October 5, 2009 at 11:27 am (vegan living) ()

3930562108_f07c8dec17Hannah Wooley is one of those women from the past that history, privileging things more “important” than mere household management, tends to overlook. She lived in 17th century England, and spent most of her life as a housewife, though she also was a schoolmistress, a governess, and an author. After her husband’s death she made money writing books on embroidery, managing as a wife, etiquette, medical advice, and cookery, and along with Aphra Behn, was one of the first women to support herself as a professional writer. A few of her books have been digitized here, but today I am going to focus mainly on her recipe for pickles, published in 1762 in her work The Queen-Like Closet, or Rich Cabinet, Stored with All Manner of Rare Receipts for Preserving, Candying and Cookery: Very Pleasant and Veneficial to All ingenious Persons of the Female Sex.

Here’s the original “receipt” as it was published:

To pickle cucumbers: Take the least you can get, and lay a layer of cucumbers, then a layer of beaten spices, dill, and bay leaves, and so do till you have filled your pot; and let the spices, dill and bay leaves cover them, then fill up your pot with the best wine vinegar and a little salt, and so keep them.

Okay. Using era terminology, according to my Stuart England book, “least” here means smallest, and the author interprets the meaning of “beaten spices” to be a blend comprised of mace, pepper, and fennel seeds, all spices relatively available during that era. Mace, for those of you troublingly unacquainted with this tremendous spice, is related to nutmeg, and I learned about it long ago from the Two Fat Ladies, a (very) British show that ran on the Food Network during its early days but is now obscure, not even available on DVD as far as I can tell. Sad times. The Fat Ladies taught me that nutmeg is the seed, and mace is the ground outer husk. It’s not used so much today, but it was once a very common preserving spice (cheaper than the nutmegs themselves), and I always keep this pumpkin-hued delight on hand to add to recipes that call for nutmeg. I find that adding it along with nutmeg brings out a different spice “chord” than nutmeg alone in things like pumpkin pie or zucchini bread or whatever. Anyways. Setting up to make pickles, here are my ingredients (ignore the sugar sitting there, I thought I needed it but did not):


Next I layered them, as I was told to do: sliced pickles in a “pot” (here a lovely empty jar of Bhakti Chai, a delicious chai locally micro-brewed here in Boulder), with two bay leaves and about a teaspoon of each the various spices and dried dill just kind of dumped on top:


Then I poured in equal parts white vinegar and water, with about a tablespoon of salt dissolved in it:

vinegar water

I did not “preserve” these pickles by canning them, as you find pickles on the supermarket shelves, because such methods were simply not in existence back during the Restoration. Most households would have instead possessed a root cellar beneath the ground floor to keep apples, root vegetables, onions, carrots, and preserves very cool during the leaner winter months. Thus, this jar got a week in the fridge:


I was genuinely surprised how delicious these were. They were outrageously tasty. I was afraid the fennel would overpower everything with its licorice taste, but it was really just a pleasant note along with the dill, mace, vinegar, and salt. Really, really crisp and fresh and clean-tasting. I will make these again, probably in the summer, to put on tempeh burgers and such. I’m not even that much of a pickle person but these shocked me. Everyone should make these. They’re so easy, and wow are they good.

So there we go! Before I conclude, however, I am going to continue my interview theme with a little bit of time spent with my cat Penelope, who wanted to have her day in the sun during this Month of Vegan Food.

warm butt

Q: Penelope, VeganMoFo is the month of vegan food. I know what goes into your cat food, and it is not appropriate blogging material for this endeavor.

A: I like vegan food!

Q: What? What vegan food do you like?

A: SEITAN SAMMICHES!! Please can I have a bite? PLEASE?


Q: Penelope, that is Jesse’s seitan sammich, so– hey! Keep your paws to yourself!



Q: OK, you are grounded. Sheesh! And you, Lemmy– you’re not supposed to be on John’s desk and you know it! Cut it out!

A: It’s only my toes! At least I’m not swatting a sammich! Can I have a sammich?

what no toes

This interview is cancelled! These cats are not well-behaved enough to be interviewed. And I think, despite Jesse’s protestations on the subject, that photo above shows conclusively that his face really is, as I said, too terrible.



  1. brad said,

    Is the Pod sitting on your Star Trek bag?

    These look tasty and simple. I should try them.

  2. molly said,

    She is! She loves bags, and it was the most favorite bed for a few days. We couldn’t figure it out until John moved it to discover it was on top of our AirPort and quite warm on her bottom. THE POD!

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