Historic Books for Cooks

The Guildhall reference library in London EC2 is known by many as the place to research London's history.  However their extensive collection of food and wine books is less well known.

I'm a regular visitor to the library but their food and wine collection only came to my attention in the past week when I attended an event entitled Regency Cookery at Keats' House in Hampstead.  The speaker Dr Peter Ross from the Guildhall Library gave a very interesting talk about cooking and eating during the Regency period. 

He started the talk by showing us a number of books from the Guildhall collection.  On my Mayfair walk I talk about Frederic Nutt's "The Complete Confectioner" written in 1789 and I was amazed to see he had a copy of that book and at the first opportunity I was up leafing through it.  The book includes recipes for 32 flavours of ice cream and 24 of water ice and I am still finding it hard to comprehend how this was achieved in the days before refrigeration.  The ice was cut from lakes and ponds during the winter and stored either in a hole in the ground lined with straw or in a specially made ice house.  The ice cream was made in a sort of double bowl; the interior bowl had the mixture and the exterior bowl had ice mixed with salt. The reactions between the ice and the salt water caused the ingredient mixture to fall below the freezing point of water and hence the ice cream was made.  If you take a trip up to Ivan Day's Historic Food cookery school in the Lake District you can even enrol on a course to make your own ice creams in this 18th Century style.

I digress ... 
Details of the Guildhall Library's wine and food collection can be found here and include 600 items from Elizabeth David's private collection which the library bought on her death. Many of her books were annotated in the margin with her comments which gives an insight into her life.  Some more information on her books and possibly the worst recipe ever created can be found here. Ingredients include cold cooked macaroni - need I go on!

The library is open Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 5pm and is located near St Paul's at Aldermanbury, London EC2V 7HH.

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