This week’s historical how-to takes a look at early vegetarian cooking. Although not a vegetarian myself, inspired by Vegetarian Week which has just passed, I thought I would delve into our collections for some veggie recipes.
Vegetarianism became more common in 19th century Britain with the first Vegetarian Society established in 1847. The definition of vegetarianism offered by the Society, as seen in one of the pamphlets written by the then vice-resident William Axon, was
the practice of living on the products of the Vegetable kingdom, with or without the addition of Eggs and Milk and its products (butter and cheese), to the exclusion of Fish, Flesh and Fowl.
There are connections between St Andrews and the Vegetarian Society as the 1905 Society Summer School was held in University Hall. A printed compilation of the recollections of some of the attendees can be found in the St Andrews Collection (StA TX392.B2V4).
This event also crops up in the manuscript collections in one of our commonplace books. Owned by Ethel Palmer, the commonplace book has a collection of poems and sketches (ms38882). One very pretty drawing of pansies has made use of the Vegetarian Summer School headed paper with the theme ‘Better Food – Kindlier Ways – Worthier Life’.
In my search for recipes one text which jumped out was Martha Brotherton’s Vegetable Cookery published in 1833. Martha was married to Joseph Brotherton MP for Salford in 1832, minister of the Bible Christian Church and a founding member of the Vegetarian Society. Members of the Bible Christian Church were committed to a vegetarian diet and abstinence from alcohol. The introduction to this text encourages the public to ‘relinquish’ the eating of meat as
a vegetable diet is more favourable to health, humanity and religion.
The text has a variety of recipes, most of which involve copious amounts of butter! Martha also included household tips from cleaning iron stoves to making your own furniture oil as well as remedies for coughs and colds to more series ailments such as poisoning!
The recipe I selected was Hotch-potch, a hearty veggie interpretation of the traditional meat hotch-potch recipe. I took a liberal interpretation of the quantities suggested since three turnips and ‘a pint and half of green peas’ seemed excessive for testing a recipe. After making the necessary preparations, I followed the instructions and boiled the veg until tender. Once done, the mixture was drained, and thrown into the frying pan with a generous portion of butter, salt, pepper and additional stewed veg.
The result was an edible, if bland, vegetable dish. It was sorely lacking some additional seasoning and herbs and although colourful it was not the prettiest of dishes. I am glad to say that the variety and innovation within vegetarian cooking has improved somewhat in the last 100 years!
I am not dismayed however and am keen to try some of the other recipes such as herb pudding or ‘refreshing’ salads. Why not join me and have a go at some of Martha Brotherton’s recipes.
Sarah Rodriguez– Reading Room Administrator