An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Author: Kimberley Connor (page 1 of 2)

Fruit Damper for the Great Rare Books Bake Off

It’s time for the annual Penn State vs. Monash University Great Rare Books Bake Off where readers and cooks can support a side by making a recipe from the universities’ special collections. This year there are twelve recipes to choose from, from Wet Shoo Fly Pie to Lamington Cake. I figured I’d better go with an Australian recipe, as a matter of national pride and all. When I realised I’d never made damper for the blog, the choice of recipe was an easy one!

 

Damper is an Australian quickbread, traditionally unleavened and cooked in the ashes of the campfire. The earliest references come from the mid-1820s and damper is most commonly associated with people who are traveling or who are living and working in basic conditions in the bush.

“… we have no doubt that it [the harvest] will give the working family a rasher of good bacon, an excellent damper, and a copious draft of new milk…” [1]

 

The cook making damper, by Alice Peacock, date unknown. Courtesy of Library and Archives Northern Territory. Used under CC BY 4.0.

As settlements developed, people in towns could buy leavened bread from bakeries or could bake their own if they had an oven. Swagmen (itinerant labourers who carried a bedroll called a swag filled with their belongings), drovers (stockmen who moved cattle or sheep over long distances) and other people on the move didn’t have access to ovens or fresh yeast so they made damper instead. A lot of descriptions of making damper show how people made-do with hardly any equipment by mixing the dough on a sheet of bark, a sheepskin or the upturned lid of some luggage.

 

“At first we had rather a horror of eating damper, imagining it to be somewhat like an uncooked crumpet. Experience, however, showed it to be really very good. Its construction is simple, and is as follows. Plain flour and water is mixed on a sheet of bark, and then kneaded into a disc some two or three inches thick to about one or two feet in diameter, great care to avoid cracks being taken in the kneading. This is placed in a hole scraped to its size in the hot ashes, covered over, and there left till small cracks caused by the steam appear on the surface of its covering.”[2]

Over time, the making of damper has changed a lot. As late as 1929, it was still possible to argue that real damper couldn’t have baking soda added to it but in reality chemical raising agents like bicarbonate of soda, cream or tartar and baking powder made damper lighter and were certainly being used by the 1850s.[4]

“A stiff dough is made of flour, water, and salt, and kneaded into a large flat cake, two or three inches thick, and from twelve to eighteen broad. The wood-ashes are then partially raked from the hot hearth, and the cake being laid on it, is heaped over with the remaining hot ashes, and thus bakes. When cut into it, it exceeds in closeness and hard heaviness the worst bread or pudding I ever tasted, and the outside looks dirty, if it is not so: still, I have heard many persons, conversant with every comfort and luxury, praise the “damper,” so I can only consider my dislike a matter of taste. In “the bush,” where brewer’s yeast cannot be procured, and people are too idle or ignorant to manufacture a substitute for it (which is easily done), this indurated dough is the only kind of bread used and those who eat it constantly must have an ostrich’s digestion to combat its injurious effects.”[3]

It is also rare now to see damper cooked directly in the ashes, where it inevitably becomes dirty and ashy. At home, people use the oven but when camping damper is often cooked in the coals in greased aluminium foil or in a camp oven. Also called a Dutch oven, camp ovens are cast iron pots with a lid that can be used to cook food on an open fire. The fire is allowed to cook down to coals, the dough is placed in the camp oven (preferably on a trivet or some foil) and the lid placed on top. Coals are raked around the oven and a scoop of coals put on the top so that the heat is even around the oven.

watercolour painting of men between a tent and a fire with a camp oven for making damper

This watercolour sketch shows a camp from 1851 with a tent in the background. In the centre, one man kneels to knead the dough for damper, while a camp oven sits beside the fire ready for use. From ‘A collection of drawings in watercolour, ink and pencil: illustrative of the life, character & scenery of Melbourne 1850-1862. First series’, by William Strutt, courtesy of the State Library of NSW.

Damper also has an important history for First Nations people in Australia. New evidence from Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia, shows that Indigenous people in Australia have been grinding seeds for about 60,000 years.[5] Grinding stones, microbotanical residues like starches, ethnographic accounts and oral histories all point to the important role that seeds and plant-processing played in First Nations foodways.[6] This is especially true in the arid desert areas of central Australia where seeds became a staple food, probably during the late Holocene.[7]

 

After collection, winnowing and grinding seeds with water, the seed-paste can be eaten raw or the paste could be cooked in the ashes of the fire to make seed cakes also called bush bread or, sometimes, damper. The technique of cooking seed cakes directly in the fire may have been something that European settlers learned from Indigenous people.

 

The arrival of settlers, who cut First Nations people off from some of their traditional food resources, and the development of the ration and mission systems which depended heavily on wheat flour meant that by the 1970s most communities no longer regularly collected and ground seeds for food.[8] Instead, damper made from wheat flour and raised with baking powder became common in Aboriginal communities.

 

You can see the two different damper baking techniques that I described above in two videos. The first shows Gurindji woman Violet Wadrill Nanaku making damper in the ashes of the fire where they puff up kind of like naan bread. The second shows Auntie Junie Pederson and Roy Wilson baking damper in a camp oven on a station in the Kimberley.

Image shows an open book with recipe for fruit damper on the left page and a two-color relief print in blue and red on the right page.

This recipe, taken from the Kimberley Cook Book: “some old recipes and some new ones” in the Monash University Special Collections, is from the same region in north-west Australia. I couldn’t find out much about the book, but the recipes were collected during the 1990s in remote communities. The book was edited by Marianne Yambo and is illustrated with linocuts by artist Jan Palethorpe.

 

The recipe itself is a pretty basic damper recipe, with no added butter or milk to enrich the dough, but in this case it is flavoured with some spices and plenty of dried fruit. I cooked it in a camp oven inside my oven, a technique often used for homemade sourdough to give more even heat distribution and to get a nice crust, but also a nod to the campfire origins of the recipe. It makes a very dense but flavourful bread that is best eaten slathered with butter while still warm, or toasted the next day if you have any left.

Fruit Damper

 

2 cups flour

4 tsp baking powder

Salt

1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (e.g. cranberries, raisins, currants, apples, apricots)*

1/4 tsp cinnamon (add some other spices if you want, cloves are nice or some nutmeg)

Approx 1 cup water

 

  1. Preheat oven and camp oven to 200°C.
  2. Put all dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Gradually add enough water to bring together into a supple dough. Turn out onto counter and knead for a couple of minutes until smooth.
  3. Make the dough into a smooth ball and flatten slightly. Slash the top of the bread, if desired.
  4. Carefully take the hot camp oven out of the oven, sprinkle a little flour on the bottom and quickly put the bread in the camp oven. Put the lid on and bake for approx. 40 mins or until the crust is slightly golden and the damper sounds hollow when you knock on it.

 

 

*use whatever dried fruit you have on hand, but I would say that some apricots are essential

 

[1] “Hobart Town.,” Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser, January 28, 1825.

[2] C. H. Eden 1872 in Edward E. Morris, Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (London: Macmillan, 1898).

[3] Louisa Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales During a Residence in the Colony from 1839 to 1844, ed. Ure Smith (1844; repr., Sydney, NSW: National Trust of Australia, NSW, 1973), 67.

[4] “Making Damper,” Western Mail, February 21, 1929; Barbara Santich, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage (South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2012), 220.

[5] Chris Clarkson et al., “Human Occupation of Northern Australia by 65,000 Years Ago,” Nature 547, no. 7663 (July 2017): 306–10, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22968; S. Anna Florin et al., “The First Australian Plant Foods at Madjedbebe, 65,000–53,000 Years Ago,” Nature Communications 11, no. 1 (February 17, 2020): 924, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14723-0.

[6] Wendy Beck, “Aboriginal Preparation of Cycas Seeds in Australia,” Economic Botany 46, no. 2 (1992): 133–47; Richard Fullagar and Judith Field, “Pleistocene Seed-Grinding Implements from the Australian Arid Zone,” Antiquity, 1997; John Mildwaters, “Seed-Grinding Stones: A Review from a Mainly Australian Perspective,” The Artefact: The Journal of the Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria 39 (2016): 30–41, https://doi.org/10.3316/ielapa.242662889512125; John Mildwaters and Chris Clarkson, “The Efficiency of Australian Grindstones for Processing Seed: A Quantitative Experiment Using Reproduction Implements and Controlling for Morphometric Variation and Grinding Techniques,” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 17 (February 1, 2018): 7–18, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2017.10.036; John Mildwaters and Chris Clarkson, “An Experimental Assessment of the Grinding Characteristics of Some Native Seeds Used by Aboriginal Australians,” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 30 (April 1, 2020): 102127, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2019.102127; Josephine Nangala et al., “Ethnobotany of Warrilyu (Eucalyptus Pachyphylla F.Muell. [Myrtaceae]): Aboriginal Seed Food of the Gibson Desert, Western Australia,” Economic Botany 73, no. 3 (September 1, 2019): 416–22, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-019-09471-2.

[7] Scott Cane, “Australian Aboriginal Subsistence in the Western Desert,” Human Ecology 15, no. 4 (1987): 391–434; Mike Smith, The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 197 especially; David W. Zeanah et al., “Diesel and Damper: Changes in Seed Use and Mobility Patterns Following Contact amongst the Martu of Western Australia,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 39 (September 1, 2015): 51–62, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2015.02.002.

[8] Zeanah et al., “Diesel and Damper.”

 

 

 

 

Two Medieval Fruit Purees

In May, in between lockdowns I was able to attend my first medieval event in about four years, and it has inspired me to finally post some of the medieval recipes I’ve been working on. When we camp at events in the fourteenth-century ‘village’ breakfast is always a problem. Evidence for breakfast is patchy during the medieval period.

Woman in medieval clothing stirring a pot over the fire, in a medieval encampment

We know that some people certainly ate in the mornings but with ‘dinner’ the main meal of the day eaten mid-morning it can be difficult to know if references to breaking the fast refer to a separate meal or simply the first time people ate during the day i.e. at dinnertime. The first reference to breakfast in English recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1463, when Sir John Howard recorded “exspensys in breffast” on a trip around Suffolk and Norfolk.[1] By 1478 the draft ordinance for the king’s household allowed for “a large breakfast” for the king, queen and anyone waiting upon them.[2]

 

Even for hard-core re-enactors, getting up at 5am to start cooking in order to serve the main meal of the day at 9 or 10am is a hard ask on a weekend. At public events, when one of the main goals is to show people medieval cooking techniques, it is also counter-intuitive to finish most of the cooking before the public have arrived on site. As a result, we normally eat our main meal later in the day, and our hungry peasants definitely require something to keep them going until then.

 

Then there is the issue of what foods to serve. I have searched high and low for breakfast in the late 14th and early 15th centuries but with limited success. The Franklin in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (written c. 1387-1400) loves a “sop in wyn” in the morning – this is bread soaked in wine, possibly sweetened and spiced. The edition of household accounts of Dame Alice de Bryene from 1412-1413 translated by Marian Dale lists breakfast as a separate meal every day[3]. The accounts for breakfast are not separated from the other meals, but daily lists of ingredients suggest it would have been made up of bread, fish (fresh and preserved), meat, and ale/wine.

 

Across the 14th and 15th centuries, the most commonly mentioned foods for breakfast include salt fish, bread, beer and cheese. Fish and beer might work for some people but it is a hard sell for modern tastebuds, and difficult to make work for the range of modern dietary requirements we have on site.

 

One of the ways we deal with this is to make 14th century recipes that are more familiar as breakfast to people today, even though they were not necessarily eaten as breakfast in the past. This can include things like tostees dorees (often interpreted as an early version of French toast), pancakes, gruel or porridge.

 

Pour faire Tostees dorees, prenez du pain blanc dur et le trenchiez par tostees quarrees et les rostir ung pou sur le grail; et avoir moyeulx d’oeufz batuz et les envelopez tres bien dedans iceulx moyeulx; et avoir de bon sain chault et les dorer dedans sur le feu tant qu’elles soient belles et bien dorees et puis les oster de dedans la paelle et mettez es platz, et du succre dessus.[4] – Le Viandier de Taillevant (from a 15th century version, but the original was written c. 1300)

 

To make golden toasts, take hard white bread and slice it into squares and toast it a bit on a grill, and have beaten egg yolks and coat the toasts well. And have good fat hot and cook them in it on the fire until they are beautiful and golden, and then take them out of the pan and put them on plates, with sugar on top.

 

All of these dishes can also be livened up a bit with accompaniments. I’ve been playing around with some different fruit dishes to make breakfasts more interesting and to give some variation. Below you can see medieval crespes (crispy pancakes) with the chardewardon.

 

pancakes with pear puree on a shallow plate with a spoon

The Recipes

 

I’ve picked two recipes for stewed fruit to play around with. The nice thing about these is that they are very easy, but also scalable and pretty flexible when it comes to the type of sweetener, thickener and spices.

 

The first recipe for chardewardon, comes from a mid-fifteenth-century cookbook but appears in a number of versions in different texts. I have made it as a kind of applesauce, but with pears, so it is still quite runny. Some of the other versions mention cooking it in a coffin (pastry crust) to make a kind of pie, or making it like chardequince which is commonly understood to be more like quince paste, so there are lots of different ways you could make this. I made this a little too sweet, so have reduced the amount of sugar and honey here but sweeten it to taste.

 

Chardewardon – Take Pere Wardonys, an sethe hem in Wyne or in fayre water; þan take an grynd in a morter, an drawe hem þorwe a straynoure wyth-owte ony lycoure, an put hem in a potte with Sugre and clarifiyd hony, an Canel y-now, an lete hem boyle; þan take it fro þe fyre, an let kele, an caste þer-to ȝolkys of Raw eyroun, tylle it be þikke; & caste þer-to pouder Gyngere y-now, an serue it in manere of Fysshe;*. [For Rys; see Douce MS. No. 53, and the end of this recipe. A. also reads fische.] an ȝif if it be in lente, lef þe ȝolkys of Eyroun, & lat þe remenaunt boyle so longe tylle it be þikke, as þow it had be temperyd wyth þe ȝolkys, in þe maner of charde quynce; an so serue hem in maner of Rys.[5]

 

Take warden pears, and boil them in wine or in fair water; then take and grind them in a mortar, and strain them through a sieve without any liquid, and put them in a pot with sugar and clarified honey and enough cinnamon, and let them boil. Then take it from the fire and let it cool, then add raw egg yolks, till it be thick, and cast thereto powdered ginger, and serve it in the manner of fish [this seems to be a mistake, because the recipe continues with how to make it during lent and instructs you to serve it in the manner of rice]. And if it be in Lent, leave out the egg yolks, and let the remaining boil so long that it it is thick, as though it had been tempered with the egg yolks, in the manner of chardequince, and so serve it in the manner of rice.

chardewardon (spiced pear puree) in a wooden bowl with a spoon.

For the second recipe, I chose a potage of prunes from Harley MS 5401 which is another fifteenth century manuscript with copies of fourteenth century recipes. Even though it is called potage of prunes, the instruction to rub/squeeze them well to wring out the juice makes it clear that we are dealing with plums and not prunes (dried plums) in the modern sense of the word. This came out beautifully, and had a lovely tartness to it in addition to the gorgeous colour. I will definitely be making this again.

 

Potage of Prunes. Recipe prunes & wesh þam clene & frote þem wele in a cop tyll þe juyse be wele wrong oute; þan do it in a pot & put þerto whyte grece & hony or sugure, & boyle it togyder, & þyk it with þe floure of rise or of wastylls. And when it is sothen dress it up in dyshys, & cast þeron powdyr of galingal, & serof it forth.[6]

 

Stewed Prunes. Take plums and wash them clean, and rub them well in a cup until the juice is well wrung out; then put it in a pot and put thereto white grease and honey or sugar, and boil it together, and thicken it with rice flour or breadcrumbs. And when it is softened put it into dishes, and cast thereon powdered galangal, and serve in forth.

bowl of stewed plums with a spoon

[1] “Breakfast, n.,” in OED Online (Oxford University Press), accessed June 28, 2021, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/22928.

[2] Alec Reginald Myers, The Household of Edward IV (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), 204.

[3] Vincent B. Redstone, ed., The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall, Suffolk : September 1412 to September 1413, with Appendices, trans. Marian Dale (Bungay: Paradigm, 1984), http://archive.org/details/householdbookofd0000unse.

[4] Thomas Gloning, “Taillevent, Viandier (Manuscrit du Vatican),” Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, August 20, 2000, https://www.uni-giessen.de/fbz/fb05/germanistik/absprache/sprachverwendung/gloning/tx/vi-vat.htm.

[5] Thomas Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books : Harleian MS. 279 (Ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (Ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N.T. Trubner & Co, 1888), 12, http://name.umdl.umich.edu/CookBk.

[6] Sam Wallace, “MS Harley 5401,” Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, September 4, 2011, https://www.uni-giessen.de/fbz/fb05/germanistik/absprache/sprachverwendung/gloning/harl5401/MS_Harley_5401_body_annotated.htm.

The Redactions

Chardewardon

1 pear

Enough white wine to simmer

1 tsp honey

1 tsp sugar

1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

1 egg yolk

1/4 tsp ground ginger, or to taste

 

Peel, core and chop the pear then simmer it in just enough white wine to cover it. When it is very soft, mash it in a mortar then push it through a sieve (or use a food mill). Put back in the saucepan with honey and sugar to taste (I would start with about 1 tsp of each and go from there), and ground cinnamon, bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool (you don’t want to scramble the egg), then whisk in the egg yolk. Return it to the heat and cook gently until it is as thick as applesauce, then stir in the ground ginger.

 

 

Stewed Plums

5 plums, ripe but still tart

A large knob of butter

1 tbsp honey (ish) (or sugar)

2 tsp riceflour (ish) (or breadcrumbs)

Ground galangal and/or cinnamon/cloves/ginger

 

Wash the plums, then cut them in half and remove the stones. Mash the plums as best you can, then put them with their juice into a pot and add the butter and honey. Boil it together until the plums are very soft and falling apart (continue mashing as you go). Take a little bit of the liquid and whisk it into the rice flour, then stir this mixture into the rest of the plums. Bring to the boil and allow to thicken slightly. Season to taste with the spices you are using.

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Gatsby Summer Afternoon Picnic

Every September the Art Deco Society of California hosts the Gatsby Summer Afternoon but even though I’ve been living in the Bay Area for the last few years I’ve never made it to one of these huge art deco themed picnics. This year, because of COVID-19, there was a Virtual Gatsby Summer Afternoon which meant that we could run a scaled-down version of our own. We had a great time with some of the neighbours, and won best small picnic!

Being back in Australia, I went with an Australian 1930s theme and nearly all the recipes were recommended for picnics in Australian newspapers during the 30s. Some were surprise hits (cream cheese and walnut sandwiches anyone?) but others like the beetroot mould, not so much.

 

These vintage recipes are a super easy way to get started with historical cooking, and are easy to add into everyday life, but make a really impressive collection when you make a few together. You could also try this recipe for chicken picnic patties that I’ve made before, and read a little about the tradition of picnics in Australia too. If you feel inspired to make some, leave a comment to let me know how it goes! And to get you in the spirit, try listening to this Balboa playlist by John Bell while cooking and/or picnic-ing!

Try some of these recipes and you can have a delightful picnic, just like this stylish 1930s family. Picnic Delights! 1935, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 2 November, p. 35. ,[Public Domain] via Trove.

The Recipes

Cheese Paste Sandwiches from the Launceston Examiner, 11 Dec 1935

 

“Cheese Paste. – ¼ lb. Butter, ½ lb. cheese grated, 3 eggs, 2 tablespoons milk, cayenne pepper. Method: Put butter and milk in saucepan and melt, add cheese, do not stir until cheese is melted. Add eggs well beaten and cayenne. Stir until it thickens, but do not let the mixture boil. Put into jars and cover with oil paper and keep in cool place. Serve hot or cold, spread on biscuits, in sandwiches, or on pastry.”

 

Notes: Like most of the recipes here, I scaled this down since I was making a lot of different recipes. I used 57g butter, 113.5g grated cheddar cheese, 1.5 eggs, 1 tbsp milk, and a pinch of cayenne. Make this the day before you want to eat the sandwiches, and put it in a little jar or ramekin and allow it to set in the fridge. To make the actual sandwiches, spread the paste on lightly buttered bread and if you want you can cut the crusts off. We had plenty of leftovers, and ate it on toast.

sandwiches, cheese biscuits and chicken turnovers made from 1930s recipes

Cucumber Sandwiches from the Yackandandah Times, 3 Oct 1930

 

“Cucumber Sandwich. – Spread some bread and butter with very thin slices of cucumber and a little thick cream mixed with salad dressing.”

 

Notes: for the salad dressing recipe see below. These were simple but delicious!

 

Walnut and Cheese Sandwiches from the Yackandandah Times, 3 Oct 1930

 

“Walnut and Cheese Sandwich. – Cut some slices of thinly-buttered bread, and spread them with a good layer of cream cheese, followed by a thick layer of nuts chopped into small pieces, add a little salt and press the bread together.”

 

Notes: I didn’t expect much of these, but was really pleasantly surprised and they were the first thing to disappear.

 

Cheese Biscuits from the Melbourne Age, 27 Nov 1937

 

“Take ½ oz. butter, 1 oz. flour, ½ oz. grated cheese, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper. Rub the butter lightly into the flour, then add the grated cheese and seasonings. Make this into a stiff paste with cold water, then roll out on a floured board. Cut into rounds with a two-inch pastry cutter. Brush the biscuits over with beaten egg, and bake in a moderate oven.”

 

Notes: I doubled this recipe and actually could easily have made more, these were my favourites on the day. They’re basically really cheesy little crackers. I used 28g butter, 28g grated cheddar, 56g flour, a little salt, pepper and cayenne, and enough cold water to bring the dough together. Bake them until golden at around 180°C.

mayonnaise of eggs, recipe from 1935

Mayonnaise of Eggs from The Australian Women’s Weekly, 2 Nov 1935

 

Hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, mayonnaise or salad dressing.

Shell eggs; cut in half; shred the lettuce finely and place a little in paper souffle-cases. Arrange an egg on the bed of lettuce. Pack in box. Carry mayonnaise in cardboard screw-top container. When you arrive at destination a little mayonnaise can be poured over the egg.”

 

Notes: It wouldn’t be a vintage picnic without a slightly disturbing mayonnaise recipe. This one couldn’t be simpler, and looks great in little paper muffin cases if you don’t have souffle cups on hand.

Beetroot mould, recipe from 1935

Beetroot Mould from The Australian Women’s Weekly, 2 Nov 1935

 

“One bunch beetroot, water, a little vinegar, 6 cloves, powdered gelatine, salt and mustard, cayenne.

Prepare beetroot by washing it well and leaving the stalks on. Do not cut it in any way or prick it, otherwise it bleeds. Put the beetroot into a large saucepan of boiling, salted water and boil till tender. Drain in a colander. When cold, remove the skin and cut into thin slices. Take one piece of beetroot before cooking, peel it, and boil it in vinegar and water to which salt, cayenne, mustard and cloves have been added. The object of peeling is to extract the color, making the liquid red. Strain it, and to every cupful of liquid add one dessertspoon of gelatine. Stir till well dissolved. Line a wetted mould with the cooked beetroot. Pour in liquid and leave on ice till set. Turn out in the usual way and serve with cold meat.”

Notes: this was so bad it was basically inedible but if you want to give it a go yourself boil 3 whole beets in salted water until tender, drain and cool before peeling and slicing thinly. Boil a fourth, peeled, beet in 1 ½ cups water, 1 cup vinegar, 6 cloves, 1 tsp mustard powder, ½ tsp cayenne pepper and a little salt. Measure the liquid, and sprinkle on one dessertspoonful of gelatine for every 250ml of liquid, stir to dissolve. Line a wetted ring mould with the sliced beetroot and gently pour the liquid on top. Leave in the fridge to set overnight, then dip the mould briefly in a sinkful of hot water to loosen before turning out onto a plate (just a second or two should do it, don’t leave it too long or you will dissolve the jelly!).

I did use mustard powder instead of mustard, but think that it probably should have been English style mustard or something similar. The cayenne and vinegar flavours are very strong so you could certainly reduce the amount of cayenne. Possibly it would be slightly better if served with a fatty cold meat, but I doubt it would ever be good.

Potato salad, recipe from 1937

Potato Salad from the Melbourne Age, 27 Nov 1937

 

“Take 2 cupfuls of cooked potatoes, 1 tablespoonful chopped parsley, 1 teaspoonful chopped onion, ½ teaspoonful salt, a dust of pepper and French dressing. Cook the potatoes in salted water till they are tender, but not squashy. When cool, cut them up, add the parsley, and moisten with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and toss together lightly. Sprinkle with the onion, and stand in a cool place till they are very cold. This can quite easily be packed in a billy for a picnic.”

 

Notes: this was delightful, with a light dressing unlike creamy potato salads which are so common now. I made the dressing by combining ½ cup olive oil, 16 cup red wine vinegar, ½ tsp icing sugar and some salt and pepper in a small jar. Use new potatoes if you can get them.

cucumber boats, recipe from 1937

Cucumber Boats from the Hobart Voice, 20 Feb 1937

 

“Take three cucumbers, 2 or 3 tomatoes, ½ cup chopped celery, 1 teaspoon chopped shallots, lettuce, salad dressing. Chill cucumbers and tomatoes. Peel the cucumbers and cut them into halves, lengthwise, without breaking them. Scald and skin the tomatoes and cut into dice or cubes, drain off the juice. Mix the cucumber pulp, the tomatoes, and the chopped celery, and add a little salt and pepper to flavor. Fill the cucumber halves with this, and pile high. Arrange them on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves. Garnish with curls of celery or some water cress, and serve with a salad dressing.”

 

Notes: these would be quite a fun thing for kids to help make, and for older kids you can set them to making the celery curls to garnish the plate. I used two small Lebanese cucumbers, and you scoop out the seeds in the center before piling them high with filling.

epicurean fruit salad, recipe from 1935

Epicurean Fruit Salad from the Launceston Examiner, 11 Dec 1935

 

“Peel, prepare and dice apple, pear, orange, ½ grapefruit, pineapple, ½ stalk white celery, walnuts cut into dice. Mix all these fruits together lightly. Arrange on lettuce leaves, garnish with a cherry. Serve with a cream salad dressing to which has been added 1 tablespoon whipped cream. – Mrs. H. A. Beasley, Upper Melbourne-street, Launceston.”

 

Notes: this is a kind of sweet/savoury fruit salad and I wasn’t sure how it would go, especially with salad dressing but it was actually very pleasant.

 

Cream Salad Dressing from the Williamstown Chronicle, 8 Feb 1936

 

“One tablespoon flour, 1 ½ tablespoons butter, 1 egg, ¾ cup milk, salt, cayenne, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 ½ tablespoons sugar, ¾ cup vinegar. Mix all dry ingredients. Add beaten egg, milk, and butter. Cook over boiling water till mixture thickens, then add vinegar gradually, stirring constantly. Strain and cool.”

 

Notes: this was also surprisingly good, with a nice tanginess to it. Cook it in a bain marie, and keep a careful eye on it because the bottom will thicken faster than the rest so you need to keep whisking it to avoid lumps.

almond biscuits, recipe from 1933

Almond Biscuits from the Western Argus, 19 Sep 1933

 

“You will like these biscuits to take with you on your picnics. Cream together ¼ lb. of butter and ¼ lb. of caster sugar. Stir in two well-whisked eggs and gradually add 6 oz. of self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, and ¼ lb. of ground almonds.

Mix well together until a stiff paste is formed. If too moist add a little more flour. Roll out about ¼ in. thick on a well-floured board, cut into small rounds of fancy shapes, put on flat greased tins, brush over with a little beaten egg and milk, and sprinkle with chopped blanched almonds.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Leave the biscuits on the tins for a little while after taking out of the oven, or they are liable to break when removed.”

 

Notes: I used 113g butter, 113g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 170g self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, 113g ground almonds and some chopped, blanched almonds. These were pretty plain, but good.

Wasgington Sponge Cake, recipe from 1937

Washington Sponge Cake from The Tribune, 5 Nov 1937

 

“This Washington sponge cake is made with ingredients as follows: 1 ¼ cups sifted cake flour; 1 ¼ teaspoons double-acting baking powder; ¼ teaspoon salt; 1 cup sugar; 1 tablespoon grated orange rind; 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk; ¼ cup orange juice; ¼ cup water; raspberry jam. Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, and sift together three times. Add ½ cup sugar and orange rind to eggs, and beat with rotary egg beater until thick and lemon-colored; add remaining sugar gradually, beating very thoroughly; then add orange juice and water. Add flour gradually, beating with rotary egg beater until smooth. Bake in two ungreased 9 inch layer pans in moderate oven (350 degrees F.) 30 minutes or until done. Invert on rack until cakes are cold. Spread jam between layers. Sift powdered sugar over top.”

 

Notes: I thought this recipe was from an Australian newspaper, but it turns out it’s actually from a newspaper based in the Philippines. The main change I made was to grease and line the base of the two pans because I didn’t want to risk them sticking. The cake was good, but very sweet. It might help to add a layer of whipped cream on top of the jam between the layers, in order to cut some of the sweetness. Sift over icing sugar to serve.

 

pineapple julep, recipe from 1939

Pineapple Julep from Good Drinks by Ambrose Heath, first published 1939

 

“Peel, slice, and cut up a ripe Pineapple into a glass bowl, add the juice of two Oranges, a gill of Raspberry syrup, a gill of Maraschino, a gill of old Gin, a bottle of sparkling Moselle and about a pound of shaven ice. Mix and serve.”

 

Notes: warning, this is pretty potent stuff! I made a basic simple syrup with some raspberries, then sieved it to remove the seeds. A gill is about 120ml, so I used half a cup of syrup, half a cup of cherry liqueur, half a cup of gin, ½ a pineapple, 2 oranges, and a bottle of prosecco. Mix and add plenty of ice. I also threw in some borage flowers since I had them and they’re so pretty in drinks.

 

 

 

Recipes from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery

Like many others, baking is providing a lot of comfort for me and my family as the world has been upended around us. But, now that I’ve run the usual gamut of quarantine baking from banana bread to sourdough, I’ve been taking a deep-dive into some historical cookbooks.

This week, that means taking a closer look at recipes from one of my favourite historical cookbooks: Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery. Even though the book is now named after Martha Washington (1731-1802), Karen Hess’ masterful research shows that like many Early Modern recipe books, the manuscript was passed down through several generations with new recipes being added over time. The majority of the recipes were probably copied in the first half of the seventeenth century, and the source they were copied from must have been even older.

The recipes in the book reflect this span of time, during which English cooking was going through considerable changes. Some recipes, like the one for green pease porrage (green pea porridge or purée) hark back to the medieval period in their ingredients and techniques, while others such as a series of gingerbread recipes show an evolution over time (to find out more about gingerbread’s development from candy to biscuit see these posts).

The Recipes

To Make Green Pease, Porrage

Take of ye youngest pease you can get, what quantety you please, & put ym in a little more faire water than will cover them. Boyle ym till they be tender. yn take new milke & make them of what thickness you please. let ym boyle wel together, yn take a little flower and wet it with milke enough to thicken it, & put it in with some spearmint & marrigoulds shread small. when it is boyled enough, put in a good piece of fresh butter, a little salt, & some pepper, If you please, & soe dish [it] up.

Green Peas Porridge

Cook 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas with 1/2 cup water until very soft. Mash the peas, add 1/2 cup milk and bring back to a simmer. Whisk 1/4 cup milk with 3/4 tbsp flour and add to the peas. Stir in finely chopped mint leaves and marigold petals. Add a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

To Dress a Dish of [Mushrumps]

Take yr firm mushrumps & pill ye scin from them & scrape away all ye red yt grows on ye insyde of them, & pill yr stalks likewise. If you finde them firm, throw them as you doe them into faire water & let them ly 3 or 4 hours, then take them out of ye water & set them on ye fire in a pan. theyr own liquor will stew them. put in an ounion cut in halves and often shake them. As ye water rises, cast it still away till you finde them allmoste dry. Then take out the ounion & put in a little sweet cream yt is thick & shread in some time & parsley, & put in some grated nutmeg, & a little grose pepper, & a little salt, & soe let them boyle, shakeing them well together. & put in A piece of fresh butter, giveing them another shake, & soe dish them up. This is approved, but ye yolks of too Eggs with a [?] cold Creem and thick ym wth it.

To Dress a Dish of Mushrooms

Peel the outer skin off 8 portobello mushrooms, cook in a tiny bit of water in a pan with 1/2 an onion until soft and the pan is nearly dry. Remove the onion, add 1/2 cup of thick cream, some fresh parsley and thyme (or dried), freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.

To Stew Wardens

Boyle them first in faire water, then pare & stew them between 2 dishes with cinnamon, suger, and rosewater; or wth ye same seasoning you may put them in a pie & bake them

Stewed Pears

Simmer 4 firm pears (wardens if you can get them) in water until soft. Remove from liquid keeping 1 1/2 cups liquid.  Combine the reserved liquid with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 tbsp rosewater, bring to the boil. When the pears have cooled, use a sharp knife to peel them, then add them back to the liquid and boil for 5-10 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Notes – this was still too sweet for my taste, I would reduce the amount of sugar next time

To Make Cheesecakes

Take 6 quarts of stroakings or new milke & whey it with runnet as for an ordinary cheese, yn put it in a streyner & hang it on a pin or else press it with 2 pound weight. yn break it very small with yr hands or run it thorough a sive, then put to it 7 or 8 eggs well beaten, 3 quarters of a pound of currans, halfe a pound of sugar, a nutmegg grated or some cloves & mace beaten, 2 or 3 spoonfuls of rosewater, a little salt. yn take a quart of cream, & when it boyl thicken it with grated bread & boyle it very well as thick as for a hasty pudding. then take if from ye fire & stir therein halfe a pound of fresh butter, then let it stand till it be allmoste cold, & yn mingle it with your curd very well; yn fill yr coffins of paste & when they are ready to set into ye oven scrape on them some sugar & sprinkle on some rosewater with a feather. If you love good store of currans in them, you may put in a whole pound, & a little sack If you please. & soe bake ym.

To Make Cheesecakes

Mix together 250g fresh cheese (ricotta would do, or you can make your own) with 2 eggs, 170g currants, 110g sugar, some grated cloves, nutmeg and mace, a pinch of salt and 1 tbsp rosewater. Bring 500ml cream to the boil, then stir in 3 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs and cook until it thickens. Stir 115g butter into the cream and bread mixture and allow to cool before adding to the rest of the filling. Place in a pie case, or make individual small pies, and sprinkle with sugar and rosewater. Bake in a medium oven until the filling is just set.

To Make a Tart of Parsneps & Scyrrets

Seeth yr roots in water & wine, then pill them & beat them in a morter, with raw eggs & grated bread. bedew them often with rose water & wine, then streyne them & put suger to them & some juice of leamons, & put it into ye crust; & when yr tart is baked, cut it up & butter it hot, or you may put some putter into it, when you set it into ye oven, & eat it cold. ye Juice of leamon you may eyether put in or leave out at yr pleasure.

Parnsip Tart

Boil 3 parsnips in 1 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine until they are soft. Peel them and mash or blend them. Add 3 handfuls of breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 tbsp rosewater and 1 tbsp white wine, 3 tbsp sugar and the juice of half a lemon. Pour into a par-baked tart case, top with some small pieces of butter and bake in a medium oven.

Notes – skirrets are a white root vegetable, and hard to find now, but you could add them in if you had them. It’s possible to get seed to try growing your own if you have a garden. If you want, you can make a decorative top as well by cutting shapes out of a piece of puff pastry the size of your tart. This is baked separately and then laid on top of the tart.

Jane Dawson’s Jockelet (Chocolate) Cream

This week it’s time for the annual transcribathon hosted by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) and for the first time Stanford is taking part. Each year, people around the world come together to transcribe a hand-written book of recipes from the early modern period. Manuscript receipt books are great to work with because they provide a really intimate look into early modern lives, especially women’s lives. Many households kept receipt books, which were handed down from generation to generation and each new owner would add their own favourite recipes for food, medicines for people and animals, and other household products like ink and soap.

IMG_8093

To celebrate the transcribathon, I wanted to make a recipe from the book we transcribed last year, Jane Dawson’s 17th century receipt book. I was intrigued by a recipe that I transcribed, called Jockelet Cream. One of the best bits of working with early modern cookbooks is figuring out the phonetic spelling that they used – jockelet becomes chocolate if you read it aloud.

Jockelet Cream Recipe

Recipe for chocolate cream from Jane Dawson’s receipt book, V.b. 14, p. 17. Licensed by Folger Shakespeare Library under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Recipe

Jockelet Creame

boyle a pinte of Creame thicken it with an Egge yolke and mill into it two spoonfulls of the powder of Jockelet take it of as it rises to froth in to what you please[1]

 

At first I thought that this was a recipe for a hot chocolate drink, and having recently acquired a Mexican molinillo, I was excited to try my hand at it. A closer look at the recipe, however, suggested that this was more like a custard, thickened with egg even though it still retained the froth typical of early European drinking chocolate recipes.

Molinillo

My new molinillo!

A search for other chocolate cream recipes turned up plenty of similar ones from the seventeenth and eighteenth century: from an anonymous Scottish manuscript, Anna Western’s receipt book, a later addition to Elinor Fettiplace’s receipt book, an early eighteenth century receipt book, Elizabeth Moxon’s cookbook (1764) and Susanna Kellet’s coobook (1780). At the same time, there were lots of other flavoured creams too; lemon and orange were very popular but Susanna Kellet for example has recipes for cinnamon, raspberry, lemon, citron, barley, almond and apple creams.

 

Since receipt books were generally added to over time, sometimes over a number of generations, dating them is often challenging. One recipe in Jane Dawson’s book is dated to 1693, and a late seventeenth-century date is generally consistent with the other recipes. That makes this recipe for chocolate cream relatively early – only a handful of English chocolate recipes are known from before 1700. Lady Anne Fanshawe, the wife of the Spanish ambassador, collected a recipe for drinking chocolate in 1665 and in 1668 the Earl of Sandwich recorded a number of recipes for chocolate including some of the earliest frozen dessert recipes in English.[2] Another recipe attributed to Rhoda Fairfax is probably also from before 1700, and there are two recipes in published cookbooks, one for a beverage and one for ‘Chocolet-puffs’.[3]

In 1702, François Massialot’s The Court and Country Cook (originally published in 1691 as the Cuisinier Roial et Bourgeois) became available with the earliest known recipe for chocolate cream in English.[4]  

 Chocolate-cream.

Take a Quart of Milk with a quarter of a Pound of Sugar, and boil them together for a quarter of an Hour : Then put one beaten Yolk of an Egg into the Cream, and let it have three or four Walms: Take it off from the Fire, and mix it with some Chocolate, till the Cream has assum’d its colour. Afterwards you may give it three of four Walms more upon the Fire, and, having strain’d it thro’ a Sieve, dress it as pleasure.[5]

Taza chocolate tablet

The Jane Dawson recipe is different in a few key ways: first, it doesn’t use any sugar so ends up being quite bitter when made with dark chocolate. Dawson was probably using pre-prepared chocolate tablets which were available in England from the 1650s, and they may have been already sweetened with sugar and possibly spiced as well.[6] The other major difference is that Massialot focuses on boiling the chocolate (a walm is an unknown measurement of time boiling[7]) while Dawson emphasises milling and froth. Did the extra boiling make Massialot’s recipe thicker and more custardy? It’s hard to imagine that it thickened much with only one egg yolk and twice as much cream.

Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_Tudela

Woman making foamy chocolate by pouring it from one vessel to another from a height. Codex Tudela, fol. 3r, c. 1553. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Making frothy chocolate drinks was something that the Spanish colonizers learnt in Mesoamerica where a frothy head was produced by pouring the beverage from one vessel to another from a height.[8] The Spanish later developed a type of wooden whisk called a molinillo which was rotated briskly by rubbing the handle between the palms, and this technology was taken to Europe along with chocolate itself.[9] Sometimes called a chocolate mill, these wooden whisks could be inserted into elaborate metal or ceramic chocolate pots.

 

800px-Bodegón_con_servicio_de_chocolate_-_Museo_del_Prado

Chocolate tablets for making drinking chocolate in the pot with a molinillo, beside a chocolate cup for drinking it out of, bread and biscuits for dipping. Still Life with Chocolate Service, Luis Egidio Melendez, 1770 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

For such a short, easy recipe, there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to Jane Dawson’s chocolate cream. There are all the usual problems of converting measurements, and figuring out how big an early modern egg was, but there is also the question of what the chocolate she used would have been like, and what consistency the final product was supposed to be.

 

Different recipes, or even different interpretations of very similar recipes produce wildly different results. Marissa Nicosia over at Rare Cooking made a chocolate cream that was thick and rich, like pudding. Kathleen Wall’s recipe calls for beaten egg whites producing a lighter chocolate mousse. Amy Tigner’s students made a kind of chocolate custard which is topped with whipped cream for a layered effect. Another possibility is that the recipe is supposed to be served as a hot drink, more like a historical hot chocolate. While I can’t rule that out, other similar but more detailed recipes for chocolate cream do seem to be served cold in glasses, kind of like a mousse.

Although I used the measurements from Dawson’s recipe, I used the instructions from an anonymous Scottish manuscript from 1722 for clarification.

Chocolate Cream

Boil your Cream, & put in as much Chocolate as will colour it of a good brown Colour, & thicken it as thick as good Cream with ye yolk of an Egg well beaten; then with a Mill mill it up that the Froth may be an Inch above your Glasses or above your Cream in the Glasses. Serve this wt your Orange and Lemon Creams, and they are very gentle Creams.[10]

 

The instructions are very similar, but a little more detailed. This recipe suggests that the cream does not thicken very much, just to the consistency of ‘good cream’. That fits with my experience, which was that one egg yolk did not provide a lot of thickening. Again, the recipe emphasises frothiness and while I didn’t get a full inch of froth above the cream, I was able to get the froth to kind of set by putting the foam on top of the cream and letting it cool.

 

Overall, it produced basically what you would expect – a slightly chocolate-flavoured, very bitter, slightly thickened cream which was edible, but not my favourite. I think a little sweetening would have gone a long way, and would be keen to try making it again with a spiced chocolate with cinnamon or chili just to add a bit more interest. I would also add more chocolate, since the flavour was very subtle. It is interesting to wonder whether that is a mismatch between the quantity of Dawson’s two spoonfulls and my own, or whether perhaps she was making the most of a small amount of an expensive ingredient.

Chocolate cream made from a late seventeenth-century recipe

[1] Jane Dawson, “Cookbook of Jane Dawson” (Manuscript, 17th Century), 17, V.b. 14, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[2] Kate Loveman, “The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730,” Journal of Social History 47, no. 1 (September 1, 2013): 27–46, https://doi.org/10.1093/jsh/sht050; Sara Pennell, “Recipes and Reception: Tracking ‘New World’ Foodstuffs in Early Modern British Culinary Texts, c. 1650-1750,” Food & History 7, no. 1 (2009): 11–34, https://doi.org/10.1484/J.FOOD.1.100633.

[3] Pennell, “Recipes and Reception: Tracking ‘New World’ Foodstuffs in Early Modern British Culinary Texts, c. 1650-1750.”

[4] Pennell, 24.

[5] François Massialot and J. K, The Court and Country Cook: Giving New and Plain Directions How to Order All Manner of Entertainments … Together with New Instructions for Confecioners … And, How to Prepare Several Sort of Liquors [by F. Massialot] … Translated Out of French Into English by J. K. (London: Printed by W. Onlye, for A. & J. Churchill, at the Black Swan in Pater-noster-row, and M. Gillyflower in Westminster-hall, 1702), 97.

[6] Loveman, “The Introduction of Chocolate into England.”

[7] Oxford English Dictionary, “‘walm, n.1’.,” n.d., https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/225353?rskey=DBFOk1&result=1&isAdvanced=false.

[8] Marcy Norton, Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008).

[9] Amanda Lange, “Chocolate Preparation and Serving Vessels in Early North America,” in Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, ed. Louis E Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2009), 129–42.

[10] “‘Large Collection of Choice Recipes for Cookrie, Pastries, Milks, Sauces, Candying, Confectionating, and Preserving of Fruits, Flowers, Etc’, Dated Dumfries, 1722.” (1764 1722), MS 10281, transcription and image available on https://www.nls.uk/year-of-food-and-drink/february.

 

The Redaction

 

Jane Dawson’s Chocolate Cream

473 ml (cream

1 egg yolk, beaten

2 tablespoons of dark chocolate, finely grated

 

  1. Place the cream in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add a little of the hot cream to the beaten egg yolk and whisk, then return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk into the rest of the hot cream. Heat gently until it thickens slightly.
  2. Dissolve the grated chocolate into the hot cream, and whisk well to form the froth. Pour the liquid into your glasses or moulds, and top with the froth. Carefully move to the refrigerator and allow to cool.

IMG_8101

Carolina Snowballs Re-do

Carolina Snowballs, recipe from 1858

Way back in 2015 I made a late nineteenth century recipe for Peach Snowballs from Mina Lawson’s The Antipodean Cookery Book. Even though the peaches tasted great, the rice didn’t form a homogeneous layer the way that it is supposed to (for good examples see Savoring the Past and World Turn’d Upside Down).

Peach Snowballs, recipe from 1895

Not very successful peach snowballs

These snowballs are sometimes called Carolina Snowballs, because they were made with Carolina gold rice, grown in Carolina and Georgia. This kind of rice is no longer widely available, but in recent years has been resurrected by the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation (and sold by Anson Mills) so I’ve been meaning to try this recipe again using the proper type of rice.

 

The story of Carolina Gold is well beyond the scope of this blog post (a good place to start is Karen Hess’ The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection) but it is impossible to write about this rice without acknowledging its deep entanglements with slavery (for which see Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene).

 

By at least 1690, rice was being raised in South Carolina and plantation owners made their fortunes by exploiting the experience that enslaved West African workers had of growing rice.[i] West African men brought expertise in constructing complex irrigation systems to control the level of water in the rice fields. The knowledge of how to grow the rice, as well as how to make and use the equipment necessary for processing came from the women who had traditionally cultivated and prepared the rice in West Africa.

 

Wet rice cultivation, as practiced in South Carolina and Georgia, was extremely profitable at the expense of enslaved workers’ health. Conducted knee-deep in murky water under an unrelenting sun, the work itself was exhausting, dangerous and never-ending. The water harbored a host of threats including snakes, alligators, parasites and biting insects which spread diseases like malaria.[ii] As Jennifer Morgan points out “Rice is among the most onerous and labor intensive food crops, and the duration of the growing season and the dangerous and repellent nature of the work placed it at the extreme end of any continuum of forced agricultural labor in the early Atlantic world.”[iii]

African style rice pounder

African style rice pounder at the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana

As in Western Africa, rice came to play a central role in the diet of the South, from the homes of the labourers themselves to the wealthiest tables where it was cooked, of course, by enslaved African cooks and African American domestic servants. The complex cuisine that resulted was a combination of West African and European traditions, creating a distinct style of rice cookery. As historian Michael Twitty enumerates, this includes:

“chicken pilau, breads, puddings, rice cakes, crab fried rice—rice as the necessary accompaniment to barbecue hash, okra soup, crawfish étoufée, and red beans, as they had in Saint-Domingue/Haiti—and sugar and rice for a quick breakfast; all come down to us through the centuries as legacies of this heritage. So also have soups made with peanuts or peanuts and oysters, benne (sesame seed) and hot-pepper sauces, crab gumbos, and a battery of food with which the only acceptable accompaniment is rice cooked perfectly, with every grain steamed, separate and distinct.”[iv]

 

One of the maybe surprising results of this cuisine in the Carolina snowball. Possibly descended from the French bourdelot , an apple wrapped in pastry and boiled or baked, the snowball is an apple (or more rarely another type of fruit) wrapped in rice and boiled in a pudding cloth.[v]

 

What is really surprising is the longevity of this recipe; Hess quotes a recipe from The Lucayos Cook Book which might date back to as early as 1690, although the provenance of this manuscript isn’t great and it is unclear where the original is.[vi] At the very least, a recipe for Carolina Snow Balls in the eighth edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery published in 1763, and similar recipes continued to be published well into the 1920s.[vii]

 

Probably the reason for this extraordinary perseverance is that this recipe is about as cheap and easy a dessert as you can make. While rice was an expensive and exotic product in the medieval period, it became considerably more available in the Early Modern period – exports from South Carolina alone increased from 10,407 pounds in 1698 to more than 72 million pounds in 1774.[viii]

 

As the price of rice dropped, this kind of dessert became much more achievable for middle class consumers (such as Glasse’s readers). The short list of ingredients, the simplicity of the method, limited equipment required, and the hot, filling result would all have appealed to housewives and cooks needing a sweet dish.

 

[i] Henry C. Dethloff, “The Colonial Rice Trade,” Agricultural History 56, no. 1 (1982): 232.

[ii] Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (New York, NY: Amistad, 2017), 240.

[iii] Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2004), 162.

[iv] Twitty, The Cooking Gene, 262.

[v] Karen Hess, The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1998), 146.

[vi] Hess, 144–45.

[vii] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy; Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind yet Published … To Which Are Added, by Way of Appendix, One Hundred and Fifty New and Useful Receipts, and a Copious Index, 8th ed. (London: Printed for A. Millar [and others], 1763), http://archive.org/details/b30502500.

[viii] Dethloff, “The Colonial Rice Trade,” 234.

 

The Recipe

Capture

The version I’m following is from The Housekeeper and Gardener (1858) by Rebecca Upton. This is one recipe were it does really make a difference to have the right type of rice. On his blog, Kevin Carter suggests that medium grain rice is best but the Carolina Gold, which is a long grain rice, worked well for me (but other long grain rice did not). Make sure, if buying Carolina Gold that you buy the variety called Carolina Gold and not the brand Carolina Rice produced by Riviana Foods.

 

The recipe calls for two spoonfuls of rice, but how much is that? Two tbsp didn’t feel like enough to me, but I think that the 100 g I put in was maybe a little too much (James Townsend suggests ½ cup or about 115 g). The trickier bit is getting the rice evenly distributed, and smaller apples might help here.

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The Redaction

Carolina Snowballs

 

Per Snowball

1 large apple

Orange and lemon (approx. ¼ peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon) finely chopped peel, or grated zest

80-100 g Carolina gold rice

 

 

For Sauce (for 1-2 apples)

55 g butter

30 ml white wine

1 ½ tbsp sugar

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground nutmeg

 

  1. Core the apple(s). Place a clean pudding cloth in a bowl, with the cloth hanging over the edges of the bowl.Put a spoonful of the rice in the bottom of the cloth, then place the apple on top. Put the citrus peel inside the hole left by coring the apple(s). 2. Add the rest of the rice around the apple, then gather the corners of the cloth and tie the pudding up. Leave a little room for the rice to expand, but not too much so it doesn’t get soggy. The actual knot should be tight. Massage the rice around the apple so that it is spread evenly.
  2. Place the pudding in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. When the pudding is done, carefully remove it from the saucepan and dip it in cold water for a few seconds. Place the pudding in a bowl, cut off the string and carefully unwrap it. It may help to place another bowl on top and flip it, since the base normally looks better than the tied end. Serve with warm sauce.

 

Plum Cake/Early Black Bun for Twelfth Night

Years ago on a trip to Scotland I picked up a copy of Maw Broon’s But an’ Ben Cookbook. Inspired by a weekly comic strip produced since the 1930s, the But an’ Ben Cookbook is a kind of imaginary scrapbook collated by the extended Broon family at their holiday house with recipes cut from newspapers and magazines, donated by friend and family members, or scribbled on the back of whatever paper was nearby. Interspersed with comics and helpful hints, the book is a fascinating window into mid-century Scottish cookery.

Plum cake recipe from 1740, but made in the style of Black Bun

I think that this book is probably the first place I encountered both Hogmanay and black bun. Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration of the New Year, and black bun one of the traditional foods exchanged and eaten at this time of the year.[i] It’s particularly popular as a gift for first-footing, brought by the first visitor (preferably male, tall and dark-haired) to cross the threshold it is believed to bring good luck to the household.

 

Many people writing about black bun, however, suggest that it was initially associated with Twelfth Night (celebrated on either the 5th or 6th of January depending on when the counting begins). It’s unclear what the historical basis for this claim is, but black bun does certainly have a strong association with the Christmas period. The name black bun is only attested in 1898, and earlier versions were known as ‘Scotch bun’ (which was advertised to bring Christmas cheer) or ‘Scotch Christmas bun’[ii],

scotch christmas bun 1

scotch christmas bun 2

Recipe for ‘A Scotch Christmas-Bun’ from The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, 1862 (512-513)

Basically identical to other early modern recipes for plumb cake, what distinguishes black bun is that the fruit cake is covered in a layer of dough or pastry. While modern recipes for black bun now call for a rich fruit cake to be wrapped in pastry, as you can see from this recipe (which was taken almost word for word from the recipe for ‘A rich half-peck Bun’ in Mrs Frazer’s The Practice of Cookery, Pastry etc.[iii]) older recipes use a yeasted dough for both the filling and the plain cover.

nsl plumb cake

Recipe for plumb-cake from the ‘Culinary and household receipes of the Fletcher of Saltoun family’. Licensed by the National Library of Scotland under CC-BY-NC-SA

Mrs Frazer’s recipe from 1791 is generally given as the oldest for black bun, but the National Library of Scotland has a recipe for a plumb cake in an 18th century receipt book from the Fletcher family of Saltoun which also leaves aside part of yeasted dough to make a cover.[iv] Helpfully, the recipe notes that it was taken from Mrs Johnston’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry Worke 1741.[v] Indeed, the very first recipe in Mrs Johnston’s receipts for all sorts of pastry, creams, puddings, custards, preserves, marmalets, conserves, geillies, syrops, wines etc published in 1740 is the same recipe for plumb cake.[vi] Mrs Johnston, in turn, took the first 92 pages of her cookbook from Mrs McLintock’s receipts for cookery and pastry-work published in Glasgow in 1736, the first cookbook known to have been published in Scotland.[vii] This means we can push the date back nearly 60 years, and it seems plausible that even earlier versions exist in manuscript sources.

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The Recipe

 

The first challenge in redacting this recipe was working out what the measurements would mean in today’s values. Many recipes for plum-cakes from this time period are enormous, meant to feed a household that included a large extended family, their servants and retainers, and any visitors who happened to be in the area. I used a helpful table from the Scottish Archive Network to convert the measurements into metric, although it’s worth noting that in many cases there were multiple options (e.g. is it the Troy or the Tron pound?) so the measurements I came up with are by no means definitive. Turns out though, that my measurements were off by quite a bit. Although I initially only used one egg since modern eggs are probably larger than those in the past, I used two and then added quite a bit of warm water to make a stiff dough.

 

Then I had to figure out how much to reduce the recipe by. The original recipe asks for nine litres of flour and just shy of ten kilograms of dried fruit; much as I love fruitcake there was no way I was making the whole cake! I ended up dividing all the ingredients by seven, which still produces a large cake, so you may want to reduce it even more.

 

The National Library of Scotland website had noted that cordecidron was quince paste, but that didn’t seem very likely to me and a bit of research shows that it is an old Scottish word for citron peel which makes much more sense.[viii] For the both the orange peel and the citron peel I assumed that they meant candied peel, which is what is normally used in plum-cake recipes. Even after reducing the recipe massively, I didn’t have more than 700g of candied peel so I just put in what I had. Obviously that is less accurate, but given how much difficulty I had getting the fruit worked into the dough it was something that I was glad of later. It’s amazing to think that people did this for 7 times the amount of dough!

 

Finally, what shape should the dough take? Does it need time to rise? Does it need a tin or hoop to support it? And how long does it take to cook? I’m still not really sure about the answer to any of these. Modern buns tend to be circular or loaf-shaped and are cooked in tins. The rectangular loaf-shape is probably modern, since loaf-tins seem to be a 19th century invention. Mrs Frazer’s recipe suggests binding it in paper, which would presumably give a softer form than a metal tin, while a note in the Dods recipe says “They should be baked in a dome-shaped fluted mould or Turk’s cap, but look still more imposing at holiday-times, formed like large, respectable, old-fashioned household loaves.”[ix] The two moulds would probably give an effect like a bundt cake, while old-fashioned household loaves may refer to something like a cob loaf. What I can tell you is that my tin method didn’t work very well, because the bun didn’t have enough room to expand and split. Given how stiff the dough is, I would be tempted next time to just shape it into a cob loaf and bake it on a tray.

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Splitting from the tin – not ideal

The Redaction

Plum-Cake, or Early Black Bun

1.9 kg of flour (something went very wrong with the calculations here, and as treaclemine helpfully pointed out the actual amount should be less than a kilogram, say around 684g of flour)

142 g butter

2 eggs

71 g sugar

2 tsp yeast mixed with 2tbsp warm water

2 tbsp brandy

585g currants

113g candied peel

140g almonds

2g cinnamon

2g nutmeg

2g cloves

2g caraway seeds

 

  1. Mix together yeast and warm water in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Put flour in large bowl and rub in butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Beat the sugar and eggs then add to the flour with the yeast and the brandy. Add enough warm water to bring together to form a stiff dough. Take a quarter and put to one side, covered with a damp towel.
  4. In a large bowl mix together the fruit, almonds and spices, then mix into the 3/4 of the dough. This is quite difficult because of how stiff the dough is and how much dough there is. When you can no longer knead the entire dough, it helps to take small handfuls of dough and press them into the fruit to incorporate more of the mixture.
  5. Roll out the 1/4 of the dough into a very large, thin circle (approx. 12 inches round), thinner at the edges. Put the fruit dough in the middle and shape into a rough circle (if you are using a tin, make sure that the circle will fit the tin). Wrap the dough up around the filling, pinching at the top like a dumpling.
  6. Grease the tin or baking tray, and place the bun in, seam side down. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F, then bake for about 90 minutes or until knocking on the bun produces a hollow sound.

 

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Plumb-Cake (identical recipe available here)

The Date: 1740

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 2 hours

How successful was it?: It was very dry, a bit similar to bad pannetone but with more fruit. It wasn’t too sweet, which was great, and the occasional pop of a carraway seed was a nice addition to the usual fruitcake flavours.

How accurate?: There are so many things that were unclear here, and the texture just didn’t seem quite right so probably not very.

 

References

[i] Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food (OUP Oxford, 2014), 85.

[ii]

“Black, Adj. and N.,” OED Online (Oxford University Press), accessed January 6, 2019, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/19670; Galignani’s Messenger: The Spirit of the English Journals. 1825,2 (Brière, 1825), 562; Christian Isobel Johnstone, The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, by Margaret Dods. [&c.]., 1862, 512, http://archive.org/details/cookandhousewif01johngoog.

[iii] Mrs Frazer, The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Pickling, Preserving, &c: Containing Figures of Dinners, from Five to Nineteen Dishes, and a Full List of Supper Dishes; Also a List of Things in Season for Every Month in the Year, and Directions for Choosing Provisions: With Two Plates, Showing the Method of Placing Dishes Upon a Table, and the Manner of Trussing Poultry, &c (Peter Hill, Edinburgh, and T. Cadell, London, 1791).

[iv] “Culinary and Household Receipes of the Fletcher of Saltoun Family” (Receipt Book, 18th Century), MS 17853, National Library of Scotland, https://digital.nls.uk/recipes/browse/archive/105410479#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0.

[v] “Culinary and Household Receipes of the Fletcher of Saltoun Family.”

[vi] Mrs Johnston, Mrs. Johnston’s Receipts for All Sorts of Pastry, Creams, Puddings, Custards, Preserves, Marmalets, Conserves, Geillies, Syrops, Wines, Wet and Dry Confections, Biskets, Sauces, Pickles, and Cookery, after the Newest and Most Approved Method (Edinburgh: [s.n.], 1740), 3, http://find.galegroup.com/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&docLevel=FASCIMILE&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=stan90222&tabID=T001&docId=CB3326959443&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0.

[vii] Johnston, Mrs. Johnston’s Receipts for All Sorts of Pastry, Creams, Puddings, Custards, Preserves, Marmalets, Conserves, Geillies, Syrops, Wines, Wet and Dry Confections, Biskets, Sauces, Pickles, and Cookery, after the Newest and Most Approved Method note in Eighteenth Century Collections Online database.

[viii] “Cordecedron N.,” Dictionary of the Scots Language (Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd., 2004), http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/dost/cordecedron#.

[ix] Christian Isobel Johnstone, The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, by Margaret Dods. [&c.]., 513.

Two Vintage Passionfruit Recipes for Using Up a Glut

Passionfruit flummery, recipe from 1939

I spent August at home in Brisbane and our passionfruit vine was loaded down with fruit. There were so many little bulbs of deliciousness that I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do with them all. That means, of course, searching Trove for historical recipes to test.

I’m not sure it’s generally very well known that Australia has a proud baking tradition (although people overseas do comment on the Australian sweet tooth) but many of Australia’s most iconic treats are baked: lamingtons, ANZAC biscuits, gems cones, pumpkin scones, damper, even pavlova.

While many of the baked goods were variations on European traditions, such as gingerbread, sponge cakes or scones, Barbara Santich argues that what makes Australian baking unique was the proliferation of variations.[1] She suggests that sweet recipes took up a much larger proportion of 19th and early 20th century Australian cookbooks compared to contemporary English cookbooks, perhaps two or three times as many.[2]

The warm growing conditions facilitated this experimentation; sugar was cheaply available, especially as the Australian sugar business took off, and fruit was abundant. Two tropical flavours, in particular, came to the forefront: coconut and passionfruit. While passionfruit is now most commonly used as a topping for pavlova, it was also used as a filling or icing for cakes, and made into jams, jellies and butters, puddings, slices, pies, biscuits, creams and flummeries.

Passionfruit flummery, recipe from 1939

The Recipes

The first recipe I decided to make was a 1939 recipe for Passionfruit Custard Slices. The slice, a rectangular slab of baked goodness that’s cut into slices, is a highlight of Australian baking.  No country bakery is complete without vanilla slice – a thick layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between crisp, golden pastry. Passionfruit slice is a variation on this, with a passionfruit icing on top of the upper layer of pastry.

What makes this recipe different is that it doesn’t use a real custard for the filling. Instead, you make a white sauce which is then enriched with sugar and egg yolks. I was pretty wary of this, since it didn’t sound like it would be thick enough, or particularly tasty. However, because it’s not very sweet it does a really good job of balancing out the extremely sugary icing.

Passionfruit Custard Slices

INGREDIENTS: 1/2lb. Puff, rough puff or flaky pastry.

FOR CUSTARD: 1 tablespoon butter, 1 heaped tablespoon flour, 2 egg yolks, 1 cup milk, 1 or 2 passionfruit.

FOR ICING: 1/2lb. Icing sugar, 2 passionfruit.

Method: Roll prepared pastry square or oblong in shape, place on baking tray, brush surface with egg white, then cook in hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, decreasing heat when well risen and lightly brown. Lift on wire cooler, and, when cold, split in two layers. Melt butter in saucepan, add flour and blend smoothly, cook for a minute, then add milk, and stir until mixture boils and thickens. Stir in sugar, egg yolks, and cook without reboiling the custard. Stir until cool, add passionfruit pulp or strained juice, then spread one layer of pastry with custard and cover with other layer. Mix sifted icing sugar with passionfruit pulp or strained juice, forming a smooth icing. Pour over pastry surface and when firmly set, cut into slices.[3]

Passionfruit flummery, recipe from 1939

Another staple of passionfruit desserts is the moulded jelly or pudding. A flummery is basically a jelly made with a substance such as cream or milk to make it opaque. They have a long history, dating back to at least the 17th century when it was made with oats or wheat, but have mostly disappeared now. Flummery still survives in some Australian households as ‘jelly whip’, a cheap, mousse-like dessert in which evaporated milk is whipped into nearly set jelly. This version from 1933 is even cheaper, and is dairy free, because it uses flour rather than a dairy product to make the jelly opaque.

Passionfruit Flummery

Soak 1 tablespoon gelatine in 1 cup cold water for 2 hours, then add 1 1/2 cups sugar. Mix 1 tablespoon plain flour with 1 cup cold water, the juice of 2 oranges and 1 lemon. Put all on fire together and bring to the boil, remove, and when nearly cold add the pulp of 6 passionfruit, and beat till thick and white.[4]

My flummery separated, I think maybe because the jelly wasn’t cold enough when I whipped it. It was still OK, with a layer of plain jelly on the bottom and then a layer of flummery with the texture more like marshmallow fluff or something like that. The main problem was just that the jelly was wayyyyy too sweet.

[1] Barbara Santich, Bold Palates (Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 2012), 193.

[2] Santich, 190.

[3] “PASSIONFRUIT,” The Sun, January 8, 1939.

[4] “Delicious Passionfruit Recipes,” The Northern Star, August 3, 1933.

Passionfruit custard slice, recipe from 1933

The Redactions

Passionfruit Custard Slice

225g puff, rough puff or flaky pastry

2 eggs, separated

1 tablespoon butter

1 heaped tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

2 passionfruit

For the icing:

225g icing sugar

2 passionfruit

 

  1. Heat the oven to 190°C. Roll the pastry into a square or oblong, place on baking tray and brush the surface with the beaten egg white.
  2. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, decreasing heat when well risen and lightly brown. Place on a wire rack to cool and, when cold, cut in half to make two layers.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and whisk to blend. Cook for a minute, then add the milk bit by bit, and stir until the mixture boils and thickens.
  4. Stir in the sugar and egg yolks, and cook without boiling the custard. Stir until it is cool then add the pulp of two passionfruit.
  5. Spread the custard on one layer of pastry, and add place the second layer of pastry on top.
  6. To make the icing, mix the sifted icing sugar with the pulp from the remaining two passionfruit to make a smooth icing. Pour over the pastry surface. Refrigerate until it sets then cut into slices.

 

Passionfruit Flummery

1 tbsp gelatine

2 cups cold water

1 ½ cups sugar

1 tbsp plain flour

2 oranges, juiced

1 lemon, juiced

6 passionfruit

 

  1. Dissolve the gelatine in 1 cup of the water, then add the sugar.
  2. Mix the flour with the remaining cup of cold water and the orange and lemon juice.
  3. Mix the gelatine and the juice mixture together in a saucepan, and bring to the boil. Remove the mixture and allow to cool.  When nearly cold add the passionfruit pulp and beat it until it is thick and white.

 

Passionfruit flummery, recipe from 1939

References

“Delicious Passionfruit Recipes.” The Northern Star. August 3, 1933.

“PASSIONFRUIT.” The Sun. January 8, 1939.

Santich, Barbara. Bold Palates. Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 2012.

 

Soyer’s Oxtail Soup

 

Alexis Soyer

Alexis Soyer, frontispiece engraving from A Shilling Cookery for the People, 1855, public domain.

A few years ago, I read Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef by Ruth Cowen, and now Alexis Soyer seems to pop up everywhere I turn. He was an amazing man, one of the first celebrity chefs (complete with his own line of cookbooks and product endorsements) but also an inventor and entrepreneur. Although in his restaurant he mostly cooked for the wealthy and famous he was also involved in philanthropic projects including setting up soup kitchens in Ireland during the Great Famine and working with Florence Nightingale to reform army cooking during the Crimean War.

Soyer's Kitchen at Scutari Barracks

Alexis Soyer’s Barrack Hospital kitchens in Scutari, Turkey during the Crimean War. Wood engraving. Licensed by the Wellcome Collection under CC BY.

Soyer also produced several cookbooks with recipes for cheap, simple and nutritious recipes that poor people could make at home, or that charities or institutions could make in bulk. These included Soyer’s Charitable Cookery; Or, the Poor Man’s Regenerator Dedicated to the Benevolent, for the Benefit of the Labouring, and Poor Classes of the United Kingdom (c.1847) and A Shilling Cookery for the People: Embracing an Entirely New System of Plain Cookery and Domestic Economy (1855). While the tone of his writing is self-aggrandising and patronising, Soyer evidently put a great deal of effort into the recipes and considered the equipment that people had, the ingredients they could afford, and their experience with cooking.

The Recipe

The first chapter in the A Shilling Cookery for the People contains 37 recipes for soups, stocks and gravies ranging from the extremely simple rice soup (rice boiled in broth) to the aspirational ‘Good White Mock Turtle Soup’. Needing only a heat source and a pot, these soups were adaptable to both older styles of fireplace cookery and the modern stoves. The recipe that I decided to make ‘Ox Tail Soup in Baking Pan’ would have required an oven, but there is another very similar version available for making it on the stove.

Ox Tail Soup in Baking Pan – Divide two ox tails, wash them well in cold water, then put them in the pan, with three teaspoonfuls of salt, one of pepper, four cloves, a little thyme, if handy, two good onions; add three quarts of water, two tablespoons of colouring; put on the cover, place it in a moderate oven for three hours to simmer, take off the fat, which save for use, and serve. Half a pound of any vegetable, mixed or not, cut in dice, can be added with advantage.[1]

The recipe for colouring is given later in the book:

A Common Batter – Put in a basin six good tablespoonfuls of flour, which dilute very slowly with one pint of milk, add one spoonful of salt, quarter that of pepper, beat an egg well in it, if used for toad-in-the-hole. A little parsley, chopped onions, or a little spice, makes an agreeable change; it will also make nice puddings, if baked alone, or under a joint in a well-greased tin.[2]

This recipe is pretty straightforward. The oxtails I bought were already cut up but if you’re buying a whole oxtail then ask your butcher to section it for you or you can do it yourself by cutting in between the caudal vertebrae (The Seasoned Cook has a video of how to do this). The benefit of using oxtail is that it’s very cheap, and it tastes delicious if you give it a long, slow cooking. Once your oxtails are ready, just stick everything in a lidded casserole dish, or a baking dish covered with foil and let it simmer for three hours. For the vegetables, I used leek, turnips and carrots but you could also use potatoes, pumpkin, peas, swedes, parsnips or celery.

[1] Soyer, A Shilling Cookery for the People, 16.

[2] Soyer, 164.

 

Oxtail Soup made from Alexis Soyer's 1855 recipe

The Redaction

Baked Oxtail Soup

1 tbsp flour

1/6 cup milk

Parsley, chopped (optional)

2 oxtails, sectioned

Thyme

3 tsp salt, plus additional for paste

1 tsp pepper, plus additional for paste

4 cloves

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped

2 turnips, diced

2 small carrots, diced

3 litres water

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Whisk together the flour, milk, and parsley (if using) until it forms as smooth paste and season with the additional salt and pepper.
  2. Place all of the other ingredients in a casserole dish or a baking tray. Stir in the flour and milk paste. Cover with a lid, or with aluminium foil.
  3. Put the dish in the oven and leave to simmer for 3 hours. Skim off any excess fat. Serve hot with crusty bread or buttered toast.

Oxtail Soup made from Alexis Soyer's 1855 recipe

References

Cowen, Ruth. Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef. London: Phoenix, 2008.

Soyer, Alexis. The Gastronomic Regenerator: A Simplified and Entirely New System of Cookery; with Nearly Two Thousand Practical Receipts, Suited to the Income of All Classes. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Company, 1846.

Soyer, Alexis. Soyer’s Charitable Cookery; or, The Poor Man’s Regenerator. 1847. Reprint, London: Simpkin Marshall & Company, 1884.

Soyer, Alexis. A Shilling Cookery for the People: Embracing an Entirely New System of Plain Cookery

and Domestic Economy. London: G. Routledge & Company, 1855.

 

Making Chicha Part 2 – Experimental Chicha, Two Ways

This is the second part of a two-part series on using archaeology to study alcohol production. To read the first part, click here.

In Central and South America today, the word chicha is used for a range of fermented and unfermented beverages; most commonly it refers to maize beer, but chicha can also be made from other grains, tubers and fruits. Archaeological evidence of chicha has been found at many sites in Peru, and has also been suggested for sites in Argentina, Mexico and Bolivia.

Wari wooden beaker (kero), 7th to 10th century, from Peru or Bolivia. These cups were used for drinking chicha. Accession No. 1978.412.214. Licenced by the Metropolitan Museum under CC0 1.0 Universal.

Wari wooden beaker (kero), 7th to 10th century, from Peru or Bolivia. These cups were used for drinking chicha. Accession No. 1978.412.214. Licenced by the Metropolitan Museum under CC0 1.0 Universal.

There are two main ways in which chicha is produced today: either the corn is either germinated and ground, or it is soaked and then chewed. In either approach, the idea is to use enzymes to start breaking down the starches into sugars for fermentation. If you germinate the corn, the enzymes are produced naturally and if you chew the grain, the enzymes are introduced from your saliva.

Purple corn for making chicha.

Purple corn for making chicha.

I started the experiment with some really beautiful purple corn which I soaked for 24 hours and then spread out on damp paper towel to start germination. Unfortunately, after seven days there were no signs of germination. I decided to try the mastication method with this corn instead, and so I mixed it with a little water and chewed it. Once the grain was chewed, I spat it out and formed little clumps of muko which I left to dry. Once again, however, my chicha making was foiled because the muko went mouldy.

Muko, clumps of chewed up corn for making chicha.

Muko, clumps of chewed up corn for making chicha.

With two failures under my belt, I turned once again to the germination method. This time, the corn that I used had already been malted (soaked and germinated) and roughly crushed. I ground the corn more finely with a rolling pin to produced a mixture of small and medium-sized pieces and a powder.

IMG_6410

Grinding the corn for the second attempt at making chicha.

Once all the corn was ground, the corn was placed in a saucepan and covered with hot water. I put a lid on the saucepan and left it to soak for an hour. After the hour had passed, the corn smelled wonderful, very sweet and malty. I added more water to fill the saucepan and brought the mixture to the boil before lowering the temperature and letting it simmer for an hour.

Bubbles show that the chicha is fermenting nicely!

Bubbles show that the chicha is fermenting nicely! There is no yeast added to the mix, but wild yeasts from the skin of the corn and from the air are used to ferment the mixture. Yeast can also be added by adding some older chicha, or by using equipment which has been inoculated with yeast.

Once the chicha was cool I transferred the liquid and half of the corn to a plastic container. The lid was left on loosely, and the chicha left to ferment. After three days, the chicha was bubbling and smelled sweet and tasted like watery corn.

The final product, which tasted like watery corn.

The final product, which tasted like watery corn.

Throughout the process, I took samples of the corn which can now be compared against archaeological samples. Hopefully having comparative samples like this will allow archaeologists to identify chicha production and consumption from residues found in different vessels.

 

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