Today would have been the 310th birthday of Hannah Glasse. Aside from a Google Doodle, Glasse is an obscure name in our era, and even in her own time, she was relatively unknown. However, Glasse’s work, a cookbook was an international sensation in the 18th century. She is still hailed as the mother of the dinner party and both “the original Martha Stewart” and “the original Julia Child.” Needless to say, Glasse also had plenty to say about drinks.
Glasse was born March 28, 1708, an illegitimate child. Her childhood was hard and the age of 15, she ran away and married an older Irish soldier. Subsequently, the bride mothered ten children, all but two of whom she outlived. After her husband’s death, she grappled with his debts and was even locked up in a Dickensian debtors’ prison for a time.
Despite her daily struggles, Glasse managed to pen the most popular book of her day. Bylined anonymously as a “A Lady,” and bearing the wordy title, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy: Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind Yet Published…, the volume was an instant success. First published in 1747, 17 later editions of the volume followed.
The book provided detailed descriptions of how to do just about anything and everything in an 18th century English kitchen. Chapters cater to topics spanning from entertaining to preparing for a long sea journey. There is lots about potting meats and preserving ingredients ranging from typical jams to powdered mushrooms. Plus, there is plenty of advice on plating and setting a table.
But, what about the drinks?! A lengthy chapter in The Art of Cookery tackles the most popular drinks of the day. At the time, that meant lots of recipes for wine and beer. Glasse’s wines are based in wines raisins, elderflower, oranges, cherries, birch, cowslip, quince, and raspberries. (Technically, we would consider many of these wines “brandy” today.)
The recipes make for great reads. For example, consider the first line of the raisin wine recipe. “Take two hundred of raisins, stalks and all, and put them into a large hogshead, fill it with water, let them steep a fortnight, stirring them every day.”
Conspicuously absent is any mention of the grape-based wine popular across the Channel. The omission is not surprising considering the author’s disdain for the French who she never hesitates to mock especially for their use of butter. “So much is the blind folly of this age, that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby,” Glasse complained, “than give encouragement to a good English cook.”
In proper English fashion, much ink is also devoted to beer. Alas, Glasse once again is denied the recognition that she deserves. History falsely attributed her most famous brew, spruce beer, to an American.
“Recipes for spruce beer were abundant in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century journals. Benjamin Franklin is widely credited with creating a recipe for the beer— but it wasn’t his invention,” wrote Amy Stewart in the The Drinken Botanist. “While he was ambassador to France, he copied several recipes from a cookbook called The Art of Cookery… He never meant to take credit for her recipe; he simply copied it for his personal use. Nonetheless, it was found among his papers, and the story that one of the Founding Fathers created a recipe for spruce beer was too good to resist. Modern re-creations of the recipe credit him alone, not Hannah Glasse.”
The Art of Cookery offers several formulas for typical brews of the day, but where it Glasse really makes her mark as a trailblazer is her attention to sanitation. She frequently stresses the importance of clean vessels to brewing and even offers advice for sanitizing the casks with boiling water. If the point was missed, the author writes, “Observe the day before to have all your vessels very clean, and never use your tubs for any other use but to make wine.” In 1754, this was groundbreaking advice.
Should a barrel of beer turn sour despite these efforts, a remedy is offered. “To a kilderkin of beer throw in at the bung a quart of oat-meal, lay the bung loose two or three days, then stop it down close, and let it stand a month,” she wrote. “Some throw in a piece of chalk as big as a turkey’s egg and when it is done working stop it close a month, then tap it.”
If it seems like Glasse had an answer for everything culinary, that’s because she did. Tragically, the success did not transfer over to her own life. She was forced to sell the rights to book to pay off debt and later, her very authorship was disputed. However, The Art of Cookery is a gem and a beautiful legacy.
Take some time to skim through a digital version here. It’s worth it.