Victorian Cooking

Georgian Cookbook: Gooseberry Fool

To be fair, gooseberry fool is a recipe that’s never gone away. The recipe I started with is Georgian, but I could easily have picked a Tudor one. Unlike last week’s pickled limes, this is yummy and so, so easy.

First, here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):

Take two quarts of gooseberries, set them on the fire in about a quart of water; when they begin to simmer, and turn yellow, and begin to plump, throw them into a cullendar to drain the water out; then with the back of a spoon carefully squeeze the pulp, throw the sieve into a dish, make them pretty sweet, and let them stand till they are cold. In the mean time take two quarts of new milk, and the yolks of four eggs, beat up with a little grated nutmeg, stir it softly over s slow fire, and when it begins to simmer, take it off, and by degrees stir in the gooseberries, let it stand till it is cold, and serve it up. If you make it with cream, you need not put any eggs in; and if it is not thick enough, it is only boiling more gooseberries; but that you must do as you think proper.” – Hannah Glasse

Before We Begin:

Instead of going full method, I recommend eschewing the fire in favor of your stove. I used 300 g of gooseberries because that’s what I had, but 400 g would probably be more authentic. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I might use a bit less sugar next time. Perhaps stick with the 70 g, at least the first time you make this. If you can’t get gooseberries, any reasonably tart berry would do. I bet raspberries would work particularly well.


Since I’m not a society hostess, I reduced the ingredients down to make four fools.

  • 300-400 g of gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • 70 g of caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra set aside
  • 200 ml of double cream
300g gooseberries. You’re supposed to use fresh but these were from a can.


Place the gooseberries and 70 g of sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat.

Sugary gooseberries

Simmer until the gooseberries start to soften and break down, which should take around 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar to the cream and lightly whip until thickened, but not too stiff. Mash the cooled gooseberries, and swirl through the cream with a spoon. Being me, I totally forgot to swirl and mixed mine thoroughly, which is why they look like this:

Not as pretty as if I’d remembered to swirl.

Spoon the fool into 4 glasses and chill until ready to serve. The photos don’t do them justice:

The Verdict:

So good! These were light and creamy with a delicate flavor. (If I’d remembered to swirl instead of mix, the contrast of the cream and the tart gooseberries would have been even better.) This really is a lovely dessert and with hardly any effort.

Victorian Cooking

Victorian Cookbook: Amy March’s Pickled Limes.

Twisted fire starter Amy March as played by Florence Pugh in “Little Women” (2019)

Amy has always been my favourite March sister. Yes, I know. How can I, a writer, continue to love her after she burned Jo’s manuscript? But, as a reformed brat myself, I “get” her. Amy March rules.

Except perhaps for her pickled lime obsession.

Apparently all the other girls were into it:

“Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else….If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck.” —Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.

But why? I’ve always had a hell of a job understanding what these children could have been thinking. Perhaps they aren’t really pickled, I thought. Perhaps they’re preserved with sugar like dates. Perhaps they’re a type of sweet.

Nope. Here’s the recipe:

1 sterile 500g glass jar

4 fresh limes

Salt (a metric fucktonne lot)

Extra lime juice if necessary

And that’s it.

So, not a sweet treat, then. And, since it seemed unlikely these girls just really, really cared about preventing scurvy, I was going to have to try them for myself.


Using a sharp knife, cut the tops and bottoms off the limes, then cut x shapes into each one, but only 3/4 of the way through. Like this:

Deep cut Xs

Pack the Xs with lots and lots of salt until they look like this:

Salted limes

Put the limes into the jar, pressing them until they fit and they release some of their juices. Seal and leave at room temperature for about 12 hours.

I named him Kermit. Because of course.

When the 12 hours are up, open the jar and press the limes again. Afterward, mine looked like this:

Sadder but slightly juicer Kermit. Got to say, so far, they don’t look great.

Do this once or twice a day until the limes are covered in juice. After three days, if there still isn’t enough juice, add enough to cover.

Chill in the fridge for a minimum of 1 month before consuming.

The Verdict:

The recipe gives no guidance whatsoever about what to do with your limes once the month is up, so I experimented. First, I tried one straight out of the jar, but, as you might expect, it was salty as hell.

Before I go on, allow me to communicate my regret over naming my limes Kermit, because after a month, they really did resemble a jar of dead frogs floating in formaldehyde. I was pretty sure they’d gone off but, after a rinse, they didn’t look too bad.

Rinsed dead frogs/limes

Next, I tried one rinsed. They were still really salty, so I rinsed them again.

The purpose of the salt is to make them less tart. This worked. They weren’t too sour, but the saltiness was very unpleasant. I think this would work better if the salt was rinsed away after the first day like in modern recipes. Then the limes could be pickled in their own juice.

I can’t imagine little girls enjoying these, even in the Victorian era. I know for a fact there were sugary treats available for a similar price, so what gives? Did they dry them first? Was there a more extensive rinsing process? I wish I knew the answers.

I am reliably informed (by Delia Smith) that you can use pickled limes in small quantities in Asian cuisine, so perhaps that’s the best thing to do with them in this form. We didn’t like them on their own.

Here is a picture of my 8 yr old nearly trying one:

Look at his little face!

If you try this, if you have better luck or any ideas or theories at all, please let me know in the comments here or on other social media. Until then, the mystery (of why little girls would want to trade pickled limes) remains.

Victorian Cooking

Regency Cookbook: Rout Cakes

This is a nice, easy one. Quick, too.

These small cakes were popular at evening parties or routs (hence the name) and, though the recipe I used was Georgian, they were still popular in the Victorian era. They pop up in Jane Austen’s Emma, Vanity Fair, and Dickens. All over 19th century literature, really.

FYI, I had a little helper in the kitchen this week, but he didn’t want to be photographed.

Emma: Picnic at Boxhill (at which rout cakes were almost certainly not served). Caption reads: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse…to say”

First, the regency recipe:

To make rout drop-cakes, mix two pounds of flour with 1 pound of butter, one pound of sugar, and one pound of currants, cleaned and dried. Moisten it into a stiff paste with two eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, as much rose water, sweet wine and brandy. Drop the paste on a tin plate floured, and a short time will bake them.

From The Cook and Housekeeper’s Dictionary by Mary Eaton, 1822.

You have to love the complete lack of detail in these old recipe books. “A short time will bake them?” What the hell?

Also that amount of ingredients would make a whole lot of rout cakes. I want about twelve, so I’m going to adapt a recipe from this book, which in turn adapts a recipe from Mrs. Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery from 1806, which is almost identical to Mary Eaton’s.


100 g self-raising flour

50 g butter

50 g sugar

50 g currants

1 egg

2 drops of orange essence (in place of 1 tsp orange-flower water which I couldn’t get)

2 drops of rose essence (in place of rosewater which I also couldn’t get)

1 tbsp brandy (which I absolutely got)


Preheat the oven to 190C.

  1. Rub the butter into the flour, then add the sugar and currants:

2. Whisk the egg with the orange and rose essences, and brandy. It will smell awesome and you’ll start to get excited. Also, I’m not supposed to show you this:

This is what happens when you ask an 8 yr old to crack an egg. His hands were now thoroughly dirty and he was not happy.

3. Add some of the egg mix to the flour and combine. Sadly, you won’t need all of it, so only add it until you have a thick paste that will hold its shape like this:

Ready to go in the oven

4. Put heaped teaspoons of mix onto a greased baking tray as above.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

You should end up with 12 little cakes that look something like this:

Finished rout cakes.

Now bring on your test subjects.

At last, a unanimous verdict. More or less.

8 yr old: “This tastes delicious.”

15 yr old: “I’m not sure…but I’m going to finish it.”

We adults loved them, and I know they ate them at evening parties during the regency, but these would be really good with a nice cup of tea. Definitely try them.

Victorian Cooking

Victorian Cookbook: Egg-Hot, a Victorian Pick-me-up.

An egg-hot was supposed to make you feel better on a cold winter’s night. Mrs. Macawber and David Copperfield drink them when David needs comforting, and the ingredients sound spicy and Dickensian. As Victorian as a drink could possibly be.

Mrs. Micawber looking a bit rough. To be fair, it was probably a very hard life.

You will need:

1 bottle of ale/stout
1 egg
1 1/2 tsps butter (Except don’t. Just don’t.)
1 tbsp of sugar
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

Victorian recipes for this drink vary. They don’t all include the butter and my advice is to leave it out or use less. You’ll see why.

This is what you do:

Put the sugar, spices, and most of the ale in a saucepan. The butter, too, if you’re using it. Again, and I can’t emphasise this enough, DON’T.

The sugar, spices, and…butter.

Heat it slowly.

Beat the egg in a bowl or large mug, then add some of the remaining cold ale/stout. Temper the egg mix by stirring in spoonfuls of the warm ale mixture one at a time.

They should end up looking like the picture below or a little darker.

Tempered egg mixture

Pour the beery eggs and remaining cold ale into the saucepan and, stirring continuously, heat the contents until they’re about to come to a boil.

That’s it. Your egg-hot is ready. It will smell like sweet hops and cinnamon. The very sight will comfort you.

But then you taste it…


Okay, that’s clearly too much butter. You can see that just by looking. Perhaps cream would work better. Didn’t Julia Child once say “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream”? And I am afraid of butter. Very, very afraid.

Nevertheless, despite the oil-slick on the surface, I had high hopes for the taste.

The Verdict:

This was so nearly good. I almost like it. Buttery residue aside, there were lots of good flavours. I’m just not sure I like them together.

But I’m not a beer drinker, so I decided to ask Mr. Bennet (who is one) for his thoughts.

I wish I’d taken a photo of his little face when he tasted it, but his expression was not dissimilar to this:


Mr. B’s comments: “There’s lots of familiar flavours but they’re all in the wrong place. It’s…eggy. I can taste the egg. It..reminds me of something. It’s… it’s…not…good.”

We ended up wishing it was eggnog instead and I’m sad to say…we threw both drinks down the sink.

But…I feel like maybe this is a case of the right drink for the wrong people. David Copperfield liked it. Dickens liked it (probably). Maybe you will, too.

Just don’t include the butter.

Victorian Cooking

Victorian Cookbook: Syllabub

I thought I knew what syllabub was. A cool, creamy dessert usually eaten by historical romance heroines at a ball or rout.

But then I read Mrs. Beeton’s recipe…

Mrs. Beeton, author of “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Houehold Management” (1860)

1 pint sherry or white wine,

1/2 grated nutmeg

Sugar to taste

1 1/2 pints milk

And, confusingly, she then says:

clouted cream may be held on the top…and a little brandy may be added to the wine before the milk is put in. …Warm milk may be poured on from a spouted jug…but it must be held very high.”

The penny suddenly dropped. It’s a drink! A sort of cloudy wine punch with a head or layer of cream on top. The dessert version was based on the drink and became popular in the eighteenth century. I just needed to substitute cream for milk.

Here’s what I used:

200 ml of white wine

Pinch of nutmeg

1/8 cup of sugar (I don’t like things too sweet, so you may want to increase this)

300 ml of double cream

The Method:

Put the wine, nutmeg, and sugar in a bowl. Don’t do what I did and use the prosecco that you think has gone flat only to whimper when you realize it was still fizzy after all and you could have drunk it. Just some words for the wise.

Perfectly good Prosecco now adulterated with nutmeg and sugar 🙁

Whisk it, then add the cream, and whisk again for bloody ages until your arm feels like it might fall off and the cream forms soft peaks. Or cheat and use an electric whisk. Mrs. Beeton won’t mind and you’ll be done in about 2 minutes.

Transfer between four or more wine glasses until you end up with about 6 of these:

Mrs. Beeton inspired white wine syllabubs

I don’t know what’s happening because these look quite… nice?

Leave somewhere cool for several hours. Full disclosure, I decided not to get too “method” and stuck mine in the fridge.

When they’re ready, bring in your test subjects.


Well, this was a surprise! My hopes weren’t high but Mr Bennet and I ate all of ours. It’s creamy with a delicate white wine taste at first but, the closer you get to the bottom, the boozier it gets. Extremely yummy. Syllabub for the win!

8 yr old tried a speck and pronounced it disgusting but he shouldn’t be having it anyway.

15 yr old liked this and wants a whole one tomorrow. Might let him, might eat it myself.