To make a Leach of Dates

Leach of Dates is a dish fit for a banquet table. (No, it’s not that kind of leech!) Naturally sweet from dates, elevated with sugar, scented with rosewater, and spiced with cinnamon and ginger, a tiny bite of this confection is immensely flavorful. In the early decades of the seventeenth century, Leach of Dates would have been served on a delightfully arranged banquet table alongside marchpane, jumbles, nuts, candied fruits, suckets, comfits, and gingerbread.

Leach of Dates

As Ken Albala writes in The Banquet“The word [banquet] itself derives from a board or bank mounted by a street performer or mountebank, or set on trestles for dining. Thus banquets could be staged anywhere, because in Renaissance-era Europe, homes lacked a fixed room with stationary tables for dining. The term took an odd twist in England, where it denoted the final portable dessert course of sweetmeats and fruit. Elsewhere it meant an entire meal, the grandest that could be imagined at European courts” (vii). Banquets were feasts for all senses and even the smallest confections were beautifully designed and highly flavorful.

Leach is a thick preserve of fruits that can be molded or sliced. Some recipes include nuts and emulsifying agents to add structure to the confection. As Stephen Schmidt writes in an excellent blog post about banqueting, “There was also a specialized jelly called leach (from a French word meaning slice), which was creamy and rose-water-scented and was set with the new-fangled isinglass, made from sturgeon swim bladders.” The recipe for Leach of Dates relied on the natural viscosity of the dates and bread crumbs for structure, rather than isinglass.

Like my last post about a cure “ffor a cold,” this recipe “To make a Leach of Dates” is from an early seventeenth-century recipe book from the library of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612). It was likely created around 1610 and is now held at the Indiana University, Lilly Library. As Schmidt notes, the final pages of this manuscript list “Severall sort of sweet meates fitting for a Banquett” and fruit pastes and jellies form the bulk of this list.

Original Recipe

recipe in original manuscript

To make a Leach of Dates.
Take and beate your Dates in a morter
with suger, synamon, ginger, sauders and
rosewater till they bee fine, then putt
in grated bread and beate them together
till it bee thikke and soe serve it forth
in moylde or loves.

After transcribing this recipe, I was left with some questions about “sauders.” On the one hand, this could be a misspelling of “saunders,” a common spelling for sandalwood in the period. Sandalwood was commonly added to sweet, savory, and medicinal recipes in the form of a powder. On the other hand, “sauders” could be connected to isinglass or other emulsifying agents that might help this leach set into a harder paste. Finally, I tested this recipe with Cinnamon Verum. If you’re using Cassia Cinnamon it will taste slightly different. Readers, I would love to hear what you think about “sauders” and if you happen to test this recipe using cassia.

Updated Recipe

4 dates
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 Tablespoon bread crumbs

Remove the pits and stems from the dates. Chop them finely.

Put the chopped dates in a mortar and pestle with the sugar, spices, and rosewater. Beat into a uniform paste. Add bread crumbs and combine until thick.

Shape the paste freeform or using molds.

The Results

Sweet and spicy, the Leach of Dates reminded me of panforte. Each tiny morsel was full of flavor and the scent of rosewater dominated.

I was immediately able to slice the confection into small wedges. I’m planning to check on the Leach in the coming days and see if the texture changes. I anticipate that it will set more as it sits in my kitchen cupboard.

Ultimately, Leach of Dates surprised and delighted me. In the concordia discors of the banquet table, this petite confection invites as much pleasure as an elaborate marchpane sculpture or a prettily arranged plate.

I’ve been thinking about banquets quite a bit in the past weeks as I collaborated on the creation of a performance at Penn State Abington called Exit: A Banquet Piece. I’d like to thank Jac Pryor, for collaborating on this experimental course and performance with me, and I’d like to thank Jonathan Bercovici, Madison Branch, Kyleigh Byers, Jaleel Hunter, Trim Walker, George Ye,  and Aman Zabian for inspiration and conversation. As always, thank you to Joseph Malcomson for taste testing and brainstorming.

ffor a cold

Lately I’ve been writing a piece about recipe manuscripts and William Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. I’m reading and transcribing  a unique early seventeenth-century recipe book from the library of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612). The description of the manuscript in the Indiana University, Lilly Library catalog (where it is now held) and the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey description concur that the manuscript was likely created circa 1610 around the time of Prince Henry Frederick’s investiture as Prince of Wales. The young prince died of typhoid fever a few years later in 1612 when he was 18.

cover of manuscript with Prince Henry Frederick's arms

The cover of the manuscript is embossed with Prince Henry Frederick’s coat of arms. (The Stuart arms with specific features denoting the Prince of Wales. For more info, see https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2018/10/the-royals-are-here.html)

The majority of the recipe books that I’ve cooked from and written about on this site are from later in the seventeenth century or the eighteenth century. As I’ve been researching and writing, I’ve noted a number of recipes from the Prince Henry manuscript that I look forward to sharing with you. Today, I want to start with this recipe “ffor a cold.” Although this recipe appears in the “Chirurgery” section of the manuscript, I thought it also had culinary potential when I first read it. I was right.

Original Recipe

manuscript image of recipe

ffor a Cold.
Take Garleeke and seeth it in
two or three waters and when
it is very softe then take it vpp
and mingle it with yealowe suger
Candy well together and eate of
this when you goe to bedd five
or six nighte together.

I was immediately intrigued by the combination of cooked garlic and sugar because I love roasting garlic to reveal its natural sweetness. As Sarah Lohman writes in the “Garlic” chapter of her wonderful book Eight Flavors, “A clove of garlic, the part of the plant we cook with most often, is actually a leaf: a storage vessel that packs away energy for the next growing season. The energy stored in the cloves is in the form of sugar — specifically fructose — which is why a clove tastes sweet when it is cooked slowly and caramelizes when roasted” (150).* Now I had never mixed garlic with sugar before and ground it into a paste, but memories of garlic ice cream recipes and sweet braises with garlic came to mind.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century, English cooks were more interested in garlic’s medicinal properties than its culinary potential. In Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala explains that outside of Southern Europe, garlic eating was associated with the lower classes and with medicinal preparations. He writes, “The therapeutic virtues of garlic were also recognized from an early date, and as the ‘poor man’s theriac’ or medicine, it was recommended for those who could not afford more expensive spices. But it was also thought to be difficult to digest, which is why, they claimed, it causes bad breath” (34-35). It’s curious to me that a manuscript from the elite household of the Prince of Wales would take note of humble remedies like this one alongside heavily spiced preparations. A perfume recipe follows directly after this cold cure and would have been prepared and used to ward off miasma, or bad air, associated with diseases like plague.

Gerrard’s Herbal, however, persuasively claims that the warming humoral properties of garlic are especially well-suited to disperse a wet, sniffly, drippy cold symptoms as “Garlic is very sharp, hot, and dry, as Galen saith.” The Herbal also notes “But if it be boiled in water until such time as it hath lost his sharpeness, it is the less forcible, and retaineth no longer his evil juice, as Galen saith” and thus the boiling diminishes the abrasive properties of garlic. Boiled and sweetened with “yealowe suger” — similar to Demerara sugar — this garlic concoction is both a tasty medicine and a culinary treat.

Updated Recipe

3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sugar

Boil the garlic in water until tender, approximately 20 minutes. (I put three cloves of garlic in cold water in a small pot. I brought the water to a boil, reduced the temperature, and let is simmer for 5 minutes. I drained off the water, let the garlic rest for a bit and then repeated the process and simmered the garlic for 15 minutes. I did this to honor the “two or three waters” instruction in the recipe, but I doubt that the results would be different if I had simply simmered the cloves for 20 minutes.)

Mash the garlic with sugar.

Eat before bed for five or six days to treat a cold. Spread on a cracker or toasted bread to enjoy non-medicinally.

The resulting garlic paste tasted like extra-sweet caramelized garlic cloves that had been slowly roasted in an oven. If I did have a cold, the sugar would help this medicine go down. I enjoyed it spread on a cracker and I think it would be delicious on a piece of hearty, toasted bread. It is worth noting, however, that garlic breath is an inevitable side effect whether this recipe wards off a cold or simply delights the palate.

*For a preview of Lohman’s garlic chapter, see this post on The New York Academy of Medicine Blog, but for the longer story (near and dear to my heart) about garlic, Italian immigration, and the post-Julia-Child garlic boom as French cooking trends swept through America, you need to read her book.

Lecture and cooking demo announcement!

I will be giving a public lecture and cooking demonstration about this project (and this recipe for Knotts) at 1:30 EST on Saturday February 12th as part of a Ohio State University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies conference — Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2022 – The Experimental Archaeology of Medieval and Renaissance Food. 


All are welcome (there are also many interesting sessions being held at the conference in Columbus, Ohio).

Info for registration here: https://go.osu.edu/pcdp2022

John Locke’s recipe for Pancakes

cooked pancake on a plate

A collection of philosopher John Locke‘s papers at the Bodleian Library includes letters, accounts, poetry, notes on medicine and books, and recipes. When David Armitage posted this recipe for pancakes in the Bodleian collection on Twitter, I knew that I wanted to try it. These rich, nutmeg-scented pancakes are absolutely delicious. (Many thanks to Rhae Lynn Barnes and the other readers who immediately sent this recipe my way.)

 

In Philip Long’s catalog of the collection at the Bodleian, he notes that this recipe, and a few others, were written by Locke: “A collection of twelve recipes dated 1675-94, of which three (fols. 85, 89, 91) are in Locke’s hand” (2). The next time I visit Oxford for research, I will be excited to see this recipe as well as the eleven others in this set of miscellaneous papers.

coffee in cup, pancake on plate

Original Recipe

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries MSS. Locke c. 25, fol. 85. (Photo from David Armitage)

pancakes
Take sweet cream 3/4 + pint. Flower a
quarter of a pound. Eggs four 7 leave out two 4 of
the whites. Beat the Eggs very well. Then put in
the flower, beat it a quarter of an hower. Then
put in six spoonfulls of the Cream, beat it a litle
Take new sweet butter half a pound. Melt it to oyle, &
take off the skum, power in all the clear by degrees
beating it all the time. Then put in the rest of
your cream. beat it well. Half a grated nutmeg
& litle orangeflower water. Frie it without butter.
This is the right way

From the start, I was intrigued by the cross-outs and other notes in the recipe. It appears that it was first drafted (or prepared) using significantly fewer eggs. The modifier “new” was added before “sweet butter” at some point. Locke may have written the final note “This is the right way” as part of the initial draft or after the recipe was prepared. Locke was attentive to the details of separating and whisking eggs as well as adding just the right amount of orange blossom water (“litle”) and nutmeg (“Half a grated nutmeg”) – an exceptional, expensive amount.

Like the other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pancakes that I’ve tried, these fall somewhere between crêpes and American pancakes: They’re a bit fluffier and fattier than a classic French crêpe and have far less rise than my favorite American breakfast version. My spouse, Joseph, described Locke’s pancakes as somewhere between a classic English pancake and a Scotch pancake (or Scottish pancake).

Many of the commenters on Twitter balked at the instruction to beat the eggs and flour for a “quarter of an hower.” These extended mixing times, however, are common in early modern recipes. While I did prepare my version using a hand-held mixer to ensure thorough beating, I did reduce the mixing time to avoid over-mixing which can lead to a chewy pancake. From what I know about historical and contemporary flour milling, this would not have been a concern for Locke or his cook.

Updated Recipe

Makes approximately 10 8-inch pancakes

1 cup butter (2 sticks, 1/2 lb, 226g)
3 whole eggs plus 4 additional egg yolks
1 cup flour (1/4 lb, 113g)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 Tablespoon orange blossom water
half a nutmeg, grated

First, melt the butter. Set it aside.

Put the whole eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl. Beat with a whisk or hand-held mixer until well combined.

Add the flour and beat until smooth and completely combined. Add 6 Tablespoons of the cream to the egg flour mixture and mix until combined. While stirring or beating, pour in the melted butter. Add the remaining cream and orange blossom water and stir to combine. Grate 1/2 a nutmeg and stir into batter.

Heat a frying pan or skillet on a high heat until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Lower the heat to medium.

Pour approximately half a cup of batter into the center of the pan and spread by swirling the pan to create an 8-inch pancake. Cook for 1 minute or until the edges of the pancake lift and appear lacy and the middle looks mostly set. Flip the pancake and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Repeat until your batter is gone. Serve the pancakes immediately.

1/3 eaten pancake

The Results

Between the rich dairy and the fragrant nutmeg, these pancakes made for a decadent breakfast. When Locke wrote down, and perhaps prepared this recipe, the eggs, cream, butter, and flour would all have been ingredients ready to hand in many households. The addition of so much nutmeg and a dash of orange blossom water elevates this specific pancake recipe to a special treat.

I certainly enjoyed sitting down with a plate of pancakes drizzled with a little bit of honey, a cup of coffee, and an old, heavily annotated copy of Locke that I read for a class that I took more than a decade ago. If you make these pancakes on a future winter morning or as part of your holiday vacation, be sure to let me know.

book Locke's two treatises, and plate with pancakes and fork

To Make Quince Cream

Since I love cooking with quinces at this time of year, I was eager to prepare this recipe “To Make Quince Cream” as part of my ongoing exploration of Christian Barclay‘s recipe book. In this post about a recipe to preserve quinces that I tried a few years ago, I wax poetic about the floral, fragrant quince as well as early modern and contemporary preserving practices. Instead of focusing on the fruit here, I’m going to consider the “cream.”

Quinces in a bowl

This recipe instructs a cook to stir cooled, cinnamon-infused cream into cooked, mashed, and sweetened quinces. It clearly explains the cooking method, but the recipe is short on measurements. A cook could add as much or as little cream as they preferred depending on their taste and the number of quinces that they were working with. They could also use this recipe to make a cream flavored with pears or wardens (a pear cultivar). In any case, sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century English and Scottish cooks would have had access to an ample supply of dairy products to prepare creams.

Stephen Schmidt argues that creams specifically united rural and elite celebratory traditions in his post “What, Exactly, Was the Tudor and Stuart Banquet?” He writes that “Fresh fruits, cream, and local iterations of butter-rich cakes were typical treats of outdoor country festivals like May Day, which Robert Herrick frames as an idyll of ‘Cakes and Creame’ in his famed poem ‘Corinna’s Gone a Maying.’ The elite, meanwhile,  enjoyed sophisticated dishes called creams in the lighter, sweeter, generally more delicate second course of dinner, which intermixed savory morsels like roasted songbirds, sauced lobster meat, and prime seasonal vegetables with creams and other sweets like gelatin jellies and fruit tarts.” Due to widespread dairy production, creams might accompany humble or decadent celebrations – with or without spices, fruit, or accompanying cakes. As Ken Albala writes, in The Banquet, “by the mid sixteenth century, cheese and dairy products had become a major item on banquet menus” and English cookbooks regularly included recipes for “dairy-based desserts” such as “trifles, fools, creams, and flummeries” (49). Creams fit into the Concordia discors of the banqueting table by offering a soft, rich, cooling (and, in this case, fruity) contrast to an array of spiced, sweetened, and savory dishes laid out at the same time. (I explore this concept further in my post on “Portugal Eggs.”) There are a number of recipes for “creams” that I’ve tested for this site that encapsulate this trend. Quince cream is a fitting recipe for a celebratory seasonal gathering in late autumn or early winter when the fruit is at its best.

Original Recipe 

Barclay, 155 Quince Cream

To Make Quince Cream
Take & boyll them in fair water
but first let the water boyll, then
[p]ut them in, & being tender boylled
[t]ake them up & peele them, strain
[t]hem & mingle it with fine sugar
[t]hen take some very good & sweet
[c]ream mix all together & make it
of a fit thicknes, or boyll the cream
with a stick of Cinamon, & Let it
stand till it be cold before you put
[i]t to the quince, thus you do wardens
[o]r pears

Updated Recipe

2 small quinces (390g, 13.8oz)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream
1 cinnamon stick

Put the whole quinces in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes or until the quinces are tender when poked with a fork.

While the quinces are cooking, put the cream and cinnamon stick in a pot. Bring to a simmer and then set aside and let cool.

Peel and core the cooked quinces. Mash them in a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Then stir in the cooled, cinnamon-infused cream.

The Results

The quince cream was sweet and floral with a hint of cinnamon. I found it quite rich, but pleasantly flavored. Although I ate it on its own, if I made it again I would serve it with a crunchy “cake” or cookie. My recipes for knotts, jumballs, or little cakes immediately come to mind. Let me know if you try this quince cream with an accompaniment or as part of a banqueting spread. (Let me know if you try it with pears (or wardens) instead of quinces, too!)

I would like to thank Clara Drummond, Heather Froehlich, Christina Riehman-Murphy, and my PSU Abington students for conversations about this manuscript that, in part, lead to me preparing this recipe.

Cinamon Watter

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time (online) with Christian Barclay Jaffary’s manuscript recipe book. Now that the manuscript is fully digitized and available online from Penn State Libraries – Eberly Family Special Collections, I’m transcribing and researching the manuscript with undergraduate students and library colleagues. Naturally, I’ve started a running list of recipes that I’m excited to try. First up, a medicinal “Cinamon Watter” that serves as a delectable, autumnal cocktail ingredient.

Christian Barclay Jaffary was the daughter of Scottish Quaker leader Robert Barclay and Christian (née Millison). She started to compile this recipe book — as she sub-titled it “the fruits of a young wo- / man’s spare hours” — in 1697 and she married Alexander Jaffary in 1700. The recipe book is part of a larger collection of Barclay family papers at Penn State that includes letters between Robert Barclay and William Penn, information about land holdings in Pennsylvania, and genealogical studies of the Barclays of Ury.

The Recipe

Receipt book written by Christian Barclay Jaffray : manuscript

(28) 

Cinamon Watter  

Take of clooes Ginger Cardamus Galanga[l] 

pulvirised of each half a dram of choise 

cinamon bruised in pices three ounces stee[p] 

these in a Scotts pint of the best Brandy and 

a mutskin of fragrant reed Rose watter f[or] 

[the] Space of 7 hours in a clos stoped glass 

veshell then filtre them and ad one pound 

ane half of refined sugar mor or less as 

you wold hav the sweetnes the powdar will 

serv the 2d or 3d time to new brandy which 

will equall any of yower 8 pound cinamon watt[er] 

The recipe nicely reflects its composition, and perhaps use, at the family estate in Ury, Scotland. It calls for “a Scotts pint of the best Brandy” which is a volume of 1696 ml (3 imperial pints or approximately 3 1/2 US pints). The recipe also uses the measurement of “a mutskin” or “mutchkin” (1/4 of a Scots pint) for rosewater.

Although the cover of the manuscript includes the inscription “Manuscript / to make Medicine,” Barclay’s receipt book features extensive sections on medicine, cookery, and fabric dying. “Cinamon Watter” is in the medicinal section of the manuscript and is likely intended to soothe the body with Brandy and warming spices – cloves, ginger, cardamom, and the ginger variety galangal. The instructions also include an element of thrift since the final lines note that the spices might be infused a second and a third time to prepare additional batches of the tonic.

Updated Recipe

 This makes 1/3 the original recipe.

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large cinnamon sticks
2 1/2 cups brandy (565 ml)
1/2 cup rosewater (141 ml)
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar

Combine spices, rosewater, and brandy in a large jar or carafe. Cover and let infuse for 7 hours.

Strain out spices using a metal strainer. Stir in sugar until it dissolves.

The Results & Serving Suggestions

I tasted the infused brandy before I stirred in the sugar and it was certainly spicy, but harshly medicinal. The sugar smooths the whole blend out. In the final “Watter,” the cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, and ginger all come through with an after-note of rose. That said, I might add a bit less sugar next time as I found myself adding lots of mixers when I was testing drinks simply to cut down on the sweetness.

Sparkling “Cinamon Watter”: 1 shot of the mixture with a few ice cubes and a generous pour of sparkling water made for a refreshing spiced tall drink.

Spiced Cider with “Cinamon Watter”: 1 shot of the mixture to about a half a cup of apple cider for an instantly boozy and spiced cider drink.

This Halloween weekend, I might stir some into an old fashioned or use it to add spice to a sour. If you experiment with this drink, please let me know.

I would like to thank Clara Drummond, Heather Froehlich, Christina Riehman-Murphy, and my PSU Abington students for conversations about this manuscript and collective work on transcribing this particular recipe. I would also like to thank Rhae Lynn Barnes, Kate Ferraguto, and Joseph Malcomson for taste-testing and cocktail ideas.

How to make Donuts 

I love doughnuts. When I crave one, however, I usually go to one of the excellent doughnut shops in my area, rather than make them myself. It was exciting to try this delicious recipe for spiced, sweet donuts fried in butter when friends were visiting earlier this summer. We were all delighted with how they turned out.

 I hope this recipe for “How to make Donuts” will entice you into the kitchen. Today I’m also inviting you to a virtual baking competition: the second, annual The Great Rare Books Bake Off, a friendly contest between the sister libraries of Penn State University and Monash University. There are twelve intriguing recipes to try out; six from the collection of each library. An engraved pie pan trophy will be awarded to the library that receives the most social media posts featuring photos of your baked goods tagged with its hashtag: #BakePennState or #BakeMonash. The competition runs 5-11 September 2021 so you have lots of time to read the recipes, shop for ingredients, and get baking. All the details are on the site linked above.

As the Penn State lead baker, I encourage you, Cooking in the Archives readers, to give these donuts a try and cast your vote in #TheGreatRareBooksBakeOff If doughnuts are not for you, there other recipes to choose from. Last year, I updated a lemon tart recipe and I’ve also helped with some of the early twentieth-century recipes: Suffrage Angel Cake (new this year!), Cinnamon Buns, and Lamington Cake. I might give the Pavlova recipe a try next week, too.

Thanks to the hard-working digitization staff at Penn State Libraries, I’ve been able to spend time with images of Christian Barclay’s manuscript recipe book even though I haven’t been able to visit Eberly Family Special Collections to consult it in person recently. Her recipe with instructions “How to make Donuts” (61v) is one of the many culinary and medicinal recipes in the volume. Here is the information about the manuscript that my Penn State Libraries colleagues wrote up for our Bake Off site:

This donut recipe comes from a handwritten recipe book kept by Christian Barclay from 1697-1723, which includes cooking recipes, home remedies, instructions for dying cloth various colors, and two pages of marriage and birth records of her children with Alexander Jaffray. The recipe book is part of the Robert Barclay of Ury family papers and maps, 1685-1835 collection.

I have a few more recipes from Barclay’s manuscript on my to-cook list and I’m also hoping to transcribe it with future students as a part of my “What’s in a Recipe?” undergraduate research project.

The Recipe

How to make Donuts 

Take one english pint of flour take 3 eggs

taking out 2 of the yolks, beat it with 

suggar, till they be like a thin sirup

grate a little ginger, & 2 or 3 cloves &

nutmug among it, take as much butter

as eggs, & as much milk as eggs and

butter both, put the butter & milk to 

the boyll together, then pour it in

among the flour, stirring it with

a spoon, then put in the eggs still

working it up like paste, roull it out

with a roulling pin, like a cake,

cut it in what form ye please, have

a pan boylling with a good deall of

butter, so putting them in the boylling

butter little & little, let them

boyll till they be crisp, then take 

them out if ther be butter enough

to color them ye may put in

& take out till the butter be

quite broun.

Some modern doughnuts are leavened with yeast and have an open, light texture while others get their rise from bicarbonate of soda and have a denser, cake-like texture. Barclay’s donuts puff-up slightly from the eggs during frying, but are unlike either modern yeasted or cake doughnuts. The flavors, however, are spectacular. The blend of ginger, clove, and nutmeg spices with the rich, sweet dough, and butter frying medium makes for a truly delicious treat.

Updated Recipe

Makes 24+ 2-inch (50 mm) donut rounds.

3 eggs (one whole egg and two egg whites)

¼ cup (50g) sugar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg

1 cup (250g) milk

17 tablespoons (238g) butter, divided – 9 tablespoons (125g) butter for the dough, 8 tablespoons (113g) for frying 

2 cups flour (272g), plus additional flour for rolling out dough

Optional: powdered sugar for serving

Separate the whites from the yolks of two eggs. You will use one whole egg and two egg whites for the batter. 

Whisk together the eggs, spices, and sugar. Set aside.

Melt butter and warm milk together in a saucepan or the microwave until the mixture begins to bubble.

Measure out the flour in a large bowl. Pour the hot butter and milk mixture and stir to combine. Then add the egg mixture and form into a soft dough.

Put the dough on a floured surface and flatten with your hands and/or a rolling pin to approximately ¼ inch (1/2 cm) thickness. Cut the dough into rounds or strips that will fit in your frying pan or skillet. (I used a 1 inch (50mm) pastry ring to cut small, circular donuts.)

Heat butter in a sturdy frying pan or skillet until sizzling. The butter-level should be high enough that the thin donuts are almost entirely submerged.

Fry the donuts in butter until golden brown and crispy. Flip the doughnuts so that both sides brown. Depending on your stove and pan, this should take approximately 1 minute for each side. Not all your donuts will fit in the pan at the same time. Do not crowd them and instead cook in approximately three batches. 

Consume your donuts immediately. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving if desired. 

donut held in hand over plate

The Results

Sweet, lightly-spiced, and buttery, these donuts were delicious straight from the frying pan. My guests and I devoured the first batch while I was still frying the others. There were no leftovers.

How to make a London Possett

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the conference Intoxicating Spaces: Global and Comparative Perspectives and sharing my research on a recipe for “The Ice Cream” that I posted here two years ago. The ice cream recipe is from a manuscript that was compiled and used by Elisabeth Hawar around 1687, and it includes two London addresses. The recipe book is now held at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library (fMS.1975.003). In my paper, I tried to locate Elisabeth Hawar’s recipe book in the mercantile communities of Shoreditch and Spitalfields in East London at the end of the seventeenth century.

Hawar’s book has another, intriguing London reference: a recipe for “How to make a London Possett.” I’m not sure, exactly, why this posset recipe is specific to London, but it’s certainly another link between Hawar’s manuscript and the city where she lived, cooked, and ate. I didn’t have time to speak about the posset at the conference — there’s always a lot to say about ice cream! — but I wanted to share some thoughts about testing Hawar’s posset recipe here.

Original Recipe

How to make a London Possett
2x
Take a pint of sack & 12 eggs, beat them very well both
whites & yolkes, then strain them & put the sack & eggs
togather, & sweeten it with sugar & Nutmegg as you
please, & sett it ouer the fire keeping it stirring till it be
scalding hot then take it of the fire & put in a quart
of Creame boyling hott, holding your hand as high as
you can in the pouring of it, then give it a stir &
couer it close with a plate, & let it alone till it be like
Cheese, & if it shoud not come set it on a gentle fire
till it begins to Corn.

A word of warning: As curious as I was about this recipe, my recipe trial didn’t quite work. There were many clumps of eggs in the finished posset, but no pleasant “cheese.” I can think of a number of reasons for the failure of the recipe trial to produce what Hawar describes. I suspect the biggest culprits were my twenty-first century ingredients: modern sherry substituted for seventeenth-century sack, egg size and moisture differences, cream pasteurization and homogenization. I also wonder if a tall thin, cooking pot might have enabled the ingredients to separate differently. Finally, it was a hot day in Philadelphia which may have impacted the ingredients and the finished product. 

Updated Recipe

This recipe is halved from the original and did not produce the desired “cheese.” I invite you to use it as a starting point and share the results of your own recipe trials in the comments.

1/2 cup sherry

3 eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 tablespoon nutmeg, freshly grated

1 cup cream

Beat the eggs together. Add sack, sugar, and nutmeg to the eggs.

Pour this mixture into a medium size pot. Gently heat to body temperature. Do not allow the eggs to cook.

In a separate, smaller pot, boil the cream.

Pour the cream into the egg and sack mix from a high hight.

Cover the posset with a lid and let it cool. A cheesy layer of eggs and cream should form on the top.

Sip and enjoy.

To make Coffee

I love coffee. Naturally, when I saw receipt “To make Coffee” in a tweet from Somerset Archives, I was intrigued.

Sandford collection, ref DD/SF/7/1/14 https://somerset-cat.swheritage.org.uk/records/DD/SF/7/1/14

Reading recipe manuscripts, I’ve seen coffee called for as a flavoring for creams or “coffee cups” used for measurement. I’ve also read about the popularity of coffee in seventeenth-century London and the lively debates in coffee houses as part of the growing public sphere. This recipe, however, provides instructions for preparing coffee at home to serve to a household and its guests. It offers a window into domestic coffee consumption rather than the public coffee house. (There is also likely more to learn about the connection between Mary Clarke, her coffee recipe, and John Locke, but that will have to wait until I can visit Somerset.)

But this coffee recipe also gave me pause because it’s so simple. It only calls for “spring-water” and “Coffee-powder” and I knew that these two seventeenth-century ingredients were markedly different than the tap water and coffee beans that I had in my kitchen. Given these differences, how would I go about preparing it? And what could I possibly learn from trying this recipe in my own kitchen?

coffee beans on cutting board, coffee grounds in teaspoon

Yet the recipe has been stuck in my mind since I saw that tweet in April. It was often on my mind when I brewed a pot of morning coffee – how could 45 minutes of boiling ground coffee make a good cup of coffee? And it was on my mind when I read Neha Vermani’s wonderful post “Spilling the beans: The Islamic history of coffee” which centers Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal coffee culture. Vermani shows that coffee was part of a thriving public sphere in early modern Islamic empires. The recipe was also on my mind when I read Gitanjali Shahani’s chapter on coffee, Othello, and racialized depictions of coffee and coffee-drinking in anti-coffee pamphlets in in her book Tasting Difference. In a post for “International Coffee Day,” Shahani writes, “To get coffee is also to participate in easy cosmopolitanism” and to consume an affordable imported luxury: “Despite its associations with banal productivity, it somehow manages to retain exotic, even sensuous, connotations.” By bringing the trendy and exotic “Coffee-powder” from the coffee house into the home, this recipe from the Somerset Archives offers an interesting window into how new imported goods became a part of daily, domestic life.

The Recipe

Image of manuscript page including coffee recipe.

To make Coffee
Take Spring-water and Boyle it a full houre, then
take a quart of the liquor, and put therein an
ounce an halfe of Coffee-powder and boyle that
three quarters of an houre. Let it not boyle too
fast after the powder is in; and drinke it as
hot as you can.

I used the Folger’s helpful guide to measurements to figure out what “an ounce an halfe” of coffee would be in modern measurements: 46.65 g. I also decided to simply bring my tap water to a boil because purifying spring water was not one of my concerns. I tested this recipe with 44 North Coffee, Royal Tar Blend that was roasted earlier this month and that I freshly ground from whole beans just before preparing the recipe. This is likely not the kind of coffee that Mary Clarke served John Locke in terms of place of origin, age, roasting method, or grinding method. Nevertheless, the recipe brewed a bold and distinct cup of coffee.

Updated Recipe

Halved from the original. Makes 1 cup (8 oz) coffee.

2 cups boiling water (16 oz)

23 g ground coffee (.75 oz, a heaping 1/3 cup)

Boil more than 2 cups of water in a kettle.

Pour two cup of boiling water into small pot. Add the coffee.

Simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes.

Pour coffee into a cup leaving the grounds in the pot. Drink as hot as you can.

brewed coffee in white mug on cutting board

The coffee was strong, fragrant, and flavorful. The oily sheen on the top of the cup showed that it contained a high concentration of fragrant oils. This is to be expected from coffee brewed by boiling the grounds in water rather than passing hot water through grounds. In this way – and this way alone – the brew reminded me of Turkish coffee that I’ve had in restaurants. Over the course of 45-minutes of simmering, half of the water evaporated yielding a concentrated cup.

It was certainly more intense in flavor than the coffee I brewed in my Mr. Coffee from the same beans at the same time. The color of the coffee made with the seventeenth-century recipe was only slightly darker in color than the coffee that I’d brewed in my normal pot for far less time.

After tasting it as hot as I could stand it (as the recipe instructs) and comparing the coffee to my everyday brew, I added some half and half (my preferred creamer) and watched as the cream distributed through the cup in different patterns than normal, again showing the higher concentration of oils. It was a rich and luscious cup of coffee.

To pickell mutton Cow cumbers

This post is adapted from an article that I published in a special issue of the Early Modern Studies Journal on Mary Baumfylde’s recipe book (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456). Take a look at the whole issue here – Early Modern Recipes in a Digital World: The Baumfylde Manuscript.

cucumbers on cutting board

Recipes for preserved fruit and vegetables are ubiquitous in early modern recipe books. Mary Baumfylde’s recipe for pickled cucumbers (or “To pickell mutton Cowcumbers”) uses olive oil to form a natural seal between the outside air and the harvested vegetables (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456).

Although we often associate preserving recipes with fruit and vegetables (jams, compotes, jarred sauces, pickles), Ken Albala reminds us that the “salted and sometimes acidic environment that inhibits bacterial growth” created by pickling brines can preserve “almost anything …  including meats, vegetables, fish, olives” (Food in Early Modern Europe, 98). Pickling is an essential element of kitchen thrift and I’m pleased to share this pickle recipe early in the growing season before you find yourself with too many cucumbers on your hands.

To date, I have not found other references to “mutton cucumbers” in early modern books. Cucumbers were sometimes thought of as food only for livestock due to their undesirable humoral properties (described below). Hence the variant spelling “cowcumber” and perhaps the “mutton” designation used here.

The Recipe

recipe for pickled cucumbers in manuscript

To pickell mutton Cowcumbers

Take the fairest of your younge xx

cowcumbers, and wipe them very

dry, then make your pickell, with

halfe water and halfe vineger

and some parings of the worst of

the cowcumbers, and let it boyle

very well, then let it coole, and

strayne it into your vessell

then put in your cowcumbers

and cast a pinte of oyle oliue one

the topp, and couer them close

the oyle keeps it without any

creame on the top, that when

you use any they shall not

take winde.

The image of wind blowing into the pickling vessel and disrupting the contents is provocative. However, cucumbers are also potentially troubling in other ways. Renaissance dietaries frowned upon the cucumber because of its impact on the body’s humors. As Albala puts it, they were “[c]onsidered among the most harmful vegetables because of their cold and moist qualities, physicians usually recommended that they only be eaten in the summer by people who were naturally hot” (29). Pickling these potentially dangerous vegetables would have altered their cold quality through the addition of salt, sour vinegar, and spices. Although this recipe is not particularly spicy, other pickle recipes include long pepper, cloves, and fresh herbs.

Updated Recipe

10 small cucumbers

2 c water

1 ½ c white wine vinegar

½ c apple cider vinegar

1t salt

¼ c olive oil

Wash the cucumbers. Slice one. Arrange the others in a large, clean jar.

Bring the vinegar, water, sliced cucumber, and salt to a boil. Pour this brine over the cucumbers in the jar.

Pour ¼ c olive oil on top.

Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Then refrigerate. The pickles will keep for a few weeks using this method.

Delicious or dangerous, pickling helps cucumbers last beyond the harvest. Crunchy and sharp, these pickles are delicious alongside a sandwich or paired with cheese and charcuterie. The blend of apple cider and white vinegar creates a tangy, substantial brine.

Sealing the jar with oil appears effective at room temperature as well as in the refrigerator. I would hazard a guess that it worked at cellar temperature as well. I’d never thought to seal a jar this way and this piece of information about preservation was my major takeaway from preparing the pickles. Give it a try if you grow or buy too many cucumbers this summer!