Great recipes from the 18th century.

Stories from the Financial Times. 
April 10 2011 12:52 AM

Past Masters

What would an 18th-century pub landlord make for lunch?

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We move onto Hannah Glasse's "Pigeon au poire," a recipe by an 18th-century housewife who aimed her instructions at domestic servants. Glasse, who Clarissa Dickson Wright called the "mother of the dinner party," describes this as a "genteel" dish; Turner recognizes it as something "cheffy and sharper … I'd have no issue putting this on the menu," he adds. Glasse's idea is to turn meat into fruit by stuffing the pigeon into a pear-like shape, and cutting one of its legs into an approximation of the stalk. (Blumenthal has played on this visual idea too, with his "Meat Fruit" starter of chicken liver parfait dressed as a mandarin.) It looks simple enough as Turner rolls the pigeon flesh into an oval, but I can easily see this going wrong at home.

Imagining our forbears to have supped generously, we made another second course, this time from poet Gervase Markham's The Well-Kept Kitchen, written in 1615. Though his "Minced pie" of mutton and suet, cloves, mace, currants, prunes, dates and orange peel sounds rich and dry, it turns out to have a very pleasant texture and fragrant spiciness: "We were surprised by the level it came to," says Best. Even a sprinkling of sugar, faithful to the recipe, is not too disconcerting.

We finish with a Verral pudding—"A Dutch cream"—which is a proto crème brulée flavored with lemon and coriander. Turner has substituted lemongrass, producing a moreish aftertaste to the plump layers of cream.

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Like many contemporary foodies, the "Great Food" writers are exhorting their readers to eat and live better—Colonel Wyvern, in Notes from Madras, gives detailed tips on how to make good curry, informed by his time stationed in Madras during British imperial rule. And as he says, we can sometimes live better by learning from the past: "These time-honored dishes will always be welcome. Has not the time arrived then for us to endeavor to resuscitate the ancient cunning of our cooks, and to take some pains to attain that end?"

But perhaps the last word must go to Artusi, who himself struggled to cook a 17th-century recipe by the Duke of Mantua's chef. "If the ancient Bolognese cook, meeting me in the afterworld, scolds me for it, I shall defend myself by explaining that tastes have changed for the better."

For recipes and Andrew Turner's methods, go to www.ft.com/historicfood.

This article originally appeared in Financial Times. Click here to read more coverage from the Weekend FT.

Natalie Whittle is an FT food, drink, and pursuits editor.