Potato Puffs

This recipe is on page three of Maimie’s recipe book (which also duplicates some of her mother Althea’s recipes). The recipes from this book tend to be undated but I would hazard a guess at the 1880s for this one. Indeed, a search of English newspapers finds a very similar recipe (almost word for word!) first occurring in 1862 and very much peaking in the 1880s.

“Potato Puffs. Take cold roast meat, clean off all gristle. Mince small. Season with salt, pepper and a little chopped pickles. Boil and mash some potatoes, make them into a paste, with one or two eggs. Roll it out, dust over with flour. Cut it round with a saucer. Put the cut and seasoned meat on one half, fold over like a puff. Pink neatly round edge, fry light brown.”

I used some leftover roast pork for my puffs, along with chopped pickled cucumbers from my allotment. They turned out surprisingly edible, although both the potato outer and the filling needed more seasoning. This recipe is very much of its time, following Mrs Beeton’s exhortations of economy and frugality. As Kate Colquhoun writes in Taste, ‘Boiled meats and roasts were designed to last for several meals as leftovers – more delicately known as rechauffés – progressing through the week.’

There’s much I don’t know about the social history of these times, so I’m intrigued as to why Maimie and her mother, Althea – the daughter and wife of a Justice of the Peace – were so diligent about writing these recipe books. A glance at the census returns of their house consistently shows that they employed a cook and two or three other maids. Unlike Harriet, who was working class and spent more than a decade in service herself, I can’t imagine either Maimie or Althea getting their hands floury. The fact that so many of their recipes were ‘collected’ from other family members and friends does seem to show an interest in food beyond merely marshalling their household staff though.

But back to Maimie. I recently found a wooden box with some of her belongings in. One was her birth certificate, which confirmed that she was born at her uncle’s house in Catharine Street, Liverpool. Another was a medical certificate, which showed that she had been vaccinated at the same house at five weeks old:

Living in the times that we do, I was interested to see the word ‘Compulsory’ on the certificate. I had also assumed most vaccines to be a twentieth-century phenomenon but, of course, I had forgotten about that vaccination success story, smallpox. The United Kingdom Vaccination Act 1853 made it compulsory for all children born after 1 August 1853 to be vaccinated against smallpox during their first three months of life. It took more than a century after little Maimie received her jab but in 1980 the World Health Organisation declared smallpox to be eliminated.

A more personal account of vaccination comes from a tiny family diary that I almost didn’t spot at all. I believe the diary was written by Maimie’s younger sister Edith, as the author writes about Kay and Charlie, the girls’ brothers.

Edith’s diary, with a coin for scale

Edith would have been aged 11 – 16 when the entries were made, which sounds about right by the tone and the fact that she talks about school and getting confirmed. ‘Kay’ was James Kay Maberly Harrison, who was two years younger than Maimie. ‘Charlie’ would be Charles Newton Maberly Harrison who was five years younger. Edith Frances Maberly Harrison was born six years after her older sister. The youngest brother, Edmund Walter Maberly Harrison was the baby of the family; Maimie was already fourteen when he was born.

Edith’s diary entry about their re-vaccinations

Edith would have been fourteen or fifteen when the following entry was made. Swarthmoor is a village on the Furness peninsular, about ten miles away from Newby Bridge. An article in the Lancaster Gazette on August 4th confirms the outbreak as ‘A daughter of Mr. Joseph Cherry, of Swarthmoor, has been on a visit to her home from Preston, and two of her brothers were attacked by smallpox, so that it is conjectured she must have brought the contagion, as she was unwell on arriving at home, and the medical men who have now seen her, are of opinion that she has suffered from the disease in a modified form.’

Edith’s diary, August 8th Wednesday 1888

As there is small-pox at Swarthmoor Dr Hamilton came to-day and Kay, Charlie and I were re-vaccinated. First of all he got a sharp little thing like a comb(?) and scratched a-way till all the skin was off and it had begun to bleed then he took a weeny glass tube and broke both ends and blew down one till some stuff came running out on to a little knife which he held at the end of the tube then he spread it on as if he was spreading bread and butter then he did Charlie and Kay and as he did not want to use a whole tube for Kay he asked Father for a wax vesta but when Father brought it he had broken both ends so that he had to use a whole one so he put some more stuff on mine as well; it took a tremendous long time to dry.

There is no mention of Maimie. She would have been an adult at 21, so perhaps did not need a vaccination, or maybe she was not at home at the time. Sadly, there is also no mention of little brother Edmund, even though it would have been his seventh birthday on exactly this date, August 8th. Edmund was to die less than a year later from a tumour of the optic nerve, so perhaps he was already sick by this point. I prefer to think he’d been taken out for birthday tea instead.

13 thoughts on “Potato Puffs

  1. The fact that the family probably had a cook makes the cookbooks even more fascinating and the process of getting the vaccination is really interesting. I never thought about how they got the vaccine. Thanks for a fascinating post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes – it seems strange that they spent so much time collecting all these recipes when they always had a cook but perhaps it was all part of household management. The vaccination sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it?!

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  2. So, yet another contemporary note! My brother was vaccinated as a baby but it was no longer compulsory by the time I was born 6 years later. When I was 13 there was a small outbreak near where I lived. The description of how the vaccine was administered is very close to how I remember.

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    • Interesting! My teenager is moaning enough about the thought of a needle – I dread to think what he would be like if they had to scratch his skin until it bled!

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  3. It reminds me very much of the concept of a pierogi. Interesting how different cultures interpret the problem of leftovers and how to make them interesting. I wonder if she collected these and had her cook prepare them for the family. Maybe she would have had some of these dishes on social visits and asked for the recipe so she could enjoy at home.

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    • Yes, there’s definitely evidence of collecting recipes from family and friends, particularly in Althea’s book where she dates and names many of them. Perhaps she did then pass the book on to her cook; it does look well-used.

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  4. Very interesting, I will try this out.
    As well this Polish blog I write English Heritage recipes for the Facebook page of Red House Yorkshire so I am always looking for old recipes I have been buying many old English and Yorkshire books lately.

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