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Even as a child, I was fascinated by culinary history. Blame my father: he read Gourmet Magazine, which at the time had interesting articles on the food of bygone days. I already liked cooking and anything old, leading to a love of cookbooks, the older the better, and then into trying to cook traditional dishes.

Some things, however, I will not try. In the eighteenth century, the period in which my books are set, people ate things that would turn me pale. Very little of any meat animal went uneaten, and in addition to the usual vegetables, they also ate plants we ignore: purslane, tansy, angelica, and others.

In the interests of historical accuracy, when my characters dine, odd things sometimes appear on the table.

William Hogarth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From Susanna MacIver, Cookery and Pastry (1789)

  • Stewed celery
  • Boiled tongue and udder with roots (note: root vegetables)
  • Stewed peas and lettuce
  • Dressed calf’s or lamb’s head (no, not in a frilly cap; but the recipe is complicated and disgusting so let’s not think about it)
  • Brain cakes (No. Just…no.)

From Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion   (1730)

  • Pigs’ ears ragooed (i.e., cooked in a ragout)
  • Pickled barberries
  • Pickled cockles
  • Pickled walnuts
  • Pickled Sparrows or Squab Pigeons
  • Fricassee of Ox Palates
  • Chervil Tart
  • Marjoram Pudding
  • Potted Swan
  • Cracknels (A sort of crisp cookie, apparently, made with three pounds each of flour and sugar, fifteen egg yolks and half that number of whites, orange flower water, rose water, lemon and orange peel, and coriander. If I try it, I’ll post an update.)