I have to confess to being a little disappointed when I initially received The Royal Heritage Cookbook. On the smallish side it seemed fairly lightweight for something which took the author, The Honourable Sarah Macpherson two years to research and write. Given that it’s subtitle is ‘Recipes from High Society and The Royal Court’ I expected something, well, altogether grander particularly as the book carries the princely retail price of £15.
But then I took myself to task realising that perhaps I had spent too much time in the company of glossy cookery tomes with their exquisitely seductive photographs. After all, if you are a cook what really counts is the content of the recipe book not how pretty it looks.
What is the essence of the book?
The Royal Heritage Cookbook is a collection of recipes from the 17th century onwards from Lacock Abbey, Castletown House and Thirlestane Castle. Sarah Macpherson discovered more than 1500 recipes during her research, a small proportion of which she has adapted so that they may be successfully cooked in our 21st century kitchens. She even suggests menus so that you can recreate regal meals at home.
About the author
Sarah Macpherson is a historian and writer who happens to be the daughter of Lord and Lady Carew. She was raised in Castletown House, Ireland’s largest private home, and can trace her heritage back to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Kings of England and Scotland, and the ancient Princes of Ireland. Given her pedigree it’s fair to assume she is well acquainted with stately homes and their kitchens.
Who will like it?
Anyone with an interest in culinary history who perhaps wants to learn a little more about how our grander ancestors ate will like this book. If you are looking for an introduction to historical cookery that is neither daunting in it’s language (the recipes are in modern English) or ingredients then this book is ideal. The recipes are surprisingly and reassuringly familiar like the Chicken, Cream and Leek Pie (a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I).
Who won’t like it?
If you prefer a more modernist approach to cooking and are a fan of foams and skid marks on plates then you are unlikely to be impressed by this book. You’ll probably be disappointed to learn that Charles II’s favourite dish was Roast Sirloin of Beef or that Queen Victoria was partial to trifle. Equally, if you are a serious food historian who enjoys reading old cookery books with all their quirky olde English spellings and terminology then you may find the recipes somewhat dumbed down (but then again this isn’t a academic book).
What do I like about the book?
I love the inclusion of a chapter on curries in the book which demonstrates that these dishes date further back than many people would expect. The images of the original text make you appreciate what a monumental task it must have been to decipher it. It’s wonderfully reassuring in a way to realise that our former kings and queens had what today would be regarded as rather conservative tastes. But of course in their day meat for the masses was scarce and what we now consider as every day fare was viewed as being extravagant in previous centuries.
What do I dislike about the book?
OK I know I said that you should judge a book by it’s content but I really do believe the photography lets this book down. Frankly it looks rather dated. Having a keen interest in food history myself I would have liked to see more information about the sources of the recipes and perhaps more detail on how they were created.
Would I cook from it?
Yes I would. I’m definitely intrigued by the Raj curry powder and some of the desserts like sack posset. For an experienced cook a lot of the recipes for pies and casseroles are run of the mill. That said it would be fun to recreate the Kings or Princes menus for a historical dinner party.
Where can you buy it?