There are certain words I love to use. Trifecta is one of them. It is a juicy plum of a word for me. The definition of trifecta In Webster’s Dictionary: “a variation of the perfecta in which a bettor wins by selecting the first three finishers of a race in the correct order of finish … a show-business trifecta: a platinum record, hit TV series, and an Oscar”. What it has come to mean to me is something that appeals on many important levels.
Petworth House offered me the promise of hitting on all cylinders because it has a room full of carvings by Grinling Gibbons –– a HUGE love of mine, a passel of JMW Turner paintings –– another HUGE love of mine who actually stayed at the house for a chunk of time and finally, an amazing kitchen full of a staggering collection of copper with a bain-marie that makes me faint with delight every time I look upon it –– and then there’s the history, whoa, this place and the family behind it has history. The Percy family is unequivocally goldwork on the fabric of English History. Even Shakespeare sang the praises of the Percys through his Hotspur in Henry IV pt 1.
Hotspur’s Banner, Captured by the Earl of Douglas, 1388
The Percys have been associated with many of the great estates of England –– just in Northumberland where it was said, “The North knows no prince but a Percy” because of the vastness of their holdings there is Alnwick, Langley, Prudhoe, Newburn, Tynemouth and Warkworth. A branch of the Percy family has been at Petworth since 1150 when they came to England from France with William the Conquerer, becoming the Earls of Northumberland in 1377. With such an ancient lineage, there have been many forks in the line with direct male descendants dying without issue and daughters, cousins and husbands picking up the standard and continuing the Percy name or inheriting Percy estates.
In 1682, Elizabeth Percy married the 6th Duke of Somerset, a vile character known as “the Proud Duke” ( he disinherited a daughter for sitting without permission even though he had been snoozing), and they finished the giant new Petworth (inspired by Versailles) in 1702 with the help of such monumental talents as Capability Brown designing the gardens and Grinling Gibbons, carving his heart out in the “Carved Room” at Petworth, a room that Horace Walpole called “the most superb monument of his skill.”
I was still having focus issues with my camera when I finally got to see the carved room so couldn’t take the pictures I had hoped. There is really no way to capture the intricacies of what you see without doing dozens of photos since it is such remarkable work. I wish I’d had focus, a macro lens and a ladder.
Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) by Godfrey Kneller
Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving is one of my favorite books. I never tire of revisiting his work and have a little shivers of pleasure when I find it on my way to other books on my shelves and give it a peek before moving on. I remembered reading that Gibbon’s signature was a peapod carved into his pieces. If it was open, he had been paid for his work, closed meant he was waiting for his money –– a small personal joke.
Let’s be honest, when is a room is so beloved that an artist paints to fit the spaces, it says a lot about the room. Not just any painter mind, but JMW Turner, a serious contributor to my Petworth trifecta.
The Carved Room, used as a dining room through the 19th century - see the Turners below the portraits?
Carved Room, photo by Malcom Bull
The Lake, Petworth Sunset, Fighting Bucks 1829
Brighton from the Sea, 1829
Turner painted to fit the room –– the Turner frames were carved by Jonathan Ritson to compliment the Gibbings carvings
See the difference between the Gibbons carving above and Ritson’s work underneath?
Third Earl of Egremont, George Wyndham
The last inhabitants of Petworth before it was given to the National Trust were from the Wyndham line – the Earls of Egremont (later when there was no legitimate heir, a less than legitimate son was named Lord Leconfield after a Percy fortress).
After the death of the 7th Duke of Northumberland in 1750, Petworth went to his nephew, Sir Charles Wyndham, the 2nd Earl of Egremont. It was the 3rd Earl of Egremont who was JMW Turner’s patron. His time there was referred to as the golden age of Petworth.
Turner by John Gilbert, 1846
Long cellar at Petworth, Turner 1835
Painter and his Admirers, 1830
He bought his first Turner in 1802, the Old Library was called “Turner’s Studio” and contrary to the impression given in the painting above, Turner would only allow Egremont to enter the room when he was working.
Current dining room, rather bland and disappointing
George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont was known as a superlative host and all around wonderful fellow who kept his 43 mostly illegitimate children running about the house along with some of his mistresses. He loved children, lived to a ripe old age, was an innovative land owner, treated his servants and tenants with respect and nurtured artists by putting them up and giving them room to paint in magnificent surroundings. Benjamin Haydon wrote of his stay there, “ At dinner he meets everybody & then are recounted the feats of the day! All principal dishes he helps, never minding the trouble of carving! He eats heartily & helps liberally. There is plenty, but not absurd profusion – good wines, but not extravagant waste. Everything solid, liberal, rich and English.” It was said he “spent in the course of sixty years in acts of charity and liberality, upwards of one million two hundred thousand pounds…”
Time to think about food isn’t it? What better place to start than the kitchen. Petworth kitchen is set in separate quarters behind the house. A splendid huge building with many rooms for various kitchen needs like meat storage, pastry and baking, scullery as well as adorable staff quarters. Unlike Ham House, this is a kitchen for huge dinners like the famous one his lordship gave for 6000 of the poorer residents of his neighborhood in 1834 (he actually helped serve too!0. You could cook a lot of food well in a kitchen like this.
My much loved bain marie perfect for all your sauces
A room just for pastry making
A superior spit
Knife sharpener – the latest thing!
What to make for a house like this? Well something English but with a continental edge.
Alexis Soyer (1810- 58) was the celebrity chef of England in the early 19th century. He cooked for royalty but also tried to improve the food for the troops and teach the less-well-off how to make tastier and healthier food. After a sort of drab period for food around the turn of the 19th century, Soyer made fine food with interesting touches. It wasn’t all roasts and gravies and puddings anymore.
He seemed a great choice for a dish to eat at Petworth, delicious but not stuffy –– definitely "solid, liberal, rich and English."
I found a recipe for apples in his Gastronomic Regenerator from 1847 that just sounded divine and was. It's sort of a tarte tatin filling that's breaded and fried. I loved them as small bites of caramel apple goodness with a bit of rum for good measure –– the orange addition is fabulous with the luxurious apple filling and the crispy crust and if I may say, Aftelier's new Blood orange spray will rock your world, I love her products. It goes on like fairy dust and leaves just a hint of orange –– magic on the apple croquettes. This is a great apple dessert that I added to my favorites list immediately –– perfect way to get kids to eat a good portion of fruit too... they are 90% apple.
They are a breeze to make. You can do most of the work before hand and then fry them for a few minutes before serving. Fabulous!
Apple Croquettes (makes about 30)
1 c sugar
1 c water
6 Grannie Smith apples, cored, peeled and sliced
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t nutmeg
4 - 6 T dark rum
2 c bread crumbs
fat for frying (lard is recommended)
Aftelier Blood Orange Spray or mix 1 or 2 drops Aftelier Petitgrain (another orange flavor) essence, mixed in the powdered sugar an hour before serving.
1 cup powdered sugar
Heat the water and sugar to about 290º. This should take around 10 minutes at a medium heat. The sugar should be rubbery when you take it out of the pan on a spoon. It should have changed from larger bubbles to smaller ones. Mine took on a slightly caramel-ish scent (I use unbleached sugar).
Add the apples and spices and cover. Let cook about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring every few minutes. The mixture will be quite thick. Stir to remove any recognizable apple pieces. Cool. This step can be done in advance.
Heat the fat to a good medium heat. Whisk the egg with 3 T of the rum. Take the apple mix and gently roll it in the egg. It will be soft but will work if you keep them small (about 1 1/2"). Roll this in the breadcrumbs to make a ball and drop into the hot fat. Fry till golden brown and serve hot. Just before serving, dunk the bottom of each fritter in rum, plate and spray with blood orange spray. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.