Monday, January 18, 2010

Cook, Author, Publisher, Bookseller.

This week I thought we might have some fun exploring just one historic cookery book. I have chosen the book I used for last Thursday’s post on ‘Sham Tortoise’- for no better reasons than I have a print-out of the pdf (sorry to the dead trees) which remains beside me on my desk, and because apart from the serendipitous find of the tortoise recipe, I am completely ignorant as to its other offerings.

The book is The Art of Cookery and Pastery Made Easy and Familiar, in upwards of two hundred different receipts and bills of fare, never before made public, by J.Skeat, published in England in 1769. I hope to discover some new/old ideas and at least one mystery, have some fun with words, and of course, give you some interesting recipes.

The author (who styles himself “Cook”) must be a Norwich man, for there are several references to the city in the book. The frontispiece notes that the contents include ‘an exact representation of the Tables of the Guild-Feasts of Norwich and Lynn’, and below the brief glossary the author has inserted a footnote saying:

‘Any Gentleman or Lady, in or near Norwich, that chooses to have a proper set of stew-pans, sauce-pans &c, in exchange for those that are old and of no use, by applying to the Author of this Book, may be furnish’d therewith, as he has the opportunity of having them made in the most serviceable manner, and as cheap as in London.’

Mr. Skeat must have been busy. As well as being cook, cookbook author, and retailer of kitchen equipment, he appears to have not only self-published his work but sold it from his own home. The footer at the bottom of the front page says:

‘Printed for the Author and Sold by him at his House next Door to the Maid’s Head, in St. Simon’s; and by J.CROUSE, at the Back of the Inns, NORWICH.’

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything about Mr. Skeat (I am assuming the author is male) in the brief amount of time I allocated to the search. I wonder if any Norwich residents can offer any ideas ? Is there still a house next door to the Maid’s Head pub? Is there even a pub (tavern, inn, whatever) with that name still there? What about a Skeat family?

For today’s choice of extract from the book, I go no further than the author’s preface. The advice is still pretty sound, over two hundred years later.

For all Cooks to be govern’d by, in the Management of their Business.

FIRST, be sure to have all saucepans, stewpans, coppers and whatever else is made use of in cooking, in very neat, clean, and good order. Provision for entertainments of all kind is very expensive, and frequently spoil’d for want of proper care. Again, cleanliness and a good fire are two excellent requisites in cooking, without which no ordinary progress can be made, nor any thing in that branch effectually completed. I would also strictly recommend it as a rule, to lay down to the fire to roast, or put in the pot to boil, any thing of meat, or a large fowl, half an hour sooner that the time allow’d for its being ready, thinking it rather better to wait for company, than they should wait, though sometimes it will happen either on one side or the other, but I think ‘tis best to keep everything in forwardness, and to have all sauces ready at least half an hour before you dish up.
N.B If these rules are properly observ’d, I doubt not but they will meet with their desired effect.

The recipe I have chosen for the day is also very adaptable to modern times.

Stew’d Beef.
After your beef hath been in salt two days, take and bone it, have some bards of bacon rowl’d in sweet herbs, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, and force your beef with the bacon across the grain of the meat; after you have larded it as thick as possible in reason, lay it in a doubing pot [as in a pan suitable for making a daube?], with some vinegar, a pint of red wine, some mace, plenty of shallots, the lean of ham, a fagot of all sorts of herbs, parsley, turnips, carrots, and a parsnip; let this stand all night; the next day almost cover it with broth, and let it stew as gently as possible, when done, serve it with a good ragout sauce, in the dish. The sauce must be made very high [i.e.highly seasoned] with Chian [Cayenne] pepper, and lemon.

Quotation for the Day.

Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread - there may be.
David Grayson, Adventures in Contentment (1907)


Anonymous said...

Google permits us to discover that the Maid's Head still exists and flourishes as a hotel in Norwich, as it has since the Middle Ages. In 1904, Josephine Tozier wrote in "Among English Inns":

Great feastings went on within these four walls early in the history of Norwich. In the Paston letters – and every one who goes to Norfolk must read the Paston letters – "Ye Mayde's Hede" figures several times. All the great Norfolk families patronized this hostelry on their journeys to and from the court in London. The paved courtyard walls have echoed to the wheels of the lumbering coaches and the hoof-beats of the stout travelling horses of the Howards, the Oxfords, the Walpoles, and the Bullens, as they drove in for a halt, a change, or a night in Norwich before proceeding farther.

She says nothing about the house next door.

Fay said...

The Maid's Head is opposite the Norwich Cathedral and has stood there since the 1400s. It has been quite a rambling building and has been changed and restored over the years. There are still houses next to it and they could have been J Skeat's abode. It's near to Elm Hill, a very old part of Norwich. St Simons probably refers to the parish of Saint Jude and St Simon,with its old church that was nearly demolished in the early 20C.

Fay said...

John Crouse was a printer and Back of the Inns was the area behind the Castle in the St Peter Mancroft area, around White Lion Street. SO he is likely to have printed the book.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks bklynharuspex and Fay - I was in Norwich briefly last September and must have walked past this pub - wish I had known this story then. Thanks for this input!