A Potatoe Pudding 

Should a pudding be sweet or savory? Where do American and British definitions of pudding and pie overlap and diverge? And, most importantly for this post, what place does the potato – or sweet potato – have in pudding and pie recipes?

All of these questions were on my mind a few weeks ago when I first read this recipe for “A Potatoe Pudding” from the Browne manuscript at Penn State. Although the recipe title calls this dish a pudding, I think it also fits the American definition of a pie because it consists of a pastry crust and a creamy potato-based filling. As a sweet dessert, it fits the capacious, British definition of pudding and it is similar in some ways to classic British desserts (such as Bakewell Pudding). It is also reminiscent of American sweet potato and pumpkin pie recipes because it combines mashed vegetables with dairy, sugar, and seasonings.

Pie was on my mind because Christina Riehman-Murphy and I were planning to bake a potato pie for the Folger Shakespeare Library and UCLA Libraries’ Great Library Pie Bake-Off. First, Clara Drummond helped us access images of the recipe book at Eberly Family Special Collections. (They will hopefully be available online soon!) When I read this recipe and I realized that it would be perfect for the event. I collaborated with Christina on interpreting the original recipe and writing an updated version. Christina was the baker representing PSU in the competition and this post includes some of her findings from baking the recipe as well as my own.

The Browne recipe book was compiled in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. This recipe for a potato pudding speaks to a moment when European cooks were trying to make sense of where indigenous American ingredients – both sweet and white potatoes and particular cultivars thereof – fit into established cookery traditions. Was is best to include potatoes in sweet dishes or savory ones? How would their gorgeous sweetness and earthy flavors best compliment European ingredients?

(I also baked a Lemon Tart from the Browne manuscript for The Great Rare Books Bakeoff last summer. Stay tuned for details about the 2021 competition!)

Original Recipe

Image of recipe in manuscript

A Potatoe Pudding 

Miss Ruttons 

Half a Pound of Butter, a Pound of 

Sugar, Four Lemons, juice & Peel mix 

these well together & then put one 

Pound and a half of Potatoes mashed 

to them. – Put a Puff Paste at the 

Bottom of the Dish. 

The recipe is relatively straightforward. It instructs you to season cooked, mashed potatoes with butter, sugar, and lemon juice and peel and bake this filling in a dish lined with pastry. After trial and error, Christina and I determined that the pie achieved more structural integrity with a blind-baked crust. This prevented the dreaded soggy bottom. Since there are no eggs and milk to bind the filling, mine came out rather damp. In classic recipes for sweet potato pie (and even pumpkin pie), the mashed vegetable filling is a custard that relies on eggs and milk for structural integrity.

Updated Recipe

Halved from the original. You can also prepare both the crust and filling in advance and bake the pie from room-temperature ingredients. Christina found that a cooler potato-filling led to a pie that set better during baking.

8 Tablespoons butter at room temperature (1 stick, 113g)

1 1/8 cups sugar (226g)

2 lemon, juice and zest

2.5 cups of chopped potatoes (¾ lb, 678g)

A batch of your favorite homemade or store-bought puff pastry or pie crust.

Preheat oven to 425°F/218°C

Make or buy pastry.

Grease a pie or tart dish with butter or baking spray.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Arrange pastry in baking dish.

To blind bake the crust, cover the pastry with foil and fill the dish with baking beans or another weight.

Bake at 425°F/218°C for 12 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F/180°C for 10 minutes. The crust should be golden and set, but not as brown as when a pie is completely finished baking. Keep the oven at this temperature for baking the pie.

While the crust is in the oven and cooling after blind baking, prepare the filling.

Peel the potatoes. Chop them into small cubes. Boil them until they are cooked and tender (about 15 minutes). Drain off the cooking water using a colander. Juice and zest the lemons. Put the cooked potatoes, sugar, and butter in a sturdy bowl. Mash the potatoes and integrate the butter and sugar into the mix. Make sure there are no lumps of butter or potato. Stir in the lemon juice and zest.

Pour this mixture into the prepared pie crust.  

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is brown and the filling sets. Cool before serving. 

slice of potato pie on plate

The Results

Christina and I agreed that the finished pie tastes much more like a lemon pie than a “potato pie.” In this preparation, the natural sweetness of the potatoes offsets the sharp flavors of citrus juice and zest. This dish was unlike any other potato-based pie or pudding I’ve ever consumed. Personally, I found the recipe very interesting, but I didn’t particularly enjoy eating it. I’m happy to report that the pie was a hit at Christina’s house (especially as breakfast). And while pie for breakfast may not be part of any “official” British or American culinary traditions, a slice of my mom’s pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee is my favorite breakfast the day after Thanksgiving.

To Make a Potatoe Pudding

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Recently, Marissa and I faced off … over rice pudding. We each made a different eighteenth-century rice pudding recipe and compared results, which we’ll discuss in an upcoming crossover post here and on The Recipes Project.  (Spoiler: we declared a draw.)

A few of the early modern recipe books contain handy tables of contents, but most don’t, and obviously none are text-searchable (if only!), so hunting for a specific recipe like rice pudding can prove a challenge. Judeth Bedingfield’s recipe book (UPenn MS Codex 631) from the 1730s and 40s has become one of my go-to sources because of its comprehensiveness – and sure enough, it turned up not one but four rice pudding recipes. In this hunt for rice pudding, I was reminded of the astonishing range of other puddings in her book: orange (x3), “green quaking” (with spinach), carrot (x2), apple, potato, caraway, oatmeal (x2), calves’ foot, hasty, barley, marrow (x2), “quaking,” “shaking,” green, liver, white (x3). A pudding bonanza! We made Bedingfield’s carrot pudding early on in the project and still count it among our favorites, so I was ready to try another one. I chose potato because I was curious to taste it – curiosity is the driving force in most of my early modern recipe selections!

The Recipe

potatoe pudding

To Make a Potatoe Pudding

Take one pound of Potatoes, Boyle them till they peel, pound them in a morter, melt half a
pound of butter, a quarter of a pint of sack, put into them, take six eggs, leave out half [th]e
whites, sweeten it to y[ou]r tast, stirr it all together, grate a Little nutmeg in it when you bake it
butter y[ou]r Dish very well, three quarters of an hour will bake it /

IMG_4775

Our Recipe
[halved from the original*]

1/2 lb. potatoes (about 1 large), peeled and cubed
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick), melted
1/4 c. white wine
3 eggs, separated (3 yolks, 1.5 whites)
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter or spray a small baking dish (or ramekins)**.

Boil potatoes until they can be pierced with a fork (about 10 mins). Transfer to a food processor, then add the melted butter, white wine, egg yolks + whites, and nutmeg. Pulse until completely smooth. Pour mixture into baking dish and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 mins, until top is puffed and golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temp.

*Note: Why do we halve most of these recipes? Because they often make a large quantity, because usually we’re feeding just a few people, and, most importantly, because they’re experiments. Neither of us wants to waste ingredients, so wherever possible, we make a smaller quantity to see how it turns out.

**Note: I used a 6.5″ square Corning Ware casserole “borrowed” (um, several years ago) from my mom, who received it as a wedding gift in the 70s. The pudding layer was fairly shallow in this small dish – probably too shallow for an 8″ square – so ramekins would work nicely too.

The Results

Carrot pudding still comes out the winner for me in our Great (and ongoing) Pudding Experiment, but potato pudding was interesting. While the carrot pudding recipe includes a specified amount of sugar and candied peel AND instructs the cook to sweeten it to taste, this one simple directs the cook to sweeten it to taste. The white wine and nutmeg produce a flavor profile not quite sweet or savory (especially given that the recipe doesn’t call for any salt), so how much sugar you add can alter the taste considerably. It tastes recognizably of potatoes – in fact, I’d perhaps try this with sweet potatoes, since I really like their natural flavor – and bakes up quite firm, more so than the carrot pudding. I’d had enough after a few bites. The potato plus some tang from the wine plus the earthiness of the nutmeg didn’t quite add up to something I’d be eager to try again. But it’s very easy to make and requires few ingredients, making it a simple dish to prepare. This ease might explain the prevalence of all varieties of pudding in early modern cooking – they’re easy, usually inexpensive, and can be scaled to large quantities. Stay tuned for the rice pudding report!

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.