Toast: for the weakness of the back

I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library a few times over the summer to develop updated recipes for an upcoming exhibition, First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas. I cannot wait to share these recipes with you this winter. If you live in DC or plan to visit, make sure you check this out!

As I looked at printed books and manuscripts that had been selected for display in the exhibition, I had the pleasure of revisiting Margaret Baker’s recipe book, Folger V.a.619. I’ve previously worked on this book with undergraduate researchers and I wrote about it here. Reading through the manuscript again, I noticed a medicinal recipe that looked decidedly scrumptious: toasted manchet bread with egg and spices. As a devotee of toast in all its glorious forms, I knew I had to test this one.

The Recipe

This recipe is “for the weakness of the back” and calls for bread, egg yolk, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  These spices are known for their warming and energizing qualities. From my preliminary research on humoral medical treatments, I gather that the cinnamon and nutmeg might strengthen a phlegmatic patient by warming the body and reducing phlegm. The instruction to eat this first thing in the morning might help the patient disperse phlegm that had accumulated in the back of the body overnight.

for the weakness of the back
take 2 tostes of manchets the take the yolke of a new lead egge
and spread itt uppon the tosts and flinge uppon itt the powder of
sinemen and nutmegge and let the party eate of it first in the
morninge

I tested this recipe on a chilly morning and quickly devoured a slice with a cup of coffee. Somewhere between French toast and cinnamon toast, the combination of the rich egg yolks and the warming spices was delightful.

The original recipe calls for raw egg on toasted bread sprinkled with spices. I assume that bread toasted on a hearth would be quite hot and would interact with the yolk. Cooking mine in a skillet on a conventional stove, I opted to add butter and cook the eggy side of the bread, too. This is a recipe I would love to try again on a hearth or open fire. I hope some of you do so and tell me about it in the comments!

toast

Updated Recipe

serves 1-2

2 pieces of bread
2 egg yolks
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
1 T butter

Heat a heavy pan and add the butter. (I used a cast ion skillet.) Toast one side of the bread in the butter, then flip.

Mix the egg yolks with the spices. Spoon over the first, toasted side. Flip when the bottom is toasted and quickly cook the eggy side.

Eat immediately.

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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.619). 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!