52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 2: Mrs Edwards’s cook book
We bought this recipe book at auction recently, and it arrived with no provenance information. However, from the names and places mentioned, I have worked out that it belonged to Mrs Elizabeth Edwards, wife of George Edwards of Henlow Warden in Bedfordshire. The family tree includes several relatives’ names who contributed recipes – Cousin Talman, Aunt Madox and Grandmother Cockayne. Other local families also gave recipes such as the Harveys of Ickwell, Mr Moffat, apothecary in Shefford, and Lady Ongley of Old Warden Park, revealing information about family and social networks around Henlow.
The volume also records remedies for various ailments as well as dates and quantities of mead, vinegar and grape wine made, and when hams were salted. Preserving was important for the winter months of course, so this book played an important role in household management as well as providing recipes for everyday dishes. The binding is broken and pages are loose, speaking of long years’ service in the home. The first dated entry is 1747, and it continued being used for both recipes and medical cures long after the death of Mrs Edwards in 1807, transmitting knowledge of both cookery and medicine from one generation to the next.
Intrigued by the name of this dish, found in an 18th century manuscript recipe book (ms38783), I thought I would try it out.
A Nothing Pudding
Half a pound of single refined sugar beaten, half a pound of butter melted, six eggs, some nutmeg, and a spoonful of orange flower water, mix it all together, lay a good crust at the bottom of your dish, when you put it in, cut a small apple fine, and sprinkle upon it, half an hour will bake it.
I followed the recipe exactly, except for halving all quantities, as it seemed like it would make a huge pie. I also chose to bake the pastry base blind, which may have been pre-supposed by the writer, and I added thinly sliced apples to the pie base as I have a surfeit of apples this year and they have to go into everything! As would have been traditional, the apples and eggs were home-grown, although I didn’t have a cow to milk for churning my own butter.
The eggs, sugar and butter fluffed up beautifully and browned to perfection in the oven at 180°C.
It turned out to be a very popular recipe – I’ve already made it again twice and had several requests for the recipe. I supply people with a printout of the original manuscript version.
Of course the calorie count comes to rather more than nothing, sadly, but the light and fluffy texture of the mixture must have given rise to the name and the notion that there was really nothing much in it. I have seen similar recipes called Apple Cheesecake and Incomparable Pudding!
I also tried Miss Farrer’s lemon cakes, which are not cakes at all but lemon drops, made of sugar, lemon rind and juice.
To make Lemon Cakes
Grate the rind of three large lemons, beat three quarters of a pound of fine loaf sugar, then put for [sic] spoonfuls of sugar into a silver saucepan; wet it with a spoonful of water let it boyl [sic] very quick, stir it all the while, then let somebody put in the lemon peel; and the rest of the sugar too. spoonfuls of each at a time, keep it boyling on the fire all the while and when all the peel and sugar is in take it off the fire, and stir in a spoonful of lemon juice, then let it boyl three times, and each time it boyls put in a few drops of lemon juice, drop your cakes on white paper, or cards, and let them lie till next day in a place near the fire, but not very hot, when they are thorough cold, they will slip off the paper very easy.
These were not easy! Mrs King in our 1830s recipe book (msdep137/7) provides a very useful summary of the 5 stages of boiling sugar.
I achieved only two, boiling or burnt, rather than the desirable ‘caramel height’.
I had three go’s at the drops, the first being quite tasty but too soft and sticky, the second well and truly burnt, and then finally almost right, though still sticky and very sharp as I used less sugar. Could be very useful against winter coughs and colds with all that vitamin C.
I followed the recipe but used a smaller quantity again, and dried them on top of the wood-burning stove as my nearest equivalent to leaving beside the fire all night. I also don’t have a silver saucepan – I tried non-stick and it seemed to work in the end.
Why not try your hand at one of these recipes yourself!