Jeremy Bentham is renowned for many things: founding the utilitarianism movement, designing a new type of prison and supporting the philosophy of education for all. However, cooking is something he was not as well-known for – until now.

Bentham died in 1832 and left behind a staggering 60,000 handwritten manuscript folios. The archive is kept at University College London (UCL), which the philosopher was something of a spiritual founder of. Bentham believed in the right to education for all no matter what a person’s background and the college, which opened in 1826, was the first in England to admit both male and female students of all races and religions.

Leaving behind such a wealth of writing, there were bound to be some treasures hidden away in Bentham’s manuscripts, so since 1959 employees at UCL have been busy transcribing it. However, the handwritten notes, centuries-old dialect and sheer quantity of work meant that it was an incredibly slow process.

All of that changed in 2010, bizarrely as a result of the MPs’ expenses scandal, Gizmodo reports. Melissa Terras, co-director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, noticed that the Guardian newspaper had created an online platform that allowed readers to search through and find individual pages from a cache of thousands of MPs’ receipts.

Along with head of the Bentham Project Professor Philip Schofield, Terras came up with the idea to make all of the philosopher’s writings available for volunteers to transcribe. In April 2010, anyone interested was invited to help in the transcription of documents written by Bentham and deemed to be “potentially of immense historical and philosophical importance”.

Today, more than 5,000 manuscripts have been either entirely or partially transcribed by the more than 2,000 registered users who are based all over the world. On average, around 40 manuscripts are completed every week.

As more and more pages are transcribed, new thoughts, theories and ideas recorded by Bentham are uncovered. However, surprisingly the discovery that has created the biggest buzz is that of his own experiments in cuisine. Bentham left behind not just basic cooking tips, but also full recipes.

The more unusual dishes include walnut shell pickle – which features horseradish leaves, caraway seeds and powdered ginger – sweet liver pudding, greenpease soup and kidney and sweet bread. These recipes were actually ideas Bentham came up with for meals to serve in the prison he had designed and was hoping to oversee the building of. The Panopticon prison was circular, allowing a single guard in a central station to watch over all the inmates in their cells around him. The idea was that while the guard could see the inmates, they could not see him, which meant that theoretically the station could even be left unmanned occasionally as the prisoners would assume there was someone watching them.

Bentham’s cooking tips include: “Where warm water is too expensive or troublesome[,] cold may be used, the only difference is that more time is required & the fish is not so perfectly softened,” and “Use the water in which salt herrings […] have been soaked instead of salt in soups.” He also warns: “Common glazed pans are dangerous where acids are to remain in them anytime. Dissolved lead does not produce disease in very small quantity, but by repetition of it in small portions, the evil accumulates after a period of many years perhaps paralytic afflictions are produced.”

Tim Causer, a research associate at UCL, decided to put Bentham’s recipes to the test by baking one and writing about it for the Journal of Victorian Culture Online. He explains that he picked one of the “less foul-sounding recipes”, which happened to be baked apple pudding. The result was an “alarmingly runny” dessert that tasted “pretty bland and inoffensive”.

His prison may never have been completed, but perhaps Bentham would be proud to know that the dishes he planned to serve there have at last been sampled.