Thanksgiving: A Week With Martha Bradley, The British Housewife

"A Maid Ladling Soup from a Kettle," by Pehr Hilleström, Swedish, eighteenth century. (Wikipedia Commons)

Autumn is when many North Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, a tradition that dates back to the Reformation in England in the sixteenth century. Journal of the American Revolution has a tradition of presenting articles about food during the week of Thanksgiving in the United States.

In 1756, Martha Bradley published a weekly series of pamphlets titled The British Housewife: or, the Cook, Housekeeper’s, and Gardiner’s Companion. Printed in London, the series was soon made available in book form. Bradley took a seasonal approach to her topic, a useful construct for an age when food preparation was as much about preservation as it was about cooking. This week, we’ll present excerpts from her writings about the month of November, showcasing some the things an English cook considered in finding and fixing fare for a family.

The Month of November: Of Marketing

Of Poultry.
Turkeys are very fine now, they are just at their Growth, and have all their Flavour; the Flesh is in Plenty, and it is tender and juicy; it may be either sent up roasted, or boiled with garden-stuff, according to the other Parts of the Course.
Geese are very good, they are full grown, and not hard; the best are such as have been hatched late in the Spring, and are but now come to their Growth; they are to be sent up roasted.
Pigeons are in very good Season, and they are a handsome Dish boiled with Bacon and Greens.
Pullets may be had very good, and sent up boiled with Oisters, or in any of the elegant Ways we have described. These are the Poultry Kind, proper in a first Course: For the second, the Game afford a great deal of Variety and Elegance; there are Partridges and Pheasants, and Woodcocks, and Snipes; and of the Water Kind, the Wild Duck and Teal.
Larks are also in high Season.
These may be sent up at various Times as they come in, either plain, or in the various elegant Ways we have directed.

Of Greens.
We come now to the Consideration of Garden-stuff, and shall first consider what is in Season from the Kitchen Ground, for the furnishing out the Dishes of the two Courses, and afterwards what Fruits are for the Desert.
There are a great Variety of Greens now to be had, and they are a great Assistance to the giving Variety to a Table. Cabbages of two or three Kinds are to be had now very good; and in a well-managed Garden, there will be Plenty of good Cauliflowers. Savoys are to be had in Abundance, and in Perfection; and for those who like it, there are Brown Cole, and Red Cabbage.
Sprouts are also very fine at this Time from the Stalks of the early Cabbages, and when fresh gathered, and of a proper Growth, they are very little if at all inferior to Asparagus. There may be also had some Asparagus, but it is raised artificially, and is not like the natural kind.
These Things should be admitted now and then at a good Table, so shew what the Art of Gardening can do, or what the Markets can supply, but they are of no other Use. Coleworts are now in good Order; and there is fine Spinage: These are the Greens for the Months of November, and there are a sufficient Quantity of them for furnishing a Table with great Variety.

Martha Bradley also included her thoughts and recommendations on butcher’s meats—beef, mutton, veal, lamb, pork, doe venison, hare and rabbits—and fish such as pike, perch, eels, carp, tench, smelt, “soal” (sole) and salmon. Of roots, she wrote of familiar varieties like carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, beet root, onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, Spanish radishes and horseradish, and less common types like skirrets, rocamboles, salfifie, scorzonera, Jerusalem artichokes and Dutch parsley. Ripened fruit became scarce in November, but Bradley suggested a variety of nectarine called Vermach, three types of peaches (Rombouillon, Cambray and Persian), plums (Saint Julian, empress, and bullace), grapes (claret, Hamburgh, raisin, Frontignac and Tokay), and medlar and service berries. She pointed out that pineapples, “in Season in a Manner all the Year, being raised by an artificial Heat in the Stove,” were particularly good in November, that being the natural season for them to ripen in their native climate.

Tomorrow: What to do with some of these ingredients.

[Extracts are from Martha Bradley, The British Housewife: or, the Cook, Housekeeper’s, and Gardiner’s Companion (London: undated, 1756 or 1757 2-volume edition originally published as a series of pamphlets); original spellings are preserved.]

 

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