To Make bisket​, a recipe from the Baumfylde manuscript

Later this spring, I’m flying to Los Angeles to participate in a workshop entitled “Transcribing and Interpreting Digital Recipe Manuscripts” at the Shakespeare Association of America annual meeting (SAA). I often attend this conference, but I always go to talk about plays.

My research is currently bifurcated between writing a book about plays and cooking historical recipes to post here. SAA is a place where I’ve tried out many of my book ideas in small, collegial seminars. This year, instead of drafting a traditional paper, I’ve been transcribing Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript recipe book, Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.456 alongside other workshop participants. And, in turn, I’ve been reflecting on how I got into this seemingly double practice.

Back in the earliest collaborative google doc draft of our first Cooking in the Archives funding proposal, I wrote the sentence “What are recipes if not instructions for cooking?” A play is a script intended for performance, a husbandry manual tells you how to care for animals, a music book is a provocation to song: What is a recipe book if not a repository of possible action? My simple sentence has migrated from word doc to word doc, abstract to conference paper, paper to article. I keep repeating it, because I keep needing to make this point and this sentence keeps working for me.  I think of recipes as culinary scripts both in my personal cooking and my recipe writing here.

Let’s consider this post a partial recreation of the performance of a recipe “To Make bisket” enacted in December 2017.

When I started transcribing Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript recipe book in preparation for the SAA workshop, these biskets intrigued me because they don’t have any butter in them. Dense, chewy, and nicely spiced, these biscuits were a great addition to an afternoon of Ramboose-fueled festivity. Whitney, Sarah, Phil, and Joseph liked these biscuits more than the accompanying drink.

Stay tuned for more recipes from Baumfylde’s manuscript. I’ll be cooking from this book for the coming months. I’m excited about the recipes for stewed mushrooms and cabbage pudding on this page, and pickled walnuts on this page.

The Recipe

To Make bisket
Take th​e​ yelks of 5 eggs & th​e​ whites of 2 beat
them a quarter​ of an hour & in the beating putt
10 spoonfuls of Rose water then strow in a
pound of dubble refine suger finely beaten
and sifted after the suger is in beat it an hour
then take a pound of flower well dried shake
it in still beating it one way then strow in
your seeds carraway or coriander or both if you​
please. drop them in to butterd pans and
bake them

Our Recipe

Halved from the original,  this recipe still made quite a few cookies.

3 egg yolks
1 egg white
1 c sugar
5 t rosewater (or less to taste)
1 3/4 c flour
1 T caraway seeds
1t  coriander seeds

Preheat your oven for 375F.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with rosewater. Add the sugar and beat until well combined.  Stir in the flour and seeds.

Dollop the batter onto  a buttered baking sheet to make small cookies. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown.

The Results

Simple and flavorful, these biscuits are easy to make. They are distinctly chewy and rich from eggs, but not butter. We experimented with larger biscuits and a lower baking temperature, but smaller biscuits and a hotter oven worked better.

It was a good first performance.

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