Anyone who knows me will be aware that I have a small number of infinite pleasures, to which I demonstrate commendable and unflagging devotion. I like cricket, for example, although even I would have to concede that the current World Cup appears to have been going for approximately half my lifetime now. I am also partial to a shoe or two (actually yes, two is better), and perhaps the odd handbag to throw atop the towering mountain that already presides over the spare bedroom with such authority.
I also like food. And drink. And books. So imagine my delight that on April 7th Penguin are publishing "Great Food", a series of twenty books that celebrate all that is great and good in the world of cooking and allow us a fascinating glimpse into the past to see what our predecessors were really eating. I have three volumes from the series in my clutches, and already I'm starting to feel better about myself and my eating habits - really, my tastes are excessively modest by comparison.
Lets start with Samuel Pepys. He is perhaps the most famous diarist of all time, chronicling some of the most important events of seventeenth century England, and frankly it seems remarkable that he found time to do anything at all, so busy was he stuffing his face at every opportunity. To wit:
January 26, 1660... my wife had got ready a very fine dinner: viz. a dish of marrow-bones. A leg of mutton. A loin of veal. A dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks, all in a dish. A great tart. A neat's tongue. A dish of anchoves. A dish of prawns, and cheese.
Very fine indeed - whilst I am prepared to concede that there probably isn't a great deal of meat on a lark, the rest seems ample; no wonder a great tart was invited along to help eat up all the food. Pepys also appears fond of a tipple at virtually any time of day, accompanied by interesting elevenses choices -
Jan 22... we drank our morning draught and had a pickled herring.
Frankly, a digestive dunked into a cup of tea whilst avoiding students in the staffroom isn't going to cut it from now on. And finally, if you still had any remaining doubts about Pepys status as a king amongst men, just remember that when the Great Fire was raging through London in 1666, this was a man who took time out to bury his most prized possessions in the garden where they would be safe:
September 4, 1666... and in the evening Sir W Penn and I did dig another [hole] and put our wine in it, and I my parmazan cheese as well as my wine.
Hats off to the man; you've really got to get your priorities in order at such a time. The second book I've been pouring over is by Hannah Glasse; English Language teachers across the country will already be bone-crunchingly aware that she published the first recipe in Britain for "Curry the India Way" in 1747 - a text that once appeared on an A2 Language Change paper and that I could actually recite by heart if pushed - it involves roasting your spices in a shovel over an open fire.
However, it appears that Ms Glasse was not just adept at whipping up a curry; she could make you a delicious beverage as well to wash it down with. The pick of these is surely the Turnip Wine, tipple of choice for Baldricks everywhere - made mainly of sugar and, er, turnips. Sadly, as the final instruction is to bottle it "when it is fine", thirsty people from yesteryear are probably still waiting.
Finally, Gervase Markham provides some useful advice for wives everywhere. His 1615 volume begins with an indispensably useful section entitled "the inward virtues of every housewife", including the following:
...Next unto this sanctity and holiness of life, it is meet that our English housewife be a woman of great modesty and temperance...let her diet be wholesome...to conclude, our English housewife must be of chaste thought, stout courage, patient, untired, watchful, pleasant...
I am here forced to stop and make the following observations:
1. It seems that if you are a Scottish, Welsh or Irish housewife you may behave in as slatternly a fashion as you please, and
2. I am a rubbish wife, apparently a failure in every way.
Still, as I am currently roasting a joint of belly pork with honey and mustard vegetables, and have calvados and cinnamon rice pudding for afters, I'm pretty sure that I stand a chance with Samuel Pepys...
- The Joys of Excess (Samuel Pepys), Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving (Hannah Glasse) and The Well-Kept Kitchen (Gervase Markham) are all published on April 7th by Penguin.