An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: 17th Century (page 1 of 2)

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.


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.


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]  


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.


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.



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,; 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,

[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.,

[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


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.


To Candy Orring Pills

Candied Orange Peels, 17th century recipeI don’t quite know why, but I had kind of assumed that candied orange peel would date to the late 17th century, like jellied marmalades. I was quite surprised, then, to find that candied fruits, and candied peel, are actually quite a bit older.


Preserving in a sugary syrup – whether it’s made from honey, wine, grape must, or sugar – is a very effective way of preserving seasonal products. There is a long history of preserved or candied fruits in China and Korea, dating back to the 10th century, and the Romans preserved quinces and other fruits in honey, or in desfrutum (boiled down new wine) or must.[1]


Candied citrus in particular was an expensive gift, and an extravagant ingredient during the 14th and 15th centuries.[2] In Medieval Europe, both honey and sugar were used for preserving a range of fruits, herbs, nuts and spices. This late fourteenth century recipe from The Menagier de Paris uses honey:


To make orengat, cut the peel of an orange into five segments, and with a knife, scrape off the white pith that is inside. Then soak them in nice, fresh water for nine days, and change the water every day; then boil them in fresh water until it comes to the boil, then spread them on a cloth and let them dry thoroughly; then put them ina  pot with enough honey to cover the completely, and boil over a low fire, and skim it; and when you think that the honey is done (to see if it is done, put some water into a bowl and drop into that water a drop of the honey, and if it spreads it is not cooked; and if that drop of honey holds its shape in the water without spreading, it is done); then, remove your orange peel, and make a layer of it and sprinkle ginger powder on top, then another layer, and sprinkle etc., ad infinitum; leave for a month or longer before eating.[3]


In the fifteenth century, Platina suggests that sugar could be used for candying almonds, pine-nuts, hazelnuts, coriander, anise and cinnamon, while honey was better for apples, gourds, citrons and nuts.[4] The Catalan book on confectionary Libre de totes maneres de confits gives both options in most cases, whereas the Italian Libro per Cuoco only uses honey for candying orange peel.[5] Over time, as sugar become cheaper and more widely available, the use of honey became less common.


In England, by the sixteenth century, the primary distinction is between wet suckets (stored in syrup) and dry suckets (removed from the syrup and dried).[6] Nearly every published cookbook and private receipt book that survives contains recipes for these kinds of sweetmeats, which would be served in the banquet course at the end of the meal. Sugar was considered health promoting, especially when combined with spices and it was eaten at the end of the meal to promote digestion (for more on this see my post on gingerbread).[7]


The range of products which were candied is staggering. Fresh fruits, seeds, spices, green walnuts, marshmallow, angelica, lettuce stalks (sometimes called gorge d’ange or angel’s throat), and eringo (or sea-holly) roots were all fair game. Nor has the tradition completely died out. Many types of dry suckets still survive: in England, particularly around Christmas, baked goods often include candied citrus peel, candied ginger, glace cherries and candied angelica. In France, candied melon is an essential ingredient in calissons while marrons glaces (candied chestnuts) are a specialty of Northern Italy and the Piedmont region. Elvas, Portugal, is famous for its candied greengages. Wet suckets have been less enduring, but you can still buy ginger preserved in syrup.


Given how many 16th and 17th century still lives exist showing all kinds of sweetmeats, there are surprisingly few with candied fruits. This early 17th century painting shows a range of candied fruits, both whole and in sections. On the left at the back is what looks like a whole candied citron, slices of another type of citrus, and what might be candied greengages. On the plate in front are candied figs, or maybe small pears. The boxes on the right would hold fruit pastes, and the jars contain fruits preserved in syrup.  Juan van der Hamen, Still Life with Sweets and Pottery, 1627. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Recipe

All of this leads us to today’s recipe, which comes from Martha Washington’s Booke of Sweetmeats (the second half of the Booke of Cookery). This receipt book is typical in that it provides a range of recipes for preserving and candying. The candying section alone has recipes for rose leaves, marigolds, violets, rosemary flowers, borage flowers, eringo roots, elecampane, ginger, orange peel, gooseberries, angelico stalks and roots, and apricots.[8]


To Candy Orring Pills

Take Civill orringes & pare them very thin. Then cut them in little pieces, & lay them in faire water a day & a night, & shift them evening and morning. Then boyle them, & shift them when the water is bitter into another water, & continew this till the water & boyling hath made them soft & yt theyr bitterness be gon. Then dreyne ye water from them, & make a thin sirrup, in which boyle them a pritty while. Then take them out & make another sirrup a little stronger, & boyle them a while in yt. Then dreyne ye sirrup from them, & boyle another sirrup to candy heigh, in wch put them. Then take them out & lay them on plats one by one. When they are dry, turne them & then they are done.[9]


This is a fairly straightforward recipe for candied orange peels, and indeed modern recipes aren’t dissimilar. The recipe explicitly calls for Seville oranges, which are very bitter (they are still preferred for marmalade) and this explains the soaking and boiling process.


What is more unusual, is the way that the peels are removed from each syrup. What is unclear is whether a completely new syrup is made each time, or whether the existing syrup is simply made stronger, either by reducing it, or perhaps by adding more sugar. In the end, I opted to simply use the same syrup, but to boil it down between each stage.


For the stages, there are a series of instructions at the beginning of the book which describe each stage. A thin syrup is “will look thin & pale cullered.”[10] A full syrup is a bit stronger, “it will change its culler and looke high cullered like strong beere.”[11] It is not as strong as manus christi height, at which point it will form a thread between the fingers. Hess notes that this is 215F (105C), but this stage would normally be considered a bit hotter at 230-234F or 110-112C.[12]


Candy height, which is the final stage required for this recipe is what is now called the large pearl stage. Again, Hess’ temperature of 232F seems a bit low, it’s normally given as 235-239F or 113-115C.[13] Having said that, I have tried it with the temperatures that Hess gives, and they do work. You will just have a more syrupy peel at the end.


[1] Vehling, De Re Coquinaria of Apicius, 52; Palladius, The Fourteen Books of Palladius Rutilius Taurus Æmilianus, on Agriculture, 148; Richardson, Sweets, 92; The Korea Foundation, Traditional Food.

[2] Tolkowsky, Hesperides A History of Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits, 150, 166, 269.

[3] Redon, Sabban, and Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy, 218.

[4] Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 57.

[5] Anonimo Veneziano, “Libro Di cucina/Libro per Cuoco”; Faraudo de Saint-Germain, “Libre de Totes Maneres de Confits. Un Tratado Manual Cuatrocentista de Arte de Dulceria.”

[6] Young, “Stages of Sugar Syrup,” 102.

[7] Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 130–31.

[8] Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, 278–87.

[9] Ibid., 284.

[10] Ibid., 226.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 227; Young, “Stages of Sugar Syrup,” 651.

[13] Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, 227; Young, “Stages of Sugar Syrup,” 651.


Here is another still life with candied fruit. At the back left, the fruit has clearly been stored in syrup and is still quite wet. It’s hard to make out what the fruit is, but some pears, a lemon, and maybe some melon or gourd. On the plate on the right, the fruit is very dry. This could simply be dried fruit, but it could also be candied fruit. In particular, look in the center, where there is citrus peel holding the dried grapes. Georg Flegel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What can I do with my Orange Peel and Syrup?


The easiest thing is to eat it straight, because it is delicious. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but some people might like to roll the peel in sugar, or for a modern option you can dip them in good-quality dark chocolate.


You can also keep your orange peel for baking. Lots of modern recipes contain candied peel, including fruitcake, Christmas pudding, panettone or this delicious spiced honey cake. If you want something historical, try one of these recipes:


Eccles Cakes via The Old Foodie

Orange Gingerbread via The Old Foodie

Scotch Short-bread via the Old Foodie

Hot Cross Buns via The Cook and the Curator

Mince Pies via Colonial Williamsburg Historic Foodways

This updated recipe of Martha Washington’s Excellent Cake via the Chicago Tribune

Skirret Pie via Historic Food Jottings


And the syrup? It’s got a lovely, gentle orange flavour which would be perfect for pouring over baklava or awamat (Lebanese doughnuts). You could also use it as a simple syrup in cocktails, or use it for an orange syrup cake.


My Redaction

Candied Orange Peels

4 oranges, Seville if possible

2 cups water

225g sugar


  1. Slice the top and bottom off the oranges with a very sharp knife. Steady the orange on the now flat bottom, and carefully cut the peel of the knife in vertical sections. Carefully remove as much pith as you want (more pith = more bitter) using either a teaspoon or a knife. Slice the peel into thin slices.
  2. Place the peel in a large bowl and cover with fresh water. Cover the bowl and leave for 24 hours, changing the water after 12 hours. The next day, drain the peels, place them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to the boil, then drain the peels, cover them in fresh water and bring to the boil again. Repeat this once more, for a total of three times, then drain the peels.
  3. In the saucepan, combine the water and the sugar. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a simmer. Add the peel, but try not to stir as this will lead to crystallisation. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the peel.
  4. Heat the syrup to 105C, then add the peel. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the peel.
  5. Heat the syrup to 113C,then add the peel. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Remove the peel from the hot syrup and lay them on racks to dry. Once dry, remove them and store them in an airtight container.




Note: you can collect orange peels over time, and keep them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. Simply defrost them when you want to use them, and continue with the recipe. If they have been frozen, it is much easier to scoop out the pith with a spoon.



The Round-Up


The Recipe: To Candy Orring Pills from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweemeats

The Date: 17th century

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 2 days

How successful was it?: I was really happy with how they turned out. They’re very moreish wish a pleasant residual bitterness from the pith.

How accurate?: I didn’t use Seville oranges, which would have been more bitter, and might have needed more pith removed. I also am not sure whether using the same syrup and just making it stronger was the right approach or not.

Candied Orange Peels, 17th century recipe


The Korea Foundation. Traditional Food: A Taste of Korean Life. Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2010.

Anonimo Veneziano. “Libro Di cucina/Libro per Cuoco.” Translated by Thomas Gloning.

Corpus of Culinary & Dietetic Texts of Europe from the Middle Ages to 1800, 2000.

Faraudo de Saint-Germain, Lluis. “Libre de Totes Maneres de Confits. Un Tratado Manual Cuatrocentista de Arte de Dulceria.” Boletin de La Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona 19 (1946): 97–134.

Hess, Karen. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. Reprint edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Palladius, Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus. The Fourteen Books of Palladius Rutilius Taurus Æmilianus, on Agriculture. Translated by Thomas Owen. J. White, 1807.

Redon, Odine, Francoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy. Translated by Edward Schneider. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Richardson, Tim. Sweets: The History of Temptation. Random House, 2004.

Young, Carolin C. “Stages of Sugar Syrup.” In The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein, 650–53. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. 5th ed. Suffolk and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2005.

Tolkowsky, S. Hesperides A History of Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits. London: John Bale Sons & Curnow LTD, 1938.

Vehling, Joseph Dommers, trans. De Re Coquinaria of Apicius. Chicago: Walter M. Hill, 1936.*.html.






A Plum Tart for Christmastide


img_5626It’s quite amazing, how regularly historical recipes will prove you wrong. So often I think that a recipe will just never work, and it’s so tempting to “fix” it by using modern techniques. Once again, however, this 17th century recipe for a Christmas plum tart shows what great results you can get by following the instructions as they are.

This recipe comes from Folger MS v.a.21, fol.146 and was posted on the Shakespeare’s World blog. If you aren’t aware of Shakespeare’s World, you should definitely check it out. It’s a crowd-sourced project which lets you help transcribe recipes and letters from the 16th and 17th centuries.  I think it’s a wonderful example of the digital humanities in action, and that they’ve had so much interest is really great news for future projects. My one beef is that the transcribed pages are not yet available to the public (although this is apparently in the works).

But back to the tart. Folger MS V.a.21 is an anonymous receipt book dated to about 1675, containing both medical and cooking recipes as was common in the 17th century.[1] Although the recipe is called ‘A receipte for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other plum’ it’s actually a recipe for preserving damsons or other types of plums, and then rough directions are appended for turning the preserves into a tart. The preserves would be lovely in any number of sweets. Don’t throw out the syrup either! It’s great for making mocktails with some soda water, or add some gin or vodka for a refreshing cocktail.

The Recipe


Plum Tart Recipe from Folger MS V.a.21, fol. 146. Licensed by Folger Shakespeare Library under CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Take 3 pound of damsons & a lof sugar a pint of water put that sugar & that water into a preserving skillett when it boyleth skimm it cleane Let it a cooling then slit the skin of the damsons put them into the Sirrop let them stand on the fire a stewing 2 howres together then take them vp & let them stand by till the next day then doe as before 2 howres till the last of [quarter of] an howre then let it boyle & when they are cold put them vp into gully pottes for that use this will keep till Christmastide masse when you use them to put them into the Tart made as thin as you can raise it because it must not be much baked put more Sugar into them when you bake them.[2]

I was quite surprised that the plums were put into the syrup whole and with their stones still in. It was tempting to remove the pits, but it’s actually much more efficient to just slit the skins and let them boil. After a while, the plums naturally break into halves and the pits can be cleanly lifted out. This method means that there is very little wastage of the fruit. If you were cooking with the smaller, more fiddly damsons then it would make even more sense.


The instructions about how to make the tart are very brief, so I used the recipe for ‘Short and Crisp Crust for Tarts and Pyes’ from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby which is a basic hot water pastry.


To half a peck of fine flower, take a pound and half of Butter, in this manner. Put your Butter with at least three quarts of cold water (it imports not how much or how little the water is) into a little kettle to melt, and boil gently: as soon as it is melted, scum off the Butter with a ladle, pouring it by ladlefuls (one a little after another, as you knead it with the flower) to some of the flower (which you take not all at once, that you may the better discern, how much Liquor is needful) and work it very well into Paste. When all your butter is kneaded, with as much of the flower, as serves to make paste of a fitting consistence, take of the water that the Butter was melted in, so much as to make the rest of the flower into Paste of due consistence; then joyn it to the Paste made with Butter, and work them both very well together, of this make your covers and coffins thin. If you are to make more paste for more Tarts or Pyes, the water that hath already served, will serve again better then fresh.[3]

It wasn’t clear to me if the tart was supposed to be self-supporting, or if it would have been in a tin. With hot water pastry you could probably make it self-supporting, but because I wanted the pastry to be as thin as possible that was going to be difficult. Robert May often refers to pies or tarts being cooked in patty-pans or dishes in The Accomplisht Cook (1671), so it seemed reasonable to use a pie tin.


Design for the lid of a dish of pippins from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May (1671) [Public Domain].

I used the same pastry for the lid of the tart, and used a selection of small cutters to make a decorative top. For the style of decoration, I drew inspiration from Robert May’s ‘Dish of Pippins’.[4] If you want to see some truly beautiful tarts in this style, have a look at Ivan Day’s cut-laid tarts. He often does them in puff pastry and cooks them separately, which would make a lovely addition to this tart. However you want to do it, this tart makes a lovely addition to any Christmas table!

[1] Anonymous, “Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes.”

[2] Tobey, “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.”

[3] Macdonell, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, 216.

[4] May, The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery., 243–244.


The Redaction

Christmas Plum Tart


For the plums:

900g Plums

300g Sugar

315ml Water
For the Pastry:

70g butter

300ml cold water

290g plain flour

Eggwash or milk

To make the preserves

  1. Place the sugar and water into a large saucepan and heat bring to the boil.
  2. Use the tip of a sharp knife to slit the skin of each plum vertically around the circumference, following the dent in the plum. Place the plums in the syrup, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. Allow the plums to cool, move them into a bowl with the syrup and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. The next day, return the plums to the saucepan and simmer for an hour and 45 minutes. Turn the heat up and boil for a final 15 minutes. Sterilise a jar and fill the warm jar with the hot plums.


To make the tart

  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Place the butter and the water into a saucepan over medium heat, until the butter is melted.
  2. Place the flour into a bowl and spoon in the melted butter from the top of the saucepan. Add enough of the water from beneath the butter to make a pliable pastry.
  3. On a floured board, roll out the pastry while still warm. Lightly grease a 24cm tart tin, and line it with pastry. Roll out the excess again, and cut a circle for the lid. Decorate the lid as desired with a sharp knife or biscuit cutters.
  4. Fill the tart base with the preserved plums. Lay the lid on top and brush the pastry with eggwash or milk. Bake for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or cold.


The Round-Up

The Recipe: A reciept for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other type of plum from Folger MS.V.a 21 Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes (original images available on the Folger website, transcription available on the Shakespeare’s World blog)

The Date: c. 1675

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 4 hours boiling plums, plus an hour for the tart and overnight resting

How successful was it?:  The filling is very sweet, and I was glad that I didn’t add any extra sugar to the tart. I was worried that the filling was too liquid but it ended up being fine and was delicious, particularly when served warm.

How accurate?: I didn’t use damsons and I didn’t add any extra sugar, it was already very sweet. I didn’t keep the preserves for very long, and I would be interested to see how they would last given that they aren’t sterilised in a hot water bath, as most modern preserves are. I’m not sure how accurate the use of the pie tin is, but it certainly worked well. It might be more accurate to use a shortcrust or puff pastry lid, and certainly the decoration was only roughly inspired by the May’s cookbook.


Anonymous. “Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes.” Manuscript, c 1675. MS V.a.21. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Macdonell, Anne, ed. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910.

May, Robert. The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1671.

Tobey, Elizabeth. “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.” Shakespeare’s World, December 24, 2015.

17th Century Polish Cuisine with Compendium Ferculorum


It has been such a long time since I have posted on here! But, my thesis is now complete and I actually have some time to cook and write. As a side note, I’ve been writing about some of the results of my research over at the Cook and the Curator blog. The first installment, about recreating the 19th century bread is up now, and the soup/meat recipes will be coming soon.


The recipe I made this week is also tangentially related to my studies. One of my lecturers heard about the blog and lent me a book that she had picked up in Poland. It’s a copy of Compendium Ferculorum by the chef Stanislav Czerniecki and originally published in 1682.[1]


In some ways the recipes are reminiscent of European medieval cuisines, with an emphasis on spices and sweet/savoury combinations. Pottages, sippets, blancmange and meat jellies feature heavily. There is also evidence for a complex network of international recipe exchange; the book includes dishes from Spain, France, England, Italy, Austria and Russia.

Pear Cake for Lent, Recipe from 1862

The Recipe

With more than 300 meat, fish and dairy recipes it was difficult to choose just one to start with. I’m suffering from an overabundance of pears at the moment though, so this seemed like a good excuse to make use of them. That led me to the recipe for Pear Cake for Lent. It’s an adaptation of the previous recipe, Apple Cake for Lent:


“Apple Cake for Lent: Prepare your dough as described above, cut peeled apples in three, coat them in your dough and fry in hot olive oil or oil. Being fried, serve forth sprinkled with sugar.

You will fry Lenten pear cake in a likewise fashion.”[2]


It’s not entirely clear which recipe for dough is being referred to here, but the previous recipe for Fig Cake says “Having kneaded the flour with water and yeast in a likewise fashion”,[3] and the Raisin Cakes for Lent before that says “Mix wheat flour with water and yeast and when it looks well risen, add saffron …”.[4]


Now, when recreating this there are two ways that I think you could interpret it. Some people online have claimed that modern Polish racuchy or racuszki are related to this recipe. Racuchy are a kind of apple fritter, with slices or chopped apple coated in a wet batter and fried.


However, the recipe seems to me to be a bit different (assuming of course that the translation is good). Firstly, the recipe clearly says to knead the dough, which is not something that you would do with a batter. Secondly, the instruction is to cut the apples or pears in three which would make very large fritters.


Instead, the recipe to me seems closer to Russian piroshki or pirojki which are a kind of doughnuts made with yeasted dough around a sweet or savoury filling. To that end I adapted a dough recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen, but used only flour, water and yeast as in the recipe. Salt is not mentioned in the recipe, but it really is required to stop your doughnuts tasting very bland. You could also add a pinch of saffron, dissolved in a little of the warm water, which would add a nice flavour and colour.

[1] Czerniecki, Compendium Ferculorum or Collection of Dishes.

[2] Ibid., 157.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 156.


The Redaction


Pear Cake for Lent


4 1/2 cups flour

1 3/4 cups warm water

1 tbsp dried yeast

1 tsp Salt

4 pears

Oil, to fry

Sugar, to serve


  1. Make the dough by mixing half a cup of warm water with the yeast and leave for 15 minutes until frothy. In a large bowl, place the flour and salt.
  2. Make a well in the middle and add the yeast mixture. Add the remaining water and mix together. You may need to add a little extra water to make the dough come together.
  3. Once the dough has come together, knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and pliable. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for 25 minutes. Knock down the dough, form it into a nice ball and return to the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
  4. Place about 1/2 an inch of oil in a frying pan and heat over a medium temperature. Peel the pears then cut each vertically into thirds and remove the cores.
  5. Take a small handful of dough and make it into a ball. Stretch and flatten the ball evenly until it is a bit larger than the palm of your hand. Place a third of a pear in the middle and ease the dough around it. Pinch the dough together to seal the pear inside, then flatten the seam. Repeat until all the dough is used.
  6. Carefully drop a little piece of dough into the oil. If the oil sizzles and bubbles around it then it is hot enough. Use a slotted spoon to carefully place the cakes in the hot oil in batches. The oil should come about halfway up the sides of the cakes.
  7. After about a minute, turn the cakes over (this prevents them from rising unevenly on one side) and allow to cook until golden. Then turn them over again and cook until the other side is golden.
  8. Remove the cakes using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar.

With pear.JPG

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Pear Cake For Lent

The Date: 1682

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 1.5 hrs.

How successful was it?:  Tasty, and I was really glad that the dough was cooked all the way through. The pear was lovely and sweet without any added sugar, but the dough needed some salt. They would be particularly nice with a little spice in the dough, and if I was doing it again I would add the saffron.

How accurate?: I still think that this thicker, bread-like dough is the way to go, rather than a batter. The original recipe doesn’t include any salt and I did make it that way but it really needs it. Presumably it’s just assumed that you will add it. The other big question that I had was what type of oil to use. Normally I wouldn’t use olive oil for frying, but I gave it a go since that’s what the recipe said (again, assuming that the translation is accurate). The flavour of the oil wasn’t a problem on the day that they were made, but two days later there was a definite gasoline flavour coming through. Since they really should be eaten straight away it’s less of an issue, but it might be worth using a flavourless oil, particularly if you are planning on keeping them for a bit.



Czerniecki, Stanislaw. Compendium Ferculorum or Collection of Dishes. Edited by Jaroslaw Dumanowski. Translated by Angieszka Czuchra and Maciej Czuchra. Monumenta Poloniae Culinaria. Warszawa: Wilanow Palace Museum, 2010.


To Stew Carrets


Purple carrots have been undergoing something of a renaissance in the last couple of years, and you may well have seen them at your local farmer’s market or even in the supermarket. If you have, then you’ve probably also heard that purple carrots are the original colour. It’s true that the earliest domesticated carrots were probably purple or yellow in colour, but purple was one of just several colours available until the 17th century[1]. The rise of the sweeter, orange carrot in the 17th century meant that the white, yellow, red and purple varieties fell out of favour until their hipster return in the 2000s.

With their deep and unusual colouring, these stewed purple carrots seemed like the perfect candidate for the HFF ‘Pretty as a Picture’ challenge! The recipe comes from a receipt book held by the Wellcome Library (I originally found the recipe on It is signed Elizabeth Jacob and has a date of 1654, but there are lots of different handwritings evident, so some of the recipes are later, probably up to about 1685[2].


The Recipe

Stewed Carrots

“To Stew Carrets” – recipe from Jacob, “Physicall and Chyrurgicall Receipts. Cookery and Preserves.,” 103.  Via the Wellcome Library, used under Creative Commons, Public Domain Mark 1.0 


To Stew Carrets

Take your carrets and cute them in long little pieces, and take a pretty many onions and cut them small. A bunch of sweet hearbes, a little whole peper and a little nutmegg, and put as much water as will cover your sauce pan. A good piece of butter cover them close and sett them on a slow fire Stire them some times, and when they are enough serve them.[3]


Given the date of this recipe, they may not have been using purple carrots, because they were already losing out to the more popular orange carrots. That being said, you do get depictions of purple carrots well into the 17th century (see Nicholaes Maes’ market scene below).


[1] Stolarczyk and Janick, “Carrot: History and Iconography.”

[2] Wellcome Library, “Jacob, Elizabeth (& Others).”

[3] Jacob, “Phyiscall and Chyrurgicall Receipts. Cookery and Preserves.,” 103.



Vegetable Market, Nicholaes Maes, 1655-1665. [Public Domain] via Rijksmuseum.

The Redaction

Stewed Carrots


1 small bunch of carrots, sliced into long pieces (julienned perhaps?)

1/2 onion, chopped small

A knob of butter, around 15g

Sprinkle of nutmeg

Black pepper

Thyme or other herbs to taste


  1. Place all the ingredients into a saucepan. Add enough water to just cover them, put a lid on the saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until just soft. Serve hot.


The Round-Up

The Recipe: To Stew Carrets from Physicall and chyrurgicall receipts. Cookery and preserves.  (available at pg. 103).

The Date: 1654-1685

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 20 mins.

How successful was it?:  The carrots looked really pretty but I added too much thyme and they had a very savoury, meaty smell which put me off a bit although they actually tasted OK.

How accurate?: I think it’s maybe unlikely at this date that they would have been using purple carrots, although it’s hard to know because the exact process and timeline for the takeover by the orange carrot is unclear. That was something that only became clearer after I had actually made the dish. Other than that, it’s mostly a matter of which herbs they would have used and I imagine that depended very much on what was fresh and available whenever you were making them.



Jacob, Elizabeth and others. “Phyiscall and Chyrurgicall Receipts. Cookery and Preserves.,” c.1654-1685. Wellcome Library.

Stolarczyk, John, and Jules Janick. “Carrot: History and Iconography.” Chronica Horticulturae 51, no. 2 (2011): 13–18.

Wellcome Library. “Jacob, Elizabeth (& Others).” Wellcome Library. Accessed April 5, 2016.


Sir William Paston’s Meathe

Mead recipe from 1669

So I have to apologise for dropping of the face of the earth for a couple of weeks, life got in the way again. I have a couple of Historical Food Fortnightly challenges to catch up with, they are done but still need writing up I’m afraid so please bear with me. Can I also say how lovely it was to have people reminiscing about puftaloons, please keep it up!

The challenge a couple of weeks ago was ‘Sweet Sips and Potent Potables’. I was originally planning on making hypocras (basically medieval mulled wine) but a couple of weeks before the challenge a friend of mine won a prize at Rhythm and Brews with her mead, and of course I decided I had to try out the recipe for myself. This was my first mead, or at least the first that is actually ready (I have another batch fermenting but it’s got several months to go) so I used the instructions from Taryn’s fantastic article ‘Mead in Three Weekends’ as a reference.

The recipe itself comes from “The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened” which was originally published in 1669. The recipe I used is called Sir William Paston’s Meathe, and after a quick search I think this probably refers to the High Sheriff of Norfolk and first Baronet of Oxnead, Sir William Paston (1610-1663)[1]. A well-travelled courtier and diplomat, Digby’s collection includes recipes from many of his friends and acquaintances, from the Queen-Mother to the Muscovian Ambassador’s steward. I think you can imagine him single-mindedly tracking down the recipe for the dish he just tasted, no matter the rank of the individuals concerned.

The Recipe


“Take ten Gallons of Spring-water, and put therein ten Pints of the best honey. Let this boil half an hour, and scum it very well; then put in one handful of Rosemary, and as much of Bay-leaves; with a little Limon-peel. Boil this half an hour longer, then take it off the fire, and put it into a clean Tub; and when it is cool, work it up with yest, as you do Beer. When it is wrought, put it into your vessel, and stop it very close. Within three days you may Bottle it, and in ten days after it will be fit to drink.”[2]

This is a fast fermented mead, taking only 13 days in total, when it is not uncommon for meads to make 6 months or more. It was described by my taste tester as “Like extremely dry, thin cider. But oddly moreish.” Given that I’m not sure if I’m counting this as a success or not, I’m just going to give you the quantities that I used. Note that the flavour of lemon was strong, but the rosemary and bay were almost non-existent so if you were to make it yourself you might want to adjust those quantities.

I used: 2 cups of honey, 3.8lt of water, peel of 1/2 lemon, 2 sticks of rosemary, 3 dried bay leaves and 1 packet of beer yeast dissolved in a cup of water and 1 tsp of sugar.

Mead recipe from 1669

The Recipe: Sir William Paston’s Meathe from Sir Kenelm Diby’s Closet Opened (available here)

The Date:1669

How did you make it?: See above.

Time to complete?: About an hour of boiling, followed by several hours cooling. Then a couple of days later bottling.

How successful was it?: I’m not sure, I didn’t really like it because it tasted quite yeasty, like beer, but it certainly improved with age. It was also very, very bubbly!

How accurate?: It was very difficult to tell the quantities of herbs that were implied in the recipe so that was a bit of guess work. The yeast was also quite different.

[1] John Burke and Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England, Ireland, and Scotland (Genealogical Publishing Com, 1841), 402.

[2] Anne Macdonell, ed., The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910), 42.

And since the other photos don't really show you what the mead looks like ...

And since the other photos don’t really show you what the mead looks like …


Burke, John, and Bernard Burke. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Genealogical Publishing Com, 1841.

Macdonell, Anne, ed. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910.

All Jumbled Up

Savoury Jumbles with Seeds

Photography by Sophia Harris.


If you’ve ever flicked through a historical cookbook you may have stumbled across a recipe for jumbles (also spelt jumbals, iombils, jambals and any other way you can imagine), a popular type of biscuit from the 16th century onwards. When I first heard about jumbles I, like many other people I think, was under the impression that they were called jumbles because they were a jumble of ingredients, but in fact the name refers to their shape.


In 16th century England gimmell rings (from the Latin gemellus for twin) were popular symbols of love and friendship and often exchanged as wedding rings. The rings were made of two or more intersecting bands which could be separated to form two separate rings, worn by each party during the betrothal period and then re-joined during the wedding.[1] Many of these rings exist in museum collections, and they are also celebrated in the literature of the day. I particularly like Robert Herrick’s poem The Jimmall Ring Or True-Love Knot:


“Thou sent’st to me a true love-knot, but I
Returned a ring of jimmals to imply
Thy love had one knot, mine a triple tie.”[2]


Jumbles then are biscuits made in the shape of these rings, and their twisted and entwined shapes are easily recognisable in many 16th and 17th century paintings, only recently has their shape changed to a flat or mounded biscuit. What is less sure is what exactly they should be made of. In fact, there is a huge amount of variation over the centuries.


Still life with Venetian Glass, a romer and a candle by Clara Peeters, 1607. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Still life with Venetian Glass, a romer and a candle by Clara Peeters, 1607. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Early jumble recipes, such as those from Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswife’s Jewell from 1597 are biscuits flavoured with aniseed and rosewater and formed into knots before being boiled and baked.[3] Martha Washington’s Cookbook which, according to Karen Hess, probably dates from the second half of the 17th century contains a similar recipe which is even more heavily spiced (with carraway, aniseed, rosewater, musk and ambergris) but is not boiled.[4] However, it also has recipes for jumbles made from marzipan and baked fruit paste, as well as one for Lemon Jumbles which Hess notes is more like a meringue. Published in 1741 Elizabeth Moxon’s book English Housewifery Exemplified also offer both biscuit and fruit paste versions (from apricots, or she gives the option of making Barberry Cakes in the form of jumbles).[5]


Jumbles held on well into the 19th century, although the flavouring had become more familiar with cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon amongst the most popular additions. The shapes were also probably less complex, being formed into little rings or simply rolled out and baked thin. Whilst Elizabeth Lea’s book Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (1859) offered a selection of recipes (Rich Jumbles, Common Jumbles, Molasses Jumbles, Jumbles for Delicate Persons, Cup Jumbles and Jackson Jumbles)[6], other sources had pared their recipes back to the bare minimum. A recipe from 1860 runs “Jumbles. Half a pound of sugar. Half a pound of butter. Half a pound of flour. Flavour with cinnamon.”[7] In Australia references to honey jumbles appear in newspapers around the turn of the 20th century, often referring to American recipes or producers. A version of these is still produced by Arnott’s today, but these soft, gingerbready biscuits bear little resemblance to any other type of jumbles in either their shape or ingredients. For an example of this type of recipe see here.

Sweet Jumbles, recipe from 1623

Photography by Sophia Harris.


The Recipes


I used two different recipes for jumbles, one is for a savoury more bread-like type of jumbles, pleasantly flavoured with aniseed and boiled before baking (like a modern bagel or pretzel).


“To Make Jambals : Take a pint of fine wheat flour, the yolks of three or four new laid eggs, three or four spoonfuls of sweet cream, a few anniseeds, and some cold butter, make it into paste, and roul it into long rouls, as big as a little arrow, make them into divers knots, then boil them in fair water like simnels; bake them, and being baked, box them and keep them in a stove. Thus you may use them, and keep them all the year.”[8]


I had a bit of difficulty shaping these because of the texture of the dough, and I think that they could probably use some salt, or at the least salted butter, to give them a little more flavour. The lack of salt in the recipe does confuse me a bit, given that May suggests you can keep them for a whole year. Possibly the salt was assumed in the recipe? The second recipe that I used was for a slightly chewy biscuit, also flavoured with aniseed. These were really good and I would definitely recommend the recipe.


“To make Iumbals. To make the best Iumbals, take the whites of three egges and beate them well, and take of the viell; then take a little milke and a pound of fine wheat flower and sugar together finely sifted, and a few Aniseeds well rubd and dried; and then make what formes you please ; & bake them in a soft ouen vpon white Papers.”[9]


The Redactions


To Make Jambals (the savoury bread type)


250g flour

2 tsp aniseeds, ground to a powder in a mortar and pestle

60g salted butter

4 egg yolks

4 tbsp cream


  1. Place the flour and aniseed in a bowl and mix together. Rub in the butter until it is like breadcrumbs then stir in the egg yolks and cream until combined. If necessary add a little egg white to soften the mixture.
  2. Take walnut sized pieces of dough and roll into sausages the thickness of a pencil. The dough gets air pockets in the middle which makes it difficult to roll but by applying downward pressure with your palms as you roll you can form sausages. Fold the sausage in half and twist the ends together or form into other shapes as desired.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Bring a wide saucepan of water to rolling boil and carefully place the jumbles into the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Allow them to boil in the liquid for 1 minute then scoop them out and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Savoury Jumbles

Photography by Sophia Harris.

To Make Jumbals (the sweet biscuit type)


3 egg whites

6 tbsp milk

225g plain flour

225 wholemeal flour

450g sugar

3 tsp aniseeds, ground to a powder in a mortar and pestle


  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Beat the egg whites until fluffy then stir in the milk, flour, sugar and aniseeds until they form a dough.
  2. On a floured board shape pieces of dough into knots, hearts, letters etc. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook in the oven for 20 minutes or until lightly golden.

Sweet Jumbles

Photography by Sophia Harris.



The Round-up

The Recipe: Jambals from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May (available here)

The Date:1685

How did you make it?

Time to complete?: About an hr.

How successful was it?: More successful that I was expecting, at first I was really struggling to get the dough to stick together but by applying downwards pressure with my palms as I rolled, and adding a little egg white, I was able to get it to work. The larger twists fell apart a big during boiling, but the smaller ones stayed together really well. The flavour was quite subtle, and considering how long they are supposed to stay good, I was surprised at the lack of salt. Very different from the other jumbles, savoury rather than sweet but quite tasty.

How accurate?:  Not too bad I think, although I don’t know how long I should have boiled it for, I just guessed that. I’d also like to know how long they do keep, and what it means to box them and keep them in a stove.


The Recipe: Jumbals from Country Contentements by Gervase Markham (available here)

The Date:1623

How did you make it?

Time to complete?: About an hr.

How successful was it?: Very successful, gave a light slightly chewy biscuit lightly flavoured with aniseed.

How accurate?: I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to “take of the viell” so I just whipped the egg whites until fluffy. It seemed to work well.


[1] The British Museum, “Fede Ring/gimmel-Ring,” The British Museum Collection Online, accessed February 9, 2015,

[2] Robert Herrick, The Hesperides & Noble Numbers, ed. Alfred Pollard, vol. 1 (London and New York: Lawrence & Bullen, Ltd., 1898), 217.

[3] Thomas Dawson, The Second Part of the Good Hus-Wifes Jewell (London: Printed by E. Allde for Edward White, 1597), 19.

[4] Karen Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, Reprint edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 348–351.

[5] Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifry Exemplified (Leeds: Printed by J. Lister, and sole by J. Swale, J. Ogle, and S. Howgate, at Leeds; J. Lord at Wakefield; and the author at Pontefract., 1741), 139 & 175.

[6] Elizabeth E. Lea, Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1859), 118–119.

[7] Luther Tucker and Son and J.J Thomas, eds., The Country Gentleman, vol. 15 (Albany: Luther Tucker, 1860), 383.

[8] Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. (London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1660), 275.

[9] Gervase Markham, Countrey Contentments, or the English Huswife: Containing the Inward and Outward Vertues Which out to Be in a Compleate Woman (London: Printed for R. Jackson, 1623), 114.



Dawson, Thomas. The Second Part of the Good Hus-Wifes Jewell. London: Printed by E. Allde for Edward White, 1597.

Herrick, Robert. The Hesperides & Noble Numbers. Edited by Alfred Pollard. Vol. 1. London and New York: Lawrence & Bullen, Ltd., 1898.

Hess, Karen. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. Reprint edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Lea, Elizabeth E. Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers. Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1859.

Markham, Gervase. Countrey Contentments, or the English Huswife: Containing the Inward and Outward Vertues Which out to Be in a Compleate Woman. London: Printed for R. Jackson, 1623.

May, Robert. The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1660.

Moxon, Elizabeth. English Housewifry Exemplified. Leeds: Printed by J. Lister, and sole by J. Swale, J. Ogle, and S. Howgate, at Leeds; J. Lord at Wakefield; and the author at Pontefract., 1741.

The British Museum. “Fede Ring/gimmel-Ring.” The British Museum Collection Online. Accessed February 9, 2015.

Tucker and Son, Luther, and J.J Thomas, eds. The Country Gentleman. Vol. 15. Albany: Luther Tucker, 1860.

Let Them Eat Cake!


Portrait of 12 yr old Marie Antoinette by Martin van Meytens c. 1767-1768 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of 12 yr old Marie Antoinette by Martin van Meytens c. 1767-1768 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


This week (the 16th of October) marks the 221st anniversary of Marie Antoinette’s execution at the hands of the revolutionaries. Although she probably never said it, she is arguably most famous for the phrase “Let them eat cake!” so in honour of Madame Deficit this Historical Food Fortnightly challenge is dedicated to cakes of all types.

Of course, just to confuse everyone, the cakes that I made for this challenge would now be considered biscuits. They come from a recipe book called The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Knight Opened. A courtier, diplomat and intellectual who dabbled in privateering, Digby was also a keen collector of recipes (particularly alcoholic beverages. Who needs 100 different ways to make metheglin?). Many of  his recipes reflect his travels across Europe and his noble, even royal, connections. The recipes were compiled and published posthumously in 1669, giving the public a glimpse into the life of the nobility. The word closet in the title refers to a small, private study and by opening Sir Kenelm Digby’s closet for public consumption the compiler (possibly Digby’s steward Hartman) was offering exclusive access to his life.

Portrait of Sir K. Digby from the Wellcome Library London. Line engraving by  R.V. Verst after Anthony Van Dyke. [CC-BY-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Sir K. Digby
from the Wellcome Library London. Line engraving by R.V. Verst after Anthony Van Dyke. [CC-BY-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Recipe


Take three pound of very fine flower well dryed by the fire, and put to it a pound and half of loaf Sugar sifted in a very fine sieve and dryed; Three pounds of Currants well washed and dryed in a cloth and set by the fire; When your flower is well mixed with the Sugar and Currants, you must put in it a pound and half of unmelted butter, ten spoonfuls of Cream, with the yolks of three new-laid Eggs beat with it, one Nutmeg; and if you please, three spoonfuls of Sack. When you have wrought your paste well, you must put it in a cloth, and set it in a dish before the fire, till it be through warm. Then make them up in little Cakes, and prick them full of holes; you must bake them in a quick oven unclosed. Afterwards ice them over with Sugar. The Cakes should be about the bigness of a hand-breadth and thin: of the cise of the Sugar Cakes sold at Barnet.[1]


Digby’s recipe raises several interesting conundrums for anyone trying to recreate his recipe. First up, drying the flour in front of the fire. This is a very popular recipe amongst re-enactors but some people have said that they found them too dry and/or too dense. One of the interesting consequences of this has been discussion of the very first instruction in Digby’s recipe “Take three pound of very fine flower well dryed by the fire”[2]. Stone ground flour contains the germ of the wheat and even bolting or sifting cannot remove all of the wheat germ. The germ is oily and leaves the flour with a higher moisture content and a shorter shelf life than modern roller milled flour.[3] Whilst I think that drying the flour before the fire was more likely a way of reducing the moisture content, it’s certainly true that a low protein flour (like cake or pastry flour) is both a) closer to the soft flours grown in the 17th century and b) makes lighter biscuits. I used Lighthouse Cake Flour which is low in protein and, in Australia, available in the supermarket.


The next question is which type of currants Digby was using. I had never really thought about this question before, simply assuming that the dried currants I bought in the supermarket were dried black-currants. In fact, I couldn’t be more wrong. To read about the difference between Ribes and Zante currants I recommend reading this article by the guys over at Savoring the Past (an amazing blog on recreating 18th century food). Essentially the difference is that Ribes currants are blackcurrants (sometimes dried) while Zante currants are a type of dried grape which, at the time, was imported from the Greek islands of Zante and Cephalonia[4].

Ribes currants. By Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ribes currants. By Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Although I think it is entirely possible that Digby was using Ribes currants, I think that it is more likely he was using Zante currants. He uses both types in his recipes, although distinguishing which is meant is quite difficult. Where he specifies red or black currants I think we can be sure that these are Ribes currants. Similarly, when he adds both currants and ‘raisins of the sun’ it seems more likely that they are both dried fruit. In the other cases, it is a matter of analysing the ingredients and methods to find the most likely. In this case, the fact that we need to mix unmelted butter into the dry ingredients suggests that the butter is rubbed in, a process that would burst fresh currants and turn the mixture an unsightly grey colour. This means that it must be dried currants, but which type?


Although Ribes currants would have been local and available, imported Zante currants were extremely popular. At the end of the 16th century they were the most profitable product that the Levant Company was importing and some 2300 tons were being brought in annually.[5] Demand was so great that the Venetian traders increased the taxes exponentially, leading to an English ban on imports between 1642 and 1644.[6] Clearly Zante currants were readily available, and also had a sort of luxury cachet, but I think for me the piece of evidence that makes it most likely that Digby used Zante currants is the instruction “Three pounds of currants well washed and dryed in a cloth”[7]. It seems to fit exactly with the process described in the article mentioned above, which explains that currants were dried in the sun, pressed into barrels with oiled feet and subjected to lots of other indignities which necessitated a good wash before use. I suppose it would depend on the individual case but if you were using local, home dried currants there seems to be less reason to specify washing and drying, it would instead be a matter of common sense. Based on all of that, I used dried Zante currants in the recipe.


The final challenge: how big was a sugar cake sold at Barnet? Presumably this refers to the market at Chipping Barnet (now part of greater London but formerly in Hertfordshire) which was established in 1588. However, I am not aware of any sources which describe the sugar cakes from the fair so we are left with the other instructions: a hands-breadth across and thin. I rolled out the dough thinly and used a cookie cutter about the same size as my palm.


Excellent Small Cakes. Photo courtesy of Sophia Harris.

Photography by Sophia Harris.

The Redaction

 Excellent Small Cakes


I have reduced this recipe to a third of its original size but it still make a lot of biscuits. They are so delicious that the quantity shouldn’t be a problem, but you can always halve it again if you are worried, just use the whole egg and reduce the other liquids.


450g flour (low-protein or cake flour if you can get it)

226g sugar

450g currants

226g butter, cold

3 tbsp cream

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 of a nutmeg, grated

1 tbsp sherry or sweet wine


  1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Mix together the flour, sugar and currants. Cut the butter into 1cm cubes and rub them into the dry ingredients until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the egg, cream, nutmeg and sherry. Add a little more cream if necessary to form a smooth dough.
  3. Roll out on a floured board until 3/4cm thick and cut circles from the dough using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass.
  4. Bake on baking trays lined with baking paper for 25 mins or until golden brown.


The Recipe: Excellent Small Cakes from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (available here)

The Date: 1669

How did you make it?

Time to complete?: About an hour and a half.

Total cost: About $8, of which half was spent on currants and a quarter on the cake flour. I already had sherry and cream.

How successful was it?: Very successful, I was worried that they would be too dense because I had read on other blogs that they were hard and inedible, hence the low protein cake flour. However, I found that they were delicious and not too heavy at all. This is possibly due to keeping the original proportions whereas many of the other versions I have seen changed them quite a bit.

How accurate?: I used modern versions of all the ingredients and modern cooking techniques, but I did keep the original proportions of ingredients. It’s hard to tell what the original cakes would have looked like, so that’s a bit ambiguous.


Photography by Sophia Harris.

Photography by Sophia Harris.

[1] The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened (London: Printed by E.C. for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain., 1669), 221.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alan Scott and Daniel Wing, The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens (Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999), 29–31.

[4] Kevin Carter, “Currant Challenges,” Savoring the Past, July 21, 2014,

[5] Alfred C. Wood, A History of the Levant Company, New edition edition (Abingdon: Routledge, 1964), 24.

[6] Ibid., 69.

[7] The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, 221.



Carter, Kevin. “Currant Challenges.” Savoring the Past, July 21, 2014.

Scott, Alan, and Daniel Wing. The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens. Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999.

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened. London: Printed by E.C. for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain., 1669.

Wood, Alfred C. A History of the Levant Company. New edition edition. Abingdon: Routledge, 1964.


Historical Kitchens in Scotland

So as some of you know I have been traveling around Europe for the past couple of months. During my travels I have come across historical kitchens of all shapes and sizes and covering about four centuries. Since not everyone has a medieval castle just around the corner I thought I might share some of the pictures that I have taken. First up, two very different dwellings from Scotland.


Provand’s Lordship is the oldest house in Glasgow. Built in 1471 as part of St. Nicholas’ hospital, it later became the house of the Lord of the Prebend of Barlanark and the furnishings reflect this later 18th century period of occupation. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the main cooking fireplace but you can see a good picture of it on the website here.



A small fireplace and griddle.

A small fireplace and griddle.

The dining room, with 18th century furnishings.

The dining room, with 18th century furnishings.

An 18th century dresser with pewter and wooden tableware.

An 18th century dresser with pewter and wooden tableware.

The back of Provand's Lordship and part of the herb garden which would have provided medicinal herbs for the hospital across the road.

The back of Provand’s Lordship and part of the herb garden which would have provided medicinal herbs for the hospital across the road.


The second lot of pictures comes from the spectacularly positioned Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire. Although the promontory has been in use since Pictish times the majority of the buildings which can be seen today date between the 14th and 17th centuries, including the kitchens which are housed in the lower levels of the Palace. Construction of the palace began in the latter half of the 16th century with a basement level for the kitchens and accommodation and living areas above.

Dunnottar Castle

The kitchens are comprised of a number of rooms, some with specific functions and others probably for storage and preparation. At the far end of the kitchen range is an enormous fireplace which would have been the central focus of the kitchen, used for roasting and boiling. The most striking thing, however, is the gloom. The windows, where they existed, where tiny and although fires would have helped a bit, the effect of the smoke must have been absolutely suffocating!


The bread oven at Dunnottar Castle.

The bread oven at Dunnottar Castle.

The entrance of the bread oven at Dunnottar Castle. The fire would be lit inside the oven to heat the surrouding stone, then once the desired temperature was reached the fire would be raked out and the bread quickly put in. The bread cooked thanks to the heat from the stones, and as they cooled a succession of items could be cooked with bread first followed by pies and more delicate items which needed a cooler oven.

The entrance of the bread oven at Dunnottar Castle. The fire would be lit inside the oven to heat the surrouding stone, then once the desired temperature was reached the fire would be raked out and the bread quickly put in. The bread cooked thanks to the heat from the stones, and as they cooled a succession of items could be cooked with bread first followed by pies and more delicate items which needed a cooler oven.

Pit for brewing, I think that a large cauldron would be placed on top of the stone walls and a fire lit underneath. Weak beer was safe to drink and provided a large proportion of the average person's daily calories and nutrients.

Pit for brewing, I think that a large cauldron would be placed on top of the stone walls and a fire lit underneath. Weak beer was safe to drink and provided a large proportion of the average person’s daily calories and nutrients.

Again, possibly ovens?

Ovens? *Probably not ovens, see the comments below. 

The well which provided fresh water for all the residents and workshops inside the castle walls.

The well which provided fresh water for all the residents and workshops inside the castle walls.


Apologies for the quality of the pictures, the lighting was not good at all in the cellars! I hope you enjoyed the pictures, there are lots more to come once I get myself organised.