Mrs Bloggs has now recovered from her convalescence and is back in charge of her virtual tea room with some very interesting guests for Afternoon Tea
Delighted to welcome Paul Couchman who is responsible for the publicity of the community project of The Regency Town House at Hove @TheRegencyCook and the Regency Town House @rth_brighton
The Regency Town House is the site of a momentous restoration project. The Georgian terraced property, part of architect Charles Busby’s Brunswick Estate, is an impressive example of 19th century architecture.
Unlike most of the properties on the square, Regency Town House is remarkable as it remains relatively unchanged from its Georgian beginnings. But with age has come disrepair, which means that some TLC is needed to restore it to its former glory.
Tea? Or coffee?
Tea. Can I have it served out of proper porcelain cups, complete with milk jug and tea strainer? Loose leaf tea most certainly and always with a small piece of homemade cake.
Paul I wouldn’t serve tea any other way but with porcelain cups, a milk jug and a tea strainer
Cake? Do you have a favourite?
It has to be the plum cake recipe I discovered in a manuscript cookbook from the 1830s. Imagine how exciting it was to turn that handwritten recipe into a real life cake and to do that in an 1830s kitchen. A tasty thrill indeed.
Paul will have to look that one up. Sounds delicious
Please tell us a bit about your collection of recipe books
I collect cookery books in general. Especially ones where there is a story, books in which the author doesn’t just talk about food but about life in general. Nigella, Nigel Slater, Diana Hendry and Jane Grigson are my favourites.
I now also have a special penchant for cookery books from the time in which the kitchen I work in was started. I have the 1830s handwritten one I talked about earlier, which was donated to me and recently I also discovered in a charity shop, a 1830s copy of the funniest historic cookbook ever written ‘The Cook’s Oracle’ by William Kitchiner. He was a trifle eccentric, hated anyone not arriving on time. His motto was ‘better never than late’.
Any really surprising recipes that you’ve found within the old recipe books?
Sparrow Dumplings. A small (whole) sparrow encased in pastry. You are supposed to eat the whole thing, crunching on the (tiny) bones.
I’ve noticed that you post a a few interesting vintage recipes on your Regency Cook feed. Which old recipes have you tried and really enjoyed the most?
I’m always looking for vegetarian vintage recipes. There are so many meat recipes in old cookbooks, which tend to concentrate on the food of the rich. So I was pleased to discover a delicious Artichoke pie and a Spiced Marrow Tart, both recipes from the eighteenth century. And have you ever tried beetroot pancakes? Surprisingly good.
We’re going to try your recipe for Parkin this weekend. Looks really delicious and I can remember that being made by family and sold in various places including tea shops.
It reminds me also of Jamaican ginger cake from my youth. Parkin tastes best on sad, wet days. Serve it with tea (in china cups) and pity.
We did make your Parkin and it was absolutely delicious
Do you find the old ingredients easy to source?
This hasn’t been difficult as you might imagine. I’m lucky to have a good butchers for those strange ingredients like bone marrow or sweetbreads but even he struggled to find me pigs’ blood to make black pudding and I had to order online.
A few of the older ingredients we wouldn’t want to use even if they were available, Hart’s horn (Deer’s horn), Musk (from the musk deer) and used in eighteenth century cooking.
Favourite era historically?
It has to be the 1830s. It’s an inbetween time just before Victoria came to the throne. The king in this period was the little known William IV.
He was known both as the ‘Sailor King’ and as ‘Silly Billy’. The 1830s is the time when the Regency Town House was built and when the kitchen I work in was brand new and (apparently) filled with cutting-edge kitchen technology including the coal fired range cooker.
Could you share with us 5 interesting facts about yourself and could you please include a little known fact that not even your friends are aware of!
- I learned to cook for large groups of people in a Squatters’ restaurant in Amsterdam.
- I studied photography in Amsterdam and art history in Brighton.
- I worked for a performance artist, Marina Abramovic.
- I helped to restore the kitchen I work in, learning how to plaster to do it.
- I worked backstage Les Miserables in the West End of London.
Do you have a favourite book?
This changes ALL the time. At the moment I’m reading Al Dente – Madness, Beauty and the Food of Rome by David Winner & throughly enjoying it.
There’s an incredible cookery bookshop in Hove, close to the Town House, which I’d highly recommend. Imagine a whole bookshop full of cookbooks!
In Lyme Regis I stumbled into the most bizarre second hand bookshop which was made up of a series of tiny rooms stuffed with books. I desperately want to go back. It was the bookshop of my dreams
The Denis Severs historic house in London. It’s like a full immersion into the eighteenth century with sounds, sights, and smells. I could move in and live there forever very easily. It has a tremendous basement kitchen with a fully functioning cast iron range.
Must look that one up
About Paul Couchman
My name is Paul Couchman and I do historic cooking/social media/publicity for The Regency Town House as a volunteer, which I stumbled across by accident, looking at an exhibition. The house looked like it hadn’t been touched in decades and there was evidence of decay everywhere. That house needed to be loved, I decided there and then, and that’s when I signed up to be a volunteer.
At first I plastered. I was taught by Paul, a plasterer all his life, who took many volunteers under his wing and taught them him skills. I helped to plaster the basement kitchen at number 13, and two years of hard work and long days later, the room was finished. It was almost sad. What now? Paul the plasterer actually fell ill and had to leave the project, and the room that a small team of us had lovingly helped to save soon filled up with junk and wood.
It broke my heart to see the room unused and unloved. After a few months I decided to try and use it as a kitchen, and successfully used it to make 96 mince pies for a Christmas performance. The last time that room had been used as a kitchen was about 80 years before.
Enter a team of hard-working and enthusiastic volunteers, whose tireless efforts are helping to transform the property into a museum and heritage centre, with meticulous attention given to historical accuracy.
Read more of Paul Couchman’s blog The Regency Cook here:
Read more about The Regency Town House Project here:
Thanks Paul for joining us today for Afternoon Tea Paul. It’s been absolutely fascinating