It’s always interesting (possibly insert ‘sic’ here) to come across any sort of utensil or vessel which is an even marginal departure from the norm, and this particular joy has been induced to swell unconfined by what is today’s outwardly rather uninspiring article.


It’s a spoon, albeit a rather large, foot-long, hallmarked sterling silver spoon dating to 1797. And while spoons per se were not, of course, even remotely uncommon at this time, the specific use for this example marks it out as worthy of attention, as it has been declared to be a basting spoon.


Now, the phrase ‘basting spoon’ almost never appears in published works of any kind prior to the year 1800 (more of which anon), and after this point, it crops up only rarely over the course of the next few decades until making an appearance in “Domestic Economy and Cookery for Rich and Poor” in 1827, after which point it becomes a more widespread term  During this period it is also exclusively used to refer to basting something with butter – not ‘in its own juices’ or ‘in dripping’ or any other appropriate culinary substance – just butter. This initially led me to surmise that basting and butter may share some common derivation, hence the limited and very specific meaning, but this – somewhat disappointingly – proved not to be the case.


There is, however, less disappointment to be encountered when looking at one of the rare instances of an 18th century basting spoon making an appearance. We are required to cast our minds back to the dark days of 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charles’s Jacobite Army had marched deep into English territory hoping to provoke a wider rebellion. Part of the army, made for Manchester, in the hope of raising support from a population which had long sympathised with the Stuart cause, support engendered in the English Civil War. This recruitment drive – held at the Bulls Head in Shambles Square near the cathedral – was at least partly successful, and Colonel Francis Townsley’s newly raised Manchester Regiment was able to join the cause. Their ranks, however, were not extensive, and when twenty-seven men were later executed for their part in the uprising, that accounted for around half of their entire number. Anyway, enough military history (for once) and back to our tale.


Whilst enlisting support for the Jacobites, it is said that a nameless highlander was billeted in the inappropriately named Union Hotel. Apparently, he went down to the kitchens one evening, with designs on securing both some bread and dripping, and the affections of the cook, who went by the name of Betty. Having been summarily rebuffed on both fronts, the exasperated Scot placed his hand on the pommel of his claymore to demonstrate his disgust, which prompted Betty to throw a basting spoon full of hot dripping at him. It burned his face, hands and bare knees – as he was wearing a kilt – and, at the same time, Molly the kitchen maid let loose the hotel dog who went for the now incandescent intruder, and bit his backside, taking a chunk out of his kilt at the same time. 


The burns were so bad that the Scotsman was excused further duties and was subsequently nursed by the repentant cook during his convalescence. This, so it is said, led to the development of ‘a mutual affection’ to the extent that the burnt-kneed rebel and his basting spoon fettled assailant were married, and raised a family in Manchester – descendants of whom are noted as being “respectable and wealthy”. 


The moral of this story is, of course, that should you be seeking marriage, arm yourself with a basting spoon (ours, ideally) and seek out a rebellious, kilt-wearing Scot – but maybe go easy on the scalding fat, oh – and keep your dog under control…