I’m excited to tell you about three things today: Kidney-bean pufs (a tasty vegetarian dish), Folger Shakespeare Library manuscript V.b.380 (a recipe book that I’ve been investigating alongside students and collaborators since January), and an upcoming event in Philadelphia (organized by my students).
As someone who loves eating beans, greens, and other vegetables, I’m always on the lookout for delicious vegetarian recipes in manuscript cookbooks. Kidney-bean pufs caught my eye when I was paging through the manuscript in the library a few weeks ago. I can’t resist a good fritter and I thought (correctly) that they would make a great vegetarian side dish or appetizer for upcoming holiday gatherings.
Beans were a staple of early modern diets, especially for those avoiding meat during the Lent season. In Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala explains the complex class implications of beans and bean-eating. He writes, “…they were associated with poverty, and few sophisticated diners would condescend to eat beans for fear of debasement. For everyone else though, beans were critical for survival. When dried they could last through the winter and be boiled into soups, mashed and cooked into more substantial dishes with many ingredients. They were one of the most frequently eaten foods throughout the early modern period” (27). Necessary, if déclassé, beans were a dietary staple.
Europeans were excited to add new world beans, such as green beans, to their diets alongside old world beans such as fava beans, black-eyed peas, peas, chickpeas, and lentils (Albala 27-8). And, of course, Europeans were not the only people sustained by beans. Michael Twitty’s delicious recipe for akara, black-eyed pea fritters, is a powerful reminder of the food traditions that enslaved Africans brought with them to the Americas (as Amanda Herbert writes in this post for the Folger’s First Chefs exhibition).
Until recently, my students knew more about the source of this bean recipe – Folger manuscript V.b.380 – than I did. A few years ago, I made a chocolate cream from the manuscript, but, as a group, my students completed a full transcription of the manuscript between January and August. One by one, they have copied out every word on every page. It’s been a pleasure to learn from them and alongside them. They told me about the frequent appearance of the name “anne Western” (a later owner who may have been preparing this manuscript for publication as a printed cookbook), notes about recipe donors and medical authorities, the distinct handwriting of particular users or contributors, the decorated clasps that can hold the manuscript closed, sections that contained more medicinal or more culinary recipes, the wax seals stamped on the book’s cover, and last, but not least, the beautiful calligraphy in the book: the flourishes, lines, and decorations in black and red ink on display in the image above.
A few weeks ago, the students selected recipes for us to cook together and I developed updated recipes that we tested, tweaked, and ate. It is my pleasure to say we’ll be serving Almond Pudding (tartlets) and Knotts (spiced cookies) at our upcoming event in Philadelphia and I’ll be sharing the recipes here soon. We decided to call this event “A Taste of 1677,” the year to which we can date the manuscript’s paper. In addition to learning about the manuscript from prepared posters, digital images of the original manuscript, and conversations with student researchers, we will also invite guests to smell medicinal remedies, handle herbs, taste recreated recipes, and try out writing in secretary hand with goose quills and iron gall ink.
In the meantime, whether you’ve added this event to your calendar or are on the other side of the world, you can try this recipe for puffs.
Take a quart of Kidney-beans Boyle them till they be
enough, then drain them & beat them in a Morter; and 6 Eggs
the whites of 3, a pint of Cream, a little yeast & a little drawn
Butter, with fflour to make it of a convenient thickness
then beat them altogether and fry them. G 1712
Anne Western may have been using V.b.380 to organize her thoughts for the production of a printed cookbook or another manuscript recipe book. This specific recipe, like many others, is marked with her name. The recipe is also marked with the year 1712, a rarer feature for this manuscript, that may denote that it was prepared in that year.
Although this recipe is relatively simple, it raises a few questions about cooking beans and leavening puffs. In the process of updating this recipe I consulted The Spruce guide to dried bean conversions as well as the bean section in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I made the recipe with both dried kidney beans and with canned kidney beans. Although I preferred the texture and depth of saltiness in the dried bean version, the canned bean version was also great and much quicker to prepare. In addition, the recipe calls for yeast, but not for letting the puffs rise. I added yeast to one batch and left it out rise on my counter for two hours. I also made an un-yeasted batch. In the end, the batters behaved the same way during frying and the eggs ultimately provided most of the rise to the finished puffs. I’ve left the yeast out in the recipe below, but you are welcome to add it back in and play with longer rising times. Let me know how your experiments go in the comments.
1 cup dry kidney beans or 3 cups canned kidney beans (2 15 oz cans)
1 egg and 1 egg white
1/2 c heavy cream
2T butter, melted (plus 2T for frying the puffs)
1/4 c flour
Dry Beans – Put 1 c dried beans in a small pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then add 1/2 t salt and turn down heat to low. Simmer covered, stirring every 15 minutes or so until the beans are tender. For me, this took an hour. It might take as little as a half hour if your beans have spent less time in the kitchen cupboard or on the supermarket shelf. Alternatively, it might take longer than an hour. Once cooked, drain the beans. The cooking liquid can be saved to use in soups and stews.
Canned Beans – Drain and rinse the beans.
Heat a skillet or large frying pan.
Roughly mash the beans in a large bowl with a potato masher or large fork. Add the eggs, cream, and melted butter. Season with ground pepper, any additional flavorings you like, and, if using canned beans, 1/2 t salt.
Add butter to the skillet and lower the heat to medium. Dollop the puff batter into the skillet using a 1T measure for “appetizer sized” puffs. For larger puffs, use 2-3T batter per puff. Cook for 1 minute on each side until golden brown and slightly crispy.
Satisfying, lightly fried, and substantial, Kidney-bean pufs are a welcome accompaniment to hearty fall dishes. The browned butter and bean base gives them a nutty flavor. Since their base is fairly simple, you might consider adding another spice to the puff mix such as thyme or coriander.
It would be very easy to make this recipe gluten free by substituting chickpea flour, rice flour, or a gluten-free mix for the wheat flour that functions as a binder. I also think a vegan version could be easily achieved with oil, non-dairy milk, an egg replacement mix, and perhaps the addition of more flour if the mixture isn’t binding as effectively.
If frying fritters or puffs right before company comes over is a daunting prospect, you can make these in advance. I learned long ago from Deb Perleman’s Smitten Kitchen that reheating puffs like these on a baking sheet in a 325F oven before serving is a great party strategy.
I would like to thank the students (past and present) in my What’s in a Recipe? independent study (run through the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program); my collaborators Christina Riehman-Murphy and Heather Froehlich; and Shivanni Selvaraj and the PSU Outreach Seeding Change Engagement Grant for supporting my students in their research, event planning, and engagement with Philadelphia.