In earlier posts on the origins of Lancashire Hotpot I have pointed out that while this iconic regional dish is often associated with the poor, the vast majority of early published recipes are not dishes that the poor of the 19th are likely to have had the resources to produce. One striking thing about the early references to Hotpot was that not only were they not particularly associated with the poor, they clustered exclusively to the middle part of the 19th century. So it was considerable surprise and delight that I found and read a new very early reference to Lancashire Hotpot.
The reference itself is really quite remarkable, aside from the content the fact that it is 50 years earlier then any other source I have found is rather amazing. Until reading this reference I had concluded on the weight of evidence that Hotpot was in origin bourgeois dish. Early recipes are in the domain of Gentlemans Clubs, Town Hall Supper and dinner parties, baked dishes require and oven (not an item for a poor household) and most importantly no specific references to the poor. The most distinctive aspect of the modern dish is that it is baked in an oven, given the increasing use of American style iron ranges in the UK from the middle of the 19th century onward, it appeared that Lancashire Hotpot was a dish that developed during this period due to this revolution in cooking technology.
What is interesting about this 18th century recipe is that Hotpot is specifically not baked and is a "poor man's" dish. In fact the author indicates that it is a variation of Lobscouse, a dish associated with sailors and especially the city of Liverpool (hence "Scouser", a Liverpool native). Lobscouse (or simply 'Scouse) is still made in this way, but the modern Hotpot is now a baked dish. Hopefully further references from this early period will elucidate when the bifurcation of Lobscouse and Hotpot occured, if this is indeed the case. One isolated reference is not enough.
And now the reference:
Annals of agriculture, and other useful arts, Volume 24, 1795
March 6, 1795
On the 4th instant, I took the liberty to transmit you some thoughts on the culture of potatoes, and to suggest that I would venture to trouble you again with other observations. The following is the substance of what I intended; and presuming that the convertible uses of potatoes, which is meant to describe, as being in practice in Lancashire, are little known in the interior counties of this kingdom, I am flattered it may afford some further proofs of the graat domestic and national consequences that this root is really of.
Turnips, carrots, and greens, although useful vegetables, certainly bear no competition with potatoes. The few variations in their use, and modes of dressing, are known to every body; but potatoes, next to bread, as not only the poor but the rich man's blessing, are to be turned into many dishes equally palatable and equally wholesome some and nutritious; with this peculiar advantage, that, by proper attention to their preservation and quality, they may be used throughout the year.
The modes I hint at are not only those of boiling, frying in slices, roasting, and making them up again, but may be enumerated under the following heads:—the beef-steak pie with potatoes, known in inns and upper families—the old family or poor man's pie, with a frugal crust over it, consisting of a trifling portion of beef or mutton, either raw or boiled, cut into small pieces and mixed in a dish of sliced potatoes, proportioned to the size of the family, to which you add pepper and salt and a little water with butter or dripping, as gravy, the wholesome and savoury addition of a shred onion is often made, and gives a good relish—the dish of hot pot, or lob scouce, as termed by sailors, is composed of the same ingredients, except a crust, and that it is simmered over the fire in a pan or in a pipkin in an oven, instead of baking. These pies and this dish are palatable, standing favourites with most people. To these, we may add the raised pie, madeof salted goose, pork, or mutton, and sliced potatoes, with seasoning of pepper, &c.; this is in great estimation with husbandmen, ploughboys, and labourers, as their out-door dinner. A little, comparatively, of the meat suffices, whilst the potatoes and the the crust forms the principal substance. It may be thought that the potatoes, when cold, will be insipid; however they are not so; the seasoning and gravy of the meat making them perfectly palatable and even desirable.
Of the above various combinations with fleshmeat, and probably many others, are potatoes capable; and the following dishes of fish and potatoes, show how many other changes may be rung upon them.
A dish of pickled or salted fish (dried or undried), such as herrings, flooks, cod, salmon, or haddock, mixed with potatoes, is in high estimation in the northern counties, and upon their seacoasts in particular, where they form the principal food of the poor inhabitants, in winter. A very small piece of fish, salmon in particular, say half a pound, will mince or mix with many pounds of potatoes. Good milk, or a little cream, in farmhouses, are used as sauce and minced up in the dish as a substitute to butter, and sometimes a chopped egg is added.
The man who has not seen such a dish, who has not tasted of its wholesome and palatable contents, has no conception of its value: trifling in pecuniary consideration, but inestimable as a family meal, and generally preferred to a more expensive food. Of this, I am sure, the Lancashire catholics will bear me honourable testimony.
The Irish dish, of potatoes and butter-millk, is well known in Lancashire; and many a good old ' pair, whose teeth have refused their office to more solid food, thank their stars that they can enjoy their porringer of the mixtures; whilst—"the flaxen-headed plough-boy " cheerfully joins in unison in the chimney corner. As a supper, this is often preferred by persons who could afford a better.
Potatoes also form a capital ingredient in meat soups, if skinned and sliced into the pan when the soup is set upon the fire. Boiled potatoes are likewise mixed, at pleasure, with the broth, or soup and meat, of what is commonly called a stew: this is the shank end of a quarter of beef; and, in Lancashire, called a hoffle; oat cake is sometimes added, as sippets: and I venture to pronounce this a most frugal and substantial dish for any family; it is a soup that most men may relish, and, with potatoes, children in particular are fond of it. The potatoe pudding, long known in many parts of Lancashire, is rendered in some degree fashionable by the modern writers in cookery, and forms another branch of the convertible use of potatoes.
I am, Sir,
Your very humble servant,
A LANCASHIRE MAN.