Friday, November 15, 2013

Old Books and another Book Sale

Well, my local symphony society had another fund raiser--a book sale. And I am a big fan of book sales, as you know. This was a small sale, but I picked up several bargains--some fiction, a history of the Netherlands, and the second volume of Phillippe Aries History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World. My Regency find however was a Dent Everyman's Library compilation of Nelson's Letters, published in 1960. It's a compact little volume but has 470 pages of letters.

I was disappointed that there weren't many old books in this sale. I love old books--the older the better. I like their smell, their yellowed pages, and their worn, crumbling spines. When I'm researching Regency England, I look for books that are pre-war, preferably pre-World War I. They have an innocence and charm about them that reaches back towards the years of that other war, the Napoleonic one. And the pictures--photos or drawings--often show scenes that have since disappeared.

"The King's England: Sussex" is one such book. Part of a large series by Arthur Mee (41 volumes in all) subtitled "A New Domesday Book of 10,000 Towns and Villages" it is a gold mine of illustrations and stories, pre-1937. I would love to find more in this series.

Another Dent book "The Old Country: A Book of Love & Praise of England" was written in 1917, specifically for those longing for 'home-thoughts'. My edition is from 1922. The selections are undoubtedly sentimental, but nonetheless charming, and the illustrations, mostly by A. R. Quinton and Herbert Railton, are in some cases stunning. Chester Cathedral by Railton is below.
 "The London of George VI" by E. O. Hoppe, a Dent book from 1937, has dozens of photos of a city now much changed. An evocative picture of the dismantling of the 1817 Waterloo Bridge resonates with this Regency researcher.

A favourite book of mine from 1941 is English Country Houses by V. Sackville-West. It is a very personal reflection on the great houses of England, many of which have disappeared in the intervening seventy-two years. The last sentence of this brief 47 page monograph is prophetic:
The system was, and is, a curious mixture of the feudal and the communal, and survives in England to-day. One wonders for how long?

This quote speaks of Regency England also. Did any of our favourite fictional Regency characters wonder how long their world would continue unchanged?

For photographs of the English countryside, I have old books like About Britain No. 10: The Lakes to Tyneside (1951), National Trust Guide: Places of Natural Beauty by D. M. Matheson (1950), and the Country Life Picture Book of the West Country (1952). The photographs in these books echo the beautiful paintings and drawings of Regency artists, and draw us closer to a world now vanished.

I live in the 21st century; I am an electronically published author, and I use an e-reader. The electronic resource Google Books is one of my favourite research tools. But my house is filled with books, and it is the old books, particularly, to which I turn again and again.

'Til next time,


Friday, November 1, 2013

The New London Family Cook

I am an indifferent cook--or a good, plain cook--depending upon who you talk to. I'm not greatly interested in food, and so I have no more than a passing interest in modern-day cookbooks. But period cookbooks? Now those I find interesting--fascinating in fact.

I've discovered a new one at Google Books.
The book was written by one Duncan McDonald (spelled variously) purported to be Head Cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel of Covent-Garden.

Mr. McDonald, it seems to me, knew what he was doing. The book truly is, as is claimed in the Conclusion, a Complete System of Domestic Economy. Every necessity for a household is discussed--from menus, recipes, table settings, butchering and carving, to sick rooms, servants' instructions and marketing.

Among the plethora of information I found several things particularly interesting and unique among the cookbooks of the era that I have seen in my own research. 'Bills of Fare' encompass dozens of pages and offer menu suggestions based on seasonal availabilities and number of guests. The supper offerings alone require nine pages.

The diagrams of desert [sic] tables are charming, and the contents of those offerings are very interesting.
Please click on the illustration below for a larger version that you can read more easily.
The most interesting, and unusual, items in the New London Family Cook are the articles about marketing and tradesmen. The book offers:
 And it supplies a critique of each market, with comments such as:
Shepherd's Market, towards the west end of Oxford Street, contains nothing out of the ordinary way.

St. James's Market, near St. James's Square, is well supplied with all sorts of provisions."
The New London Family Cook also offers:
In my last blog I discussed The Commercial Directory for some of the northern cities and towns of England. This London directory offers much the same sort of information, but has the benefit of suggesting retailers hand-picked by the author. This is the kind of personal recommendation any London householder would appreciate.
For example,
 Alchorne & Bingley, Oil and Colourmen, 18, Aldgate High-street
 Batley & Co., Drug-grinders, Sewall-street, Goswell-street
 Wm. Elliott, Chinaman, 27, St. Paul's Churchyard
 Grant & Hurley, Carpet and Upholstery Warehouse, 226, Piccadilly
 Rich. Jones, Perfumer and Toyman, 25 Ludgate-street
 James Maunder, Brandy Merchant, 9, Crutched-friars
 Edward Russell, Biscuit-baker, 453, Strand
There are four pages of these recommendations!

There is so much of interest in this book, I am going on too long, but I must mention a couple more things. The illustration below I have not seen in another cookery book of the period.
There is a short section detailing the cuts of meat indicated on the animals. Venison and turtle are, of course, not as widely used today as they were during the Regency. The New London Family Cook even suggests the best places in London for obtaining venison:
Angel's, the corner of Gracechurch Street, Cornhill
Birch's, Cornhill, and
Rich's, at the bottom of Ludgate Hill

Finally, there are two suggested menus for ball-suppers in this book. (I discussed ball-suppers in a July blog post). I have added a menu for forty people, from the New London Family Cook, to that post.

Mr. McDonald's book certainly has inspired me. Perhaps I should use it to improve my own cooking skills, and widen my culinary horizons.

'Til next time,