Monday, May 19, 2014

A Tax Upon Your Fireplace.

When Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, Parliament granted him annual income of £1,200,000. Unfortunately for the general public, this proved difficult to fund, even after a perpetual excise on ale and beer was instituted. Parliament’s solution in 1662 was to impose a type of property tax. It was determined that the number of hearths (fireplaces) in a dwelling indicated its approximate size - and, most importantly, was easy to measure, an appointed inspector merely had to count the number of chimneys on the building if he could not gain access. At this time of course, the fireplace was the only source of heating and cooking, so the impact was considerable. Needless to say, the tax was universally hated – the rich did not like what they saw as an invasion of their private business, and the poor by definition were already financially crippled.

The tax payable was 2 shillings per hearth per year, paid in two installments on the regular days for settling accounts – Michaelmas (29 September) and Lady Day (25 March.) One problem was that in the original system there was no distinction between owners and occupiers, nor were there any exemptions. As time went on, poor folk on parish help were exempted, as were some businesses, but the unpopularity (especially that amongst the powerful classes) and the Act was abolished in 1689. It was replaced in 1696 by the infamous Window Tax, which managed to last until 1851.

Over the centuries before stoves became an everyday feature of the most humble home, fuel was one of every household’s biggest concerns. Most cooking was done over or in front of an open fire, and most ordinary homes did not have ovens for bread and pies – the householder sent the dough to the local baker who, for a fee, put it in his oven after the commercial bread was removed.

The recipe I have chosen for you today comes from a book contemporary with the hearth tax. It is the work of Thomas Dawson, published in 1620 and delighting in the full title of A Booke of Cookerie. And the order of Meates to bee served to the Table, both for Flesh and Fish dayes. With many excellent ways for the dressing of all usuall sortes of meates, both Bak’t, boyld or rosted, of Flesh, fish, Fowle, or others, with their proper sawces. As also many rare Inventions in Cookery for made Dishes: with most notable preserves of sundry sorts of Fruits. Likewise for making many precious Waters, with divers approved Medicines for grievous diseasease.  With certaine points of Husbandry how to order Oxen, Horses, Sheepe, Hogges, &c. with many other necessary points for Husbandmen to know.

To boyle a Capon with sirrop.

Boyle your Capon in sweet broath, and put in grosse Pepper and whole Mace into the Capons belly and make your sirrop with Spinage, white wine, and Currans, Suger, Cinnamon and Ginger, and sweete Butter and so let them boyle, and when your Capon is ready to serve, put the sirrop on the Capon, and boyle your Spinage before you make your sirrop.

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