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

128527

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.

 

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Turnips and carrots, For a ffridays dish of meat

Half of the cookbooks in my house are out. They’re opened to enticing recipes and stuffed with paper bookmarks. My spouse and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and our imaginations are running wild. Thankfully, we’ll have some help from guests with crucial dishes.

Turnips

Since the early modern recipe books that I’m researching are from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, they do not dwell on Thanksgiving in the same way that they celebrate holidays like Christmas or even seasonal changes associated with planting and harvest. These recipe books show the slow importation and integration of ingredients from the Americas such as chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, and, of course, sugar, but you won’t find cranberry sauce or pecan pie. These family manuscripts do, however, include many dishes that would be welcome on a Thanksgiving table. I’ve been looking back over recipes on this site for carrot pudding, caraway buns, macaroni cheese, and stewed peas that will compliment the yams, green beans, and turkey.

This turnip and carrot side dish that I found in Lettice Pudsey recipe book, now  Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.a.450, fits the bill. Pudsey includes the date 1675 in her cookbook and the recipes in it are a range of late seventeenth-century favorites. These savory and flavorful root vegetables make a delicious dish to be served with roast meat or on its own.

Original Recipe

For a ffridays dish of meat : /
tack turnipes whit & cleane washed; & if you pleas a
carriot or tow amongst them ffinely minced: putt them
into a dish with butter uppone a chafing dish of coles: then
beatt seauen or eight Egges togather very well: & stire them
with the turnipes until the beegin to harden: & thereto
putt uiniger & peper : /

Turnips sometimes get bad press, but they’re packed with flavor and grow wonderfully throughout Europe and Asia where they have been cultivated for ages. Deborah Madison’s brilliant cookbook Vegetable Literacy and my spouse’s roasting efforts have taught me to love these humble root vegetables. Vinegar elevates this dish and harmonizes the flavors. The butter and eggs compliment the turnip’s sharp flavors and the carrots add sweetness. To learn more about how our carrots became sweet and orange, listen to this fascinating episode of the Gastropod podcast that blew my mind earlier this month.

Updated Recipe

I roughly halved the original recipe to make this in a small casserole dish. This dish can easily be prepared in advance. It reheats beautifully in an oven or microwave.

3 turnips
2 carrots
3T butter
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1t apple cider vinegar (or other light vinegar)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Prepare a buttered casserole dish.

Clean and peel the turnips. Cut them in half and then in pieces. The number of pieces will depend on the size of your turnips, but the resulting pieces should be bite size.

Clean the carrots. Peel them if you prefer to do so. Cut into rounds 1/4 inch thick.

Put the vegetables in the prepared dish. Season with pepper and salt. Dollop the butter on top of the vegetables. Pour the eggs over the dish evenly and allow to settle amongst the vegetables.

Bake for about 50 minutes until the eggs are starting to set and the vegetables soften. Add the vinegar. Cook about 20 minutes more until the dish is golden and bubbling and the vegetables are tender when poked with a fork.

turnips

The Results

This is comfort food: rich, flavorful, sweet, savory, and satisfying. The eggs and butter mollify the turnips without disguising their distinct tang. Carrots and vinegar add brightness to a dish that would otherwise be stodgy. These turnips and carrots would stand up alongside roast beef, a cooked chicken, pork sausages, or even, roast turkey.