Plague Water

Over the past few weeks, friends, family members, students, and colleagues have been asking me about plague and recipes. Outbreaks of the plague, and restrictive public health initiatives designed to stop the spread of the disease, were a regular feature of life in the early modern period. (I’m not an expert on this topic, but I’ve found these accounts especially engaging: on the history of quarantine in Italy, on the 1665 plague in London, on Shakespeare’s writing during times of plague.)

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Plague correspondingly leaves its marks in manuscript recipe books. During outbreaks, early modern people used “Plague Water” as a preventative and a cure for the disease. Samuel Pepys writes in his diary for Thursday 20 July 1665 — a week when 1089 people died from the plague in London by his account —  “My Lady Carteret did this day give me a bottle of plague-water home with me.” Recipes for “Plague Water” are so common that a single manuscript will often include multiple, different recipes for this healing water. What these recipes have in common is that they require a range of fresh and dried herbs that are infused in alcohol before the water is distilled. Although “Plague Water” likely had antibacterial effects due to its alcohol content, it is unlikely that it stopped the spread of plague as the pestilence was carried by small animals and transferred to humans by infected fleas.

This recipe “To make Plague water” is from Folger Shakespeare Library Ms. V.b.380 and, from what I’ve seen, a typical recipe for this preventative tonic. I’ve been researching this manuscript alongside a team of undergraduate researchers and librarian colleagues since early 2019. (See related posts here.) The paper in the manuscript dates from 1667 and accordingly this recipe for “Plague Water” was collected, saved, and perhaps prepared in the aftermath of the 1665-1666 plague.

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55 To make Plague water.
Take Rue, Agremony, Wormwood, Selandine, Red Sage,
Balm, Mugwort, Dragons, Fetherfew, Burnett, Sorril,
Tormentil, Scordium, Cardus-Benidictus, Dittanter, Bittany, Mary-
-golds, Scabius, Peniroyal, of Each half a pound, Rosemary
one pound, a quarter of a pound of Angellico leaves, a good
quantity of Elingcompane roots: Cowslips, Marygolds, Burage
Clovegilly flowers, of each a good quantity, Anniseeds & Corrander
of each 2 ounces, strip and pick all your herbs, then cut them
very small and put them in a vessell close cover’d, put to them​
3 Gallons of sack or white wine and 2 quarts of Brandy
stirr it 2 or 3 times a day for 2 or 3 days together, then
distill them in a Cold Still or Limback.

Unfortunately, I can’t test this recipe for you.* Even if I could correctly identify, purchase, or forage for these herbal ingredients, I don’t have distilling equipment – a cold still or an alembic – at home. I also cannot recommend that you prepare this recipe yourself as a number of the ingredients are now known to be toxic. For example, “Peniroyal” or Pennyroyal, an herb that I’ve seen listed in many medicinal recipes, causes liver damage.

Ultimately, recipes for “Plague Water” offer us an insight into the medical landscape of early modern England. In times of sickness and in health, households would collect medicinal recipes from members of their local and extended social networks seeking out efficacious cures for immediate use or future preparation.** Households would consult printed texts, such as Nicholas Culpeper’s ground-breaking English Physitian published in 1652 to seek out medical information (this page includes a list of plants mentioned in Culpeper’s book). Household members would gather herbs, purchase ingredients, and distill healing waters in the home. My students are often surprised (and intrigued!) to learn that family members would, essentially, test new medicines on their sick relatives. Indeed, recipe manuscripts are a unique repository of medical practice within the household in times of plague and prosperity.

*If, however, you find yourself in Minnesota, you might be able to taste some Plague Water made in a collaboration between Tattersall Distilling, Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) and the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota.

** My discussion of recipe collection practices here draws on Elaine Leong’s recent monograph Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (Chicago, 2018).

I’d like to thank Joseph Malcomson for the helpful discussion of Nicholas Culpeper and medicinal plants that shaped the final form of this post.

Meringues – To Make Lemmon (or Chocolett) Puffs

Quite a few recipes are labeled “puffs” in seventeenth and eighteenth-century recipe books. Last month, I was (wistfully) looking through the notes that I took on Clark Library manuscript fMS.1975.003 during my residential fellowship last summer and realized that a recipe for puffs that I’d flagged looked markedly like modern recipes for meringues. The instructions describe whipping egg whites and sugar until “light and stif” and baking the puffs on sheets of paper. In my non-historical baking life, I love making Yotam Ottolenghi’s gorgeous, giant rosewater and pistachio meringues and I knew I needed to give this recipe a try.

“Lemmon” or “Chocolett Puffs” uses the alchemy of eggs and sugar to showcase imported citrus and chocolate. The original recipe begins with instructions for lemon-flavored puffs, but then includes an option to make a chocolate variation in a note at the end. Like the recipe for “The Ice Cream” that I tested this summer, this recipe for puffs is from Elisabeth Hawar’s late-seventeenth-century London manuscript. The contents of this manuscript coincide with a drop in commodity prices for sugar, citrus, and chocolate. This was due to an increase in cultivation on plantations in the Americas worked by enslaved African laborers. Lower prices made these luxury items more accessible to middle-class consumers in England. (Read more about these commodities via the links.)

The Recipe

Lemon Puffs cropped

To Make Lemmon Puffs
Take a pound of Double refined shugar sarted very fine
2 Large Lemmons, scrape the Rhind of them very small &
rub it well into the sugar, then beat up the whites of
3 eggs with a twigg, and as the froath rises putt it into
the shugar, by a litle att a time, rub it up the side of
the bason till you find it light and stif enough to
drop, or sc[xx]e it upon papers, then sett them upon papers
into the Oven aftr after bread bake them pale.

Chocolett puffs are the same only putt in Chocolett
instead of Lemmons as much as you think fitt
a litle serves.

One can do amazing things with whipped egg whites and sugar. As I stood in my kitchen with my hand-held electric mixer, I was grateful that I didn’t need to use a twig to beat my egg whites as the original recipe instructs. That said, I did find that the proportions of eggs whites and sugar needed to be adjusted to achieve the stiff peaks that I knew I needed to produce a luscious meringue – crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. After some trial and error, I ended up liking the texture best with six egg whites to a full pound of sugar. Feel free to experiment with fewer egg whites – the original recipe calls for three – and let me know how it goes!

Updated Recipe

This recipe made about two dozen puffs.

2 cups sugar (1 lb)
6 egg whites
lemon zest
cocoa nibs, finely ground, or cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 225F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Separate the eggs and place the whites in a large bowl. Beat until just frothy with mixer.

Slowly add the sugar to the eggs. You can do this in batches or maintain a slow stream with a mixer running.

Beat until the mixture is glossy and will hold a stiff peak on a spoon or beater. The time this takes will vary widely depending on your eggs and sugar and the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. When in doubt, keep beating. Given the amount of sugar in this meringue, it is very unlikely that you will over-mix the meringues.

When you have achieved stiff peaks, add the flavoring.

For lemon meringues: Zest two lemons. Add most of the zest to the mix. Sprinkle the remaining zest over the top of the meringues.

For chocolate meringues: Grind 2T cocoa nibs. Cocoa powder should be a reasonable substitute here. Add most of the ground cocoa nibs to the mix. Sprinkle the ground cocoa nibs over the top of the meringues.

For a batch that is half lemon and half chocolate: Divide the meringue mix into two bowls. Use the zest of 1 lemon to flavor and decorate meringues from one bowl and 1T ground cocoa nibs to flavor and decorate meringues from the other.

Dollop meringues onto the paper-covered baking sheets. Leave space in between for expansion. Sprinkle with zest or cocoa nibs.

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes until the meringues are hard on the outside and still soft in the center. Remove from the baking sheets and allow to cool completely. Meringues can be stored in an air-tight container for a few days.

The Results

Crunchy and yielding, these meringues have a delightful texture. The flavors are subtle: the citrus zest is first a smell and then a faint taste; the cocoa nibs add a nutty chocolate flavor that varies bite-to-bite. When I shared these with friends, I was asked if rosewater was one of the flavorings because of the floral smell of the citrus. I might increase the flavorings next time, but sometimes a subtle delight is best.

meringues – lemon or chocolate puffs

Almond Pudding

What is pudding?

When I discuss Renaissance food with my American college students, the word “pudding” inspires memories of sweet, creamy dessert (often eaten from a plastic tub with a peel-off top). The question of pudding as a recipe category was at the front of my mind when I first prepared this recipe for Almond Pudding with Penn State Abington students last fall. (We also tested Knotts and then baked both recipes for our public event “A Taste of 1677.”)

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If I’m talking to a British audience, “pudding” is a far more capacious category of desserts. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first and oldest definition of the word is more aligned with the modern-day British delicacy “blood pudding,” than anything you might want to sweeten the end of your meal: “A stuffed entrail or sausage.” By the later half of the seventeenth century, English recipes for “pudding” might be sausages, steamed cakes, or pastry crusts filled with custard, cooked fruit, or rice and cream.

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This recipe for Almond Pudding appears in an opening of Folger MS V.b.380 with quite a few other puddings. Each of these pudding recipes – Marrow, Rice, Carrott, Orange, and Almond –  includes a flavorful filling that is baked in a pastry crust. Almond Pudding has far more in common with a modern day tart or pie than a sausage or Jello snack.

The Recipe

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Take one quart of Cream, and a quart of Milk, and 12 Eggs
beat yolks whites and alltogether, in a Kittle over the fire, and keep
it stirring till ’tis curdled like a Cheese, then Strain the whey from
it, and put half a pound of Butter to it, and break it small, when
cold put in half a pound of Almonds beaten very small, with a
grain of Musk, or some Orange flower water, half a pound of
Sugar, and a little Sack, 2 Ounces of Orange & Lemmon, and one
Ounce of Cytron, put paist under and over it, ’twill be an
hour in bakeing.

The first time I tested the recipe with students, we scalded the cream, milk, and egg mixture until it curdled and attempted to strain out the whey. Barely any liquid dripped out of the mix and we were left with a stinky mess. Working from the assumption that this first step is designed to address issues with dairy that has not undergone homogenization and pasteurization, I decided to make the mix again and skip the straining step. The resulting filling was luscious and delightfully scented with orange and lemon.

Updated Recipe

Quartered recipe makes 20 little tarts with one batch of pastry for a double-lidded pie. (I tested this with both store-bought pie crusts and with Mark Bittman’s classic recipe.)

1 cup cream
1 cup milk
3 eggs
4 T butter
1 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup sugar
Zest 1 orange
Zest 1 lemon
1 T orange flour water
pastry for a double-lidded pie (homemade or store-bought)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin or mince pie tins.

Beat dairy and eggs over a low heat until warm, but not curdled. Add butter. Set mixture aside to cool for 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix ground almonds, sugar, citrus zest, and orange flour water. Stir into the egg and dairy mix.

Roll out and cut pastry into bases and lids. (I used a 3-inch cutter for the bases and either a 2-inch or small star for the lid.) Arrange bases in your baking tins. If you’re using a muffin tin, the pastry will not completely cover the base and sides of the cups.

Fill each cup 3/4 full with custard. Add tops. (You might need to bake these in two batches)

Bake for 20 minutes. The pastry should be nicely browned and any visible custard should be slightly wobbly.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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This recipe comes from my year-long investigation of Folger Shakespeare Library manuscript V.b.380 alongside students and collaborators. 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.  

How to Make Knotts

This version of this post first appeared on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare and Beyond blog.

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A plate of beautifully baked cookies is a wonderful thing. It is a welcoming gesture for guests, it signifies a holiday or a special meal, and it is a demonstration of a baker’s skill at making something pleasing to the eye and the palate. In Shakespeare’s England, bakers in elite households prepared sugar sculptures, confectionary, marzipan, and sweet doughs shaped into knots, twists, and letters.

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Sweets were an occasion for British women to not only show that they were excellent bakers, but that they were masters of other handicrafts such as sewing and writing. In her book Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England, Susan Frye explores the deep and pervasive connection between sewing and writing in Renaissance culture. She writes, “Women from a variety of backgrounds created needlework pieces that placed accepted subjects in every room, that helped to clothe themselves and their families, and that declared the family’s social status, even as they may be read as personal and political expressions” (116). A woman’s style of knotting thread and creating samplers, or needlework pictures, was an indication of her class and taste. It was as individualized as handwriting. Likewise, as Wendy Wall shows in her book Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen, handwriting and needlework were connected to culinary skill. Although elite women employed cooks in their households, the lady of the house might personally participate in the preparation of finely shaped delicacies. Recipes that instructed cooks to shape soft dough or marzipan into “knots,” asked bakers to draw on their experience knotting thread as well as writing “knots,” meaning elaborate circular flourishes or majuscule and miniscule letterforms (Wall 143).

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Over the course of Shakespeare’s lifetime, sugar went from being an incredibly expensive ingredient, imported overland from Asia, to a more widely used seasoning. Kim Hall’s scholarship on sugar and status in the period demonstrates that British women’s increased use of sugar implicated them in the systems of commerce and colonialism that kept people of African and Caribbean descent enslaved as laborers in sugar cane fields in the Americas. As these systems persisted in the century after Shakespeare’s death, sugar became cheaper still and more widely available to upper and middle class British people. A manuscript whose inception we can date to 1677, Folger manuscript V.b.380, shows a range of beautiful flourishing and handwriting as well as many recipes for spectacular sweets.

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Original Recipe

How to Make Knotts,” draws on a cook’s skill in shaping dough, writing, and sewing. The “Knotts” here are sweet cookies flavored with rosewater and caraway seeds. Although this flavor combination may sound unfamiliar, it is delicious and it was not uncommon in the period. Earlier this year, I prepared a delicious Seed Cake recipe with the same two dominant flavors.

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How to Make Knotts

Take a pound of flower and halfe a pound of shuger
and 1/2: pound of butter and :2: whits and one yealke of Eggs
a Little rosewater and a few Caraway seeds mingled
all to gather and make them all into a past and then
make them into knots and lay them upon paper and
so past bake them

Updated Recipe
Makes 24 cookies

1 cup, 2 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks butter (1 cup), room temperature
3 eggs (2 whole and 1 yolk)
1 tablespoon rosewater
3 1/3 cups flour (plus extra flour for shaping)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with baking parchment or greasing them with butter or baking spray.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs and rosewater and stir to combine. Mix in salt, caraway, and flour to form a dough.

Shape into knots, twists, and letters on a lightly floured surface.

Bake 20-25 minutes.

This recipe comes from my year-long investigation of Folger Shakespeare Library manuscript V.b.380 alongside students and collaborators. 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.  

To Make Ginger Bread

This gingerbread recipe is not for the faint hearted. Potent ginger, molasses, caraway, and citrus flavors blend sweet and savory, spicy and floral. This is not necessarily surprising. Heavily spiced treats are a British holiday tradition (take a look at these mince pie and gingerbread recipes I’ve made in the past). Gingerbread recipes are remarkable for their strong flavors and interesting designs. Seventeenth-century moulds for figures and patterns — like these on Ivan Day’s Historic Food website — demonstrate the decorative potential of this cookie dough. Whether gingerbread was sold at a Christmas market or prepared for display and consumption in the home, it was meant to be both flavorful and beautiful.

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Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This early nineteenth-century English gingerbread mould, from the Victoria and Albert Museum, depicts a king and queen standing side-by-side. Others moulds from the period depict swaddled infants, winged figures, shepherds, St George, the Agnus Dei, fashionable ladies with fans, and fruit baskets. Although gingerbread men or houses are our culinary commonplaces in the twenty-first-century, historical gingerbread recipes and moulds reveal a range of other shapes.

Original Recipe

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To Make Ginger Bread
8
Take one Peck of flower a quarter of a pound
of ginger a quarter of a pound of Carraway
seeds one ounce of coriander seeds bruise the seeds
Tenn Eggs Tenn pound of Treakcle one pound of
Orange & one pound of Cittern bake them in a
Slow Oven
{anne
Western
Zk G

In the seventeenth century, treacle could refer to a range of sugar syrups of varying viscosity and flavor intensity from what a British baker would now call “golden syrup” to modern treacle and American blackstrap molasses. These syrups were a byproduct of sugar processing, and were widely available because of their use in the thriving rum industry and their connection to slavery and colonial trade routes.

I prepared 1/12 batch of the original recipe using American molasses and made more than two dozen gingerbread stars! The original amounts are a monumental undertaking either for sale, large-format gingerbread displays, or a grand celebration.

Updated Recipe

3 1/3 c flour
2T ground ginger
2T candied ginger, chopped small
1T caraway seeds
1t coriander seeds
1/3 c candied orange peel, chopped small
1/3 c candied citron
1 egg
1 1/4 c molasses (American bakers) or treacle (British bakers)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or grease with butter or spray.

Mix gingerbread ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until a soft, slightly sticky dough forms.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out until 1/4 inch thick. Cut out shapes and/or stamp with designs.

Bake 10-15 minutes. The bottoms will feel set, but the cookies will still be soft.

Cool on racks for 10 minutes.

The Results

This gingerbread is packed with flavor and could be easily be stamped, shaped, or used to construct a house, figure, or any other monument you might dream up. The molasses dominates any bite that does not include a bit of citrus. If I were to make this again, I might swap out half of the molasses for honey or a lighter syrup.

This recipe comes from my year-long investigation of Folger Shakespeare Library manuscript V.b.380 alongside students and collaborators.

Kidney-bean pufs

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).

Kidney beans

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).

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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.

Original Recipe

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Kidney-bean pufs

anne}
Western

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 EverythingI 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.

cooked beans versus dried beans

Updated Recipe

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
salt
pepper

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.

Serve hot.

Kidney-bean pufs

The Results

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.  

To make India Curry

 

This recipe for “To make India Curry” has been on my “to cook” list for five year and I’m pleased to report that it is a subtle, satisfying, and delicious dish. Mitch Fraas brought the recipe to my attention in 2014 (!) and I’ve been cooking from and researching the manuscript, UPenn Ms. Codex 644 Grandmama Frankland’s recipe book, on and off since early 2015. But until this past spring, I was stumped by the reference to “India mixture” in the recipe. This “India Curry” was missing a crucial element: curry!

The word “curry” – “A preparation of meat, fish, fruit, or vegetables, cooked with a quantity of bruised spices and turmeric” – came into English from the Tamil word “kari” and the Kannada word “karil” that the Portugese rendered as “caril” and early modern English and French speakers called “cari” (OED). Curry powder was sold in London in the nineteenth century, but this recipe is a bit early for “India Mixture” to be sold premixed.  After spending a lot more time with Ms. Codex 644, I realized that the answer had been under my nose all along. There is a Curry Powder recipe in the manuscript that I believe is meant to be used in an array of recipes in the book. It took me a good deal of looking to confirm that this recipe is in the same hand as the other recipes that call for pre-mixed curry powder of some kind. (Reader, you may also be interested in this Gastropod episode about curry that touches on the history of the powdered spice.)

Original Recipes

 

Cap[tai]n Pearse

To make India Curry
Cut 2 Chickens in small pieces,
wash them very clean, then let them
simmer a very little while in water
while they simmer fry a few onions
Brown in Butter: Then put the
Chickens with the water they simmerd
in into a stew pan, put to them
the fried onions, & one tea spoonfull
of the India Mixture, & a tea spoonful
of Mushroom powder: & when stew’d
enough Serve up. with a plate of
Rice boild in the following manner.
Wash & pick y[ou]r Rice very clean
Then put it into y[ou]r Sauce pan
with a very little water over a slow
fire, when the Scum rises,  Skim
it clean, then cover it up close
& let it boil very slow, when t[is]
done enough turn it out in
a Bason, press out the water &
Then Turn the Bason over a Dish
& let it come up in the shape of
the Bason.

To make Curry Powder
Of pounded Turmeric 1 Tea spoonful
Of pounded Dunia one Tea spoonful
Of pounded Red pepper one tea spoonful
Of pounded Ginger one knob
Of pounded Onions 2 chattachs of
Garlic a tea spoonful of pounded
No ( Bay leaves 2 leaves

The curry powder is more of a curry paste since it includes fresh onion and garlic. In my updated version, I used fresh ginger and powdered turmeric because that’s what I had to hand, but I’d love to hear from anyone who tries fresh turmeric here. Dunia is an English transliteration of the Hindi word for coriander. I’ve also used ghee – butter with the solids removed – to sear the chicken before boiling as the original recipe instructs. Ghee is a traditional ingredient in Indian cuisine and I had some to hand. I did not try the trick for molding the rice into a dome because it was pretty crazy in my kitchen already, but I’d love to see results if you do! Finally, I used a whole chicken here because that’s what I tend to buy and, of course, what the original recipe calls for. You could also use a mix of chicken thighs, legs, and boneless breasts. I’ve included instructions for making chicken stock as well as stock comes in handy for this recipe and so many others.

 

Updated Recipes

Curry Paste

1T powdered turmeric
1T coriander seed
1 T red chili pepper flakes
1 2-inch knob ginger, peeled
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves

Chop the ginger, onion, and garlic into small pieces. Either blitz in a food processor or bound with a mortar and pestle until a (somewhat) smooth paste forms. (I mixed my batch by hand and there were still some visible pieces of onion.)

Store in a jar in the refrigerator. Use within a month.

Chicken Curry 

(Serves 4 if accompanied by rice and cooked greens)

1 chicken, fresh or defrosted (or equivalent, mixed precut chicken)
1T ghee (or neutral cooking oil)
2 onions
2T butter
1T curry paste
1/2 cup mushroom broth (made from mushroom powder or dried mushrooms)
1t salt

Cut up the chicken so you have two leg/thigh pieces, two breasts, and two wing pieces. Slice two onions.

(Optional: Put the chicken carcass, any innards that may have come with the chicken, and the tops of your onions in a stock pot. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer while you make the curry. You can use this very flavorful stock in place of chicken cooking water later in the recipe and you can even use this stock to make your mushroom broth. Alternatively, you can make a batch of chicken soup or fill your freezer with about a gallon of stock.)

Heat ghee or neutral cooking oil in a large skillet or frying pan. Sear the chicken on both sides, 1 minute per side. Depending on the size of your chicken, you may need to do this in batches.

Heat 2T butter in the same pan and cook the onions on a medium heat for 15 minutes until brown and soft. While the onions are cooking, put the seared chicken pieces in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then turn the temperature down, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare your mushroom broth while the chicken and onions are cooking.

Remove the chicken from the water, reserve the cooking water, and place the chicken pieces in the skillet with the onions. Add the curry paste by coating one side of the chicken pieces with it. Sprinkle the salt over the chicken. Pour in the mushroom broth and two cups of the chicken cooking water (or optional stock from your stockpot). Simmer for 5 minutes, flip the chicken pieces, and simmer for 5 more minutes (or until the chicken is fully cooked).

Serve with cooked rice and  greens for a full meal.

 

The Results

Since the curry paste is added so late in the cooking process, the flavor is mild and floral. When I ate the curry for lunch it was tasty: When I served it to my spouse Joseph for dinner with a side of cooked mustard greens it was even better. Later in the week, the flavors were even more potent, but still floral. This is a great dish to make ahead.

I’d like to thank Joseph Malcomson for taste-testing and helping me figure out if the recipe called for dunia or mentioned a merchant (bunia).

Lemmon Cream

Luscious lemon cream does not necessarily require “cream.” The gorgeous texture of this lemon cream is the product of eggs, lemon juice, low heat, and gentle stirring. Emulsification creates a delectable, tart, floral pudding.

 

I had the pleasure of testing this recipe using Clark Library lemons with the help of guests at an event earlier this summer. (The same event where we tested The (Rosewater) Ice Cream.) The original recipe is from Margarett Greene’s recipe book (f MS.1980.004), dated 1701, now held in the Clark collections. 

The Recipe

Lemmon Cream.jpg

Lemmon Cream
Take the white of 7 & the Yolke of 3 Egg, beat them very well & put to
them the Peel of one & juice of two Lemmons Stir it Soundly & put
in half a porringer of Rosewater & the like Quantity of fair
water, Sweeten it to your Tast, then Straine it & sett it on th
Fyre, & keep it Constantly Stirring untill it bee as Thick as
as you desire to have it.

After reading this recipe (and a few recipes for Lemon Cream in other books), I decided to follow a method similar for making Lemon Curd. I also investigated porringers, early modern cups that varied somewhat in volume. Food historian Ken Albala uses 3/4 cup as an approximate porringer measure in one of his accounts of recipe reconstruction and I followed his lead (81).

 

Updated Recipe

7 eggs (7 whites, 3 yolks)
2 lemons (zest 1, juice 2)
¼ c rosewater
¼ c water
½ c sugar

Zest one lemon into a small mixing bowl. (You can also peel the lemon and finely chop the peel.) Add the juice of the lemon that you zested and the juice of a second lemon. Add the rosewater and water. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Transfer the mixture into a saucepan.

Separate seven eggs. In a large bowl, combine seven egg whites and three egg yolks. Add the eggs to the lemon mix. 

Over a low heat, whisk the lemon cream as it thickens for approximately 20 minutes.

Chill before serving.

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lemon cream

The Results

Sharp with lemon, fragrant with rosewater, and just sweetened enough with sugar, this lemon cream delighted Clark Library guests, fellows, and staff alike. Although it does require some attention on the stove and careful egg-separating, its relatively easy to prepare.

When I make this again, I’ll chill it in a prepared graham-cracker crust.

Jasmine (Jessimin) butter

This recipe only has two ingredients – jasmine flowers and butter. When I first read the recipe in the Hornyold family manuscript at the Clark Library (MS.2012.011), I knew that jasmine was blooming in the garden outside. It was the perfect occasion to try it.

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Jessimin butter

The Hornyolds were a well-established Catholic family. They began keeping this recipe book in the 1660s and a few of the recipes included show connections to their religion through mentions of feast and fast days and references to the liturgical calendar, such as this recipe “To pott mushrooms to keep till Lent.”

Although “Jessimin butter” does not appear to be connected to the family’s confessional identity, it does include seasonal notes. Ideally, this recipe should be made with “the first may-butter” and, of course, freshly flowering jasmine. I highly recommend that you make this butter when jasmine is in bloom.

The Recipe

Jasmine butter.jpgJessimin-butter.
Take some of the first may-butter, & wash it out of
the salt & buttermilk;, then spread it thin on 2 pewter
dishes fill one dish with: Jessimin-flowers & cover it with
the other; you must change the flowers every day
or 2, & now & then take off the butter, & lay it on again.
when you find it perfumed enough, put it up in pots.

 

Updated Recipe

1/2 cup butter (I used Kerrygold cultured, salted butter)

1 cup jasmine flowers, loose

Two plates with rounded edges that can hold material between them

Divide the butter in half as slice it thinly. Spread, place, or arrange the butter onto the two plates.

Put the jasmine flowers on top of the butter on one plate. Cover with the other.

Rest at room temperature overnight.

Spread on hot toast in the morning.

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Jessimin butter

Infused with the heady scent of jasmine, the butter delighted my senses as I spread it on my morning toast. I could smell the flavor much more than I could taste it.

When I shared the butter with colleagues at the library, they were struck by how strong the scent was after one night. They were also eager to take some home.

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Jessimin butter

The Ice Cream.

Elisabeth Hawar wrote her name in the front of her recipe book and dated her collection 1687. She also wrote two addresses in the Shoreditch and Spitalfields East London neighborhoods inside the front cover. These tantalizing biographical and geographical details link her manuscript, now held at UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Library (fMS.1975.003), to the thriving mercantile communities of London’s East End in the aftermath of the Restoration and the Great Fire.

2019-06-29 09.13.42.jpg

When I first saw this book in the reading room, I was equally excited about her recipe for “The Ice Cream.” In the five years that I’ve been testing recipes for this site, I’d never tried a receipt for ice cream even though I experiment with modern ice cream whenever the temperature rises above 85F each summer.

The Recipe

Clark, ice cream 1.jpgClark, ice cream 2.jpg

(37) The Ice Cream./
Take a quart of good Cream sweeten it with
sugar Rosewater or what you please you must have
little tin things which are made on purpose for Ice
cream, first put your Cream into the tin things, do the
cover close on then, & do it up close with butter
about the edge of the cover then take 4 ll [pounds] of ice
lay clean Cloth on the ground & with a hammer
break the Ice in pieces then have some Roach Allom
& bay salt strew this on the Ice beat the Allom small
Then have an earthen pot, put some of the Ice in the
bottom of the pot, then put in the tin things with the
Cream, & lay all the Ice about them that they may
stand fast in the pott, & cover them all over with Ice
then lay the Cloath over the pot which the Ice was
broken on, so set in a Cold celler let it stand one
hour then take it out of the tin panns, put it on silver
plates so serve it up./

The original recipe describes a detailed method for sealing the flavored cream in “tin things” that were especially made for ice cream, breaking the ice and using salt to alter its temperature, and chilling the cream in an “earthen pot” in the cellar. Since the recipe does not describe churning – which radically changes the crystallization of the frozen cream – the texture would have been rather different than the churned, updated version below. If you recreate the recipe using the original method, please let me know how it goes in the comments!

Tasting my updated recipe, below, you might notice that the ice cream has a slightly different texture than some of your favorites. Modern American ice cream falls into two main camps – custard-based (which includes eggs) or cream-based (which is egg-free). This recipe is cream-based and when I was reworking the proportions I used Melissa Clark’s recipe for egg-free ice cream as a guide. (I also may have texture on my mind because I’ve been editing a series on the topic for The Recipes Project with Amanda Herbert.)

Updated Recipe

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 T rosewater
3/4 c sugar

Heat cream and milk in a sauce pan. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add rose water.

Put mixture in the refrigerator to chill for approximately 30 minutes, or until the mixture is no longer warm to the touch.

Use ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s specifications. (For my KitchenAid ice cream maker, this involves freezing the bowl for 12+ hours before using and churning the ice cream on “stir” for 20 minutes.)

Put the mixture into a container to chill in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

Results

Subtly flavored with rosewater and sweetened with sugar, this ice cream is simple and refreshing. If you have an ice cream maker and some lead-time, it’s a perfect dessert for a summer gathering.

I was thrilled to share this recipe with participants in the Clark’s “Antique Ice Cream Social” event last month. During the test-tasting, a few participants who expressed a general dislike for rosewater found that this recipe passed muster. It didn’t taste “soapy” or overly perfumed. (You can watch a clip of me talking about ice-cream making here.)