To presarue Aprecokes

I wanted to try this recipe as soon as I saw it. Although I often have this reaction to beautiful photos of food on blogs or Instagram, when I’m reading three hundred-year-old culinary manuscripts online it’s a different story. I’m curious, puzzled, intrigued, but rarely inspired to drop everything and prepare Fish Custard immediately. I was flipping through one of my favorite manuscripts in the collection, MS. Codex 252, and had an this uncharacteristic reaction: I needed to preserve some apricots right away. This recipe has a lot of elements that I like — stone fruit, very few ingredients, and a low-stakes preserving method. I also had a good reason to believe that it was a particularly reliable or tasty recipe.

preserve apricots, detail

This circle and X marking next to the recipe title indicates that someone cooking from this book prepared preserved apricots and the recipe, most likely, worked. I first learned about these circles, checks, ticks, fleurons, and other marks in recipe books when I heard Wendy Wall deliver a lecture about Shakespeare and early modern women’s medicinal knowledge. (I’m excited to read her new book, Recipes for Thought, when it comes out this fall. ) Wall and other historians of food and medicine consider markings like these part of the progression of scientific knowledge in the kitchen. They are the handwritten remains from many otherwise undocumented experiments. Cooks tried recipes and made (a few) notes about how they turned out. In this same manuscript the recipe for Could Possett was also marked and we loved how that refreshing drink turned out!

Whoever marked this recipe for preserving apricots– the compiler, a household cook, a member of the family from a later generation — was completely correct. This recipe works beautifully and the preserved apricots are a versatile and delicious ingredient to put up as the cold months approach.

The Recipe

preserve apricots

X                             To presarue Aprecokes
Take aprecokes that be new gathered pare them and stone
them and put them into fare water as you pare them your water
must be luke warme then take as much clarefied sugar as will
melt cover them then take a warme cloth and lay them upon
it to drinke away the must water from them when you haue
dryed away the water put them into that clarfied sugar and
heat them upon a soft fire not letting the boyle but now and
then turning and skiminge them when you haue turned them
oft and se them grow tender take them of the fire and put
them into a bason next day warme them twice halfe at a time in
the same surup thay lay in last time you warmd them then take them
up and set them a droping upon a warme dish side and then put
them  into that surup a quarter of pound of frish sugar and let it
boyle till it come to a thicke surup then betwixt hot and could put
them and you may keep them all the yeare

Our Recipe

It’s simple: peel and pit the apricots, wash them, cook them in their own juices with a bit of sugar, cover them with sugar syrup.

Our recipe is for a small amount of fridge-stable, not shelf-stable, preserved fruit. When we acquire a proper canning set-up here at Rare Cooking, we’ll start preserving everything in sight in large quantities. In the mean time, we’re sticking to fridge pickles, freezer jam, and small batches. The apricots should last for a few weeks in the fridge (if you can stop yourself from devouring them all at once.) If you’re a canning whiz and decide to try your hand at this recipe, please share your method in the comments for other interested readers.

Ingredients:

Part 1: To cook the apricots
8 apricots
1T sugar

Part 2: To make the simple syrup
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c water

Method:

Part 1: To cook the apricots
Peel the apricots and remove the pits. Quarter or halve the apricots, depending on their size and your preference. Wash them and let them dry completely on a dish cloth. (I set them aside for about an hour and did other things, but I also think you could skip this step if you are in a hurry.)

Put the apricots in a small pot and sprinkle them with sugar. Cover with a lid and begin to cook on a low heat. After a minute, check and see if the apricots are releasing their own juice. If they’re sticking or the mix isn’t juicy, add 2T water. Cover and cook the apricots for about five more minutes. The apricots should be tender, but still hold their shape. Remove the apricots from the heat and leave in the pot to cool.

Part 2: To make the simple syrup
In the original recipe, the apricots  rest in their juice overnight before they are stored in syrup. Since I wanted to serve them as part of desert that same night, I let them sit for about three hours.

Sterilize a mason jar. Here are a few ways to do this: fill the jar with boiling water, heat the jar in an oven, or wash the jar in a dishwasher.

Return the pot to the stove and heat the apricots in their juices on a low heat.

In a separate pot, make a simple syrup. Mix water and sugar and bring to a boil until all the sugar crystals are dissolved.

Pour the apricot mix into your prepared mason jar. Cover with the hot simple syrup. Label your jar. Allow the apricots to cool before you dig in.

The Results

These apricots taste like summer in a jar. They’re sweet, but not cloying. Alyssa came over for dinner and we ate these spooned onto Dolcezza brown butter gelato. They’re delicious with plain yogurt. When I’ve used all the fruit, I’m going to stir the remaining syrup into sparkling water and sparkling wine.

With minor variations, this recipe would work for most summer stone fruits. Peaches and plums come to mind immediately. Unlike apricots, they’re still available at the farmer’s market in Philly and I know that their season is almost over. The simple syrup component is also ripe for innovation. By infusing the liquid with fresh herbs and dried spices and then straining, these apricots could be seasoned with cinnamon, rosemary, or even coriander.

Now that I’ve fulfilled my apricot craving, I might preserve some peaches with a thyme-infused simple syrup this week before the peaches disappear and my thyme plant goes into hibernation.

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Bread and Butter Puddings

Reunited in the kitchen! Marissa has returned to Philadelphia from the west coast, and we’re cooking together again. (Yay.)

Many early modern recipes provide intriguing experiments – I made portugal cakes because I couldn’t quite imagine what they’d taste like (delicious), for instance, and artificial potatoes because I wondered if they’d look like actual potatoes (maybe/sort of). Some recipes we try end up with a taste surprisingly similar to familiar modern recipes, like the snickerdoodle-esque shrewsbury cakes. But with a few exceptions like one of our earliest and tastiest experiments, maccarony cheese, we don’t often come across recipes with an immediately apparent modern counterpart. Therefore, when I was leafing through my recent favorite, MS Codex 205, and spotted the recipe for Bread and Butter Puddings, it went straight to the top of my to-try list. We both love bread pudding (and bread generally), so this version from the 1770s or 80s seemed like a great way to celebrate cooking in the same place once more.

The Recipe

bread and butter puddings

10. Bread and Butter Puddings

To a Penny Loaf with the Crust cut off, and
slic’d put a Pint of boiling Milk, with 1/4 Pd.
Butter melted, cover it close, and when cold, braid
it fine & add 6 Eggs, a little Sack, 1/4 Pound
Sugar, 6 Ounces Currants. Bake them in a
quick Oven.
Melt Butter, Sack, and Sugar for Sauce.

Our Recipe

This is a fairly straightforward recipe: all of the ingredients are readily available (substitute raisins if you can’t find currants), the instructions are clear, and most of the measurements are precise. One direction brought us up short: to “braid” the soaked bread mixture. Braid it? I can’t even manage a french braid, let alone bread that has been soaking in milk and butter for a few hours! I’m glad that we went to the OED before attempting a hilariously messy plait: the dictionary suggests that “braid” could be a corruption of “bray” (“to beat small”). We interpreted this as cutting the soaked bread into smaller pieces. (Though why the dry bread couldn’t just be cut into smaller pieces before soaking is unclear.) The other interpretation would be to layer the soaked bread tightly before adding the egg mixture, perhaps because the slices were soaked in a single layer? But we’d already layered the bread before soaking it. But really, however you cut it and/or layer it, the bread will soak up the milk and egg mixtures and bake together into a delicious final product.

10-14 slices commercial white bread (14-20 oz. any bread), crusts removed*
1/4 lb. (1 stick) butter, melted
1 pint (2 c.) milk
6 oz. (1 1/2 c.) currants
4 oz. (heaping 1/2 c.) sugar
6 eggs
1/4 c. white wine

Arrange bread in a pyrex or other heatproof container – tear some of the slices in half to make them fit more closely. (You’ll be cutting the bread up more finely and transferring it to a baking dish, so don’t worry too much about careful arrangement.) Heat the milk just until bubbles form at the edges, add the melted butter, and pour over the bread. Gently press down on the top layer of bread with a fork to make sure it is evenly saturated. Cover container and set aside to cool to room temperature. (I hurried this step along by cooling it slightly and then transferring it to the fridge.)

Once bread mixture has cooled and the liquid has been mostly absorbed, cut the bread into smaller pieces by making an X motion with two table knives, just as you’d cut butter into pastry dough. Combine wine, eggs, and sugar and whisk lightly. Pour over bread mixture and add currants, then stir until everything is evenly distributed.

Heat oven to 350F. Transfer bread mixture to a well-greased 9×13″ baking dish** and bake for 60-70 mins., until puffed and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temp.***

*Note: Determining how much bread to use was a little tricky. The early modern penny loaf was a small loaf of bread that cost – you guessed it – a penny, but the size of the loaf varied based on the cost of flour. So, based on the amount of liquid the recipe called for and by comparing it to modern bread pudding recipes, we used 10 slices of a commercial loaf of white bread. (We chose this because it was easy to pick up while we were getting the other ingredients; other bakery breads would also be great.) Before removing the crusts, the 10 slices weighed 14 oz. This amount of bread made for a delicious but very, very wet bread pudding; we agreed that another few slices would have made a good difference in texture. So, you could use anywhere from 14 to 18 or even 20 oz. bread (before removing the crusts), depending on what texture you prefer. There’s enough liquid that 20 oz. of bread should work; more than this might make for an overly dry pudding. And if you can plan ahead and use slightly stale bread, it will absorb the liquid even better.

**Note: We tried baking this in a 9″ pie dish but had to remove some of the mixture into two ramekins and bake them separately to avoid overflow. A larger baking dish avoids this problem. You could also distribute the bread mixture into ramekins or other smaller baking dishes: the ramekins did bake up adorably.

***Note: While the original does call for a sauce of butter, wine, and sugar, the bread pudding was so moist and rich that we didn’t feel like it needed the enhancement. If you’re feeling particularly decadent, however, by all means add the sauce!

The Results

It’s bread pudding. And therefore awesome. Need I say more? (I’m partial.) The white wine adds a slight tang to the milkiness, and the currants provide sweetness that isn’t overbearing. It’s good the day of baking (once cooled a bit) and as leftovers, too.

We sprinkled in some cinnamon because we like it. You could also add nutmeg, a little ginger, a splash of vanilla, some orange zest – whatever flavors you enjoy.