Currently on show in The Portland Collection an 18th-century recipe of ‘How to make Curry to eat with Pillo’ dated almost twenty years before the first recipe for curry was published in England in 1747.

It is an alarming interpretation of an Indian dish which comes from Sir Robert Harley, a director of the East India Company and leading diplomat of the early 1700s.  Harley’s son married Lady Henrietta Cavendish and this recipe would have been passed to his daughter-in-law.



The English appetite for spicy Indian and Oriental flavours and pickles was well established by 1700 thanks to a century of trading voyages by the East India Company.  In the 1680s a slave trader and President of the East India Company settlement at Madras wrote home to North Wales asking for a barrel of home-brewed ale and promising mango chutney in return.

As young brides, both Lady Henrietta and her daughter Duchess Margaret were given manuscript books by their husbands.  These contain recipes, remedies and domestic tips from a wide circle of contacts including relatives, friends, chefs and housekeepers.

Although the first curry recipe was not published until Hannah Glasse’s 1747 ‘The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy’, Robert Harley’s version and it’s accompanying ‘pillo’ [pilau], clearly called for all the familiar curry powder ingredients, including turmeric. His daughter-in-law the Duchess wrote out a simpler version for ‘A Pepper Curry for a fowl, or Pidgeons, Ducks, Rabbits or Whatever Meat you Please – or Fish’. Like Glasse’s, the Duchess’s recipe proposed only pepper and coriander, and no costly Tumeric. Commercial curry powder mixes were on sale in London from the 1750s. The Duchess could call on a share of the game from Welbeck, as well as preserves and pickles made with seasonal fruit and nuts from the Abbey orchards, hothouses and fruit cages, supplementing the produce from her gardens at Bulstrode.
Philippa Glanville, The Welbeck Kitchen 1695-1914

In 2010 Phillipa Glanville, published ‘The Welbeck Kitchen’, a book on food history which accompanied the exhibition ‘Dinner for a Duke’. Former head keeper of silver and metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Philippa Glanville OBE is a leading authority on silver and the history of dining.