A taste of Townend: Recreating recipes from 1699. Emma Wright

Emma began the September 2016 talk by introducing the Brown and Birkett families and Townend itself. Elizabeth Birkett, who assembled the recipe book came to live at Townend when she married Ben Brown in 1703. The Brown family lived and farmed at Townend from the 1600s to 1940. By 1700 they were well established and styled themselves as gentlemen farmers. The Birketts, who were near neighbours, were also successful.

Townend as seen today has been enlarged since the seventeenth century, mainly by extension at the rear. Elizabeth would have cooked mainly on open fires, spits and cob irons. She did have an oven which was eighteen inches wide and very deep. The oven would only be fired up about once per fortnight. Once it was hot, the first things cooked would be those requiring the highest temperatures, these would be followed by a series of other dishes that required lower temperatures. Cakes, which could be as wide as the oven door, were placed in wooden frames to retain the shape and baked for up to seven hours. Meat, mainly lamb would have been smoked in the meat loft above the fire.

The recipe book, handwritten by Elizabeth, is the size of an exercise book and comprises 52 pages plus index and references. It contains culinary recipes but also instructions for household tasks such as dying, removing stains, how to ‘Japan’ objects and how to produce gold and silver effects. There are also cures for various ailments, such as nose bleeds, epilepsy, toothache, rickets; some of the cures are potions but others verge on sorcery.

The culinary recipes were mainly dishes for entertaining. Ordinary fare was dominated by clapbread, made from oats. Breakfast would be porridge and clapbread, the main meal a broth of meat and vegetables with clapbread, the evening meal cheese and clapbread. The clapbread was made in large quantities by itinerant women who came to the house. The final section of Emma’s talk considered a number of the culinary recipes in detail; she and her colleagues had recreated and sampled several of them. These included stuffed pike, roast mutton, shred pie (veal or beef with suet, currents and sugar), venison pastie (this had a hard rye paste crust – not to eat but to help preserve the contents), spinach tart, and capon pie. Deserts included green pudding (made with bistorte), little cakes (a bready bun with seeds), beancakes (sugar and almonds), apricot paste (apricot and sugar boiled down to create jelly like sweets), ‘Mrs West’s cake(egg white, yeast with seed and dried fruit). A surprising range of things for the recipes could be obtained from the village shop in the early 1700s.

The evening was rounded off with tasting of sweets made from one of Elizabeth’s recipes while Emma described the period costume she was wearing.

Mike Hornung



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