free custard powder. Instead, Caroline’s friends have preferred yeast, soda or suet to lighten their cakes and puddings.
Caroline Peirce’s Recipe Book, transcribed and introduced by Sue Smith is available from Abergavenny Museum and Crickhowell Tourist Information Centre, price £15. Lectures resume in January.
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Caroline Peirce's Recipe Book
Food for thought
Long before the publication of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a young woman from Gilwern was collecting recipes.
Helen Morgan reports :
Image : Courtesy of Sue Smith