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A Taste of Townend - historic cookery in Windermere

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 September 2014 | UPDATED: 23:38 23 October 2015

A Taste of Townend, Manager at Townend, Emma Wright, with a decorative pie

A Taste of Townend, Manager at Townend, Emma Wright, with a decorative pie


A book on display near Windermere gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a Lakeland family 300 years ago

A Taste of Townend, the cottage-style garden at Townend A Taste of Townend, the cottage-style garden at Townend

Elizabeth Birkett knew a thing or two about cookery, as the recipes she collected in the years before her marriage in 1702 prove. But the book she put together also proves that she knew rather less about medicine.

Among the dubious treatments in the book is one for a nose bleed which suggests you collect the patient’s blood and use to write, on their forehead, Consummatum est – Latin for It is Finished, as are they likely to be if they’ve lost enough blood for you to write all that.

Another cure to rid someone of a malarial fever requires you to catch a live spider in a piece of cloth and tie it round the patient’s neck without them noticing.

But while no-one is queuing up to test her nursing tips, plenty of people are showing an interest in Miss Birkett’s recipe ideas.

A Taste of Townend, Manager at Townend, Emma Wright, in period costume, and Fe Wolley, house assistant, with some of the meaty mince pies A Taste of Townend, Manager at Townend, Emma Wright, in period costume, and Fe Wolley, house assistant, with some of the meaty mince pies

Elizabeth compiled the recipes, remedies and assorted other household tips in a small notebook before she settled down to married life with Ben Browne at Townend farmhouse near Windermere.

The house is now owned by the National Trust and managed by Emma Wright who said: ‘People often say how nice it must have been to have lived when Elizabeth did and I agree that I wouldn’t mind dressing up in the clothes and eating some of the recipes but I wouldn’t be so keen if I got poorly and someone came at me with a live spider in a piece of cloth.’

Elizabeth’s book, which contains 89 recipes and 65 medicinal instructions, is on display at Townend and Emma is recreating some of the recipes in the farmhouse kitchen each Thursday afternoon until October.

‘I have eaten a lot of the food,’ Emma said. ‘Some of it is rather challenging to our modern taste but a lot of it is really tasty. There’s a recipe for shred pies, which are very similar to modern mince pies but are made with veal, and there’s a recipe for a sweet spinach tart.

‘Some of the recipes are not that far removed from things we eat today – one recipe is for almond meringues and another is for biscuits flavoured with rose water and caraway seed which are very nice.’

And Emma added: ‘The book is fascinating on so many different levels and you can read into it a lot about Elizabeth and her lifestyle. It’s also interesting to see the exotic ingredients she used, there are recipes which use dates, anchovies, apricots and citrus fruits, and we have receipts which show she was able to buy some of these things at the local shop.

‘People generally assume that because they were Lakeland farmers they existed on a diet of hearty stews and I’m sure they did eat plenty of those, but when they wanted to impress, boy could they impress. There are some beautifully intricate recipes but the intriguing flip-side of that is the list of weird and wonderful remedies which shows she was still sensitive to folklore and tradition.’

Townend is open Wednesday to Sunday 11am-5pm, for more details log on to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/townend


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