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Recipes from the Historian’s Cookbook

Alexander Lee | Published 08 June 2018

Stephana Malcolm’s Kedgeree

Born in rural Dumfriesshire to an impoverished family of tenant farmers, Stephana Malcolm (1774-1861) spent most of her life in the Scottish border country. But her brothers travelled widely. While two, Charles and Pulteney, became admirals in the Royal Navy, a third, John, won fame and fortune as a member of the East India Company. Rising to become both a major-general and the governor of Bombay, he opened his family’s eyes to the culture – and cuisine – of the subcontinent. Evidently much taken with kedgeree, Stephana duly noted it down alongside Indian pickle and mulligatawny soup in the hand-written recipe book she had been keeping since c.1790. Her version was, by necessity, different both from the colonial dish and khichdi; but her ingredients are nevertheless a testimony both to the local economy of the Solway Firth, and to the reach of British trading interests in the late eighteenth century.

Serves 3-4 people.

Mince into very small pieces a large cold boiled Haddock or bit of cod, Haddock is best, add to it 4 hard boiled Eggs, also minced, boil a large Tea Cup full of Rice, drain and dry it nicely, melt in a stew Pan a piece of butter the size of an Egg, make the mince very hot in it, mixing with it very lightly the Rice, season with salt and a little Cayenne Pepper, & serve very hot, heaped very lightly on a dish.

Via the National Library of Scotland.

Gouffé's Pot-au-Feu

Jules Gouffé (1807-1877) was one of the most famous and influential French chefs of the nineteenth century. After studying under Marie-Antoine Carême, he became Napoleon III’s personal cook in 1855, and, in 1867, accepted an offer from the novelist Alexandre Dumas to become the officier de bouche at the Jockey Club of Paris. While in that role, he wrote a number of important cookery books, remarkable for their sophistication and precision. The most notable of these was Le Livre de Cuisine (1867), which naturally included a recipe for pot-au-feu (“the soul of home cooking”). This was based on that of Carême, but differs in the care with which Gouffé described the method of preparation.


750g meat [leg or shoulder of beef]

125g bone (more or less the amount in the meat given above)

4 lt water

30g salt

1 carrot, peeled

1 large onion, peeled, with a clove stuck in it.

3 small leeks

1 stick of celery

1 medium-sized turnip

1 small parsnip

Note: Some people have a habit of adding garlic; I do not advise it. The taste of the garlic – always so pronounced – tends to impair the aroma of the broth, and makes it unsuitable for consumption by sick people.


The first requirement is to get your fire going well. Feed your stove well with charcoal. A cooking pot which is placed on a well-made fire can go three hours without you having to touch it. Whenever it is necessary to put some more fuel on the fire, be careful not to make the flames too hot: a strong heat never does any good to a pot-au-feu, which always needs to be cooked very gently. [Modern cooks who prefer to use electricity or gas instead of charcoal should simply be sure to use a relatively low heat.]

Take care, when putting the lid on the pot, to leave a gap two fingers’ wide: the broth may become cloudy in an hermetically sealed pot.


Bone the beef.

Tie it round [with string], to hold it together.

Break the bones with a cleaver.

Place the pieces of bone into the pot first, and the meat on top.

Add the water, which should be filtered….

[Cover the pot, as above, and place on a low heat].

Add…30g of salt.

As soon as the scum starts to rise, you should cool the broth down; that is to say that you should add…150ml of cold water… Skim with a slotted spoon. Repeat three times. After this is done, your soup will be perfectly skimmed.

Add the vegetables… This will momentarily stop the boiling.

As soon as you have brought the broth back to the boil, move the pot to the corner of the stove… Cover the rest of the fire with ashes [i.e. lower the heat], and allow the broth to simmer for…three hours.

Keep the heat steady…continual simmering is one of the most essential preconditions for a good pot-au-feu.

When the broth is completely cooked, take the meat out and put it on a plate… [then remove the vegetables, slice, and serve together. Keep the broth for later].

Taste the broth to check that there is enough salt in it. If more needs to be added, do so only at the last minute, just before serving.

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – the third president of the United States – was an early fan of ice-cream. He probably encountered it while serving as America’s ambassador in France between 1784 and 1789, and, after returning to his estate at Monticello, took steps to ensure that he could continue enjoying it. The instructions he wrote for his cook (below) constitute the first recipe for ice-cream ever written by an American.

2 bottles of good cream [= about 4 pints / 1.9 litres]
6 yolks of eggs.
½lb. sugar
One stick of vanilla
Handful of salt
Large quantity of ice

Mix the yolks & sugar. Put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla. When near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs and sugar.

Stir it well. Put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent its sticking to the casserole. When near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel. Put it in the Sabottiere [a metal canister, small enough to fit into the tub used for the ice]. Then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. Put into the ice a handful of salt.

Put salt on the coverlid of the Sabottiere & cover the whole with ice. Leave it still half a quarter of an hour. Then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes.

Open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabot[t]iere. Shut it & replace it in the ice. Open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides. When well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.

Put it in moulds, jostling it well down on the knee. Then put the mould into the same bucket of ice. Leave it there to the moment of serving it. To withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

Allen Ginsberg’s Cold Summer Borscht

Born into a Jewish family in New Jersey, the poet Allen Ginsberg came to embody the 'Beat Generation'. But he was also famous for living extremely simply - even at the height of his fame. Among his favourite dishes was this recipe for cold summer borscht, which recalled both the flavours of his childhood home and his family's Russian origins. The directions and ingredients are given exactly as he wrote them. 

Serves 10-12 extremely hungry people. 

Dozen beets [UK beetroots] cleaned & chopped to bite size salad-size Strips
Stems & leaves also chopped like salad lettuce
All boiled together lightly salted to make a bright red soup, with beets now soft - boil an hour or more
Add Sugar & Lemon Juice to make the red liquid sweet & sour like Lemonade

Chill 4 gallon(s) of beet liquid.

Serve with: 
(1) Sour Cream on table
(2) Boiled small or halved potato on the side (i.e. so hot potatoes don't heat the cold soup prematurely)
(3) Spring salad on table to put into cold red liquid
1) Onions - sliced (spring onions)
2) Tomatoes - sliced bite-sized
3) Lettuce - ditto
4) Cucumbers - ditto
5) a few radishes

Via the Allen Ginsberg Project

Pizza Marinara

In the mid-19th century, Neapolitan fishermen were fond of eating this simple, but hearty pizza for breakfast, before heading out to sea. Indeed, so eagerly did they wolf it down that, according to legend, it was named the ‘seafaring pizza’ (pizza marinara) in their honour.

Makes three good-sized pizzas.

Pizza Dough

4 cups / 18oz Italian tipo ‘00’ flour or bread flour
1 ½ cups / 12 fl oz water
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon active dry yeast

  1. Place the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, until the dough is smooth.
  2. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean cloth. Allow to rise for around two hours, or until it has doubled in size.   
  3. Punch the dough down to remove the air bubbles.
  4. Divide into three roughly equal pieces, and shape each into a ball.
  5. Pinch the top of each ball, and gently stretch the dough, wrapping it around the rest of the ball as you go, so that it forms a sort of outer coat. 
  6. Dust lightly with flour, and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to ‘prove’ for around an hour.

Marinara Topping

230g / 8oz. chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
olive oil

  1. Preheat your oven to 250°C (480°F)/ fan 200°C (390°F).
  2. Stretch the balls of dough into circles and place on a non-stick pizza pan.
  3. Put 1/3 of the tomato, a few slices of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of oregano onto each pizza. Use your fingers to distribute the toppings evenly.   
  4. Bake for 5-10 mins, or until the edge is golden brown. 
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