A couple of years ago I featured, for a whole week, a particular cookery book originating in Norwich, the lovely city in Norfolk where I am currently staying. The book was 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, and it was published in 1769. The author, a J. Skeat lived in the centre of the city, very close to the cathedral, for 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’ (this being the district close to the cathedral.)
It turns out that the Maid's Head Hotel lays claim to being the oldest continuingly operating hotel in the UK, having been dispensing food and beverages since the late thirteenth century. It is not often one has the opportunity to take refreshment in a thirteenth century establishment, but yesterday I had that exciting (for a food historian) pleasure. One might almost say a visit was an obligation, so I obliged.
I am particularly delighted that the inn was frequented by a favourite of mine - the eighteenth century Reverend Parson James Woodforde. The Parson kept a diary for forty-odd years, and diligently rccorded most of his meals, which is why I am so fond of him. He makes several mentions of the Inn in his journal, including one on June 15, 1791, when he dined there after attending a service at the cathedral and the Bishops Court.
"After the Court was adjourned we walked to the Maid's-Head Inn, where most of the Clergy of the Chancellor dined and spent the afternoon, about 34 Clergy dined together. For our dinner we each paid 0.3.0. The Bishop gave the Wine at and after Dinner one Bottle between two Clergymen."
I would ordinarily give you the links to the blog posts which have featured the good Parson, but I am on holiday and i-Padding it, so if you want to read them, may I ask that you search for his name in the box in the sidebar?
An even more illustrious visitor to the Inn, if rumours are correct, was Queen Elizabeth I, in 1587. The hostelry clearly predates the Virgin Queen's visit, so the name is not in honour of the royal personage. It seemed unlikely that the name referenced some sort of local ritual virgin sacrifice, so I was left in ignorance of its origins until I actually entered the premises. A large board at the entry to the bar gives the far more prosaic explanation.
Known in ancient times as 'Murtel' or 'Moldes Head' from 'Old Maid',
a Norfolk name for skate fish, the Maids Bar is built in the ruins of a
monastery founded in 1096 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga.
Recipe for the Day.
I gave a number of recipes from Mr Skeat's book during the previous series, so for no other reason than that there is a co-incidence of naming, I have chosen a nice little something from Cookery for Maids of All Work (London, 1856) by Mrs Warren . It might be better to make these yourself than trust the servant with the gin bottle.
Cherries in Gin.
Take Morella cherries, when black ripe, run a fine needle through each cherry, put them into a wide- mouth bottle, a pickle bottle will do, with layers of powdered loaf sugar and layers of cherries, with a few cloves, let them stay a night; add more cherries and sugar if the others have sunk, then fill up with gin, then cork them down. They will be ready in two months, and in the winter is an agreeable and cheap substitute for wine.
In retrospect, I should probably have given you a recipe for skate!
Quotation for the Day.
From today's cookbook, some advice to servant girls.
A GOOD SERVANT WILL NOT REPLY TO A MISTRESS, NOR LISTEN TO EVIL THINGS SAID OF HER.
SAUCY ANSWERS DO NO GOOD.
LET SILENCE BE THE BEST ANSWER A SERVANT CAN MAKE.
UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES NEVER UTTER AN UNTRUTH.
BE HONEST IN DEED, BE HONEST IN WORD.
DRESS ACCORDING TO PLACE, AND AS THE FUTURE WIFE OF AN HONEST WORKING MAN SHOULD DO.