Turkey Dinner in the Regency

“When turkeys mate, they think of swans.” — Johnny Carson

As an indifferent cook, my holiday turkey preparations never vary lest something untoward occurs in the kitchen. The method I use is therefore simple and reduced to as few steps as possible. Put the bird in a paper bag soaked in oil and roast all night in the oven for no more than 180 degree F.

Stay in your lane, Bro.

In England, the turkey first appeared on the royal table of Henry VIII. Apparently they were difficult birds to raise and less profitable than chickens, which reliably produced eggs. By the time of the Regency, turkeys remained expensive but more plentiful due to better transportation of livestock to the London markets. It would not be long before the turkey dinner at Christmas became an English tradition.

One of several historic locations for London’s meat, the Leadenhall Market as it appears today.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cook’s Oracle of 1822 provides wonderful insight into the Regency’s taste for turkeys, and the process of getting them to the table.

Relying on advice from local London butchers, the author instructs the Regency-era cook that turkeys are best acquired between September and March. Cooler weather keeps the meat fresher. Safety reasons aside, temperature was important to the particular way late Georgian kitchens prepared such a large bird for cooking. In those days, turkeys were not dressed, that is, prepared for cooking, until three or four days after they were killed. Six or eight days in cold weather!

Alternatively,

“No man who understands good living will say on such a day, I will eat that Turkey–but will hang it up by four of the large tail feathers, and when, on paying his morning visit to the Larder, he finds it lying upon a cloth, prepared to receive it when it falls, that day let it be cooked.”

–The Cook’s Oracle (1822) *

Even in those days, cooks had to be warned to thaw the bird beforehand, for they often froze in the larder that time of year. The author cynically notes that ‘Jack Frost has ruined the reputation of many a turkey-roaster.’

Do not cook a frozen turkey in the fryer–a public service announcement from a reported admirer of Jane Austen.

Once dressed, turkeys were boiled or roasted, hens being preferred over male “stag” birds. In all cases, the cooked meat should be as plump and white in color as possible. When boiling the turkey, cooks are strongly advised to skim off any byproducts with this result in mind. Wrapping the bird in white cloth as an alternative is unreliable and a sign of a lazy cook.

On the other hand, roasting turkeys during the Regency required both delicacy and violence. One must singe the skin with a burning white piece of paper. Then break the breast, cut off the claws and skewer the feet away from the bird. Retain the liver but don’t break the “gall-bag.”

This cannot be stressed enough: in case you’ve committed the cardinal sin of skin discoloration, coat the bird with bechamel sauce–a process called veiling.

You loose screw! You proposed to the wrong woman!

Stuff the bird prior to cooking using a variety of recipes. During the Regency, there was a decided partiality for “forcemeats” in stuffing, made from tongue and organ sweetmeats. Much like today, the gizzard and liver were used in the stuffing or to make gravy.

No part of the turkey was wasted back then. Spices, broth, side bones, a merry-thought (wishbone) and leftover turkey meat were stewed to make pulled turkey. Trimmings and bones cooked in leftover liquid from boiling the turkey made a broth for hash.

Indeed, a dozen turkey heads would make a fine soup. At the time of the Oracle’s printing, heads could be had for a penny each.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

*The cook’s oracle : containing receipts for plain cookery on the most economical plan for private families, also the art of composing the most simple, and most highly finished broths, gravies, soups, sauces, store sauces, and flavoring essences : the quantity of each article is accurately stated by weight and measure, the whole being the result of actual experiments instituted in the kitchen of a physician.

By  Kitchiner, William, 1775?-1827

Oatlands – Honeymoon House

Sometimes it just makes sense to honeymoon close to home.

Kate and Wills went no farther than Anglesey.  Vivien, my heroine of Welsh descent in Notorious Vow, would approve.  There is much to be said for the privacy afforded by a windswept island off the coast of her family’s native homeland.

File:Fashionable contrasts james gillray.jpg

Entitled "Fashionable Contrast," this 1792 cartoon of TRHs' relationship was less than accurate.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold honeymooned just outside London in Weybridge, at her uncle’s estate of Oatlands.  The manor had been the site of a royal palace built for Queen Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII, long since demolished.  A house remaining on the estate was enlarged and eventually leased by Prince Frederick, the Duke of York.  This burned down and a Gothic mansion was erected in its place and became the primary residence of his wife, Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia.

The following is an amusing illustration of what things must have been like at Oatlands:

‘The Duke was used to bring down parties of his friends to spend the week-ends at Oatlands.  The Duchess had not the least objection, and without making any change in her own manner of life, entertained her guests in a charming and unceremonious way that endeared her to everyone who knew her.  No one was ever known to refuse an invitation to Oatlands, though the first visit there must always astonish, and even dismay.  The park was kept for the accommodation of a collection of macaws, monkeys, ostriches, kangaroos; the stables were full of horses which were none of them obtainable for the use of the guests; the house swarmed with servants, whose business never seemed to be to wait on anyone; the hostess breakfasted at three in the morning, spent the night in wandering about the grounds, and was in the habit of retiring unexpectedly to a four-roomed grotto she had had made for herself in the park. ‘

from Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold remained at Oatlands until summoned back to London by Queen Charlotte.  The princess’ grandmother planned a “drawing-room,” or presentation to receive the congratulations of the nobility and gentry on the marriage.  The Asiatic Journal from 1816 further reports that between two and three thousand people were present for the occasion and Buckingham House, as it was then called, was filled with “expecting spectators.”Oatlands Park Hotel, Weybridge Surrey

Their honeymoon must have seemed as remote to the young couple as Wales.

Today, Oatlands is a hotel.  You can even have a wedding there!