Amazing dessert of 1801: Tempt the palate with luxurious ‘Devilled Almonds’

Imagine you are a talented cook in London in the year 1801. You have just hired the rooms for your own tavern, and you are eager to make it a hit with well-off customers. Fortune is on your side: You can get a copy of the first cooking book published by John Mollard, the famous chef of prestigious 18th-century London restaurants catering to high-quality customers. It covers all his great recipes. With the help of this book, you compile your menu easily. Finally, all you need is a brilliant idea for the dessert. Cake, sweetmeats … or something really special? Your eyes alight at “Devilled Almonds”: Great name, and almonds are quality food. Read here how to prepare the dish in 1801, and what to consider when buying the ingredients.

Here is the original recipe from 1801

Devilled Almonds

Blanch half a pound of Jordan almonds and wipe them dry; then put into a frying-pan two ounces of fresh butter, make it hot, add the almonds, fry them gently till of a good brown colour, drain them on a hair sieve, strew over cayenne pepper and some salt, and serve them up hot.

John Mollard: The art of cookery made easy and refined, 1801

It sounds easy enough. You simply have to deal with the quantities. Mollard wrote them down in the least possible quantities. In the 18th century, 1 pound is about 453 grams. 1 ounze is about 28 grams.

So, half a pound of almonds – or 226 grams – make a nice snack for one person or a shared dish.

Rare and exotic ingredients to tempt your customers

Almonds: beloved but dear

Around 1801, Jordan Almonds are believed to be the finest variety of the sweet almond. Can you get your hands on them easily?

You know that Almonds originated in China and Central Asia, and were brought to the Mediterranean countries in ancient times. A warm climate is needed for growling almonds. 18th-century Britain imported Jordan almonds mainly from southern Spain. Alas, in 1801 the Anglo-Spanish War – started in 1796 – is still going on. Embargoes and blockades disrupt the trade of goods.
It will not be easy to buy almonds, and if you can get them, they will be expensive. On the other hand, there are few things a smuggler can’t bring to London. And sweet, rare almonds will surely tempt your customers…

Cayenne pepper: a rarely used spice

The other main ingredient is cayenne pepper. The cayenne fruit is imported to Britain from tropical regions around the world. With regards to cooking, cayenne pepper had been used since the 18th century to season meat, soups and stews. Nevertheless, it was a rather rarely used spiced. Typical 18th-century seasonings were – beside salt – lemon zest, pepper, nutmeg, mace, parsley, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. As the spice has to be imported via dangerous waters, it is expensive. Additionally, if you buy your cayenne peppers from the West Indies, they were most certainly grown at plantations, which means slave work. Thus, you decide to buy cayenne pepper from India, as you do with sugar anyway.

With both almonds and cayenne pepper being expensive and exotic, you feel confident that your customers will want to try devilled almonds. And you will set the price accordingly. In the 18th century, Devilled Almonds were not the cheap bar sack we know today.

First-hand experience: cooking with a recipe from 1801

To make sure that your customers truly enjoy Devilled Almonds, you test the recipe yourself.

Here is John Mollard’s recipe in modern wording for you to try at home:

Blanching the almonds

Of course, you can buy blanched almonds today, but to go for the true experience, blanche them yourself:

  • place the almonds into a pot with boiling water and let them boil for one minute.
  • Drain them in a colander and rinse them with cold water to cool them.
  • Dry the almonds.

Frying the almonds

  • Melt the butter in a pan and bring it to a boil.
  • Add the almonds to fry them.

Tip: When you have added the almonds, keep an eye on them and reduced the heat: almonds turn from golden brown to burned faster than one can say “just a second”.

Spice-up your almonds

  • Once the almonds are of a brown colour, drain them in a colander to reduce the butter.
  • Place the almonds on a plate
  • Put cayenne pepper in a small, fine sieve.
  • Dust the almonds with cayenne pepper and salt to taste

How much spice and salt, you will ask. This, of course, is up to you. Cover the almonds completely in cayenne pepper if you like hot spices, try less if you aren’t a spice-aficionado. The same is true for salt.
But what would a cunning tavern owner do: hot and salty makes the guests thirsty – which is good for selling ale : -) .

Serve the Devilled Almonds hot. Enjoy!

Related articles


  • John Mollard: The art of cookery made easy and refined, 1801;
  • Simone Clarke: Jordan almond; at British History Online (
  • Kevin Carter: Spices in the 18th Century English Kitchen, at: Savoring the Past, November 15, 2012 (

Article by Anna M. Thane, author of the novel
“Von tadellosem Ruf” (