The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (usually known simply as ‘The Royal Society’) was founded in 1660 in a charter granted by King Charles II, and it is still in existence today. For centuries the learned gentlemen of the society and their guests (for there were certainly no ladies admitted during most of its history) met regularly for dinner, and luckily for us, several menus and meal descriptions survive.
The treasurer of the Society in 1774 was the antiquarian Josiah Colebrooke, and he recorded the details of the dinner held on July 21 of that year:
Haddock Skate and soles
Stoved eels Boiled beef
2 Plumb puddings Greens and collyflower
Beans and bacon Venison pasty
Knuckle of veal Forequarter of Lamb
2 ducks 2 dishes pease
2 cherry tarts Lambstones &c.
Butter and Cheese
The dish that immediately begged for attention on this bill of fare was the ‘stoved eels.’ I cannot find any other reference to the dish. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb ‘to stove’ can mean to heat, or to dry in air – but these do not seem to have culinary usages, so I can only assume that the meaning ‘to stew’ is applicable here. I admit to being a little disappointed – I thought I had found an interesting new idea.
There is really only one book I could use as a recipe source for this menu – the enduring eighteenth century classic work of Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747.)
To Stew Eels.
Skin, gut, and wash them very clean in six or eight waters, to wash away all the sand: then cut them in pieces, about as long as your finger, put just water enough for sauce, put in a small onion stuck with cloves, a little bundle of sweet-herbs, a blade or two of mace, and some whole pepper in a thin muslin-rag. Cover it close, and let them stew very softly.
Look at them now and then, put in a little piece of butter rolled in flour, and a little chopped parsley. When you find they are quite tender and well done, take out the onion, spice, and sweet-herbs. Put in enough salt to season it. Then dish them up with the sauce.
P.S. For a description of the demonstration of Denis Papin’s ‘steam digester’ (the forerunner of the modern pressure cooker’ at a Royal Society dinner in 1682, see my blog post here: