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!

Skirrets (fried three ways)

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a unique vegetable listed on Green Meadow Farm‘s farm share announcement: skirret. This European root vegetable was very popular in Renaissance cookery and is now rarely cultivated.

I’ve been eager to taste skirret since the early days of this project. I’ve read news articles about skirret – the forgotten vegetable that potatoes replaced on the European dinner table. I’ve read John Evelyn’s praise for skirret’s use in salads in Acetaria and accounts of its lust-inducing capabilities in Gerard’s Herbal. Boiled skirret was dressed with oil or melted butter, salt, and pepper and served as a salad or alongside roast or boiled meats. After boiling and peeling, it was often fried and served as a side. In seventeenth-century recipe manuscripts, it most often appears as a side or as an ingredient in pies.

Of all the pieces I’ve read about skirret over the years, Ivan Day’s recreation of a skirret pie has been most helpful to me. He explains the process of boiling and peeling the small, fiddly roots before integrating them into dishes. None of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts discuss this as they assume cooks already have this knowledge. Following Day’s instructions, I’ve also planted the tender new roots in my garden and I’m hopeful that it will yield a crop next spring.

I took a small bite of it raw and it tasted like a sweeter parsnip with the slightest anise aftertaste. Cooked, the skirret was wonderfully sweet, like a baby carrot, and pleasantly starchy, somewhere between a parsnip and a potato. Despite the tedium of peeling these roots – perhaps why they fell out of favor as large, round potatoes became more popular – they were absolutely delicious and I’m eager to cook with them again.

The Recipe

Unfortunately, the skirret has arrived in my kitchen at a moment when I’m without a functioning oven and thus unable to prepare a number of intriguing early modern recipes such as skirret pie. The twenty-year-old gas range that was installed in my house by previous owners gave up the ghost when my spouse was preheating the oven to bake a cake and pandemic supply chains have delayed its replacement. I’m hopeful that the rare cooking kitchen will be fully operational again by early May.

Since my options for skirret cookery were limited by my equipment, I tailored my search for a fitting recipe appropriately. Luckily, there are three wonderful skirret recipes in François Pierre de La Varenne’s Cuisinier François (1651) translated into English as The French Cook (1653). I accessed this text via Early English Books Online, which includes two copies of the text: The copy scanned from Harvard University Libraries includes an engraving of a chef and the British Library, which lacks the engraving, is a part of the Thomason collection.

La Varenne’s book, as many scholars note, was part of a paradigm shift in European cookery. As Ken Albala writes in Food in Early Modern Europe, “The essence of this new cuisine lies in the fact that foods are increasingly cooked in a way that accentuated and intensified the flavor of the main ingredient rather than contrast with it as the sugar, spices and vinegar of older cookbooks had” (156). The three skirret recipes that I tested from La Varenne’s cookbook show both older and newer styles of cookery in action. Two of the recipes (as well as the section header) specifically mention Lent and appropriate dishes for meat and fasting days where vegetables played a central role in menus. The final recipe calls for either the addition of milk or verjus to the batter for additional flavor. I recently purchased some verjus from my favorite local French bistro turned specialty shop and was excited to try it here.

  1. Skirrets.

BOile them a very little, then peele them for to boile in brown butter after they are fried, serve.

Another way.
For the flesh days, make a past liquid enough with eggs; a little salt, and a little flowre; for to make it more dainty; mixe with some soft cheese and white (a petits choux) dip your skirrets into it, frie and serve them.

Another way.
For to frie them in Lent, allay your meale with a little milk or verjuice, and more salt; dip your skirret in this, and frie them in refined butter, for the better; If you will, garnish them with fried parsley, which to frie, when it is very cleanr and drie, you throw it into your frying pan very hot, then take it out forthwith, and set it before the fire, so that it be very green; serve your skirrets with the parsley round about.

Updated Recipe

To prepare these three recipes from La Varenne, I began by doing two things:

First, I browned a stick of butter (8T, 113g) and set it aside to cool. (Joy the Baker has good instructions for preparing brown butter.)

I also prepared the skirret. I cut the roots away from the plant and washed them carefully. Then I boiled them for about four minutes until they were tender. Then I peeled them using a peeler and my hands. It was easier, if more time consuming, to simply pick off the peel with my fingers that loosened during cooking. After this process, I was left with 4.5 ounces (135 grans) of cooked, peeled skirret. I divided the roots into three smaller batches of roughly equal size to test each of the three frying methods.

Recipe 1:

Heat brown butter until audibly sizzling. Fry skirret for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Recipe 2:

1 egg

1 1/8 t salt

1 T flour

Heat brown butter until audibly sizzling. Mix the egg, flour, and salt together to make a batter. Dip the skirret roots in the batter. Fry battered skirret for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Recipe 3:

1 egg

1 1/8 t salt

1 T flour

1 t verjus or milk

parsley sprigs

Heat brown butter until audibly sizzling. Mix the egg, flour, salt, and verjus or milk together to make a batter. Dip the skirret roots in the batter. Fry battered skirret and parsley for 1 minute. Serve immediately.

My spouse and I devoured the skirret in batches as it came out of the frying pan. Each version was delicious: Sweet, crisp, and nutty from the brown butter.

I couldn’t quite taste the verjus in the batter in the third preparation. Next time, I might add more. I did find that sprinkling a little verjus over the fried skirret added a nice tart flavor to cut the taste of the flaky fried coating. It has a similar effect to sprinkling malt vinegar on fish and chips (in the style of the British).

I’m excited to eat skirret again and already gathering recipes for next year – whether it comes from a local farm or the plant in my own garden.

A Potatoe Pudding 

Should a pudding be sweet or savory? Where do American and British definitions of pudding and pie overlap and diverge? And, most importantly for this post, what place does the potato – or sweet potato – have in pudding and pie recipes?

All of these questions were on my mind a few weeks ago when I first read this recipe for “A Potatoe Pudding” from the Browne manuscript at Penn State. Although the recipe title calls this dish a pudding, I think it also fits the American definition of a pie because it consists of a pastry crust and a creamy potato-based filling. As a sweet dessert, it fits the capacious, British definition of pudding and it is similar in some ways to classic British desserts (such as Bakewell Pudding). It is also reminiscent of American sweet potato and pumpkin pie recipes because it combines mashed vegetables with dairy, sugar, and seasonings.

Pie was on my mind because Christina Riehman-Murphy and I were planning to bake a potato pie for the Folger Shakespeare Library and UCLA Libraries’ Great Library Pie Bake-Off. First, Clara Drummond helped us access images of the recipe book at Eberly Family Special Collections. (They will hopefully be available online soon!) When I read this recipe and I realized that it would be perfect for the event. I collaborated with Christina on interpreting the original recipe and writing an updated version. Christina was the baker representing PSU in the competition and this post includes some of her findings from baking the recipe as well as my own.

The Browne recipe book was compiled in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. This recipe for a potato pudding speaks to a moment when European cooks were trying to make sense of where indigenous American ingredients – both sweet and white potatoes and particular cultivars thereof – fit into established cookery traditions. Was is best to include potatoes in sweet dishes or savory ones? How would their gorgeous sweetness and earthy flavors best compliment European ingredients?

(I also baked a Lemon Tart from the Browne manuscript for The Great Rare Books Bakeoff last summer. Stay tuned for details about the 2021 competition!)

Original Recipe

Image of recipe in manuscript

A Potatoe Pudding 

Miss Ruttons 

Half a Pound of Butter, a Pound of 

Sugar, Four Lemons, juice & Peel mix 

these well together & then put one 

Pound and a half of Potatoes mashed 

to them. – Put a Puff Paste at the 

Bottom of the Dish. 

The recipe is relatively straightforward. It instructs you to season cooked, mashed potatoes with butter, sugar, and lemon juice and peel and bake this filling in a dish lined with pastry. After trial and error, Christina and I determined that the pie achieved more structural integrity with a blind-baked crust. This prevented the dreaded soggy bottom. Since there are no eggs and milk to bind the filling, mine came out rather damp. In classic recipes for sweet potato pie (and even pumpkin pie), the mashed vegetable filling is a custard that relies on eggs and milk for structural integrity.

Updated Recipe

Halved from the original. You can also prepare both the crust and filling in advance and bake the pie from room-temperature ingredients. Christina found that a cooler potato-filling led to a pie that set better during baking.

8 Tablespoons butter at room temperature (1 stick, 113g)

1 1/8 cups sugar (226g)

2 lemon, juice and zest

2.5 cups of chopped potatoes (¾ lb, 678g)

A batch of your favorite homemade or store-bought puff pastry or pie crust.

Preheat oven to 425°F/218°C

Make or buy pastry.

Grease a pie or tart dish with butter or baking spray.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Arrange pastry in baking dish.

To blind bake the crust, cover the pastry with foil and fill the dish with baking beans or another weight.

Bake at 425°F/218°C for 12 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F/180°C for 10 minutes. The crust should be golden and set, but not as brown as when a pie is completely finished baking. Keep the oven at this temperature for baking the pie.

While the crust is in the oven and cooling after blind baking, prepare the filling.

Peel the potatoes. Chop them into small cubes. Boil them until they are cooked and tender (about 15 minutes). Drain off the cooking water using a colander. Juice and zest the lemons. Put the cooked potatoes, sugar, and butter in a sturdy bowl. Mash the potatoes and integrate the butter and sugar into the mix. Make sure there are no lumps of butter or potato. Stir in the lemon juice and zest.

Pour this mixture into the prepared pie crust.  

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is brown and the filling sets. Cool before serving. 

slice of potato pie on plate

The Results

Christina and I agreed that the finished pie tastes much more like a lemon pie than a “potato pie.” In this preparation, the natural sweetness of the potatoes offsets the sharp flavors of citrus juice and zest. This dish was unlike any other potato-based pie or pudding I’ve ever consumed. Personally, I found the recipe very interesting, but I didn’t particularly enjoy eating it. I’m happy to report that the pie was a hit at Christina’s house (especially as breakfast). And while pie for breakfast may not be part of any “official” British or American culinary traditions, a slice of my mom’s pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee is my favorite breakfast the day after Thanksgiving.

To make white Hippocras

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 !

In December 2018, I made a lot of hippocras. I shared this recipe for the spiced wine drink immediately. I also prepared a recipe for white hippocras as part of my ongoing research on Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456).

Baumfylde’s recipe for white hippocras reaches back to medieval culinary traditions and also uses straining methods that bartenders today employ when they prepare twenty-first-century craft cocktails. Consumed for medicinal benefit and pleasurable taste, spiced wines were strained before drinking through cloth or a “hippocras bag.” Both the beverage and the “bag” are named for the ancient physician Hippocrates who advocated for the consumption of medicinal spiced wines and wore garments with flowing sleeves that could, in a pinch, be used to strain drinks. In Inventing Wine Paul Lukacs writes that hippocras recipes enhance the flavors of unstable, imported wines and aligned with other aspects of medieval and early modern culinary culture. Recipes for hippocras commonly called for cloves, cinnamon, and honey which were also used to flavor other sweet and savory dishes on the table. Adding spices to wine fit into this overarching culinary practice of using expensive spices to elevate eating and promote health.

Hippocras recipes vary widely (I survey a bunch of them in this post). They serve a range of tastes and convey different medicinal properties depending on how they are spiced, infused, and strained. Mary Baumfylde’s recipe uses a “milk punch” method to clarify and strain the hippocras. After the initial infusion of spice and white wine, milk is added. It curdles and the curdled milk solids are strained out along with the spices. (I’ve written more about this curdling method here.) Dairy and alcohol might not seem like an auspicious combination, but it was widely used in the early modern period for hippocras, ramboose, and posset – a category of drinks that combine hot or warm alcohol with milk and sometimes eggs.

The Recipe

To make white Hippocras
Take a quart of white wine and put
into it iiij ounces of Synamon
brused and halfe an ounce of mace
iij nuttmeggs and halfe a pound of
fine sugar, and let it steepe 24
howers, then take a Jelly bagg, and
put a little fresh Synamon in the
bottome of it, and 2 or 3 slices of
ginger, then take a pynt of new
milke, and power a little of the
milke and a little of the wine
and soe power it often through
the bagg vntill it be cleare

This recipe requires both advance planning and immediate serving. The spices – nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon – slowly infuse the sweet wine with their flavors during a twenty-four hour rest. The next day, or just before serving, the recipe calls for adding more spices – ginger and more cinnamon – and adding milk to clarify the drink. As promised, the milk curdles. When solids form they can be strained from the drink .

The Recipe

1 quart white wine (I used a Grünerveltliner)
8 cinnamon sticks
2-4 slices of a whole nutmeg or ½ t ground nutmeg
½ t mace
1 c sugar
1 pint milk
Additional cinnamon stick and 2-3 slices of fresh ginger for straining.

Combine the wine, sugar, and spices in a jug, jar, or decanter. Leave to infuse for 24 hours.

Prepare a straining setup. I used a wire strainer to support a few layers of cheese cloth. A clean, thin kitchen-towel would also work. Put a cinnamon stick and fresh ginger slices in the cloth-layered strainer.

Stir the infused wine. Add the milk. Then pour the milk-wine mixture through the strainer. Stir the mixture in the strainer with a spoon to encourage movement. Squeeze the cloth to make sure all the liquid has passed through. The spices and milk solids will be left in the cloth. You may need to do this twice. Discard the spices and milk solids and rinse the cloth thoroughly before repeating.

Serve immediately.

white hippocras

The Results

The first thing I tasted was nutmeg, then sweetness and the rest of the spices. The nutmeg scent outpaced the other flavors and there was only the slightest hint of the fresh ginger that I added during straining as instructed. One friend found it so fruity that she was surprised it contained no fruit. Another friend likened it to a lighter eggnog and proposed “nog lite” as a possible name for the drink. Spiced, curdled, and strained, Baumfylde’s White Hippocras could accompany a range of sweet and savory dishes.

To make a tarte of Pippens (cooked in wine)

Apple Tart

Last week, I returned to a perennial favorite manuscript – UPenn Ms Codex 1601 – to do one of my favorite things – bake. This recipe to make a “tarte of Pippens” intrigued me because of the instruction to cook the pippins (apples) twice. First, you cook the apples in wine with spices, then you sprinkle them with sugar and bake them in pastry to make a tart. This was a dessert that I wanted to eat.

The Recipe

recipe in original manuscript

To make a tarte of Pippens.
68
Take faire pippens & pare them, then
cutt them in quarters & coure them, then
stew them with claret wine, sinamon &
ginger, let them stew halfe an houre, then
poure them into a cullender, but breake
them not, when they are cold, lay one
by one into the tart, then laie on sugar
bake itt, ice itt, scrape on sugar & serue itt.

On the page, this recipe affords the modern interpreter a great deal of flexibility. What kind of pippins or apples? How many apples? What kind of wine? How much cinnamon? Fresh or dried ginger? What kind of pastry? One large tart? Many small tarts? How much sugar?

The recipe calls for pippins. Although many heritage apple names include the word “pippin,”  the recipe is likely meant to utilize apples that are only palatable after stewing in wine. “Pippins” broadly refers to apples grown from seeds, rather than cultivated by grafting. As I learned from Matt Kaminsky (Gnarly Pippins) last fall, these apples grown from seed were more likely to be small and tart, and they were traditionally sent to the cider press. If I had a crab apple tree, I would have tried crab apples in this recipe. Instead, I used Calville Blanc d’Hiver apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm.  This French apple variety was first cultivated in the seventeenth century and it is prized for tarte tatin and other baked goods. When I realized they were available in my area, I bought a whole crate. (I’ve baked a lot of apple pies this fall and winter.)  The apples held their shape beautifully when cooked in wine. If I didn’t have these apples in my fridge, I would have used Granny Smith because they would also hold up to cooking in wine and bring a sharp acidity to the dish.

I stewed the apples in a Bordeaux table wine (a nod to claret even though the style has changed so much since the seventeenth century) with cinnamon and fresh ginger (dried pieces of ginger would also have been an option). I decided to make two small tarts in fluted tart pans (5 inch) and used Julia Child’s sweet pastry recipe. You could easily make this as a galette – no tart pans required – or a larger, single tart by adjusting quantities accordingly.

Updated Recipe

Makes two small tarts baked in 5-inch tart pans.

2 apples
1 1/2 cups red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
2 inches fresh ginger, sliced
1 batch pastry (your choice)
2 Tablespoons sugar

Peel, quarter, and core the apples.

Put them in a small saucepan with the wine and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.

While the apples are cooking, make your pastry and put it in your tart pans. Preheat the oven to 375F.

Strain the apples and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. (You can reserve the wine and spices for mulled wine.)

Place four cooked apple quarters in each pastry-lined tart pan. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the apples in each tart. Put the tarts on a baking sheet.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Let cook for 10 minus before removing the tarts from the pans.

two cooked apple tarts on cutting board

The Results

Boozy, spicy, delicious. The apples were gorgeously colored and flavored by the wine. The scent of ginger and cinnamon accompanied every bite. Buttery pastry mellowed the sharpness from the apples and the bitterness of the wine. My spouse, Joseph, thought a creamy accompaniment – such as custard integrated into the tart or poured over, or ice cream – would perfect this dessert.

I reserved the cooking wine and whole spices. Reheated later, it made a lovely cup of mulled wine with a rich, apple flavor.

The tart was sweet from the apples and the sugar, but not too sweet. If you have a sweet-tooth, you may want to increase the sugar.  The next day, I took a bite of the second tart and noticed most of the boozy and tannic flavors from the wine had mellowed. It made me wonder if resting the apples overnight might enhance their flavor before integrating them into the tart.

There are so many variables in the original recipe and I’ve written this updated version to give you flexibility. If you make tarts, I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure other readers would, too. Share what apples you’ve used and any other changes you’ve made in the comments below.

two cooked apple tarts, one on plate and one on cutting board

Instructiones to make Cakes

I’ll be speaking about this recipe (and more) at a free, public, virtual event hosted by The Free Library of Philadelphia on Tuesday December 8th, 7pm EST. Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/medieval-life-spotlight-cooking-digital-demonstration-tickets-130045243825

Medieval and Renaissance European cooking was heavily spiced. Until fashions changed in the eighteenth century, wealthy and aspirational households used spices imported from Asia in all sorts of sweet and savory dishes. Cooks flavored dishes with black pepper, long pepper, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cassia, ginger, galangal, and the spice that flavors this recipe, cloves.

Over the past few months, I’ve been discussing cloves, historical recipes, and  how the high price of spices motivated European colonial and imperial ventures with Chef Ange Branca (Sate Kampar).  Next week, we’ll be speaking at this free, public, virtual event hosted by the Free Library of Philadelphia in connection with the exhibition “Medieval Life” curated by Dot Porter (UPenn Libraries). Unsurprisingly, our conversations had me reading, looking at recipe books, and cooking.

baked cookies on baking sheet

This recipe for “Instructiones to make Cakes” is from a sixteenth-century English manuscript, UPenn Ms. Codex 823 (22v). The “cakes” made from flour, butter, sugar, and cloves are more like a shortbread cookie than fluffy modern cake. Fragrant with cloves and crumbly, these are delicious cookies are wonderful hot from the oven with a cup of coffee or tea.

Cloves were especially prized in medieval and Renaissance kitchens because of their unique floral flavor. In his wide-ranging discussion of cloves, among other imported spices,  in Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination, Paul Freedman shows that scholars wrote about the origin of clove trees in the garden of Eden, that cloves were purchased in huge quantities for use in medicines and cookery, and that Portuguese ships were specifically sent to target the clove island of Ternate in 1513 (205). Freedman quotes Tomé Piers, a pharmacist and diplomat, who wrote “Whoever holds Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice” and, consequently, control of the global spice trade (205). While Freedman notes that the Venetian spice trade survived the Portuguese conquest of Malacca, European desire for spices nevertheless drove colonial ventures.

This recipe calls for “iid cloves” (2 d, or 2 pennies, worth of cloves) and thus demonstrates the connection between the price and measurement of spices. Working with Freedman’s book and John Munro’s account of spice prices, I believe the original recipe calls for 6 whole cloves that would have cost 2 pence. For comparison, in the sixteenth century a loaf of bread cost a penny and bread provided far more sustenance than a few cloves. In my updated recipe below, I’ve quartered the recipe from the original and used the equivalent of 1.5 cloves to flavor about a dozen cookies. Even though the original recipe calls for expensive cloves, it uses them sparingly and in balance with the other flavors and ingredients. The sugar in these cookies (which I’ve written about elsewhere), would also have been imported and far more expensive than the flour and butter called for in the recipe. A little bit of clove goes a long way, as anyone who has prepared modern recipes with them knows well.

image of entire manuscript pageMs. Codex 823 was created and used from approximately 1567-1600 and unlike many of the manuscripts that I’ve featured on this site, it is not primarily filled with recipes. More of a commonplace book than a recipe book, this manuscript includes pages of Psalms copied from a Bible or prayer book and a copy of the deathbed statement of Lady Katherine Grey before the final section of medicinal and culinary recipes begins. Although the manuscript is miscellaneous, the recipe section is a familiar blend of medicinal and culinary preparations with a focus on preserving fresh foods. The page above includes the recipe for “cakes” and well as recipes to make vinegar, preserve pears and barberries, and prepare “white pott,” which in this version is rather similar to bread pudding.

The Recipe

image of recipe in manuscript

Instructiones to make
Cakes

Ffyrst take a quarte of fyne flower a pound of Sugar iid of
Cloves fyne beaten and thereunto put a pound of swete butter & then
worke yt together untyll suche tyme as you shall thincke yt
well wrought & so make yt in cakes & put yt in to the oven
wher manchete or cakes hathe bene baked imedyatelye after the
same ys drawen – And you myt note that to the baking of fyne
cakes a temperate heate myt be in the oven & you myt not
suffer them to stande in the oven tyll they be browne because
they mytt harden and wax browne when they be browne after they have
stand a whyle

Updated Recipe

makes a dozen cookies

½ cup sugar
8 Tablespoons butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Additional butter or baking spray for the pans

Preheat your oven to 275F. Prepare a baking sheet with baking spray or butter.

Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add the flour and cloves to the butter mixture to form a workable dough. It will be crumbly, but will hold together when pressed. The finished texture is like a shortbread cookie and do not worry if your cookies only barely hold together.

Put the cookie dough onto a cutting board. You can either shape the dough into a log with your hands and slice cookies from the log or shape the dough into small cookies by hand. Place the formed cookies on your prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until just firm, but still tender.

Allow to cool for a few minutes on the pan. Serve slightly warm or completely cooled.

Parsnip Cakes to Fry

The stereotype of British cookery as nothing more than meat and potatoes post-dates the manuscript recipe books that I’ve been cooking from over the past six years. Potatoes are an American vegetable. They slowly rose to prominence in a cuisine that already made good use of many other root vegetables.

The staple root vegetables of British cookery in the medieval period through the Renaissance were parsnips, carrots, turnips, and skirret. Parsnips are starchy and slightly sweet with a uniquely herbaceous flavor. John Gerard’s Herbal  (1597) describes both garden and wild varieties as well as offering advice on cultivation, consumption, and humoral properties. 

garden parsnip - Gerard's Herbalwild parsnip - Gerard's Herbal

I love parsnips. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I saw a recipe for “Parsnip Cakes to Fry” in Margarett Greene’s recipe book (f MS.1980.004), dated 1701, now held in the Clark Library collections.  Somewhere between a starchy pancake and a fritter, these make a wonderful side for any roast dinner or hearty vegetarian meal. 

The Recipe

Parsnip Cakes to Fry.

Take Parsnips Boyle them tender peil them & rub them through a
Seive whilst thay are hott. then take halfe a pinte of Creame & –
as much new milke, the yealkes of 6 Eggs & the whites of 3 make this as
[t]hick as a pudding. with a Spoonefull of Flower & the parsnips Season
it with Salt Sugar, & Beaten Nutmeg & Sack to your tast. froy them
with [B]oyleing hott Butter. Serve them with Butter Sack & Sugar./

peeled parsnipsThe recipe describes a cooking method of boiling the parsnips with their skins on, peeling them, and using a sieve to break them down that is well suited to contemporary kitchen equipment. Parsnip skins can easily be removed with a knife after cooking with less loss of vegetable matter. Pushing cooked parsnips through a sieve creates a fine mash. I peeled and chopped the parsnips before I boiled them (because modern vegetable peelers are excellent) and mashed them with a potato masher. 

Updated Recipe

Halved from the original. Makes approximately 14 cakes.

7 parsnips (about 1.5 lbs)

1/2 t salt

1/2 t sugar

1/8 t nutmeg (grated or ground)

1 t sack (sherry)

1 1/2 t flour

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

1/2 c whole milk

1/2 c heavy cream

about 3 T butter for frying

Peel the parsnips and cut them into small pieces (approximately 1 inch).

Put them in a pot filled with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and boil for about 20 minutes (until parsnips are tender and easily pierced with a fork). 

Drain parsnips and put them in a large mixing bowl. 

Mash the parsnips until they have a regular consistency with no large chunks. Season this mash with salt, sugar, nutmeg, and sack. Add the flour and eggs. Finally, pour in the milk and cream and stir until a slightly chunky batter forms.

Heat a cast iron skillet or large frying pan.

Add butter to the skillet and lower the heat to medium. Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour cakes into the pan. (I could fit four cakes at a time in my twelve-inch cast-iron skillet.) Cook for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second side. The fritters should be golden brown and slightly crispy. Repeat this process until you have cooked all your batter. Make sure the pan is still buttery before you start each batch.

Serve hot.

cooked parsnip cakes

The Results

Buttery, fluffy, and lightly scented with nutmeg, these parsnip cakes are delicious. Although I would serve them with savory dishes, they are sweet and could easily be treated more as a desert if I’d served them with sugar and sack (sherry) as the original recipe instructed. The combination of flavors speaks to a common way of eating in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where sweet and savory dishes were not divided into separate courses. (I touched on this in my recent post about a recipe for Portugal Eggs).

The next time I make these, I might add a bit more flour or start with another parsnip or two to create a stiffer mixture. The cakes were prone to collapse during flipping and required careful handling with a spatula.

Finally, although these parsnip cakes are at their best immediately after making them, you can reheat them if you’ve prepared them in advance of a holiday meal or made more than you can eat in one sitting. Deb Perelman recommends reheating previously fried cakes on a baking sheet in a 325F oven before serving on her site Smitten Kitchen (where you will find many wonderful modern fritter recipes).

to Candy pippins to look like amber

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop about apples and preservation. Matt Kaminsky spoke about wild apples and grafting as a practice for preserving and propagating varieties. In addition to sharing a number of apple recipes from this site, my contribution to the workshop was to reflect on how updating recipes is a form of preservation of knowledge and to share this seventeenth-century recipe “to Candy pippins to look like amber” from UPenn Ms. Codex 252 (120r). 

The Recipe
 

to Candy pippins to look like amber
take faire large pipins and pare them and bore a hole
through them and put them in an earthen platter in
the ouen stroueing fine sifted sugar upon them, then
sprinkell A littill rose water upon the suger then
bak them in an ouen lett your ouen be hot as for manhant
you stoppe up the ouen and lett them remane in halfe
an houer then tak them out of the dish and lay
them on a lettis or siue an so lett them remaine dry
2 or 3 dayes then thay will Looke clear as Amber
and be finely candied you may keep them all
the yeare

apple peels

Designed with preservation and storage in mind, this recipe uses sugar, rosewater, and heat to transform the tender flesh of apples in season. The instructions ask you to cook your peeled apples in a hot bread oven “as hot as for manhant” or manchet bread. Then they dry for 2 or 3 additional days before storage.

Before the workshop, I’d been exploring this recipe with the juicy Arlet apple (a personal favorite). I even tested it as a sliced apple recipe – considering the various meanings of “pare” – but decided in the end that the recipe called for whole, cooked apples. (Sidenote: Season some apple chips with rosewater and sugar this fall for a delicious treat.)  At the workshop, Matt suggested using a spongier, less juicy apple variety for this preparation.  After consulting with the vendors from Three Springs Fruit Farm at my local market, I decided to try the recipe one more time with Jonathan apples. 

Updated Recipe 

2 apples
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Peel and core the apples. 

Place the apple on a baking sheet. Sprinkle sugar over apples. Then sprinkle rosewater over the apples.

Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. 

The Results

These apples fall somewhere between a baked apple and a dried, sugared apple. After baking, and especially after sitting out for a few days post-baking, the apples are a rich, golden color.

I ate one apple hot from the oven. It was gorgeously sweet and fragrant from rosewater. After two days sitting out, it was drier, denser, and more deeply flavored. The rosewater scent had dispersed, but it was even tastier.

If I were to test the recipe again, I might bake it longer or at a hotter temperature to see how much moisture I could draw out before resting. I might also add more sugar and rosewater to see how much “amber” effect I could create on the outside of the fruit. If you make any changes to the recipe as you try it out, let me know how it goes!

To make portugal Eggs

This post draws on research from an article that I published in the collection After Print: Eighteenth-Century Manuscript Cultures.

Hannah Woolley was an all-around lifestyle guru who not only wrote cookbooks, but also provided guidance on etiquette, homemaking, interior design. She even advertised her availability for private lessons to supplement her written advice with hands-on instruction. Although this recipe for “Portugal Eggs” comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 785, it 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). (Just like the recipe for “Lemmon Cakes” that I posted a few years ago when I first began researching this particular receipt book.)

To be honest, I could have used some further guidance from Woolley as I set out to prepare “Portugal Eggs.” I needed to make six sub-recipes in total to assemble this dish and four of these components needed to be made at least a day in advance. Without some modern tricks, such as using powdered gelatin for the jelly, this would have been even more labor intensive. That said, Woolley’s model housewife would have likely had a few of these components in her kitchen already.

This dish is perhaps most at home in a banqueting spread like one of these “Tempting Tables” set forth by Ivan Day. Indeed, it is listed among the many dishes served at the coronation of James II in A Complete Account of the Ceremonies Observed in the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of England (1727). It is visually striking, yet one of the strangest flavor combinations I have encountered so far in this project.

Although I’ve made this all sound very complicated (and it is) read on and let us guide you through one way a cook using Ms. Codex 785 might have prepared Woolley’s elaborate recipe.

The Recipe(s)

MS Codex 785

To make portugal Eggs

Take a very large Dish with a broad brim lay in
it some naples Biscake in the form of a star, then
put so much sack into the Dish as you think
the biscakes will drink up,on then slick them
full with little peices of preserv’d orange, and
green Citron peele, and strow Store of French
Comfits over them of Divers Colours, then butter
some Eggs and lay them here and there upon
the biscakes then fill up the hollow places in
the dish with severall colour’d jellyes and
round about the brim thereof lay Laurell
Leaves guilt with Leaf Gold, lay them slanting
and between the Leaves severall colour’d Jellies.

Hannah Woolley

XXXIX. To make the Portugal Eggs.

Take a very large Dish-with a broad brim, lay in it some Naples Bisket in the Form of a Star, then put so much Sack into the Dish as you do think the Biskets will drink up; then stick them full with thin little pieces of preserved Orange, and green Citron Pill, and strew store of French Comfits over them, of divers colours, then butter some Eggs, and lay them here and there upon the Biskets, then fill up the hollow places in the Dish, with several coloured Iellies, and round about the Brim thereof lay Lawrel Leaves guilded with Leaf-Gold, lay them slanting, and between the Leaves several coloured Iellies,

As both the manuscript and printed recipe make clear, “Portugal Eggs” are much more than an egg dish. When I decided to make this dish I began by deciphering the component parts: biscuits, candied citrus peel, “French Comfits” or sugar coated seeds, jelly, buttered (or scrambled) eggs, and gilded laurel leaves. Since the gilded laurel leaves were for presentation only, I decided to skip the gilding sub-recipe. I did, however, prepare the other five sub-recipes required to assemble the dish.

But first I needed to find recipes for all these components. This challenge initially puzzled me until I went back to the rare book reading room to inventory the entire manuscript. It seems to me that the compiler or organizer of Ms. Codex 785 might have been assembling sub-recipes for Woolley’s “Portugal Eggs” because the three recipes before it are for jelly and biscuits, two of the key components of the finished dish. All four of the recipes copied from Woolley’s cookbooks are in a single opening – two page spread – in Ms. Codex 785.

Guided by this proximity, I decided to use the recipe for “the best bisket Cakes” from Ms. Codex 785 as they are similar to other recipes for Naples biscuits (see “Artificial Potatoes” and “Bisket Pudding“). I also decided to try the recipe for “Jelly of Hartshorn,” which begins, as the name implies, with a deer’s antler. I started with packaged gelatin instead. For the other two sub-recipes I went farther afield. Although I experimented with Woolley’s own recipe for fennel comfits, I used a tried and true modern recipe for candied citrus peel. Any of these recipes might have made a great individual post, but today we are going to see what happens when they all come together.

1) Biscuits

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.

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.

Eat immediately with a cup of tea or allow to cool on a rack before storing.

2) French Comfits

Comfits are sugar coated seeds. Since Ms. Codex 785 doesn’t include a recipe for comfits, I turned to Woolley’s cookbook for a guide. Although I adapted Woolley’s recipe to coat fennel seeds in sugar, I could have also used this same method to candy coriander or caraway seeds. When I was at a local store, buying fennel seeds in bulk, I noticed a bag of modern-day comfits on the shelf. I threw some on the final dish for color and I’ve been snacking on them, too.

1/4 C sugar
1/3 C water
1T fennel seeds

In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil.

A) Add the fennel seeds and simmer for 1 minute.

B) Strain the mixture to remove the fennel seeds reserving the sugar syrup. Spread the seeds out on a plate and allow to cool for 2 minutes.

Bring the syrup back to boil and repeat the straining and simmering steps (A and B) as  many times as you like.

I did this three times before the seeds were too sticky to work with. The seeds were sweeter each time they came out of the hot syrup and cooled. Woolley suggests 8-10 coats of sugar. However, Woolley also instructs you to roll the hot seeds in the syrup with your bare hands. In any case, reserve the syrup at the end. I’m excited to add this leftover fennel-infused simple syrup in cocktails.

Allow the seeds to cool completely. Store them for future use.

3) Various Jellies

Inspired by the rich seasonings in the “Hartshorn Jelly” recipe, I prepared a lightly-sweetened jelly infused with lemon and cinnamon. This sub-recipe must be made well in advance because jelly needs to set in the refrigerator for at least three hours.

1 packet Knox Gelatin
1/4 C water
1/4 C sugar
the peel of one lemon cut into strips
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 C water

Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 C water in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

Place the other ingredients and  3/4 C water in a small saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves, reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the mixture smells strongly of lemon and cinnamon. Discard the lemon peel and cinnamon stick. You can do this by scooping them out of the mixture or straining the whole thing and reserving the liquid.

Add the hot, fragrant liquid to the gelatin mix and stir to dissolve. Transfer your jelly mix to a flat-bottomed dish for easy shaping. I used a square, glass storage container for this.

Refrigerate for at least three hours before using.

4) Candied Citrus Peel

Given the complexity of the other components, I decided to candy my orange peel using this straightforward, twenty-first-century recipe.

5) Buttered Eggs

Buttered eggs are just an early modern way to talk about scrambled eggs cooked with butter and cream. You cannot make these in advance, so I have included the sub-recipe in the overall assembly instructions below.

Portugal Eggs

Once your jelly is set, your biscuits are baked, and your citrus peel and seeds are candied, you are ready to begin to assemble a dish of Portugal Eggs. The quantities below amply filled a standard dinner plate.

5 biscuits
3 oz sack (I used brandy, but sherry also works here)
1 T comfits (I used a mix of store-bought and homemade )
3T candied citrus peel
1 batch of buttered eggs (below)
4 T jelly (or more to taste)
2-3 sprigs fresh bay leaves to garnish

Buttered Eggs

2 eggs
3 T butter
3 T heavy cream
twist freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the biscuits in a star-shape on your dish. Pour about 3 oz of a spirit like brandy or sherry as a substitute for sack, a fortified wine. When the biscuits cannot absorb any more liquid, stop pouring. Set aside.

Prepare the buttered eggs. Whisk together the eggs and cream. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the egg mixture and stir the eggs until they are fluffy and cooked through to your preferred texture.

Return your attention to the main plate. Place comfits and candied orange peel on top of the soaked biscuits. You may, or may not, be able to stick your candied peel into the biscuits are the recipe suggests.

Add dollops of the eggs to the plate. In the remaining space, add spoonfuls of the jelly. Arrange the bay leaves around the edge of the plate.

Step back and admire your handiwork.

The Results

If I ever throw a feast using only recipes from this site, I’d make this dish again because it is truly beautiful. I might even spring for some gold-leaf.

That said, it’s one of the strangest flavor combinations I’ve encountered so far in this project. The boozy cookies pair nicely with the candied peel and fennel comfits, but clash with the rich eggs. It made me wonder about the perfect fork-full of this dish — Am I supposed to eat some eggs and then eat some sugary cake? Or am I supposed to eat a bit of everything in one cacophonous bite?

The lemon and cinnamon flavored jelly didn’t compliment any of the other flavors. Since the manuscript and print sources only insist on the various colors of jelly, but not the various flavors, a savory aspic or even an orange-flavored sweet jelly might be a better pairing for the eggs and seasoned cake. Perhaps the housewife or cooks using Ms. Codex 785 to prepare Portugal Eggs may not have used the “Hartshorn Jelly” after all.

This dish of eggs and sweets challenged, perplexed, and delighted me. Only by putting these items on the same plate did I finally grasp the variety, the mélange, intended in Woolley’s receipt copied into Ms. Codex 785. And only by thinking about this as a banqueting dish did it begin to make any sense at all. Banquets are about Concordia discorsvariety, and performance—as are “Portugal Eggs.” I needed to experience the taste, smell, and sight of these eggs, biscuits, jellies, sugar sweets, and decorative laurels to make sense of their place in early modern food culture.