3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Essex Life today click here

Looking back at an Essex recipe book from 1715

PUBLISHED: 17:22 04 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:22 04 May 2018




Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office shares some delights from our culinary past with a look inside the recipe books of yesteryear

What do you fancy for dinner? Maybe a stewed calf’s head or some smoked ox tongue? Or, if you’re feeling peaky rather than hungry, a syrup made from turnips and herbs or a gruel made with garden snails might perk you up. Instructions for all of these can be found in Elizabeth Slany’s handwritten book of recipes, begun in 1715.

Food, drink and medicines unite us all across space and time. We all need to eat and drink, and most of us at some point will need some sort of medicine to help us fight off an illness. This was the case for our ancestors just as much as it is for us today and historical recipe books can provide fascinating windows into life in the past.

Historical recipes help us to imagine what life was like for our ancestors. They tell us what people ate and drank, and how food was prepared, flavoured and preserved in a world before supermarkets, mass imports, convenience food or refrigeration. They can also be surprisingly exotic, telling us about the interconnectedness of the world in the past.


Many historic recipe books also include instructions for making medicines, telling us how our ancestors battled illnesses before painkillers and antibiotics.

There are more than 200 recipe books among the thousands of records cared for by the Essex Record Office, including that of Elizabeth Slany. Elizabeth was born near Worcester and in 1723 married Benjamin LeHook, an agent in London. Elizabeth’s daughter, also Elizabeth, married Samuel Wegg of Colchester.

The first part of the book is in Elizabeth’s own handwriting and then another hand takes over later, perhaps her daughter running her Colchester home.


Elizabeth’s book provides fascinating insights into her life in charge of a well-off 18th century household. Some of her recipes are for very rich food and there is a focus on food preservation, by pickling, salting, drying, and jam making.

Elizabeth’s calf’s head stew calls for the head to be boiled in a broth with oyster liquor, cider vinegar, mushroom liquor, an anchovy and butter, and to be served with the brains, sweetbreads and tongue of the animal. The smoked ox tongues, meanwhile, should be soaked in water for three days, then in brine for three weeks, before being hung up in the chimney ‘a smoaking till they are dry’.

For those not inclined to meat, there are plenty of recipes for preserved fruits, such as a raspberry jam, made from raspberries boiled with loaf sugar. Currants could be added to make the jam firmer.


There are also several sweet desserts, such as ‘whipt sillibubs’, made from cream, egg whites, wine, lemon peel and sugar whipped together, ‘the larger the bubbles are the better’.

There are also several medicinal recipes throughout the book, such as this one for snail gruel. Snail-based preparations were considered useful in treating consumption or tuberculosis and most required huge quantities of snails, so this version is an easier alternative (not that we recommend it).

The Snail Grewel for a Consumption

Take ten garden snails, pick off their shells then boil ’em in a quart of spring water with one spoonful of pear[l] barley and one spoonful of hartshorn shavings, till it is wasted to a pint then strain it, add to it half a pint of milk, sweeten it to your taste with eringo root.


Let the person drink half a pint of this first thing in the morning and last thing at night going to bed. If their stomach can bear as much, every other day is often enough to make it, it’s very good for the rickets.

Some of the recipes in the later hand are surprisingly exotic, including curry, Chinese rice, and fresh pasta.

Receipt for making Currey

Take of a loin of mutton without fat or bone, from two to three pounds cut it into small pieces, stew it till it is tender in no more water than is necessary – add to it a few cloves, garlick and shallots – some white pepper and salt and carefully skin it when tender drain it very dry in a cullender reserving the broth.


Then fry the meat a good brown with a lump of butter and some sliced onions and return it to your stew pan with as much broth as will barely cover it – thicken it with your currey stuff – season it with some cayenne pepper and salt, and add the juice of two lemons.

NB two large spoonfulls of currey stuff is sufficient for a currey of two pounds and so in proportion – add to the currey powder about a fifth of Turmeric.


Follow Essex Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neil Oliver is perhaps best known for his role as the presenter of the BBC’s Coast series, but he is about to embark on a quite different tour of the UK, calling in at Southend. Kate Everett found out more

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Essex-raised TV personality Andy Day has been a favourite on BBC children’s channel CBeebies for over 12 years. Now he’s branched into music, touring nationwide with his family-friendly band, Andy and the Odd Socks. Here he tells Denise Marshall about his Glastonbury debut, fighting bullying and becoming a father

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We’ve spoken to 6 of Essex’s most inspirational businesspeople to find out their secrets to success, how they achieve a work-life balance and who they are inspired by

Read more
Monday, September 3, 2018

In this second instalment of a postcard mini-series, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office showcases some of the ERO’s picture postcard collection of Southend-on-Sea

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On the 60th anniversary of the passing of one of England’s most inspired and iconic composers, Sylvia Kent shares why a visit to Brentwood changed the course of both the career and composition of Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

National Trust rangers find themselves out and about in all sorts of weather, and required to do all sorts of tasks. Essex Life spoke to two female rangers happy to show that it’s a job they still love to do

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

There is much to be proud of in Colchester’s extensive history, but one man has been hard at work to ensure we don’t forget some of the darker times too. Petra Hornsby explains more

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Perhaps most noted as the 1980s queen of Page 3, life has taken some unusual turns for Chingford’s Samantha Fox. Tim Saunders catches up on this Essex girl’s career path

Read more
Friday, August 10, 2018

Revd John N Merrill has a love for Essex and a love for walking, and this year marks a special celebration of an achievement that embraced both of these passions

Read more
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In the first of two features celebrating the traditional British seaside holiday, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office shares picture postcards of the Essex coast | Words: Hannah Salisbury

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Job search in your local area

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search