Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Inside entertaining.

Today, November 29th …

The musician John Baptist Grano’s journal entry on this day in 1728 reads:

“ … drank Coffee for breakfast, order’d a Fire in my own Room … order’d some boyl’d Onions for Dinner; waiting for which I wrote and read … ’twas about 4 a clock before I went to Dinner and Mr Blunt did me the honour of eating with me; I had a Rabbit to entertain him with, but ate none of it my selfe.”

A fairly ordinary day, really. Except that Grano was in gaol. In the Marshalsea to be exact - the debtors prison in Southwark, London, where Dickens’ father spent some time when Charles was a child, inspiring him to use it as the setting for “Little Dorrit”.

For most prisoners, the Marshalsea was a terrible place. Two or three of them died every day, and the awful conditions were the subject of a report to Parliament in 1729. The prison lease was held by a butcher - a one William Acton - who paid 240 pounds a year for the privilege, and made his income charging the “better class” of prisoners rent for (relatively) decent rooms and selling them such things as blankets, coffee, and food at extortionate prices – which makes one wonder, if they could afford such luxuries, why were they in debtors prison anyway? These upper class prisoners could also entertain guests, and there was no shortage of friends with a prurient interest in life on the inside.

Boiled onions and the gallbladder of a hare were an old preventative for the plague. I don't know if rabbit would substitute, and there is no evidence that Grano had this in mind, but perhaps Mr Blunt was safer for his dinner.

To celebrate not being in gaol, here is a more luxurious recipe from the era, from “Adam’s luxury and Eve’s cookery” (1744)

To butter Onions.
Put your Onions in boiling Water, when peel’d; drain them when they are well boil’d, and butter them, adding Sugar, Currants, and beaten Cinamon. Serve them on Sippets, strew Sugar over them, and run them over with beaten Butter.
Another Way: Slice some Apples, and mince your Onions, but more Apples than Onions, Bake them with Bread, tying a Paper over the Pan: When baked butter them, adding Sugar and Boiled Currants. Serve them on Sippets, and strew over them fine Sugar and Powdered Cinamon.

Tomorrow … Sending home the bacon.

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