Friends of Duff House

Library Stories

Duff House houses an extensive Library – part of the Dunimarle Collection.   In recent years this has not generally been accessible to the public so regular “Stories” are published here to share some of the splendour of what is a really fine library.    The Stories will share some of the background, details of some of the books, information about those that made the collection, their bookmarks, their scribbles – in fact anything and everything to do with the Library!

With many thanks to Historic Environment Scotland and the Trustees of the Erskine of Torrie Institution (SC002440) for their support for this project.


20-Apr-21  TAKE 5 OUNCES – how a Dunimarle recipe ends up in the Times

Black and white image of a page from a handwritten recipe book

Page from the 18th century manuscript recipe book, Orange Pudding starts at the bottom of the page

Orange Pudding

Take 5 oz of butter, melt it in a pan without oiling & add to it whilst warm 5 oz of pounded sugar & yolks of ten eggs* beat them a little first & after all is mixed together beat it till it turns white have the bottom of yr. dish covered wth. puff paste & spread it pretty thick wth. orange mar-malade & pour the rest of the ingredients on it – Bake it in a moderate oven & when it goes to the table slip it out of the tin it was baked in.    Dunnikier and Abercairney”

Transcribed from DH LIB 59 Vol2

*It really is 10 eggs – apparently they were only about half the size of todays’ eggs.



In the Times of 2nd October 1866 there appears, with some light editing, the above recipe under the title ‘Dunnikier Orange Pudding’.  Mrs Oswald of Dunnikier is the source of several more recipes in the 2 volume cookery book, of just under 250 recipes, which is part of the Dunimarle Library at Duff House.  As can be seen from the photos this book is a collection of handwritten recipes.

Bllack and white image of page 188 of the book Dainty dishes showing the Dunnikier Orange Pudding

Recipe 513 – Dunniker Orange Pudding from the book Dainty Dishes

The journey of the recipe to the august pages of the Times is not as odd as it seems.  The link is down to two women: shown below on the left, the doughty Magdalene Sharpe-Erskine [1787 – 1872] the last surviving member of the Erskine family who are so important to the story of the Dunimarle Collection in general and the library in particular – the photo below is taken from Duff House; and to her right, her great-niece Harriet – Lady Harriet Elizabeth St Clair Erskine, Countess of Munster, 1831-1867 – and author of a published book, Dainty Dishes.  The interesting image of the painting of Lady Harriet is her preparing some baking on board “The Ladye“, a boat owned by the artist Katherine Jane Ellice.


Colour image of a lady preparing baking ingredients on a table, and most notably with a fez!

Lady Harriet St Clair, originally painted by Katherine Jane Ellice on board the cabin of her boat “The Ladye” in 1863, reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holder from the National Library of Scotland, MS 15172 no 93.

Colour photo of stern looking Victoria lady

Madeline Erskine Sharp, portrait in Duff House











Colour image of the front cover of the book Dainty Dishes by Lady Harriet St Clair

Cover of the 6th Edition of Dainty Dishes by Lady Harriet St Clair


First published in 1866 Dainty Dishes went through many editions including a couple in America and Germany – the latter through the offices of Harriet’s husband, Count Munster (later to be Prussian ambassador to Britain).

A methodical check reveals that over 50% of the recipes in the manuscript have been included in Dainty Dishes.  Plus, it becomes obvious that great-aunt Magdalene not only contributed many recipes but also some stalwart words of wisdom (in the preface to the first edition):

A near relation of the Compiler’s, and one who thoroughly understood and enjoyed good living and from whom she acquired many receipts and much culinary lore, once said to her, – ‘Original English, or what is called plain cooking, is the worst, and most ignorant, and most extravagant in the known world!”’

It was not only great-aunt Magdalene who was critical of contemporary English cookery -– Harriet includes in the same preface:

What can be more unpalatable than the horrible attempts at entrees, dignified with some high-sounding French name, made by the general run of English cooks? The sodden pieces of meat, soaking in a mess of flour and butter, commonly called a roux, which, with the addition of a little melted glaze, forms the English cook’s universal idea of a sauce, and which they liberally and indiscriminately bestow of fish, flesh and fowl”  

Harriet much favours German cooking – influenced by her country once married – and includes many German ideas in the book.

Given her views it is curious to see just what Harriet selected for publication. In fact though no detailed analysis has been done yet, a brief scan of the database of those that made it in and those that did not, does not reveal any instant pattern.

The recipes Harriet did include in Dainty Dishes are a large variety, from M. Bonard who was “French Cook to Genl Campbell of Monzie” and his somewhat prosaic White Sauce; to the slightly dizzier heights of  M.Boucher “Cuisinier to H.R.H. the Duke of York”’s   ‘Poulet a l’Estragon’. Then there is Lady Preston’s instructions for preserving currants, Lady Thomond’s for Veal Cake and Mrs Bates at Weymss Castle’s for ‘Preserved Cucumbers’.

There is so much still to be discovered about the cookery manuscript, its sources and this later partial appearance in print – and of Lady Harriet in that wonderful red Fez!


But this blog ends with one little puzzle and asks for your help.  Has anyone ever come across ‘Habberbrie of Herring’, a recipe from Torrie – the Erskine family home?  So far it has not been traced anywhere else.

Black and white image of a hand written recipe

Page from DH LIB 59 showing the first part of the Habberbrie of Herring recipe

Habberbrie of Herring

Take about ½ lb butter, melt it in a sauce pan, put in 2 handfuls of oatmeal, put the pan over a clear fire, keep it continually stirring till you see it of a yellowish colour, then put in 2 or 3 ladle full of strong broth made of beef, veal or mutton – Skim off all the fat & let it boil till it becomes pretty thick, then take 6 or 8 herrings, score them on each side, turn them over in melted butter, then strew them all over wth. crumbs of bread – put them in the oven & bake them, when they are baked enough, crisp & of yellowish colour – then dish yr. habberbrie wth a rim of paste round the dish & put yr. baked herrings out of sight & garnish wth. 3 or 4 round the dish.                              – Torrie


Researched and drafted by Sandra Cumming





31-Mar-21   The GRAMPUS !

If you look up “Grampus” today you will be referred to “Grampus Griseus”, a cetacean better known today as the Risso’s Dolphin – a very, very rare visitor to the Moray Firth.  However, one of the joys of a library with old books is being able to research the history to certain animals – and in the eighteenth century, the time of the start of the Dunimarle Library and Duff House, a Grampus was most definitely not a Risso’s dolphin!

DH 601 is a 1779 edition of an 8 volume set of “A History of the Earth and Animated Nature”.  The first version of this was published in 1774, with many new editions over the next 200 years.  Oliver Goldsmith was a novelist (best known book perhaps “Vicar of Wakefield”), poet and journalist, but he also published several books on natural history.

One of joys of this book is it’s illustrations, some of them resembling the animals we know today, others a bit different.  But this Library Story is focussing a bit closer to home on a beastie he called the “Grampus”.  This word has a different derivation to “Grampian”, but the Grampus, or “grand fish”, can be seen from our coasts.  Unfortunately Goldsmith doesn’t include a picture, but describes it can be distinguished “by the flatness of it’s head, which resembles a boat turned upside down”.  Still not making it clear which animal he is describing — today’s Risso’s dolphin, or something else?

One of Goldsmith’s contemporaries however was, Thomas Pennant, well known for his “Voyage to the Hebrides” (DH 2050) which took him through Macduff, Banff and Duff House, but he also wrote “Pennant’s British Zoology”, published in 1776.  For the Grampus he quotes “the color of the back is black, but on each shoulder is a large white spot, the sides marbled with black and white”.  As they can be today, he describes them as sometimes appearing on our coasts – clearly the animal we know today as the Orca, the Killer Whale (killer that is of porpoise and seals, no recorded humans!).  He also describes them as having both upper and lower teeth – the Risso has no teeth on the upper jaw!

The first picture of the original “Grampus” appears a few years later, in a letter written to Sir Joseph Banks in 1787 by John Hunter.  Joseph Banks – who does feature in the Dunimarle Library – was a key figure in the study of natural history.  A 24 foot Grampus had been caught in the mouth of the River Thames in 1759, and clearly studied in some detail, which John Hunter describes in terms of it’s skeletal resemblance to other mammals, how it’s pectoral fins resemble a human hand, how it has the same internal organs as a human.  This is a copy of the first known drawing of a Grampus – with many thanks to the Royal Society Philosophical Transactions.

210323 1787 Grampus drawing1




28-Feb-21   Duff House Library Background

There are at least two meanings of the word “Library”.  The first meaning is a room where books are kept.  At Duff House there were very grand plans for what would have been a truly wonderful library space.  The East wing, part of the original William Adam design, was to have it’s whole top floor, 80 feet by 60 feet, designated as the Library.  Of course this was never built due to the dispute between William Adam and his client, William Duff, who later became the 1st Earl Fife – who never lived at Duff House anyway!

210228 East Wing 1st Floor with note

The 2nd Earl Fife, James, was however clearly – from references in his letters many of which still exist – a very well read gentleman, and he designated what we know today as the Long Gallery in Duff House to be his Library.  He certainly tried to look after his book collection and, for example, in February 1789 he instructed that the windows and bookcases be thrown open, and his large books of prints laid out for airing.  The 4th Earl was an equally avid book collector and by the end of the 19th century the Duff House Library held 15,000 volumes.

Today, the designated “Library” is two rooms on the second floor, which contains a number of glass fronted bookcases with a very fine collection within them – but not the original Duff Library!  This is because the 1st Duke of Fife gave Duff House and it’s estate to the people of Banff and Macduff in 1907 and the collection of books was taken out of the House.  When the restoration, completed in 1995, was being planned Duff House was very fortunate to get permission from the Dunimarle Trustees to allow it’s collection of furniture, artefacts and books to be installed.

The Dunimarle Library – now stored in various places in Duff House – has over 4,500 volumes collected by members of the Erskine family from Torrie House in Fife.  The Erskines thrived at much the same time as the Duffs and shared many parallels; this even extended to their names, such as William and James!  Both families were avid collectors, of artefacts, paintings and books.  The subjects covered by the Dunimarle Library are similar to those known to have been in the original Duff House Library, classics, history, geography, news, law, economics, heraldry, travel; typical subjects for serious libraries of the 18th and 19th centuries to include.  One clear – and interesting – difference was that the original Duff House Library included many Spanish books – because of the 4th Earl Fife’s travel there; and the Dunimarle family library instead has a major section on India and the far east because of John the 4th Baronet of Torrie.

Some of the key books were, perhaps not unexpectedly, the same in both Libraries.  A 17th century Bible, Hume’s 1786 History of England, 18th century works of Shakespeare, Bartolozzi engravings.  While enquiries continue for a complete list of the original Duff House collection, the Friends of Duff House many years ago completed a full catalogue of the Dunimarle Library – which can be viewed in the Study inside the House (once it re-opens) and which it is hoped will go on-line in the future.  Meanwhile all 929 Dunimarle Library books published in the British Isles before 1801 are listed on the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).