Saturday, September 3, 2011


        Conjuror:  A 19th-century device for cooking meat rapidly with burning paper as the fuel.  It seems to have been descended on 'necromancer' to which Hannah Glasse (1747) referred, ascribing its invention to an actor, Mr John Rich, and declaring it to be much admired by the nobility (in 1735).  However, the necromancer can be traced further back, to Bradley (1736), who gave a recipe for 'Thin Beef Collops, Stew'd.  From Oxford' which uses the same technique. Stead (1983) surmises from this that the method and the equipment might have been previously practised by students at Oxford University ('student bed-sitter makeshift cookery') but also utilized by the theatrical profession when in need of a hot meal and away from normal cooking facilities.

        The best description of the conjuror is Eliza Acton's in 1845, which was accompanied by a rare  illustration of the conjuror device (see title graphic above):

              'Steaks or cutlets may be quickly cooked with a sheet or two of lighted paper only, in the apparatus called the conjuror. Lift off the cover and lay in the meat properly seasoned, with a small slice of butter under it, and insert the lighted paper in the aperture shown; in from eight to ten minutes the meat will be done, and to be remarkably tender, and very palatable:  it must be turned and moved occasionally during the process.  This is an especially convenient mode of cooking for persons whose hours of dining are rendered uncertain by their avocations. The part in which the meat is placed is of block tin, and fits closely into the stand, which is of sheet iron.'

Text from Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion To Food. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995

Killer Video Link:  Georges Melies, The Conjuror (1899)

Sir John Dee (1527-1608), Adviser and conjuror to Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

"The Prestige" (2006) (Slightly disappointing but worth seeing anyway. By Inception director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan.)

Compulsory Aleister Crowley photo (b. 1875- d. 1947)  (Several years ago, we visited Loch Ness and stayed at Craigdarroch House, a lovely small hotel adjacent to Crowley's Boleskine House "bad vibes" manse, later purchased by Jimmy Page, who apparently rarely visited the place.  I highly recommend the journey on all counts, but particularly for Loch Ness "monster viewing".)


  1. "This is an especially convenient mode of cooking for persons whose hours of dining are rendered uncertain by their avocations."

    Ah, what a relief to know I am not the first to rely upon The Conjuror Method for ongoing sustenance.

    I believe it was once the custom of indigent artists (and doubtless other ne'er-do-wells) to Go Conjuror. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, that great artist whose name would have been far less unspellable had he not fallen under the spell of his Polish Muse, was said to keep a large pot containing a bit of meat/gruel, along with any/all additional conceivably-edible food shreds that might have been available, on the stove, at a light boil, for... was it weeks? No, probably only days, at a time.

    (By the by, I do believe John Dee attended the same Cambridge college as did yours truly, so perhaps the instilling of the skills of necromantic distilling seeped in through the pores, at that so-easily-influenced age.)

  2. Amazing about John Dee (a person I discovered in the course of preparing this). I found the whole Conjuror/Necromancer study fascinating and would like to explore it further. The Gaudier-Brzeska method appeals to me. At the moment, I feel like a melange or a stew and the monsoon conditions here add to that. Curtis