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Robert May was born in Wing in Buckinghamshire around 1588. He worked with his father who served as cook for the Dormer family of Ascott Park and was eventually sent to France to learn the secrets of cookery. He served in the household of Achille de Harlay, first president of the parlement of Paris.
He returned to England and worked as apprentice to Arthur Hollinsworth of Newgate Market in London, cook to the Grocer’s Company and the Star Chamber. In the 1620s he returned to Wing to work for the Dormers. He worked for various employers throughout his career, mostly noble and Catholic.
His book The Accomplisht Cook was published in 1660 and was the first substantial English recipe book to be published after the Restoration. It was so popular it went to five editions by 1685. It combines courtly Elizabethan tradition and more modern French influences. From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
May’s work was a longer and more complete collection of recipes than had appeared before in English, and made use of illustration in a way that had not yet been seen. Cookery was still a closely guarded trade mystery, which May desired to make accessible to all, though admitting that not every reader could afford his most extravagant dishes.
Below are some examples of recipes from The Accomplisht Cook.
Sauce for all manner of Fowls.
Mustard is good with brawn, beef, chine of bacon, and mutton; verjuyce good to boil chickens and capons; swan with chaldrons; ribs of beef with garlick, mustard, pepper, verjuyce, ginger; sauce of lamb, pig and fawn, mustard, and sugar; to pheasant, partridge, and coney, sauce gamelin; to hearn-shaw, egript, plover, and crane, brew and curlew, salt, and sugar, and water of Camot; bustard, shovilland, and bittern, sauce gamelin; woodcock, lapwing, lark, quail, martinet, venison and snite with white salt; sparrows and thrushes with salt and cinamon. Thus with all meats sauce shall have the opperation.
To pickle Cucumbers.
Pickle them with salt, vinegar, whole pepper, dill-seed, some of the stalks cut, charnel, fair water, and some sicamore leaves, and barrel them up close in a barrel.
To Boil a Pike in white Broth.
Cut your pike in three pieces, then boil it in water, salt, and sweet herbs, put in the fish when the liquor boils; then take the yolks of six eggs, beat them with a little sack, sugar, melted butter, and some of the pike broth; then put it on some embers to keep warm, stir it sometimes lest it curdle; then take up your pike, put the head and rail together in a clean dish, cleave the other piece in two, and take out the back bone, put the one piece on one side, and the other piece on the other side, but blanch all, pour the broth on it, and garnish the fish with sippets, strow on fine ginger or sugar, wipe the edge of the dish round, and serve it.
On this day in 1885 a new magazine was founded by Clark W. Bryan in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was designed for women, with articles about family life, household products, health, recipes and literature. The first edition was titled For the Homes of the World: Good Housekeeping. it aimed to be:
“a family journal conducted in the interests of the higher life of the household” with a “mission to fulfill compounded of about equal portions of public duty and private enterprise…to produce and perpetuate perfection as may be obtained in the household.”
The magazine reviewed products and featured articles about food with the clear aim of seeing past manufacturers claims and getting to the truth for consumers. A campaign was started against false claims made in the food industry in the form of an article called ”Guard Against Adulteration.”
This led to the creation of the Good Housekeeping Experiment Station in 1900 to study housekeeping and test and rate products and food. They went on to develop the “Roll of Honor for Pure Food Products” and lists of ”Tested and Approved” products in the magazine. Products were known as having the ”Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”
The magazine has been known to be very ahead of its time on social and health issues. The first article on electric cooking appeared in the magazine in 1899, cigarette advertisements were banned as early as 1952 and the magazine’s activism contributed to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.
Famous contributors include Somerset Maugham, Edwin Markham, Virginia Woolf, and Evelyn Waugh.
Methods of curing meat have been developing all over the world for many hundreds of years, in order to preserve food for longer. Many delicious products were created through traditions of smoking, drying, salting, pickling. Efforts to preserve meat accelerated with the increase in Atlantic trade, as long naval voyages required food that would keep for a long time.
The industrial revolution and population increases also increased the desire for convenient, long-lasting, cheap food. While beef had been cured with salt for many years, these specific changes led to the emergence and popularity of corned beef as a product.
Ireland already had a tradition of salting beef and so as demand increased from the seventeenth century onwards, Irish companies began providing salt cured beef for trade with the British and the French. This product was used as a provision for naval voyages and also for civilian consumption in Britain and in the colonies.
The method of curing the beef was to mix large chunks of salt called ‘corns’ with the chopped beef in a large pot or jar. The word ‘corn’ derives from the old Germanic word ‘kurnam’, meaning seed, grain or kernel.
During the industrial revolution, corned beef began to be mass produced in cans, reaching its height during the Second World War. During this time, most of the corned beef consumed was imported from Fray Bentos in Uruguay.
Today corned beef and cabbage is considered a traditional Irish dish, enjoyed in the USA on St. Patrick’s Day. However in reality, this is an American tradition started by Irish immigrants to America in the nineteenth century.
In Ireland corned beef has never been that popular; although it was manufactured in Ireland, the cattle and means of production were owned by the British colonizers and most of the product was exported. Pork was much more popular for ordinary Irish people.
Mary Seacole was a nurse who worked on the front line during the Crimean War. She is often overlooked while the more famous Florence Nightingale is celebrated by history. However she arguably did more good, was loved more by the soldiers and had a more remarkable story than Florence.
Women’s involvement in medicine was slowly developing during the nineteenth century, but it took a long time for the British government to agree to female nurses being sent into warzones. Not only did Mary Seacole have to contend with prejudice due to her sex but also her race, yet she still succeeded astonishingly.
Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father was a Scottish soldier in the British Army and her mother was Jamaican. Her mother taught her a great deal about traditional herbal and folk remedies and her medical education came from her mother’s boarding house for disabled European servicemen.
Hearing of the terrors of the Crimean War she wanted to volunteer as a nurse and travelled to London to do so. At first the British War Office first refused her along with many other women, but even after women began to be accepted, she was left out of the party of nurses led by Florence Nightingale, who travelled to the Crimea on 21 October 1854.
This is when Mary Seacole demonstrated her remarkable resilience and dedication. Instead of giving up on her dream, she travelled to the Crimea on her own, using borrowed money. She visited Florence Nightingale’s hospital in Scutari but was turned away.
Again she did not give up. She travelled to Balaclava, gathered building materials and set up her new British Hotel, which opened in March 1855. It was applauded by the men for providing good food and simple cures. The Hotel sold useful items, food, and alcohol to soldiers, tourists and passers by and provided simple folk medicines and treatment for injuries. Seacole also often went out onto the front line to treat soldiers and give out food and drink.
While some praised her efforts, Florence Nightingale tried to avoid associating herself with Mary Seacole, as she objected to some aspects of Seacole’s Hotel such as selling alcohol and allowing access to tourists. Nightingale even likened Seacole’s Hotel to a brothel.
The Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March 1856 and as soldiers began leaving the battlefield, Mary Seacole was struggling financially. After she returned to London she went bankrupt and when her problems were discussed in the British press, a fund was set up to help her.
A fundraising event, the “Seacole Fund Grand Military Festival” was organized and held at the Royal Surrey Gardens, from Monday 27 July to Thursday 30 July 1857. With many prominent military guests, the event was a success but unfortunately did not make that much money for Seacole.
In July 1857, she published an autobiography called Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. It was the first autobiography written by a black woman to be published in Britain.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert was an English explorer, politician and soldier who in 1583 established the first English colony in North America at St Johns, Newfoundland. He was a famous name in the court of Elizabeth I as the half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Gilbert was born in 1537 in Devon and was educated at Eton, Oxford and at the Inns of Court. His military career led him to Normandy, where he was wounded in the siege of Newhaven. He then served in Ireland, fighting against Irish rebellion led by Shane O’Neill and in 1569 he was made governor of Ulster and a member of the Irish parliament. He continued to fight the Irish until he returned to England in 1570.
On his return he married Anne Aucher with whom he had seven children. His political career developed in England when in 1571 he was elected to parliament as a member for Plymouth and in 1572 for Queenborough. He also spent his time writing and helped to establish both Gresham College and the Society of the New Art.
Gilbert campaigned for a north-west passage to the East, arguing that a north-east route would be far too dangerous. He hoped to explore west and seize territory for the crown and in 1583 he raised enough money to set sail with a small fleet. His crew consisted of pirates and criminals and while lack of discipline caused problems, Gilbert seized Newfoundland on 5th August.
He began to tax the local fishing stations but due to lack of supplies was unable to make the settlement permanent. His fleet left for England a few weeks later but sailed into heavy storms. On 9th September 1583 his ship HMS Squirrel went down in one storm and Gilbert and all of his crew were drowned.
While Gilbert’s attempts at American colonisation were unsuccessful, his achievements were finally completed when Newfoundland was formally annexed in 1610.
Yesterday in 1831, London Bridge was opened. This is a misleading statement because the bridge opened on that day was just one of several bridges referred to as London Bridge over the course of the history of London. Not only that but these London Bridges have often been confused with other more famous bridges, such as Tower Bridge. So here’s a run through of the history of London Bridge.
The first London Bridge was built by Henry II in order to memorialise famous Londoner Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been murdered 1170. Henry II built a chapel in the centre of the bridge which served as the starting point of the pilgrimage to Thomas Beckett’s shrine in Canterbury. The bridge was only finished in 1209 in the reign of King John.
The bridge was eight metres wide and was supported by 19 arches. A drawbridge allowed river traffic down the river and defensive gatehouses were erected at each end of the bridge. The bridge was full of buildings from the beginning and the king sold plots on the bridge to try to cover the costs of the construction.
Over time, London Bridge became increasingly crowded and unsafe with fire being the most common hazard. By the sixteenth century the buildings on the bridge reached up to seven stories high and hung over the river. It must have been the most spectacular sight and if I could go back to see a building from London’s past it would be that bridge.
By the eighteenth century, common sense and health and safety took control. Between 1758 and 1762, all of the buildings on the bridge were demolished and then in 1799 a competition was held to design a new London Bridge. John Rennie won with a design for a bridge with five stone arches and a new bridge was built 30 metres upstream of the old bridge, which continued to be used during the construction of the new bridge. The new London Bridge was opened in 1831 and the old bridge was finally demolished.
The new bridge was nearly twice as wide as the old bridge, which is amazing when you consider how much they managed to fit on the medieval bridge. By the turn of the century the bridge was the busiest in London and even had to be widened by 13 feet.
It was discovered that the bridge was sinking so need replacing and it was suggested that it should be sold. On 18 April 1968, Rennie’s bridge was sold to entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch of McCulloch Oil for US$2,460,000. There is a myth that he thought he was buying Tower Bridge, however this is untrue. The bridge was deconstructed stone by stone and rebuilt at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
A brand new bridge was built in the same location as the Victorian bridge by architect Lord Holford and engineers Mott, Hay and Anderson.It began construction in 1967 and was opened by the Queen on 17 March 1973.