By Juliana Adelman
You may or may not have heard Catherine Cleary and I talking about 18th and 19th C Irish recipes on Myles Dungan’s History Show on Sunday night. Being food fans and also curious, we decided to cook up some recipes found in the National Library of Ireland’s vast collection of manuscript recipe books. It gave me a great excuse to look at these books, which have a kind of peripheral interest to my research on animal-human relationships (if you can call being slaughtered and eaten a kind of relationship…). Anyway, much to our surprise the recipes were quite easy to follow and they all worked. We did modify them using our judgment, but overall it wasn’t too difficult. And most of them were actually delicious and well worth a try. So I thought I’d share all the recipes below. They are transcribed nearly as they appeared with some corrections of spelling to make them easier to understand. If anyone is keen to try one, send an email and I can advise on how we modified it. If you are interested in Irish food history, see Leslie A. Clarkson and E. Margaret Crawford, Feast and famine: a history of food in Ireland 1500-1920.
NLI MS 9563: Mrs Jane Bury’s Receipt Booke (c. 1700)
‘To make the best minse pye’
Take a neat’s tongue [that's ox tongue] and boil and blanch it. Cut it into thin slices and when it is cold mince it very small with 3 [epsilon symbol with line through it, some kind of measurement] of suet if tongue be very large if not 2 [epsilon] of suet, two pounds of currants one pound of raisins, stoned, and each of mace, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon in all the same, half a pound of sugar a spoonful of salt half a pint of sack [sweet sherry] some rose water some candied orange or citron mix all those well together & put into your coffin [a pie crust] being made thin and let them stand about an hour in the oven.
[These were actually the best mince pies. We used butter instead of suet. Tongue is delicious! Really! A generous hand with the spices is good. Also, we used rose syrup instead of rose water. Tongue must be boiled for a good couple of hours (even up to 4), we did it for only about 1.5 hours and it was still a bit chewy.]
‘To make a whipt sillibub’
Take a pint of white wine & half a pound of good sugar & mingle it together then put it to a quart of thick raw cream and stir them together and squeeze a lemon into your wine before you put it to your cream, then take 3 or 4 strong branches of rosemary and whip it and as the froth rises take it off and put it to sillibub glasses or pots, but be sure you have taken all of it. [This works just fine. It makes for a kind of wine-y desert and the rosemary branch adds a surprising amount of flavor. And the cream does not curdle, to my surprise. I think it would be nicer over fruit.]
NLI MS 5606 Mary Ponsonby, receipt book c. 1850
Skin a loin of mutton weigh it & take the same weight in fresh mutton suet, pound ‘em well together & season ‘em with pepper, salt & allspice pounded very fine; then cut a good many oysters into little bits but not too small & mix em with your meat & wet them with the liquor of your oysters make ‘em into what shape you please, flower ‘em & fry ‘em in butter. [Mutton is hard to come by. You can use minced lamb but you don't need any suet. And probably some fresh herbs would be nice. The oysters seem to hold the whole thing together, but it seems a waste of good shellfish...]
‘To Pickle Pidgeons’
Take your pigeons [wood pigeons, not city park ones], bone them whole, then throw them into boiling water to plump, then take and wipe them quite dry, season them with allspice, mace, white pepper and salt, put them into linen bags, boil them in a pickle of vinegar and water, a little allspice and some pepper, they must be kept in this pickle and by boiling it after they will keep a great while. [This was also really quite nice. It was rather vinegary, and pigeon is very lean and might be nicer roasted.]
Take some potatoes, boil and peel them, pass them through a hair sieve, add the rind of a lemon, and four ounces of butter, beat up two eggs, and the juice of two lemons, add all together and sweeten them to your taste, put them in a dish or bowl and bake them in a smart oven. ['Some' potatoes? We used about 4 large ones. 'Sweeten them to your taste'? We did a few generous tablespoons. Potatoes should be floury and not waxy, and they need to be really really well mashed. Bake in separate ramkins until brown on top.]