Inside Annie Gray’s Kitchen

1st May 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Noémie Reijnen

The food historian picks out an 18th-century wooden sorbetière, her key ingredients for cooking historic British food and “the single best cookbook ever”


Geo Watkins mushroom ketchup »
“Geo Watkins are the only people who make mushroom ketchup. It’s very 19th century and very nice. You can have it with everything – I use it to back up gravies and throw it into everything that’s slow cooked. It gives you instant umami. And it’s very good on cheese on toast.” – Annie

Tinned whole chestnuts by Clément Faugier »
“These are really useful. One of my favourite recipes is a Victorian sausage and chestnut stew.”

Bath gin »
“I love the label and the gin’s good too, it’s quite citrussy.”

Kusmi tea »
Annie has the Tsarevna blend: black tea, spices, orange. “This is lovely. I quite like my flavoured tea – I got into it when I was writing about tea for my PhD.”

Cayenne pepper, suet, butter
“You can’t live without cayenne if you’re cooking historic food. Eliza Acton uses it like it’s going out of fashion. I’m addicted to suet puddings at the moment, so suet is indispensible as well. And the other big things are parsley, eggs and butter. We go through blocks and blocks of butter. I get posh butter for the table for eating – the stuff with big salt crystals in. But for cooking I get something cheap. Butter is butter, most of the time.”

Basil wine
Annie lets us try some of her excellent basil wine – “one of my big successes” – adapted from a recipe for clary wine in A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell. (If you’re interested, it’s on page 254 of the Persephone Edition. Diverging from the recipe, Annie uses 4 pints of water, 1.5 pounds of sugar, 2 fluid ounces of liquid yeast, 0.8 pints of basil leaves. “Put them all in a demijohn, sealed, and leave for 4-6 months or until it start bubbling, then strain the liquid and add a quarter pint of brandy. It’s not difficult and it tastes great.” We second that last bit.)


Brass pestle and mortar »
“I’ve got a big brass pestle and mortar that’s really hardcore, because those crappy little ones you get today just don’t do the trick. You can get fairly violent with it and things don’t spray out too much. I don’t know how old it is – late 18th century probably.” – Annie

Kenwood stand mixer »
“Because life really is too short to beat eggs. I used to have my grandmother’s one but I blew it up making a Christmas cake. Victorian cakes don’t mix well. No one told me there was a load limit.”

Copper egg-mixing bowl
“Having said that life is too short to beat eggs, I love my copper egg-mixing bowls. I’ve got two; one was bought by a lovely friend who found it in a junk shop – the woman didn’t know what it was so she bought it giggling horrendously because it was £12. The other I found in the back of an antiques shop in Cotignac in southern France. If you see one for under £50, buy it. The proteins in the egg-white react with the copper. You get a very good foam and very solid excellent rise. The French call them cul de poule which translates as chicken’s arse. I don’t really know why.”

ProQ Cold Smoke Generator »
“The wardrobe in the garden is my smoking cabinet (it doubles up as a game larder). I got a ProQ smoking kit for Christmas years ago and dug it out when cold-smoking questions came up on The Kitchen Cabinet. Through the joy of Twitter lots of people gave me lots of advice, so I ended up smoking everything for a while: cheese, butter, pheasant, venison heart. I do a lot of fish in it. And Bath chaps, which you struggle to get hold of – I smoke mine as well as brining and boiling them.”

Flour shaker »
“Every kitchen should have a flour shaker – preferably an old one because the modern ones usually don’t work very well.”

Kitchen scissors »
“I use kitchen scissors a lot.”

Annie has an 18th-century wooden sorbetière that she uses at historic food events, but at home she improvises with a plastic bowl and a metal coffee canister. The wooden tamper pictured below is what she uses to crush ice.



Modern Cookery for Private Families, Eliza Acton »
“Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery is the single best cookbook ever. It’s brilliant. Mrs Beeton nicked all her recipes out of it. There are lots of different recipes and they’re easy to comprehend, plus it’s so modern. She’s a cake section where she says, ‘I don’t really cook cakes, they’re not good for you, sugar is poison.’ You think, wow, could have been written yesterday.” – Annie

Kitchen Secrets, Raymond Blanc »
“One of my go-to cookbooks: it’s got very good footnotes and tells you what you’re not doing when you decide to miss bits out.”

A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell »
“This was published in 1806 and is very good for those late-18th-century flavours. It’s quite rare to find original cooks in the past, a lot of them plagiarise others. Rundell was an original[footnote] I ask if the British cookbook market pre-20th century was dominated by women. Annie replies: “No, but we do have a really good set of women writers in this country and I think women do spearhead the market but they’re different to the male writers. You tend to find the male writers are writing for professional cooks and tend to be writing French-influenced recipes, whereas women tend to be writing for domestic cooks or what’s called plain professed cooks. Because the hierarchy of cooks in Britain is: you aim for a French man cook, pay about £120 a year, if you can’t get him you get an English man cook, £100 a year, can’t get him you get an English woman cook who’s trained under a French man cook, £60 a year. And if you can’t get her you get an English plain professed cook who hasn’t trained under a French man cook, £40-50 a year. So the markets are slightly different for the types of cookbooks they’re writing.”

[/footnote]. Her book was such a big bestseller, it helped to fund John Murray who ended up publishing Jane Austen. So had it not been for Maria Rundell we would not have had Colin Firth coming out of the lake, and how would we have lived in modern Britain without that?”

Brilliant Bread, James Morton »
“My other half bakes a lot and this is the best bread book we’ve got on our shelves. A fabulous book.”

The Recipes of all Nations, Countess Morphy »
“Countess Morphy is a strange character, kind of a made-up countess. An American I think. I’ve got pictures of her in a beautiful floral dress. You look at her recipes and think, mm, bit boring, but actually they’re really good. This book is fabulous because it’s got recipes from Hungary, Scandinavia – it’s world cuisine in the 1930s. Most of the recipes are taken from restaurant owners in London, so when she talks about Scandinavian cuisine, she says she’s got it from a restaurant owner in London. It makes you realise how cosmopolitan the world is and how we are arrogant to suggest we’re the first people to discover travel.”

The Modern Housewife, Alexis Soyer »
“Soyer is a god. He wrote cookbooks aimed at the upper, middle and lower classes. The Gastronomic Regenerator, his upper-class cookbook, has probably the best title of any cookbook ever. But The Modern Housewife is worth it just because it’s so hilarious. He writes it from the point of view of two English housewives writing to each other. A French man in England writing fake letters from one English housewife to another with recipes in them – it’s absolutely mind-boggling. The recipes are really good too.”


Posted 1st May 2015

In Things


Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Noémie Reijnen

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