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.  

Frittars of Eggs and herbes 

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

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Frittars of eggs and herbs

Food is intimately connected to climate and season. It was for Shakespeare and his contemporaries: It is for us today. Beautiful, local produce is once again available in the northeast now that spring is turning into early summer.

In Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, Berowne insists that all things have their season “At Christmas I no more desire a rose / Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows, / But like of each thing that in season grows (1.1.109-111). Roses do not thrive in winter; snow should not fall in May; Berowne appreciates all things in their proper season. In a recent New York Times article on food, diet, and climate, the authors concur about eating seasonally: “Anything that’s in season where you live, whether you buy it at a local farmers’ market or at a supermarket, is usually a good choice.” Early modern farmers and cooks often used almanacs to determine when it was the best time to harvest, preserve, and consume particular foods. (Read more about almanacs in this post by Katie Walker and learn more about diet regimes from Ken Albala’s book Eating Right in the Renaissance.)

A recipe book held at the Folger attributed to a Mrs. Knight from the eighteenth century lists “garden stuff in season” for the months of May through December (W.b.79, 54). Knight was concerned with what was in season in her garden and when it would be available to cook and preserve.

garden stuff in season, cropped

W.b.79, 54

may: asparagus colliflowers silesia lettice cucumbers
peas bean artichokes scarlot strawberries kidney beens
Distill herbs this month
June: as above with dutch cabbagas melons young onions
carrots parsnups seleisia & cass Lettice
Jullys: pease beans kidney bean colliflowers cabbages
artickoes cabbage lettice & then sproonions cucumbers
carrots turnups musk mellons wood strawberrys
August: cabbages and their sprouts colliflower Articokes
cabbage lettice carrots onionspotatoes turnups some beans
peas & kidney beans reddishes horse raddish onions
cucumbers for pickling garlick melons

In her list for May, she notes that asparagus, lettuce, and strawberries are in season. She also remarks that this is the ideal month to distill herbs into tonics and waters for medicinal and culinary uses throughout the year. All the items for May are still in season in June and they are joined by melons, young onions, and Dutch cabbages. In August, she notes that cucumbers for pickling are ripe and, perhaps, that pickling should commence to preserve those vegetables.

When I have an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables, I often make fritters or frittata to quickly transform seasonal ingredients into something tasty and nutritious. Deb Perelman writes on Smitten Kitchen that a dish of zucchini fritters was inspired by “the zucchinis that seem to be growing in my fridge this summer; I never remember buying them but they’re always around.” I was excited to see a recipe for “Frittars of Eggs and herbes” in another Folger recipe book from the seventeenth century attributed to Lettice Pudsey (V.a.450, 2v)

The Recipe

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Frittars of Eggs and herbes
Take persle peneriall and Margerum the quantity
of a handfull finly choped put to them vi egges
a littell grated Bread and three or fouer sponfull
of Melted Butter beate them all togeather and
season itt with Salt and Suger Cloues and Mace
beaten then frye itt as yow doe a tansy & soe serue itt

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Frittars of eggs and herbs

Richly spiced with mace and clove and full flavorful fresh herbs, this savory fritter recipe is easy to prepare and satisfying as a main or side dish. When you have abundance of herbs and eggs to hand, this fritter will make good use of them. Serve with a bright salad, radishes, grilled asparagus, or other seasonal vegetables prepared simply.

A tansy, like a fritter, was an omelet-like egg dish that often included the herb tansy that also gave it its name. I tested this fritter mix as small fritters (about ¼ cup of the mix per fritter) and as a single, large fritter (rather like a frittata). Both were delicious. I’ve provided cooking instructions for both variations below. You might consider adding additional seasonal vegetables and reducing the amount of bread accordingly. The original recipe calls for “a littell grated Bread” and I decided to use chopped stale bread, instead of store-bought bread crumbs, for texture and binding. As small fritters and frittata, the batter soaked the bread and held together beautifully. I also left out the pennyroyal. Although it was used in early modern medicine and is still used in herbal remedies today, it can be toxic to humans and is far more difficult to procure than parsley and marjoram.

Eating seasonally requires culinary creativity. It is just this kind of creativity that Pudsey and Knight demonstrate in their recipe book and cooks today continue to explore and reinvent. By paying attention to what was growing in the garden, when it was ready to pick, and what might be done with it, Knight could make the most of her harvest. Since late spring and early summer is, in Knight’s account, a good time for harvesting and distilling seasonal herbs and Pudesy’s simple “frittar” recipe lets that abundance shine.

Updated Recipe

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side.

Parsley, one handful (approximately ½ cup) leaves and stems, washed and chopped

Marjoram or oregano, one handful (approximately ½ cup) leaves, washed and chopped

6 eggs
2 cups bread, torn or cut into small pieces
4 T melted butter, plus more for cooking
¼ t salt
1/8 t sugar
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t mace

Melt the butter. Set it aside and allow it to cool, Chop the greens and bread.

Lightly beat the eggs with a whisk in a large bowl and season with the salt, sugar, cloves, and mace. Stir in the parsley and marjoram. Stir in the melted butter. Stir in the bread pieces with a spoon or spatula.

To make many small fritters

Heat a large skillet, griddle, or non-stick frying pan. Grease with a small amount of butter.

Dollop fritter mix onto the pan using a ¼ cup measure. Do not crowd your fritters. Cook in batches if necessary.

Cook fritters for 2 minutes on one side and then flip them over and cook the other side for 2 minutes. They should be brown, but not burnt; cooked, but not overdone.

Serve immediately.

To make one, large fritter

Heat a 10-inch skillet or non-stick frying pan. Grease with a generous amount of butter.

Pour the fritter mix into the pan. Allow the fritter to cook undisturbed for 4 minutes. Using a spatula (or your preferred plate flipping method), turn your fritter over and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes. Test the center with a skewer to ensure that the fritter cooked on the inside when it looks beautifully browned on the outside.

Slice and serve immediately.