“This receipt is as safe as the Bank”: Reading Irish Culinary Manuscripts





Irish Culinary Manuscripts,

How to Cite

Cashman, D. A. (2013). “This receipt is as safe as the Bank”: Reading Irish Culinary Manuscripts. M/C Journal, 16(3). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.616
Vol. 16 No. 3 (2013): cookbook
Published 2013-06-23


Ireland did not have a tradition of printed cookbooks prior to the 20th century. As a consequence, Irish culinary manuscripts from before this period are an important primary source for historians. This paper makes the case that the manuscripts are a unique way of accessing voices that have quotidian concerns seldom heard above the dominant narratives of conquest, colonisation and famine (Higgins; Dawson). Three manuscripts are examined to see how they contribute to an understanding of Irish social and culinary history. The Irish banking crisis of 2008 is a reminder that comments such as the one in the title of this paper may be more then a casual remark, indicating rather an underlying anxiety. Equally important is the evidence in the manuscripts that Ireland had a domestic culinary tradition sited within the culinary traditions of the British Isles.

The terms “vernacular”, representing localised needs and traditions, and “polite”, representing stylistic features incorporated for aesthetic reasons, are more usually applied in the architectural world. As terms, they reflect in a politically neutral way the culinary divide witnessed in the manuscripts under discussion here. Two of the three manuscripts are anonymous, but all are written from the perspective of a well-provisioned house. The class background is elite and as such these manuscripts are not representative of the vernacular, which in culinary terms is likely to be a tradition recorded orally (Gold). The first manuscript (NLI, Tervoe) and second manuscript (NLI, Limerick) show the levels of impact of French culinary influence through their recipes for “cullis”. The Limerick manuscript also opens the discussion to wider social concerns. The third manuscript (NLI, Baker) is unusual in that the author, Mrs. Baker, goes to great lengths to record the provenance of the recipes and as such the collection affords a glimpse into the private “polite” world of the landed gentry in Ireland with its multiplicity of familial and societal connections.

Cookbooks and Cuisine in Ireland in the 19th Century

During the course of the 18th century, there were 136 new cookery book titles and 287 reprints published in Britain (Lehmann, Housewife 383). From the start of the 18th to the end of the 19th century only three cookbooks of Irish, or Anglo-Irish, authorship have been identified. The Lady’s Companion: or Accomplish’d Director In the whole Art of Cookery was published in 1767 by John Mitchell in Skinner-Row, under the pseudonym “Ceres,” while the Countess of Caledon’s Cheap Receipts and Hints on Cookery: Collected for Distribution Amongst the Irish Peasantry was printed in Armagh by J. M. Watters for private circulation in 1847. The modern sounding Dinners at Home, published in London in 1878 under the pseudonym “Short”, appears to be of Irish authorship, a review in The Irish Times describing it as being written by a “Dublin lady”, the inference being that she was known to the reviewer (Farmer).

English Copyright Law was extended to Ireland in July 1801 after the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 (Ferguson). Prior to this, many titles were pirated in Ireland, a cause of confusion alluded to by Lehmann when she comments regarding the Ceres book that it “does not appear to be simply a Dublin-printed edition of an English book” (Housewife 403). This attribution is based on the dedication in the preface: “To The Ladies of Dublin.” From her statement that she had a “great deal of experience in business of this kind”, one may conclude that Ceres had worked as a housekeeper or cook.

Cheap Receipts and Hints on Cookery was the second of two books by Catherine Alexander, Countess of Caledon. While many commentators were offering advice to Irish people on how to alleviate their poverty, in Friendly Advice to Irish Mothers on Training their Children, Alexander was unusual in addressing her book specifically to its intended audience (Bourke). In this cookbook, the tone is of a practical didactic nature, the philosophy that of enablement.

Given the paucity of printed material, manuscripts provide the main primary source regarding the existence of an indigenous culinary tradition. Attitudes regarding this tradition lie along the spectrum exemplified by the comments of an Irish journalist, Kevin Myers, and an eminent Irish historian, Louis Cullen. Myers describes Irish cuisine as a “travesty” and claims that the cuisine of “Old Ireland, in texture and in flavour, generally resembles the cinders after the suttee of a very large, but not very tasty widow”, Cullen makes the case that Irish cuisine is “one of the most interesting culinary traditions in Europe” (141).

It is not proposed to investigate the ideological standpoints behind the various comments on Irish food. Indeed, the use of the term “Irish” in this context is fraught with difficulty and it should be noted that in the three manuscripts proposed here, the cuisine is that of the gentry class and representative of a particular stratum of society more accurately described as belonging to the Anglo-Irish tradition. It is also questionable how the authors of the three manuscripts discussed would have described themselves in terms of nationality.

The anxiety surrounding this issue of identity is abating as scholarship has moved from viewing the cultural artifacts and buildings inherited from this class, not as symbols of an alien heritage, but rather as part of the narrative of a complex country (Rees). The antagonistic attitude towards this heritage could be seen as reaching its apogee in the late 1950s when the then Government minister, Kevin Boland, greeted the decision to demolish a row of Georgian houses in Dublin with jubilation, saying that they stood for everything that he despised, and describing the Georgian Society, who had campaigned for their preservation, as “the preserve of the idle rich and belted earls” (Foster 160).

Mac Con Iomaire notes that there has been no comprehensive study of the history of Irish food, and the implications this has for opinions held, drawing attention to the lack of recognition that a “parallel Anglo-Irish cuisine existed among the Protestant elite” (43). To this must be added the observation that Myrtle Allen, the doyenne of the Irish culinary world, made when she observed that while we have an Irish identity in food, “we belong to a geographical and culinary group with Wales, England, and Scotland as all counties share their traditions with their next door neighbour” (1983).

Three Irish Culinary Manuscripts

The three manuscripts discussed here are held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). The manuscript known as Tervoe has 402 folio pages with a 22-page index. The National Library purchased the manuscript at auction in December 2011. Although unattributed, it is believed to come from Tervoe House in County Limerick (O’Daly). Built in 1776 by Colonel W.T. Monsell (b.1754), the Monsell family lived there until 1951 (see, Fig. 1). The house was demolished in 1953 (Bence-Jones). William Monsell, 1st Lord Emly (1812–94) could be described as the most distinguished of the family. Raised in an atmosphere of devotion to the Union (with Great Britain), loyalty to the Church of Ireland, and adherence to the Tory Party, he converted in 1850 to the Roman Catholic religion, under the influence of Cardinal Newman and the Oxford Movement, changing his political allegiance from Tory to Whig. It is believed that this change took place as a result of the events surrounding the Great Irish Famine of 1845–50 (Potter). The Tervoe manuscript is catalogued as 18th century, and as the house was built in the last quarter of the century, it would be reasonable to surmise that its conception coincided with that period. It is a handsome volume with original green vellum binding, which has been conserved.

Fig. 1. Tervoe House, home of the Monsell family.

In terms of culinary prowess, the scope of the Tervoe manuscript is extensive. For the purpose of this discussion, one recipe is of particular interest. The recipe, To make a Cullis for Flesh Soups, instructs the reader to take the fat off four pounds of the best beef, roast the beef, pound it to a paste with crusts of bread and the carcasses of partridges or other fowl “that you have by you” (NLI, Tervoe). This mixture should then be moistened with best gravy, and strong broth, and seasoned with pepper, thyme, cloves, and lemon, then sieved for use with the soup.

In 1747 Hannah Glasse published The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. The 1983 facsimile edition explains the term “cullis” as an Anglicisation of the French word coulis, “a preparation for thickening soups and stews” (182). The coulis was one of the essential components of the nouvelle cuisine of the 18th century. This movement sought to separate itself from “the conspicuous consumption of profusion” to one where the impression created was one of refinement and elegance (Lehmann, Housewife 210). Reactions in England to this French culinary innovation were strong, if not strident. Glasse derides French “tricks”, along with French cooks, and the coulis was singled out for particular opprobrium. In reality, Glasse bestrides both sides of the divide by giving the much-hated recipe and commenting on it. She provides another example of this in her recipe for The French Way of Dressing Partridges to which she adds the comment: “this dish I do not recommend; for I think it an odd jumble of thrash, by that time the Cullis, the Essence of Ham, and all other Ingredients are reckoned, the Partridges will come to a fine penny; but such Receipts as this, is what you have in most Books of Cookery yet printed” (53).

When Daniel Defoe in The Complete English Tradesman of 1726 criticised French tradesmen for spending so much on the facades of their shops that they were unable to offer their customers a varied stock within, we can see the antipathy spilling over into other creative fields (Craske). As a critical strategy, it is not dissimilar to Glasse when she comments “now compute the expense, and see if this dish cannot be dressed full as well without this expense” at the end of a recipe for the supposedly despised Cullis for all Sorts of Ragoo (53). Food had become part of the defining image of Britain as an aggressively Protestant culture in opposition to Catholic France (Lehmann Politics 75).

The author of the Tervoe manuscript makes no comment about the dish other than “A Cullis is a mixture of things, strained off.” This is in marked contrast to the second manuscript (NLI, Limerick). The author of this anonymous manuscript, from which the title of this paper is taken, is considerably perplexed by the term cullis, despite the manuscript dating 1811 (Fig. 2). Of Limerick provenance also, but considerably more modest in binding and scope, the manuscript was added to for twenty years, entries terminating around 1831.

The recipe for Beef Stake (sic) Pie is an exact transcription of a recipe in John Simpson’s A Complete System of Cookery, published in 1806, and reads

Cut some beef steaks thin, butter a pan (or as Lord Buckingham’s cook, from whom these rects are taken, calls it a soutis pan, ? [sic] (what does he mean, is it a saucepan) [sic] sprinkle the pan with pepper and salt, shallots thyme and parsley, put the beef steaks in and the pan on the fire for a few minutes then put them to cool, when quite cold put them in the fire, scrape all the herbs in over the fire and ornament as you please, it will take an hour and half, when done take the top off and put in some coulis (what is that?) [sic].


Fig. 2. Beef Stake Pie (NLI, Limerick). Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Simpson was cook to Lord Buckingham for at least a year in 1796, and may indeed have travelled to Ireland with the Duke who had several connections there.

A feature of this manuscript are the number of Cholera remedies that it contains, including the “Rect for the cholera sent by Dr Shanfer from Warsaw to the Brussels Government”. Cholera had reached Germany by 1830, and England by 1831. By March 1832, it had struck Belfast and Dublin, the following month being noted in Cork, in the south of the country. Lasting a year, the epidemic claimed 50,000 lives in Ireland (Fenning). On 29 April 1832, the diarist Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin notes, “we had a meeting today to keep the cholera from Callan. May God help us” (De Bhaldraithe 132). By 18 June, the cholera is “wrecking destruction in Ennis, Limerick and Tullamore” (135) and on 26 November, “Seed being sown. The end of the month wet and windy. The cholera came to Callan at the beginning of the month. Twenty people went down with it and it left the town then” (139). This situation was obviously of great concern and this is registered in the manuscript.

Another concern is that highlighted by the recommendation that “this receipt is as good as the bank. It has been obligingly given to Mrs Hawkesworth by the chief book keeper at the Bank of Ireland” (NLI, Limerick). The Bank of Ireland commenced business at St. Mary’s Abbey in Dublin in June 1783, having been established under the protection of the Irish Parliament as a chartered rather then a central bank. As such, it supplied a currency of solidity. The charter establishing the bank, however, contained a prohibitory clause preventing (until 1824 when it was repealed) more then six persons forming themselves into a company to carry on the business of banking. This led to the formation, especially outside Dublin, of many “small private banks whose failure was the cause of immense wretchedness to all classes of the population” (Gilbert 19).

The collapse that caused the most distress was that of the Ffrench bank in 1814, founded eleven years previously by the family of Lord Ffrench, one of the leading Catholic peers, based in Connacht in the west of Ireland. The bank issued notes in exchange for Bank of Ireland notes. Loans from Irish banks were in the form of paper money which were essentially printed promises to pay the amount stated and these notes were used in ordinary transactions. So great was the confidence in the Ffrench bank that their notes were held by the public in preference to Bank of Ireland notes, most particularly in Connacht. On 27 June 1814, there was a run on the bank leading to collapse. The devastation spread through society, from business through tenant farmers to the great estates, and notably so in Galway. Lord Ffrench shot himself in despair (Tennison). Williams and Finn, founded in Kilkenny in 1805, entered bankruptcy proceedings in 1816, and the last private bank outside Dublin, Delacours in Mallow, failed in 1835 (Barrow). The issue of bank failure is commented on by writers of the period, notably so in Dickens, Thackery, and Gaskill, and Edgeworth in Ireland. Following on the Ffrench collapse, notes from the Bank of Ireland were accorded increased respect, reflected in the comment in this recipe.

The receipt in question is one for making White Currant Wine, with the unusual addition of a slice of bacon suspended from the bunghole when the wine is turned, for the purpose of enriching it. The recipe was provided to “Mrs Hawkesworth by the chief book keeper of the bank” (NLI, Limerick). In 1812, a John Hawkesworth, agent to Lord CastleCoote, was living at Forest Lodge, Mountrath, County Laois (Ennis Chronicle). The Coote family, although settling in County Laois in the seventeenth century, had strong connections with Limerick through a descendent of the younger brother of the first Earl of Mountrath (Landed Estates).

The last manuscript for discussion is the manuscript book of Mrs Abraham Whyte Baker of Ballytobin House, County Kilkenny, 1810 (NLI, Baker). Ballytobin, or more correctly Ballaghtobin, is a townland in the barony of Kells, four miles from the previously mentioned Callan. The land was confiscated from the Tobin family during the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland of 1649–52, and was reputedly purchased by a Captain Baker, to establish what became the estate of Ballaghtobin (Fig. 3) To this day, it is a functioning estate, remaining in the family, twice passing down through the female line. In its heyday, there were two acres of walled gardens from which the house would have drawn for its own provisions (Ballaghtobin).

Fig. 3. Ballaghtobin 2013.

At the time of writing the manuscript, Mrs. Sophia Baker was widowed and living at Ballaghtobin with her son and daughter-in-law, Charity who was “no beauty, but tall, slight” (Herbert 414). On the succession of her husband to the estate, Charity became mistress of Ballaghtobin, leaving Sophia with time on what were her obviously very capable hands (Nevin).

Sophia Baker was the daughter of Sir John Blunden of Castle Blunden and Lucinda Cuffe, daughter of the first Baron Desart. Sophia was also first cousin of the diarist Dorothea Herbert, whose mother was Lucinda’s sister, Martha. Sophia Baker and Dorothea Herbert have left for posterity a record of life in the landed gentry class in rural Georgian Ireland, Dorothea describing Mrs. Baker as “full of life and spirits” (Herbert 70). Their close relationship allows the two manuscripts to converse with each other in a unique way. Mrs. Baker’s detailing of the provenance of her recipes goes beyond the norm, so that what she has left us is not just a remarkable work of culinary history but also a palimpsest of her family and social circle. Among the people she references are: “my grandmother”; Dorothea Beresford, half sister to the Earl of Tyrone, who lived in the nearby Curraghmore House; Lady Tyrone; and Aunt Howth, the sister of Dorothea Beresford, married to William St Lawrence, Lord Howth, and described by Johnathan Swift as “his blue eyed nymph” (195).

Other attributions include Lady Anne Fitzgerald, wife of Maurice Fitzgerald, 16th knight of Kerry, Sir William Parsons, Major Labilen, and a Mrs. Beaufort (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Mrs. Beauforts Rect. (NLI, Baker). Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

That this Mrs. Beaufort was the wife of Daniel Augustus Beaufort, mother of the hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort, may be deduced from the succeeding recipe supplied by a Mrs. Waller. Mrs. Beaufort’s maiden name was Waller. Fanny Beaufort, the elder sister of Sir Francis, was Richard Edgeworth’s fourth wife and close friend and confidante of his daughter Maria, the novelist. There are also entries for “Miss Herbert” and “Aunt Herbert.”

While the Baker manuscript is of interest for the fact that it intersects the worlds of the novelist Maria Edgeworth and the diarist Dorothea Herbert, and for the societal references that it documents, it is also a fine collection of recipes that date back to the mid-18th century. An example of this is a recipe for Sligo pickled salmon that Mrs. Baker, nee Blunden, refers to in an index that she gives to a second volume. Unfortunately this second volume is not known to be extant. This recipe features in a Blunden family manuscript of 1760 as referred to in Anelecta Hibernica (McLysaght). The recipe has also appeared in Cookery and Cures of Old Kilkenny (St. Canices’s 24). Unlike the Tervoe and Limerick manuscripts, Mrs. Baker is unconcerned with recipes for “cullis”.


The three manuscripts that have been examined here are from the period before the famine of 1845–50, known as An Gorta Mór, translated as “the big hunger”. The famine preceding this, Bliain an Áir (the year of carnage) in 1740–1 was caused by extremely cold and rainy weather that wiped out the harvest (Ó Gráda 15). This earlier famine, almost forgotten today, was more severe than the subsequent one, causing the death of an eight of the population of the island over one and a half years (McBride). These manuscripts are written in living memory of both events. Within the world that they inhabit, it may appear there is little said about hunger or social conditions beyond the walls of their estates. Subjected to closer analysis, however, it is evident that they are loquacious in their own unique way, and make an important contribution to the narrative of cookbooks. Through the three manuscripts discussed here, we find evidence of the culinary hegemony of France and how practitioners in Ireland commented on this in comparatively neutral fashion. An awareness of cholera and bank collapses have been communicated in a singular fashion, while a conversation between diarist and culinary networker has allowed a glimpse into the world of the landed gentry in Ireland during the Georgian period.


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