A taste of 18th century life at Townend

Townend house and garden in spring © National Trust

Townend house and garden in spring

Latest update 09.04.2014 09:56

A book of household wisdom, written in 1699 by a young woman preparing for marriage, is returning to the Lake District farmhouse that became her home.

Elizabeth Birkett – later to become Mrs Ben Browne – compiled recipes, household tips and quirky remedies for fevers and aches in the small, handwritten, notebook. Now the smells and tastes of the 18th century kitchen will be brought to life in her kitchen at Townend farmhouse, which remained in the Browne family until the 1950s.

The book offers an insight into a rural world of two centuries ago, showing sophisticated culinary tastes alongside medicinal recipes that the emerging study of science would soon disprove. Elizabeth’s book is now on display at Townend for the first time and we’re recreating some of her recipes for our visitors to see, smell and taste for the first time in three hundred years, titled 'A Taste of Townend'.

Emma Wright, Manager for Townend describes how the book inspired her. She said: ‘When I first read the book, I could immediately picture Elizabeth sitting in her parlour, by the dim glow of a smoky rush light, neatly compiling her recipes, remedies and dyes.

‘It seemed only natural to try to bring Townend to life as it would’ve been in Elizabeth’s day – recreating the tastes and smells as she would’ve experienced them and laying the table as it would’ve been when the Browne family entertained. What’s remarkable is how sophisticated the recipes are, with exotic spices and citrus fruits, despite Townend being tucked away in a beautiful Lakeland valley.’

Recipes featured include Aqua Mirabilis (a spiced alcoholic drink) that was thought to bring people back from the dead, alongside remedies for ‘the falling evil’, which we would recognise as epilepsy today.

Some of the culinary recipes seem still very relevant today, such as the recipe for fish sauce with white wine, butter, capers and anchovies. Others seem more unusual to modern tastes such as sweet mince pies with veal in them – a Shred Pie.