Dorothea Herbert, an eighteenth-century, Irish woman from Tipperary wrote a book about her life. It's a wonderful read - enthusiastic, humorous and filled with gossip*. In one chapter she discusses a ball thrown by her family where they served sixty-nine supper dishes. The family throwing the next dinner party were determined to outdo this display and served seventy dishes which ‘caused much comment among the neighbours’.
It seems, entertaining in the eighteenth century was not about the nature of dishes one served to one's guests, instead, the number of dishes was all important. In my dinner-party edition of the Ladies' Guide I am featuring a relatively small menu - merely two courses, with recipes shown for only 14 dishes.
In those times, women kept 'receipt books' - notebooks of recipes handed down and shared with family and friends. These receipt books covered both culinary and medicinal recipes.
In 1747, an enterprising woman decided to publish a book of recipes. Her name was Hanna Glasse and the book was called 'The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy'. Within a year, it had become a best seller. In her introduction, Glasse kindly explains "To the Reader" that she has written simply, "for my Intention is to instruct the lower Sort", giving the example of larding a chicken: she does not call for "large Lardoons, they would not know what I meant: But when I say they must lard with little Pieces of Bacon, they know what I mean." And she comments that "the great Cooks have such a high way of expressing themselves, that the poor Girls are at a Loss to know what they mean".
I have taken my recipes from this book. And I have borrowed my menu from an Irish television production called Lords and Ladles. Anyone interested in historical food, will appreciate this show's concept where three chefs travel about Ireland cooking actual menus in the houses in which they were originally served.
I have left the menu untouched but I have created illustrations which, reflect the 'Rococoness' of the period yet look fresh to the modern eye.
Have to say, I wouldn't fancy much of the food. I love a nice piece of beef but consider this:
To Collar Beef: Take a thin piece of flank beef and strip the skin to the end, beat it with a rolling pin. Then dissolve a quarter of peter-salt in five quarts of pump-water, strain it, put the beef in, and let it lie five days, sometimes turning it. Then take a quarter of an ounce of cloves, a good nutmeg, a little mace, a little pepper, beat very fine, and a handful of thyme stripped off the stalks. Mix it with the spice, strew all over the beef, lay on the skin again, then roll it up very close. Tie it hard with tape, then put it into a pot with a pint of claret, and bake it in the oven with the bread.
You can see the full menu here
*gossip - the word originally comes from the two words 'God' and 'sib'. It is said to have stemmed from the bedroom at the time of childbirth. Giving birth used to be a social event exclusively attended by women. The pregnant woman's female relatives and neighbours would congregate and idly converse. Over time, gossip came to mean talk of others.