Looking through a selection of unique and detailed letters and documents from the Nostell Priory Collection, held at the West Yorkshire Archives, I had no idea where my research would lead. I was particularly interested the culinary recipe books of Lady Sabine Winn. Lady Winn (nee d’Hervart) was born in Switzerland in 1734 and married Rowland Winn (5th bt) in 1761, they came to live in Yorkshire in the mid 1760s.
The recipe book itself is in reasonable condition considering it was written in the 18th Century, it is hardback (showing some historic water damage) with good quality, watermarked pages. The recipes in the book are hand written in ink, indexed and organised into sections. The book also contains menu suggestions suitable for each month. This evidences that much time and thought had been put into collecting the recipes and creating the book, and not just ideas jotted down into a note book.
The recipes are mainly pies, cooked meats, preserves, pickles, desserts and even the odd wine making recipe. These especially caught my eye!
It is not clear where the recipes would originally have been sourced, it’s possible that these were collated from publications, family recipes or simply shared between friends.
Apart from the presentation of the recipe book, one of the most noticeable elements is that some of the ingredients are exotic and extravagant, therefore one would assume expensive! Not what you would expect to see in the average 18th Century or even today’s household. Ingredients such as mangoes, truffles, dates, anchovies, oysters and venison were common ingredients in many of the recipes.
Reading through the recipe book, I was intrigued to find out more…
Was it common place for women in that position at that time to write recipe books?
From the late 17th Century, within certain circles, it had become increasingly popular to publish and read books relating to household management, cooking and brewing. It is understood that Sabine, felt isolated at times and she immersed herself in the running of the household at Nostell. Food, health potions and fashion were a big part of her life, with much correspondence between merchants and designers on such topics. Many letters still survive today.
Where were the ingredients sourced?
An initial search through the collection shows a number of letters that detail the purchase of goods, such as an orange tree. This warrants further research into whether there were provisions and expertise to grow such produce at Nostell and whether she was reliant upon home grown produce or imports to create her recipes.
As the recipes use an extensive range of ingredients, I hope to be able to find out more information on this topic.
For what occasion were these recipes intended for, daily consumption, special occasions, or merely aspirational?
There is evidence that Lady Winn may have enjoyed showing off to her guests, trying out a number of her culinary specialities within her recipe book.
An excerpt from one of the letters from William St Quentin to Sir Rowland Winn mentions that when he stayed at Nostell ‘you entertain’d me so highly that if I should not naturally had an excellent stomack, I should have been for ever spoil’d eating again. I declare it, I never before nor since have seen anything like it’.
The recipes were then definitely used when guests were visiting however, does this relate to Lady Winn’s daily regime, was she eating lavishly every day? The recipe book doesn’t provide information with regard to how often they were used or for what occasion. Naturally, the next step is to review any information relating to the household accounts and understand how much input Lady Winn had to the running of the kitchen.
… and could these recipes be easily recreated today?
Although the recipes do go into some detail, I would assume that you’d need some level of understanding of 18th Century cooking styles to recreate one successfully. I have some basic cooking knowledge but found myself ‘googling’ a lot of the ingredients, even to the point where I created myself a glossary. For example, the term ‘coffin’ is often referred to (e.g. Chicken Pye recipe) but with no further description, research confirms that a coffin is a pastry pie case that is often pre-cooked before filling.
It’s also interesting how you would need some familiarity with the book and the other recipes within to be able to follow another recipe e.g. Artichoke Pye recipe requires ‘sweet seasoning’ to be added however, unless you had read the earlier pages you wouldn’t know what was included in ‘sweet seasoning’.
There are some recipes that I’m sure we’re all familiar with in one form or another e.g. Mince Pies below is Mrs Winn’s version.
The complexity of the recipes and lavishness of the ingredients is not surprising as when you examine other documents from the household at that time, it portrays the Winn’s to have extravagant and expensive tastes, from the commissioning of artworks and fine pieces of furniture to full interior redesigns only using the finest craftsmen at that time, such as Thomas Chippendale and Joseph Rose. Rowland and Sabine Winn left a lasting legacy to the estate as some of these items are still standing in pride of place at Nostell Priory.