Sometimes in your work as a historian, you come across an extraordinary source that grabs your attention even when you’re looking for something else. In this case, I was in between projects, just looking around in the archives in Dublin while I had some free time. When this book arrived at my workstation in the National Library of Ireland, I immediately knew it was special. Labeled simply as a recipe book of unknown origin or provenance, probably from the 18th or 19th century, the book was crammed with over two hundred pages of recipes and boasted an impressive index. What charmed me the most, however, was the number of hands who had contributed to this large volume. A cursory glance through its pages revealed at least twelve different handwritings—this book had been kept, and added to, for a long time. Perhaps one family had owned it, adding to it over several generations. Or, maybe it had traveled as it changed hands over time. Some of the fancier recipes towards the back suggest that it was used in a “Big House” where food was prepared by a cook and served to its occupants, but earlier advice for laundry and mending suggest more humble beginnings.
Without an official provenance, we have no way of knowing where in Ireland the book was written or when it was begun—one date towards the middle reads 1784—but we do have some idea of where the recipes came from. The biggest contributor to the book was its original author, who filled page after page with her close, cramped writing and began the detailed index of both remedies and recipes for food. Over the years, less business-like hands added excessive flourishes to recipes from France, some with so many twining curly-cues that it is almost impossible to read the receipts. The changing inks, also, suggest the passage of time, the final entries completed in a Prussian blue that contrasts starkly with the faded sepia of earlier pages. But here and there throughout, the writers name the women from whom they received the recipes— [examples here]—conjuring an entire social network of women who shared tips and new ideas with each other. Their priorities and tastes may have changed over time, but they created a community within the book’s well-worn pages, and you can almost hear their voices—see their personalities coming through—as you read through their recipes and commentaries.
I have chosen one recipe from each of the strongest voices in the book to share below, editing for clarity where necessary but maintaining their unique style of writing. They begin with the oldest, working their way forward through time. I haven’t tested any of them yet, but I might try the recipe for lemonade first!
Beat the yolks & whites of 4 eggs severally for half an hour, the whites till they be in a curd, the yolks till they are like butter, then beat them for a considerable time together. Mix ½ a pd of flour […] dried & ½ a pd of fine white sugar & rub it into a haf a pd of fresh butter wth a few Carroway seeds & just as you are putting it into your oven pour the Eggs upon the parts & mix it with your hands and put it in your hoop & bake it half an hour.
Take 12 large Oranges […] of the outside. 1st then Cut them & take out the Pulp you may squeeze a little but take Care not to Crack the Peel strain the Juice thro’ a Sive & keep it Till the Oranges are Boiled put them one within another & Tye them in a Napkin & let them Boyle for a hour & till you can run a straw thro’ them then Cutt the Peell in Quarters & Cutt the inside of their Quarters as thin as possible as far as the whote goes but fling away the yellow then take Double the weight of your slices in Double refined Sugar just Dip the […] of Sugar in Water to Melt but put no Water over it let the Syrup boil very well & scim it clean then put to it the Juice of 4 more Oranges & 2 Lemons let them boyle well together when it is a thick Syrup put in your slices they must Boyle slow & now & then take them off the fire & Cover the Pan for a Minute or 2 it helps to Clear them & when they are hardened in the Syrup tis enough cover them up Close where Cold.
Take some dry boyled ones and peel them and break them small with your fingers and rub them light through a Sieve beat up eight Eggs and ad two spoonfulls of Flower Three Spoonfulls of Brandy 2 spoonfulls of Lump sugar one quarter of a pound of drawn Butter a little Nuttmeg grated Three quarters of a pound of potatoes beat all well together fry it in Fresh drippings dropping them by spoonfuls Serve them with grated Sugar.
Take 12 Eggs half whites and beat them with half a pint of flower and some grated nutmeg and some flower of Ginger and a qr of a pound of drawn butter & a naggon of Brandy and 2 spoonfulls of Lump Sugar beat all well & fry them quick & Crisp with Butter & Serve them & add a quart of New Milk in the beating.
Take 2 quarts of flower two spoonfuls of Good Barm a little salt wet it with half milk and half water beat it up with your hand like a seed Cake let it stand 2 hours then make it in little rools and put it in a smart Oven, three Quarters of an Hour will Just Bake it.
3 pds of flour 2 pds of Treacle 2 oz of Caraway Seeds Do Corriander, 1 ½ oz of powdered ginger mix your seeds and powder, let your Corriander seeds be pounded, lay your flour in a boll wth yr seeds mixed in it, make a hole in the middle, pour in your Treacle & a lb of melted Butter, & grated nutmeg, mix all together in a paste, Roll it out in what shape you please prick & bake it.
Take the juice of 3 large lemons add to it 3 pints of spring water with some of the rind of the lemons pared thin and steeped in the water with sugar and white wine to yr taste.
Take a half a lb of flour ½ lb of sugar ¼ butter and enough of an egg well beaten to wet it grate in some nutmeg mix well roll thin, cut with a pastry cutter or wine glass & bake on butter paper.
[Because I could not share photographs of the women’s handwriting, I carefully recreated the colors of the inks with watercolor and copied their handwriting for the recipe titles]
Citation: National Library of Ireland, MS 34, 953