Friday, August 25, 2017

A Recipe from the Countess of Dudley

Not long ago I stumbled upon an old episode of Downton Abbey--the one where Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson return from their honeymoon, and the Family descends to the kitchens to welcome them home. The Dowager Dutchess (the magnificent Maggie Smith) says, "I don't think I've been to the kitchen in twenty years."

I think I've found the cookbook to go with that. When I was at the Skibbereen Farmers Market, I stopped by the booth of my favorite antiques dealer and came upon a marvelous cookbook: The Dudley Book of Cookery and Household Recipes, published in 1909 in London, and "Collected and Arranged by Georgiana, Countess of Dudley." You will notice that the title does not mention that the Countess actually cooked any of the recipes. In any case, it makes for delightful reading--and to modern cooks, it's unintentionally funny.

The lovely Georgina,
Countess of Dudley

The page the cookbook most often falls open to offers us the recipe "Leg of Mutton of Seven Hours," and it includes these useful instructions:

Choose a leg of mutton which has a short knuckle bone, leave it some days to tender (when killed with the wind in the north it preserves better) then take out the bone of the mutton to the knuckle bone and lard it inside in the way hams are larded with truffles, peppercorns and two anchovies..." After you've tied it up and braised it, "cover it with some slices of veal and the carcasses and remains of chickens. Sprinkle the whole with half a glass of dry white wine and an equal quantity of good hanillan [a substance that Google doesn't recognize]. After it is cooked (seven hours), and it ought to take place on a small fire, you untie and dress it on a large dish. Stewed lettuces should be served with it.

I shall not demonstrate this dish for your benefit, delightful though it sounds. Nor shall I offer the details of how to make Boiled Cheese or Oatmeal Ice Cream, or how to preserve eggs in water glass. Nor will I regale you with instructions for removing the taste of turnips from butter, or how to boil plovers' eggs (seen any plovers lately?). 

I had to search for a simple recipe suitable for viewing Downton Abbey reruns. There is, I am happy to report, an ample supply of sweets recipes of many sorts. Luckily most (but not all) are recognizable. I considered making Fadge because I love the name, but was a bit put off by the first instruction: "take eleven pounds of wheatmeal..." Add 2 ounces (?!) of butter, warm water, and a whole lot of baking powders. Sounds inedible.

Moving right along, I came upon Ginger Nuts, a kind of cookie, I gather. Two recipes, in fact: one a drop cookie, one rolled. The simpler of the two is called Mountblaisy Ginger Nuts [once again, Google failed me with Mountblaisy. Person? Place? We may never know. The only reference was a citation of this recipe-verbatim--in an Australian newspaper from 1945. Without attribution.]

Mountblaisy Ginger Nuts


1 pound flour

1/2 pound syrup
1 quarter pound butter
2 oz ground ginger
1/4 pound sugar


Note: this and all the other recipes in this book assume a familiarity with just about any cooking procedure, for the author does not bother with pesky details.

Mix together the above ingredients.

Moisten the mixture with milk [it took about half a cup].

Drop them on a baking sheet , and bake for 20 minutes (actually 17 minutes worked better).

Ready to bake
More questions than answers, alas:

--let us assume white flour

--salted or unsalted butter? (I'm going with salted, since there is none added later.)

--what the heck is syrup? (the recipe for the rolled version suggests 3/4 pound of golden syrup.) Golden syrup is also called light treacle (not the gooey black stuff), and it's not just sugar syrup--there's some complicated process involved. I've had some, but it seems mysteriously to have vanished (how could I possibly use up a tin of golden syrup?). But since these are ginger cookies, I will trust that treacle (which I do have, and which is created by a similar process) will suffice.

--Grease the baking sheet? I cheated and used parchment paper.

--No mention of oven temperature. I'm going to guess 350 degrees (the recipe for the rolled version recommends a "moderate" oven.)

And here we are:

I see now why they are called "nuts." I used a tablespoon for each, and they didn't change shape in the cooking, but the dough was stiff. I will guess that they last well. How do they taste? Not bad, but I should warn you that there's a lot of ginger in them, so they're spicy.

I might try the rolled version next. Or maybe scones, for which there are eight recipes. Tea, anyone?

And for a change of pace, Level Best Books has released an anthology of cooking-related short stories (including one of mine).

Noir at the Salad Bar, Culinary Tales with a Bite is a crime fiction anthology featuring gastronomic mysteries, dark and varied tales with a common theme of food and drink--and murder. The contributing writers represent a mix of bestselling authors, brand new voices, and seasoned professionals from the crime writing community. Bon Appétit! 

Find it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble


  1. That sounds similar to the old English recipe Cornish Fairings, but the biscuits do spread out when baking!

    1. And at the other extreme, there's that Fadge recipe with eleven pounds of flour and two tablespoons of butter. That recipe will not spread without using a steamroller.

  2. By the way, I'm still puzzling over why anyone would cover a roasting leg of lamb with chicken carcasses. Perhaps the cook had been tasting the hanellin, whatever it is, or was pulling the Countess's leg when she gave her the recipe.

  3. I've never been tempted to try an old recipe. First of all, I can't understand it. I've got a reprint of an old Creole cookbook. They aren't too specific with amounts. I guess our styles of cooking have changed drastically.

    1. It can be challenging, especially when they don't give amounts or temperatures (of course, the temperatures in older stoves could be quite unpredictable). I will guess that Lady Georgina never went near the kitchen. and perhaps the cooks that shared their recipes didn't want to share their secrets.

  4. I love this. Entertaining and humorous. I would try cooking the mutton leg but I fear I haven't sufficient carcasses of chicken to make it properly.

    1. Half the recipes I looked at left me laughing. But the book is a wonderful glimpse into a very different way of life.