Sorrell with Eggs – For a Plate.

I wanted a snack. I have a planter of herbs growing on my porch. I also wanted to post a new recipe here. Luckily, UPenn MS Codex 1038 has a simple, tasty recipe for “Sorrell with Eggs.”

I first started cooking with sorrel after watching a lot of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series. This strong, spicy herb is fantastic with eggs and dairy. (Find more of Hugh’s sorrel recipes here.)

The Recipe

Sorrell with Eggs – For a Plate.
Take Two handfuls of Sorrell wash’d and Pick’d, put it in a Saucepan
with a little bit of Butter, a Dust of Flower, a little Pepper and Salt, a
Scraped Nutmeg, Stew all these a Quarter of an hour before you use it,
pour to it two or three spoonfuls of drawn Butter, and Garnish it with
hard Eggs, cut in Quarters one End of the Quarter on the Sorrell
And the other in the side of the Dish.

Lemony sorrel leaves are cooked with butter and spices, sauced with clarified butter, and served with a hardboiled egg. The note “For a Plate” and the final instructions for garnishing suggest that this dish would have appeared on a banquet table among other cold, highly-seasoned dishes.

Our Recipe

2T butter (to clarify, for serving)
1 cup sorrel leaves, washed and sliced into 1/2-inch strips
1T butter (for cooking)
1t flour
1/4 t freshly ground pepper (2-3 grinds)
1/4 t salt
1/8 t ground nutmeg (2 scrapes from a whole nutmeg)
2 eggs, hardboiled

Prepare your drawn (or clarified butter). Heat 2T butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Let cool. Skim off any foam from the top. Discard any solids at the bottom. (Martha Stewart can help you make a bigger batch to serve with boiled lobster here.)

Hardboil your eggs. (I like Heidi Sawnson’s mini recipe from Super Natural Every Day: Cover eggs with water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs cook more in the water for 7 minutes, then cool in cold water before peeling.)

Put the remaining 1T butter in a small pan over a low heat. Add the sorrel, flour, and spices. Stir to combine. The flour will thicken the sauce to form a light gray. I added a little water during cooking to thin out the mix. When the sorrel is cooked down and the mix smells good, remove from heat. This took about five minutes for me.

Plate individual servings of the sorrel mix on small plates. Add the butter. Peel and cut your egg into quarters. Artfully arrange your egg quarters so the one end is on the sorrel mix and the other end is on the plate. Season your egg with freshly ground pepper to taste. Take a photograph because it’s so pretty. Snack away.

The Results

I will likely make this again. The sharp sorrel is delicious with the buttery sauce and the yielding egg. The nutmeg adds an aromatic note. And, a bonus, the cooking process didn’t take long or make the apartment unbearably hot.

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Carrott Puff.

Carrot pudding was one our early experiments in this project, and it’s a recipe that we consistently mention when asked for our favorites. So when I found this recipe for “Carrott puff” in UPenn Ms. Codex 1038, it seemed like a good candidate for some more carrot experimentation. A go-to for us, this recipe book has also given us the caraway-studded Desart Cakes, the perplexing Artificial Potatoes, the satisfying Herb Soop, and the wonderful maccarony cheese.

Speaking of which: Marissa worked with Carley Storm Photography to make and photograph some of our favorite dishes. As we’ve joked about before, this project features a lot of beige food that can be hard to photograph, but Carley did so wonderfully. Here is the maccarony cheese’s glamor shot, and we’ll be featuring more of Carley’s photographs.

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

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

The Recipe

carrott-puff-ed

Carrott Puff.

Boyl some Carots very Tender, Scrape them, then Mash them, and
take good Cream, and Eggs, and the Whites of two–Beat them with a little
Salt and Grated Nutmeg, Mix all with a little Flower to thicken them,
then Fry them in Liquor.

Our Recipe

6 carrots
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg + 1 egg white
salt to taste
pinch nutmeg
5 tbsp. flour
oil, for frying

The Results

This was one of those choose-your-own-adventure recipes: with the exception of calling for two egg whites, it lacks specific measurements. I was thinking these would turn out something like fritters or like pancakes made with leftover mashed potatoes, which was … optimistic. But we write about our first attempts with these recipes, successful or less so, and here’s how my attempt at carrot puffs fell into the latter category.

I decided to mash the carrots by hand with a potato masher, which left them just a bit chunky. (Already sounds appealing, right?) I guessed at the cream, eggs, and flour based on general fritter-/pancake-making experience, though I played with flour along the way. The raw mixture was, shall we say, not entirely appetizing. But I maintained hope!

I fried the first few “puffs” and realized as soon as I went to flip them that they were way too soft – they slid and slumped and were generally uncooperative. I added more flour to the next batch and used more oil and a higher temperature for frying them, which helped, but they were still just not very solid. You might think, as I did, well, maybe these would taste better than they looked? Not particularly. I like carrots – carrot cake, carrot sticks, carrot salad – but these just didn’t taste like much. And they were just too fragile. As Marissa said when I told her my carrot puff woes, “I feel like the carrots have failed us this time.” The carrots, or my ingredient guesses, or a bit of both.

img_7573

I still think these sound good, and I’m reasonably sure that additional tinkering with the proportions might help. (I was running low on carrots, though, and didn’t want to waste additional supplies trying right away.) I did a little digging and found this recipe from Nigel Slater for carrot fritters, made with grated carrots and held together not only with egg and flour but with the help of parmesan. This recipe is actually similar to the proportions I used, except with less flour, so I think that additional tinkering might yield successful puffs. I was running low on carrots, though, and didn’t feel like taste-testing any more carrot puffs immediately. When and if I tackle these again, I’ll report back. In the meantime, I’ll be eating carrots as soup for a little while instead.

Herb Soop

A few weeks ago, thanks to my old friend George Leader, I was lucky enough to visit an archaeological dig at an eighteenth-century farmhouse on The College of New Jersey’s campus. I’d never been to a dig site before, so the technical details alone were fascinating: the reasoning behind determining where to dig in the first place, the standing sieve to strain buckets of earth for artifacts, the practice of wrapping fragile artifacts in foil (who knew!), the technology used to date wooden architectural features. I really dug it. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Seeing the farmhouse, getting to hold some of the artifacts unearthed that day – a metal button, a shard of blue and white pottery, and a small clay sphere that we theorized might have been a marble – made me think about this project and what we can uncover. I’m used to engaging with the past through words on a page. The archives always feel a little bit magical to me: these texts still exist centuries later, and I get to touch them, smell them, read them. I felt a similar tug at the dig, seeing artifacts being unearthed and thinking about our access to the past through what happens to have been left behind. At a basic level, archaeological investigation and archival literary research give us physical access to fragments of past lives, preserved deliberately or accidentally. You figure out where to look, but you don’t always know what you’re going to find.

This project is one of reconstruction from a distance and with pieces missing: the recipes are vestiges of what did get recorded, leaving little behind of what didn’t. Cooking from the archives creates a powerful bridge between me and the past. I will never stand in a kitchen without refrigeration, without even the possibility of electric lights, without having spent my whole baking life reaching automatically for ingredients like vanilla extract and uniform sticks of butter, but I can still approximate how Naples biscuits would have tasted nearly three hundred years ago.

There’s always a gap, though, related to how just far that bridge can reach. Working on this project has brought me up short at this gap time and again: reading handwritten manuscripts begs to know more about the person who wrote them, but there’s often little headway to be made. We can decipher handwriting, but identities are harder. This impulse isn’t just personal – it’s a question that comes up often for me and Marissa, of who wrote these recipes down, of what we know about them. Usually, not much. But this recipe left a faint trace of one of the individuals behind it.

This Herb Soop comes from UPenn MS Codex 1038, home to some of my favorites, like the Maccarony Cheese and Desart Cakes. The volume contains at least three separate hands, and we still don’t know anything about these writers. This handwriting is the second in the volume, probably written down sometime in the 1790s or early 1800s. The end of the recipe attributes it to “Lady Laroche.” (She is probably the source and not the writer of this recipe, since several subsequent recipes in the same handwriting are attributed to other women.) It is nearly impossible to know anything about the other women whose names accompany their recipes – the Mrs. Baker who gave the writer her recipe for Curd Cheescakes, the Mrs. Fordham who told her how “To make Flumery,” or the Mrs. Turner who showed how “To Dress a real Turtle as the[y] do in the West Indies,” for instance. “Lady,” however, provides direction in a way that “Mrs.” often cannot.

It turns out that this “Lady Laroche” can be one of only two women. James Laroche, a Bristol politician and slave-trader, was created baronet in August 1776. Since the baronetcy became extinct when he died in 1804 without any male heirs, this Lady Laroche has to have been one of his two wives. The first Lady Laroche was born Elizabeth-Rachel-Anne Yeamans in Antigua. An heiress (she brought at least one plantation to the marriage) and widow, she married James Laroche in 1764 and moved to England with him. After Elizabeth-Rachel-Anne died in 1781, James remarried; his second wife may also have been named Elizabeth. We know nothing else of her except that she survived her husband and died in Wales in 1824. Can we know how or even if this recipe writer and either Lady Laroche knew each other? What else they might have talked about, why this particular recipe was the one shared? No. But sometimes, even this small glimpse into archival identities feels like uncovering something satisfying.

The Recipe

Herb soopHerb soop contd

To make Herb Soop

Take Parsley, Spinnach, Cabbage Lettice, Leaves of
White Beet, Sorrell, Cucumbers, Pease & small Onions
with the green ends to them, a little Mint, and a very
little Fennell. Wash them all clean, and Chop the
Herbs very small. Season them with Pepper & Salt,
Put them into a Pot to stew with a piece of Butter
according to your quantity, but no Water. Let
them stew quite tender. Have ready boiled some
Cream or Milk, with the Yolks of Eggs beat up in it,
Mix this gently with the Herbs and serve it up.
You must not let it boil, or be on the Fire after the
Eggs are put to it. You are to observe it is not to
be a thin liquid, but more herbs than Soop. that is,
thick of the Herbs. Less than half a pound of butter
will do unless the Terene is very large. There shoud
be Cellery chopped amongs the herbs if to be had &
—-
other herbs you like but not strong of any one in particular.
Some leave out the Fennell, as it is apt to be too strong.
Lady Laroche.

Our Recipe

3 generous handfuls of spinach (about 1 1/2 c. chopped)
1/2 c. parsley, chopped
a few mint leaves, chopped
1 large or 2 small cucumbers, diced (I also seeded mine)
1-2 celery stalks, sliced thinly
1 c. chopped cabbage
3/4 c. green peas (fresh or frozen)
3 scallions, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp. salt
a few grinds of pepper
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. milk
1 egg yolk

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients except for the milk and egg yolk. Cook them over low-medium heat, stirring often enough to prevent the greens from sticking. Cook until the greens are all wilted and the cucumbers are translucent; for me, this took about 20 minutes. (Though you could probably let them “stew” even longer.) Heat the milk in the microwave or on the stove until quite hot. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and then, still whisking, add the hot milk in a steady stream. Remove the herb mixture from the heat and stir in the milk. Serve immediately.

The Results

The Soop tasted green: stewed together, the herbs and vegetables made a pleasantly flavorful whole. I’d never had cooked cucumbers before and was curious – they softened but held their shape, rather like zucchini, and provided nice texture in the soup. I liked the zip from the scallions and the chewiness of the cabbage (even if cooking it did make my kitchen rather … fragrant). In its piling together of many different herbs and vegetables, the Herb Soop felt like a precursor to some of Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes. I found it satisfying that what I was tasting was probably pretty close to some of the results this recipe would have yielded for eighteenth-century cooks: all of the ingredients remain available, the cooking technique was easily duplicated in my kitchen (albeit with the ease of a gas stove), and the methodology was specific enough that I could follow the recipe’s instructions closely.

In fact, this Herb Soop recipe is quite detailed in its ingredient list and instructions – it’s very helpful to know, for instance, that the end result should be “more herbs than Soop” – more so than many of the other recipes we’ve engaged with, like Artificial Potatoes. But it provides few precise measurements. I guessed at these proportions, determining them largely based on what I had and what I liked. (I don’t love fennel, so I’m one of those “some” the recipe mentions who “leave [it] out.” And my little produce market doesn’t carry sorrel, so I didn’t use it.) And I imagine that’s what early cooks did as well, making the soup slightly differently each time based on what needed to be used or what was available.

What else could you toss in here? Leeks, zucchini, basil, cilantro, green bell peppers – really, anything green that happens to be lurking in your crisper could make its way into this soup. Some hot pepper flakes would liven things up. I see the appeal behind the milk-and-egg liquid choice: it’s a rich addition and adds some depth to the greens. However, I might substitute some vegetable broth or chicken stock for a lighter soup. Basically, this recipe provides a wonderful alternative idea for using up the leftover greens that I normally toss into a grain salad, a stir-fry, or baked eggs.

IMG_4511

Artificial Potatoes

This recipe has been on my mind for a while. What are Artificial Potatoes? And WHY are they? I wanted to solve the mystery of the Artificial Potatoes. (The Mystery of the Artificial Potatoes: title for my first novel?) I couldn’t quite imagine from the recipe even what they would look or taste like, which is the perfect justification for a culinary experiment.

This recipe comes from Ms. Codex 1038, home to one of my favorites thus far: the Desart Cakes (which I mentally pronounce as “DeSART Cakes,” just because it’s fun). This is one of the first recipes in the book. Potatoes were introduced into England by the late seventeenth century, so the writer of this late-eighteenth-century recipe would have been familiar with “real” potatoes.

While we frequently notice recipes that crop up across multiple cookbooks (particularly for puddings), we haven’t come across another one for Artificial Potatoes. Curious, I ran a search through Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, an invaluable digital database of texts published between 1700 and 1800. And I found something interesting. Even with variant searches, only one recipe for Artificial Potatoes comes up, in Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion (1742, 11th ed.; the recipe appears through the 18th ed., 1773). While I’m sure there are other Artificial Potatoes recipes out there in manuscript and in print, this scarcity is striking. Our manuscript recipe is worth comparing with Smith’s:

Artificial Potatoes for Lent: A Side-DishSecond Course.

Take a pound of butter, put it into a stone mortar with half a pound of Naples-bisket grated, and half a pound of Jordan almonds beat small after they are blanched, eight yolks of eggs, four whites, a little sack and orange-flower-water; sweeten to your taste; pound all together till you don’t know what it is, and with a little fine flour make it into a stiff paste, lay it on a table, and have ready about two pounds of fine lard in your pan, let it boil very fast, and cut your paste the bigness of chesnuts, and throw them into the boiling lard, and let them boil till they are of a yellow brown; and when they are enough, take them up in a sieve to drain the fat from them; put them in a dish, pour sack and melted butter; strew double-refin’d sugar over the brim of the dish.
(E[liza] Smith, The Compleat Housewife [London, 1742, 11th ed.], 131-32)

That Smith identifies these Artificial Potatoes as a Lenten dish is intriguing. I don’t know of a reason why real potatoes might be off-limits during Lent, or why these fried dough balls should be particularly suited to Lent. (Any insights are welcome!) It’s also good to note that Smith identifies these as “a Side-Dish; Second Course” – not, in other words, as dessert. What we might think of as a dessert because of its ingredients (ground almonds, biscuit crumbs, sugar, flower water) wasn’t necessarily so for eighteenth-century eaters.

Smith’s recipe raises another question: what should these Artificial Potatoes look like? I assumed that they would be small and round, like new potatoes, “the bigness of chestnuts,” as Smith’s recipe directs. But the Ms. Codex 1038 recipe writer directs the cook to “Cut them into what shapes you like,” which sounds more like a flat roll-out cookie. As we’ll see, I tried both ways. But before shaping the Potatoes, I had to gather the ingredients.

 

Recipe within a Recipe: Naples Biscuits

As if these Artificial Potatoes weren’t mysterious enough on their own, they required some additional sleuthing for one of their ingredients. The recipe calls for “Naple Biscuits,” or Naples biscuits, but doesn’t provide a recipe. Research time! Naples biscuits are rosewater-flavored dry biscuits baked in small rectangular tins, similar in texture and size to our ladyfingers. Naples biscuits feature in a range of early modern recipes – for puddings, mince pies, even a possett drink. (Biscuit-crumb-enhanced cold possett? We might need to try that one.) They’re typically grated into crumbs and used as a thickening agent rather than left whole. But how to make them? Ms. Codex 1038 doesn’t contain a recipe, so I turned again to ECCO to search for Naples biscuits (or biskets). Interestingly, while a lot of eighteenth-century cookbooks call for Naples biscuits, sometimes in as many as eight recipes, they almost never include a recipe for them. My search yielded only a few recipes. This suggests either that the basic recipe was so well-known that it didn’t need to be given or, more likely, that cooks would buy Naples biscuits already made, just as we often do with ladyfingers.

I used Elizabeth Cleland’s New and Easy Method of Cookery (1759) for reference:

To make Naples Biscuits.

Take a Pound of fine Sugar pounded and sifted, a Pound of fine Flour, beat eight Eggs, with two Spoonfuls of Rose-water; mix in the Flour and Sugar, then wet it with the Eggs, and as much cold Water as will make a light Paste; beat the Paste very well, then put them in Tin Pans. Bake them in a gentle Oven.
(Elizabeth Cleland, A New and Easy Method of Cookery [Edinburgh, 1759])

My version, which halves Cleland’s:

4 eggs
1 tbsp. rosewater
1/2 lb. sugar
1/2 lb. flour

Beat eggs and rosewater (by hand or with a mixer) until frothy; add sugar and flour and beat thoroughly, until lighter in color and very well blended. If dough seems too heavy or dry, add 1 tsp. cold water at a time. (My batter held together nicely at this point, similar to a pound cake batter. Since another Naples biscuit recipe I looked at didn’t call for the addition of cold water to thin the batter, I left it out. I might try it next time to see if the water produces a slightly lighter biscuit, but these turned out just fine.)

Bake in greased madeleine pans, filled with 2 tbsp. batter each, for 14 mins. at 350F. They should be firm to the touch, lightly browned around the edges and on the scalloped bottoms, but the tops won’t have much color. Turn onto a wire rack and cool completely. Makes 20 madeleines. (Mini-muffin tins would also work.)

These Naples biscuits aren’t showstoppers, and they don’t clamor to be eaten by themselves, though I nibbled on one while making the Artificial Potatoes. They’re dense, dry, and nicely rosewater-y, and that’s about it. I understand why they were used more often as ingredient than eaten as a stand-alone treat.

IMG_4459

 

The Main Recipe

artificial potatoes
To make Artificial Potatoes.

Two Ounces of Almonds beat with a little Sack or Orange-flower Water,
2 Ounces of Naple Biscuits, 4 Ounces of Butter, 2 Eggs, but one
of the Whites, and Sweeten it with fine Sugar, beat them altogether
’till it is fine, then Mix it up with Flower to a Stiff paste, Cut them into
what shapes you like, and fry them in lard — There must be a little
melted butter sent up with them.

 

Our Recipe

2 oz. (heaping 1/2 c.) ground almonds
2 oz. Naples biscuits [2 madeleines], grated or pulsed in a food processor into crumbs*
3/4 c. flour
4 oz. (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. orange flower water (optional; you could also use sherry or rosewater)
1 egg
1 egg white
oil for frying**

Combine dry ingredients (almonds, biscuit crumbs, flour) and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the orange flower water, egg, and egg white and mix until well-combined. Dough should hold together and be soft but not too sticky.

Shape dough in one of two ways:

1) Cut or pinch off about a tbsp. of dough and roll it in your hands until fairly round. Repeat. (I also flattened these round balls slightly for one round of frying; they cooked through somewhat better.)

2) Chill dough for 10 mins. to let it firm up a bit, then roll it out on a floured board to about 1/4″ thick; punch out rounds with a cookie cutter. Smaller rounds (1.5 to 2″) are best.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat 2 tbsp. oil (see **Note) in a skillet at medium-high heat and fry the Potatoes in batches, giving them a few minutes on each side, until golden-brown. As the Potatoes are done, place them on the lined plate to absorb excess oil. I didn’t think they needed the flourish of extra melted butter on the side, but then again, melted butter never hurt anything.

*Note on pulverizing the biscuits: I grated mine on a box grater, but since the edges are quite hard, the process was pretty messy and I ended up with uneven crumb size (powdery from the edges, larger from the softer centers). I’d use a food processor next time.

**Note on frying: The original recipe calls to fry the Potatoes in lard, but I don’t exactly keep lard on hand. I fried the first batch in butter, which gave them a lovely browned-butter taste … until, of course, the butter solids started burning. I switched over to oil and had more success. So, fry in your preferred fat.

Clockwise from left: round ball, flattened ball, cut-out round

 

The Results

As sometimes happens with long-anticipated recipes, these were somewhat underwhelming. I’m still not sure what they should look like: it makes the most sense that they would look like small potatoes, but rolling and cutting them out bakes them more thoroughly and avoids a doughy center. Whatever shape, taste-wise they’re fairly bland. They’re also slightly greasy from being fried; I might actually try this recipe again but bake the rounds, just to see if they would work as cookies.

However, this experiment has taken the edge off my Artificial Potato curiosity. And now I have more than a dozen Naples biscuits in my freezer just waiting to thicken more dishes down the line.

Desart Cakes

King Arthur Flour’s Magazine Sift featured a version of our recipe here.

I’m a baker. I enjoy cooking – even more so now that we’re back in soup season – but to me there’s something special about the precise measurements that produce a perfect chocolate cake, the fiddly steps of making italian meringue frosting, the flexibility of quick bread recipes, the scooping and rolling of cookies. So I’m especially interested in the many recipes for baked goods scattered throughout the archive of recipe books we’ve been exploring. These “Desart Cakes” caught my eye – what characterizes a dessert cake? Is it not a cake but, like the snickerdoodle-esque Shrewsbury cakes, what we think of as a cookie? Could they even make the cut for my holiday cookie gift bags?

The recipe comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 1038, a fairly general compilation of recipes put together through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This particular recipe was probably written down before 1793. Marissa also whipped up and enjoyed a batch of lemonade from the same volume here. (In fact, these recipes occupy facing pages. Lemonade and cookies, anyone?)

The Recipe

desart cakes

To make Desart Cakes.

Take a pound of flower, half a pound of Sugar, One Ounce of

Caraway Seeds, make it into a Stiff paste with Cream, and Roll’d

out as thin as the finest paper and pricked full of holes or they will

Blister, then put them on tins, which you must Butter & observe

when they are Baking to take them out of the Oven as they Brown //

as they will not all Brown together — a Moderate Oven is best.

Our Recipe

[If I’m not sure how a recipe is going to turn out, I like to avoid making an enormous quantity of it. Cookies make that easy: here, I halved the recipe. which yielded 44 2″ cookies. Plenty!]

1/2 lb. flour

1/4 lb. sugar

1/2 oz. caraway seeds (about 3 tsp.)

1 1/4 c. heavy cream*

optional: 1/2 tsp. vanilla**

In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Stir in the vanilla and the cream about 1/2 c. at a time, incorporating it thoroughly before adding the next pour. (A wooden spoon works nicely here.) The dough should start to hold together in a shaggy mass damp enough to be squeezed gently into an elastic, cohesive ball. (It shouldn’t be so damp that it sticks to your fingers at all – this isn’t a particularly messy dough. If this does happen, just add a touch more flour.) ]

Preheat oven to 350F.***

Divide the dough into halves or thirds for rolling out easily. Lightly flour your surface and rolling pin; you won’t need too much flour, but repeat the step often to avoid sticking. Roll to about 1/8″ thickness – thinner if you can since the dough shrinks back slightly once on the cookie sheets. Cut out dough with any cookie cutter**** and place on a baking sheet. (I lined mine with parchment paper.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, removing cookies as they brown around the edges. Cool on a rack – and try not to eat one as soon as it’s semi-cool!

NOTES:

*How much cream to add: I added 1/2 c. to start with and then more in 1/4-c. increments until the dough held together and felt slightly elastic when squeezed in a handful. My dough was wetter than biscuit dough or pie crust, for example. It should be wet enough to hold together easily without bits crumbling off but not so sticky that it adheres to your hands.

**Adding vanilla: I thought vanilla might add some nice depth of flavor with the caraway seeds, and I think I was right. In fact, next time I might add the full teaspoon. You could also try almond extract, orange extract, or skip the extract altogether. Or even switch out the caraway seeds for poppy seeds and toss in some lemon zest. It’s a flexible recipe.

***Baking temperature: I baked one sheet at 325F for 14-16 minutes and another at 350F for 10-12 minutes. I didn’t notice any difference in browning or in crispness produced by the different temperatures, so less time at 350F should be fine. You’ll start to smell the cookies when they’re nearly done; I removed them from the oven when golden-brown on the bottom and slightly browned around the edges. I also forgot to prick holes in the first tray (oops). I did add them to the second but didn’t note any difference (or “blistering”); feel free to stab them a few times with a fork if yours seem to be puffing up.

****Cookie cutter: I chose and liked a 2.5″ biscuit cutter with fluted edge, but most shapes would work, as would the top of a drinking glass. As mentioned, the dough does shrink a bit on the cookie sheet and then in the oven – none of my circles baked up to be perfectly even, and the caraway seeds make for somewhat ragged edges, so avoid any intricate shapes.

The Results

I thought these might be bland – inoffensive, sure, but not particularly tasty – and so was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them. They’re nicely crisp (rolling them “as thin as the finest paper” really does produce the best result), sweet without being cloying, and flavorful from the caraway seeds. Plus, they smell incredible while baking! I ate the first few with a cup of tea … and then a few more later on with a glass of wine … and then a few more for breakfast the next morning in a pinch. If you like caraway seeds, you’ll like these. And if you don’t like caraway seeds, you can still like these cookies by swapping them out for poppy seeds or another variation. I might experiment with adding in some ground almonds or pistachios. (If you do some experimenting, please report back!) And indeed, some of these might even make their way into my holiday cookie rotation.

Lemonade

In August I moved to southern California from Philadelphia. Yes, dear readers, while Alyssa and I are still posting recipes we cooked together this summer, still scouring the manuscript archives at Penn in person and through digital surrogates, still scheming up delightful things to cook and share, we’re no longer working side-by-side in the kitchen. To cope with this change and steel myself for an October heatwave in the triple digits, I decided to start my weekend by making lemonade from a recipe in MS Codex 1038.

The Recipe

lemonade

To Make Lemonade.
Hamers-
ley

Boil One Quart of Spring Water, let it stand ’till it is
Milk Warm. Pare five clear Lemons very thin and put the
parings in the warm water. Let it stand all Night, the next
Morning strain off the peel thro’ a fine Lawn Sieve, Squeeze
the Juice of the five Lemons. Strain it and put it in the
Water, put in Eleven Ounces of double Refin’d Sugar, One
Spoonfull of Orange flower water. Mix these well together,
it will be fit for use.

This recipe is wonderfully lazy: Infuse the water with lemons overnight, sweeten and season it in the morning. Sip lemonade all day. Repeat.

I think that there are two valid ways to interpret this recipe’s instructions for preparing the lemons. Both interpretations depend on how one defines the verb “pare.” This recipe is from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century and according to The Oxford English Dictionary “pare” was used around this time to describe both slicing and peeling fruit. Here are two approximate paraphrases of the text above:

1) Slice five lemons very thinly and add the slices to the warm water. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze any remaining juice from the lemon slices into the mix.

2) Peel five lemons and add the peel to the warm water. Set five peeled lemons aside. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze the juice from five peeled lemons into the mix.

I decided to proceed with the first interpretation, but I’d be curious to hear from any readers who try the other method of preparation.

I was also curious about the recipe’s specification for “clear lemons.” Other historical recipes like the ones on this blog also require clear lemons. I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary again and found that “clear” was increasingly becoming a synonym for “unbruised” or “unblemished” around the time this recipe book was compiled. Following suit, I selected the best lemons I had on hand for this recipe.

In the past I’ve purchased useful and cheap ($2) orange blossom water from various Indian grocery stores to use in baking and cocktails. My choice to fix this recipe this weekend was partly inspired by finding a bottle of it in my local cheese shop. The Nielsen-Massey Orange Blossom Water is a bit stronger than other floral waters I’ve used in the past and it hold up to the acidity of the lemons in this recipe.

Our Recipe

5 lemons, sliced

1 quart water

11 ounces sugar (1 1/2 c) – or to taste

1 T orange blossom water

ice and/or sparkling water to serve

Day 1:

Boil a quart of water and set aside to cool. Slice five lemons as thin as possible. Let the water cool until it is warm to the touch, but no longer scalding. Add lemons, cover, and let sit overnight.

Day 2:

Strain the lemon mix and squeeze remaining juice from the lemons. Reserve a few slices to garnish your lemonade. Stir in the sugar. Add the orange blossom water.

When I first tasted the unsweetened, electric yellow lemon infusion it was delightfully tart. Normally I don’t like my drinks *too* sweet and I often adjust the amount of sugar in recipes accordingly, but the mixture was so strong I decided to use the full amount this time. The finished lemonade was syrupy and very, very sweet. To my taste, the citrus and floral notes were a bit overwhelmed by the sweetness. With a few ice cubes and a lemon garnish it was much more refreshing. After sipping half my glass, I added a generous pour of sparkling water and found my perfect version of this lemonade. In the future, I might halve the sugar instead.

Still, this lemonade greatly improved my steamy Saturday. If the heat wave holds on for much longer, I might try it again with variations adding like thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, or lemon balm from my garden to the initial infusion, or even swapping out the orange blossom water for rose water.

Maccarony Cheese

 

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

For our inaugural recipe, we thought, why not start with an eighteenth-century mac-and-cheese?  It’s a modern-day American classic and perhaps the ultimate comfort food.

This recipe comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 1038, a collection of recipes most likely written and bound between 1765 and 1830. (Thanks to Mitch Fraas for pointing us to this particular “maccarony cheese.”)

The Recipe

Maccarony Cheese

Two Ounces of best Glocester Cheese, 4 Ounces Cheshire Do. grated – put it into a Stone Mortar with two Eggs, two or three Spoonfulls of Sack or Mountain Wine, beat it ’till it’s well mixt and Light – Boil the Maccarony in Water very tender, then drain it well, put it on a Dish or Plate and lay the prepared Cheese all over it and brown it with a Salamander.

This recipe, unlike some others to be featured, discussed, and puzzled over here in the next few months, features no ingredients that are mysterious, challenging to obtain, or downright unappetizing. Cheese, eggs, and macaroni are all familiar. Even sack wine can be approximated. Defined in Samuel Johnson’s 1737 Dictionary as “A kind of sweet wine, now brought chiefly from the Canaries.” Also known as “Canary wine,” sack identified a few varieties of sweet, fortified light wine. One of these later became known as “sherry,” so sherry is what we turned to here. For Gloucester cheese, we substituted a sharp, aged cheddar; for Cheshire, a milder cheddar.

Note that although the recipe provides specific measurements for all ingredients of the cheese sauce, the amount of macaroni is left unspecified. Based on the amount of cheese sauce, we determined that approximately half a pound of pasta (ex. fusili) would most likely have been used.

Early modern cooks used salamanders to brown dishes. A salamander was a piece of cast iron with a handle attached; it would be heated in the fire and then held on top of a dish to warm it. Essentially, a salamander was a hand-held broiler. We debated using a culinary torch but decided that an oven would provide more even cooking.

So, our modern version of the recipe looked like this:

2 oz. sharp/dry cheddar

4 oz. mild cheddar

2 eggs

2 tsp. sherry

8 oz. dried pasta

Heat oven to 350F.

Grate the cheeses and beat together with eggs and sherry. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook and drain pasta.

Transfer pasta to oven-proof dish and evenly distribute cheese sauce over the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and lightly browned.

 

The Results

In a word: delicious. The eggs cooked with the cheese to form a dense, satisfying mac-and-cheese that was remarkably easy to make. And the sherry flavor came through in a unique, rich way. We both agreed that this would be an easy way to throw together a pasta dish for one or two people, using up any scraps of cheese. Even more impressive: unlike many modern recipes for mac-and-cheese, this one does not involve any milk or heavy cream.