Whilst sorting an clearing out the old pantry, in an attempt to make it a usable space for assembling flower arrangements for our events, I came across yet another stash of dusty, chipped earthen ware jars. The discovery reminded me that this room would have once had shelves brimming with pickled and preserved vegetables and fruits, able to sustain the family through the sparse months of late winter and early spring.
In order to find out more, I reached for the extremely useful guide to life bellow stairs during the Regency period - The Complete Servant by Samuel & Sarah Adams (first published in 1825).
At this time the Burnett's were still prosperous and the extensive estate allowed John Burnett, 5th of Kemnay, to extend the house, add a plumbing system and refurbish much of the interior.
His wife, Mary Stuart of Dunearn, would have planned and held lavish dinners in the newly appointed dining room and the housekeeper would have been in charge of keeping the pantry well stocked:
' The situation of housekeeper, in almost every family, is of great importance. - She superintends nearly the whole of the domestic establishment, - has generally control and direction of the servants, - has the care of the household furniture and linen - of all the grocery - dried and other fruits, spices, condiments, soap, candles, and stores of all kinds, for culinary and other domestic use. She makes all the pickles, preserves, and sometimes the best pastry...'
The humble cabbage would have been a staple of their Northern Scottish diet and the following recipe shows how to make it last the winter:
'Take a large strong wooden vessel, or cask, resembling a salt-beef cask, and capable of containing as much as is sufficient for the winter's consumption of a family. Gradually break down or chop the cabbages (deprived of outside green leaves,) into very small pieces; begin with one or two cabbages at the bottom of the cask, and add others at intervals, pressing them by means of a wooden spade, against the side of the cask, until it is full.
Then place a heavy weight upon the top of it, and allow it to stand near to a warm place, for four to five days. By this time it will have undergone fermentation, and be ready for use. Whilst the cabbages are passing through the process of fermentation, a very disagreeable fetid, acid smell is exhaled from them; now remove the cask to a cool situation, and keep it always covered up. Strew aniseeds among the layers of the cabbage during it's preparation, which communicates a peculiar flavour to the Saur Kraut at an after period.
In boiling it for the table, two hours is the period for it to be on the fire. It forms an excellent nutritious and antiscorbutic food for winter use.'
Although healthy, this recipe makes me feel even more thankful for refrigeration in our modern age. However, the demise of the roll of the housekeeper at Kemnay is greatly lamented.