William Kitchiner was a regency eccentric of some means living in London. He liked music, and invented telescopes (the value of his research in the field of optical science being acknowledged by his election to the Royal Society). He composed songs, and wrote books on such obscure subjects as how to choose opera glasses, the pleasures of making a will, a guide for horse and carriage keepers, and The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life (surprisingly, no longer in print).
But more than anything he was interested in the enjoyable experience of eating and drinking. And in particular he was keen on people behaving courteously while they did it, advising his guests, for example, to “come at seven and go at eleven”. He pointed out the selfishness of those arriving late advising them that “what would be agreeable to the stomach and restorative to the system if served at five o’clock, will be uneatable and indigestible at a quarter past.”
Some time around 1821 he published The Cook’s Oracle. This was not just a cookbook – it contained all kinds of useful information, from how and where to shop to how to do the washing up (which he did himself) – but it also included a wide range of recipes including one of the first for potato crisps (‘potatoes fried in slices or shavings’) and no less than eleven recipes for ketchup. Indeed, sauces were obviously his thing because he would go nowhere without his portable cabinet of taste containing mustard and sauces; and also because he was the inventor of wow wow sauce.
Although he came from humble origins, his circle of friends were people of some influence, the Prince Regent being a frequent guest, and he commandeered many of them into a weekly Committee of Taste to help him try out his culinary creations. The name for his new sauce was inspired by committee members who, apparently, exclaimed “Wow, oh wow!” on tasting it. Kitchiner may have been eccentric but he was also intelligently passionate about food, being one of the first food writers to highlight the importance of the correct preparation of food to health and to take a keen interest in the chemistry behind cooking – a sort of Heston before Heston if you like.
Wow wow sauce (recipe No 328 – sauce for stewed or bouilli beef) is comprised of port, wine vinegar, pickled walnuts, parsley…. “and if you think the above not sufficiently piquante, add to it some Capers or a minced Eschallote… or Essence of Anchovy…or Basil … or Horseradish.” Below is a slightly adapted recipe. As well as with bouilli beef, it goes well with bubble and squeak cakes and a poached egg.
- 30g – couple of knobs – butter
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 240ml/1 cup of beef stock (that amount of water plus two stock cubes)
- 3 tbsp port
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (you could leave this out if you are using the pickled walnuts)
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp fresh, chopped parsley – save some for garnish
- 2 pickled walnuts, diced (this is an acquired taste, but they do give intriguing depth)
- Melt the butter, stir in the flour, let it cook and colour for a minute or two and then stir in the stock.
- Add everything else
- Simmer for a few minutes
For more on this extraordinary man, read Dr.William Kitchiner: Regency Eccentric – Author of the “Cook’s Oracle, by Tom Bridge and Colin English.
The featured image for this post comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom.