James Boswell, the diarist and author best known for his biography of Samuel Johnson, was very excited to be invited to his hero’s home for dinner on Easter Sunday in 1773.
'To my great surprize he asked me to dine with him on Easter-Day. I never supposed that he had a dinner at his house; for I had not then heard of any one of his friends having been entertained at his table. He told me, "I have generally a meat pye on Sunday: it is baked at a publick oven, which is very properly allowed, because one man can attend it; and thus the advantage is obtained of not keeping servants from church to dress dinners."’
When the big day came, he wrote in his journal:
April 11, being Easter-Sunday, after having attended Divine Service at St. Paul's, I repaired to Dr. Johnson's. I had gratified my curiosity much in dining with JEAN JAQUES ROUSSEAU, while he lived in the wilds of Neufchatel: I had as great a curiosity to dine with DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, in the dusky recess of a court in Fleet-street. I supposed we should scarcely have knives and forks, and only some strange, uncouth, ill-drest dish: but I found every thing in very good order. We had no other company but Mrs. Williams and a young woman whom I did not know. As a dinner here was considered as a singular phenomenon, and as I was frequently interrogated on the subject, my readers may perhaps be desirous to know our bill of fare. Foote, I remember, in allusion to Francis, the negro, was willing to suppose that our repast was black broth. But the fact was, that we had a very good soup, a boiled leg of lamb and spinach, a veal pye, and a rice pudding.
From Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1784), here are the instructions a boiled leg of lamb and spinach such as Samuel Johnson may have provided for his guests.
To boil a Leg of Lamb.
Let the leg be boiled very white. An hour will do it. Cut the loin into steaks, dip them into a few crumbs of bread and egg, fry them nice and brown, boil a good deal of spinach, and lay it in the dish; put the leg in the middle, lay the loin around it, cut an orange in four and garnish the dish, and have butter in a cup. Some love the spinach boiled, then drained, put into a saucepan with a good piece of butter, and stewed.
Quotation for the Day.
"I, Madam, who live at a variety of good tables, am a much better judge of cookery, than any person who has a very tolerable cook, but lives much at home; for his palate is gradually adapted to the taste of his cook: whereas, Madam, in trying by a wider range, I can more exquisitely judge."
Samuel Johnson, quoted by James Boswell.