Margaret Baker’s sacke possett & fine biskett, or a year with Folger MS V.a.619

It’s an interesting experience to spend months with a single recipe book. This year I collaborated with an undergraduate student, Rachael Shulman, on a year-long research project centered around Margaret Baker’s recipe book which is held at the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS V.a.219). Working with the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective (EMROC) transcription interface maintained by the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project (EMMO), Rachael and I began with transcription basics, preliminary readings, and went from there. We transcribed together and separately, we read widely and developed our own projects from the manuscript, and we’re still working on a series of blog posts (stay tuned) and an article from our shared inquiry. This spring, Rachael was awarded an award for Information Literacy by the Pennsylvania State University Libraries for her poster presentation at the annual research fair. It’s been energizing to see this manuscript through Rachael’s eyes as well as my own.

I’m thankful to the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program (ACURA) for supporting our collaboration and for funding our trips to the Kislak Center at UPenn and the Folger to look at an array of recipe books. I’m especially thankful to the Folger for allowing Rachael to see Baker’s manuscript in person after she’d spent endless hours looking at it on a computer screen. I’m excited to continue working on this project with Rachael, and other students, in the fall.

While Rachael’s research has focused on Baker’s medicinal recipes (which make up the majority of the volume), I decided to prepare two of Baker’s culinary recipes a few months ago.  I opted for a posset and a biscuit.  Alyssa and I have previously made possets and biscuits, but these versions stood out to me. We’ve made a “Could Posset” and a “Lemon Posset,” but not a “Sacke Posset.” We’ve made the seeded herbal biscuits “Little Cakes” and transformed Naples Biscuits into “Artificial Potatoes” and “Bisket Pudding,” but these “Fine Biskett” seemed like a nice addition to our repertoire.

Recipes

Sacke Possett

To make a sacke possett;
Take one pound of almonds beate them very small
with as much sack as will keep them from oyling
then take one pinte of creme put in your suger into
it sett it one a chafing dish of cols till it be redy
to boyle; then put in your almons sturringe it very
well soe serue it to your table;

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

1 c ground almonds
2 T sherry
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar

Combine the almonds and sack in a small bowl.

Put the cream and sugar in a small pot and heat until they almost reach a boil. Stir in the almond-sack mixture.

Serve immediately.

Fine Biskett

to make fine biskett

take 1 pound of fine suger 2 pound of fine flower 8 or
10 eggs put amoungst it a penny worth of anneece seede &
a few coriander seede beat all well in a bason together &
make it up into cakes after it is baked you may cut it in slicee
& candy that wth suger if you please,

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

3/4 c sugar (4 oz) plus additional sugar to sprinkle on the biscuits
1 3/4 c flour (8 oz)
2 eggs
1t fennel seeds
1t coriander seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Form the dough into pleasing biscuits. I rolled half the dough into a log and sliced thin cookies. I shaped the remaining dough into cookies.

Place on a baking sheet greased with butter or spray (or covered with baking parchment). Sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the biscuits.

Bake 15 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown at the edges.

The Results

Neither of these recipes would make my all time favorites list.

The sacke possett taste like a strange, boozy protein shake. The viscus texture was especially unappealing, although it might have improved if I’d used almond milk instead of the ground almonds I had in my fridge.

I loved the flavorful spices in the fine bisketts, but the dense, floury texture of the biscuit overall showed the lack of butter or cream in the recipe. On the other hand, Rachael prepared a vegan version of this recipe and was very pleased with her results.

The most important part of this process — in the archive and in the kitchen — has been the collaboration between me, my student, and Margaret Baker’s manuscript across time and space.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes and improve on them!

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Cooking Almond Jumballs at the Folger Shakespeare Library

It’s time that we talk about paleography – the study of  handwriting. (Bear with me, we’re also going to make Almond Jumballs!) Without specialized training, Alyssa and I wouldn’t be able to read the historical recipes that we cook, research, and write about on this site. The archive of early modern manuscript recipe books is written in a mix of the two most common styles of handwriting:  secretary hand and italic hand.

Can you read these two recipes? The first hand has more italic features and the last one is a classic secretary hand.

If you’re looking for more resources, this website hosted by Cambridge University has a great online tutorial and the Folger Shakespeare Library hosts a resource guide here.

If you liked the experience of grappling with historical scripts, we encourage you to participate in Shakespeare’s World, a community transcription site developed by Zooniverse and the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project.

Alyssa and I learned how to read medieval and early modern handwriting when we were graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. We both participated in a student-run Paleography Workshop and I took a week-long course with Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library  at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia on “The Handwriting & Culture of Early Modern English Manuscripts.”  These experiences gave us the tools we needed to conduct our doctoral research and launch this project. In addition to providing you with tasty updated recipes and interesting background information, we have always included “semi-diplomatic transcriptions” of the original recipes completed to a high academic standard. Many of these recipes have never been transcribed before and posting them online in this readable form is one of our contributions to the field of historical food studies.

I’m currently in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library working on my book project, but when my former paleography teacher Heather Wolfe asked me to talk about historical recipes with her Introduction to English Paleography course I jumped at the chance.  I love the “Chacolet” recipe we made this winter from a Folger manuscript and wrote about for the Collation blog. We also had a great time giving a talk at the library last December. Within a few minutes of discussion, Heather and I had settled on a cooking project in addition to a visit to her class. Last week I cooked “Almond Jumballs” from Folger Manuscript V.a.429, fol. 52v with Heather, members of her class, and library staff and interns.  It was a blast!

 

This manuscript contains the handwriting of three (or more) individuals and it was used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Two sets of ownership inscriptions grace the  opening leaves (above).

Rose Kendall
& Ann Cater
there Book
1682

Anna Maria Wentworth
Her Book 1726

The opening pages of the book are beautifully planned and decorated with remarkable calligraphic flourishes. Although the red ink disappears from later sections, the manuscript is neat overall. The index at the beginning seems to have been updated as recipes were added.

The Recipe

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Almond Jumballs

Take a pound of Blanched Almonds, and beate them small in a Morter, putt
in a little Orange fflower, or Rose Water, to keep them from oyling, dry them against
the fire, till they crumble like bread, then boyle as much Sugar to a pritty thick
Syrrup as will make it up like Balls. keep it by you, to make Jumballs when you
please, half a pound will make a great many, put half a pound of the Balls in
a Morter, with three quarters of a pound of Sugar sifted and as just as many
whites of Eggs as will make it so stiffe as not to runn out. when it shall be spouted
with a syringe, for the purpose if you have not that Instrument you may lay them one
Paper in what figure you please but the Sugar almonds and Eggs must be well
beaten togeither. If it should not taste enough of Orange fflower Water you
may put in more as you beat it. sett them in an Oven as hot as for Biskett

This recipe has it all: lots of manuscripts have recipes for “jumballs” (like the one we posted a while back), the script included some tricky letter forms, and the recipe required fairly simple ingredients and methods. We knew we could make it in the Folger’s on-site tea kitchen. While I went into the classroom with a general plan for how to prepare the jumballs (we’d already purchased ingredients, after all!), we did ask the students in the course to consider how they would translate this recipe into actual ingredients and steps. They asked great questions which forced me to rethink my draft recipe both at the start and while we were in the kitchen.

There are two especially interesting things about this recipe. First of all, it instructs you to make a flower-water flavored ball of almond paste from blanched almonds and sugar. Presumably this mix might have been a shelf-stable item. Then, when you’re ready to make the jumballs, the recipe instructs you to pipe the batter through a syringe or otherwise shape them elaborately. Although we made valiant attempts to shape our jumballs, our dough did not cooperate.  We even tried piping it through a plastic glove with a snipped finger since we didn’t have a pastry bag! As a result, the egg measurement in our recipe below asks you to add egg whites one at a time and pay attention to the consistency of the mix.

 

Our Recipe

Makes about two dozen cookies.

1lb blanched almonds or ground almonds
2T orange flower water (or rose water)
3C sugar (1C for sugar syrup, 2C for cookie formation)
4-5 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Mix together ground almonds and flower water. Toast the almond mix for about 2 minutes. Remove when the mix starts to brown.

Make a “thick” sugar syrup. Bring 1C sugar and scant 1C water to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. This will produce about 1 1/2C sugar syrup.

Add the sugar syrup 1/2C at at time to the toasted almond mix. At this point you can form the mix into balls and divide into batches (if you prefer).

Raise the oven temperature to 400F.

Put the almond mix balls in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 2C sugar (for the whole amount).

Separate your eggs. You can either whip your egg whites to produce a slightly fluffier jumball or skip this step to create a chewier jumball (see results discussion below). Add egg whites to the almond sugar mix one at a time (approximate if whipped) until your dough is moist and pliable. You should be able to roll a piece of it into a log on a flat surface.

Taste the mixture and add additional flower water to taste. (We didn’t add any more at this point.)

Shape your dough into twists, letters, etc. Write your name, make a funny face, shape a flower, and have fun with it! Place your jumball shapes on two or more greased baking sheets.

Bake at 400F for 20 min until the jumballs are lightly browned.

The Results

Fresh from the oven the jumballs were chewy, sweet, and fragrant. A day later they were like hard macaroons. We were pleased with how they turned out. They were nothing like the buttery seed-filled shortbread-like Jumballs Alyssa and I made in 2014. Every recipe book seems to have a receipt for Jumballs and we look forward to exploring more versions with you soon.

Alyssa and I always learn when we cook together, but cooking with a group was a new experience for me. With so many people completing tasks and offering opinions, we collaborated to make a better version of the recipe. For example, we weren’t sure if we needed to whip the egg whites or not before adding them to the almond and sugar mixture. By dividing the almonds into two batches, were were able to try both approaches. After trying and tasting both versions, we decided that the  whipped egg whites added fluffiness, but because of the density of the almond mix they did not add enough buoyancy to make the step absolutely necessary. Others preferred the denser texture of the batch with the normal egg whites. My recipe above includes both options.

Here at Cooking in the Archives we believe that people can learn a lot about early modern recipes by reading them and cooking them. I can’t wait to here what else the Introduction to Paleography students find, try, taste, read, and learn as a result of this training.

Transcription Answers

The first example is from UPenn Ms. Codex 626 (32r) “Hopestill: Brett, Her Booke: 1678”

A sawce for a hare

Rost beef suit in the hares
shred when put in
belley: then bake it when shee is
Rosted and then put the graue
to it and sum butter and stis
Sum nutmig in and salt

The second example is from UPenn Ms. Codex 1601 (7r)

To boile Chickens on sorrell sops.
Truss your chickens & boile them in water
& salt, verie tender, then take a good
handfull of sorrell & beate itt stalke &
all, then straine itt & take a manchet
& cutt itt in sippetts & drye them before
The fire, then putt your green brouth

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.

IMG_4822

 

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.

 

Beer Cakes

CookingArchives-4173

Photo by Carley Storm Photography http://www.carleystormphotography.com

We’re sometimes asked how the early modern recipe books we cook from ended up in library collections. It varies: some were purchased directly by the library, others were gifts. However they made it into holdings like the Kislak Center’s, we feel fortunate that they did. As I looked over the provenance notes for UPenn Ms. Codex 205, I saw a familiar name. The book was a gift from Esther Bradford Aresty, part of the Esther B. Aresty Collection of Rare Books on the Culinary Arts. Aresty (1908-2000) was a culinary historian and cookbook collector who donated her collection of 576 printed volumes and 13 manuscripts, ranging from the fifteenth to twentieth century, to the University of Pennsylvania. (For more on Aresty’s remarkable life and collecting, see here and here. Penn also holds Aresty’s papers, which I’m looking forward to digging into soon.) Aresty’s collection has already informed this project: of the recipe books we’ve cooked from so far, UPenn Ms. Codices 252, 625, 627, and 631 were also her gifts.

In her first book, The Delectable Past: The Joys of the Table – from Rome to the Renaissance, from Queen Elizabeth I to Mrs. Beeton. The Menus, the Manners – and the most delectable Recipes of the past masterfully recreated for cooking and enjoying today (1964), Aresty transcribed and updated over 700 recipes from the volumes in her collection in order to make them widely accessible: “The more I wandered around in those precious volumes, the more I wanted to share them with others” (9). The chapters begin with “Antiquity to the Middle Ages – The Delicious Beginnings” and end with “Late 19th-Century America – Cooking Lessons Well Learned,” each detailing several recipes and images. Aresty didn’t include any recipes from Ms. Codex 205, but it’s listed in the index as part of her collection at the time. She describes The Delectable Past as “the result of my adventuring through their pages.” Adventuring through the pages: what a perfect way to describe the experience of reading old cookbooks, or encountering older texts more generally.

Aresty characterized her method as one of updating: “I’ve tried to adapt the recipes in the simple style that made them such a delight to read and follow. … With few exceptions, they are all easy to prepare, and rely on a subtle twist, or nuance, or combination, rather than laborious preparation. Though canned soups and other commercially prepared products have not been specified, they may be substituted wherever you deem proper.” And she encouraged experimentation: “You may arrive at some individual effects of your own while using the recipes in The Delectable Past. All have been tested in my kitchen, but your imagination can take over in many of them. After all, the same recipe will produce varying though equally good results in different hands. Yours may be better than mine” (12). As I read Aresty’s words, with Ms. Codex 205 sitting to one side, I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. I’m looking forward to more adventuring in Aresty’s collection.

UPenn Ms. Codex 205 begins with a handy table of contents of its recipes. I looked no further as soon as I saw #66: Beer Cakes. Beer Cakes? I had to try these.

205 tofc

This recipe book was probably compiled from the last few decades of the eighteenth century into the first of the nineteenth. Recipe #130 is dated 1791; #162 is dated 1801. The last page of the book details the diet plan “Mr. Whilby of Wallington Norfolk” used to raise his calves in the winter of 1777. (Now, there’s a sentence I’ve never written before.) There is also a loose letter tucked into the volume, dated February 1808, from “AB” to Mrs. Edward Browne, copying the recipe for “A Sweet Jar” that’s also written into the book. The first 109 recipes (including the Beer Cakes) are written in one hand, then the rest of the book continues in at least six hands.

The Beer Cakes call for “old Beer” – a very efficient way to use beer that might be past optimal drinking stage. Interestingly, this is the first early modern baking recipe I’ve noticed that calls for beer. I’m now curious about how common this was, so I’ll be on the lookout for more. The beer used would probably have been purchased; by the late eighteenth century, the earlier prevalence of home brewing had been largely displaced by industrialized beer production. (For more background, see, e.g., The Oxford Companion to Beer, ed. Garret Oliver [2011], and I. S. Hornsey, A History of Beer and Brewing [2003].)

I wasn’t the only one who found these Beer Cakes delicious, apparently: note the bookworm holes in the upper right-hand corner of the recipe page.

The Recipe

beer cakes

66. Beer Cakes

a Pound of Flour, 1/2 Pd. Butter, 1/2 Pd. Sugar, a few
Seeds, mix all together into a very stiff Paste, with
old Beer, roll and bake them on Tin Sheets.

IMG_4548

Our Recipe

[halved from the original]

1/2 lb. flour (I used half white whole wheat and half all-purpose flour, about a scant 1 c. each)
1/4 lb. sugar (1/2 c.)
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick), room temp.
1 tsp. caraway seeds*
scant 1/2 c. beer, added in increments**

Heat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Combine all ingredients except the beer in a large bowl and mix with a spatula until relatively smooth. (You could easily do this in a stand mixer. I was feeling old school.) Add about half the beer and blend, gradually adding more as needed until you have a cohesive, stiff dough. It should be just wet enough to hold together but not so wet that it becomes soft and sticky. If it’s too wet, just add a bit more flour.

Lightly flour your surface and rolling pin, then roll out the dough to about 1/4″ thickness. (The day I made these was pretty humid – see: Philadelphia summertime – so I found that refrigerating the dough for about 10 mins. before rolling it out made the process of transferring cookies onto the baking sheets much easier.) Cut them out in shapes of your choice. My handy 2″ circle yielded 46 cookies. Transfer to lined baking sheets and bake for 12 mins., or until dry to the touch and golden brown on the bottom. (Your kitchen will smell like beer. Not at all unpleasant.) Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

*A note about “a few Seeds”: Other “seeded” recipes we’ve made have called for caraway seeds. I also looked at several print and manuscript recipes for Seed Cakes, all of which use caraway. So, I feel fairly certain that caraway seeds are accurate for the Beer Cakes. However, you could certainly experiment – poppy? Sesame?

**A note about the beer: I didn’t have any “old Beer” lurking at the back of my fridge – just as well, because I knew exactly which beer I wanted to use for this recipe. Philadelphia’s very own Yards Brewing Company produces three Ales of the Revolution, based on colonial brewing recipes. I was curious about how much the flavor of the beer would come out in the cookies, so I experimented by splitting the batch and making half with Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale and half with Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce. (I also made another batch with a lager, for additional experimentation. Same results.) I couldn’t really taste a difference, probably because the amount of beer in the recipe isn’t that large and the caraway seeds dominate; I definitely couldn’t taste the piney-ness that characterizes the Tavern Spruce. But I didn’t mind having the leftover beer with my cookies.

The Results

Favorite recipe since Maccarony Cheese! Of the other “cakes” recipes we’ve tried, they’re most similar to the Desart Cakes, which I also liked very much. But the addition of butter and especially of beer give these a depth and richness that can be unusual for early modern cookie-cakes. (They’re still beige, of course. Marissa and I have started thinking of this project as the realm of beige baked goods.) They don’t really taste like beer, but they have a richness and a nice crumb that’s less dense than the Desart Cakes. I’ll be making these again.

Esther Aresty, I raise a beer cake to you and your adventuring. Thank you.

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To make Little Cakes, Cooking in the Scripps Archives Part 1

I may have written about Southern California citrus and orange pudding few months ago, but so far all of the recipes Alyssa and I have posted here are from manuscripts held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts. There are a few good reasons for this! When we launched Cooking in the Archives last June, we were both PhD candidates and our start-up funding came from an interdisciplinary innovation grant at Penn. The Penn Libraries also have a wonderful collection of manuscript recipe books, comprehensive digital collections, and a number of open-access projects, like the recently launched OPenn site.

This academic year I’ve been teaching and conducting research at Scripps College in Claremont, CA amidst bountiful culinary and archival resources. This post is the first of a series on recipes I’ve prepared from the Earl of Roden Commonplace Book held at Scripps’s exquisite Ella Strong Denison Library. In one of my upper-level literature and book history courses called “What is a book?” my students and I used this commonplace book for paleography practice. (More on that course here.) As we were reading poems and recipes from the manuscript, I found a lot of things I wanted to cook.

The Earl of Roden Commonplace Book is one of two manuscript commonplace books in the Perkins Collection at Denison. John I. Perkins, a Los Angeles bookseller, donated this collection to Scripps in 1941 with the intention that the books would establish a teaching collection and be primarily used by students. The manuscript’s provenance is relatively easy to trace as a bookplate with the Earl of Roden‘s arms is pasted inside the front cover. The earldom was created in 1771 for Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Viscount Jocelyn (1731-1779) and was part of the Peerage of Ireland, or the English aristocracy in Ireland. The earls of Roden likely lived on estates in County Tipperary. Perkins may have acquired this manuscript because of its provenance, its mix of poems and recipes, or its distinctive green binding, built-in vellum-lined pockets, and partial clasps.

I think it’s most likely that this book began its life as a bound and ruled blank book, was initially used as a commonplace book for poetry, and was eventually repurposed as a household recipe book. The manuscript includes about eighty pages (40 folios) of poems followed by about ninety pages (45 folios) of recipes. Like many other commonplace books, the poems are listed for in an alphabetical index laid out at the beginning of the book. Although I haven’t checked to see if all the poems are accounted for, the compiler was very precise about noting the date and source of poems and songs. These dates helped Perkins date the manuscript’s compilation to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some poems from the early eighteenth century establish the start date (perhaps even before the Earl of Roden’s earldom was created) and a wine-making recipe that refers to wine produced in 1824 dates later use to the nineteenth century.

I’ve prepared a few recipes from this book so far. Today I’d like to talk about “little cakes,” or tasty shortbread cookies similar to “Jumballs.”

 The Recipe

little cakes

To make Little Cakes.

Half a pound of Flour, half a pound of Sugar, two Eggs, one
ounce and a half of Butter melted two ounces of Coriander
Seeds bruised. Cut it thin and bake it.

Since these instructions and measurements are relatively straightforward, our recipe is basically the same.

1/2 pound flour
1/2 pound sugar
Two eggs
1 1/2 oz. butter, melted
2 oz. coriander seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a baking sheet with butter, spray, or baking parchment.

Bruise the coriander seeds by gently crushing them in a mortar and pestle. To release more of their flavor, you can also lightly toast the seeds in a dry, hot pan beforehand.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until a thick dough forms. Form it into a ball and transfer it onto a clean surface or cutting board. Shape the dough into a log. (I didn’t need to add flour in the rolling process, but you may find that you need some.) Slice thin cookies off the log. Mine ranged from 1/3-1/2 inch thick.

Bake 15-18 min until the edges brown.  Attempt to let cool before eating.

I halved this recipe because I was running low on coriander seeds and made 13 cookies, a full batch would yield around 24.

The Results

The little cakes are really shortbread cookies. The coriander sings through the sweet and buttery base. Hot from the oven, the herbal flavor dominated. When I ate another with my coffee the next day the flavor had pleasantly mellowed. If coriander isn’t your favorite spice or you don’t have any on hand, substitute caraway or fennel seeds.

I think this base recipe would work with a range of spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, chopped fresh thyme or rosemary, dried lavender, or even citrus zest. I also think a whole-grain flour like whole wheat, spelt, or buckwheat in some combination would add nuttiness and depth.

“Little Cakes” are a quick and easy dessert that require only five ingredients and minimal prep time. Stay tuned for more recipes from the Scripps archives.

To make maccarons of valentia Almonds

Today’s Cooking in the Archives post is also published on ABO-Public: An Interactive Forum for Women in the Arts, 1640-1840. Check out a slightly longer version of this post here.

What do ladies bake? Ladies bake macaroons, tasty almond macaroons.

This recipe “To make maccarons of valentia Almonds” is from MS Codex 627 The delights for ladys: to adorne there persons beautyes stillyris banquits perfumes & wators. MS Codex 627 is designed to look like a printed book and includes a title page with the date 1655, a full table of contents, and a running header “The delights” on the verso and “for ladies” on the recto of on each opening. We’ve only worked with one other manuscript with these features in this project to date: MS Codex 625 where we found “Shrewsbury Cakes.”

Another important feature of this manuscript is obscured, rather than revealed, by our digital images: its size. It’s very small! It fits in the palm of your hand. It could be easily carried in a pocket. As such, it may have also been somewhat difficult to use in the kitchen. Many of the other manuscripts we’ve surveyed have been substantially larger and would be easier to prop open on a table for kitchen use.

Although this manuscript is specifically designed as a book for women, it was likely written by a man. After all, the volume is modeled on Hugh Plat’s Delightes for Ladies (1602) which you can read about in more detail here. The introductory letter, partially missing from the manuscript, is signed by a Jose: Lovett and the hand is consistent throughout. This led the Penn cataloger to suggest that this may be Lovett’s book and written in his hand. However, the back of this book contains a reverse recipe book in a few hands signed “Mabella Powell Her Booke.”

Regardless of who wrote the bulk of this book, Mabella Powell was an owner, composer, and reader of its recipes.

The Recipe

To make maccarons
of valentia Almonds

Take one pound of blanched al-
monds and beat them in a marble
mortor with a woden pestill and in
beating of them now and then
about 12 times drop into them
a sponfull of red Rose water and
and when thay are small beaten
put into them one li [pound] of fine suger
well beaten & searsed then take
one grane of muske and a little
amber greece or siuet and dissolue
it in a little Red rose water
and mingled well a mongst it
then take up your past into a faire
Silu[er] or pewter dish and spread
it with a spoone all ouer the
dish and set it in an ouen

when your bread is new drawne &
when it dryes and begines to looke
white upon the topp then stirr it
& spread it againe and soe use it halfe
a dozen times and within one halfe
quarter of an howre it will bee drye
enough then take the whits of halfe
a dozen new layd eggs and straine
them through a fine Cloth and beat
them alittle and then mingle them
with the almonds & suger & soe
with a little slice lay them upon
a sheete of pure whit papor & set
them in the ouen, the ouen being
then in the sme temper it was in
when bread was newly drawne out
of it, and lay under them for feare
of borning some plate or some such
thing and soe bake them and keepe
them for your use in some cobbord
or some box not farr from the
fire.

This is a fairly simple recipe and the method for cooking it is explained in great detail.  It’s rare to see such specific instructions for the oven heat or cookie storage. Beyond halving the quantity I made very few changes.

 Our Recipe

1 1/3 C ground almonds (1/2 lb)
rosewater (1-2 T total)
2 T butter
1/2 C sugar
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix ground almonds with 6 drops rosewater stirring the mix after each drop (approximately 1T total.) Melt butter with a drop of rosewater. Stir aromatic butter into the ground almonds mix. Stir in sugar.

Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Check at 5 minutes and stir to ensure the edges do not burn.

Return the fragrant, toasted almond mix to a mixing bowl. Stir in 3 lightly beaten egg whites. A sticky dough should form. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a 1 tsp spoon to scoop this sticky mix onto your baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bottom of a macaroon is brown and the top is beginning to brown slightly. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before eating. Although they will smell incredibly tempting.

Ladies (and gentlemen) these macaroons are delicious. They are fragrant and nutty. When I served them at a holiday party, my guests simply devoured them. But they are just as nice to eat in a more solitary manner with a nice cup of tea.

Since I used store-bought ground almonds, I imagine my mix was much less oily than it would be if ground from fresh almonds. I added 2T of butter to restore that oil and compensate for not using greasy ambergris, suet, or musk as suggested. The recipe talks about slicing, but there was no way I could slice my sticky cookie mix.

While I think that toasting the almond mix deepened the flavor, I think you could skip that step if you were in a hurry or concerned about burning the mix. However, I think either baking parchment or very well-greased pan is essential to getting these cookies onto a plate in one piece.

Try them with whole almonds or ground, with orange blossom water or other spices.

My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs

 

CookingArchives-4184

Photo by Carley Storm Photography http://www.carleystormphotography.com

It’s high time that we talk about jumballs. We were initially mystified by the moniker, but jumballs are a classic early modern treat: A rich, satisfying, highly-spiced, shortbread cookie. They are the single most delicious thing we’ve cooked from the archives to date.

Even a quick search to define the term revealed the jumball’s long-term popularity, from Gervase Markam’s classic English Housewife (1649) to the iconic Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1888), with examples on many other historical cookery sites like this one. The Oxford English Dictionary generalizes among the range of different spices and methods in these various recipes to define early modern jumballs as a “kind of fine sweet cake or biscuit, formerly often made up in the form of rings or rolls.”

In LJS 165 there are two recipes for jumballs back to back: “To Make Jumballs / My Mother Anges receipt” and “My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs.” We thought that the first recipe’s mention of the compiler’s mother (or another source’s mother) was a poignant look into the perennial practice of handing down knowledge from mother to child, most likely mother to daughter. But the final instruction in that first recipe — soaking the baked jumballs in vinegar overnight — was not especially appealing, although it is very likely an excellent method for preserving the biscuits.  Besides, who among us can take delicious cookies out of the oven and not eat them immediately? We decided to prepare the second recipe instead: “My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs.” (If any readers try the alternate recipe, we’d love to hear how it turns out.)

The Recipe

jumballs

My Lady Chanworths receip[t  for] Jumballs

Take one pound of shuger, one pound & a halfe of fflower, two
spoonfull of Carraway seeds, mix them well & a quarter of a sponfull
of Coriander seeds, one pound of Butter melted with 2 spunfulls
of rose water, put to that the yolkes of 4 Eggs beaten
and worke all to a fine paist with a quarter of a pound of Almons
finely beaten worke all these together like bisket roles
and bake it after browne Bread

Like other sweet and savory recipes from the period, this recipe uses fragrant whole caraway and coriander seeds enlivened by aromatic rose water, the richness of egg yolks and butter, and the deep nuttiness of ground almonds. Other than halving the quantities in the recipe (which still made a lot of cookies) we’ve made no changes to the dough mix and simply reformatted the instructions into a modern style below.

Now, there are a wide variety of ways to shape jumball dough before baking. Recipes call for twisting, rolling, slicing, and folding. Given the texture of the jumball dough in a very hot kitchen (summer in Philadelphia) we decided to follow a classic shortbread method and to roll our dough into a long log, slice cookies 1/4 inch thick, and bake them. (If you try this recipe and shape them differently, send us a photo!)

Our Recipe

*Halved from the original. We also used a baking scale for this one, but we’ve included approximate volume measurements.

1/2 lb sugar (1c)
3/4 lb flour (2 3/4 c)
1 t caraway seeds
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 lb butter, melted (2 sticks or 16 T)
1 t rosewater
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/8 lb. ground almonds (generous 1/2 c)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix flour, sugar, and spices in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Add melted butter, rosewater, egg yolks, and ground almonds and mix until a uniform dough forms.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and shape into cookies. We did this by rolling the dough into a log and slicing 1/4 inch cookies, but there are many other ways to shape this kind of dough.

Bake 20 minutes or until brown around the edges. Cool on a rack before devouring, if you have the willpower.

Results

They don’t look like much when you lift them onto the cooling rack (does shortbread ever look impressive?). But the aroma of spice and sweet gives it all away.

Jumballs are truly delicious. Their balance of nut and spice, fragrance and buttery texture is divine. They’d hold their own in a spread of cookies. We’ve since learned that they pair well with Italian Cheese, but we suspected from the beginning that they would complement vanilla ice cream, custard, fresh fruit, or a simple cup of tea.

When we shared these with unsuspecting friends they were bowled-over by the surprising and delightful presence of coriander. And their first guess was that we’d found the recipe on one of the latest trendy food blogs, not through this archival project. We’ll be making these again.

 

Shrewsbury Cakes

{Today’s post is also published on Unique at Penn, a blog maintained by Penn libraries to highlight their collections. Since we’ve been exploring the library’s manuscript recipe books, we’re thrilled to share one of our finished recipe with Unique at Penn’s readers.}

One of the things we’ve been struck by along the way in this stroll through the culinary archives has been the similarity of certain recipes to many we follow today.  This holds true particularly for baked goods. (Except the notorious fish custard.) We weren’t quite sure what to expect from these “Shrewsbury cakes” – small cakes? Pancakes? Drop cookies? It turns out that Shrewsbury cakes are basically early modern snickerdoodles.

This recipe comes from MS Codex 625, a manuscript recipe book that belonged to a student in a London cooking school in the early eighteenth century. The pastry school was owned by Edward Kidder, who taught at a few locations in London between around 1720 and 1734. Blank books with printed title pages seem to have been used by students to write down recipes they learned. Kidder also published his recipes in the printed volume, Receipts for Pastry and Cookery, in 1720.

The Recipe

shrewsbury cakes

Shrewsbury Cakes.

Take a pound of fresh butter a pound of double
refind sugar sifted fine a little beaten
mace & 4 eggs beat them all together with.
your hands till tis very leight & looks
curdling you put thereto a pound & 1/2 of
flower roul them out into little cakes

Our recipe (halved from the original)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 lb. sugar
1/4 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 lb. flour

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and mix at medium speed until the mixture looks curdled. Sift together dry ingredients and add at low speed until just combined. Scoop and roll the dough by hand into 1-tbsp. balls, then pat flat. [You could also refrigerate the dough until it’s firm enough to roll out on a flat surface and cut out into rounds.]

Bake  at 350F for 15-18 minutes (ours were about 1/3″ thick, so you could roll them thinner and have a slightly shorter cooking time) They’re done once they turn the slightest bit brown around the edges. This halved recipe yielded about two dozen cookies.

The Results

If you like snickerdoodles (and who doesn’t?), you’d like these. We added the cinnamon because we like it and couldn’t resist, and we thought it rounded out the mace nicely. These are mild, fairly soft cookies that are great with tea. We rolled and patted the dough into individual cookies because it was too soft and stick to roll out, but a little bit more flour and a stint in the fridge might make the dough easier to work with a rolling pin.