The Warwickshire County Record Office has, naturally, a vast array of recipes within its archive. Mary Wise’s cookbook is well-known, but there are many other culinary delights dating from the 16th to the 20th century.
These days our busy lives mean that many of us feel we are too busy to cook for ourselves and there are so many convenient alternatives available that we are beginning to lose touch with those kitchen skills that our ancestors took for granted.
The Heritage Cooking Challenge
So, we came up with the Heritage Cooking Challenge. Over the next few months we will be tackling a selection of recipes in the archive and trying to get to grips with strange quantities like pecks and gills and in many cases, no quantities whatsoever!
For the older recipes, just reading the recipe will be the first difficulty. We will have to get used to the language and terminology used as well as deciphering unfamiliar spellings and some very elaborate handwriting.
With a few exceptions, the recipes we have chosen for the challenge are for making all kinds of desserts and cakes. Fresh fruit and vegetables were not generally used unless you grew your own (no temperature controlled distribution in those days). In the 17th and 18th centuries sugar was expensive, but featured a lot in recipes to emphasise the wealth of the host family.
Even so, some of the recipes still look a little unusual for modern day tastes. Will they be edible once cooked? If inedible, is this because the ingredients are beyond our modern palette, or because the chef has made an error, or was it just too difficult to adapt to old-time techniques with today’s tools and equipment?
All this, and more, will be revealed over the coming months.
We’ll include a short article from the chef concerned, dealing with why they chose the recipe, what they thought would be a challenge, and taking you through the cooking process. We might also film some of the tasting sessions too, so we’ve got our gurning faces ready and raring to go.
We will publish photos of the recipes we use and transcriptions if needed, and first up will be Sharon Forman with the seemingly harmless Cheescakes from the Wise family recipe collection. Will this be cheesecake as we know it? There’s only one way to find out…