Pierre Fritel (1853-1942), ‘Les Conquérants’ (The Conquerors), 1892
This is how some see the march of history, “great men” plowing through the dead to bring the world “progress”, changing destinies through the sheer force of their “will.” I say that’s a bunch of noise but I have anarchist leanings so my worldview might be a bit biased when it comes to celebrations of power and of those who claim to hold it.
“In the centre of the van rides Julius Caesar, whom Shakespeare has pronounced “the foremost man of all this world.” On his right are the Egyptian called by the Greeks Sesostris, now known to be Rameses II, Attila, “the Scourge of God,” Hannibal the Carthaginian, and Tamerlane the Tartar. On his left march Napoleon, the last world-conqueror, Alexander of Macedon, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, that “head of gold” in the great image seen in his vision as interpreted by the prophet Daniel, and Charlemagne, who restored the fallen Roman Empire. Straight onward, mounted on horseback or riding in chariots, march these mighty men of the past at the head of armies whose lines of spears stretch back into the dim distance. On either side lie prostrate the naked bodies of those who have yielded their lives that these men might exercise power. The Conquerors, their hosts and their victims all belong to the world of the dead. Yet their power and glory are made fearful realities. Their influence and work are felt to pervade the world, to reach even to us, the living spectators. They are presented as dead, yet living and sending forth a mighty effect upon ages yet to come. The mighty sacrifices by which the glory of the world is achieved are here realized as never before.”
“The Library of Historic Characters and Famous Events of All Nations and All Ages”, Volume 3, ed. by A.R. Spofford, Frank Weitenkampf, and J.P. Lamberton, Philadelphia: William Finley & Co., 1894.
Petworth House (Sussex) is one of the grandest houses in England. It belonged to the Egremonts from 1150 (it is now managed by the National Trust). The current building is from the 1600′s.
Today, it has an enormous array of kitchen utensils, over 100 pieces in total. There are rows of saucepans and stewpans, with matching lids, lined up on dressers. There are stockpots with taps at the bottom (like tea-urns), sauté pans and omelette pans, a large braising pan with an indented lid to hold embers (so the food could be cooked from above at the same time).
The Petworth batterie de cuisine.
Copper braising pan (front); small steaming kettle with handle cover (back).
Particulary impressive is the wide variety of fish pans. In the old
days, fish came from the Sussex coast. The kitchen has fish kettles,
with pierced draining-plates inside, so that the fish could be lifted
from the water it was being poached in, without falling to pieces.
There is a fish fryer (a round, open pan with a wire drainer), and a
specialist turbot pan (diamond-shaped, the same shape as the fish).
There are several smaller pans for cooking mackerel.
Victorian copper fish kettles.
A tin fish kettle (cheaper than copper).
Modern fish kettle, with a better view.
The fish fryer probably looked like this.
Of course, not all of these items would have been in use during every
In 1624 (during the Stuart era), Petworth didn’t have any saucepans or
stewpans. For boiling/stewing, they had a large fixed “copper”
(a giant vat of boiling water, which supplied hot water for the whole
household as well as the kitchen); nine stockpots (cauldrons), an
iron cockle pan, a few fish kettles, and five small brass skillets
(3-legged, to stand in the fire).
A brass skillet - not sure of the era.
The kitchen’s focus was on roasting, not boiling. They had 21 spits,
6 dripping pans, 3 basting ladles, and 5 gridirons.
Gridiron (not sure of the era).
Basting ladle (1745).
But by 1764 (in the Georgian Era), things were different. Only 9/21
spits were left. Petworth now had 24 large stewpans, 12 small
stewpans, and 9 bain-maries & saucepans.
This increase in pans (both number & variety) was because of a
new style of cooking. The old heavy medieval cuisine was on its way
out, and a fresher, more “buttery” cuisine was on its way in.
There were many new foods in the Georgian Era that the Stuart Era did
not have. For example: frothy chocolate; crisp biscuits; sharp,
citrusy sauces; the truffly ragouts of French nouvelle cuisine. And
all of these new dishes needed new equipment to cook them in.
Hannah Glasse (1708-70) was one of the most well-known cookery
writers of the 1700’s. She wrote that it was important to use the
right pan when melting butter – a silver pan was best, she thought.
(A type of thickened melted butter was beginning to be served as a
universal sauce, to go with meat or fish.)
But by 1869 (in the Victorian Era), this was definitely not enough.
The focus of the kitchen was finally moving away from spit-roasting –
now the most important equipment was the copper pans, resting on
There were three steamers, for those foods that needed gentler
cooking than boiling. The number of stewpans & saucepans had
risen from 45 to 96. This was because of the huge variety of sauces,
glazes and garnishes that were part of Victorian cuisine.
There isn’t much difference between a saucepan and stewpan. In the
1700’s, saucepans were smaller (like the left-hand one further up),
suitable for furiously whisking sauces and gravies, after
they’d been made in a stewpan, and sieved. Stewpans were bigger, and
had lids. They could hold a lot of food, and they were the main pan
for cooking the meal. However, the saucepan eventually overtook the
In 1844, Thomas Webster wrote in An Encyclopaedia of Domestic
Economy that saucepans were “smaller round vessels for boiling,
made with a single handle”, and that stewpans were made with a
double handle (one on the lid, and one on the pan). The metal of
stewpans was thicker, and they had a more rounded base, which made
them easier to clean.
(Nowadays, we don’t use the term “stewpan” – we say “saucepan”
for pretty much every pan.)
The idea of the batterie de cuisine came out of the 1700’s. It was the opposite idea
of the one-pot cooking – you should have a certain pan/vessel for
each component of the meal. You can’t sauté in a slope-sided frying
pan; you can’t fry in a straight-side sauté pan. You need a turbot
kettle for poaching fish. You need the right tool for every job.
This was influenced by France, and by the new professionalism of
cooking during the 1700’s.
(1715-61) was the chef & landlord of the White Hart Inn (Lewes,
Sussex). He disparaged cooks that tried to make do with “one poor
solitary stewpan” and one frying-pan “black as my hat”. He
said that “a good dinner cannot be got up to look neat and pretty
without proper utensils to work it in, such as neat stew-pans of
several sizes” and various other things. He tells of “half of a
very grand dinner” being completely spoiled “by misplacing only one stew
with pans was partially because of the English copper industry.
Prior to the 1700’s, copper had been imported from Sweden. But in
1689, their monopoly had ended, and England’s production of copper
increased greatly (especially from Bristol). And of course, now it
cost less – so cooks could have many copper pans. The French word
means copper that has been battered into shape. By the 1800′s, batterie de cuisine had become the universal term to refer to cooking equipment (excluding fixed objects such as the oven).
Victorian copper batterie
was the apogee of the history of pots and pans. They were
well-crafted, and made from high-quality metal; they were tailored to
the specific requirements of cooking; and wealthy Victorians had huge
kitchens, with many cooks.
have criticized the Victorians for boiling vegetables for too long,
and reducing everything to a soupy mush. Victorian and Regency-era
recipes say to boil asparagus for 15-18min; broccoli for 20min;
carrots for 45min to an hour! But this actually made sense for the
time, and didn’t actually wreck the vegetables.
Kitchiner (author of The Cook’s Oracle)
says to boil asparagus for 20-30min, which seems far too long to us.
He also says, “Great care must be taken to watch the exact time of
their becoming tender; take them up just at that instant, and they
will have their true flavour and colour: a minute or two more boiling
destroys both.” We tend to boil asparagus as individual stalks,
whereas he says to tie it in a bundle – which takes longer to cook.
But there is a lot more to the long boiling times than that.
in the 1800’s were very keen on cooking scientifically. And the most
important thing about boiling, they said, was that no matter how long
you boil water for, it’ll never go above 100°C.
This was noted by Robert Buchanan (an expert on fuel economy) in
1815, and cookbook-writers often quoted him on this. What was the
point of boiling things hard, when it doesn’t raise the temperature
any more? It was just a waste of fuel/energy.
Kitchiner experimented with putting a thermometer in water “in that
state which cooks call gentle simmering”. At simmering-level, the
water was also 100°C
– the same as if it was boiling. Logically speaking, it would be
better to cook at a simmer, rather than a boil – same temperature,
1868, Pierre Blot (Professor of Gastronomy at the New York Cooking
Academy) criticized cooks & housewives who boiled “fast instead
of slowly”. “Set a small ocean of water on a brisk fire and boil
something in it as fast as you can, you make as much steam but do not
cook faster; the degree of heat being the same as if you were boiling
instead of boiling is good for meat. Kitchiner said, “The slower
it boils, the tenderer, the plumper and whiter it will be.” But
for vegetables (except for potatoes), it takes ages
– especially because Victorian cooks liked to cook things in the
smallest pan possible.
said that the size of the boiling-pot should be proportional to what
it will contain. The reason for that, he continued, was that the
larger the pot, the more space it took up on the fire, and the more
water & fire was needed. This
Victorians were partially right, and partially wrong. It is true
that boiling water won’t go above 100°C (unless under higher
pressure, such as in a pressure cooker). But temperature isn’t the
only important factor. Another factor is ebullition
– how much boiling water bubbles. Heat transfer is determined by
the temperature difference between the food and the heat source
(water). Boiling water moves more chaotically, and transfers heat to
the foot several times faster than simmering. Also, heat transfer is
faster when there is more water in the pan (in proportion to the
food). So Kitchiner’s small, simmering pot will take ages longer to
cook than a modern-day large, boiling pot.
reason for the long cooking times was that Victorian vegetables were
different from now – less tender. Their asparagus was stalkier,
and their carrots & greens were tougher.
pots and pans, despite their craftmanship and variety, had a big
problem – their material. Copper is a great heat conductor, second
only to silver. But when it comes into contact with food
(particularly acidic foods) pure copper is poisonous.
is neutral, and their copper pans were thinly lined with it. Of
course it wore down over time, exposing the copper beneath.
Therefore, 1700’s & 1800’s recipe books often give the advice to
“Let your pans be frequently retinned.”
cooks probably put off retinning their pans as long as possible. In
fact, cooks who didn’t realize
that the copper was poisonous used its “greening” powers, using
unlined copper pans to pickle green walnuts and green gherkins.