Saturday, 24 July 2010

Mrs Dods' Prawn Pie

Just to prove that Mrs Beeton wasn't the first person in the world to publish a cookbook, here's an excerpt from the Cook and Housewife's Manual by Mistress Margaret Dods, dated 1827. It's a thick but very readable book, written in a much more humorous style than the frequently stodgy Mrs Beeton. But it's not quite as simple as that – Mrs Dods is a character in an 1824 novel called St. Ronan's Well, by Sir Walter Scott. Critics judged it "sixth-rate", "weak" and "trashy".

But somebody obviously decided that the novel's Scottish cook Mrs Dods was the perfect frontwoman for a book on cookery, and the whole project is presented as being by her, with a few interjections from another character who has lived in India and acquired a taste for curry.

Scott's original novel – and the little bit of pseudo Scott at the beginning of the Housewife's Manual may be painfully unfunny (and in Scottish dialect), but the book itself is an excellent read, and the humour really is humorous.

It's time for a recipe:

A Savoury Shrimp or Prawn Pie
Have as many well-cleaned shrimps or pawns as will nearly fill the pie dish. Season with pounded mace, cloves, a little cayenne and chili vinegar. Put some butter in the dish, and cover with a light puff-paste. Less than three quarters of an hour will bake these pies.

I have a reprint of the book, but it seems to be out of print.

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