Marmalaid of Apricocks, a case study in Heat

This post is part of the “Heat” series on The Recipes Project. You can read the editors’ letter here. Like my previous post, it also features a recipe from UPenn Ms. Codex 785.

The early modern hearth and the modern gas stove are rather different technologies for controlling heat. Again and again in my recipe recreation workI encounter complex instructions for managing cooking temperatures on a hearth and try to translate those instructions to my own equipment. To what temperature should I set my oven? How high should I turn up the flame under the pot? What volume of water should I add when boiling water is called for and no volume is specified? How long should everything cook?

Early modern recipes trust that cooks know their hearth and ingredients well. Some recipes are very precise about weight and volume and others read like general concepts on which a cook might improvise as best suits their needs, inclinations, or tastes. Cooking these recipes on a hearth with variable fire types and temperatures demanded a skilled cook who could manage heat effectively.

This is the part of updating recipes that most challenges me: I have a PhD in English, but no formal culinary training. This is also the part of updating recipes where I have been most challenged by others. Members of the historical reenactment and historical interpretation communities have in turn urged me to try these recipes again on a hearth to taste the different flavors the fire instills and chastised me for attempting to cook these recipes without a hearth in the first place. As I grow as a cook and expand this project, I’m going to accept these kind invitations to cook alongside skilled recreators and interpreters. Katherine Johnson’s work in particular suggests what traditional academics can learn by spending time with reenactors and participating in reenactments.  But Cooking in the Archives is a project designed to give all readers a taste of the past: even if those readers possess only the tiniest apartment stove. That’s the kind of stove that I had in my West Philadelphia rental when I launched this site with Alyssa Connell in 2014.

In order to cook these recipes on my stove, I have to determine some basic information: Is this something I should make on the stovetop or in the oven? In a pot, pan, or roasting dish? Is the recipe asking for water and should that water be boiled first or with the ingredients? To answer these questions, I naturally start with the recipes themselves. The phrases recipe writers use for the ferocity or gentleness of the fire are subtle, but informative. Then I look at recipes in modern cookbooks. The “Jumball” cookie mix looked like a shortbread cookie so I started with the oven temperature from a familiar cookie recipe and kept track of the time. These are skills that I learned from baking growing up and cooking for myself while I was in graduate school, but not, exactly, skills that I learned in the academy. Neither humanities course work nor historical recreation holds all the answers for how to, say, make an apricot marmalade from a late-seventeenth-century culinary manuscript in a twenty-first century kitchen.

This recipe “To make Marmalaid of Apricocks” is from Ms. Codex 785 at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve prepared quite a few recipes from this specific manuscript, and this recipe, like a few others in the volume, derives from Hannah Woolley’s cookbook The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet (1670). This marmalade is both fragile and delicious. It needs the careful tending outlined in the original recipe. I have attempted to convey this level of care in my updated recipe.

Original Recipe

To make Marmalaid of Apricocks

Take Apricocks, pare them and cut them in
quarters and to every pound of Apricocks
put a pound of fine Sugar, then put your
Apricocks in a Skillet with half the Sugar
and let them boil very tender, and gently, and
bruise them with the back of a Spoon, till they
be like pap, then take the other part of the
Sugar, and boil it to a Candy height, then put
your Apricocks into that Sugar, and keep it stirring
over the ffire, till all the sugar is meted, but
do not let it boil, then take it from the ffire,
and Stir it till it be almost cold, then put it
into Glasses, and let it have the Air of the
ffire to dry it.

The recipe asks you to boil the apricots with sugar until the fruit is so tender that it breaks down into a luscious pulp. Then the recipe instructs you to make a simple syrup of sugar and water and allow the mixture to come to candy height or what we would now call the soft-ball stage. Early modern cooks would have been especially skilled at the subtle art of watching sugar change under the influence of heat. The cook is next told to stir the apricot puree into the hot sugar over the fire and then off the fire until the mixture is almost cold. The final instruction: “and let it have the Air of the ffire to dry it” is the most evocative image for me. The preserved apricots in glass containers glowing in front of the hearth.

This apricot marmalade is delicious on toast, lightly crisped by the heat of a toaster oven or toaster, of course.

Updated Recipe

8 apricots (7 oz, 200 g)
generous 2/3 cup sugar (7 oz, 200 g)
1/3 cup water

Peel the apricots, remove their pits, and cut them into quarters. Cook them to a pulp with half the sugar. The apricots will release their own juices so no water is necessary here. (Approximately 10 minutes.)

Make a simple syrup with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a saucepan. Use a candy thermometer to keep track of the temperature and cook until it reaches candy height/pearl stage 240F on the thermometer. When the syrup has reached this temperature, add the cooked apricots to it. Stir to combine over the heat, but do not allow the mix to boil.

Remove from heat and stir as the mixture cools. Transfer into a clean jar. This amount of apricots and sugar nicely filled an 8oz jelly jar.

Keep refrigerated and eat within two weeks. (You can also properly can this for longer storage.)

The Results 

This recipe captures apricots at their sweetest and juiciest. The two part method protects the fragile fruit from overcooking. My small batch was quickly consumed on all sorts of breads and biscuits.

I realized a few days after making it that refrigeration turns this lovely preserve into a thick paste. When I let it come to room temperature, it was a wonderful, easy to spread texture. This is yet another reminder of the difference between early modern and contemporary kitchens: refrigeration. If you’re planning to serve this at breakfast or tea, take it out of the fridge well in advance. Luckily the heat from freshly toasted bread helps it spread even if it’s straight from the fridge.

Advertisements

To presarue Aprecokes

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

preserve apricots, detail

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

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

The Recipe

preserve apricots

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

Our Recipe

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

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

Ingredients:

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

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

Method:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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