There are few keen cooks who do not collect recipes as they go along in life. A friend’s cake scribbled down on a scrap of paper, a page torn out and treasured from a newspaper. For Lady Clark of Tillypronie, a well-travelled diplomats wife, and friend of the American author Henry James, collecting recipes was more than just a keen interest; it was a way of life. Inspired by her father’s love of French cuisine, Lady Clark collected cooked and annotated over three thousand pages of manuscripts and recipes between 1841 and 1897, including many from her time spent living in France and Italy.
Many of the recipes she collected were reproduced for friends and family in her home at Tillypronie near Aberdeen. Four years after her death, in June 1901 Lady Clark’s husband Sir John Clark, wrote a letter to Catherine Frere, an intimate acquaintance of his late wife, asking her to put together a book using his wife’s notebooks and hundreds loose recipe notes. He refers affectionately to his wife as having been “an exceptionally widely read woman, gifted with fine literary taste and judgment,” with “a singularly accurate and retentive memory and great conversational powers,” and trusted that Catherine would do justice to the fact that his wife was interested in more then just culinary conversation.
For the next eight years Catherine Frances Frere meticulously catalogued the recipes, and removed all recipes “traced to a published source.” In 1909 the most thorough of books called The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie was published with a fantastic collection of recipes spanning the latter half of the 19th century. The recipes are delightfully straight forward. I love that the origins and dates of the recipes have been included through out, with charming recipes such as Rhubarb Jam (Mrs Davidson, Coldstone Manse. 1886) and Buttermilk scones (Mrs Wellington 1880.) Lady Clark’s Collection of recipes were from every walk of life and originated from just about anyone who had a great recipe. From professional cooks, servants, the aristocracy, politicians and even royalty Lady Clark would, if a dish interested her would “cross examine the artist the next day,” and according to her husband they “rarely failed to give the best of his knowledge and experience.”
As a baker I am most interested in the first 4 sections, which cover baking powder, barm, yeast, bread and cakes. With recipes for buns, scones, teacakes, waffles and biscuits I have found an enchanting recipe for Balmoral Dessert biscuits (From H.M. the Queen’s baker, Balmoral Castle 1856.) I love the idea of baking the same biscuits that the royal baker baked for Queen Victoria.
The section on yeast is perhaps the most fascinating, with a dozen well written yeast recipes including Lord Cochrane’s yeast that was used in China, and a ginger yeast recipe marked “Excellent!” by Lady Clark, given by Florence Nightingales father (Mr Nightingale, Leahurst.)
This extraordinary book is a delight to cook from. Catherine Frances diligence in putting together this vast collection of recipes resulted in one of the most charming, straightforward and thorough recipe books of the late nineteenth century with recipes that are still remarkably very useable today.