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.

To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks

Purslane is a bitter, wild, edible plant. In June, I didn’t know what it looked like: Now I see it growing in the cracks of sidewalks and spreading out in abandoned flower pots every time I leave my house for a walk. Today, I’m sharing a recipe “To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks” with you.

Over the past month, I’ve been doing two things that have me thinking a lot about bitter herbs, weeds, and wild foods: attending the Oxford Food Symposium’s “Herbs and Spices” Conference online; and gardening, weeding, and clearing out raised beds for planting at a community garden in Philly that will supply a kitchen that feeds people in need. At the conference, I was moved by Fabrizia Lanza’s film Amaro (about bitter flavors and foraging practices in Sicilian food culture) and inspired to look for foraged ingredients in recipe books after hearing Gina Rae La Cerva‘s paper about wild herbs in Renaissance cookery. At the garden, we found established asparagus beds thriving under the weeds and transplanted nutritious purslane and dandelion plants into the newly cleared soil. When some stalks broke off in my hands, I took them home at the urging of my fellow gardeners.

2020-07-23 02.38.27

Description: Purslane

After more than six years spent cooking in the archives, I have quite a lengthy list of recipes that I want to test and post here. But sometimes an ingredient sends me back to the books. I located this recipe for pickled purslane by searching recipe books at the Folger Shakespeare Library that have already been transcribed by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective through classes, conferences, and annual transcribathons. (For instructions on how to search these transcriptions, read this EMROC blog post.) As long-time readers know, I love pickles and I’ve been thinking a lot about preserving food during this long, strange summer spent mostly inside. This recipe book bears the names of Ann Smith –“Ann Smith sen. Her Book October the 10th 1698” — and Thomas Barnaby — “This book was written by Thomas Barnaby sen. of Reading” — and was compiled and used in Reading in the last years of the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century. (For more information about the manuscript, see this entry in the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey.)

The Recipe

pickled purslane cropped.jpeg

To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks
First pick your Leaves off then boyle your
stalks pretty Tender in water & salt poure
thatt from them & when they are Cold
putt them into A pott with some venigar
& salt Cover them Close & you may steep them
all the yeare Round

2020-07-23 03.02.47

Description: Purslane stems and leaves with salt on cutting board.

Updated Recipe

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

purslane, approximately 2 cups leaves and stems (100g)
1 t salt, used in two 1/2 t increments
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
a 2-cup mason jar, fresh from the dishwasher or sterilized with boiling water

Pick the leaves from the purslane stalks. Set the leaves aside. Cut the stalks into 3-inch pieces that will easily fit in the jar.

Put the stalks in a small sauce pan with 1/2 t salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook for three minutes. Pour off the water. Set the stalks aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

Put the cooked stalks and leaves in your prepared jar. Add 1/2 t water, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup water. The liquid should cover the purslane.

Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Consume pickled purslane within a month of opening the jar.

The Results

The pickled purslane was sharply sour and refreshing. All of the potent bitterness of the raw green was gone. Perhaps this transformation is the desired effect of the recipe – a uniformly sour pickle that can be consumed year-round – but I experienced this taste transformation as a loss. An anodyne flavor took the place of the bitter intensity that I liked in the raw greens. If I pickle purslane again according to this recipe, I’ll cut the vinegar in half and see if more of the original flavor shines through. Nevertheless, pickling is a great way to preserve an abundant ingredient like purslane when it’s at the peak of its growing season.

2020-08-01 13.33.00.jpg

Description: pickled purslane on a plate.

To Make a Lemon Tart

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to share food experiences at a distance. When we can’t gather together to eat, how can we connect around food for nourishment and joy, to learn and to build sustainable communities? I’ve recently listened to the Gastropod podcast episode “Shared Plates” and eagerly followed posts from Samin Nosrat‘s Big Lasagna virtual dinner party. I’ve been thinking about who is, and is not, invited to the table and supported organizations in my community that are tackling issues of food insecurity and inequality in our food system. There are so many ways to connect, even if many of them are now online.

Today I’m inviting you to a virtual baking competition: The Great Rare Books Bake Off, a friendly contest between the sister libraries of Penn State University and Monash University. There are eight intriguing recipes to try out; four 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 July 20-24, 2020 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.

This recipe for Lemon Tart is the oldest one in the competition. As the Penn State lead baker, I encourage you, my Cooking in the Archives readers, to give this one a try and cast your vote in #TheGreatRareBooksBakeOff

2020-07-12 18.02.52

Description: slice of lemon tart and cup of tea

The Recipe

This is my first time working with the Browne manuscript: It’s a new acquisition at Penn State Libraries! I haven’t seen it in person yet, but my colleagues have generously sent me lots of reference photos. It’s in the queue to be digitized and I cannot wait to research it alongside my students.

Here is the information that my Penn State Libraries colleagues wrote up for our Bake Off site: 

The Lemon Tart recipe comes from a handwritten cookbook probably compiled in Camberwell, England, between 1770 and 1846. It consists of two sections: the first section is all written in the same hand between 1770 and 1772. These recipes include transcriptions from printed sources (including Hannah Glasse’s  The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747)) and unpublished recipes, all from British cuisine. The second section appears to have been written in the early- or mid-nineteenth century and presents more British recipes in various hands. An inscription reads “Browne, 1827, Camberwell, Surr[e]y.”

I decided to update recipes for both “a crust for Tarts” and “To Make a Lemon Tart” from the Browne manuscript for the Rare Books Bake Off challenge. Neither recipe has been copied from Hannah Glasse’s magisterial cookbook.

A Crust for Tarts p. 37 fol. 19r copy

a Crust for Tarts (p. 37 fol. 19r)

Take a quart of the finest flower a quarter
of a pint of Cream – a quarter and half quarter
of butter – the yolks of two Eggs – a handfull
of sugar Make it into a past – and role it out thin

To Make A Lemon Tart p. 61 fol. 31r cropped

To Make a Lemon Tart (p. 61 fol. 31r)
Take three Clear Lemons andd grate of the
outside rind – take the yolks of 12 Eggs and
six whits beat them very well – squeese in
the Lemons – then put in three quarters of a pound
of fine suger powdered – and three quarters
of a pound of fresh butter melted stir all well
together – put a sheet of past a the Bottom
and sift suger on the top – put it in a brisk
oven three quarters of an hour will bake it

Updated Recipe

Makes one 10-inch tart that can be baked in a pie dish or a fluted tart pan.

Crust

*Feel free to substitute a store-bought pie crust here or your favorite pastry recipe. If you use a store-bought graham cracker crust (or other pre-baked crust), you can skip the blind baking step. 

2 cups/350g flour, additional flour for rolling out the pastry

1 Tablespoon sugar

6 Tablespoons/85g butter

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup – 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425°F/218°C

Stir together flour and sugar in a large bowl.

Cut butter into small cubes.

Rub butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture is grainy.

Add the egg yolk and 1/4 cup of heavy cream and stir to form a soft pastry. Continue to add heavy cream a tablespoon at a time until all the flour is integrated into the pastry. (I ended up using a whole 1/2 cup in the end.)

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.

Filling

3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

Zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons

3/4 cup/175g sugar, plus 1 tablespoon to sprinkle on top of the pie

3/4 cup/175g butter, melted

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

Separate the egg yolks, melt the butter, zest and then juice the lemons.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir in the sugar and then the melted butter and mix well.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F/163°C.

Place the pie dish containing the baked crust on a baking sheet. Pour the filling into the crust and scrape any sugar from the bottom of the mixing bowl into the dish.

Sprinkle the top of the lemon custard with sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes until the sugar on the top crisps and browns and the lemon custard is set, but still jiggly.

Cool on a rack for 20 minutes before serving.

The Results

This is a delightfully lemony pie with a flavorful crust. The sugar topping gives each bite a nice crunch, but the pie is only mildly sweet overall. Sharp lemon balances the rich custard and crust.

Warm from baking and cold from the fridge, this pie is going fast in my house. I wish I could share it with friends and I’m glad that I can share the recipe here with you. Let the bake off begin!