Cooking: Flour and Rice Puddings circa 1790.

The idea for these "Downstairs Dinners" for challenge #4.2 of Historic Food Fortnightly, comes from the menus of the Grey Coat school in York, 1794. This school was one of several charity schools in the city specifically designed to give poor girls the basic education and skills that would prevent them from living in the same poverty they were born into, or worse, falling into prostitution.

Charity schools were the precursor to free public education we enjoy today. Run and funded but both religious organizations and private groups, the schools had to regularly account for their spending. These accounts can range from boring bean counting, to the more interesting, detailed variety. The “Account of Two Charity Schools for the Educations of Girls” by Catharine Cappe, herself a member of the “friendly society of women” which helped reform Th Grey Coat School (one of the schools in question) falls into the latter, more interesting category.

Rather than simply account for the spending of the school, Cappe discusses the changes made when the management of the school was taken over by her group of women, hints at why these changes were needed & even touches on why she feels their methods were more successful in educating the girls. In reading her account, I get the distinct feeling she is hinting at some small town gossip and politics without wanting to fully call people out. I’m not ashamed to say that it I am just a bit curious as to what really happened & would have loved to sit down over coffee with her to hear the real story!

Beyond discussing the running of the Grey Coat school, Cappe also details the basic clothing each girl was given, the expectations of each class and the rewards the girls earned based on their successful spinning & weaving. She even touches on why they choose a reward based system rather than a punitive one. This is great information for anyone wondering what was considered “essential” for growing children in the late 18th century or anyone trying to outfit a growing reenactor child. Even more interesting though, Cappe calculates the average costs for educating a girl at the school from age 9-17 (65£  per girl per year) and compares that to the money those girls were earning from the sale of their spinning & knitting (120£ yearly). If that isn’t a good way to prove your school is working & to get your donations flowing, I don’t know what is.
Weekly Menu of the Grey Coat School, York. 1794.

While the administration of the school is interesting from a material culture & social perspective, the best parts of this book is the dinner menu & appendix of selected recipes. The meal plan is incredibly simple in what it allows & especially in what it doesn’t: only 2 meat meals per week (later raised to three) & no “tea, sugar, butter, eggs or beer”. This simplicity is understandable though. After all, they are feeding 44 people, including students and their 4 teachers, on only 3d. per day! The book also includes an appendix with recipes for select meals on the menu. While no modern person wants to attempt living on the ½ pound of bread per meal that the girls at the Grey Coat school averaged, it is worth the attempt to make a few of these basic recipes. I decided to start with the “Baked Flour or Rice Pudding” they had for dinner Wednesdays.

Since the Grey Coat menu appendix doesn’t include recipes for the rice pudding, I had to search my trusty 18th century cookbooks instead. Frustratingly, most of the recipes in my cookbooks are for much fancier dishes than would have likely been served to the girls at the school. For one, most include butter, sugar & eggs, three foods we know were “prohibited”. It’s not clear if butter, eggs and sugar are prohibited entirely and not even used in recipes or only when given separately. While not specifically prohibited, it’s also not likely that rose water or many more expensive spices were a regular part of the regular menu either. In the interest of being thorough, I decided to try both a “simple” rice pudding, as well as ways to improve them for those of slightly less destitute means. After all, “plain, cheap” pudding might have kept the girls full, but they sure aren't crowd pleasers.

For the rice pudding, I ended up following Amelia Simmons recipe Number 5 (out of 6) for “A cheap one [rice pudding]”. I particularly like the simplicity of the directions, which amount to just dumping everything in a dish & baking it. That is exactly the level of labor I would put in if I was feeding 40 hungry kids at a charity school.

This recipe does include butter, however it doesn’t seem to add anything to the flavor or baking quality of the pudding, so it is really optional in my experience. While this pudding is nice, with a slightly sweet and warm flavor from the milk, it is very plain. Filling, but plain. I sprinkled a little sugar over mine & the taste was vastly improved. I also tried adding a touch of rosewater, so often suggested in other recipes, but was unimpressed as the rose added nothing to the flavor & completely overpowered my sense of sent at the same time. The plain version must not have been too bad though, when I came home the next day my man had eaten all the leftovers for lunch.

"Lumps of Pudding", William Heath, 1811.

A Cheap Baked Rice Pudding

Adapted from Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796.

1 cup rice
8 cups milk
Pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons butter (optional)
¼ teaspoon allspice or nutmeg (optional)
Sprinkle of sugar (optional)

A Cheap Baked Rice Pudding
Stir everything together directly in your baking dish. Bake in a preheated, 400 degree oven for 2 ½ hours or until the rice feels soft & most of the liquid has cooked out. Serve with butter and a sprinkle of sugar if desired.

I also wanted to try a flour pudding, a recipe which Cappe does include in her account of the school. I have made similar boiled puddings in the past but wanted to see if the extremely plain pudding served to the girls was just as good, and maybe worth adding to my camp recipe repertoire. Unfortunately, several of the ingredients in included recipe (suet & treacle) aren’t the easiest to source here in the states. I could, and might in the future, source these & try the original recipe, but at this time I was just trying to use what I had on hand.

The good news is that most of the recipe books I’d already referenced for the rice pudding, also include flour, or batter, puddings without these tricky ingredients. I mostly wanted to try this because they are not “pudding” the way most American’s define the food but more like Spotted Dick or boiled cake. I have a soft spot for foods that are defined differently here vs across the pond. It also helps that my man was utterly disgusted by simply the name “flour pudding”. I took that as a challenge to make one & prove that it’s not as bad as the name implies. So that’s where I focused my attempt. I say attempt, because it took 2 recipes and 4 different cooking methods to find something edible. So much for proving that a flour pudding isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Although I did try the boiled version as written, I ended up preferring a baked adaptation of the plain pudding recipe in Francis Collingwood’s 1806 cookbook. Frankly, the recipe as written tastes exactly how you would expect boiled flour to taste, like boiled flour. I appreciate that the girls at the Grey Coat School were there on charity and would have been, while not thrilled, at least content having anything to eat. It also makes sense as a way to maintain the economy of the school and being able to feed as many students as possible without seeming extravagant. However, as my man said “Well there is nothing for them to complain about because it tastes like...nothing.”

Plain Baked Pudding

Adapted from Francis Collingwood, The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper, 1806.

3 eggs
1 Cup Flour
Pinch of salt
1 C milk or cream
¼ Cup sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
A grating of nutmeg (optional)

Plain Baked Pudding, with butter & sugar. 
While testing these recipes, I quickly found myself with quite a few, not so tasty dishes that needed to be eaten. Never fear, while the girls at the Grey Coat School wouldn’t have had fancy sauces or other methods of improving their meager Wednesday supper, there were plenty of options for those with more means in the 18th century. Aside from simply sprinkling sugar or rose water on top of the finished puddings, you can add currants, raisins and even chopped apples; you can also vary the spices to include mace, nutmeg, cinnamon & even a “tincture of saffron” as Hannah Glasse suggests. There are variations using heavy cream in place of milk and more, or less eggs depending on if you live in the country where eggs are easy to acquire or in the city where you "are obliged to buy eggs". (Child)

My favorite method of improving these simple puddings though is by making a sweet sauce, such as the one suggested in Lydia Child’s “The Frugal Housewife”. While it seems strange to include more flour in a sauce for something made with flour in the first place, this actually helps create the smooth consistency when whisked together with boiling water & butter. The rose water very quickly overpowers the flavor though, so start sparingly. You can always add more. My man found this sauce “very sweet” even though I only added a tablespoon of sugar. I think this is entirely due to the aromatics of the rosewater. Frankly, this sauce completely saved the boiled plain pudding and made it seem almost fancy. You could easily forget that you are eating nothing but boiled flour.

Common Pudding Sauce

Adapted from Lydia Maria Child, The Frugal Housewife, 1829.

Plain Boiled Pudding with Common Pudding Sauce
1 Cup boiling water
2 tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons of butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
Rosewater & nutmeg to taste

Boil the water. Slowly whisk in the flour to prevent lumps. Whisk in the butter & sugar until melted. Flavor with rosewater & nutmeg to taste. Serve over any “common” type pudding.

Overall, each of these recipes was exactly the level of simple and inexpensive that you would expect for meals at a charity school in the late 18th century. In their most basic form they aren’t anything that modern day reenactors are going to come running for, but with a few modifications, they can be easily incorporated into everyday camp cooking while remaining true to their frugal history.

See you in the past!

Works Cited:

Cappe, Catharine. An Account of Two Charity Schools for the Educations of Girls: and of a Female Friendly Society in York: Interspersed with Reflections on Charity Schools and Friendly Societies in General. York: Blanchard, 1800.

Child. The Frugal Housewife .. Boston: Carter, Hendee and Babcock, 1829.

Collingwood, Francis. The Universal Cook, and City and Country Housekeeper: Containing All the Various Branches of Cookery ... Together with ... the Management of Poultry and the Dairy, Cookery for the Sick, Useful Directions for Servants ... and a Variety of Useful and Interesting Tables ... London: Printed for Scatcherd and Letterman, 1806.

Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy: Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind Yet Published: Containing ...: to Which Are Added, One Hundred and Fifty New and Useful Receipts, and Also Fifty Receipts for Different Articles of Perfumery: with a Copious Index. London: Printed for W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, J. Hinton, 1774.

Leslie, Eliza. Seventy-Five Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats. By a Lady of Philadelphia. Boston: Munroe & Francis, 1828.

Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery, or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables: and the Best Mode of Making Puff-Pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves and All Kinds of Cakes ..., 1796.