Samuel Pepys and His Cookbooks

Roy Schreiber

Indiana University South Bend

 

 

“..Mr. Sam: Pepys, [http://www.people.virginia.edu/~arr5m/robert.html] a very worthy, Industrious and curious person. . . Learned in many things. . . His Library & other Collections of Curiositys was one of the most Considerable.” John Evelyn

 

Aside from his famous diary that recorded events from 1660 through May, 1669, Samuel Pepys’ most notable contribution to succeeding generations is his library, now housed at Magdalene College, Cambridge. [http://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/pepys/collection.html] After Pepys died in 1703, his will only permitted the addition of one book to it. He named that volume.[1] This behavior is very much in character. Even when his career was just beginning, others noted him as a “man of system”.[2] So it should come as no surprise that he developed a simple, basic principle for collecting books: “In fewest Books and least Room the greatest diversity of Subjects, Stiles and Languages its Owner’s Reading [would] bear” to build a significant collection.[3] With these goals in mind, aside from his personal papers and books relating to the English navy, Pepys bought extensively in many areas including religion, literature, music and history. He also collected cookbooks. This article will show that like the rest of the collection, they accurately reflect the manner of the man.

Throughout England in the seventeenth century, as literacy and prosperity spread, books about food and drink became increasingly popular. The Accomplisht Lady’s Delight by Hannah Wolley, The Court & kitchin of Elizabeth, commonly called Joan Cromwel. . ., Thomas Dawson’s A book of cookery and Francois Pierre de La Varenne’s The French Cook are but a small sampling of the cookbooks that went through multiple seventeenth and eighteenth century editions.[4] Even leaving the growing popularity of these books to one side, judging by Pepys’ diary, the inclusion of this topic area in the library accurately reflects the man’s interests. Even his sexual pursuits, extensive as they were, did not get the kind of treatment that food did. The most recent edition of his diary indexed three and a half double-columned pages under the heading of food.[5] In fact it is difficult to find a day in the whole period covered by the diary when Pepys does not record that he either dined or supped. And these observations were not just the enthusiasms of a young man. In 1683 at age 50, over twenty years after he wrote the first page of the original diary, Pepys kept a second diary of a journey to Tangier. When it came to observations about eating, he followed the pattern of the first.[6]

As for the cookbooks Pepys did buy, they were few in number, and on the surface there was nothing extraordinary about them. They had information on what to eat and drink, how to prepare these items and how to serve them. Chronologically the first work is in French; it is a well known and often reprinted work by Jean Ribou: L’école parfaite des officiers de bouche. An English translation by Giles Rose was published in 1682, but Pepys chose the third French edition of 1676. Next comes five English publications of which the first four are entitled Gentlewoman’s cabinet unlocked. . ., The complete cookmaid, The compleat cook: or the accomplished servant maids and Gentlewoman’s delight in cookery. All were printed in London in the 1680s and none indicate the author. What is unusual about these books is they are so obscure that even the comprehensive bibliography, Wing’s Short Title Catalog, does not list them. In the library itself these short works are bound together with other small pamphlets under a category Pepys called “Penny Merriments”. The last English book is quite different from the others both in having a well known author and in its subject matter. It is the 1699 edition of John Evelyn’s Acetaria. A discourse of sallets which was also published in London.

Despite the modest size of this collection, a careful examination will show that Pepys was indeed a man of system and that the system is a reflection of his complex personality and the changing world of late seventeenth century England. He demonstrates here as elsewhere that when, as President of the Royal Society, his name appeared on the title page of the Principia along with its author, Sir Isaac Newton, the coupling of their names was an appropriate coincidence. Like Newton, Pepys wanted to understand how the world about him worked and he very much wanted that world to have order.

In trying to reconstruct the reasons Pepys added the four small English cookbooks to his library, two questions come to mind: for whom did Pepys collect the books and who was in charge of the cooking in his household? Both those questions are interrelated because Pepys was not a reclusive bachelor but rather a man who invariably had a woman in his home. During the period of the first diary, 1660 to 1669, it was his wife, Elizabeth St Michel, and from then until his death in 1703, it was his companion, Mary Skinner. It is therefore reasonable to ask, when Pepys went out to buy books, did he only do so for himself or did he keep the women in his life in mind as well? It certainly is possible to say that from a very early period, he separated his library from his wife’s library. On October 17, 1660 Pepys records that “. . . my wife and I went to put all my books in order in [my] closet, and I to give her her books.”[7] Yet in spite of this separation, he did share books with his wife. That same month the two of them divided their libraries, he mentions picking up a book about Queen Henrietta Maria and reading it to Elizabeth.[8]

As for Mary Skinner, when they began their live-in relationship in the early 1670s, Mary was a very young woman from a modestly successful London family.[9] The nature of Mary’s education is something of a question, but what evidence there is indicates it was quite typical for English women of her class.[10] As for her literary interests, in 1699 she asked Pepys’s nephew, who was traveling on the continent, to send her a book in French. The nature of that book is significant. It was about “Japanning”, that is applying black enamel to various surfaces.[11] In another instance, she was looking for “some book illuminated in the best manner”.[12] Add to this information a reminder note jotted down by Pepys to take Mary to places where the craftsmen did “card-making, . . .enamelling, gold-beateing”,[13] and it seems clear her tastes were much more artistic than culinary. Under these circumstances, it is probably safe to say that when Pepys put a cookbook in his library, it was because he believed it was a useful addition for him, not because he expected the women of his household to consult them.

Although it might not seem so at first sight, reinforcement for this view comes when one looks at who cooked the meals. In this respect, as in so many others, the management of the Pepys household was very much in the mainstream of middle class Londoners of his era.[14] The goal was, with the exception of areas in which to master or mistress of the house had talents and interests, to have servants do as much of the physical work as possible. During the period of the diary there was no household staff described as a cook, but rather for financial reasons there were a whole series of women called cookmaids. In theory these people assisted Elizabeth in meal preparation and clean-up, but in fact they also did the cooking itself: “and for a cook-maid, we have ever since Bridget went used a black-moore of Mr. Batelier’s (Doll), who dresses our meat mighty well and we mightily pleased with her”[15] There are a very few places in the diary where Pepys mentions Elizabeth participating in meal preparation, but they mainly appear in the first volume when it is clear that she is in the process of learning what to do and how to do it. In early 1660 Pepys records that “. . .my wife dressed the remains of a turkey and in doing of it she burned her hand.”[16] In February, she slaughtered a turkey and in June it was six pigeons.[17] Later that year when they were in their new quarters in a government owned house inside the London city walls he observed that “. . .I find my wife making of pyes and tarts to try her oven with (which she hath never yet done);”[18]. After 1660 the comments on Elizabeth’s cooking are sparse, and there is the sense that she cooked only under extraordinary conditions. In 1663 Pepys mentions that one evening “. . .at 9 a-clock had a good supper of a Oxes cheek of my wife’s dressing and baking.”[19]

As time went on and Pepys’ status and income rose, Elizabeth played an even less active role. As early as March 26, 1662, Pepys notes that “We had a man-cook to dress dinner today, and sent for Jane to help us.”[20] On December 24, 1666 he went “. . .home to supper (my people busy making mince pies)...”[21] A month earlier he “bespoke” a cook to “dress” his upcoming dinner.[22]

During the era when Mary Skinner lived with Pepys, and when his fortune was quite respectable,[23] a cook is one of the servants listed as belonging to the household.[24] The editor of Pepys’s’s correspondence identifies one Mary Ashman as the cook in October, 1700.[25] This development presumably means that Mary Skinner needed to involve herself less intimately in daily meal preparation than Elizabeth had done. The one reference to Mary in the kitchen comes from September, 1700 when Pepys says “. . .she is this very moment gone to see what by her orders she can do towards makeing it [their recently renovated residence] fitt for her eating her goose in it upon Michaelmas-day”.[26] While not entirely unambiguous, the way Pepys described matters does make it sound as if Mary Skinner planned to supervise what others did rather than do it herself.

If the women are excluded as the users of the cookbooks, did Pepys require these volumes because he prepared meals himself? To Pepys a meal meant a dinner served at mid-day consisting of at least six or seven different items and it also meant the diners equaled the number of dishes served.[27] On many occasions what Pepys did was pick up prepared dinners from one of the local cookshops, the seventeenth century equivalent of take out restaurants.[28] Yet neither in the diary nor in subsequent correspondence did he ever give even a hint that he played any role in the preparation of home cooked dinners. However, much as American men of the modern era occasionally take charge of barbequing the chicken on the outdoor grill, Pepys would occasionally participate in the preparation of poultry: “And by and by comes my wife by coach well home; and having got a good fowle ready for supper against her coming, we eat heartily;. . .”[29] Beyond that, about all one finds are hints (but no direct comments) that he occasionally fixed a snack for himself of bread and cheese and at least contemplated doing something more complex.[30]

One piece of physical evidence remains for discussion. None of the cookbooks in the Pepys collection show the stains and wrinkles generally associated with a book that is actually kept and used in the kitchen. The logical conclusion is that Pepys fell well short of being a chef and he did not use the cookbooks to help him or the women of the household prepare meals. Then what is left?

With Pepys food needed a sense of system and order just like his other interests did. He felt he had to know the basic parts before he could make sense of the whole. He was fascinated with the inner workings of everything from ships to watches:

 

. . . I to my Lord Brouncker and there spent the evening, by my desire, in seeing his Lordship open to pieces and make up again his Wach [sic], thereby being taught what I never knew before; and it is a thing very well worth my having seen, and am mightily pleased and satisfied with it.[31]

 

Using this model, these four little cookbooks in his library provided him with the inner workings of his kitchen. While these volumes lacked the marks of a working cookbook, they nonetheless served a practical purpose. Just as Pepys needed to know what made his watch tick, he used these books to find out what went into the making of his food, why it tasted the way it did.

Quite unexpectedly, they also illustrate his principle of collecting the most information in the least space possible. Even without consideration of Evelyn’s and Ribou’s books, the relatively small collection of recipes contained in those four pamphlet sized books have a fair amount of variation in their description of how items should be prepared. For example the recipes for a sack posset in The Gentlewomans Cabinet Unlocked on page 12 is rather different from the same dish as described on pages 2 and 3 of The Compleat Cook-Maid. Pepys thus had a fine opportunity to make comparisons and satisfy his intellectual curiosity about things that touched his everyday life and to do it efficiently.

It is also significant that food was a source of pleasure for him and he associated it with other pleasurable things from good conversation, to good wine to extra-marital sex.[32] To put it another way, food made Pepys merry and bundling some of his books about food together with other merriments fits nicely with his outlook on the subject.

Evelyn’s Acetaria presents a different set of questions from the other English printed works. The first is, given Pepys’ well known delight in beef, game, poultry and seafood,[33] why the interest in a book about salads and their ingredients? This inquiry leads to a related one: with all that Evelyn published on the topic of food and gardening, why did Pepys choose this particular book?

By the time Acetaria was published Pepys and Evelyn, the two most famous English diarists of the later seventeenth century, had known one another for over thirty years. Virtually from Pepys’s first recorded meeting with his counter-part in 1665, he admired the man: [http://www.gardenvisit.com/b/evelyn.htm] “In fine, a most excellent person he is, and must be allowed a little for a little conceitedness; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others.”[34]

As the opening of this article indicates, the feeling was mutual.[35] In their diaries each man recorded numerous encounters when they shared a meal and they also exchanged many letters in which dining is mentioned. Yet with one small exception,[36] it is the content of the conversation that each diarist records, not what was served at the meal or its quality. This situation does not mean that the subject of food never came up between the two of them. In one of their earliest encounters Pepys mentions a journey in Evelyn’s coach in which “all the way having fine discourse of Trees and the nature of vegetables.”[37] [http://www.accd.edu/sac/english/bailey/ evelyn.htm]

In some respects the subject of that conversation seems to run against the perceptions that several authors had of Pepys. As they saw him, when it came to food, he was mainly interested in consuming animals rather than plants.[38] There is no question that during the period of the first diary the references to fruits, vegetables and salad are few and far between. Yet Pepys gives indications that he may have eaten more of this type of food than he recorded. In May, 1663, Pepys encounters the earl of Carlingford [Theobald Taffe] who personally “made a dish with egges of the butter of the Sparagus [asparagus]; which is a very fine meat, [solid food] which I will practise hereafter.”[39]

Three years later he mentions having asparagus as a late night snack,[40] an indication that it must have been a fairly common household item. Earlier that same year, he noted how the Anglo-Dutch War had disrupted the supply of what he calls “China” oranges and how they had become quite rare.[41] If Pepys did not care about eating oranges, why make the comment?

This pattern continued in later years. In his Tangier diary, the specifics of his meals are not often mentioned, but two of the times he makes a positive comment about what he ate it was about the grapes and pomegranates.[42] For reasons of health Pepys may well have preferred his fruits and vegetables cooked, or at least pickled, rather than raw. Yet with the single exception of when he mentioned cucumbers supposedly poisoning someone,[43] Pepys has nothing negative to say about fruits and vegetables. The way was open for further exploration.

The year that Acetaria was published, 1699, an interesting conjunction of events appears in Pepys’s correspondence. In July he wrote to the former poet laureate, John Dryden, extending an invitation “to cold Chicken and a Sallade, any Noone after Sunday. . .”[44] In December he sent a letter to his nephew, who as mentioned earlier was traveling on the continent. It contained a request on behalf of Pepys’s good friend the earl of Clarendon [Henry Hyde] “who you know is a great saladist and a curious. It is (to use his phrase) that you would dust your letters to me with Roman lettice-seed;. . .”[45]

When at the very end of the century salads showed signs of becoming fashionable among members of Pepys’s refined set of intellectual friends, it seems safe to say that he was fully prepared to include these salads and their ingredients in the circle of items worthy of his intellectual curiosity.

As for Acetaria itself, in it Evelyn pays considerable attention to ways of pickling vegetables and he even tries to put to rest the idea that cucumbers are poisonous.[46] It was almost as if he was writing with Pepys’s interests in mind. Such was not the case with the other botanical books Evelyn either wrote or edited. [http://portico.bl.uk./exhitions/evelyn] Acetaria is one of the few in which he discusses the way food is served almost as much as the way it is grown. As a Londoner who never had any significant space on which to do his own gardening, this book touched Pepys’s life more directly than any of Evelyn’s others.

When it comes to touching Pepys’s interests, the French book by Jean Ribou is the keystone. Here the French origins of the books matter. Especially when dealing with the aristocratic and other privileged classes of Western Christian society, cooking in the national manner appears rather late.[47] It was not until the sixteenth century that English recipes identified dishes as done in the French manner. For example, A Proper New Booke of Cokerye, first published in 1545, has a recipe for a tart that is made “after the Frenche Fashyan”.[48] While Pepys never abandons his taste for what was by then the identifiably English manner of cooking, all through his diary he shows a fascination with the French dining style. Not only was French food itself becoming something different, but so was the way it was served. They brought the dishes to the table one course at a time rather than the English custom of presenting them all at once.[49] The English were also beginning to copy the continentals, especially the French, in using forks as opposed to fingers to lift food from their plates to their mouths. As with so much else in his life, Pepys’s interests here concern the form as well as the substance. Particularly for formal meals, the table had to look orderly: “. . . was mightily pleased with the fellow that came to lay the cloth and fold the napkins -- which I like so well, as that I am resolved to give him 40 s(hillings) to teach my wife to do it.”[50]

The Ribou book touches on all these areas that fascinated Pepys. It has five sections named for the chief officers of the French king’s household: the chamberlain or maître d’, the carver, the sommelier (who is responsible for more than the wine), the chef and the baker. Ribou then goes on to describe the duties of each of these individuals. The first three are very much concerned with presentation. The chamberlain lays out the table and determines where dishes are placed. The carver’s section describes the way to carve everything from pigs to fish and the sommelier is as much concerned with cutting fruits and vegetables in a decorative manner as he is with the wine. He is also the salad chef. It is only when the book reaches the master chef and the baker that the recipes begin in earnest. Clearly this book is the link that brings together the others in Pepys’s collection. Everything from meat to salad makes its appearance in Ribou and of equal importance, so does its orderly presentation to the diners.

Several overlapping patterns emerge when examining Pepys’s cookbooks. The first is that he collected items whose contents touched him in some rather direct fashion. His interests focused on turning theory into practice. As befits a long standing member of the Royal Society, he was also willing to experiment with his diet and to gradually add new elements to it. These elements included both new foods and food from other nations. And finally, the way a meal looked and how it came to the table mattered to him. At a time in English history when new ideas challenged those of previous generations, but did not immediately displace them, Pepys was very much a man of his times. And when it came to his cookbooks, did he hold true to his principle? Did he collect the fewest books and in the least room the greatest diversity of subjects, styles and languages he could manage? Yes, as it turns out, he did.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Davidson, Caroline. A Woman’s Work is Never Done, a history of housework in the British Isles 1650-1950. London: Chatto & Windus, 1982.

Driver, Christopher and Berriedale-Johnson, Michelle. Pepys at Table. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

Earle, Peter. The Making of the English Middle Class. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989.

Evelyn, John. Acetaria. London: B. Tooke, 1699.

Evelyn, John. The Diary of John Evelyn. Edited by E. S. de Beer. 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Frere, Catherine F. (Editor). A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1913.

Mennell, Stephen. All Manners of Food. London: Basil Blackwell, 1985.

Ollard, Richard. Pepys. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1974.

Oxford, Arnold. English Cookery Books to the year 1850. London: Oxford University Press, 1977. Reprint of 1913 edition.

Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Edited by R. Latham and W. Matthews. 11 vols. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1970-1983.

Pepys, Samuel. Letters and Second Diary of Samuel Pepys. Edited by R. G. Howarth. London and Toronto: E. P. Dutton, 1933.

Pepys, Samuel. Private Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Samuel Pepys, 1679-1703... Edited by J. R. Tanner. 2 vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926.

Stone, Laurence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.



[1]Tanner 1926 vol. 2, 319-320

[2] Latham and Matthews vol. 1, xxviii and note 23

[3]. Vol. 10, 34 citing Private Correspondence, vol. 2, pp. 247-48.

[4] See Oxford 1977, 13-47 for a more extensive list.

[5] Latham and Matthews vol. 11, 106-110

[6] Howarth 1933, 379 ff

[7] Latham and Matthews vol. 1, 268

[8] 275

[9] One brother became a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge while the other, through Pepys influence, became a commercial mariner. Ollard 1974, 212 & Howarth 1933, 53 note 1 and 71

[10] Stone 1977, 204-05

[11] Tanner 1926 vol. 1, 230

[12] 359

[13] 167

[14] Earle 1989, 229

[15] Latham and Matthews vol. 9, 510 and vol. 10, 195. See also vol. 3, 301, vol. 4, 35 & 95

[16]Vol. 1, 3. The way in which Pepys uses the term “dressed” can mean to season and otherwise prepare an item for cooking, but it sometimes, as here, he seems to use it as a synonym for the cooking itself. It is possible he considered basting the turkey a form of dressing. About two decades after Pepys died, Richard Bradley in his translation of R. Chomel’s Dictionnaire Oeconomique described a stewing stove in a fireplace as “a sort of furnace where they dress pottages” which evidently has this second meaning. Davidson 1982, 47

[17] Latham and Matthews vol. 1, 41 & 189

[18] 291

[19] Vol. 4, 62

[20] Vol. 3, 53

[21] Vol. 7, 420

[22] 388

[23] Ollard 1974, 211

[24] Latham and Matthews vol. 10, 194

[25] Tanner 1926 vol. 2, 101 note 2

[26] 71

[27] Latham and Matthews vol. 8, 4 and vol. 9, 424

[28] Vol. 2, 234

[29] Vol. 4, 314. See also vol. 6, 335-36

[30] Vol. 3, 169 & 199

[31] Vol. 6, 337

[32] 335-36, vol. 1, 321 and vol. 8, 64

[33] Vol. 10, 143

[34] Vol. 6, 289-90

[35] De Beer 1955 vol. 5, 537-38

[36] Latham and Matthews vol. 9, 484

[37] Vol. 6, 253

[38] Vol. 10, 143 and Driver and Berriedale-Johnson 1984, 8-9

[39] Latham and Matthews vol. 3, 75

[40] Vol. 7, 120

[41]41. 67

[42] Howarth 1933, 392 & 393

[43] Latham and Matthews vol. 10, 145-46 and vol. 4, 285

[44] Howarth 1933, 281

[45] Tanner 1926 vol. 1, 249

[46] J.[ohn] E.[velyn] 1699), Appendix and 20-22 & 77

[47] Mennell 1985), 40

[48] Frere 1913, 45

[49] Latham and Matthews vol.9, 423-24 and vol. 10, 144

[50] Vol. 9, 423