Last week I had the pleasure of attending the conference Intoxicating Spaces: Global and Comparative Perspectives and sharing my research on a recipe for “The Ice Cream” that I posted here two years ago. The ice cream recipe is from a manuscript that was compiled and used by Elisabeth Hawar around 1687, and it includes two London addresses. The recipe book is now held at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library (fMS.1975.003). In my paper, I tried to locate Elisabeth Hawar’s recipe book in the mercantile communities of Shoreditch and Spitalfields in East London at the end of the seventeenth century.
Hawar’s book has another, intriguing London reference: a recipe for “How to make a London Possett.” I’m not sure, exactly, why this posset recipe is specific to London, but it’s certainly another link between Hawar’s manuscript and the city where she lived, cooked, and ate. I didn’t have time to speak about the posset at the conference — there’s always a lot to say about ice cream! — but I wanted to share some thoughts about testing Hawar’s posset recipe here.
How to make a London Possett 2x Take a pint of sack & 12 eggs, beat them very well both whites & yolkes, then strain them & put the sack & eggs togather, & sweeten it with sugar & Nutmegg as you please, & sett it ouer the fire keeping it stirring till it be scalding hot then take it of the fire & put in a quart of Creame boyling hott, holding your hand as high as you can in the pouring of it, then give it a stir & couer it close with a plate, & let it alone till it be like Cheese, & if it shoud not come set it on a gentle fire till it begins to Corn.
A word of warning: As curious as I was about this recipe, my recipe trial didn’t quite work. There were many clumps of eggs in the finished posset, but no pleasant “cheese.” I can think of a number of reasons for the failure of the recipe trial to produce what Hawar describes. I suspect the biggest culprits were my twenty-first century ingredients: modern sherry substituted for seventeenth-century sack, egg size and moisture differences, cream pasteurization and homogenization. I also wonder if a tall thin, cooking pot might have enabled the ingredients to separate differently. Finally, it was a hot day in Philadelphia which may have impacted the ingredients and the finished product.
This recipe is halved from theoriginal and did no produce the desired “cheese.” I invite you to use it as a starting point and share the results of your own recipe trials in the comments.
1/2 cup sherry
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 tablespoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1 cup cream
Beat the eggs together. Add sack, sugar, and nutmeg to the eggs.
Pour this mixture into a medium size pot. Gently heat to body temperature. Do not allow the eggs to cook.
In a separate, smaller pot, boil the cream.
Pour the cream into the egg and sack mix from a high hight.
Cover the posset with a lid and let it cool. A cheesy layer of eggs and cream should form on the top.
I love coffee. Naturally, when I saw receipt “To make Coffee” in a tweet from Somerset Archives, I was intrigued.
Reading recipe manuscripts, I’ve seen coffee called for as a flavoring for creams or “coffee cups” used for measurement. I’ve also read about the popularity of coffee in seventeenth-century London and the lively debates in coffee houses as part of the growing public sphere. This recipe, however, provides instructions for preparing coffee at home to serve to a household and its guests. It offers a window into domestic coffee consumption rather than the public coffee house. (There is also likely more to learn about the connection between Mary Clarke, her coffee recipe, and John Locke, but that will have to wait until I can visit Somerset.)
But this coffee recipe also gave me pause because it’s so simple. It only calls for “spring-water” and “Coffee-powder” and I knew that these two seventeenth-century ingredients were markedly different than the tap water and coffee beans that I had in my kitchen. Given these differences, how would I go about preparing it? And what could I possibly learn from trying this recipe in my own kitchen?
Yet the recipe has been stuck in my mind since I saw that tweet in April. It was often on my mind when I brewed a pot of morning coffee – how could 45 minutes of boiling ground coffee make a good cup of coffee? And it was on my mind when I read Neha Vermani’s wonderful post “Spilling the beans: The Islamic history of coffee” which centers Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal coffee culture. Vermani shows that coffee was part of a thriving public sphere in early modern Islamic empires. The recipe was also on my mind when I read Gitanjali Shahani’s chapter on coffee, Othello, and racialized depictions of coffee and coffee-drinking in anti-coffee pamphlets in in her book Tasting Difference.In a post for “International Coffee Day,” Shahani writes, “To get coffee is also to participate in easy cosmopolitanism” and to consume an affordable imported luxury: “Despite its associations with banal productivity, it somehow manages to retain exotic, even sensuous, connotations.” By bringing the trendy and exotic “Coffee-powder” from the coffee house into the home, this recipe from the Somerset Archives offers an interesting window into how new imported goods became a part of daily, domestic life.
To make Coffee Take Spring-water and Boyle it a full houre, then take a quart of the liquor, and put therein an ounce an halfe of Coffee-powder and boyle that three quarters of an houre. Let it not boyle too fast after the powder is in; and drinke it as hot as you can.
I used the Folger’s helpful guide to measurements to figure out what “an ounce an halfe” of coffee would be in modern measurements: 46.65 g. I also decided to simply bring my tap water to a boil because purifying spring water was not one of my concerns. I tested this recipe with 44 North Coffee, Royal Tar Blend that was roasted earlier this month and that I freshly ground from whole beans just before preparing the recipe. This is likely not the kind of coffee that Mary Clarke served John Locke in terms of place of origin, age, roasting method, or grinding method. Nevertheless, the recipe brewed a bold and distinct cup of coffee.
Halved from the original. Makes 1 cup (8 oz) coffee.
2 cups boiling water (16 oz)
23 g ground coffee (.75 oz, a heaping 1/3 cup)
Boil more than 2 cups of water in a kettle.
Pour two cup of boiling water into small pot. Add the coffee.
Simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes.
Pour coffee into a cup leaving the grounds in the pot. Drink as hot as you can.
The coffee was strong, fragrant, and flavorful. The oily sheen on the top of the cup showed that it contained a high concentration of fragrant oils. This is to be expected from coffee brewed by boiling the grounds in water rather than passing hot water through grounds. In this way – and this way alone – the brew reminded me of Turkish coffee that I’ve had in restaurants. Over the course of 45-minutes of simmering, half of the water evaporated yielding a concentrated cup.
It was certainly more intense in flavor than the coffee I brewed in my Mr. Coffee from the same beans at the same time. The color of the coffee made with the seventeenth-century recipe was only slightly darker in color than the coffee that I’d brewed in my normal pot for far less time.
After tasting it as hot as I could stand it (as the recipe instructs) and comparing the coffee to my everyday brew, I added some half and half (my preferred creamer) and watched as the cream distributed through the cup in different patterns than normal, again showing the higher concentration of oils. It was a rich and luscious cup of coffee.
Recipes for preserved fruit and vegetables are ubiquitous in early modern recipe books. Mary Baumfylde’s recipe for pickled cucumbers (or “To pickell mutton Cowcumbers”) uses olive oil to form a natural seal between the outside air and the harvested vegetables (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456).
Although we often associate preserving recipes with fruit and vegetables (jams, compotes, jarred sauces, pickles), Ken Albala reminds us that the “salted and sometimes acidic environment that inhibits bacterial growth” created by pickling brines can preserve “almost anything … including meats, vegetables, fish, olives” (Food in Early Modern Europe, 98). Pickling is an essential element of kitchen thrift and I’m pleased to share this pickle recipe early in the growing season before you find yourself with too many cucumbers on your hands.
To date, I have not found other references to “mutton cucumbers” in early modern books. Cucumbers were sometimes thought of as food only for livestock due to their undesirable humoral properties (described below). Hence the variant spelling “cowcumber” and perhaps the “mutton” designation used here.
To pickell mutton Cowcumbers
Take the fairest of your younge xx
cowcumbers, and wipe them very
dry, then make your pickell, with
halfe water and halfe vineger
and some parings of the worst of
the cowcumbers, and let it boyle
very well, then let it coole, and
strayne it into your vessell
then put in your cowcumbers
and cast a pinte of oyle oliue one
the topp, and couer them close
the oyle keeps it without any
creame on the top, that when
you use any they shall not
The image of wind blowing into the pickling vessel and disrupting the contents is provocative. However, cucumbers are also potentially troubling in other ways. Renaissance dietaries frowned upon the cucumber because of its impact on the body’s humors. As Albala puts it, they were “[c]onsidered among the most harmful vegetables because of their cold and moist qualities, physicians usually recommended that they only be eaten in the summer by people who were naturally hot” (29). Pickling these potentially dangerous vegetables would have altered their cold quality through the addition of salt, sour vinegar, and spices. Although this recipe is not particularly spicy, other pickle recipes include long pepper, cloves, and fresh herbs.
10 small cucumbers
2 c water
1 ½ c white wine vinegar
½ c apple cider vinegar
¼ c olive oil
Wash the cucumbers. Slice one. Arrange the others in a large, clean jar.
Bring the vinegar, water, sliced cucumber, and salt to a boil. Pour this brine over the cucumbers in the jar.
Pour ¼ c olive oil on top.
Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Then refrigerate. The pickles will keep for a few weeks using this method.
Delicious or dangerous, pickling helps cucumbers last beyond the harvest. Crunchy and sharp, these pickles are delicious alongside a sandwich or paired with cheese and charcuterie. The blend of apple cider and white vinegar creates a tangy, substantial brine.
Sealing the jar with oil appears effective at room temperature as well as in the refrigerator. I would hazard a guess that it worked at cellar temperature as well. I’d never thought to seal a jar this way and this piece of information about preservation was my major takeaway from preparing the pickles. Give it a try if you grow or buy too many cucumbers this summer!
A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a unique vegetable listed on Green Meadow Farm‘s farm share announcement: skirret. This European root vegetable was very popular in Renaissance cookery and is now rarely cultivated.
I’ve been eager to taste skirret since the early days of this project. I’ve read news articles about skirret – the forgotten vegetable that potatoes replaced on the European dinner table. I’ve read John Evelyn’s praise for skirret’s use in salads in Acetaria and accounts of its lust-inducing capabilities in Gerard’s Herbal. Boiled skirret was dressed with oil or melted butter, salt, and pepper and served as a salad or alongside roast or boiled meats. After boiling and peeling, it was often fried and served as a side. In seventeenth-century recipe manuscripts, it most often appears as a side or as an ingredient in pies.
Of all the pieces I’ve read about skirret over the years, Ivan Day’s recreation of a skirret pie has been most helpful to me. He explains the process of boiling and peeling the small, fiddly roots before integrating them into dishes. None of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts discuss this as they assume cooks already have this knowledge. Following Day’s instructions, I’ve also planted the tender new roots in my garden and I’m hopeful that it will yield a crop next spring.
I took a small bite of it raw and it tasted like a sweeter parsnip with the slightest anise aftertaste. Cooked, the skirret was wonderfully sweet, like a baby carrot, and pleasantly starchy, somewhere between a parsnip and a potato. Despite the tedium of peeling these roots – perhaps why they fell out of favor as large, round potatoes became more popular – they were absolutely delicious and I’m eager to cook with them again.
Unfortunately, the skirret has arrived in my kitchen at a moment when I’m without a functioning oven and thus unable to prepare a number of intriguing early modern recipes such as skirret pie. The twenty-year-old gas range that was installed in my house by previous owners gave up the ghost when my spouse was preheating the oven to bake a cake and pandemic supply chains have delayed its replacement. I’m hopeful that the rare cooking kitchen will be fully operational again by early May.
Since my options for skirret cookery were limited by my equipment, I tailored my search for a fitting recipe appropriately. Luckily, there are three wonderful skirret recipes in François Pierre de La Varenne’s Cuisinier François (1651) translated into English as The French Cook (1653). I accessed this text via Early English Books Online, which includes two copies of the text: The copy scanned from Harvard University Libraries includes an engraving of a chef and the British Library, which lacks the engraving, is a part of the Thomason collection.
La Varenne’s book, as many scholars note, was part of a paradigm shift in European cookery. As Ken Albala writes in Food in Early Modern Europe, “The essence of this new cuisine lies in the fact that foods are increasingly cooked in a way that accentuated and intensified the flavor of the main ingredient rather than contrast with it as the sugar, spices and vinegar of older cookbooks had” (156). The three skirret recipes that I tested from La Varenne’s cookbook show both older and newer styles of cookery in action. Two of the recipes (as well as the section header) specifically mention Lent and appropriate dishes for meat and fasting days where vegetables played a central role in menus. The final recipe calls for either the addition of milk or verjus to the batter for additional flavor. I recently purchased some verjus from my favorite local French bistro turned specialty shop and was excited to try it here.
BOile them a very little, then peele them for to boile in brown butter after they are fried, serve.
Another way. For the flesh days, make a past liquid enough with eggs; a little salt, and a little flowre; for to make it more dainty; mixe with some soft cheese and white (a petits choux) dip your skirrets into it, frie and serve them.
Another way. For to frie them in Lent, allay your meale with a little milk or verjuice, and more salt; dip your skirret in this, and frie them in refined butter, for the better; If you will, garnish them with fried parsley, which to frie, when it is very cleanr and drie, you throw it into your frying pan very hot, then take it out forthwith, and set it before the fire, so that it be very green; serve your skirrets with the parsley round about.
To prepare these three recipes from La Varenne, I began by doing two things:
First, I browned a stick of butter (8T, 113g) and set it aside to cool. (Joy the Baker has good instructions for preparing brown butter.)
I also prepared the skirret. I cut the roots away from the plant and washed them carefully. Then I boiled them for about four minutes until they were tender. Then I peeled them using a peeler and my hands. It was easier, if more time consuming, to simply pick off the peel with my fingers that loosened during cooking. After this process, I was left with 4.5 ounces (135 grans) of cooked, peeled skirret. I divided the roots into three smaller batches of roughly equal size to test each of the three frying methods.
Heat brown butter until audibly sizzling. Fry skirret for 1 minute. Serve immediately.
1 1/8 t salt
1 T flour
Heat brown butter until audibly sizzling. Mix the egg, flour, and salt together to make a batter. Dip the skirret roots in the batter. Fry battered skirret for 1 minute. Serve immediately.
1 1/8 t salt
1 T flour
1 t verjus or milk
Heat brown butter until audibly sizzling. Mix the egg, flour, salt, and verjus or milk together to make a batter. Dip the skirret roots in the batter. Fry battered skirret and parsley for 1 minute. Serve immediately.
My spouse and I devoured the skirret in batches as it came out of the frying pan. Each version was delicious: Sweet, crisp, and nutty from the brown butter.
I couldn’t quite taste the verjus in the batter in the third preparation. Next time, I might add more. I did find that sprinkling a little verjus over the fried skirret added a nice tart flavor to cut the taste of the flaky fried coating. It has a similar effect to sprinkling malt vinegar on fish and chips (in the style of the British).
I’m excited to eat skirret again and already gathering recipes for next year – whether it comes from a local farm or the plant in my own garden.
Should a pudding be sweet or savory? Where do American and British definitions of pudding and pie overlap and diverge? And, most importantly for this post, what place does the potato – or sweet potato – have in pudding and pie recipes?
All of these questions were on my mind a few weeks ago when I first read this recipe for “A Potatoe Pudding” from the Browne manuscript at Penn State. Although the recipe title calls this dish a pudding, I think it also fits the American definition of a pie because it consists of a pastry crust and a creamy potato-based filling. As a sweet dessert, it fits the capacious, British definition of pudding and it is similar in some ways to classic British desserts (such as Bakewell Pudding). It is also reminiscent of American sweet potato and pumpkin pie recipes because it combines mashed vegetables with dairy, sugar, and seasonings.
Pie was on my mind because Christina Riehman-Murphy and I were planning to bake a potato pie for the Folger Shakespeare Library and UCLA Libraries’ Great Library Pie Bake-Off. First, Clara Drummond helped us access images of the recipe book at Eberly Family Special Collections. (They will hopefully be available online soon!) When I read this recipe and I realized that it would be perfect for the event. I collaborated with Christina on interpreting the original recipe and writing an updated version. Christina was the baker representing PSU in the competition and this post includes some of her findings from baking the recipe as well as my own.
The Browne recipe book was compiled in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. This recipe for a potato pudding speaks to a moment when European cooks were trying to make sense of where indigenous American ingredients – both sweet and white potatoes and particular cultivars thereof – fit into established cookery traditions. Was is best to include potatoes in sweet dishes or savory ones? How would their gorgeous sweetness and earthy flavors best compliment European ingredients?
The recipe is relatively straightforward. It instructs you to season cooked, mashed potatoes with butter, sugar, and lemon juice and peel and bake this filling in a dish lined with pastry. After trial and error, Christina and I determined that the pie achieved more structural integrity with a blind-baked crust. This prevented the dreaded soggy bottom. Since there are no eggs and milk to bind the filling, mine came out rather damp. In classic recipes for sweet potato pie (and even pumpkin pie), the mashed vegetable filling is a custard that relies on eggs and milk for structural integrity.
Halved from the original. You can also prepare both the crust and filling in advance and bake the pie from room-temperature ingredients. Christina found that a cooler potato-filling led to a pie that set better during baking.
8 Tablespoons butter at room temperature (1 stick, 113g)
1 1/8 cups sugar (226g)
2 lemon, juice and zest
2.5 cups of chopped potatoes (¾ lb, 678g)
A batch of your favorite homemade or store-bought puff pastry or pie crust.
Preheat oven to 425°F/218°C
Make or buy pastry.
Grease a pie or tart dish with butter or baking spray.
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Arrange pastry in baking dish.
To blind bake the crust, cover the pastry with foil and fill the dish with baking beans or another weight.
Bake at 425°F/218°C for 12 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F/180°C for 10 minutes. The crust should be golden and set, but not as brown as when a pie is completely finished baking. Keep the oven at this temperature for baking the pie.
While the crust is in the oven and cooling after blind baking, prepare the filling.
Peel the potatoes. Chop them into small cubes. Boil them until they are cooked and tender (about 15 minutes). Drain off the cooking water using a colander. Juice and zest the lemons. Put the cooked potatoes, sugar, and butter in a sturdy bowl. Mash the potatoes and integrate the butter and sugar into the mix. Make sure there are no lumps of butter or potato. Stir in the lemon juice and zest.
Pour this mixture into the prepared pie crust.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is brown and the filling sets. Cool before serving.
Christina and I agreed that the finished pie tastes much more like a lemon pie than a “potato pie.” In this preparation, the natural sweetness of the potatoes offsets the sharp flavors of citrus juice and zest. This dish was unlike any other potato-based pie or pudding I’ve ever consumed. Personally, I found the recipe very interesting, but I didn’t particularly enjoy eating it. I’m happy to report that the pie was a hit at Christina’s house (especially as breakfast). And while pie for breakfast may not be part of any “official” British or American culinary traditions, a slice of my mom’s pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee is my favorite breakfast the day after Thanksgiving.
In December 2018, I made a lot of hippocras. I shared this recipe for the spiced wine drink immediately. I also prepared a recipe for white hippocras as part of my ongoing research on Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456).
Baumfylde’s recipe for white hippocras reaches back to medieval culinary traditions and also uses straining methods that bartenders today employ when they prepare twenty-first-century craft cocktails. Consumed for medicinal benefit and pleasurable taste, spiced wines were strained before drinking through cloth or a “hippocras bag.” Both the beverage and the “bag” are named for the ancient physician Hippocrates who advocated for the consumption of medicinal spiced wines and wore garments with flowing sleeves that could, in a pinch, be used to strain drinks. In Inventing Wine Paul Lukacs writes that hippocras recipes enhance the flavors of unstable, imported wines and aligned with other aspects of medieval and early modern culinary culture. Recipes for hippocras commonly called for cloves, cinnamon, and honey which were also used to flavor other sweet and savory dishes on the table. Adding spices to wine fit into this overarching culinary practice of using expensive spices to elevate eating and promote health.
Hippocras recipes vary widely (I survey a bunch of them in this post). They serve a range of tastes and convey different medicinal properties depending on how they are spiced, infused, and strained. Mary Baumfylde’s recipe uses a “milk punch” method to clarify and strain the hippocras. After the initial infusion of spice and white wine, milk is added. It curdles and the curdled milk solids are strained out along with the spices. (I’ve written more about this curdling method here.) Dairy and alcohol might not seem like an auspicious combination, but it was widely used in the early modern period for hippocras, ramboose, and posset – a category of drinks that combine hot or warm alcohol with milk and sometimes eggs.
To make white Hippocras
Take a quart of white wine and put
into it iiij ounces of Synamon
brused and halfe an ounce of mace
iij nuttmeggs and halfe a pound of
fine sugar, and let it steepe 24
howers, then take a Jelly bagg, and
put a little fresh Synamon in the
bottome of it, and 2 or 3 slices of
ginger, then take a pynt of new
milke, and power a little of the
milke and a little of the wine
and soe power it often through
the bagg vntill it be cleare
This recipe requires both advance planning and immediate serving. The spices – nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon – slowly infuse the sweet wine with their flavors during a twenty-four hour rest. The next day, or just before serving, the recipe calls for adding more spices – ginger and more cinnamon – and adding milk to clarify the drink. As promised, the milk curdles. When solids form they can be strained from the drink .
1 quart white wine (I used a Grünerveltliner)
8 cinnamon sticks
2-4 slices of a whole nutmeg or ½ t ground nutmeg
½ t mace
1 c sugar
1 pint milk
Additional cinnamon stick and 2-3 slices of fresh ginger for straining.
Combine the wine, sugar, and spices in a jug, jar, or decanter. Leave to infuse for 24 hours.
Prepare a straining setup. I used a wire strainer to support a few layers of cheese cloth. A clean, thin kitchen-towel would also work. Put a cinnamon stick and fresh ginger slices in the cloth-layered strainer.
Stir the infused wine. Add the milk. Then pour the milk-wine mixture through the strainer. Stir the mixture in the strainer with a spoon to encourage movement. Squeeze the cloth to make sure all the liquid has passed through. The spices and milk solids will be left in the cloth. You may need to do this twice. Discard the spices and milk solids and rinse the cloth thoroughly before repeating.
The first thing I tasted was nutmeg, then sweetness and the rest of the spices. The nutmeg scent outpaced the other flavors and there was only the slightest hint of the fresh ginger that I added during straining as instructed. One friend found it so fruity that she was surprised it contained no fruit. Another friend likened it to a lighter eggnog and proposed “nog lite” as a possible name for the drink. Spiced, curdled, and strained, Baumfylde’s White Hippocras could accompany a range of sweet and savory dishes.
Last week, I returned to a perennial favorite manuscript – UPenn Ms Codex 1601 – to do one of my favorite things – bake. This recipe to make a “tarte of Pippens” intrigued me because of the instruction to cook the pippins (apples) twice. First, you cook the apples in wine with spices, then you sprinkle them with sugar and bake them in pastry to make a tart. This was a dessert that I wanted to eat.
To make a tarte of Pippens.
Take faire pippens & pare them, then
cutt them in quarters & coure them, then
stew them with claret wine, sinamon &
ginger, let them stew halfe an houre, then
poure them into a cullender, but breake
them not, when they are cold, lay one
by one into the tart, then laie on sugar
bake itt, ice itt, scrape on sugar & serue itt.
On the page, this recipe affords the modern interpreter a great deal of flexibility. What kind of pippins or apples? How many apples? What kind of wine? How much cinnamon? Fresh or dried ginger? What kind of pastry? One large tart? Many small tarts? How much sugar?
The recipe calls for pippins. Although many heritage apple names include the word “pippin,” the recipe is likely meant to utilize apples that are only palatable after stewing in wine. “Pippins” broadly refers to apples grown from seeds, rather than cultivated by grafting. As I learned from Matt Kaminsky (Gnarly Pippins) last fall, these apples grown from seed were more likely to be small and tart, and they were traditionally sent to the cider press. If I had a crab apple tree, I would have tried crab apples in this recipe. Instead, I used Calville Blanc d’Hiver apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm. This French apple variety was first cultivated in the seventeenth century and it is prized for tarte tatin and other baked goods. When I realized they were available in my area, I bought a whole crate. (I’ve baked a lot of apple pies this fall and winter.) The apples held their shape beautifully when cooked in wine. If I didn’t have these apples in my fridge, I would have used Granny Smith because they would also hold up to cooking in wine and bring a sharp acidity to the dish.
I stewed the apples in a Bordeaux table wine (a nod to claret even though the style has changed so much since the seventeenth century) with cinnamon and fresh ginger (dried pieces of ginger would also have been an option). I decided to make two small tarts in fluted tart pans (5 inch) and used Julia Child’s sweet pastry recipe. You could easily make this as a galette – no tart pans required – or a larger, single tart by adjusting quantities accordingly.
Put them in a small saucepan with the wine and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.
While the apples are cooking, make your pastry and put it in your tart pans. Preheat the oven to 375F.
Strain the apples and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. (You can reserve the wine and spices for mulled wine.)
Place four cooked apple quarters in each pastry-lined tart pan. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the apples in each tart. Put the tarts on a baking sheet.
Bake for 35 minutes.
Let cook for 10 minus before removing the tarts from the pans.
Boozy, spicy, delicious. The apples were gorgeously colored and flavored by the wine. The scent of ginger and cinnamon accompanied every bite. Buttery pastry mellowed the sharpness from the apples and the bitterness of the wine. My spouse, Joseph, thought a creamy accompaniment – such as custard integrated into the tart or poured over, or ice cream – would perfect this dessert.
I reserved the cooking wine and whole spices. Reheated later, it made a lovely cup of mulled wine with a rich, apple flavor.
The tart was sweet from the apples and the sugar, but not too sweet. If you have a sweet-tooth, you may want to increase the sugar. The next day, I took a bite of the second tart and noticed most of the boozy and tannic flavors from the wine had mellowed. It made me wonder if resting the apples overnight might enhance their flavor before integrating them into the tart.
There are so many variables in the original recipe and I’ve written this updated version to give you flexibility. If you make tarts, I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure other readers would, too. Share what apples you’ve used and any other changes you’ve made in the comments below.
Medieval and Renaissance European cooking was heavily spiced. Until fashions changed in the eighteenth century, wealthy and aspirational households used spices imported from Asia in all sorts of sweet and savory dishes. Cooks flavored dishes with black pepper, long pepper, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cassia, ginger, galangal, and the spice that flavors this recipe, cloves.
Over the past few months, I’ve been discussing cloves, historical recipes, and how the high price of spices motivated European colonial and imperial ventures with Chef Ange Branca (Sate Kampar). Next week, we’ll be speaking at this free, public, virtual event hosted by the Free Library of Philadelphia in connection with the exhibition “Medieval Life” curated by Dot Porter (UPenn Libraries). Unsurprisingly, our conversations had me reading, looking at recipe books, and cooking.
This recipe for “Instructiones to make Cakes” is from a sixteenth-century English manuscript, UPenn Ms. Codex 823 (22v). The “cakes” made from flour, butter, sugar, and cloves are more like a shortbread cookie than fluffy modern cake. Fragrant with cloves and crumbly, these are delicious cookies are wonderful hot from the oven with a cup of coffee or tea.
Cloves were especially prized in medieval and Renaissance kitchens because of their unique floral flavor. In his wide-ranging discussion of cloves, among other imported spices, in Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination, Paul Freedman shows that scholars wrote about the origin of clove trees in the garden of Eden, that cloves were purchased in huge quantities for use in medicines and cookery, and that Portuguese ships were specifically sent to target the clove island of Ternate in 1513 (205). Freedman quotes Tomé Piers, a pharmacist and diplomat, who wrote “Whoever holds Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice” and, consequently, control of the global spice trade (205). While Freedman notes that the Venetian spice trade survived the Portuguese conquest of Malacca, European desire for spices nevertheless drove colonial ventures.
This recipe calls for “iid cloves” (2 d, or 2 pennies, worth of cloves) and thus demonstrates the connection between the price and measurement of spices. Working with Freedman’s book and John Munro’s account of spice prices, I believe the original recipe calls for 6 whole cloves that would have cost 2 pence. For comparison, in the sixteenth century a loaf of bread cost a penny and bread provided far more sustenance than a few cloves. In my updated recipe below, I’ve quartered the recipe from the original and used the equivalent of 1.5 cloves to flavor about a dozen cookies. Even though the original recipe calls for expensive cloves, it uses them sparingly and in balance with the other flavors and ingredients. The sugar in these cookies (which I’ve written about elsewhere), would also have been imported and far more expensive than the flour and butter called for in the recipe. A little bit of clove goes a long way, as anyone who has prepared modern recipes with them knows well.
Ms. Codex 823 was created and used from approximately 1567-1600 and unlike many of the manuscripts that I’ve featured on this site, it is not primarily filled with recipes. More of a commonplace book than a recipe book, this manuscript includes pages of Psalms copied from a Bible or prayer book and a copy of the deathbed statement of Lady Katherine Grey before the final section of medicinal and culinary recipes begins. Although the manuscript is miscellaneous, the recipe section is a familiar blend of medicinal and culinary preparations with a focus on preserving fresh foods. The page above includes the recipe for “cakes” and well as recipes to make vinegar, preserve pears and barberries, and prepare “white pott,” which in this version is rather similar to bread pudding.
Instructiones to make
Ffyrst take a quarte of fyne flower a pound of Sugar iid of
Cloves fyne beaten and thereunto put a pound of swete butter & then
worke yt together untyll suche tyme as you shall thincke yt
well wrought & so make yt in cakes & put yt in to the oven
wher manchete or cakes hathe bene baked imedyatelye after the
same ys drawen – And you myt note that to the baking of fyne
cakes a temperate heate myt be in the oven & you myt not
suffer them to stande in the oven tyll they be browne because
they mytt harden and wax browne when they be browne after they have
stand a whyle
makes a dozen cookies
½ cup sugar
8 Tablespoons butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Additional butter or baking spray for the pans
Preheat your oven to 275F. Prepare a baking sheet with baking spray or butter.
Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Add the flour and cloves to the butter mixture to form a workable dough. It will be crumbly, but will hold together when pressed. The finished texture is like a shortbread cookie and do not worry if your cookies only barely hold together.
Put the cookie dough onto a cutting board. You can either shape the dough into a log with your hands and slice cookies from the log or shape the dough into small cookies by hand. Place the formed cookies on your prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until just firm, but still tender.
Allow to cool for a few minutes on the pan. Serve slightly warm or completely cooled.
The stereotype of British cookery as nothing more than meat and potatoes post-dates the manuscript recipe books that I’ve been cooking from over the past six years. Potatoes are an American vegetable. They slowly rose to prominence in a cuisine that already made good use of many other root vegetables.
The staple root vegetables of British cookery in the medieval period through the Renaissance were parsnips, carrots, turnips, and skirret. Parsnips are starchy and slightly sweet with a uniquely herbaceous flavor. John Gerard’s Herbal (1597) describes both garden and wild varieties as well as offering advice on cultivation, consumption, and humoral properties.
Take Parsnips Boyle them tender peil them & rub them through a Seive whilst thay are hott. then take halfe a pinte of Creame & – as much new milke, the yealkes of 6 Eggs & the whites of 3 make this as [t]hick as a pudding. with a Spoonefull of Flower & the parsnips Season it with Salt Sugar, & Beaten Nutmeg & Sack to your tast. froy them with [B]oyleing hott Butter. Serve them with Butter Sack & Sugar./
The recipe describes a cooking method of boiling the parsnips with their skins on, peeling them, and using a sieve to break them down that is well suited to contemporary kitchen equipment. Parsnip skins can easily be removed with a knife after cooking with less loss of vegetable matter. Pushing cooked parsnips through a sieve creates a fine mash. I peeled and chopped the parsnips before I boiled them (because modern vegetable peelers are excellent) and mashed them with a potato masher.
Halved from the original. Makes approximately 14 cakes.
7 parsnips (about 1.5 lbs)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
1/8 t nutmeg (grated or ground)
1 t sack (sherry)
1 1/2 t flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c heavy cream
about 3 T butter for frying
Peel the parsnips and cut them into small pieces (approximately 1 inch).
Put them in a pot filled with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and boil for about 20 minutes (until parsnips are tender and easily pierced with a fork).
Drain parsnips and put them in a large mixing bowl.
Mash the parsnips until they have a regular consistency with no large chunks. Season this mash with salt, sugar, nutmeg, and sack. Add the flour and eggs. Finally, pour in the milk and cream and stir until a slightly chunky batter forms.
Heat a cast iron skillet or large frying pan.
Add butter to the skillet and lower the heat to medium. Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour cakes into the pan. (I could fit four cakes at a time in my twelve-inch cast-iron skillet.) Cook for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second side. The fritters should be golden brown and slightly crispy. Repeat this process until you have cooked all your batter. Make sure the pan is still buttery before you start each batch.
Buttery, fluffy, and lightly scented with nutmeg, these parsnip cakes are delicious. Although I would serve them with savory dishes, they are sweet and could easily be treated more as a desert if I’d served them with sugar and sack (sherry) as the original recipe instructed. The combination of flavors speaks to a common way of eating in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where sweet and savory dishes were not divided into separate courses. (I touched on this in my recent post about a recipe for Portugal Eggs).
The next time I make these, I might add a bit more flour or start with another parsnip or two to create a stiffer mixture. The cakes were prone to collapse during flipping and required careful handling with a spatula.
Finally, although these parsnip cakes are at their best immediately after making them, you can reheat them if you’ve prepared them in advance of a holiday meal or made more than you can eat in one sitting. Deb Perelman recommends reheating previously fried cakes on a baking sheet in a 325F oven before serving on her site Smitten Kitchen (where you will find many wonderful modern fritter recipes).