To make Rashberry Cream

This time of year, I go overboard on buying apples. I’m easily lured into trying anything pumpkin-flavored. (Including, regrettably, a viciously nutmeg-heavy pumpkin pie gelato recently.) But even as I stock up on squash and canned pumpkin and apples and more canned pumpkin, I start to miss berry season. I like to use frozen fruit as a bridge through the winter and, since I moved recently and have been slowly stocking the fridge and freezer, I was looking for a recipe that could use some frozen raspberries I just picked up.

Enter the ever-reliable UPenn Ms. Codex 205, with a recipe “To make Rashberry Cream.” (And yes, this is how I’ve been saying “raspberry” since I found the recipe. I sound like Sean Connery. Or like someone doing a really, really bad impression of Sean Connery.) It’s just what I wanted: easy and with minimal equipment, since I’m still settling into my kitchen, and a quick weeknight dessert. This would be lovely with fresh raspberries but doesn’t suffer from frozen. It’s very close to a fool, the traditional English dessert made by folding stewed fruit into whipped cream. This includes egg and is thoroughly stirred together over heat, ending up with a solid pink color rather than the marbled swirls of a fool, but it’s still basically a mix of sweetened fruit and cream. In fact, the fool probably originated in the sixteenth century, so this “cream” seems like a slightly custard-y relative, an easy dessert then as now, using just a few ingredients.

The Recipe


To make Rashberry Cream

Take a Pint of Cream, boil it with Sugar, beat the Whites
of 2 Eggs, & one Yolk, then put to them half a Pint
Currant Juice, a Pint of Rashberry; when it is cold put
the Juice and Eggs to it sweeten it to your Taste, set it
over a slow Fire to thicken keep it stirring, when it
boils take it off, & put it in Glasses or Dishes, let it
cool & strew some Sugar over it ~


Our Recipe

1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar*
1 egg, 1/2 yolk removed
1/4 c. grape juice (or currant juice if you can get it!)
1 c. (1/2 pint) raspberries, fresh or frozen, whole or mashed or pureed or de-seeded, etc.*

Heat the cream and sugar together, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved, about 5 mins. Set aside to let cool. Whisk the egg until frothy, then stir in the juice and raspberries. Add this egg and juice mixture to the cream, stirring over low heat until it starts to boil, about 10 mins. Remove from the heat and pour the cream mixture into serving dishes of your choice. Refrigerate until firm to the touch, covering after the cream has cooled. Serve with sugar if you wish.

*Note: Since the recipe doesn’t specify an amount of sugar, I guessed here, and I liked the results. It’s sweet but not overly so. You can also taste the cream mixture and add more sugar to the fruit and egg mixture, as the recipe suggests.

**Note: How to prepare the raspberries wasn’t exactly clear – at first I thought perhaps whole, but upon another reading the syntax of “half a Pint Currant Juice, a Pint of Rashberry” combined with “put the Juice and Eggs to it” suggested that raspberry juice might be called for. Inspired by fools and because I wanted a little texture (and was afraid the mixture might not set with that much liquid), I let the frozen raspberries thaw and then mashed them with a fork. I liked the way this turned out, but you could also puree the raspberries or strain them if you’re not a fan of seeds. Because this ended up setting fairly firmly, like pudding, I think it would be fine with juice. So if you happen to have raspberry juice, then give that a try and let us know how it turns out!

The Results

This recipe was unsurprising – in a good way. I expected it to taste like raspberries and cream, which it did. I didn’t taste grape but think the juice might have brought out some of the richness of the raspberries, as coffee brings out depth of taste in chocolate. It’s a beautiful pink color, and I liked the raspberry bits throughout. It would be tasty served alongside some crunchy cookies for contrast or even with some additional raspberries on top.


[My apologies for the iPhone photos. My camera remains at large, somewhere in a stack of boxes.]

to make a florintine

I’ve missed baking. The relentless heatwaves this summer have really cramped my style. To use my sourdough starter, I’ve made almost weekly batches of these waffles because I can’t bear to turn on my oven and bake bread.

Today is marginally cooler and I decided to seize the opportunity “to make a florintine” from a recipe in MS Codex 252. 



Alyssa and I have seen many recipes for “florentine” in manuscript cookbooks. This specific recipe is a sweet almond filling baked in a pastry crust.  There are, however, other “florentines” out there. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a florentine as “A kind of pie or tart; esp. meat baked in a dish with a cover of paste” and notes the range of spinach dishes called “florentine” from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day.  (The OED cites a Hannah Glasse recipe which looks like the 252 recipe with added spinach and cheese. )

The Recipe


to make a florintine

take halfe a pound of the beast Almonds blanch them and beat them as
smalle as the  can with rosse watter ore oring flower watter put in a quater of
a pound of fine sugar beating them well together then take 4 eggs leveing
out the whites, then take a pound of butter and let it be uery good
melt it and then mingle it all together in the butter and soe put
it in to puffe paist

Our Recipe

Our recipe is quartered from the specific proportions in the original and starts with ground almonds. I decided to use rosewater instead of orange blossom water, but feel free to use either.  The original recipe suggests both as options.

1/2 C ground almonds
1t rosewater (or orange blossom water)
1/4 C sugar
1 egg yolk
8 T unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 batch pastry (Use your favorite pie crust recipe here. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Butter a pie dish. Roll out your crust and put it in your prepared pie dish.

In a large bowl stir the ground almonds, rosewater, and sugar together. Add an egg yolk and stir with a whisk to combine. Add the melted butter and stir with a whisk to combine. Pour the almond mixture into your prepared crust. Trim or roll excess pastry to make the edges neat.

Bake for 30 minutes until the almonds and crust are golden. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The Results

My British spouse Joseph looked at finished product and asked if I had made Bakewell tart. This was a great guess. The “florintine” from MS Codex 252 is similar to a Bakewell tart but it lacks that iconic layer of fruit compote underneath the almond filling.

This is a sweet, buttery, nutty tart. The rosewater is a mild note amidst the other deep flavors. With Bakewell tart on my mind, I spread some raspberry jam on my second piece and liked it even better.  Serve this with fresh or cooked fruit or preserves.

To pickle Cucumbers

I love pickles. I devour jars of them so quickly that I rarely have any in my fridge. I make platters of quick-pickled cucumbers, beets, cauliflower, and fennel for parties. I’m always tempted by the spicy pickled green beans that this one stand sells at the farmers’ market. Last week I realized that for all the pickled vegetable recipes in manuscript cookbooks, we’ve only prepared one so far (these delicious “Pickled Tamatas“) and I made it my business to change that.

I cannot think of a single manuscript cookbook without a recipe for something pickled. In an economy of thrift, pickling is an excellent way to save seasonal produce. Since I’ve been working on an article about other recipes from MS Codex 785, I decided to try a pickle recipe from this manuscript. (See my posts on “Lemmon Cakes” and “Bisket Pudding” for more information about Restoration-era lifestyle guru Hannah Woolley and MS Codex 785). I was also intrigued by the inclusion of thyme in this one.

The Recipe

pickled cucumbers

To pickle Cucumbers

Boyle your Vinegar with some long pepper,
and all Sorts of Spice, a little Salt, Thyme, and
Dill, lay your Cucummers into the pot, and
pour on your pickle boyling hot, and Couer
them up very Close, and set it by, and do so
for two or three days.

This recipe is very straightforward. Slice your cucumbers, prepare a spicy brine, rest, and eat. [UPDATE: The original recipe does not instruct you to slice the cucumbers, I sliced mine out of habit and because used a single-medium sized, slicing cucumber and I needed it to fill my jar! Feel free to use smaller kirby cucumbers here and skip the slicing.]

Long pepper was the only new ingredient for me. According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia (linked above), long pepper is a flowering vine with small, flavorful fruit. Although the plant is similar to the Piper nigrum, or standard black pepper, the individual fruits are far spicier. This spice is often used in South Asian cooking, but I was unable to locate any. Instead, I substituted in a small amount of red chili flakes to add some peppery heat. Let us know if you use long pepper, chili pepper, or black pepper when you make these pickles! I’ve made some suggestions in the recipe below.


Our Recipe

These proportions fill a single, 2-cup mason jar. Double, triple, and quadruple if you have a glut of cumbers on hand!

1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced (Peel or don’t peel as per your preference) [Per the update above, feel free to use different kinds of cucumbers and slice, or don’t slice according to your preference and ingredients.]
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh dill
1 c white wine vinegar
1/2 t salt
1/4 t chili flakes (or some long pepper, or 1/4 t pink or black peppercorns)

Put the sliced cucumber in the mason jar with the fresh thyme and dill.

In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar to a boil. Add the salt and stir until combined. Add the chili flakes.

Pour the spicy brine over the fresh vegetables. Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Consume pickled cucumbers within a month of opening the jar.

pickled cucumbers

pickled cucumbers

The Results

After three days in the refrigerator, these pickles are salty, spicy, sharp, and crisp. The  dill and thyme add depth to each bite. These pickles are not going to outlast the weekend!

Since the brine is very strong and I’m really making these as refrigerator pickles, rather than shelf-stable canned pickles, I might reduce the amount of vinegar in the brine and try a 1/2 c vinegar and 1/2 cup water brine instead. In addition, the original recipe also mentions “all Sorts of Spice.”  I only included spices that were listed in the recipe in this batch, but I wonder how cloves, mustard seeds, or caraway seeds would change the taste of these pickles. I may have to start another batch.

Let us know if you experiment with this recipe!


Snow cream

It’s hot. The city of Philadelphia declared an excessive heat warning. Despite my undying love of summer, I’m thinking about snow.

2016-07-07 15.22.22

When Heather Wolfe, Sarah Powell, and I were selecting a recipe to cook with the paleography class at the Folger Shakespeare Library last month, Sarah added this recipe for “Snow cream” from Mary Hookes’s manuscript recipe book V.b.342 to our list. (Check out the Almond Jumballs we made here.) In my heat frenzy yesterday afternoon, I went digging through my email to track down the citation. The manuscript includes entries from circa 1675-1725 and was signed by Mary Hookes in 1680. It begins with an alphabetical index and contains a range of household recipes including perfumes, preserves, and cakes. I have much more work do to on this manuscript, but yesterday I had snow on the brain and decided to give this recipe a try. Rosewater flavored whipped cream? Almonds and strawberries? How could this be anything but delicious?


The Recipe

snow cream

snow cropped, page 2
Snow cream
Take six quarts of cream season itt with Rose-
watter & sugar putt itt in to a pan, & take a whiske
and cutt offe the ends, & shake the whiske, too & ffrow,
in the Pan off cream, till itt rise like snow, then
take offe the snow with a skimer letting the cream
drayne from itt, then putt itt in to a Bason, the

bottom off itt being cover’d with currence, or strabarys,
& slis’d Almonds, continew shaking the whisk till
you have enough to ffill the bason, & ever as
you use itt, Take itt offe with the skimer.

Whipped cream makes snowy drift on a base of nuts and summer fruits, such as currants and strawberries. The name “snow” makes this relative of fool, berries and cream, and even strawberry shortcake seem unfamiliar. Recipes for snow are common in seventeenth-century recipe books and usually include both cream and eggs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines snow, as a cookery term, as A dish or confection resembling snow in appearance, esp. one made by whipping the white of eggs to a creamy consistency.” Ken Albala’s The Banquet includes examples of “snow” stiffened with rice flour, seasoned with rosewater, and served alongside other sweet and savory dishes. (He also gestures to the role of dairy dishes like snow in the development of ice cream recipes. We promise that when we find an ice cream recipe we’ll make one for you.)


Our Recipe

I used a hand mixer to whip my cream. This tool, as well as modern dairy processing methods, decreased the need for skimming mentioned in the original recipe. I started with one cup of cream instead of six quarts. The recipe below serves three-four people, six quarts of whipped cream would feed a crowd.

1 cup cream
2T sugar
1/2t rosewater
1 cup strawberries, hulled and chopped
1/4 cup almonds, slivered or roughly chopped

Line a serving dish with the strawberries and almonds.

Put the cream and sugar in a sturdy bowl. Using a hand-held mixer or a large whisk, whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Stir in the rosewater.

Add the whipped cream to the serving dish in large dollops.

Serve immediately.

The Results

Cool, sweet, and fresh, snow cream was exactly what I wanted to eat. Tufts of cream drenched the berry and nut base. The crunch of the almonds, the floral note from the rosewater, and the tang of the strawberries make for a chilly summer dessert. I could close my eyes and imagine snow.

I’d love to try this with black or red currants (and if you do I hope you will let us know). Feel free to substitute in any fresh berry or sliced fruit. Try a different nut or a mix of seeds. Swap out rosewater for orange blossom water or vanilla. This simple, refreshing dessert is highly adaptable in the modern kitchen.

Stay cool, dear readers, and let us know how  you fix your “Snow cream” this summer.


Cooking Almond Jumballs at the Folger Shakespeare Library

It’s time that we talk about paleography – the study of  handwriting. (Bear with me, we’re also going to make Almond Jumballs!) Without specialized training, Alyssa and I wouldn’t be able to read the historical recipes that we cook, research, and write about on this site. The archive of early modern manuscript recipe books is written in a mix of the two most common styles of handwriting:  secretary hand and italic hand.

Can you read these two recipes? The first hand has more italic features and the last one is a classic secretary hand.

If you’re looking for more resources, this website hosted by Cambridge University has a great online tutorial and the Folger Shakespeare Library hosts a resource guide here.

If you liked the experience of grappling with historical scripts, we encourage you to participate in Shakespeare’s World, a community transcription site developed by Zooniverse and the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project.

Alyssa and I learned how to read medieval and early modern handwriting when we were graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. We both participated in a student-run Paleography Workshop and I took a week-long course with Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library  at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia on “The Handwriting & Culture of Early Modern English Manuscripts.”  These experiences gave us the tools we needed to conduct our doctoral research and launch this project. In addition to providing you with tasty updated recipes and interesting background information, we have always included “semi-diplomatic transcriptions” of the original recipes completed to a high academic standard. Many of these recipes have never been transcribed before and posting them online in this readable form is one of our contributions to the field of historical food studies.

I’m currently in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library working on my book project, but when my former paleography teacher Heather Wolfe asked me to talk about historical recipes with her Introduction to English Paleography course I jumped at the chance.  I love the “Chacolet” recipe we made this winter from a Folger manuscript and wrote about for the Collation blog. We also had a great time giving a talk at the library last December. Within a few minutes of discussion, Heather and I had settled on a cooking project in addition to a visit to her class. Last week I cooked “Almond Jumballs” from Folger Manuscript V.a.429, fol. 52v with Heather, members of her class, and library staff and interns.  It was a blast!


This manuscript contains the handwriting of three (or more) individuals and it was used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Two sets of ownership inscriptions grace the  opening leaves (above).

Rose Kendall
& Ann Cater
there Book

Anna Maria Wentworth
Her Book 1726

The opening pages of the book are beautifully planned and decorated with remarkable calligraphic flourishes. Although the red ink disappears from later sections, the manuscript is neat overall. The index at the beginning seems to have been updated as recipes were added.

The Recipe

127366 - cropped

Almond Jumballs

Take a pound of Blanched Almonds, and beate them small in a Morter, putt
in a little Orange fflower, or Rose Water, to keep them from oyling, dry them against
the fire, till they crumble like bread, then boyle as much Sugar to a pritty thick
Syrrup as will make it up like Balls. keep it by you, to make Jumballs when you
please, half a pound will make a great many, put half a pound of the Balls in
a Morter, with three quarters of a pound of Sugar sifted and as just as many
whites of Eggs as will make it so stiffe as not to runn out. when it shall be spouted
with a syringe, for the purpose if you have not that Instrument you may lay them one
Paper in what figure you please but the Sugar almonds and Eggs must be well
beaten togeither. If it should not taste enough of Orange fflower Water you
may put in more as you beat it. sett them in an Oven as hot as for Biskett

This recipe has it all: lots of manuscripts have recipes for “jumballs” (like the one we posted a while back), the script included some tricky letter forms, and the recipe required fairly simple ingredients and methods. We knew we could make it in the Folger’s on-site tea kitchen. While I went into the classroom with a general plan for how to prepare the jumballs (we’d already purchased ingredients, after all!), we did ask the students in the course to consider how they would translate this recipe into actual ingredients and steps. They asked great questions which forced me to rethink my draft recipe both at the start and while we were in the kitchen.

There are two especially interesting things about this recipe. First of all, it instructs you to make a flower-water flavored ball of almond paste from blanched almonds and sugar. Presumably this mix might have been a shelf-stable item. Then, when you’re ready to make the jumballs, the recipe instructs you to pipe the batter through a syringe or otherwise shape them elaborately. Although we made valiant attempts to shape our jumballs, our dough did not cooperate.  We even tried piping it through a plastic glove with a snipped finger since we didn’t have a pastry bag! As a result, the egg measurement in our recipe below asks you to add egg whites one at a time and pay attention to the consistency of the mix.


Our Recipe

Makes about two dozen cookies.

1lb blanched almonds or ground almonds
2T orange flower water (or rose water)
3C sugar (1C for sugar syrup, 2C for cookie formation)
4-5 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Mix together ground almonds and flower water. Toast the almond mix for about 2 minutes. Remove when the mix starts to brown.

Make a “thick” sugar syrup. Bring 1C sugar and scant 1C water to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. This will produce about 1 1/2C sugar syrup.

Add the sugar syrup 1/2C at at time to the toasted almond mix. At this point you can form the mix into balls and divide into batches (if you prefer).

Raise the oven temperature to 400F.

Put the almond mix balls in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 2C sugar (for the whole amount).

Separate your eggs. You can either whip your egg whites to produce a slightly fluffier jumball or skip this step to create a chewier jumball (see results discussion below). Add egg whites to the almond sugar mix one at a time (approximate if whipped) until your dough is moist and pliable. You should be able to roll a piece of it into a log on a flat surface.

Taste the mixture and add additional flower water to taste. (We didn’t add any more at this point.)

Shape your dough into twists, letters, etc. Write your name, make a funny face, shape a flower, and have fun with it! Place your jumball shapes on two or more greased baking sheets.

Bake at 400F for 20 min until the jumballs are lightly browned.

The Results

Fresh from the oven the jumballs were chewy, sweet, and fragrant. A day later they were like hard macaroons. We were pleased with how they turned out. They were nothing like the buttery seed-filled shortbread-like Jumballs Alyssa and I made in 2014. Every recipe book seems to have a receipt for Jumballs and we look forward to exploring more versions with you soon.

Alyssa and I always learn when we cook together, but cooking with a group was a new experience for me. With so many people completing tasks and offering opinions, we collaborated to make a better version of the recipe. For example, we weren’t sure if we needed to whip the egg whites or not before adding them to the almond and sugar mixture. By dividing the almonds into two batches, were were able to try both approaches. After trying and tasting both versions, we decided that the  whipped egg whites added fluffiness, but because of the density of the almond mix they did not add enough buoyancy to make the step absolutely necessary. Others preferred the denser texture of the batch with the normal egg whites. My recipe above includes both options.

Here at Cooking in the Archives we believe that people can learn a lot about early modern recipes by reading them and cooking them. I can’t wait to here what else the Introduction to Paleography students find, try, taste, read, and learn as a result of this training.

Transcription Answers

The first example is from UPenn Ms. Codex 626 (32r) “Hopestill: Brett, Her Booke: 1678”

A sawce for a hare

Rost beef suit in the hares
shred when put in
belley: then bake it when shee is
Rosted and then put the graue
to it and sum butter and stis
Sum nutmig in and salt

The second example is from UPenn Ms. Codex 1601 (7r)

To boile Chickens on sorrell sops.
Truss your chickens & boile them in water
& salt, verie tender, then take a good
handfull of sorrell & beate itt stalke &
all, then straine itt & take a manchet
& cutt itt in sippetts & drye them before
The fire, then putt your green brouth

Lemon Posset

Possets teeter on the divide between medicine and food. These boozy, herbal, and, in this case, creamy, beverages are refreshing drinks on the one hand, and curative concoctions on the other. We made a “Could Possett” in the early days of this project and I decided that it was high time to try another.

This recipe for “Lemon Posset” comes from MS Codex 785, the source of my recent posts about Mutton with Oyster stuffing and Simnel cake.

The Recipe

lemon posset

Lemon Posset
Take a pint & a half of Cream a pint of Birch or
White Wine the juice of one Lemon, pare one half
of the peel thin and steep it all night in the Wine
and grater the other part when you put the Cream
to in the Morning and Sweeten ’em to your taste
work it in a Jug with a Chocolate Mill and take off
the Froth as it rises.

Our Recipe

1 cup white wine (I used Vino Verde but any decent drinkable will work.)
Grated or zested peel of a whole lemon, divided into two batches
Juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 cups cream
1T sugar (add more or less to taste)

Put half the lemon peel and the white wine in a jug. I used a standard 4-cup mixing jug and covered it with plastic wrap. Let this mixture sit overnight to infuse. You can also let it sit for 6-7 hours during the day if you plan to serve this in the evening.

Before serving, add the remaining lemon peel and lemon juice to the jug. Pour in the cream and whisk vigorously. Skim off rising froth or unpalatable debris. (I did not find his necessary.) Taste the posset. Add sugar, I added one tablespoon, until the posset is sweetened to your taste.

Consume immediately.

The Results

Between the wine and the lemon I expected this posset to curdle, like many hot possets do, but it didn’t. It was like a frothy lemon milkshake, a tangy yogurt lassi, or an herbaceous egg white cocktail. It was sweet even before I stirred in the sugar. I wondered what flavors Birch Wine might contribute to its overall flavor. Then I added an ice cube to my glass and sipped it as I cooked other things.

Although I enjoyed sipping my small glass of posset, I still had quite a bit of it left over. Inspired by its texture and flavor, I decided to put the remaining mix in my ice cream maker and see what happened. I’m pleased to report that lemon posset ice cream is delicious. Since I poured the posset mix straight into the frozen bowl without adding eggs or more sugar, the texture wasn’t as lovely as other ice creams I’ve made. That said, I heartily recommend experimenting with posset ice cream as temperatures rise this summer. Tweak the recipe, follow the instructions on your ice cream maker, and let us know what happens!

To stuff a Shoulder of Mutton with Oysters

It’s an in-between time. I’ve finished teaching my spring courses, but I’m still reading final papers, grading exams, and clearing my desk for summer research (and cooking).  The stalls at the farmers’ market have asparagus, rhubarb, and spring greens alongside scruffy apples and potatoes. Spring flowers and green leaves promise warmth, but it’s been a chilly, rainy week. Although I love spring sunshine, a gray Saturday was a perfect opportunity to cook a shoulder of lamb stuffed with oysters.

I found this recipe back in the fall and I immediately knew I wanted to try it. I love lamb, I love oysters, and I’d never eaten anything like this. The recipe is from MS Codex 785 and this manuscript also includes the Simnel I made at Easter and the biskets that formed the base for Bisket Pudding. Compiled in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, MS Codex 785 includes some complex culinary recipes along with standard items (biskets, dumplings, pancakes). This recipe’s combination of meat and seafood, mutton and oysters, is not entirely unusual in early modern culinary manuscripts. Sauces and stuffing rich with anchovies, for example, appear in preparations for chicken and other meats, too.

The Recipe

lamb with oysters

To stuff a Shoulder of Mutton with Oysters

Mince a good many Oysters very small, put to
Them grated bread, some suet mince’d small some
Sweet marjoram and lemmon peele all mince’d
Very small, beaten pepper, and salt if you
Find your oysters make it not salt enough, role
These very well up together in the yolks of eggs
Stuff all the inside of the Mutton very thick
Then have a good quantity of oysters ready
Stew’d against the Mutton is roasted to put
Into your dish for Sauce.

On a frigid day a few months ago, I purchased a frozen shoulder of lamb from the Livengood Farm stall at my local farmers’ market. If they had had mutton (an older sheep), which they sometimes do, I would have bought it instead. It’s often cheaper! I mention all this because until I defrosted the lamb shoulder on Saturday I had no idea what kind of bones were in my roast. In addition to the blade bone, there were also ribs in this roast which is sort of unusual. (Here’s a great YouTube video about how to remove the blade bone from a shoulder of lamb.) After much deliberation about the ribs, and assistance from my spouse Joseph, I decided to stuff, tie, and roast the lamb shoulder with the bones in. This dish will be easier to prepare and serve if you, or your butcher, bone your lamb shoulder before you start. The modern recipes for stuffed lamb shoulder from Julia Child and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall that I consulted in search of cooking times, all suggest starting this way. Here are recipes from Hugh, lamb shoulder roasted whole and stuffed lamb shoulder, and Julia braised stuffed lamb shoulder.

The  oysters delayed me for a while. I didn’t want to shell-out for “a good many” gorgeous raw oysters only to chop them into a stuffing. But I also found the cooked and canned options vexing.  I’ve purchased many cans of boiled clams over the years to bulk out a favorite pasta dish, but at first I could only find small, expensive cans of smoked oysters. I wasn’t sure if the smoked oyster flavor and texture would work in this dish. After some supermarket sleuthing, I found a can of boiled oysters and a small container of stewing oysters at a Reading Terminal Market fishmonger stall. I was finally ready to cook.

Although the oysters make this stuffing distinct, I could certainly taste the marjoram and lemon. Marjoram, a member of the oregano family, pairs wonderful with rich meats like lamb. I used grated beef suet in my stuffing because I had some in the freezer from when I made minced pies, but butter will certainly work in its place.

The end of this recipe mentions an oyster sauce. I added a few oysters to the roasting pan assuming that they might cook in excess lamb fat and form the basis of a wonderful gravy. However, the stuffing soaked up all the lamb’s juices and the pan oysters were desiccated. (They  had a jerky-like flavor and consistency and, honestly, they were delicious.) Since I didn’t have any extra oysters on hand, I did not attempt to serve this roast lamb with an oyster sauce. I’ve draft a provisional recipe for this garnish below if you’re interested in trying it. Next time I will buy more oysters!

Our Recipe

butcher’s twine
1 shoulder lamb or mutton (mine weighed 2 lbs, including bones)
8-12 oz raw or cooked oysters, chopped (I used an 8 oz can of boiled oysters and 3 oz of fresh, stewing oysters. If you have abundant, cheap, fresh oysters available to you, by all means use those instead!)
2 cups stale bread, chopped into small pieces
3T breadcrumbs
10 T beef suet, grated OR 8 T butter, cut into small pieces and left to come to room temperature
2 T fresh marjoram, roughly chopped (2T fresh oregano will also work. In a pinch, 2 t dried oregano might be a decent substitute if you can’t find fresh.)
Zest of one lemon
1 t ground black pepper plus more for coating the roast
3 egg yolks
Salt to taste
*oyster sauce to serve

Clean and prepare your lamb or mutton shoulder for stuffing.

Preheat your oven to 425F.

If you are using fresh chopped oysters, you may want to saute them in butter for a minute before adding them to the stuffing mix. This stuffing is not cooked before use like many modern stuffings.

Prepare stuffing. Mix bread, breadcrumbs, suet, chopped oysters, marjoram, lemon zest, and pepper. Taste test to see if you need more salt. Mix with egg yolks to soften. If your stuffing is dry and isn’t combining in glorious squishyness, add more butter or another egg yolk.

Stuff the lamb shoulder. Using butcher’s twine, tie the roast at one-inch intervals and place it in a roasting dish. Dress the lamb with pepper and salt. I added a few whole oysters to the pan and balls of leftover stuffing.

Roast at 425F for a half hour to brown the meat. Then turn the oven down to 325F and roast for another 30-60 minutes (depending on your preference for rare to well-done lamb). My roast needed 50 minutes at 325F. Rest 20 minutes before carving. Serve something green, something starchy, and maybe oyster sauce.

* A speculative recipe for oyster sauce, which I did not make:  Cook 3 oz fresh oysters in 2T butter. Season with marjoram, black pepper, and salt to taste. Serve with the cooked roast.

The Results

The lamb was moist and rich, the stuffing was herbaceous, mineral, and fishy with oysters. Now I want to stuff all the lamb. Joseph and I ate this as an elaborate weekend lunch with roast carrots and turnips, grilled asparagus, and my sourdough bread. It was a perfect, in-between, spring meal. Give this recipe a try on a rainy spring day before the strawberries show up at the market and the summer heat kicks in.

Hannah Woolley’s Bisket Pudding

A few weeks ago I prepared a dish of “Portugal Eggs,” a complicated banqueting dish with  many elements, from MS Codex 785. Like the recipe for “Lemmon Cakes” I posted a while ago, this recipe was copied into the manuscript from Hannah Woolley‘s The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to all Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex (1670). Woolley was an all-around lifestyle guru who not only wrote cookbooks, but also provided guidance on etiquette, homemaking, and interior design. (More on all this coming soon.)

In any case, this complex recipe required many components and one was biskets, neutral, lady-finger-like cookies. These bland, sweet, and slightly floral biscuits compliment the flavors around them.  Alyssa wrote about fixing a similar recipe, Hannah Glasse’s Naples biscuits, when she prepared “Artificial Potatoes.” I made a big batch of “the best bisket Cakes” from MS Codex 785 and I decided I would use them for a second recipe, Hannah Woolley’s “Bisket Pudding,” rather than let them go to waste.

Essentially, this is a bread pudding that starts with a rose-water scented cookie instead of stale bread. You can either make both recipes or use any bland cookie, old cake, or stale bread as the base of Woolley’s pudding.

The Recipe(s)

bisket Cakes

To make the best bisket Cakes

Take four new laid Eggs, leave out two of the
whites, beat them very well, then put in two
Spoonfulls of Rosewater, and beat them very
well together, then put in a pound of double
refin’d sugar beaten and search’d and beat
them together one hour, then put to them
one pound of fine flour, and beat them
together a good while, then put them upon
plates rubb’d over with butter, and set
them into the Oven as fast as you can
but have a care you do not bake them
too much.


Bisket Pudding

CCLXXII. To make Bisket Pudding.

Take Naples Biskets and cut them into Milk, and boil it, then put in Egg, Spice, Sugar, Marrow, and a little Salt, and so boil it and bake it.

Our Recipes


This recipe was relatively straightforward to update. It makes about 24 cookies.

4 eggs (2 whole, 2 whites only)
2 t rosewater
1 lb sugar (2 2/3 c)
1 lb flour (3 2/3 c)
butter or baking spray to coat the baking sheets

Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease two baking sheets with butter or your preferred baking spray,

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. I used a hand mixer for this, but a standing mixer would also work well. Add the rosewater to the eggs and continue beating. Add the sugar and beat on a high setting until the mixture starts to look fluffy (about 1 minute). Add the flour in three batches, allowing each to mix in fully.

Shape the dough into rough ovals. I did this by picking up about 2T of the dough and rolling it roughly in my hand. Make sure that you leave about a half an inch between the cookies as they expand a lot as they cook.

Bake 15 minutes. The bottom of the biscuits should be nicely browned and the top still a little spongy.

Cool on a rack before storing.


Boil then bake this “bread” pudding. Instead of adding bone marrow to the mix, I substituted some butter in its place.

2 c. milk
6-10 biskets, broken into small pieces
2 eggs
2 T sugar
2T butter
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a baking dish. I used an 8-inch oval ceramic dish, but a glass dish or a baking tin will work as well.

Pour the milk into a medium sauce pan. Add the broken biskets to the milk until you can no longer submerge the biskets in the liquid. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the pan and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Pour pudding mixture into your buttered baking dish. Bake for 45 min.

The Results

This pudding is delicious. It’s sweet, dense, and sticky like a good bread pudding should be. The rosewater that overpowered the biskets themselves is far mellower with the addition of dairy and cinnamon. The crispy edges are my favorite.

The photos don’t look like much, but I promise that this packs an impressive flavor.

To make a Simnel

Before I moved to England to study a decade ago, I had never heard of a Simnel Cake. When I asked people what it was, I usually got the same response: a light fruit cake for Easter. Needless to say, I was initially baffled by the concept of a “light” fruit cake.  But when I finally tried a Simnel Cake I knew I’d been missing out. It was sweet with marzipan and candied peel, rich with spice, and yes, it was “light.”  Now I always urge my spouse to make one as Easter approaches. We also usually re-watch this clip about Simnel-baking and egg-tossing from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series, too.

Although the origins of the Simnel Cake are highly debated, the Oxford English Dictionary includes mentions of Simnel from medieval and early modern sources. It’s long been “A kind of bread or bun made of fine flour” and “A rich currant cake, usually eaten on Mid-Lent Sunday in certain districts.” When I saw a recipe “To make a Simnel” in perennial favorite manuscript MS Codex 785, I knew which version of the Easter Simnel I’d be making this year.

The Recipe


To make a Simnel
Take half a peck of flour five or six whites of Eggs
well beaten a pint and an half of good milk, a quarter
of a pint of Sack, six Ounces of sugar, two pound
of Raisins of the Sun, two pound of Currants
half a pint of good Balme, three Nutmegs a
Race of Ginger, a little pepper, Cloves and Mace
make it into paste boyl it and it.

From the start, I wasn’t sure how much this would taste like a “light fruit cake” without the marzipan and candied peel showcased in modern recipes. But the recipe seemed straightforward except for that “half a pint of good Balme.” Ivan Day’s historical baking guide suggests that liquid “balme” in baking recipes often refers to liquid “barm,” or the yeasty scum on the top of home-brewed beer. This barm would have been full of wild beer yeasts. It leavened the bread and imparted funky fermented flavors. Researching this ingredient led me to treat this recipe for Simnel as a rich yeast bread.

Our Recipe

Our version of the Simnel receipt is quartered from the original recipe and makes two hearty loaves. I hand-kneaded this bread, but a standing mixer with a dough hook should also do the trick. Since this is a yeast bread, make sure you budget for an hour and a half of rising time! Alternatively, you can prepare the dough in advance. Keep it in you fridge overnight, allow it to return to room temperature for about an hour or so, and then bake it.

It was fun to pour a favorite local beer into this dough. I used Yards “Brawler,” an English mild style session beer,  but other lagers and pale ales will work as well.  Feel free to experiment with other beers and let us know if they impart unique flavors to the bread. I also used brandy in place of the sack, but sherry is an equally good substitute.

4 1/2 C flour (1.75 lb)
1/4 C sugar (1.5 oz)
1 t yeast
1/2 t nutmeg, freshly grated or ground
1 t ground ginger
1/4 t black pepper, freshly ground or pre-ground
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t mace
1 1/2 C raisins (1/2 lb)
1 1/3 C currants (1/2 lb)
3/4 C milk
2 egg whites, beaten
1 C beer
1 oz sack

Mix the dry ingredients — flour, sugar, yeast, spices — in a large, sturdy bowl. Add the raisins and currants.

Add the milk to the dry mix and stir it in. Add the eggs and continue stirring. Add the beer and the sack. The mix should resemble a rough dough that you can shape into a ball. If it’s too wet to handle, add a little more flour by the tablespoonful. Alternatively, if it’s too dry, add water, milk, or beer by the tablespoonful to soften it.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for five minutes until the dough is smooth. It should look glossy and consistent. Don’t worry if the raisins and currants keep falling out of the dough! Just fold them back in. Shape the dough into a ball.

Place the dough into a bowl greased with butter, baking spray, or oil. Set in a warm place to rise for about an hour and a half. This dough doesn’t rise dramatically because of the huge amount of dried fruit mixed into it. The dough is ready to bake when it springs back when poked.

Preheat your oven to 375F. Grease two baking sheets with butter, baking spray, or oil. I shaped my dough into two, round, free-style loaves, but you can also bake it in a well-greased rectangular or circular baking tin.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the loaves are nicely browned on top and bottom. When you turn them over and tap the bottom, the bread should make a hollow sound.

The Results

This is a delicious, spicy, fruity bread.  It reminds me more of spiced, English hot cross buns than the modern simnel cakes I’ve eaten. The pepper keeps catching me off guard as I eat slices with tea whilst grading a huge pile of midterms and papers. The beer, milk, and eggs add a sweet richness to the bread that I’d normally expect from a loaf of challah. It makes great toast and I anticipate it freezing well, too.

To make a seed cake

So, I chose to make this particular recipe because 1) I had all the ingredients on hand, and 2) it looked easy. I admit it – no loftier goals than that. But isn’t ease and convenience how we often choose recipes? And perhaps the same applied for this cake’s original cooks. After all, we don’t always have the inclination (or eggs) to make a “rich cake” that requires 24 eggs. But a simple cake that requires only four ingredients? No wonder Catherine Cotton included this recipe in her book.

This “seed cake” comes from one of our favorite volumes, Catherine Cotton’s UPenn Ms. Codex 214. We’ve seen seed cakes come up in other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century recipe books, so it seems safe to say that seed cake was probably fairly common at the time. Interestingly, this recipe would have yielded quite a large cake: halved, it more than filled an 8″ round, so this would have been cake for a crowd.


The Recipe

seed cakes

To make a seed cake

Take the whites of 8 eggs beat them very well then
put the yolks to them & beat them very well together then
put to it a pound of sugar beat & sifted very fine & beat
it for half an hour then make it a little warm over the
fire & after that put in 3 quarters of a pound of flower
very well dryed a quarter of an ounce of carraway seeds
stirr it well together & put it into the pan it will take 3
quarters of a hour to bake it /

Our Recipe
(halved from the original)

4 eggs, separated
1 heaping c. (1/2 lb.) sugar
1 1/4 c. (6 oz. or 3/8 lb.) flour
1.5 tsp. (1/8 oz.) caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″ round pan or other baking dish.*

In a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat eggs whites until stiff but not dry. Then add egg yolks and beat until mixture is uniformly yellow and still fluffy. Add sugar and beat at medium speed for about 10 mins., or until light and shiny.* Scrape down bowl and stir in flour and caraway seeds with a spatula.

Bake for 45-50 mins., until top is dry and firm to the touch. Cool in pan 10 mins., then run a knife around the edges to loosen it and turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: I used an 8″ round pan and, as you can see, barely escaped a cake batter overflow disaster. 9″ would be safer.

**Note: I actually forgot the next step, to “make it a little warm over the fire”! This didn’t seem to detract from the final outcome, but you might set the mixing bowl briefly over a double boiler if you’d like to be thorough!

The Results

I’m always curious to try a recipe that we see come up, with minor variations, across multiple recipe books. But I didn’t have extraordinarily high hopes for this cake – eggs + sugar + flour + caraway seeds? I expected something blandly palatable, mildly sweet, perhaps dense and a little dry.

Instead, I ended up with something between a pound cake and an angel food cake: sweet without being cloying, moist, nicely chewy, with a sweet crackly crust. Hello, seed cake! Welcome to the rotation – I’ll be making this one again. And while the simplicity of the recipe is part of its charm, it also means that there’s plenty of room for experimentation with extracts, zest, different seeds in different amounts, perhaps even finely chopped dried fruit or miniature chocolate chips. Wrapped well, it stayed moist for several days. And it’s a lovely cake to have with tea or coffee.