Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Continuing the Legacy of the Extraordinary Mary Smith

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Continuing the Legacy of the Extraordinary Mary Smith

Article excerpt


THE name could not be more ordinary. But Mary Smith needed extraordinary abilities to cope with her demanding role as 18th Century housekeeper/cook at the Wallington estate in Northumberland.

And steps are afoot to ensure that Mary's name and achievements are not lost to history.

Mary worked for Sir Walter Calverley Blackett, who inherited Wallington and the Anderson Place mansion in Newcastle.

As well as being a powerful land and mine owner, Sir Walter sat as an MP from 1734 until his death in 1777, was five times Mayor of Newcastle and also High Sheriff of Northumberland.

Consequently Wallington and Anderson Place would not have been short of visitors and guests.

They included the Duke of Cumberland and his officers, who were entertained by Sir Walter as they headed south after their victory over the Scots army at the Battle of Culloden.

Visitors were also drawn to Wallington by Sir Walter's major scheme of remodeling the hall and improving the estate, which included building the hump-backed bridge over the River Wansbeck and the Clock Tower now so familiar to those who flock to the National Trust property.

A letter of 1767 tells how Sir Walter "loves to have his House continually full of company".

It fell to Mary Smith to cater for this throng at a time when there was no refrigeration or supermarkets, and oven heat could not be controlled at the turn of a dial.

Mary wrote down scores and scores of her recipes, which were printed by T Slack of Newcastle and was taken up by a London publisher.

The book ran to four editions, with the title of The Complete House-Keeper and Professed Cook Calculated for the Greater Ease and Assistance of Ladies, House-Keepers, Cooks etc, etc.

Today, only seven copies survive in private collections, and one of them is at Wallington.

Now it is being consulted yet again, and at this weekend's Wallington Food and Craft Festival visitors will be able to sample some of Mary Smith's dishes.

They are being re-created by Wallington head chef Malcolm Brown.

Wallington's visitor experience manager Gillian Mason will be living up to her job title by dressing as Mary and talking to visitors in the kitchen.

She has borrowed a cook's costume of the time, based on historical research, from Wordsworth House, the National Trust-ru1n childhood home of the poet in Cockermouth in Cumbria.

She says: "It's fair to say that Mary would have been pretty busy. It is amazing what cooks produced for those 18th Century dinner parties."

The trend continues with today's multiplicity of TV food and cookery programmes.

"Food dishes and dinner parties were ways of showing off," says Gillian.

Before arriving at Wallington, Malcolm Brown worked as a chef on oil rigs, head chef at Northumberland County Council and for the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, and teaching cookery in the Prison Service.

From Mary Smith's cookery book, this weekend he is serving up her chicken pie, which includes pork, bacon and chicken, flavoured with nutmeg and mace - the yellow fibrous covering of the nutmeg itself.

There will also be Mary's Spanish Cake, where egg yolks and whites are used as the raising agent.

Malcolm has also made sweet meat pie from the book, which uses brandy, wine, fruit and pressed ox tongue.

He says: "We don't know what sort of oven Mary had, whether it was wood or coal fired, and how she managed to regulate the heat. …

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