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A recipe for Dry devils

A recipe for Dry devils appears in the facsimile edition of a manuscript or series of notes: The introduction to the facsimile is unclear. In any event the republication is called English 18th Century Cookery. Its editor claims that the recipes have been “culled from an old household library” that is unidentified. No author nor editor is identified either, although the illustrator of the facsimile edition, a Cecilia Ware, is named. The book was published on an undisclosed date in an unnamed place in Romania by a Roy Bloom Ltd. The internet reveals that Bloom is now known as Fanshaw Books, a London dealer in remainders.

WoodcockWhile the book omits much standard information, it does include a good if short glossary and the following nervously boldface disclaimer:

“Note: At the time of the original publication of these recipes standards of hygiene and ingredients in common use were often of a rather dubious nature, and some of the recipes in this book fall far short of modern-day standards. The Publishers can take responsibility only for the authenticity of these recipes; wherever there is a possibility that the methods and ingredients involved might be harmful to health, please seek the advice of an expert.”

The original recipe is more than a little confusing in any number of ways. It starts by explaining that these devils, which incidentally are not dry at all, “are usually composed of the broiled legs and gizzards of poultry, fish bones or biscuits” but at britishfoodinamerica we cannot imagine anyone relishing a plate of fish bone and biscuit. It therefore is a comfort to find that in fact these items do not figure at all in the recipe, although the brain, bones and entrails of woodcocks do. The Editor has substituted butter for the remains of the woodcocks (bone marrow would be even better), ignored the fish bones and biscuit, and otherwise modified the original ‘receipt’ to make sense. This is an unusual and appealing way to cook chicken wings, astonishing as that sounds given the manuscript notations.

No wonder people think that traditional British food is bad.

The recipe may be doubled or otherwise multiplied. It makes good party snacks kept in a chafing dish.

Little Devil Girl- 6 chicken wings, jointed (use the tips for stock or toss them)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon truffle powder
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 hardboiled egg yolk
- grated zest of ½ lemon
- ¼ teaspoon mace
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire or soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon mushroom ketchup (or substitute either more Worcestershire or malt vinegar)

  1. Toss the chicken wings with the salt, cayenne, curry and truffle, and refrigerate for a few hours or, better, overnight.
  2. Mash the butter and egg yolk together, stir in the lemon zest, mace and teaspoon of Worcestershire or soy to make a paste, then thin the paste with the ketchup or vinegar.
  3. Combine the wine and orange juice and whisk the liquid into the butter and yolk mixture.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce it to a simmer.
  5. Meanwhile broil the chicken on each side until the skin just bubbles and blisters: You do not want to cook the chicken thoroughly or it will turn out dry.
  6. Add the chicken to the liquid, turning each piece to coat it with the sauce, and simmer until the sauce thickens to just coat the wings. Just before serving, stir the olive oil into the devils and check for salt.


- Drumsticks work equally well and leftover chicken or turkey, especially if a little undercooked, would be good enough. Do not broil the leftovers.

Ketchup- Tomato ketchup also was known in the eighteenth century, although many of the recipes are plainer than our commercial varieties (use only Heinz). Substituting tomato for mushroom ketchup makes a pleasant alternative.

- A simple and effective eighteenth century recipe for ketchup (“tomato catsup”) appears in the mystery book published by Mr. Bloom. Translated into modern terms, you would peel, seed and chop enough tomatoes to give you 2 cups of pulp, or use canned Italian plum tomatoes. Bring the tomatoes to a boil with a teaspoon of salt, a generous grinding of pepper and about a quarter of teaspoon each of powdered nutmeg and cloves. Alternatively stud a small onion or a shallot (peeled) with a couple of whole cloves. Reduce the heat and simmer the ketchup for about 30-40 minutes. Do not let it dry away. If you used a studded onion, discard it at this point. Check for salt, then push the reduction through a strainer or blast it in a food processor but do not overprocess your ketchup or it will thin. Vinegar is not part of the original recipe but the Editor includes a Tablespoon of vinegar (any kind), along with further additions; a teaspoon of brown sugar and some cayenne and white pepper, or hot sauce, at the outset.

- Florence White records an 1857 ketchup recipe from Suffolk. It calls for baking the tomatoes until soft, straining them, adding “as much chilli vinegar as will make it a fairly thick cream” and boiling the mixture for 15 minutes with salt, ½ oz of garlic and 1 oz of shallots per quart of ketchup. Fish out the bulbs or re-strain the ketchup and you are done. (Good Things in England, London 1932, 104: Persephone publishes a beautiful facsimile)

- Apparently the inclusion of woodcock guts in the original recipe is not just a sick joke. According to Fergus Henderson, woodcock poop before taking off, so that if you are using birds shot on the fly, it is possible (although possibly still revolting) to eat the cooked but otherwise unprocessed entrails. Henderson’s aside appears in The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, his cult cookbook first published in London during 2000.

- The people at Fanshaw Books claim never to have published anything and never to have heard of either their purported predecessor or English 18th Century Cookery.