LUCINDA GANDERTON HAD THE BOOK hidden in the bottom of her shopping trolley. Around two years ago, she had taken a trip from London to Brighton, England, to visit Paul Couchman, a food historian and chef whom she met on Instagram. Ganderton, a textile artist whose family had once owned an antiques auction house, and Couchman, who specializes in 1830s British cookery, connected over a shared love of antique kitchenware. Ganderton was clearing out her house when she found a few objects she thought might spark Couchman’s interest.
“First time I went down, I took this massive great bag with the jelly moulds,” she says. “I hadn’t told him about the book. I was like, ‘By the way I’ve got this.’ And his face just lit up.” The “this” in question was covered in weatherbeaten leather, its binding grayish and nondescript. But inside was a treasure trove of more than 150 yellowing, rag-paper pages containing dozens of recipes for everything from catsup to plague cures, written out painstakingly in a few different people’s handwriting.
The compilers hadn’t signed their names or specified the book’s place of origin, but they did date some of the entries: one compiler noted 1780; another, in tiny letters on the back inner binding, wrote that the book was finished in 1831. (From the book’s use of rag paper, rather than wood pulp, Couchman could confirm that it dated to before the 1840s.) Ganderton had purchased the book a year before, for 40 pounds in an Oxfam thrift shop. “It was wrapped up in a plastic bag with a label on it that said ‘very old cookery book,’” says Ganderton. “Fair enough. That’s what it was.”
Read more at Atlas Obscura. Featured image: Reina Gattuso for Atlas Obscura.