Farmers’ Fare in1782 – May 1902

A correspondent sends me an extract from Southey’s “Commonplace Book, ” from which I shall make some selections. Southey himself has borrowed it from Douglas’s East Coast of Scotland, 1782.

“I shall give you a farmer’s bill of fare for a day, which is just equal to giving one for a twelve month, merrymaking times and the two festivals only excepted:

“Breakfast.” — Pottage, made with boiling water, thickened with oatmeal, and eat with milk or ale; or brose, made with shorn cabbage or coleworts left overnight. After either of which dishes, they eat oat cake and milk and, where they have not milk, kale or small beer.

“Dinner.” — Sowens, eat with milk. Second course — Oat cake, eat with milk or kale. Sowens are prepared in this manner: — The mealy steed or hull of the ground oat is steeped in blood-warm water for about two days, when it is wrung out and the liquor put through a search; if it is too thick, they add a little fresh cold water to it, and then put it on the fire to boil, constantly stirring it, till it thickens, and continuing the boiling till it becomes tough like a paste. In the stirring, they mix a little salt, and dish it for table.” (Sowens has been described to me by one who has seen and tasted it as being of the smoothness and consistency of blanc-mange).

“Supper.”—- First course (during the winter season) — Kale-brose, eat about seven at night while at the fireside the tale goes round among the men and the maidservants. Second course — Kale, eaten with oat cakes, about nine. During the summer season there is generally but one course — pottage and milk, or oat cakes with kale or milk. Kale is thus prepared: — Red cabbage or coleworts are cut down and shorn small, then boiled with salt and water, thickened with a little oatmeal, and so served up at table.” ( This is what my grandfather used to describe as “faytherless kale.”).

“Brosel is oatmeal put into a bowl or wooden dish where the boiling liquor of the cabbage or colewort is stirred with it , till the meal is all wet. This is the principal dish upon the festival of Fasten Eve, which is emphatically called “Beef-brose Day.” (Fastern’s een, or fastingeven — Shrove Tuesday)

This last phrase seems to imply — what is not mentioned — that beef went to the making of the kale. A little further on allusion is made to the “Clyak Feast, when it is an established rule that there must be beef, both roasted and boiled.” (Clyak being the harvest home supper when the last sheaf of corn of the harvest is dressed as a girl or decorated with ribbons. Probably from the Gaelic, caileag, meaning a girl). But I think that, even in 1782, beef would be indulged in oftener than once a year by all except the very poorest of the farmers.

At any rate, in one department, the guidwife’s task would be enviably easy. She would never require to study the concoction of new dishes to add variety to her table. She would have no need of cookery books. The subject of cookery would never consciously engage her attention unless when sickness came into her family and the sick one turned away from the kale and the brose. By the way, there is no mention of scones in the above.

Would “Mashlam” scones, of which I have heard so much, not be in use then, as they were in the early part of the nineteenth century? (Mashlum was mixed grains or grains and pulses, grown and ground together. The word could also mean muddled or confused.)

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2 Responses to Farmers’ Fare in1782 – May 1902

  1. Lord, we are lucky not to subsist entirely on oats, milk and cabbage!

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