An Excellent Cheap Soupe

It’s soup season. I live in southern California and I have absolutely no complaints about winter weather, but I did get a good dose of cold when I visited Alyssa in Philadelphia this month to work on project planning and to prepare for our forthcoming profile in frankie magazine (out April 2015). In any case, who doesn’t enjoy a good bowl of soup?

This recipe comes from Ms. Codex 644. Penn’s catalogers suggest that the manuscript was compiled between 1750 and 1825 and attribute this book primarily to a Lady Frankland with some additions in other hands. A note inside the front cover the manuscript entitles the volume “Grandmama Lady Frankland’s Receipt Book.”

grandmama lady frankland

This manuscript may be a product of the household of Sir Thomas Frankland, fifth baronet (1718–1784). This is a preliminary speculation, but one I hope to research in more detail. I’ve linked to wikipedia above because it’s freely accessible, but I’m also drawing on information from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

Sir Thomas Frankland married Sarah Rhett of South Carolina (1724-1808) in 1743 and she may very well be the “Grandmama Frankland” who compiled and used this recipe book. The family likely lived at the Frankland estate in Mattersey, Nottinghamshire while Frankland traveled between England and the West Indies where he was involved in the Atlantic slave trade, among other commercial ventures. The couple had many children (somewhere between thirteen and nineteen according to various accounts), and nine lived long enough to be mentioned in Frankland’s will. This recipe for cheap soup would certainly feed a crowd.

If this volume truly is a product of the Frankland family, my preliminary biographical research leaves me with many questions about the volume: What kind of history can these recipes possibly reveal? Can the volume provide a window into the history of slavery? Does it have anything to tell us about southern foodways, transatlantic communication, and global recipe exchange? For example, Frankland was born in the East Indies, possibly in India, and that connection to South Asia may explain the presence of a recipe for Indian Curry in the volume.

Stay tuned for more on Ms. Codex 644 as we continue to research its provenance and try out its intriguing recipes!

The Recipe

cheap soup recipe

Lady Fagg
An Excellent Cheap Soupe
1 pound of Beef cut in small pieces
perl p[b?]arley
2 2 oz Rice. 1/2 pint split Peas
6 potatoes. 2 large Onions —
pepper & salt to the taste. put al[l]
these with one Gallon of water
into a deep Pot – Tie it down,
& Let it bake 6 hours –
NB – dont strain it but turn
it alltogether into the Dish – th[is]
will make a good meal for 6
or 8 people, & does not want
any bread to eat with it.

This is a straightforward recipe and it required minimal modification to work in my kitchen.

The soup recipe, like many others in the volume, is attributed to Lady Fagg in a small note at the top right corner of the page. Other sources noted in the manuscript include – Lady Monson, Lady Roche, Miss Colville, Miss Bedingfeld, Miss Bowles, Richard Jebb, Mrs. Cowslade, Baroness Philetsen, Dr. Addington, Dr. Bateman, Dr. Reynolds, and Dr. Darwell.

The final paragraph is a note that adds extra information to Lady Fagg’s recipe. “NB” stands for the Latin phrase nota bene, roughly translated as “take note.” This phrase that was used in books as a mnemonic aid to mark passages, thoughts, instructions for future use. It appears in many places throughout the manuscript.

Our Recipe

1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
4 T butter, for browning beef
2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 oz pearl barley, rinsed and sorted
7 oz split peas, rinsed and sorted
6 potatoes, chopped into 1-2 inch cubes
cooking liquid: 1 cup chicken stock & 2 quarts water (This was the maximum amount of liquid my largest pot could hold. If you have a big stock pot, you should be able to accommodate a full gallon of cooking  liquid. I recommend using 1/3 vegetable or meat-based broth and 2/3 water.)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 325F. Measure, chop, and prepare all ingredients.

Heat 2 T butter in an oven-safe stock pot or dutch oven. Brown the beef cubes in butter to seal-in their flavor. Add the other 2 T of butter as needed. When the beef is mostly browned, add the onions and allow them to soften for 1-2 minutes. Add the barley, peas, potatoes, and cooking liquid (stock and water) and cover. When the soup has come to a rolling boil, add salt and pepper to taste. Then transfer the pot to the oven to cook for approximately 2 hours. Check every 45 minutes or so to make sure the grains have not absorbed all the liquid and add water as needed.

The Results

This soup is tasty, warm, and filling. It could easily feed a large group or provide delicious leftovers for future meals.

The leftovers fed me, and my spouse Joseph, for a few meals. He even thought it tastier leftover because the flavors deepened. Although the recipe note insists that the soup does not need to be served with bread on the side, bread did make it a more substantial meal. Our batch produced ten servings (with bread) and if we’d had a larger pot we could have made an even greater volume. This soup is economical even in 2015 with its smart use of cheap cuts of beef and filling, healthy grains and legumes.

A sprinkling of fresh herbs like sage or parsley would add extra flavor to each bowl. I would suggest serving this soup on a cold night with warm bread, a green salad with a kale or spinach base, and a nice bottle of  your favorite stout or porter.

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Artificial Potatoes

This recipe has been on my mind for a while. What are Artificial Potatoes? And WHY are they? I wanted to solve the mystery of the Artificial Potatoes. (The Mystery of the Artificial Potatoes: title for my first novel?) I couldn’t quite imagine from the recipe even what they would look or taste like, which is the perfect justification for a culinary experiment.

This recipe comes from Ms. Codex 1038, home to one of my favorites thus far: the Desart Cakes (which I mentally pronounce as “DeSART Cakes,” just because it’s fun). This is one of the first recipes in the book. Potatoes were introduced into England by the late seventeenth century, so the writer of this late-eighteenth-century recipe would have been familiar with “real” potatoes.

While we frequently notice recipes that crop up across multiple cookbooks (particularly for puddings), we haven’t come across another one for Artificial Potatoes. Curious, I ran a search through Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, an invaluable digital database of texts published between 1700 and 1800. And I found something interesting. Even with variant searches, only one recipe for Artificial Potatoes comes up, in Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion (1742, 11th ed.; the recipe appears through the 18th ed., 1773). While I’m sure there are other Artificial Potatoes recipes out there in manuscript and in print, this scarcity is striking. Our manuscript recipe is worth comparing with Smith’s:

Artificial Potatoes for Lent: A Side-DishSecond Course.

Take a pound of butter, put it into a stone mortar with half a pound of Naples-bisket grated, and half a pound of Jordan almonds beat small after they are blanched, eight yolks of eggs, four whites, a little sack and orange-flower-water; sweeten to your taste; pound all together till you don’t know what it is, and with a little fine flour make it into a stiff paste, lay it on a table, and have ready about two pounds of fine lard in your pan, let it boil very fast, and cut your paste the bigness of chesnuts, and throw them into the boiling lard, and let them boil till they are of a yellow brown; and when they are enough, take them up in a sieve to drain the fat from them; put them in a dish, pour sack and melted butter; strew double-refin’d sugar over the brim of the dish.
(E[liza] Smith, The Compleat Housewife [London, 1742, 11th ed.], 131-32)

That Smith identifies these Artificial Potatoes as a Lenten dish is intriguing. I don’t know of a reason why real potatoes might be off-limits during Lent, or why these fried dough balls should be particularly suited to Lent. (Any insights are welcome!) It’s also good to note that Smith identifies these as “a Side-Dish; Second Course” – not, in other words, as dessert. What we might think of as a dessert because of its ingredients (ground almonds, biscuit crumbs, sugar, flower water) wasn’t necessarily so for eighteenth-century eaters.

Smith’s recipe raises another question: what should these Artificial Potatoes look like? I assumed that they would be small and round, like new potatoes, “the bigness of chestnuts,” as Smith’s recipe directs. But the Ms. Codex 1038 recipe writer directs the cook to “Cut them into what shapes you like,” which sounds more like a flat roll-out cookie. As we’ll see, I tried both ways. But before shaping the Potatoes, I had to gather the ingredients.

 

Recipe within a Recipe: Naples Biscuits

As if these Artificial Potatoes weren’t mysterious enough on their own, they required some additional sleuthing for one of their ingredients. The recipe calls for “Naple Biscuits,” or Naples biscuits, but doesn’t provide a recipe. Research time! Naples biscuits are rosewater-flavored dry biscuits baked in small rectangular tins, similar in texture and size to our ladyfingers. Naples biscuits feature in a range of early modern recipes – for puddings, mince pies, even a possett drink. (Biscuit-crumb-enhanced cold possett? We might need to try that one.) They’re typically grated into crumbs and used as a thickening agent rather than left whole. But how to make them? Ms. Codex 1038 doesn’t contain a recipe, so I turned again to ECCO to search for Naples biscuits (or biskets). Interestingly, while a lot of eighteenth-century cookbooks call for Naples biscuits, sometimes in as many as eight recipes, they almost never include a recipe for them. My search yielded only a few recipes. This suggests either that the basic recipe was so well-known that it didn’t need to be given or, more likely, that cooks would buy Naples biscuits already made, just as we often do with ladyfingers.

I used Elizabeth Cleland’s New and Easy Method of Cookery (1759) for reference:

To make Naples Biscuits.

Take a Pound of fine Sugar pounded and sifted, a Pound of fine Flour, beat eight Eggs, with two Spoonfuls of Rose-water; mix in the Flour and Sugar, then wet it with the Eggs, and as much cold Water as will make a light Paste; beat the Paste very well, then put them in Tin Pans. Bake them in a gentle Oven.
(Elizabeth Cleland, A New and Easy Method of Cookery [Edinburgh, 1759])

My version, which halves Cleland’s:

4 eggs
1 tbsp. rosewater
1/2 lb. sugar
1/2 lb. flour

Beat eggs and rosewater (by hand or with a mixer) until frothy; add sugar and flour and beat thoroughly, until lighter in color and very well blended. If dough seems too heavy or dry, add 1 tsp. cold water at a time. (My batter held together nicely at this point, similar to a pound cake batter. Since another Naples biscuit recipe I looked at didn’t call for the addition of cold water to thin the batter, I left it out. I might try it next time to see if the water produces a slightly lighter biscuit, but these turned out just fine.)

Bake in greased madeleine pans, filled with 2 tbsp. batter each, for 14 mins. at 350F. They should be firm to the touch, lightly browned around the edges and on the scalloped bottoms, but the tops won’t have much color. Turn onto a wire rack and cool completely. Makes 20 madeleines. (Mini-muffin tins would also work.)

These Naples biscuits aren’t showstoppers, and they don’t clamor to be eaten by themselves, though I nibbled on one while making the Artificial Potatoes. They’re dense, dry, and nicely rosewater-y, and that’s about it. I understand why they were used more often as ingredient than eaten as a stand-alone treat.

IMG_4459

 

The Main Recipe

artificial potatoes
To make Artificial Potatoes.

Two Ounces of Almonds beat with a little Sack or Orange-flower Water,
2 Ounces of Naple Biscuits, 4 Ounces of Butter, 2 Eggs, but one
of the Whites, and Sweeten it with fine Sugar, beat them altogether
’till it is fine, then Mix it up with Flower to a Stiff paste, Cut them into
what shapes you like, and fry them in lard — There must be a little
melted butter sent up with them.

 

Our Recipe

2 oz. (heaping 1/2 c.) ground almonds
2 oz. Naples biscuits [2 madeleines], grated or pulsed in a food processor into crumbs*
3/4 c. flour
4 oz. (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. orange flower water (optional; you could also use sherry or rosewater)
1 egg
1 egg white
oil for frying**

Combine dry ingredients (almonds, biscuit crumbs, flour) and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the orange flower water, egg, and egg white and mix until well-combined. Dough should hold together and be soft but not too sticky.

Shape dough in one of two ways:

1) Cut or pinch off about a tbsp. of dough and roll it in your hands until fairly round. Repeat. (I also flattened these round balls slightly for one round of frying; they cooked through somewhat better.)

2) Chill dough for 10 mins. to let it firm up a bit, then roll it out on a floured board to about 1/4″ thick; punch out rounds with a cookie cutter. Smaller rounds (1.5 to 2″) are best.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat 2 tbsp. oil (see **Note) in a skillet at medium-high heat and fry the Potatoes in batches, giving them a few minutes on each side, until golden-brown. As the Potatoes are done, place them on the lined plate to absorb excess oil. I didn’t think they needed the flourish of extra melted butter on the side, but then again, melted butter never hurt anything.

*Note on pulverizing the biscuits: I grated mine on a box grater, but since the edges are quite hard, the process was pretty messy and I ended up with uneven crumb size (powdery from the edges, larger from the softer centers). I’d use a food processor next time.

**Note on frying: The original recipe calls to fry the Potatoes in lard, but I don’t exactly keep lard on hand. I fried the first batch in butter, which gave them a lovely browned-butter taste … until, of course, the butter solids started burning. I switched over to oil and had more success. So, fry in your preferred fat.

Clockwise from left: round ball, flattened ball, cut-out round

 

The Results

As sometimes happens with long-anticipated recipes, these were somewhat underwhelming. I’m still not sure what they should look like: it makes the most sense that they would look like small potatoes, but rolling and cutting them out bakes them more thoroughly and avoids a doughy center. Whatever shape, taste-wise they’re fairly bland. They’re also slightly greasy from being fried; I might actually try this recipe again but bake the rounds, just to see if they would work as cookies.

However, this experiment has taken the edge off my Artificial Potato curiosity. And now I have more than a dozen Naples biscuits in my freezer just waiting to thicken more dishes down the line.

to make an orange puding

It’s citrus season in southern California. My weekly farmer’s market is full of varieties I’ve never seen before. On the freeway this week, I drove past a truck pulling two caged trailers almost overflowing with small oranges. It inspired me. Later that day I decided to try this recipe for an “orange puding” from Ms. Codex 252 because I had all the ingredients in my kitchen: navel oranges, eggs, sugar, and butter. I also had some leftover pastry in the freezer, but making a batch from scratch would only add salt and flour to that ingredients list! This dessert is somewhere between a modern pudding and a custard pie and it captures the powerful taste of oranges.

The Recipe

orange puding

to make an orange puding

Take the rinds of 3 oringes boyle them in 3 watters ore 4 till they be tender
then beat them in a morter put to them 5 eggs leaue out 2 whitts; halfe a pound
of sugar and halfe a pound of butter beat all together tell it be well mixt then put
it in a Dishe with a littell puffe paest Crust one the top and the Bottom

Our Recipe

I made very few changes to this one. I halved the quantities to try it out in a smaller pan, so I’ve included full and half ingredients below. I also decided to make a lattice top for the pie instead of completely enclosing the custard. This allowed me to keep an eye on how it was cooking. It also allowed the top of the custard to form a beautiful, crunchy crust that added a great texture to each bite.

Full                                                                         Half

3 oranges                                                               1 1/2 – 2 oranges, depending on size
5 eggs (3 whole, 2 yolks)                                     3 eggs (2 whole, 1 yolk)
1/2 lb sugar (1c)                                                   1/4 lb sugar (1/2 c)
1/2 lb butter, soft (2 sticks or 16 T)                  1/4 lb butter, soft (1 stick or 8T)
1 batch pastry (Use your favorite pie crust recipe here. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything)

Prepare your pastry and follow instructions on chilling or resting.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Peel the oranges carefully, avoiding the bitter white pith. Put the orange rinds into a small saucepan with a cup of water, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the rinds are tender. Set aside to cool.

Butter an ovenproof pie dish. Roll out the pastry and place the bottom crust in the ovenproof dish.

When the rinds are slightly cooled, blitz them in a food processor until they form a bright orange paste. If the food processor is large you may need to scrape down the sides a few times. A mortar and pestle (as the original recipe instructs) or simply chopping the peels finely will also work here.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Either do this by hand, use a standing mixer, or a handheld mixer. Add cooked orange rinds and eggs. Mix until the custard becomes slightly fluffy. Pour into the prepared crust.

Top with a lattice crust, a full crust, or simply leave the custard open.

Bake for 45 minutes. (I checked at 30 minutes and checked every 5 minutes thereafter.) The pie is cooked when the crust is golden and the custard sets –a tester inserted in the center should come out clean.

The Results

At first I wasn’t sure about this one. When I sliced the pie and took my first bite the butter from the custard and the crust was completely overwhelming. But the next day I had friends over to try some archival desserts (stay tuned for more) and my second slice was divine. A day later, the orange flavor had deepened and the butter no longer dominated. I refrigerated the pie overnight, but let it come to room temperature before I served it the second day. This would be a great recipe to make a day in advance of a dinner or gathering.

Although I’m never one to say no to pastry, I think this pudding might be tastier as a crust-less custard like the “carrot pudding” we made a few months ago. This variation would also inevitably decrease the amount of butter in the dish and perhaps render my previous comment irrelevant.

Whether you have too many oranges on your hands or just want to cook something with citrus that tastes bright and fresh, “orange puding” is a quirky winter treat.