The Hon. Sarah MacPherson goes below stairs to the pantry of history to gather recipes from historic grand country houses for The Royal Heritage Cookbook. Discover Britain winds back the clock, tucks in its napkin and whips up a feast
Domestic historian, the Hon. Sarah MacPherson is no stranger to the gastronomic mores of bygone high society. In the name of onerous research, she has chomped her way through the National Trust’s recently discovered and remedies – and now she’s back, this time having unearthed yet another repository of epicurean feasts, courtesy of Lacock Abbey, Wilstshire, south-west England. There, her “Pandora’s box” was a treasure trove of royal and noble recipes, scribbled down by notable society ladies between whom they changed hands, revealing the tastes, fashions and availability of ingredients of the period spanning 1685 to 1745.
The recipes cover three generations of the Talbot family, who lived at the ancient Abbey, whose foundation stone was laid in 1229. Having lifted the lid on 300 years of culinary history – from written proof of King Charles ll’s favourite food (sirloin, and apple and apricot pie) and King James ll’s favourite teacake – MacPherson resolved to bring the dishes alive for the 21st century diner through the efforts of a circle of historic cooks, tasked with making palatable these former delicacies for the modern eater.
“I determined to convert the best of these into an up-to-date ‘book of royal recipes’; some are suitable to be used almost straight from the page, for family lunches, while others have provided the inspiration for dinner party dishes … and some have been especially created for readers,” she writes. “Many of the recipes in the box were almost unreadable, many were faded, many menus were for between twenty and forty people, and were written at a time before properly standardised written English, so much of the spelling was quite incredible!”
Just as fascinating as the recipes themselves is what they illuminated about life in a grand country house. “They gradually revealed an intriguing story of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, between the years 1685 and 1745. A behind-the-scenes view of domestic and noble interaction… and how the lady of the house braved the servants’ quarters. I have used their knowledge of alcohol, marinating, and herbs to create these wonderful family and dinner party recipes.”
The Royal Heritage Cookbook by the Hon. Sarah McPherson, £15; www.thehistorypress.co.uk
Based on Ann Talbot’s 1745 recipe for ‘Rasberry Cakes’
175g (1 cup) caster sugar
175g (1 cup) butter
175g (1½ cup) self-raising flour
3 eggs (beaten well)
1½tbsp freeze-dried raspberries
A punnet of raspberries
55g (1/3 cup) soft cheese
A little soft Icing (for top)
- Mix butter and sugar, then add flour and eggs a little at a time, mixing well.
- Add freeze-dried raspberries, and mix again.
- Put the mixture into muffin cases inside muffin tins.
- Fill the cases ¾ full, and cook at 180°C for about 12 minutes or until firm.
- Meanwhile, put fresh raspberries, honey and soft cheese into a pan.
- Bring the pan to the boil, turn heat to low, and mash the mixture until it begins to thicken.
- Remove it from the heat and leave to cool.
- When cakes are cooked and cool, remove the centre and add some dried raspberries, followed by the raspberry, honey and soft cheese mash.
- Cover the tops with raspberry icing (soft icing with a little raspberry to give colour).
- Add a fresh raspberry for decoration.