Pancheons, gills and syllabubs from under the cow – on the difficulties of translating old cookery books – English version

Note: Although I would never translate from German to English, I decided to write some of my posts in English – so I apologize for any odd words, constructions or grammar in advance.

I love to read cookery books – some of them are more interesting than crime novels. And some of them even might give you a little bit of insight to culinary preferences, customs and social interaction.

Just imagine stumbling upon a sentence like the one taken from  SEVENTY-FIVE RECEIPTS FOR PASTRY CAKES, AND SWEETMEATS BY MISS LESLIE, OF PHILADELPHIA. 1832  in a modern cookery book:

“[The recipes] are drawn up in a style so plain and

minute, as to be perfectly intelligible to servants, and persons

of the most moderate capacity.”
Says a lot about the author and her thinking about lower classes.  Not very nice, but, nevertheless, fascinating.

I decided to translate some of these old treasure troves, full of interesting recipes, the occasional hint at society and the advice given to the “saving housekeeper”.

But after reading a variety of the books written by Mrs. Beeton or Hannah Glasse, I realised that this is quite more challenging than I expected. A gill? Easy, roughly 118 ml, but a hogshead? A teacup – how big were they in comparison to a cup; what is the difference between a tablespoon and a rounded tablespoon? And these are only some of the problems I stumbled upon.

Kitchen utensils: a dry cow? What? A pancheon or a porringer? I had no idea.

I am beginning to realise that this will take a lot of time and effort.

Take a look at one rather interesting method of preparation:

A Worcestershire Syllabub:  Fill your Syllabub-pot with Cyder, put in a good Quantity of Sugar, and a little Nutmeg; stir these well together; then put in as much thick Cream by two or three Spoonfuls at a time, as if you were milking it; then stir it round very gently, and let it stand two Hours, then eat it. If it be in the Field, only milk the Cow into the Cyder, &c. and so drink it. John Nott The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary London 1723 S. 189.
Quite appaling idea, isn’t it? Not to mention the fact that only a small percentage of people have a cow in their garden nowadays.

And who really washes their butter before using it? We buy our butter in the supermarket, clean, ready to use.

More mysteries to solve:

How does the milk or butter used in the recipes from modern milk. Do we have to substitute part of the milk with cream to get the same result?  They used fresh, creamy milk; there was no homogenised or low-fat milk.

Eggs – which kind of eggs did they use? How big were they – and how was the taste? Sometimes recipes dare you to use only freshly laid eggs. Not easy without having a chicken next to your cow in your tiny patch of garden.
Flour: Our modern flour is much finer in structure than it was at the time when the recipes were written down. And, to make things even more complicated, German flour is categorised according the “ash” it contains, whereas American flour is categorised according to the protein it contains. So, which flour will be the most accurate to use?

As you can see, an enormous project – and I still love it.

I will publish some chapters in the next months and I will – provided that I do not need my own cow –
try to cook some meals from the book and tell you about the results.


Pancheon – A shallow dish used to stand milk while the cream separates, or in which to bake bread. [Definition taken from Wiktionary]
Teacup – equals roughly  ¾ cup, ca. 177 ml.

Hogshead –   1 hogshead  translates to roughly  238 liter. (and 2 hogshead are a butt!)
Daisy beater –   ancient egg beater, looks like a spatula with big holes.

Dry cow – This device is first mentioned in print by William Salmon in the 2nd edition of The Family Dictionary published in 1696 – “squirt your Milk and Cream into the Pot, with a wooden Cow, sold at the Turners”. In another recipe which Salmon added to the 4th edition of 1710, we are clearly told that this mysterious instrument was a syringe – “squirt the Milk and Cream into the Pot with a wooden Syring” This was probably like a modern bicycle or stirrup pump and may have been related to a device called a butter squirt, used in the kitchen for making syringe fritters and jemelloes”[Source:  Ivan Day, 1996 ]






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