Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Fired Puddings from Enlightenment Edinburgh

A once extinct, but delicious eighteenth century Scots dish - 'a common potatoe pudding for firing under meat'.
If one nation's cuisine is ridiculed in modern times even more than England's, it is that of its close neighbour Scotland. It is unfortunately true that visitors to this beautiful country can frequently experience some pretty basic catering. The city of Glasgow is even described in cliché terms as 'the heart attack capital' of Europe because it is perceived that its inhabitants have a preference for fatty, unhealthy food. I myself have eaten some awful food there, but to be fair in recent years have also had some of the very best in Britain in its excellent restaurants. Despite stereotypical perceptions of its contemporary food scene, Scotland does have an extraordinary culinary heritage. But some of its truly great dishes may not be known to you because they became extinct a very long time. 

Among these forgotten delights is one which I rank as one of my all-time-favourite foods, so much-loved that I would prefer a single forkful of this humble dish any day to an all-expenses-paid night out with the full tasting menu at El Bulli or The Fat Duck. Sorry Signor Adria and Mr Blumenthal, but this homely Scottish dish was designed not by some culinary high priest like your good selves, but by a forgotten Caledonian cook who was truly inspired by the angels. He or (more likely she) really understood that the best food is simply the simplest. I make this dish regularly on my period cookery courses and a growing number of people feel the same way that I do about it. A common reaction on trying it is, 'That is definitely the best thing I have ever tasted!' My clients come from all over the world - Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe. All who have experienced this dish have been truly amazed. Even the faces of my very-hard-to please Italian and French guests light up and take on an expression of euphoria on savouring the first mouthful! So Viva Caledonia!

The title page of the New Edition of 1789, Mrs Maciver's book was first published in 1773

So what you may ask is the identity of this ambrosial delight from the misty glens?' Well, it is a dish made from that lowly favourite of all Celts, the humble potato. The earliest printed recipe appeared in 1773 in the first edition of a little book called Cookery and Pastry by a Mrs Susannah Maciver, who ran a cookery school in the city of Edinburgh, though the dish is probably much older. The method of cooking which Mrs Maciver advocated is the reason why the dish is now extinct (except in my house of course). It was 'fired' below a joint of meat rotating on a spit in front of the fire, a technique no longer possible in the vast majority of modern kitchens. The same process was commonly once used for cooking other puddings, the best known being the famous Yorkshire pudding, which was originally baked in front of the fire below a joint rather than in the oven. This was how roast potatoes were also originally cooked. Here is Mrs Maciver's recipe -

I follow her instructions pretty closely, using a generous amount of butter and plenty of seasoning in the form of a good amount of salt, black pepper and a little nutmeg. 'Plain' dishes of this kind from Scotland were always highly seasoned - think of mealy puddings, white pudding and haggis, which are all very spicy. Adding the finely chopped raw onion to the mash makes all the difference. 

A leg of mutton roasts in an eighteenth century cradle spit over Mrs Maciver's potato pudding. We made this one last weekend on my roasting course. One side of this joint was larded eighteenth century style with anchovies, the other in the earlier Baroque manner with strips of Seville orange peel - two gastronomic cultural milieux for the price of one! Where else but on one of my courses could you get such a good deal!
Although Maciver tells us we can cook it under beef or mutton, I prefer to 'fire' the pudding under a leg or shoulder of mutton - don't use lamb. I usually put the joint in front of the fire for about an hour before I place the pudding underneath. This ensures that much of the fat is shed by the joint into the dripping pan before the pudding joins it in front of the fire. Although a little fat continues to drip onto the surface of the pudding,  gravy starts to weep from the joint, coating the potato with an umami-rich crust which browns in the intense heat of the fire. It is this which gives the dish its unique quality. The crisp, meaty, toasted skin sits above a light and surprisingly creamy potato puree. The bad news is that it is absolutely impossible to get the same effect in an oven. You really do need access to a spit, a dripping pan and an open fire. Sorry. There are a very large number of period recipes which just cannot be recreated in their full glory unless you use the right kit. That it is called a 'common Potato Pudding" indicates that this lovely dish must once have been widespread and frequently cooked.

The finished leg of mutton, dredged with spiced bread crumbs in the final stages of roasting with its fired potato pudding. Because I live in the Lake District, I tend to use Herdwick Mutton, a mountain breed unique to our hills, whose meat is truly delicious.
The title page of my copy of the second edition of Mrs Frazer's reincarnation of Mrs Maciver's book.

In 1791 a small collection of recipes by a Mrs Frazer, called The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Confectionery, Pickling, Preserving &c. was published in Edinburgh. The title page of the first edition declared that Mrs Frazer was the 'Sole Teacher of these Arts in Edinburgh, Several years Colleague, and afterwards Successor to Mrs McIver deceased.' Mrs Frazer's book is based on that of her old cookery school colleague and she includes the recipe for the potato pudding with slighly different wording. I actually prefer Mrs Frazer's version because she gives you the choice of including eggs in the mix. Personally I think it is a much better dish without them.

Mrs Frazer's 1791 version
As I mentioned earlier this 'potato pudding for firing under meat' is just one of a number of puddings that were once prepared in this manner. Maciver also gives a recipe for a 'bread pudding to be fired under meat' - see below. I have made this a few times, but found it a bit heavy. Unlike the potato pudding it is sweetened, but like boiled plum pudding was designed to be served with the meat rather than as a sweet dish in its own right. 

Mrs Maciver's fired bread pudding
One of the more unusual of the fired puddings is a type of herb pudding or tansy that was also baked in a pan under meat. Mrs Maciver gives us a recipe for this dish,though an earlier one was included by another Scottish Enlightenment cook,  Elizabeth Cleland in A New and Easier Method of Cookery published in Edinburgh in 1755. A tansy was a strongly aromatic and somewhat bitter dish eaten in the springtime all over Britain. Most tansies were simply fried in a pan, but this one could be done in 'the dripping pan under roasted meat'. They were often coloured green with spinach juice and flavoured with the bitter juice of the pungent herb tansy. Here is Clelands's recipe,

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.). This pungent aromatic herb was much used as a spring tonic and vermifuge. Its bitter juice was an important flavouring ingredient of the tansy, a kind of pancake or 'fraze', traditionally eaten at Lent.

A recipe for a much simpler kind of fired pudding was published in a cookery book in the Scottish Border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed by a local printer and bookseller Robert Taylor in 1769. The author of this work, The Lady's, Housewife's, and Cooksmaid's Assistant: or, The Art of Cookery was his wife Elizabeth Taylor - well at least her name appears on the title page. In reality, Robert Taylor had been sued for breach of copyright by the London bookseller Andrew Millar, who owned the right to publish the works of the deceased poet James Thompson. In 1769 Taylor had issued a pirated edition of Thompson's work The Seasons. As a result of this law suit, which actually made copyright law history, Taylor needed some hard cash and raised money by putting out subscriptions among the local merchants and landed class of Berwick for a new cookery book with his wife as author. For a man who had just been found guilty of  breach of copyright, it is ironic that he stole much of the content for his new book from Hannah Glasse's 1747 The Art of Cookery

Glasse had included a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding in her book, the first in an English collection to be given this specific regional name, though an almost identical one published in another book in 1737, which she may have used as her source, was simply called A Dripping Pudding. Elizabeth Taylor's 1769 recipe is similar to both, but is not an exact copy of either. It is interesting that it occurs in a Scottish context, a country where more recipes for fired puddings were appearing in the culinary literature than in English cookery books. Here is Elizabeth's recipe, a Yorkshire Pudding in all but name,

The earliest English recipe for a pudding to be cooked under meat appeared in The Whole Duty of a Woman, an anonymous collection of recipes published in London in 1737. I have posted a link at the end of this article to a video on Youtube which shows me making this dish. Here is the recipe,

A Dripping Pudding

Make a good Batter as for Pancakes, put it in a hot Toss-pan over the Fire with a Bit of Butter to fry the Bottom a little, then put the Pan and Batter under a Shoulder of Mutton instcad of a Dripping-pan, keeping frequently shaking it by the Handle and it will be light and savoury, - and fit to take up when your Mutton is enough; then turn it in a Dish, and serve it hot.

From Anon, The Whole Duty of a Woman (London: 1737) 

I have made this many times. Unlike a modern Yorkshire Pudding, which should puff up in the oven, this particular fired pudding collapses and is more like a thick pancake. In fact it looks like a sloppy mess when served on the plate. However, looks can be deceptive, because it is truly delicious. Again the crust of the pudding is enriched by the rich juices that have dripped from the meat.

A 1737 Dripping Pudding fires under a shoulder of mutton

Watch this video of the 1737 Dripping or Yorkshire Pudding 'firing' under a leg of mutton

The sharp eyed Adam Balic has been searching through the manuscript recipe collections in the National Library of Scotland and has found many handwritten directions for making even earlier 'baken' or fired puddings. He has some important things to say about this whole issue, especially about our contemporary perceptions of the 'regionality' of such dishes. His excellent posting, The Evolution of Yorkshire Pudding will give you much more historical background to the development of these dishes than I have included here. While you are on his excellent site do check out Adam's recent research findings on haggis, the only intelligent survey of its history that I have ever read.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Biscuit Break

According to Theodore Garrett in The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (London: 1890s), every cook has their very own  built-in biscuit-break.

This is a mini-posting to answer a question put by Elise Fleming as to what I meant by a 'biscuit break' in my last article Some Regency Biscuits. Well, a 'break' or 'brake' was a piece of equipment used by bakers for kneading bread and biscuit dough in large quantities. They seem to have been utilised by professional bakers since at least the fifteenth century and probably earlier. They consisted of a 'brake-staff' or long pole, usually attached to the wall with a metal swivel. The 'breaksman' or 'brakesman' simply worked the pole up and down over the dough by using the brake-staff like a one man see-saw. 

George Dodd, in Volume V of his extraordinary series British Manufacturers (London: 1808-1881) tells us that in making ships biscuit,  

'The dough was‥taken from the trough and put on a wooden platform called the break. On this platform worked a roller, called the break⁓staff.‥ One end‥was loosely attached by a kind of staple to the wall, and the breakman, riding or sitting on the other end, worked the roller to and fro over the dough, by an uncouth jumping or shuffling movement'.
This 'uncouth jumping or shuffling', also known as 'riding the brake'  is illustrated perfectly in the following engraving, a detail from the decorative title page of John Penketheman's Artachthos (London: 1638- reprinted 1748).

Pentketheman's book is a guide to the assize of bread. His frontispiece illustrates what he calls the 'thirteen arts' of the baker's trade, braking being the fifth. Here is a scan of the frontispiece from my own very nice copy and the explanatory verse which accompanies it. 

Biscuit brakes of this kind were still being used in the early twentieth century, though many of the larger-scale bakers had been turning to mechanised roller breaks from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. The use of a break produced a very, very fine textured dough, ideal for the uniform result wanted with biscuits, particularly those that were to be printed with a design.

These two diagrams are from Frederick Vine, Biscuits for Bakers (London: nd 1900s).

A mid-nineteenth century roller biscuit break.

My own improvised biscuit break, loosely based on a design in Theodore Garrett's The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (London: 1890s). Garrett's design is at the top.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Some Regency Biscuits

Some Regency period biscuits. In the foreground are millefruit biscuits, sweetmeat biscuits, filbert biscuits and rolled wafers. The round biscuits on the plate in the middle printed with the feathers emblem are Prince of Wales biscuit. In the background can be seen some spice biscuits and more rolled wafers. I made these for the dessert served after the supper in the BBC production Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. Other than the Prince of Wales Biscuits, these were all made from recipes in Frederick Nutt's The Complete Confectioner (London: 1789).
Nowadays, we tend to eat biscuits with beverages like tea and coffee. But in the past they were an important element of the dessert course and were dipped into sweet wine. Particularly popular for this purpose were various sponge biscuits, often made in long thin shapes so they fitted easily into the narrow wineglasses of the eighteenth century. Thus the elongated form that sponge fingers, boudoirs, champagne biscuits and langue de chat continue to have to this day, though most of us have forgotten why they are this shape. Other kinds of biscuits printed with patriotic motifs were particularly popular and some were designed to commemorate a special event, such as 'Union Biscuits', which celebrated the Acts of Union of 1800. Biscuits with royal connections were particularly widespread. Prince of Wales Biscuit was a hard, unsweetened biscuit stamped with the emblem of the prince's feathers. These were made commercially by professional biscuit bakers like Werringtons of Oxford Street and a number of other city confectioners. The Yorkshire confectioner and tea dealer Joseph Bell, who claims to have worked for George, Prince of Wales, published a recipe in 1817 -

Prince of Wale's Biscuit

1 lb butter, and 3lb 8ozs of flour. To be mixed the same as hollow biscuits; and to be stamped with the princes feather; they must be pricked with a fork; and baked in rather a slower oven than the others.

From Joseph Bell, A Treatise of Confectionery (Newcastle upon Tyne: 1817).

Prince of Wales Biscuit are listed on this late eighteenth century trade card.
This fine stucco Prince of Wales Feathers adorns the space above the back entrance to the prince's kitchen wing at Brighton Pavilion. This emblem was the motif printed on the Prince of Wales biscuits. I also own a number of early nineteenth century kitchen moulds in this design used for sugar paste, butter, ice cream, jelly and flummery.
The Prince of Wales was well known for his gustatory inclinations. Here he is depicted living it up in the Brighton Pavilion kitchen with his servants. The cook on the left is probably meant to be Antonin Câreme.
A Prince of Wales biscuit print.
In this advertisement from The Leeds Intelligencer, Tuesday 23 May 1786, Joseph Bell mentions the 'vast, large Assortment of different Kinds of Biscuits' he stocked in his newly-opened confectionery shop in Boar-Lane, Leeds. I would imagine that his Prince of Wales biscuit was among them.
Biscuits were an important element of the dessert. In this plate from J. Caird, The Complete Confectioner (Edinburgh: 1809), there are two plates filled with 'biscuits various' in the corners of the table.
After the second course of the meal was cleared, the table was sometimes laid out with a dessert, including biscuits for eating with dessert wine. The food items here are waiting on a sideboard to be delivered to the table. Fresh cherries and figs are garnished with myrtle. The 'dessert tree' hung with glass baskets of sweetmeats has a top glass filled with cherries in brandy. Around it set out on the salver are glasses of raspberry jelly. Pistachio and filbert prawlongs are arranged on porcelain plates with orange chips.
Three boxwood biscuit dockers from the Regency period and a common biscuit docker. Every kitchen drawer once housed a docker for punching the tiny holes in biscuits to stop them being spoilt by bubbling up. Many biscuit prints, like those discussed below incorporated their own little docking nails. These little tools were used for stamping biscuits with printed motifs by hand before mechanised processes took over during the course of the nineteenth century.
The biscuit in the centre has not been 'docked' correctly and has blown up into a bubble. It will therefore easily flake and fragment, making it no good for keeping.
York biscuits were invented to commemorate the wedding of the Duke of York and Princess Frederica in 1790.
There were also biscuits associated with two of Prince George's brothers - Prince Frederick, Duke of Albany and York (1763-1827) and Prince William, Duke of Clarence (1765-1837), who succeeded George to the throne in 1830. York biscuits, invented to commemorate the marriage of the Duke to Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia in 1790 continued to be made well into the twentieth century. The earliest recipe I have found dates from 1817 and again is from Joseph Bell's marvellous collection. 

Duchess of York's Biscuits

1lb butter, 8 oz. of sugar, 3 lb of flour. Rub the butter into the flour; then add the sugar, and mix it up into a stiff paste with milk; rolle the paste out about a quarter of an inch thick, they must be cut square and stamped with a proper stamp of the happy union and baked in a good oven.

From Joseph Bell,  A Treatise of Confectionery (Newcastle upon Tyne: 1817).

A boxwood York biscuit print. Photo: courtesy of Gillian Riley.
After the biscuit dough has been kneaded with a biscuit break, it is rolled out and cut into strips using the rolling pin as a ruler. 
This diagram from Frederick Vine, Saleable Shop Goods, (London: 1898) illustrates how these biscuit prints were used.

A baked York biscuit.
I recently acquired a boxwood print used to make a biscuit commemorating George's brother William, who succeeded him to the throne. As well as a crown and William's cipher it is decorated with an anchor, a reference to William's strong connection to the British Navy. In fact he was often known as 'Sailor Bill'.

A very rare print or docker to make a biscuit commemorating King William IV.  Note the six nails.
In this anonymous satirical woodcut, Queen Adelaide is spanking King William IV with a birch whip. He has an anchor tatooed on his scarred backside. He is being carried by the Duke of Wellington. 1832

An uncooked biscuit printed with the docker above. Note the six nail holes.
William IV in the uniform of a naval officer enjoying a glass of wine. Mezzotint by William Say after a painting by Michael Sharp. 1830. Perhaps his biscuit would have been served with wine.

Another recent acquisition has been a biscuit print with a strong connection to George III, father to all three brothers - the Prince Regent, the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence. It is carved with a royal crown and engraved with the words Royal Volunteers Biscuit. The use of the long s - rather like an f, dates this print at some time before 1810. Volunteer militias were raised throughout Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps these were enjoyed in the officers' mess with a glass of wine, though probably not of French vintage!

An extremely rare biscuit docker from the time of the Napoleonic wars. The words 'Royal Volunteers Biscuit' surround a royal crown. Note the 'long s' in 'biscuit'.

An unbaked Royal Volunteers Biscuit - note again the holes made by the docking nails.
King George III mounted on a horse to left,  saluting marching volunteers. After R. K. Porter. 1800
Mezzotint and etching.

Royal Volunteer Biscuits c. 1800 and King William Biscuits c. 1832. I have never managed to find any specific recipes in the literature for these particular biscuits. So I made them both using Bell's recipe for Duchess of York's Biscuits. Verdict - rather dry and not as sweet as modern British biscuits. 
Watch Ivan make Frederick Nutt's 1789 Spice Biscuits

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Pride and Prejudice - Having a Ball

Some Background on the Ball Supper in the BBC2 Documentary

Although the silver and other tableware here is accurate for the period, this is more of an 'evocation', than a recreation of the Netherfield ball supper. But hopefully it does offer some insight into the sophistication of dining in the Regency period. Photo by Andrew Hayes Watkins. ©Optomen Television
Those of you who regularly read this blog will know that I am frequently rather harsh about the lack of accuracy in food and table settings in period movies and television dramas. Rarely have I seen any recreations of this kind that have really impressed me. Though of course I constantly have to remind myself that these productions are not pretending to be anything more than dramatised settings of fiction, so the food and table setup are props for the cast to perform around. Therefore I suppose it is a bit sad of me to look for detailed historical accuracy in a fictional context where it is unlikely to be found. However, when the format of the production is a documentary, a medium which attempts a true reflection of reality, it is a different matter. On British television in recent years, there have been a number of documentaries which have attempted to examine the history of our food. In most cases these recreations have been worse than those of the period dramas. I am not going to give any examples, but some of these productions have really been wasted opportunities and I have frequently been embarrassed by my own involvement in them when I see the final edit. I believe that a more intelligent approach to food in history has the potential for really exciting - and yes, even more entertaining television than risk-averse commissioning editors realise. 

So how you might ask, can this sort of thing be done in a more revelatory and accurate way? Well the first essential factor is to work with a production team who really listen and understand these issues. When I was first invited to create the food and table for BBC2's documentary Pride and Prejudice Having a Ball, I had an exploratory meeting with the producer/director Ian Denyer. For the first time in my long career, I found myself talking to a television professional who was singing from the same hymn sheet as myself. Ian and his colleague Sarah Durdin Robertson were really keen to portray the same level of historical accuracy in their production that I aim for in my museum exhibitions. They too wanted to avoid the tabloid 'Carry on Banqueting' approach that has too often been the standard fare when it comes to the treatment of food history on British television.

Silver specialist Christopher Hartop and his wife Juliet with a practice layout of the Regency silver at three o clock in the afternoon on the filming day. Ten hours later, they were still up, washing all this incredible stuff in the kitchen sink until 4.00am in the morning! Christopher and Juliet organise decorative arts special events, including one called The Art of Dining. Find out more at Christopher's website.
The second essential factor is to set the table with authentic equipage rather than the generic art department 'props' that appear in just about every production, even the big budget Hollywood ones. To make this possible I called upon the good offices of my friend and colleague Christopher Hartop, one of the world's leading scholars of historic silverware. Christopher miraculously sourced a large assemblage of authentic Regency tableware, making this production the very first to recreate a period table on British television with a high degree of veracity. The only disappointment was that the food could not be prepared in a period kitchen, though I made up for this in using a range of original equipment, especially in the preparation of some of the sweet dishes.

Confections from the Netherfield dessert you will have missed if you blinked when watching the programme! All designed for consuming with sweet wines. The Prince of Wales biscuits in the foreground, emblazoned with the iconic feathers emblem of the Regent, were made from Joseph Bell's 1817 recipe. The pink sweets are Pistachio Prawlongs from Frederick Nutt's 1789 The Complete Confectioner, a key work of this period. The plate in the background contains spice biscuits, wafers, sweetmeat biscuits, toad in a hole biscuits, millefruit biscuits and filbert biscuits, all also made from Nutt's recipes. Nowadays, we dunk biscuits into tea, but at this period they were used for dipping into the unctuously sweet wines of the dessert course.
Ian told me the aim of the programme was to accurately recreate the Netherfield ball from Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, including the production and serving of the ball supper, which would be my job. In her beautifully measured, but succinct prose, the author offers just a few clues about the nature of this meal, leaving much to the reader's imagination. But if our twenty-first century imaginations have been nourished by cliché-ridden, stereotypical concepts of what food and dining was like in the late Georgian period, how can a modern reader visualise such an occasion?  Austen tells us it was a sit-down affair, at which the ubiquitous 'white soup' was served. But she says little else about the nature of the rest of the food. So if we were to accurately recreate her ball supper, where should we look for research material? There are certainly many contemporary reports of grand balls in the newspapers of this period, in which suppers are described, though hardly ever in any significant detail. One thing we do learn from these sources is that the supper was usually served in the early hours of the morning, making the old cliché 'carriages at midnight' completely false. For instance at the Duchess of Bedford’s Ball at Bedford House in London on Friday 31st May 1811, at which the great Neil Gow provided the music, the supper furnished by James Gunter was served in the 'wee small hours',

'At half-past three o’clock the company sat down to a sumptuous banquet, the viands and wines being of the first description, with a desert of ices, strawberries, cherries, and grapes by Mr Gunter. Music was provided by Mr Gow’s Band'.

The Morning Post of 14th April 1813, the year of our recreated ball, reported a very grand supper served at a magnificent ball in the home of a Mrs Beaumont,

'At 2 am the company then adjourned to the supper-tables. Here a most sumptuous display indeed was made, there were no less than six supper-rooms, all fitted-up in the most beautiful and appropriate manner. Each table was brilliantly ornamented with trophies of war and peace; emblems emblematic of the arts and sciences: the costume of all civilized nations of the earth, exemplified in waxen images, modelled for this fete expressly…the plate, and the china, displayed and the brilliancy of the lighting-up of the tables, the effect was grand in the extreme. To render the coup l’oeil complete, about two hundred beautiful women (for the major part of the females were really beautiful) sat in such prominent situations as to be seen in every part without the least difficulty. The supper, we need not add, was most excellent; the wines abundant, and all of the rarest kinds. The dessert fruits, and confectionary, were equally deserving of panegyric: the Duke of Clarence spoke in raptures of them'.

This brief page on ball suppers from John Conrade Cooke's Cookery and Confectionery, (London: 1824) tells us that by this time it had become fashionable to eat the food provided at balls standing up. Austen tells us that the Netherfield supper was a sit down affair. Of course, the style of dining she had in mind was that of the  late 1790s when she wrote the book, not the Regency period when it was published. I would have preferred to have produced a 1798 supper, but the BBC wanted to set it in 1813. Note that Cooke mentions 'White Soups'. He also tells us that the hams were ornamented or served in slices.

Stand-up ball suppers became the norm in the Victorian period. This is a museum display I undertook last year of a stand-up ball supper based on an actual event at Hatfield House in 1845. It was part of the 2012 Bowes Museum exhibition Feast your Eyes.
Amazingly, when my team did finally recreate the supper for filming at Chawton House in January, because the schedule was running very late, the food was not delivered to the table until 2 am. And we finished the washing up at 4.00 am. That day we started work in the kitchen at 7.00 am, making it a massive twenty-three hour shift! This sort of schedule was probably exactly the long kind of day that the servants who prepared and served at these affairs would have experienced in the Regency period. Creating a meal on this scale would have been the job of a large team of professionals over a number of days. Confectionery keeps well, so it was made well in advance. A lot of the cold dishes and pies were usually made the day before. This was the pattern we followed. My team was truly remarkable, working under extremely difficult conditions and for very long hours. Lesley Sendall, food stylist extraordinaire, was my second in command. In the kitchen, the meat and fish cookery was carried out faultlessly by the highly talented chefs Sylvain Jamois and Chris Gates, assisted by the always calm Emily Hallett and Roy May. I wish that I could have worked with them in a real period kitchen, like my own in Cumbria, teaching them how to roast in front of a fire and prepare their sauces on a stewing stove. In the dining room, Christopher Hartop and his wife Juliet laid out the remarkable silver and trained the waiters. Christopher, a former Executive Vice-Chairnan of Christie's is the author of numerous books and papers on silver. We all learnt a great deal about the logistics of such an ambitious entertainment, including the long hours of washing up afterwards in the small hours. Though unlike the scullery staff of 1813, we had good washing up liquid rather than hard soap and plenty of hot water - though that failed at one point!

In the description above of Mrs Beaumont's ball, it is mentioned that the tables were decorated with emblematic wax ornaments. These pieces montées, or 'dressed plates' were also made out of sugar and edible materials. They were designed and made by very skilful confectioners who specialised in such work, and could even be hired just for the evening. One little known, but important book by the cook and confectioner John Conrade Cooke - Cookery and Confectionery (London: 1824) illustrates some of these extraordinary objects. The example I reproduce below was a sort of culinary 'mobile' that trembled elegantly when the guests sat at the table. It was appropriately called a 'tremblent'. These stunning wobbly centrepieces were popular all over Europe until the middle of the nineteenth century. They would have picked up and amplified every movement from the dance floor.

A 'drest plate' or tremblent by John Conrade Cooke. Although there was neither time, nor the budget to make table ornaments like this for the programme, I did make two of Cooke's ices for our reconstruction of the Netherfield ball supper - tamarind ice cream and negus ice, both served during the dessert in contemporary ice coolers, or seaux à glace.
A remarkable design for a tremblent by the Turin confectioner Prati to be entirely executed in sugar paste c.1825.
Bills of fare for ball suppers are actually few and far between in the cookery literature of the period. One of the best examples and the one we decided to use as the starting point for our supper was published in later editions of William Henderson's The Housekeeper's Instructor. It first appeared in the 1805 edition, a version of the book much 'corrected, revised and augmented' by Jacob Schnebbelie, principal cook at that iconic residence for high status bachelors - Albany in Piccadilly. 

Portrait of Schnebbelie with the Albany from William Henderson, The Housekeeper's Instructor (Twelfth Edition, London: 1803).
It is likely that Schnebbelie fed such regency worthies as Henry Holland, Lord Byron and Robert Smirke, who all lived in chambers or 'sets' in the Albany on his watch. Schnebbelie's scheme includes four dress plates down the middle of the table with a small dessert frame in the centre. These raised frames, also called plateaux or surtout were very popular for raising dramatic ornamental centrepieces above the level of the table. With four dress plates and a frame, this layout is for a very ambitious entertainment indeed - to my mind, in style and scope somewhat more Mr Darcy or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, than Mr Bingley. On either side of the frame is a Savoy cake. These large moulded sponge cakes were decorated with gum paste ornaments and made conspicuous ornaments for the table in their own right. I decided to drop the dress plates. but retain the savoy cakes.
Schnebbelie's ball supper scheme, with its 'frame' and 'dress plates' is for a very grand ball supper. He also included a plan for the dessert which followed. From William Henderson, The Housekeeper's Instructor (Twelfth Edition, London: 1803).
This large gum paste triumphal arch with its trophies stands on a dessert frame or plateau. I made it for the exhibition Royal Sugar Sculpture in 2003. It is now displayed in the table decker's room at Brighton Pavilion.
In this decorative title page to Cooke's book, the two little fellows at the table are preparing a 'drest plate'.
The items on this 1870s French ball supper buffet include pieces montées and trophies of game and fish.
One of my ornamented Savoy cakes. Photo by Andrew Hayes Watkins. © Optomen Television
A Regency period mould in my collection, which I used to ornament the Savoy cake above.

Ball suppers were prepared and served by professional caterers with advanced skills in both cookery and confectionery. 
Schnebbelie includes two blancmanges in his scheme, which were likely to have been made in the intricate moulds of the period. The mould used to make this beautiful blancmange basket of fruit was made by Wedgewood in the 1790s. Photo by Sarah Durdin Robertson.

Schnebbelie's cold fowls were likely to have been ornamented with fashionable silver hatelet skewers garnished with such delicacies as whole truffles and crayfish. Note the slices of ham on the napkin in the silver basket, served as per the instructions of John Conrade Cooke reproduced earlier in this post. Photo by Andrew Hayes Watkins. © Optomen Television.
Instead of a dessert frame, we used a stunning epergne by Benjamin Smith III of Birmingham, kindly lent by Koopman Rare Art. Photo by Andrew Hayes Watkins. © Optomen Television
The table is laid à la française with all the dishes on the table at once. The guests choose just the dishes they want and help each other, making it a socially dynamic style of dining. The aim was to provide a sumptuous arrangement that honoured the guests with plenty of choice. Nobody was expected to eat everything. Photo by Andrew Hayes Watkins. © Optomen Television
Many of the savoury dishes in the meal were from Henderson's book, though some, such as the Austen favourites white soup and haricot of mutton were based on recipes in Martha Lloyd's and the Knight family manuscripts, housed at the Jane Austen House and Chawton. However, most of the recipes in these wonderful collections are of a domestic nature. Much grander dishes would have graced the table of the fashionable and aspirational Bingleys, especially at an entertainment at which they were attempting to impress grandees such as Darcy.
Crayfish in Jelly. Photo by Andrew Hayes Watkins. © Optomen Television.

The recipe for the dish above. From Richard Briggs, The English Art of Cookery (London: 1788).

A sweet jelly this time, moulded in cameo style made using a 1790s Staffordshire mould.
This is the final bill of fare for the supper. Its core is the 1805 arrangement designed by Schnebbelie reproduced above, but with the addition of two soups and a number of other dishes mentioned by Austen, such as haricot of mutton roast widgeon and ragout of veal. There was also a dessert course, which I will discuss in a later post.
Ivan enjoys a cup of tea after the stress of  unmoulding this 1790s Staffordshire core jelly obelisk. It was worth it as it did appear on the screen for a micro-second!

A lot of you who have already watched the programme and have contacted me to say that you would have liked to have heard more about the food. Well, the supper was just a part of the whole event and what had to be foremost in the narrative of the programme was how the context of the ball set the dynamics of Austen's plot. I thought the programme makers and presenters made a good job of this. The extraordinary culture of Regency dining really needs a six part series of its own. Though I am afraid that commissioning editors think that modern audiences do not have an appetite for this sort of thing. They are entirely wrong of course!

Some of the sharp-eyed among you noticed a few errors of fact in the voice-overs in food scenes. Alistair Sooke said that the parmesan ice cream was made from a recipe in Frederick Nutt's Imperial and Royal Cook, which of course does not contain any ice cream recipes. It was made from Nutt's earlier work, The Complete Confectioner of 1789. Well spotted! Three of you realised that the liquid unfortunately described by Amanda Vickery as a 'gallon of gravy', must have been the hare soup, because it was being poured into a particularly fine Regency soup tureen. It was! The other tureen was used for serving the famous white soup. And yes, the meat in a veal ragout was not 'slow roasted', nor shredded - it was stewed.

I am never sure who writes the texts of voice-overs, but in my experience they are the area in these productions where the most errors creep in. It can be particularly annoying when an expert contributor has mentioned on camera the true facts and in the presenter's voice-over which replaces it, the truth gets mangled, or ends up substituted by some nonsense gleaned from Wikipedia. It happens to me all the time - but I guess that is one of the joys of show biz!

Although my meal was set out correctly for this period, the mode with which it was consumed in the programme by the modern diners would have raised a few eyebrows in the early nineteenth century. Place a group of excited twenty-first century dancers round a lavish table at 2.00am in the morning and you will not get a perfect demonstration of Regency period manners. À la française dining was a socially dynamic mode of service, but not quite the free-for-all depicted here.

If you live in Britain and you missed the programme first broadcast at 9.00pm on the 10th May on BBC2, you can catch up with it over the next week on BBC iPlayer. It is presented by Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke. It is an Optomen production for BBC2 commissioned by BBC2 Controller Janice Hadlow and Mark Bell, Commissioning Editor, Arts.

P.S.  Neither Optomen or the BBC told me anything about this, but a friend has just pointed out that there is another spin-off programme from Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball, an education production aimed at school children called Regency Life: 3 Lives in a Day. She mentioned it to me, because she noticed lots of sections with really good footage of my food and table, which were not used in Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. I appear in it from time as an uncredited, disembodied pair of hands doing things with food! If you want to watch it, it is available on BBC iPlayer for a few more days - Regency Life: 3 Lives in a Day