To make Newport Ginger Bread

In search of something quick and festive, I made this recipe at my mom’s house, in between walks with the dogs. UPenn MS Codex 895 is signed “Ann M. Plowden, 1756” on the inside front cover; a page later in the book is dated 1844, and the whole thing is written in at least four hands. This is the first time we’ve cooked from this particular recipe book, and I look forward to returning to it.

We didn’t have candied peel or fresh ginger or mace, so I used orange zest and ground ginger and some cinnamon and cloves; I’m not sure that its texture was what it should have been, or whether this should have been baked as a large cake, or rolled out, or in small patted rounds as I made them. But I liked these very much regardless–gingerbread is forgiving! (*Note: thanks very much to our reader who pointed out that I misread/miscalculated and used only 2 tbsp. molasses rather than 3/4 c. Oops! I did in fact enjoy these very much despite that mistake. However, with the proper amount of molasses, these might work better as rolled out cookies. I will be making them again and will provide an update!)

The Recipe

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To make Newport Ginger Bread

Take a p[oun]d of flour a quarter of a p[oun]d of sugar 2 ounce
of candied orange peel or Lemon a little mace
the weight of a two shilling of grated white ginger
half a pint of melted butter 4 spoonful of brandy
a p[oun]d or something better of treacle mix it well
& bake it on wafer paper on tin pans in a quick oven

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Our Recipe

[halved from the original]

1 2/3 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 oz. orange peel
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp. brandy
3/4 c. molasses

Heat oven to 375F.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until fully incorporated. Form the gingerbread as you’d like. For small cookies, bake ~20 mins., until a deeper golden brown and dry to the touch. Cool on a wire rack. This made 20 small cookies.

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The Results

These are certainly ginger-y! The brandy is a tasty addition that I hadn’t encountered in gingerbread before. They’re dense and a little chewy, and have plenty of flavor. From the instruction to bake it on paper, I was expecting a cake that would bake on parchment in order to turn out more easily. This was more of a dough than a batter, though, and a crumbly one at that (because of my molasses mishap). I settled on patting them into flattened golf-ball-sized rounds, but I will try rolling it out next (with more molasses).

When I’m not distracted by a pug wearing a jinglebell collar and the need to finish wrapping gifts, I might look into why these are “Newport” gingerbread. For now, they taste of ginger and the kitchen smelled festive and warm while they baked. That’s a good Christmas Eve eve cookie.

Happy and peaceful holidays to you.

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Pippins preserved at cristmas

In the happy flurry of holiday baking and cooking, sometimes a simple recipe is welcome. I came across these preserved apples while on the hunt for gingerbread recipes in Catherine Cotton’s recipe book, UPenn Ms. Codex 214. The recipe is in the same handwriting as those for ginger-bread and gengerbread that we experimented with – and really liked – here, so it probably dates to the late 1690s or early 1700s. All these “Pippins preserved at cristmas” require is a few apples, some sugar, a lemon, and water. Whether you make this simple dish or enjoy your own seasonal favorites, we hope you are having a lovely holiday season.

The Recipe

pippins preserved

Pippins preserved at cristmas

Take Pare them & cut them in the midle & take out thire cores
weigh a pound of them and a pound of fine sugar & put to it
a pint of water set the sugar & water on the fire & boyle it a
quarter of an hour then put your pippins into that surrop
& boyle them as fast as you can till they look clear then
squeez in a lemmon & let it be ready to boyle after the
limon is in then put them into glasses for your use /

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Our Recipe

1 lb. apples (~2), peeled, halved, and cored
1 lb. (2 c.) sugar
1 pint (2 c.) water
juice of 1 lemon

Combine sugar and water in a med. saucepan and bring to a boil, cooking for 15 mins.

Add apples and cook them at a steady boil, turning the apples occasionally. (They might want to boil over, so keep an eye on them.) Cook for about 45 mins., until apples are translucent and your kitchen smells delightful. Add the lemon juice and cook for another minute or two. Serve warm or refrigerate.

The Results

These apples are not complicated to make – or to eat! I used up a few apples that were kicking around my crisper after the last round of applesauce, I think a macintosh and a fuji. Both fell apart a bit while cooking, which didn’t bother me, but if you’d like the apples to stay in their halves, a harder variety like a granny smith might work nicely.  The end result tastes of very, very sweet apples, almost honey-like in their intensity. You probably wouldn’t polish off a large bowlful of these. (Which perhaps explains the relatively small yield of this recipe? Perhaps the preserved apples might have been used to flavor other dishes, or have been eaten sparingly on their own for a little taste of something sweet.) I topped them with my favorite maple yogurt to cut through some of the sweetness. With a cup of tea, they made a great breakfast for me and my sweet-tooth.

And while we’re a few days past December 25, as Marissa reminded me, on Christmas day in 1662 Samuel Pepys’ wife was ill, so they celebrated with take-out mince pies and she started making her own “Christmas pies” the next day. Pull a Mrs. Pepys and make these “Pippins preserved at cristmas” well into January.

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To make minceed pyes

I fell in love with mince pies in London on a cold December day. British winters are shockingly raw, wet, and dark to an American visitor accustomed to sharp, east coast wind and bright winter light. These sweet, spiced pies warmed me to my core. Traditional British holiday festivity is full of warmth and spice to combat the cold, the dark, and the damp. The mince pie that converted me was made by my spouse, Joseph,  who also helped me prepare this recipe for “minceed pyes” from Ms. Codex 214, Catherine Cotton’s recipe book that also led us to three interesting gingerbread recipes.

Although most mince pies today start with a base of raisins, currants, and occasionally apples and quinces, mince pies traditionally began with meat. The meat was flavored by these additional fruits, not the other way around. This recipe begins with a “neats tongue,” a calf or beef tongue. Gervase Markham’s starts with a leg of mutton. A mince pie recipe that I considered preparing from MS Codex 252 uses ox cheek. This nineteenth-century cookbook published in Boston even has a mince pie recipe that starts with tongue. I swallowed my reservations, took the trolley to Reading Terminal Market in Philly, and ordered a beef tongue from a butcher.

 

The Recipe

mince pies

To make minceed pyes

Take a neats tounge parboyle it and mince it very small
put to it a pound of beefe suit and 2 pound of reasons
of the son stoned and minceed very small a quaarter of
a pound of sugar the peal 2 lemmons cut small a little
cloves & mace and nutmeg a quarter of clarret a little
salt mix all this together with 6 or 8 pipings smally shred
and two pouund of currants or as many as you see feet
for your past take a pound and quarter of flower a pound
and a half of butter and put it into water and seet it on
the fire & let it boyle make the past & put in half a pound
of lofe sugar finely beaten & mix it in the flower put in the
yolks of 4 eggs & the whites of 2 so worke it up and
as you fill them put in canded orange & green sittorn
finely cut such as you eate hot when they come out of the
oven put in sume butter & white wine

The recipe begins with instructions for preparing a rich mincemeat: parboiled tongue, grated beef suet (or beef fat), raisins, sugar, lemon peel, pipings (or apples), and currants seasoned with clarret (red French wine from Bordeaux), cloves, mace, nutmeg, and salt. In many ways, this ingredient list is similar to modern recipes for mince pies — fruit, suet/fat, booze, spices, sugar, and citrus. But then there’s that tongue. Tongue is, of course, a staple of many cuisines, but I’d never prepared one before. Luckily Joseph has never balked at an offal challenge and helped me by brining and parboiling the tongue following Fergus Henderson’s recipe from Nose to Tail Eating. This process adds at least three days of brining and three and a half hours of slow boiling to the overall cooking time. Another food blogger has reconstructed the recipe with great photos of the method here.

Once the mincemeat is ready, this recipe calls for an interesting method of pastry making and a final round of seasoning with candied orange and “sittorn” peels (lemon peel), butter, and white wine. Between the lengthy tongue preparations, ingredient sourcing, and making the candied peel, I decided to prepare my favorite pie crust from Orangette instead of trying out this pastry method as well. Although this was really born out of fatigue and convenience, there’s another more pressing reason, too: Early modern pie crusts weren’t always meant to be eaten. In many cases they simply served as a semi-edible container that would preserve meat and other ingredients during extended periods of storage. Ken Albala discusses this in a recent essay where he re-reads Hamlet’s famous statement that  the baked meats from his father’s funeral were served at his mother’s wedding. Sure, Gertrude may have remarried quickly, but baked meat pies were designed for long storage all the same. The instruction to add butter and wine at the very end also tipped us off that this pastry might fundamentally be utilitarian because sealing meat pies with hot fat and alcohol was part of the preserving method. I’ve included an updated version of the pastry recipe below and I plan to revisit it in the future (pastry off?), but we wanted you to have mince pies in time for Christmas!

Our Recipe

Ingredients

Mincemeat:

Our recipe is quartered from the original, but we’ve included the original amounts [in brackets] as they were given in the recipe.

1/2 lb beef or calves tongue, parboiled and chopped. (The tongue we purchased weighed  three pounds. We added 1/4 lb of tongue to half the mincemeat mix.) [1 neats tongue]
1/4 lb (4 oz.) suet (beef fat) [1 lb] substitute in butter or vegetable shortening for a vegetarian version)
1/2 lb (1 1/2 c) raisins [2 lbs]
1/2 lb (1 1/2 c) currants [2 lbs]
2 apples, peeled and chopped very small [6-8 apples]
1/4 c sugar [1/4 lb]
zest of half a lemon [zest of 2 lemons]
1 c claret (or other red wine) [1 quart claret]
1/2 t mace
1/2 t ground cloves
1/4 t nutmeg, ground or grated
1/4 t salt
1/2 c candied orange and lemon peel (We used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen to make ours from two clementines and one lemon.)
1/3 c white wine
2 T butter, cut into small pieces

Pastry:

This is the full recipe. As we discussed above, we made our favorite pie crust from Orangette because of tongue fatigue.

1 1/4 lb flour
1 1/2 lb butter
water
1/2 lb sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks

Method

Prepare the mincemeat:

Mix together tongue, suet, raisins, currants, apples, spices, lemon zest, sugar, and claret and set aside. Right before you make the pies, add the candied peel, white wine, and butter.

Prepare the pastry:

*We didn’t test this part of the recipe. Feel free to use your favorite pie crust like we did.*
Put your flour in a bowl. Heat the butter and water in a small saucepan until it comes to a boil. Pour into the flour and stir until a dough forms. Add the sugar and eggs. Mix until your have a workable pastry.

Make pies:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Roll out the pastry. Using a pastry cutter or drinking glass, cut circles. We used a 2 5/8 in (68 mm) pastry cutter to make nice little pies. Make sure you have an even number of circles so that you have bottoms and lids for all your pies.

Butter two-three baking sheets. Put 2 t mincemeat on each bottom. (Remember to add the candied peels, white wine, and butter to the mincemeat just before!)

Place a lid on each pie. Push down the edges of the pastry to seal. Poke a few air-holes in the lid with with a fork. We brushed the top with an egg wash for a golden crust, but this step is optional.

Bake mince pies for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar to serve if you want these to look especially festive.

This recipe made 25 mince pies with enough leftover mince meat to make another full batch.

The Results

These mince pies are delicious: spicy, fatty, and subtly sweet. We divided our mincemeat into two batches, one with and one without the tongue. The pies with the tongue were deeply meaty, but the currants, raisins, and apples held their own to compliment the umami flavors. The pies without tongue were very fruity. They tasted really similar to mince pies I’ve made before from Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which includes quinces in the mix. (There’s a version of that recipe on this blog.)

Next time, I’ll add more mace, cloves, and nutmeg. I might add the candied peel and white wine to the mincemeat from the beginning.  On the other hand, I might leave out those last 2 T butter which felt extraneous. We also have a ton of leftover mincemeat in the fridge. I’m excited to see how the next batch tastes after the flavors marry for a bit longer. There’s a Christmas tree that needs trimming and there’s nothing like eating holiday baked goods and making the house merry.

Alyssa and I would like to thank Joseph Malcomson for rising to the tongue challenge and helping us devise and prepare this recipe.

To make good Gengerbread

Last week, Marissa and I were very pleased to give a talk on “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” at the Folger Shakespeare Library, part of its Free Folger Friday series. Good timing: the foundations of Shakespeare’s kitchen area at New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon were discovered by an archaeological team (!) just the week before. We cooked up a few new recipes for the event. Now, it’s been suggested that I might be a rabid fan of the Christmas season. I think I’m just enthusiastic. (Typed while looking at the decorated pine branches on my bookshelves [my version of a tree] and listening to Bing Crosby. Ok, fine. Very enthusiastic.) So, we decided to be seasonally festive with these recipes. Along with the (awesome) hot chocolate mix that Marissa will be sharing soon, we investigated early modern gingerbread.

For the gingerbread mission, I turned to a new – to us – recipe book: UPenn Ms. Codex 214.  Both the front and back covers are embossed with the original owner’s name, and the inscription includes a date, so we know that the book originally belonged to Catherine/Catharine Cotton and was compiled starting around 1698. We’ll definitely be revisiting this collection, which contains a range of appealing recipes – including the poached apples I have my eye on next. Cotton’s book turned out to be well-suited to this particular mission, as it contains three gingerbread recipes: one with honey and candied peel, one with brown sugar and milk, and one with treacle and caraway seeds.

Gingerbread as a dessert began appearing in Europe around the fifteenth century, originally as a mixture of breadcrumbs held together with honey and ginger, then shaped using molds. At Queen Elizabeth I’s court, gingerbread was baked into the shape of people and decorated to look like visiting foreign dignitaries – the first gingerbread men! In the late seventeenth century, ginger would have been imported into England (most likely from Jamaica, the Spice Islands, or India) as the whole root, sometimes pickled. That Cotton’s book includes not one but three recipes for gingerbread indicates ginger’s availability and the treat’s popularity by 1698.

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The Recipes

CC 45r

To make ginger-bread                               Mrs JT

Take 2 pound of browne sugar put to it a pound and a quarter
of butter & half a pint of milk tset it to the fier and amake it
just warme enough to melt the butter then take sume flower & put to it
and 3 ouncis of ginger so make it up in a stif paste /

CC 43r

To make good Gengerbread                                      P.C.

Take 3 pound of fine flower meix with it a pound
of sugar 2 pound of good honey an ounce and a half
searced Ginger some candyed orange and lemen peils
put all these together melt your honey & mould it well
then make it into littel caks & bake it as soon as you
please but your oven must not be hotter then for Biscakes
mwhen you have done all this let your humble saruant
have good share

 

Our Recipe: “To make ginger-bread”
[quartered from original*]

1 1/4 c. brown sugar
10 tsp. butter
1/4 c. milk
2 c. flour
3/4 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1″ ginger root)

Combine sugar, butter, and milk in medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, just until butter is melted. Remove from heat. Add ginger, then stir in flour in two batches.

To use immediately**: Scoop dough in tablespoon-sized balls. Flatten slightly with fingertips or bottom of a water glass.

To roll out***: Pat dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Roll to 1/4″ thickness on a floured board and cut out in shapes.

Both methods: Bake at 350F for 12 mins., until bottoms are golden brown. (Tops will look slightly puffed but won’t take on much color.) Remove from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. Makes ~2-3 dozen cookies.

*I halved the recipe and ended up drowning in gingerbread cookies – over 50 of them! Quartering the recipe makes for a more reasonable yield, but it can easily be scaled back up if you’re in need of gingerbread for days.

**The recipe implies that the dough can be used right away. However, I’d added enough flour that it was starting to taste bland and the dough was still fairly soft and sticky. I knew I wouldn’t be able to roll it out, so I scooped it into balls and experimented with flattening some of them. The flatter the discs, the better they baked – the scoops left round didn’t have the nice bite that the thinner cookies did.

***”Paste” can stand in for our modern “pastry” in these cookbooks, so it didn’t seem unlikely that the original could have been rolled and cut out. To manage this, I refrigerated the dough, which made it much easier to handle. In fact, it rolled and baked up beautifully – this is definitely my preferred method for this recipe.

Our Recipe: “To make good Gengerbread”
[quartered from original]

2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. honey
~1 c. candied peel (2 oranges + 1 lemon), roughly chopped****

Combine flour, sugar, and honey in a large mixing bowl, using a spatula or (as I did) your hands. Add the peel and make sure it is evenly distributed through the mixture. The dough will be very crumbly.

Using a scoop or soup spoon, take about 1.5 tbsp. of dough at a time and squeeze/pat it into a flattened ball. Bake cookies at 350F for 15-18 mins., until lightly browned and fragrant.

****Candied peel is an ingredient we run into frequently in these early modern recipes. As we’ve discussed with some readers, candied peel is readily available in British supermarkets but not in most American ones, so we sometimes end up substituting zest to approximate the taste (if not texture) of the citrus peel. For the gingerbread, however, I wanted to see how the peel would work with the ginger and also thought the sticky peel might help these crumbly cookies hold together, so I made my own using this recipe.

 

The Results

One winner, one respectable second-place finish! The “ginger-bread” gingerbread was surprisingly flavorful, given its short list of ingredients: there’s a LOT of sugar and butter and ginger in there, but they all meld well together, perhaps mellowed by the addition of milk, and these were neither overwhelmingly sweet nor too gingery. (I might even increase the ginger next time, maybe throw in 1/2 tsp. of powdered ginger to add some bite.) As noted above, I experimented with making these into balls, discs, and cut-out cookies. They all worked, but the cut-out cookies baked uniformly and had a good bite while retaining some softness. I’ll use this method from now on.

The “Gengerbread” gingerbread turned out to be tasty toothbreakers. Because the original recipe suggests melting the honey, I’m guessing that honeycomb might have been used here, and that the wax would have helped as both a binding and softening agent. I didn’t have any honeycomb, but I did have an old(ish) jar of honey waiting to be used – good enough. I had to add slightly more honey than called for to get the dough to hold together. They were still fairly dry and VERY hard. (I made them in two sizes and found the smaller cookies even more difficult to bite into than the larger ones!) Some gnawing was require on the first day, though they softened over the next few days. (And, as was helpfully suggested at the Folger talk, you could put a slice of bread or apple in the container with them to speed this softening process.) I like the candied peel + ginger combination very much – in fact, you taste the honey and the citrus more than the ginger here, which is interesting. I probably won’t be making these exact cookies again because I’m not sure my teeth can handle it, but I might play with adding honey and/or candied peel to some other gingerbread recipes.

Will I abandon the family gingerbread recipe that I make every year? Not a chance. But making these two recipes – I’ll report back on the third once I acquire some treacle – introduced me to some new gingerbread ideas and highlighted the variety available in just one recipe book. And the room to play with different techniques. In this project, not being given a specific method can nerve-wracking – particularly for someone who likes to follow very precise baking instructions. (See: me.) But it’s also liberating. There’s room for creativity, fun, and experimentation in the ambiguity. I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in Cotton’s book. Stay tuned.