Friday, February 3, 2017

The Country Housewife, Richard Bradley and Crisp Fried Quail


While noodling around on the Thomas Gloning antique cookbook site looking for a recipe,  I discovered Richard Bradley and his book, The Country Housewife and Lady´s Director (1728 -32).  It had many invaluable tips on food, housekeeping, health and gardening –– I loved it.

A Gentleman of the 1720’s – there is no image of Bradley I could find

But once I started reading about Bradley, I couldn’t stop – such a fascinating man. My first stop was a piece on a wonderful site called British Food in America. It began as an article about Bradley’s unorthodox red bean ketchup but flowered into a lengthy tale about Mr. Bradley. The author must have been caught unawares as I was and just had to do more than the required cursory mention of the recipe’s author. After reading the article, I too wanted more. I read contemporary letters, articles and academic papers about him and was intrigued. The recipes are a blast too.

From the History of the Royal Society w. Francis Bacon and King Charles, 1660

What sets him apart from the cookbook authors of the day is that he wasn’t a cook at all. No, he was a botanist! In the first years of the 18th century, botany was a favorite hobby of the upper classes with money enough for the education, travel and experimentation necessary to indulge their botanical pursuits. Poor Mr. Bradley was not rich but he was an inspired observer. He couldn’t afford a university education and found himself rather unfairly pilloried –– his fine accomplishments mocked by his lofty peers who thought it gauche that he had to make a living. It was thought a man without a proper education couldn’t best one that did – period. The Sloane Letters quoted the Royal Society about Bradley, complaining that, “… his ignorance of Latin and Greek and his failure to perform his duties caused great scandal”


Fortunately, Bradley had a few esteemed patrons who admired his natural gifts and gave him helping hands that went so far as to arrange his acceptance into the Royal Society at 24 (extremely rare for an uneducated man). Men like collector James Petiver helped him to travel to the Netherlands with an introduction to a pioneer in the field of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  (a trip Bradley helped pay for by drawing bugs and pretending to be a physician), and the royal physician and owner of the vast collection that began the British Museum, Hans Sloane. Sloane got him a prestigious if unpaid posting to Cambridge University as the first professor of botany at the age of 36. Poor Bradley had to publish or perish and was, at the best of times, just a short scratch ahead of penury (he was forever borrowing money from his patrons and publishers - one of his letters began, “Since the Unfortunate Affair in Kensington whereby I lost all my Substance, My Expectations and my friends”).

Publish he did, and Bradley came up with some fine work – most especially the theory that tiny “microscopic agents” transmitted disease in man, beast and plant. In 1721, Bradley wrote, “we may learn, that all Pestilential Distempers, whether in animals or plants, are occasion’d by poisonous insects.” It was revolutionary to postulate that the afflictions of all living things in the natural world were caused by microbes. The author of the British Food in America piece concluded, “In the estimation of the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, “he was an enterprising, open-minded naturalist who succeeded in disseminating his many and diverse thoughts on how plants and animals live and interact.”
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It’s sad that John Martyn, a distinctly Salieri-like successor to Bradley's Botany chair at Cambridge, successfully destroyed Bradley’s reputation (this information comes from Raymond Williamson’s, “John Martyn’) The slander was published in the infamous Grub-Street Journal - written mostly by hack writers of low character – like Martyn). Less talented but full of envy and vitriol, John Martyn penned numerous scurrilous tracts for the "Grub Street Journal" and took every opportunity to condemn Bradley’s work. Martyn accused Bradley of not teaching his classes, being too modern and not respecting the classics and especially not getting a botanic garden planted at Cambridge – making it hard for Martyn to teach botany properly. No mind that Bradley died young (only teaching for 6 years), or that during that time, Bradley diligently but unsuccessfully tried to secure private funds when the money for the garden he had been promised by Cambridge was not forthcoming. Martyn had money and taught for 29 years and didn’t get a garden built either – it was still all Bradley’s fault as far as he was concerned!

Illustration of Bradley’s Kaleidoscope at work 

Bradley accomplished much in his short life.  He was an inventor  (he came up with a simple kaleidoscope that was like a book that could be placed on a drawing and create marvelous designs – perfect for the baroque garden),  he founded the first British horticultural periodical,  "The General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening" (1721-23), he was a pioneering epidemiologist and was one of  the earliest subscribers to the concept of connectedness of nature, revealing “ all Bodies have some Dependence upon one another; and that every distinct Part of Nature’s Works is necessary for the support of the Rest; and that if any one was wanting, all the Rest must be out of Order.” For instance, he realized birds were friends to farmers, not pests as they ate the insects that ate the crops. He realized that that cover crops like clover can restore soil fertility.  He thought about managing forests and believed in the concept of ecological diversity before there was a name for it. His way of thinking paved the way for the field of ecology.

Country Housewife Frontispiece 

This holistic approach came across in The Country Housewife. Part I is devoted to seasonal foods and recipes but also had observations on farming and animals –– the book was addressed to the women of the house: 

"The Reason which induces me to address the falling Piece to the Fair Sex, is, because the principal Matters contained in it are within the Liberty of the Province, The Art of Oeconomy is divided as Xenophon tells us, between the Men and the Women; the Men have the most dangerous and laborious Share of it in the Fields, and without doors, and the Women have the Care and Management of every Business within doors, and to see after the good ordering of whatever is belonging to the house."

Part II had more new reader’s suggestions for more recipes. He gives advice on planting and even bees but his recipes for “flesh, fish, fowl, fruit and Herbs, which are the Productions of a Farm, or from any Foreign Parts” are quite something. He also explains “the other Reason which as induced me to publish this Piece is, the Difficulties I have undergone in my Travels, when I have met with good provisions, in many Places in England, which have been murder’d in the dressing”. He hoped that it would “improve the Ignorant, and remind the Learned how and when to make the best of every thing: which may be a means of providing every one with a tolerable Entertainment founded upon practice and Fashion; which can never fail of Followers, and of making us fare much better upon the Roads in the Country than we were used to do.” See, he was also quite modern in his belief that you should not adulterate a quality ingredient and that foods had optimal seasons that varied from place to place.


The book begins with January and a treatise on the physical characteristics of all varieties of pigeons from Barbary to Carrier to Turbit and concludes with some fine recipes for the little birds. February is about the fowl and bird eggs and what to do with them but then gives soup recipes and even one for orange wine.  March is fish but also includes a long piece on brewing. You get the idea. Bradley was a polymath with varied interests that he felt would instruct and inform a susceptible lady of the house (and the man of the house as well). The book is 428 pages long and I recommend it for things like marigold or sage cheese, gooseberry wine, Usquebaugh, spirit of lily of the valley, beet-green tart and dozens of recipes for game birds.


Although I don’t have a pigeon today, I do have D’Artagnan’s French Quails and I wanted to make one of Bradley's many bird recipes –– one stuck out particularly. 


After poaching in aromatic stock, the bird is breaded and fried -- it's a great dish. The meat is tender and juicy and so flavorful and that poaching stock is just heaven. Do yourself a favor and look through his book -- you will be surprised by how many fine recipes reside there. For you gardeners, his other books are available online and are interesting reading. 


Another Way of Dressing Quail, serves 2

2  French quail
1 piece bacon, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a sprig of basil
3 sprigs marjoram
a few slices of onion about the size of your thumb
4 cloves
S&P
4 c stock (I saved up my game bird carcasses and made a small batch of stock -- it is superb)
1 T verjuice or 1 t of vinegar or more to taste – it’s just a suggestion not sour.
Egg, beaten
Bread crumbs (about 1 c)
Lard or duck fat  (you can deep-fry if you have enough fat, otherwise, a 6 tablespoons should do it.
Parsley for frying

Take the quail, stuff them with the bacon and herbs and the onion stuck with cloves and salt and pepper the bird inside and out Truss the legs to keep them together. Add the verjuice to the stock and heat to a low boil. Put the quail in and cover. Cook at a medium low heat for about 20 minutes covered (internal temperature around 150º or so.

Remove when done and allow to cool somewhat. Strain the stock and while the birds fry, reduce it somewhat to use for dipping – it is excellent. Heat the oil till hot – around 350º. Roll in the birds in the egg and then bread crumbs (I would roll in flour first, then egg then crumbs to make it adhere better). 

 Place the birds in the fat. Cook, turning till brown (if deep-frying, make sure the top is covered or turn in the fat. Remove from the fat and drain on paper towels. Serve the birds with fried parsley and the reserved and reduced cooking stock for dipping.