Hippocras, or spiced wine

Hippocras is a kind of spiced wine. As Paul Lukacs writes in his book Inventing Wine, wine drinkers at all levels of society in medieval and early modern Europe drank spiced wines, “Spices not only would disguise a wine beginning to turn bad but also could make an otherwise dry wine taste somewhat sweet. And medieval men and women craved sweets. They used cloves, cinnamon, honey, and the like to season” their wines and their foods (43). Wines made before the invention of modern bottling technologies were highly perishable and markedly different from the wines we drink today. According to Lukacs, some were made from raisins and fermented to be sweeter and almost syrupy in texture, others were thin and sour depending on age and style. Fresh from harvest in the autumn, cloudy and fragrant wines were shipped in huge volumes from France, Italy, Germany, and later Spain to wine-consuming countries such as England which did not (at that time) have a local wine industry of its own. Adding spices to these wines as they aged made them more palatable and also added health benefits from the spices themselves. After the wine was infused with spices and sweetener, but before it was served, it was strained through a linen “hippocras bag” to remove the spices and other flavoring. This linen bag was named after Hippocrates, the ancient physician who advised the consumption of spiced wine drinks and was thought to have strained them through his voluminous sleeves.

I’m excited about this post because I developed a hippocras recipe that I think is truly delicious and I learned a lot along the way. After many hours in the reading room at the UPenn library and many more hours clicking through digital images of manuscripts and printed books online looking for Hippocras (or its variant spellings Ipocras , Ypocras, Hypocrass, Hippocris, and Hipocras), I decided to prepare a recipe “To make Ipocras” from Robert May’s The accomplisht cook, a very popular cookbook that was first published in London in 1660. I’ve been thinking about May quite a bit over the last six months and I updated another recipe from this cookbook for the upcoming exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas. (Stay tuned for that recipe!) May’s Ipocras recipe beautifully seasons the wine without eradicating the original flavors. This was especially important to me because I was using a wonderful 2016 Côtes du Rhône made by Clovis thanks to T. Edward Wines. The wine is delicious on its own and I knew, with proper care, it would make a delicious hippocras as well.

Below, you will find May’s recipe, my updated version of it, and quite a few hippocras recipes from manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Clark Library, and UPenn Library. These recipes showcase a range of methods and I’ve including images and transcriptions below. I might make them someday, but feel free to experiment and let me know how things go in the comments.

May’s Ipocras Recipe

To make Ipocras.

TAke to a gallon of wine, three ounces of cinamon, two ounces of slic’t ginger, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, an ounce of mace, twenty corns of pepper, an ounce of nutmegs, three pound of sugar, and two quarts of cream.

Otherwayes.

Take to a pottle of wine an ounce of cinamon, an ounce of ginger, an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, seven corns of pepper, a handfull of rosemary flowers, and two pound of sugar.
Robert May, The accomplisht cook, or The art and mystery of cookery. Wherein the whole art is revealed in a more easie and perfect method, then hath been publisht in any language. Expert and ready wayes for the dressing of all sorts of flesh, fowl, and fish; the raising of pastes; the best directions for all manner of kickshaws, and the most poinant sauces; with the tearms of carving and sewing. An exact account of all dishes for the season; with other a la mode curiosities. Together with the lively illustrations of such necessary figures as are referred to practice. / Approved by the fifty years experience and industry of Robert May, in his attendance on several persons of honour. (London: Printed by R.W. for Nath. Brooke, at the sign of the Angel in Cornhill, 1660), Wing M1391. Photo courtesy of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts. (T3r).
I decided to follow May’s instructions for “Otherwayes … To make Ipocras.” As I show below (and you can see above in May’s first recipe), many Hippocras recipes are intended for white wine, add sack, or use milk or cream during the straining process. May’s “Otherwayes” showcases the characteristics of the original wine as well as the added spices.

May’s Ipocras Updated

1 bottle red wine (ideally an earthy Côtes du Rhône like this one from Clovis)
4 cinnamon sticks
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
2 slices of a whole nutmeg, or 1/4 t ground
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns
2 springs fresh rosemary
1/3-1/2 c sugar (optional, I preferred it without)

Combine the wine, spices, and sugar (if using). Cover tightly and let infuse at room temperature for 24 hours before you plan to serve it.

Strain out spices before serving using a metal or cloth strainer.

The first scent that reaches my nose is rosemary, then cinnamon, then the aroma of the wine itself. The cloves, pepper, and nutmeg all appear in the first sip. Within hours of first pouring it, the hippocras was all gone. The neighbors that stopped in to taste it loved it. One likened it to a brandy cocktail. Another thought the spice flavors were similar to Charoset, the fruit paste from the Passover seder. We all preferred the unsweetened hippocras. In this, we are probably unlike May’s original audience who had quite a sweet-tooth.

Other ways to make Hippocras
May’s recipe adds the flavors of spice and sweetness to red wine. Other Hippocras recipes take a range of approaches. I’ve also recently tested Mary Baumfylde’s recipe for White Hippocras from Folger V.a.456 for another essay I’m working on. This recipe uses a “milk punch” method to clarify and strain the hippocras. After the initial infusion, milk is added. It curdles and the curdled milk solids are strained out along with the spices. This made a very tasty drink, but I could not taste any of the characteristics of the wine at the base. These hippocras recipes below are all promising, but all showcase fewer of the original wine’s characteristics due to the addition of lemon juice, other alcohol such as sack, or milk.
This white wine and sack Hypocrass is from Elisabeth Hawar’s recipe book now held at the Clark Library in fMS.1975.003. It is likely that Elisabeth, or another owner, lived in East London as the book includes manuscript directions to places in Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

To Make Hypocrass

Take 3 pints of white wine & a quart of Sack & a
pinte of milk, Sinamon 2 oz Ginger 1 oz of Nutmegs
2/1 an oz beaten of Cloves halfe a pennyworth, 2 t of
powder shuger or else all the spice & shuger must be
steeped in the Sack all night, Red Rose water 6 spoonefull
one bunch of Rosemary & 3 bay leaves lett it run throw
a bagg till it be as clear as rock water

This recipe from Judith Bedingfield’s manuscript at UPenn (Ms. Codex 631) is driven by orange flavors, includes apples (pippen), and uses the milk punch method. The wine infuses with the sweetness and the spices and once the milk is added it curdles. When the curdled solids are removed, the mixture is clarified and flavorful.

To Make good Hippocras, red or White

To Make the Quantity of two Quarts, you must take two Quarts of good French White Wine
or Red Wine is much better if it be of a very good Red: on the said two Quarts of wine you’ll
put a Pound of Loaf sugar, the Juice of two Lemons, seven or eight thin Slices of Sevill
orange peel, if you have any Portugal Oranges you’ll put in the Juice of one, with ten
or twelve Zests, or thin Slices of the Peel of the same Orange. if you have none there needs
none. you’ll  put also on the said two Quarts  of wine one Dram of Cinnamon broke a little
four Cloves broke in two, a Leaf or two of mace, five or six Grains of White Pepper, half
broken, & a small handful of Coriander seeds, also half broken or beaten, half a golden Pippen
or, if small, a whole one, peel’d & cut into Slices, & half a Pint of good Milk: then stir them
well together with a spoon, & strain it through a clear straining Bag,  untill it comes clear;
& when it is very clear & transparent, make it run into a jug or any thing else that you’ll
cover with a strainer (that is named Stamine) & so let it run through that into your jug:
then take, on the Point of a Knife, some musk & Amber Powder. #

Alternatively, this recipe from UPenn LJS 165 uses all sack, a sweet wine from Spain or Portugal and precursor to modern sherry.

Hippocris to make

Take 1/2 a pound of Curran seed 3 ounces of long pepper
6 ounces of Cinamon: 2 Ounces of ginger 1 ounce of Nutm[eg]
a Sprig of Rosemary a Lemon Sliced 6 quarts of of Skimed mi[lk]
but not Sower, 6 pound of cleane suger 6 gallons of sack steep
(but the Milke and suger) in the sack 6 dayes Stir it twice or th[xx]
a day put it into a large Tub & poure in the Milke leasurely th[xx]
stirring the sack very fast putting in the suger into the Tub before
let it run through the bag

Lady Grace Castleton’s recipe book Folger Ms. V.a.600 includes a receipt “To make Hipochras” from a “Lady Cauendishe.” This version includes cardamon and, like the previous examples, starts with white wine and is strained with milk.

To make Hipochras L[ady] Chauendishe 85
Take a pound of white lump sugar, two ounces
of symonan, a quarter of ounce of gingar, &
a quarter of an ounce of cloves, bruse these
spices, & put them with the sugar to steep in
a gallon of good white wine, stir them
well together, & lett them stand all night clos
covered in astone pott, in the mourning putt
halfe a pint of new milk in’t, & lett it run
through a jellye bagg, wetting it first in
milkwringe it out again, Lett it
run through the bag, soo often till it be cliar
taste stronge of the spices, a few cardemum
seedes a mongst the spices will give it agood
taste.

Hippocras took many forms. Enlivened with spices and fruit, enhanced with strong sack, or tempered with dairy, Hippocras recipes were designed to healthfully and deliciously amend premodern wines. Despite what Lukacs and others suggest about early modern cooks using spices to amend spoiled wines, the Castleton and Bedingfield recipes insist on starting with good wines. That way, the resulting spiced wines will be as delicious and efficacious as possible.

Special thanks to Daniel Veraldi and T. Edward Wines for supplying the Clovis 2016 Côtes du Rhône.

 

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Rice Pudding Two Ways 

We wrote a version of this post over on The Recipes Project.

Rice pudding is simple. Neutral in color and mild in taste, rice pudding has a minimal list of ingredients and always pleases a crowd. It’s also familiar – most of us have  encountered rice pudding at one time or another. So, when we kept seeing lists of rice pudding recipes in manuscript recipe books from many centuries, we wondered: why rice pudding? And what, if any, differences were there between past and present versions? So, we decided to make not one but two distinct rice pudding recipes. A rice pudding face-off!

While in the twenty-first century the ingredients required to make rice pudding are pantry staples – rice and sugar are readily available, as is dairy – in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English households, rice pudding was probably a more exotic affair. After all, England does not produce any of its own rice. We asked another question: where did this rice come from?

This sent us on a hunt for early modern England’s rice suppliers. Today, as in the past, the majority of the world’s rice is produced in Asia. Until the later decades of the seventeenth century, England’s rice came from Asia through overland routes or through overseas trade. (For more information, see Renee Marton’s Rice: A Global History and Rice: Global Networks and New Histories, ed. Francesca Bray et al.) The rice that made its way into England’s kitchens in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would likely have come from British colonies in South Carolina. Carolina Gold Rice was developed from African seed stock and is distinct from Asian varieties.* It thrived in the Low Country, anchored South Carolina’s economy, and was largely cultivated by African slaves. Scholars of American history and food are currently debating the theory of “Black Rice,” first proposed by Judith Carney, which argues for the centrality of West African women’s agricultural knowledge to the successful cultivation of rice in the Carolinas. *[Correction: Naomi Duguid pointed out that Carolina Gold Rice is neither from Africa nor indigenous to the Americas. It most likely arrived on a ship from Madagascar or the East Indies. See her book, The Seductions of Rice, on this topic.]

Chefs and food writers often refer to this meeting of cultures, climates, and ingredients as the Carolina Rice Kitchen. Rice was the foundation of a local cuisine and an important export. Non-aromatic but nutty, Carolina Gold Rice was world-renowned. The PBS show Mind of a Chef included this animated history of Carolina Rice in an episode where Chef Sean Brock makes a passionate case for recovering lost food traditions. For more information about Carolina Gold Rice and southern heritage foods, take a look at these resources: Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, the Southern Foodways Alliance, Anson Mills, and food historian David Shields’ new book, Southern Provisions. The recipes we decided to cook for this rice pudding-off were both included in manuscripts from a particular historical moment: the moment when the rice supply-chain changed and Carolina Gold Rice arrived in England’s kitchens.

Our rice puddings come from LJS 165 and MS Codex 631. Each recipe is just one in a cluster of rice pudding recipes, demonstrating cooks’ variations on a base recipe that we’ve seen with other dishes like jumballs and syllabubs.  (Rice pudding could also be turned into other recipes: two rice pudding recipes in MS Codex 631 include instructions for adapting them to almond puddings instead.) For contrast, we chose to cook one recipe that started with whole rice and another that used rice flour as a base.

Indeed, we were intrigued, even surprised, to see rice flour in an eighteenth-century recipe. More and more modern cookbooks are exploring a wide range of flours, but what was the place of rice flour in early modern cooking? Rice flour (often “rice flower” or “flowre”) was used as a thickening agent in a range of early modern dishes. Seventeenth-century print cookbooks like The Compleat English and French Cook (1690) and Joseph Cooper’s The Art of Cookery (1654) both call for rice flour in “Cream with Snow” (sweetened cream thickened with rice flour and eggs, then topped with more cream). They also use rice flour in Almond Cream and Rice Cream, as does The Compleat Cook (1694), which also provides a recipe for “Custard without Eggs” using rice flour. The Gentlewomans Cabinet Unlocked (1675) tells how to make Rice Milk. Other rice flour puddings can be found; some add chopped dates and/or currants to the mixture, while others top the pudding with a pastry crust. The use of rice flour as a thickening agent continued well into the eighteenth century: print cookbooks like A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery (1714), The Court and Country Confectioner (1770), and Amelia Chambers’ The Ladies Best Companion (1775?) often use rice flour in cheesecakes and in the filling for chocolate tarts.

IMG_4764

The Recipes

A whole grain rice pudding from LJS 165.

rice puding

Rice Puding
A quart of Creame a pound of Rice 2 Eggs, Orangado a
1/4 of a pound, Cinamon a quarter of a pound an Ounce, a
little Rosewater & Ambergreese some grated bread 3/4 of a
pound of suger some Marrow boyle Salt in the Creame

Apparently it is still trendy to flavor rice pudding with cinnamon and orange because a quick search turned up this Food Network recipe. I made two small changes to this recipe: I halved it (and it still made a huge amount) and I didn’t add aromatic ambergris and bone marrow to the mixture.  In retrospect, I also wonder if a combination of milk and cream might work better here than cream and the water I added to stop the rice from sticking. After all the talk about Carolina Gold Rice, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I tried this recipe with Jasmine Rice instead. It’s what I had to hand and it worked, although I’m sure Carolina Gold Rice would add a distinctly nutty flavor to the pudding.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar (3/8 lb. or 165 g.)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. rosewater
1/4 tsp. salt
3-4 strips of orange peel
1 cup and 2 tbsp. rice (1/2 lb. or 225 g.), preferably Carolina Gold Rice
1 egg
1 small piece of bread, grated. Or 2 tbsp. bread crumbs.

Heat the cream, sugar, and seasonings: cinnamon, orange peel, and rosewater.
Add the rice and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 45 min-1 hour until the rice is tender. Stir frequently (every 5-10 minutes) to keep the rice from sticking. Add additional water if the  liquid is very low and the rice is still hard.
When the rice is cooked, stir in the egg and bread. Cook for 5 more minutes.

Rice flour puddings from MS Codex 631.

rice flour pudding

To Make a Rice Pudding

Take six ounces of Rice flower a quart of milk set them over [th]e fire & stir them well
together while they are thick, then put in half a pound of Butter six eggs one nutmeg sweeten
it to y[ou]r tast, Buter y[ou]r Dish that you Bake it in /

I halved this and used ground nutmeg because that’s what I had; otherwise, I followed the original recipe closely.

3 oz. rice flour (~1/2 c.)
2 c. milk
1 stick butter, diced
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tbsp. sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter/spray a 9″ pie dish or similar baking dish. Combine the rice flour and milk in a saucepan; cook over low-med. heat, whisking frequently. The mixture will thicken quite suddenly, so be attentive! Off the heat, stir in the butter, eggs, nutmeg, and sugar. Bake for 40 mins., until top is puffed and golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temp.

 The Results

Our rice pudding-off was a success! These rice pudding couldn’t look or taste more different. The “whole grain” rice pudding  from LJS 165 is toothsome, with surprising depth of flavor from the caramelized  sugar and rosewater. The cinnamon adds a spicy note, but the orange flavor is harder to identify. We might switch out the rosewater for orange flower water next time. (If you are not a fan of rosewater, you can probably leave it out altogether.) This rice pudding is especially thick. Even before we added the egg and the grated bread the mixture was already dense. The eggs and bread may have been intended to add bulk to the dish, as rice was certainly more expensive than stale bread!

The rice flour pudding, on the other hand, is fairly bland. Nutmeg is the primary seasoning; even the strong notes of nutmeg don’t cut just how creamy this pudding tastes. (Note: some more sugar or some honey might be welcome. However, this doesn’t seem meant to be overly sweet, unlike the whole grain version.) It reminded us of buttermilk pie and South African milk tart, with an even firmer baked texture. It would form a good base for other tastes: served with fresh or stewed fruit, for instance, or with additional flavors added to the pudding.

In the eighteenth century, rice pudding represented the world in a bowl. Rice from West African seeds was cultivated in American soil by enslaved Africans in the Carolinas and shipped east across the Atlantic to England. The sugar probably came from the Caribbean. Nutmeg and cinnamon from places like the Moluccas made their way west through Asian and European ports. Oranges imported from Seville and other warmer climates scented the dish. The eggs, milk, cream, and bread are the only ingredients early modern cooks would have been able to source locally. These ingredients rely on both trade and labor – their production depended on plantation agriculture and their presence in England came from a highly developed global transport network. It’s not as if these structures don’t underpin many – if not all – of the recipes we’ve cooked so far. However, paying particular attention to this single ingredient, rice, has  challenged us to consider how ingredients entered early modern kitchens in the first place, even before they became the recipes in a household manuscript.

What surprised us most about making these dueling rice puddings was not the questions of culinary and  economic history they raised up, but the true difference in taste. In both, the taste of the rice remains – even through the single note of nutmeg in the rice flour pudding and the dense combination of flavors in the rice grain pudding. The taste difference, furthermore, is deliberate: the presence of multiple rice pudding recipes – similar but distinct – within the same manuscript recipe book indicates attempts to explore the versatility of this ingredient, to incorporate other flavors into a recipe that has one umbrella name but many flavorings and techniques. We’d be curious to taste these again using heritage rices, direct descendants of the Carolina Gold Rice these cooks and their contemporaries would most likely have used. In both cases, we were able to follow the ingredients and techniques fairly closely (minus ambergris and marrow), so what we tasted in our dueling rice puddings seems, to us, a likely descendant of these puddings as they were originally prepared.

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Notes towards roasting a lobster

To take a break from roast poultry, I wrote about a recipe for roast lobster from MS LJS 165 for The Appendix Blog. You can click here to read the full post.

Since I haven’t yet tried the recipe and roasted a lobster in my own kitchen, this post does not follow our normal format. But I didn’t want you, dear reader, to miss out on a potentially delicious archival preparation for this mighty crustacean.  I’ve copied  my transcription of the recipe and a few notes below in case any of you are brave enough to give it a try. Let us know how it goes!

We’re working on some tasty holiday recipes to share with this season. Until then, consider roasting a lobster. Or give this brilliant Financial Times article about cooking traditional Christmas dishes with food historian Ivan Day a read.

roast lobster

To Roast a Lobster
Take Lobsters alive tye them to a spitt with tap[e]
when they begin to be hott baste them with white wine
Vinegar, & salt mixt, when turn red baste them with
butter very well & still as they dry baste them as l[on]g
as they roste, you may know when enough by the
gravy. when leaves dropping they are enough –

sawce see below

Sawce for Lobsters
1/2 pint white wine or to your quantity put in some swe[et]
hearbes 2 anchovis a litle horseredish a litle lemonpeal
& onion boyle it well then take out the time & oinion & put
some grated nuttmeg the gravy of the Lobsters and then
boyle it again & stirr in a good pees of butter, if
they are large they will be 2 howres aroasting

Tied to a stake, the lobsters are roasted over a fire and basted with butter for approximately two hours. An accompanying white wine and butter sauce, seasoned with anchovies, horseradish, lemon, onion, and nutmeg, complements the rich flavor of the lobster itself.

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.

 

 

Fish Custard

Update: Since we posted this recipe, we’ve learned that our fish custard might have been tastier had we prepared it using different methods and ingredients. Please see the comments for a variety of helpful suggestions. And if you successfully recreate this dish, please let us know!

Some recipes should stay in the archives.

We’ve had surprising success so far with these early modern recipes. All have been edible, most have been pretty tasty, and a few – like the inaugural mac and cheese and some spiced “jumball” cookies we’ll tell you about soon – have been downright great. So, we thought, let’s branch out and have a more daring culinary adventure. When Marissa found this recipe for “fish custard” (that’s right, Marissa, I’m blaming you), we thought immediately of Doctor Who’s infamous snack:

doctor-who-fish-custard_1653637_GIFSoup.com (1)

The Doctor makes fish fingers and custard look pretty tasty. And while we suspected that fish custard might not prove our favorite recipe from this project, how bad could it really be?

Bad. So. Very. Bad.

This fish custard comes from UPenn Manuscript LJS 165, a collection of  recipes in multiple hands, written and gathered together sometime between 1690 and 1802. Readers could consult the collection to find other culinary recipes but also to find out about various household remedies, like how to cure colic (presumably, by not making someone eat this dish) or to kill moths (probably by setting out a bowl of fish custard, thereby driving all living things out of the vicinity).

Please don’t try this at home. No, really. Please don’t.

 

The Recipe

fish custard

ffish Custard

One pound of Almons beat them small, in the beating

put in the Row of a Pike 4 dates cut and the yolkes of

4 Eggs temper it with cold water Straine it through a

Strainer & make a quart of it Season it with Suger Rosewater

Salt pxxxxe beaten Mace When it is Baked scrape suger on

Our version:

1 c. ground almonds

1 to 1 1/2 tbsp. fish roe (ours was salmon)

3 dates, seeded and roughly chopped

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

1/4 c. whole milk

1/4 c. sugar

1 tsp. rosewater

1/8 tsp. ground mace

a few pinches of salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a small casserole dish. Stir together all ingredients, then spread evenly in casserole dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

We quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be a traditional custard – the ratio of almonds to dairy is much too high to produce anything like a creamy texture. (The original recipe did include straining, but that would have removed all of the almonds and dates, which seemed counterproductive.) To make the mixture stir-able, we added a few spoonfuls of milk. We were unsure how vigorously to beat in the fish roe: should the eggs be broken down and, liquified, dispersed evenly throughout the custard? Or should they maintain their shape? We erred on the side of folding them in gently. It’s possible that we should have put the whole mixture in the food processor; this might have improved the final texture somewhat, though it’s unlikely to have helped the taste.

This recipe raised some interesting questions for us about interpreting early modern culinary instructions: with other recipes, we’ve had some idea of how they would turn out, especially when we started cooking and realized that they resembled some modern-day counterpart. This similarity provided some guidance; even when the original recipe’s instructions weren’t quite clear to us, we could extrapolate from other knowledge and proceed with some degree of confidence. The addition of the fish roe, in fact, threw us off less than the realization that this “custard” would not resemble anything we would call by that name. We were apprehensive – which seems a valid reaction to a fishy dessert – but also curious. What would the texture be like? Would the fish roe somehow pair beautifully with the almonds and dates in a salty-earthy-sweet combination?

 

The Results

Big surprise: dates, almonds, and fish roe don’t play well together. And the rosewater just made things worse. The “custard” resembled a bar cookie: very firm and sliceable into squares. In fact, it was quite dry, to the point that even if it had tasted good (ha!), eating more than a few bites wouldn’t have been very appealing. Another texture issue: baked fish roe either explodes warmly when chewed or takes on an off-putting rubberiness. We took tiny servings and managed a spoonful. (I think the fact that we did so speaks highly to our research initiative.)

So, was this failure our fault? The fault of the recipe? Should we write off early modern palates as utterly mystifying? Was the mere existence of this recipe a joke from the time-traveling Doctor? We’re willing to believe that the original execution of this recipe was probably more appealing than our effort, though we doubt that this would ever have tasted good.

Readers, we did this for you. You’re welcome. Now, please excuse me while I go brush my teeth again.