An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: Cake (page 1 of 1)

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.

 

 

 

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.

img_20190101_143054564

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.

img_20190102_140956547

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.

17th Century Polish Cuisine with Compendium Ferculorum

Pear.JPG

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.

hand.JPG

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.

 

References

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.

 

Funereal Feasting

IMG_2384

Here we are again, still playing catch-up with the Historical Food Fortnightly challenges I’m afraid, but as of next fortnight we should be back on schedule. For the ‘Sacred or Profane’ challenge I picked a topic which I’ve been curious about for a while now. For those of you who are seeing these for the first time, welcome to the weird, wacky and downright morbid world of funeral foods.

In Victorian times death was a big deal, maybe not on quite the same scale as an Egyptian pyramid, but certainly expensive enough to ruin a family and the focus of a complex web of symbolism which dictated the families clothing and behaviour for months, if not years, after the death. One of the most curious of these practices was the use of special biscuits in order to invite people to the funeral or to give out as a keepsake to guests. Although the use of biscuits at funerals seems to have been quite widespread in Northern England and parts of America, the form and usage varied based on the region and the social class of the deceased.

Essentially there were two types of biscuit, one was a Savoy or Naples biscuit (like a modern sponge finger or ladyfinger) and the second type was a kind of shortbread (The Great British Bake Off has a great video about these biscuits which you can watch here). The shortbread biscuits could be flavoured with caraway seeds and were often stamped with a mould, like the one below.

Funeral Biscuit Mould

This 17th century stone mould from Yorkshire was owned by Thomas Beckwith and was used to mark funeral biscuits. From Sylvanius Urban, ed., The Gentleman’s Magazine (London, England) (London: Printed by Nichols and Son, at Cicero’s Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1802), fig. 2.

Depending on how the biscuits were to be given out they could be bundled into parcels of between 2 and 6 biscuits, wrapped in a paper printed with a poem or verse and sealed with black wax. A correspondent of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ in 1802 describes a time when “The paper in which these biscuits were sealed was printed on one side with a coffin, cross-bones, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glasses etc.”[1] You can see an example of one of these wrappers on the Pitt Rivers Museum website here.

There were a number of different ways to distribute the biscuits:

  1. Prior to the funeral a woman could be sent around ‘bidding’ friends and family to attend the funeral, and handing out wrapped packets of biscuits.
  2. The biscuits could be served during the wake or just before the last viewing of the body.
  3. A basket of wrapped parcels of biscuits could be left on a table for people to take home with them.
  4. Packets of wrapped biscuits could be sent to the homes of family and friends who were unable to attend.
  5. Packets of wrapped biscuits could be send to the homes of people who attended as a keepsake.[2]

Cropped 3

An alternative was a funeral cake, which could either be small individual spiced cakes, or a larger (8-11 inches in diameter), round cake made of “flour, water, yeast, currants, and some kind of spice”[3]. Joseph Hunter makes an interesting distinction between when cake was served rather than biscuits:

“When cakes such as these are presented to the persons invited to attend the funeral it is understood to intimate that it is a pay-burying, i.e. that each person is expected to contribute something, usually a shilling, towards the expense. When it is not a pay-burying a Naples biscuit is the arvel-bread : and after funerals of people of a better condition, two Naples biscuits are usually sent to the friends of the deceased, with gloves, hat-band or scarf, or all of these.”[4]

Another use for funeral biscuits is documented in the village of Cherry Burton. Apparently in this Yorkshire village it was considered necessary to place the bee-hive in mourning, and so it was draped in black fabric with a propitiatory offering of funeral biscuit soaked in wine left for the bees.[5] There was a strong link between wine and the biscuits for humans too, and nearly all of the sources which I can find mentions the two together, even amongst teetotallers[6].

Even though this picture is quite a bit earlier than the other sources we've been looking at, I think its very interesting to see the girl serving wine on the left (and the text mentions that those present will drink several glasses before and after the funeral) and the girl on the right who has a plate of food. Could it be biscuits?                                                                                                                          Funeral Scene from The ceremonies and religious customs of the known world by Bernard Picart, 1737. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images [CC BY 4.0]Bernard Picart, 1737. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images http://wellcomeimages.org  CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Even though this picture is quite a bit earlier than the other sources we’ve been looking at, I think its very interesting to see the girl serving wine on the left (and the text mentions that those present will drink several glasses before and after the funeral) and the girl on the right who has a plate of food. Could it be biscuits?   Funeral Scene from The ceremonies and religious customs of the known world by Bernard Picart, 1737. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images [CC BY 4.0]

The Recipes

In spite of all this information about eating funeral biscuits, there are very few extant recipes for either funeral biscuits or cakes. W.S. Steveley has recipes for ‘Funeral Buns’ and ‘Funeral Biscuits’[7] (available here pg. 16-17) but there are so few instructions and the quantities are so large that I wasn’t keen to try either of them. His buns, however, do shed some light on the type of cakes that would have been served. The most important features, which also show up in the descriptions above, is the inclusion of currants and spices (often cinnamon and/or caraway seeds).

There is also a 19th century recipe for Dutch doot cookjes (death cookies) from America which calls for 50lb of flour and makes some 300 cookies the size of saucers![8] But they don’t fit the mould for either of the two types of biscuits that I had read about. So instead I turned to the trusty Mrs. Beeton for my recipes.

SAVOY BISCUITS OR CAKES. 1748. INGREDIENTS.—4 eggs, 6 oz. of pounded sugar, the rind of 1 lemon, 6 oz. of flour. Mode.—Break the eggs into a basin, separating the whites from the yolks; beat the yolks well, mix with them the pounded sugar and grated lemon-rind, and beat these ingredients together for 1/4 hour. Then dredge in the flour gradually, and when the whites of the eggs have been whisked to a solid froth, stir them to the flour, &c.; beat the mixture well for another 5 minutes, then draw it along in strips upon thick cartridge paper to the proper size of the biscuit, and bake them in rather a hot oven; but let them be carefully watched, as they are soon done, and a few seconds over the proper time will scorch and spoil them. These biscuits, or ladies’-fingers, as they are called, are used for making Charlotte russes, and for a variety of fancy sweet dishes. Time.—5 to 8 minutes, in a quick oven. Average cost, 1s. 8d. per lb., or 1/2d. each.[9]

Funeral Biscuit Darken

My Savoy biscuits didn’t turn out very well, they were very flat, so I haven’t provided a redaction for them although the recipe written quite clearly if you want to give it a try. The plain cake was also very dense, but I think that is probably inevitable with only 1tsp of baking powder. It is however rather tasty and wasn’t overpowered by the caraway as I had expected.

A NICE PLAIN CAKE. 1766. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of flour, 1 teaspoonful of Borwick’s baking-powder, 1/4 lb. of good dripping, 1 teacupful of moist sugar, 3 eggs, 1 breakfast-cupful of milk, 1 oz. of caraway seeds, 1/2 lb. of currants. Mode.—Put the flour and baking-powder into a basin; stir those together; then rub in the dripping, add the sugar, caraway seeds, and currants; whisk the eggs with the milk, and beat all together very thoroughly until the ingredients are well mixed. Butter a tin, put in the cake, and bake it from 11/2 to 2 hours. Let the dripping be quite clean before using: to insure this, it is a good plan to clarify it. Beef dripping is better than any other for cakes, &c., as mutton dripping frequently has a very unpleasant flavour, which would be imparted to the preparation. Time.—1-1/2 to 2 hours. Average cost, 1s. Seasonable at any time.[10]

The Redaction

A Nice Plain Cake

545g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

113g beef dripping at room temperature

170g sugar

28g caraway seeds

225g currants

3 eggs

Approx. 300ml milk

  1. Heat the oven to 170°C and butter a 9” springform cake tin.
  2. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Rub in the dripping with your fingertips until it is evenly distributed. Stir in the sugar, seeds and currants.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and 250ml milk then stir it into the dry ingredients. Add a little more milk, as necessary, until all the ingredients are wet and the mixture can be stirred.
  4. Bake the cake for about an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. It may be a good idea to place a tray under the cake to catch the dripping if it seeps out of the springform tin.

Funeral Cake

The Recipe: Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (available here)

The Date: 1861

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: The cake took about 1hr 35, the biscuits took about 40 mins.

How successful was it?:  The biscuits just didn’t rise at all, but they tasted ok. The cake was very, very dense and didn’t last very well over a number of days but it had a nice flavour and the currants were quite juicy. The only other thing is that the dripping gives off a rather meaty smell while cooking!

How accurate?: I think the cake recipe was probably the type of thing that women could make at home for a funeral, especially if you had to mass produce it in a hurry. The biscuits however seem a bit too fiddly for that, and certainly there were lots of specialists you could buy them from so that seems more likely to me. In terms of accuracy, I did beat the biscuits by hand! But maybe that was the problem.

[1] Sylvanius Urban, ed., The Gentleman’s Magazine (London, England) (London: Printed by Nichols and Son, at Cicero’s Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1802), 105.

[2] Peter Brears, “Arvals, Wakes and Month’s Minds: Food for Funerals,” in Food and the Rites of Passage, ed. Laura Mason (Devon: Prospect Books, 2002), 103–105.

[3] Jonathan Boucher, Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Edited by Joseph Hunter. – London, Black, Young & Young 1833-, ed. Joseph Hunter (London: Black, Young & Young, 1833), sec. Arvel–bread.

[4] Ibid.

[5] George Oliver, The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley, with Historical Sketches of the Abbeys of Watton and Meaux [&c.]., 1829, 499.

[6] T. W. Thompson, “Arval or Avril Bread,” Folklore 29, no. 1 (March 30, 1918): 85.

[7] W. S. Steveley, The New Whole Art of Confectionary: Sugar Boiling, Iceing, Candying, Jelly Making, &c. Which Will Be Found Very Beneficial to Ladies, Confectioners, Housekeepers, &c., Particularly to Such as Have Not a Perfect Knowledge of That Art (Sutton & Son, 1828), 16–17.

[8] Peter G. Rose, Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch (The History Press, 2009), 69–70.

[9] Isabella Beeton, ed., Beeton’s Book of Household Management (London: S.O Beeton, 1861), pt. 1748.

[10] Ibid., pt. 1766.

Bibliography

Beeton, Isabella, ed. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. London: S.O Beeton, 1861.

Boucher, Jonathan. Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Edited by Joseph Hunter. – London, Black, Young & Young 1833-. Edited by Joseph Hunter. London: Black, Young & Young, 1833.

Brears, Peter. “Arvals, Wakes and Month’s Minds: Food for Funerals.” In Food and the Rites of Passage, edited by Laura Mason, 87–114. Devon: Prospect Books, 2002.

Oliver, George. The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley, with Historical Sketches of the Abbeys of Watton and Meaux [&c.]., 1829.

Rose, Peter G. Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch. The History Press, 2009.

Steveley, W. S. The New Whole Art of Confectionary: Sugar Boiling, Iceing, Candying, Jelly Making, &c. Which Will Be Found Very Beneficial to Ladies, Confectioners, Housekeepers, &c., Particularly to Such as Have Not a Perfect Knowledge of That Art. Sutton & Son, 1828.

Thompson, T. W. “Arval or Avril Bread.” Folklore 29, no. 1 (March 30, 1918): 84–86.

Urban, Sylvanius, ed. The Gentleman’s Magazine (London, England). London: Printed by Nichols and Son, at Cicero’s Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1802.

Foods Named After People

Lamingtons

When I’m travelling I love tasting the regional specialities and I try to make a point of asking the locals which foods represent their country or area, but when people ask me about Australian food I find it hard to know what to say. Sure, we have some iconic brands like Vegemite, Tim Tams or Milo and there is a range of native foods for the curious to try – lilly pilly, finger limes, kangaroo, emu, crocodile and witchetty grubs – but none of these really represents Australian cuisine.

 

In 2010 a discussion of the Australian national dish came up with “barbecue, meat pie, sausage sandwich, roast lamb, Vegemite on toast, pavlova, spag bol, lamingtons, chicken parmigiana … and ‘surf and turf’.”[1] Of these dishes, very few are Australian inventions (although the origins of some, like pavlova, are hotly debated). The exception is the lamington, which generally consists of two layers of plain sponge cake sandwiched together with jam and/or cream, rolled in a chocolate icing and desiccated coconut.

 

This rather unassuming cake has become an Australian favourite and is available in just about every bakery and meat pie shop in the country, but where did it come from? The stories about the invention of the lamington have entered our national myth and every schoolchild has heard that whilst preparing for an important dinner the cook accidentally dropped a sponge cake into a bowl of chocolate. Looking for a way to fix the situation he covered it in coconut and served it forth. Lord Lamington was duly impressed by the cake and when he asked what it was called, the cook replied that it would be named in his honour. The truth of the matter? This is only one of the many alternative stories which explain the lamington. The cakes could also have been named for Lady Lamington, which might make more sense if Lord Lamington really did refer to them as “bloody poofy woolly biscuits”, a statement that is widely quoted e.g. here, here and here, but never referenced.

 

Governor of Queensland, Lord Lamington, 1899. Image from the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image no. 184102, public domain.

Governor of Queensland, Lord Lamington, 1899. Image from the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image no. 184102, public domain.

The Recipe

 

What we know for sure is that Lord Lamington served as the Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901 and that the first published lamington recipe dates from this period in Queensland. Taken from the Queensland Country Life in 1900 the recipe is as follows:

 

“Lamington Cakes – 1/2 cup of butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 4 tablespoons milk. Beat butter and sugar; add eggs well beaten with the milk, sift in flour and baking powder; flavour with vanilla or lemon to taste. Bake in sandwich tins, Cut in squares next day.

Icing- 3oz. icing sugar, 1oz. butter. Beat these to a cream and spread between the layers, as jam would be used. For the outside icing – 3oz. icing sugar, 1oz. butter, 3 teaspoons or more of cocoa; vanilla to flavour. The square of cake, when doubled, are in the shape of a cube. Ice all over the cube with the cocoa icing, spreading it with a knife, then dip and roll in desiccated coconut.”[2]

 

The main difference between this recipe and modern lamington recipes is the icing. In the recipe from 1900 the icing is a basic butter-cream, flavoured with cocoa, whilst modern recipes either dissolve the butter-cream with boiling water (e.g. this recipe) or omit the butter altogether (e.g. this recipe), giving a much wetter icing which is absorbed by the cake. In many ways I think that the modern method is preferable, it is both easier to apply to the cubes of cake and much less rich. I found that the icing from the original recipe overwhelmed the cake and was almost unpleasantly buttery. Nonetheless, I have provided the recipe below if you would like to try it in the original manner.

Lamingtons

The Redaction

 

                                    Lamington Cakes

For the cake:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup plain flour

3 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp milk

Vanilla essence or grated lemon peel to taste

 

For the filling:

85g icing sugar, sifted

30g butter, softened

 

For the icing:

85g icing sugar, sifted

30g butter, softened

3 tsp cocoa powder

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Desiccated coconut

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line two sandwich tins, running the baking paper across the bottom and up both long sides of the tin and leaving a 2cm overhang on each side.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar for the cake until light and creamy. Whisk together the eggs and milk and gradually mix them into the butter mixture. Sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold them in before adding the vanilla or lemon.
  3. Divide the batter between the two tins and bake for 20 mins or until risen and golden brown. Leave to cool slightly then, using the overhanging paper, lift the slabs of cake onto wire racks to cool. When cool, cover the cakes and leave overnight.
  4. The next morning cut the cakes into squares 3-4cm long. Beat together the ingredients for the filling until light and creamy. Use the filling to join two squares of cake, one on top of the other, to make cubes.
  5. Beat together the icing ingredients, except the coconut. Place the coconut into a bowl. Spread the icing all over the cubes of cake then roll the cube in the coconut to cover each side. Serve for morning or afternoon tea.

Lamingtons

The Recipe: Lamington Cakes from Queensland Country Life (available here)

The Date: 1900

How did you make it?: See above.

Time to complete?: About two and a half hours, plus cooling time, spread over two days.

Total cost: I already has all the ingredients.

How successful was it?: I found them just too buttery and creamy, and the ones I made were quite large but you could only eat half a cake at a time because they were so rich.

How accurate?: Pretty good I think, the ingredients and methods haven’t changed very much so it’s quite easy to recreate.

 

[1] Barbara Santich, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage (South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2012), 25.

[2] “Useful Recipes.,” Queensland Country Life, December 17, 1900.

 

Bibliography

Santich, Barbara. Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage. South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2012.

“Useful Recipes.” Queensland Country Life. December 17, 1900.

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