Lucy Moore is an historian, writer and television presenter whose biography of Lady Ann Fanshawe is told through references to her receipt book and the family history she wrote for her son.
In seventeenth century England an aristocratic woman’s receipt book was far more than a recipe book. In a time when there were few doctors and little real knowledge of sickness and its causes, the mistress of the house would keep detailed records of cordials, balms and remedies for relieving all kinds of illnesses. Lady Ann would have begun her receipts as a girl, learning from and copying her mother’s remedies and recipes as she learned how to look after a home and a family.
At only 17 years old she had to flee her home to join her father at the king’s court in Oxford and she took a sheaf of receipts with her, only copying them into her receipt book some years later. Her life followed a turbulent path through the English Civil War and its aftermath after she married Richard Fanshawe in Oxford.
Through the receipt book and her memoir we learn about Lady Ann, her family, friends and concerns. The author makes the point that women like Lady Ann played a vital a role in the war, the peace and the restoration of the monarchy, as did soldiers. The times were not ‘normal’ for anyone but Ann was even more unusual in that she travelled extensively with her husband which may well account for her losing 15 of the 20 children she had. Nonetheless, we see Lady Ann working hard to maintain connections and civility through active exchanges of gifts and recipes which also reflect her peripatetic life with recipes from Italy, France and Spain – including one for the newly discovered hot chocolate.
Chapters are arranged chronologically and the theme is established by a particular receipt. Chapter 3 is entitled Mrs Fanshawe of Jenkins, her receipt for a Sacke posset, the besst (sic) that is. The posset was used for both celebrations and as a fortifying drink for invalids. Richard was away when Lady Ann gave birth to a premature son and would have need of the fortified wine, egg and cream mixture to assist her in regaining her strength after the death of their son Harrison. And so we see the pattern of much of Lady Ann’s married life – being apart from her husband but, at the same time, accepted into his family, demonstrated by the sharing of the recipe for the besst (sic) that is posset.
Weaving together the receipts and the memoirs is beautifully done and Moore has produced a delightful insight into Lady Ann’s life and times which I can highly recommend.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: December 2017