Solid Sillibubs

August: month of ok-fine-I’ll-have-another-salad-just-to-avoid-turning-on-the-oven. So, what better time to experiment with syllabub? A popular dessert in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – so popular that it was often served in dedicated pots and glasses – syllabub is a sweetened mixture of cream and wine. I returned to UPenn MS Codex 205, home to the excellent Beer Cakes, to try out “Solid Sillibubs.”

Leafing through these recipe books provides an ongoing education in how common certain dishes were in early modern cooking. Some, like fried cream or (ahem) fish custard, seem to occur only rarely. Others, like jumballs or various puddings, appear time and again. Selecting one recipe to try in these cases is something like settling on a chocolate chip cookie recipe today: you happen to have chosen that one, but there are numerous others out there. I thought syllabub would be a great test case to show what one dish can look like across multiple recipe books.

The syllabub recipes below all combine cream, white wine, and sugar, then thicken the mixture. Proportions of cream to wine vary. Some “solid” syllabubs are left to sit until the cream and clear portions separate by themselves; other “whipped” syllabubs strain the froth over a sieve, then dollop the thickened mixture on top of white or red wine. (This vocabulary isn’t entirely consistent, and other adjectives like “ordinary” and “excellent” complicate matters.) Recipe books might contain one or two or even, in Judeth Bedingfield’s case, three syllabub recipes. (Print cookbooks contained even more: Mary Cole’s The Lady’s Complete Guide; or Cookery in All Its Branches [1788] details five, ranging from “lemon” to “everlasting.”) The handful of syllabub recipes below allow us to consider how cooks write out similar instructions in different ways, vary or omit steps, create flavor twists, and put their own mark on a somewhat standard recipe.

Syllabub / Sillibub / Silly Bub: A Survey

ms753 ordinary syllabub{from MS Codex 753}

How to Make an Ordinary Sillibub

Fill yr Pott halph full of of Wien & good share of
Sugar, milke in as much Cream & Stirr itt once
about very softly. Let itt stand two houres
before you eate itt

ms625 whipt sillabub{from MS Codex 635}

A Whipt Sillabub

Take a p[in]t of cream w[i]th a spoonfull of
orange flower water 2 or 3 ounces of
fine sugar [th]e juice of a lemon [th]e white
of 3 eggs these wisk these up together
& having in yo[u]r glasses rhennish wine
& sugar & clarret & sugar lay on [th]e
froth w[i]th a spoon heapt up as leight as
you can

ms642 silly bub{from MS Codex 624}

A silly bub

Sweeten a quart of cream take a pint of renish wine & poure it thro
a narrow mouth bottle into [th]e cream let it stand a while before you stir
it.

ms624 whipt sillabub{also from MS Codex 624}

whiptt sillabub

take[th] a pintt of sack [th]e like of whitt wine putt into itt A lemmon
sliced A sprigge of burrage & baulm & lett itt stand and steep 2 hours
sweeten itt w[i]th [th]Att of suger & pull outt [th]e herbs and lemmon then take
a pintt of sweet Cream & poure itt in A yard high leizurely into [th]e
wine & froth itt up w[i]th A chocolett stick and (as itt risis) w[i]th A spone lay itt
into [th]e Glases high as they will bair make 4 hours before Eatten
you may putt in [th]e whitt of an Egg well beten into [th]e wine to make itt
froth [th]e more

ms631 3 syllabubs{from MS Codex 631}

To Make Churn’d Syllabubs

Take a Quart of sweet Cream & 3 pints of white wine & a quarter of a pint of sack
[th]e peel of a Lemon & 3 quarters of a pound of Loafe sugar mingle all these well together
& beat or Churne them in a Glass Churne & when tis as thick as will be without turn:
:ing to butter milk pour them into y[ou]r Glases & let them stand 3 or 4 hours before they
are eaten /

To Make Rich Syllabubs

Take one pint of Cream, half a pint of white or Renish wine a quarter of a pint
of sack, [th]e Juice of one Lemon with [th]e peel grated three quarters of a pound of double
refine sugar, mingall all these together, in an earthen pot or Bason beat it all one
way with a Burchen rod, till it be so stiff that [th]e rod will stand upright in it then put
it into [th]e Glasses, it will keepe very good two or three days /

To Make Whipt Syllabubs

Take a Quart of Cream & as much of [th]e best white wine & when you have mixt
it grate as much as you can of [th]e rine of two Lemons & squeeze [th]e Juice of them into it
then grate a nutmeg & put as much powderd Loafe sugar as you please & whip it up
& take [th]e froth of with a spoone & put it into a Cullender for [th]e thin to run a way put in a Little new milk it makes it mill [th]e better when tis very thick put some wine
into [th]e bottom of y[ou]r Glasses with some sugar then fill y[ou]r Glasses still whiping it & it will
be better on [th]e morrow then now

Many printed cookbooks contain syllabub recipes, too. My personal favorites? The recipes that call for making syllabub in perhaps the most efficient way imaginable: straight from the cow. In a 1796 edition of The Art of Cookery, for example, Hannah Glasse details how “To make a Syllabub from the Cow” – and thoughtfully provides variant instructions if you lack a cow and need to approximate one (!):

Make your syllabub of either cyder or wine, sweeten it pretty sweet, and grate nutmeg in; then milk the milk into the liquor: when this is done, pour over the top half a pint or a pint of cream, according to the quantity of syllabub you make. You may make this syllabub at home, only have new milk; make it as hot as milk from the cow, and out of a teapot, or any such thing, pour it in, holding your hand very high, and strew over some currants well washed and picked, and plumped before the fire.

I was tempted to try this technique in my cow-less kitchen, but I stuck with the instructions from MS Codex 205.

The Recipe

ms205 solid sillibubs

18.                      Solid Sillibubs.

Take 1 Quart of Cream and boil it, let it Stand
’till ’tis cold, then take a pint of White Wine,
pare a Lemon thin, and steep the Peel in the
Wine 2 Houres before you use it, to this add the
Juice of a Lemon, and as much Sugar as will
make it very sweet; put all this into a Bason and
wisk it all one Way, ’till ’tis pretty thick:
Fill your Glases. Let your Cream be full Measure,
your Wine less so

Our Recipe
[halved from original]

1 pint (2 c.) heavy cream
1 c. white wine
1 lemon: rind peeled in thick strips, then juiced
1/2 c. sugar

In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil; let boil gently for 2 mins. Remove pan from heat or pour into heatproof bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, place the lemon rind in the wine and let sit for 2 hours. Remove the rind, then add the lemon juice and sugar.

Combine the cream and wine mixtures and beat with a stand or electric mixer or by hand* until frothy and slightly thickened. Pour into 2-4 glasses and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight; the cream will thicken and a small layer of liquid will appear below.

*At first I beat the mixture by hand and assumed that my arm power was the reason it didn’t thicken significantly. But when I transferred it to the stand mixer, the thickness remained the same. It should become frothy and be well-combined, but it won’t thicken like whipped cream.

The Results

This wasn’t my favorite, though I’m glad I made it and I can certainly see the appeal. The cream mixture is extremely rich – lemony and sweet – and the liquid underneath is a tart contrast to that. I think there should have been more liquid; I boiled the cream for about five minutes to let some water evaporate (in hopes of making a noticeably “solid” syllabub), but I think that was too much, so I’ve adjusted the recipe above. The topmost layer of cream becomes quite solid and mousse-like, while below about 1″ it remained softer. I dug through the layers with a spoon, but a straw would be even better! (As would smaller glasses: juice glasses or small mason jars would make more reasonable servings.)

A word about methodology: without reading up on other syllabubs, I wouldn’t have known to let the mixture sit. And I feel fairly certain that it should sit. Almost all the syllabub recipes, both handwritten and printed, that I read called for the mixture to be strained or to sit. A thickened layer of cream on top of a more liquid wine layer is characteristic of syllabub. So why not specify that step in this recipe? I think this is a good instance of a step being left implicit because the cook doesn’t think twice about it. It made me think of what we leave unspoken in our own recipes. Have you ever written down a well-loved and much-made recipe for someone else, then paused and added in more steps and specifications for someone making it for the first time? I think that’s what happened here. This first-time syllabub-maker didn’t know any better, even if the recipe writer would have.  Without letting the mixture sit, the whole thing is creamy but very liquid, not thick or “solid” at all.

I didn’t like this quite enough to keep experimenting with other syllabubs – plus, there are other refreshing liquid desserts to tackle before the end of the summer. Shrub! Posset! But if anyone feels moved (er … moo-ved?) to try “Syllabub from the Cow,” please report back.

Advertisements

Portland Cakes, Cooking in the Scripps Archives Part 4

This is the fourth and final post featuring a recipe from the Earl of Roden Commonplace Book held at the Scripps College, Denison Library. Read the first post here for information about this manuscript.

Flipping through the Earl of Roden Commonplace Book in the Denison Library at Scripps a few months ago, I paused when I saw a recipe for “Portland Cakes.” They looked so familiar! These buttery, sweet cakes are flavored with rosewater and brandy and dotted with currants, just like the “Potingall/Portugal Cakes” Alyssa wrote about a few months ago. The “Portland Cakes” in the Earl of Roden  fall into the broad category of “Portugal” cakes seasoned with fortified wines like brandy and sack that were imported to the British Isles from the Iberian peninsula.

The Recipe

portland cakes

To make Portland Cakes.

Six ounces of Butter well beaten, six ounces of Loaf Sugar,
the Yolks of two eggs, the white of one, 1/4 of a pound of
currants, two spoonfuls of Rose Water 3/4 of a Pound of
flour, you may add a small quantity of Brandy if
you please. Make them into little cakes and bake them
a quarter of an hour __ When you put them into the
Oven, strew over them some grated Sugar. ___

Our Recipe is basically the same.

6 oz butter, softened
6 oz sugar (additional sugar for sprinkling)
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
1/4 lb currants
2 t rosewater
3/4 lb flour
2 t brandy

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together butter and sugar. I used my stand mixer for this recipe, but it could work with a hand mixer or a large bowl and a sturdy spoon.  When the mixture is pale and fluffy, add rosewater and brandy. Separate and beat the eggs before adding them to the mix. Add the flour. When the flour is completely incorporated, add the currants.

Divide the mixture into 12 cakes and bake in a greased muffin tin for 40 minutes. If you’d like to make smaller cakes (I plan to next time) divide the mixture into 18 or 24 parts and bake in two greased muffin tins for approximately 25 minutes, until golden brown.

As you can see from the photos, I completely forgot to dust these with sugar before I put them in the oven, but they were toothsome all the same.

The Results

Portland Cakes are sweet, dense, and fragrant. I enjoyed one hot from the oven with a cup of tea. I brought the rest to a picnic and they were a big hit with adults and kids alike.

Next time I’ll make smaller cakes in a muffin  pan (or even try a Madeline pan like Alyssa) because the crunchy exterior was my favorite part. I might also add a pinch of salt and cut the sugar a bit.

But mostly I think a Potingall/Portugal/Portland Cake bake-off is in order. Alyssa and I are going to arrange a taste-test and let you know which recipe we like best!

To Pickle Tomatas, Cooking in the Scripps Archives Part 3

This is the third post featuring a recipe from the Earl of Roden Commonplace Book held at the Scripps College, Denison Library. Read the first post here for information about this manuscript.

It’s tomato season, dear readers. The farmer’s market stalls and supermarket shelves are laden with sweet, tangy, luscious tomatoes that I can’t resist eating out of the container on my walk home. Other bloggers are also fueling my tomato-craziness with tasty recipes like this one. Our recipe for pickled tomatas captures tomatoes in their prime. It doesn’t require any special canning equipment beyond a clean jar so have no fear! Read on!

We haven’t always celebrated the tomato or even considered it edible. The tomato is a new world fruit. At first, Europeans and American colonists didn’t eat them at all for fear of a poisonous, painful death. Later, English gardeners would grow especially garish varieties to display as beautiful objects, gorgeous examples of horticultural prowess and cosmopolitanism. These two books document our slow conversion from a tomato-fearing to a tomato-loving food culture : Andrew F. Smith’s The Tomato in America and David Gentilcore’s Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy. This Modern Farmer article offers a more condensed history.

This recipe for pickled tomatoes is from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century based on the history of the manuscript . The compiler notes Count Puzzi as a source, but I haven’t been able to track down a count by this name. (I did find Giovanni Puzzi, a celebrated horn player who resided in London in the nineteenth century, but, alas, I see no way to connect him to our tomato recipe.)

Not only was I excited to see a tomato recipe from relatively early in this history of European consumption of nightshade vegetables, but it also reminded me of an appetizer I’ve ordered many times at a favorite restaurant. Union on Yale serves a mason jar overflowing with vinegary heirloom cherry tomatoes, burrata, and basil-infused olive oil with lovely pita bread toasts on the side. I’ve never said no to burrata and I’ve come to love the way the sharp tomatoes compliment the luscious cheese.

The Recipe

To pickle Tomatas

Wipe the Tomatas clean and dry, the put them
entire into an earthen Jar, sprinkle them with Salt
and Pepper at your discretion and with some bruised
Cloves; then fill up the Jar with a sufficient quantity of
Vinegar to cover the whole x
Count Puzzi

This recipe is perhaps equal parts pickled and fermented tomatoes. Like any lover of kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, or even sourdough bread knows, when you put a lot of tasty veggies in an earthenware crock you’re inviting natural yeasts and microbes to transform your food into something new. For our recipe, I turned to what I know about making fridge pickles as a compromise between proper canning and crock fermenting. I frequently make batches of string-bean, cauliflower, fennel, and beet fridge pickles to add to salads or compliment a cheese platter so this method is what felt natural to me. If you try this in an earthenware jar or properly can a batch and like what you taste, please let us know!

Our Recipe
1half lb tomatoes (whole, small tomatoes like cherry, grape, or sugar plum will work best)
3 twists black pepper
1 t cloves
1/2 t salt
1 c apple cider vinegar
a 2 cup mason jar, thoroughly washed

Put about a half pound of tomatoes in the mason jar. Fill to the top, but leave some space at the neck of the jar. Add seasonings. Fill with vinegar until the tomatoes are completely covered. Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. I tried this batch after 10 days.
Consume pickled tomatoes within a month of opening the jar.

The Results

Pickled tomatoes are tart, juicy, and remarkably fresh. As I’d hoped, they tasted wonderful with cheese. The clove and vinegar seasoning combination reminded me of fancy homemade or artisanal ketchup. Next time,  I might consider flavoring them with coriander, fennel, or caraway seeds instead. I like cider vinegar, but I think red or white wine vinegar or even sherry vinegar would also work as a base.