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”.
The recipes which appear in the Guide to Dinner Parties are taken from this book. The particular menu is from an Irish television production called Lords and Ladles – a wonderful show 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 ‘Rococo-ness’ of the period yet look fresh to the modern eye.