Tuesday 8 May 2012

'Fricases and quelquechoses' - or, a little bit of what you fancy!

In April the library had a visit from the Hairy Bikers, food and cookery stars on the BBC http://www.hairybikers.com/. It could be thought that the Hairy Bikers and Chawton House Library might be mutually exclusive but they came to see some of our extensive cookery book collection, and film on-site. Their focus was on egg recipes and they made a huge omelette with lobster. Their recipe was from 1842 but a variant of the same recipe is to be found in Gervase Markham's book of 1656, The English Hous-wife, in the section on 'Fricases and quelquechoses'. The 'collops' added to an a 'fricase' of eggs can be of cooked meat or fish - like the lobster added by the Hairy Bikers.

In contrast to modern cookery books none of the early cookery, or 'receipt', books in the collection have sections devoted to egg recipes but eggs are used in quantity throughout: a cake recipe can start with the instruction to take 24 eggs! The recipes I found in researching egg recipes included: fritters, egg 'pye', and Portuguese eggs. It was also noticeable that the name 'omelette' for a dish of this sort came into regular use as the preferred term in the 1820s. From the French, and maybe, once regular travel was established again after the Napoleonic Wars to call it an omelette was far more stylish than fricase.

Monday 13 February 2012

La Belle Assemblee: creating a new type of magazine

La Belle Assemblée, or in full La Belle Assemblée or, Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, was a British women's magazine published from 1806 to 1837, founded by John Bell (1745–1831).

La Belle Assemblée was a landmark in the history of magazine production and a testimony to John Bell’s talent in raising the standards of magazine production. Bell believed a periodical needed to appeal visually and the lavishness of La Belle Assemblée marks it as the ancestor of modern glossy magazines. Leigh Hunt, the Romantic critic and poet, described Bell’s innovations in typography as ‘elegant’; the layout and illustrations were equally fine and produced in a format larger than other contemporary magazines, such as the Lady’s Magazine, and much larger than the pocket-sized Ladies’ Monthly Museum.

La Belle Assemblée is now best known for its Georgian fashion plates but until the 1820s it also published original poetry and fiction, non-fiction articles on politics and science, book and theatre reviews, and serialized novels, including Oakwood Hall by Catherine Hutton. Another notable contributor to La Belle Assemblée was Mary Shelley, and works by both of these authors can be found in the collections here at Chawton House Library.

Each number of La Belle Assemblée typically contained five plates—one depicting a member of the court or fashionable society, two depicting the latest fashions, and a further two providing sheet music and a sewing pattern—the magazine was not dominated by the frivolities of fashionable dress. Bell separated the portion of the work dealing with the fashions of the month from the remainder of the publication. Initially the two sections could be purchased separately; the first consisting of the bulk of the letterpress, together with two of the plates, the second ('La Belle Assemblée') consisting of the fashion plates and a sewing pattern, together, usually, with four pages describing the plates and discussing the latest London and Paris fashions. The presentation was meticulous and for the first few numbers each section was bound in a bright orange wrapper and with engraved title pages.

Monday 23 January 2012

Montagu Knight's Edwardian Christmas

The star of the exhibits on display for the Edwardian Christmas was a hand written and illustrated menu for Christmas Dinner 1911sent from Sokoto, (Nigeria) listing all the fare of a traditional Christmas dinner:

Fish Mayonnaise
Stewed Pigeons on Toast
Tomatoe Farcies
Roast Turkey
Saddle of Mutton
Rum Pudding
Fruit Salade
Foie Gras
Coffee & Dessert

We matched it against one in a contemporary cookbook; a game ledger with an entry for the day after Boxing Day 1911; photographs of beaters ready for a shoot; instructions for handmade gifts; an illustrated colour-printed book of entertainments for the family; and a book of eighteenth-century prints that belonged to the Edwardian owners, Montagu and Florence Knight. The book of prints was displayed open at a page with a snowy scene and appropriately drew together two of the most significant periods of the House's history.