For our third archive session we moved from the Merseyside Maritime Museum to the Special Collections at the Liverpool University Library. Dr. Maureen Watry, Head of Special Collections, very kindly identified a range of books and pamphlets relating to the history of food, in general, but also some great resources about food in Liverpool. She gave a fascinating overview of books available. We found, for example, that in the older recipe books medicinal and cooking recipes were often included together, suggesting that food was widely understood both as nourishment and as medicine.
We also saw one of the earliest curry recipes in the UK from 1747 in Hannah Glasse’s The art of cookery made plain and easy. Glasse also talked about keeping catsup (tomato sauce) for up to twenty years! Also included in this book were lists of when various foods were in season.
An extremely popular book, both in its time and with us, was Friedrich Christian Accum’s A treatise on adulterations of food, a book that had a skull and cross bones on its cover. The treatise was a compendium of all the horrible and dangerous things people did to the food they sold. One example was the routine use of red lead and copper to colour food.
Another item that we found really interesting was John Kirkland’s The bakers’ A B C: an encyclopaedic dictionary for bakers, confectioners and caterers. Most people will know the name from his bakery on Hardman Street, now the Fly in the Loaf (see here). Apparently, Liverpool had its own unit for measuring flour known as the ‘pack’. Kirkland wrote that while 140lb bags were the standard everywhere else, in Liverpool we used 240lb bags. Apparently the name comes from the wool trade, since a pack of wool was usually 240lbs.
Finally, given all the focus on relearning cookery skills that have been lost (see the excellent Can Cook for example), we were interested to find that this isn’t a recent issue, but actually one that has periodically re-occured in Liverpool when working habits changed, or there was a shift in what kinds of food were readily available.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, for example, there was a push to create more cookery schools, partly to train women to cook with unfamiliar ingredients such as corn and rice and later, processed goods such as tinned meat. We found an interesting and often funny range of recipes used at these local cookery schools, which we’ll sharing as part of our iphone app and other projects. These included ‘St George’s Hall Cake’ and ‘Woolton Pie’ (a meat-free version of shepherd’s pie).
Special thanks to the staff at the University of Liverpool’s Special Collections for making this session possible.
List of items we consulted: