An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: Dairy free (page 1 of 2)

Neapolitan Stuffed Figs


four stuffed but uncooked figs on a wooden board

Working through the backlog of things I have cooked but not posted, I came across the photos of this recipe for medieval, Italian stuffed figs. At the time I was staying with a friend in one of the Sydney lockdowns and there wasn’t much to get excited about except for the figs ripening on our neighbour’s tree. Inspired by the bounty across the fence, I went a bit fig mad with a recipe for medieval fig potage and then, when I got my hands on some fresh figs, these stuffed figs.

The recipe comes from a manuscript (MS Buhler 19) held in the Morgan Library in New York and published by Terence Scully under the name The Neapolitan Recipe Collection. The cookbook was written by an unknown author, about the second half of the 15th century near Naples but with a strong Catalan influence.

a page from the manuscript showing a larger heading above the text of the recipe. It is illustrated with a line drawing of what might be leafy stems in a vase.

The first page of MS Buhler 19 with a recipe “Per fare bona Piperata”, from the Morgan Library and Museum.

f. 63v Fritelle de Fiche Piene
Piglia amandole he pignoli, he pista molto bene – dico, che ogni cosa sia biancha – he pista insieme due bone fiche he un poco de uva passa; poi taglia un poco de petrosillo ben trito, he habi bone specie he miscola insieme; he se questa materia fusse troppo dura, pone insieme un poco de aqua rosada; poi piglia fiche belle he grosse he falli un buco dove sta el fiore suo he impele de questa materia; poi falle frigere in bono olio, adasio dico. – The Neapolitan Recipe Collection, pg 80

Stuffed Fig Fritters. Get almonds and pinenuts and grind them up thoroughly -I say everything must be white – and grind in two good figs and a few raisins; cut up a little well chopped parsley and mix in good spices; if this mixture is too thick, add in a little rosewater; then get fine big figs, make a hole in them where their flower is, fill them with the mixture and fry them in good oil -slowly, I say. – The Neapolitan Recipe Collection, pg 202

My taste tester and I agreed that the fried figs were good, and the filling was good, but that we weren’t particularly impressed by the combination of the two. Maybe with a bit more finessing, this could be a lovely addition to a medieval meal.


four cooked stuffed figs lined up on a wooden board

Neapolitan Stuffed Figs

1/4 cup pinenuts
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 dried figs, chopped
a small handful of raisins
a small handful of parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
Rosewater (optional)
4 or 5 fresh figs
Vegetable oil, for frying

1. In a mortar and pestle grind the pinenuts then add the ground almonds (or grind your own fresh), dried figs, and raisins. When it is turning into a paste, add the parsley and spices and a little rosewater, if necessary, to moisten it.
2. Take the fresh figs and cut holes in the base of the figs. Finely chop the bases and add them to the paste. Stuff the paste into the holes in the figs with your fingers.
3. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and, when it is hot, fry the figs. Turn them so that they cook on each side and until golden and softened. Serve warm.

Mastabas, Pyramids and Gumdrops: Cocoa-nut Cakes from Gaskell’s North and South


My blog has been sadly neglected over the past few months; my thesis, a family wedding, an unexpected trip overseas and just normal life craziness has been getting in the way. I’m afraid that it probably isn’t going to get much better this year, but as an apology here is my entry for the HFF Literary Foods challenge (which was only due a week ago).


One of my favourite books is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I like to describe it as Jane Austen with a social conscience; although it is ultimately a romance, the novel is bound up in concerns about class, industrialisation and poverty. Like many other Victorian novels (and indeed earlier English novels), food often isn’t discussed explicitly because it is not in good taste to talk about food too much in public [1]. That being said, there is a lot of food in North and South and the food, or lack thereof is a major device within the novel[2].


Luckily for me, there is one scene in particular which mentions an actual dish and it just happens to be one of my favourite sections of the novel in which Mr Thornton, mill-owner and love interest, comes to the Hales’ for tea.

“Behind the door was another table decked out for tea, with a white table-cloth, on which flourished the cocoa-nut cakes, and a basket piled with oranges and ruddy American apples, heaped on leaves.”[3]


The Recipe

The cocoa-nut cakes which Dixon, the cook and special confidante of Mrs Hale, has made were made from eggs, sugar and grated coconut. Koivuvaara believes that these were made from eggs, sugar and grated coconut[4]. This lines up with the recipe provided in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It is also similar to that provided in Miss Leslie’s book, Seventy-five Receipts For Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828) which also contains spices. However, other recipes call only for egg whites e.g. Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (1870), Creole Cuisine (c. 1885) and Eliza Acton’s recipe for ‘Very Fine Cocoa-nut Macaroons’ in Modern Cookery for Private Families (1868). Robert Wells provides quite a different recipe in The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant (1890) including flour, chemical leaveners, butter and milk. I chose Mrs Beeton’s recipe, but perhaps it would have been more successful if only the egg whites had been used.



Mrs Beeton’s recipe is as follows:



  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 oz. of sifted sugar, 3 eggs, 6 oz. of grated cocoa-nut.

Mode.—Whisk the eggs until they are very light; add the sugar gradually; then stir in the cocoa-nut. Roll a tablespoonful of the paste at a time in your hands in the form of a pyramid; place the pyramids on paper, put the paper on tins, and bake the biscuits in rather a cool oven until they are just coloured a light brown.

Time.—About 1/4 hour. Seasonable at any time.[5]

However, I’m sure that Dixon did a much better job than the melted, collapsing pyramids that I managed. My only solace is that I don’t seem to be alone in having difficulty with this recipe. SJ Alexander over at The Queen’s Scullery had a go at the same recipe a few years ago, and said “Shaping the coconut was not even remotely possible, and the eggs migrated out of the coconut haystacks to form custardy pools around the macaroons’s ankles, which turned crispy in the oven. When they came out, they tasted delicious, but fell apart the minute I tried to move them off their tray. The funny thing was that the recipe did not differ greatly from modern coconut macaroon recipes–I’m not sure what went wrong, exactly. Shelling and preparing fresh coconut was a fun experience, and it was noticeably different from preshredded coconut from the store.”[6]


Mine seemed to hold up a bit better than hers, and I think that’s because I used store-bought desiccated coconut. Desiccated coconut was first produced in 1880 in Sri Lanka, before then it had to be produced at home.[7] Eliza Acton describes how it’s done:

“Rasp a fresh cocoa-nut, spread it on a dish or tin and let it dry gradually for a couple of days, if it can be done conveniently …”[8] Whilst making your own desiccated coconut would certainly be an interesting thing to try, it wasn’t something I had time to do, and other than perhaps giving some insight into the coarseness of the coconut required, I’m not sure that it would make all that much difference.


The first batch which melted into one big mass

Using the quantities given, I could roughly shape the mixture, but they were more mastaba than pyramid. What I found was that with a bit of extra coconut, I could shape the mixture into pyramids, but when my first batch went into the oven (at 150ºC), they slumped joined together. I had better luck with the last couple, to which I added even more coconut and cooked at a higher temperature (180ºC). This batch also had far fewer on the tray, and so they had room to spread out without touching each other. I’m still not sure though that they are quite the shape that Mrs Beeton was suggesting. They went into the oven as pyramids, and came out as large gumdrops.


[1] McWilliams, “‘A Vulgar Care’: Talking about Food in Eighteenth-Century Anglo-American Novels”; Moss, Spilling the Beans.

[2] see Koivuvaara, “Hunger, Consumption, and Identity in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Novels.”

[3] Gaskell, North and South, 90.

[4] Koivuvaara, “Hunger, Consumption, and Identity in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Novels,” 136.

[5] Recipe 1740 Beeton, Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

[6] Alexander, “Doing Bad Things to Innocent Cucumbers.”

[7] Santich, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage, 201.

[8] Acton, Modern Cookery, for Private Families, 545.


The second batch, they held together but I’m still not sure they could really be called pyramids. 

The Redaction

Cocoa-nut Cakes

290g sugar

2 large eggs

170g desiccated coconut, plus enough to make into a mouldable paste (about 5 tbsp more)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the eggs until pale and frothy. Gradually whisk in the sugar to make a thick, silky batter. Stir in the coconut. Try to shape a dessert-spoonful into a pyramid. If the mixture is too soft, add more coconut, until they will hold the shape nicely.
  3. Place the pyramids on the baking tray, leaving lots of room between them. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden.

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Cocoa-nut Biscuits or Cakes from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (available at

The Date: 1861

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins.

How successful was it?: The first batch melted into one shapeless mass, and while they tasted great (like coconut ice but crunchier) the fell apart when you lifted them. The second batch held their shape much better, thanks to extra coconut and you could even lift them up.

How accurate?: I wonder if including the egg yolk was a mistake, because a lot of the other recipes just use the egg white beaten to stiff peaks. I think that would help hold the shape better. I didn’t grate and dry my own coconut, but I do think that the coconut should be dried and not used fresh. At the same time, I don’t know exactly what texture of coconut should be used, mine was quite fine and maybe it should have been coarser.



Acton, Eliza. Modern Cookery, for Private Families: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, in a Series of Carefully Tested Receipts, in Which the Principles of Baron Liebig and Other Eminent Writers Have Been as Much as Possible Applied and Explained. London: Longman, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1868.

Alexander, SJ. “Doing Bad Things to Innocent Cucumbers.” The Queen’s Scullery, January 28, 2010.

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

Cunningham Croly, Jane. Jennie June’s American Cookery Book. New York: The American News Co., 1870.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. London: Penguin Books, 1994.

Hearn, Lafcadio. La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, from Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for Its Cuisine. New Orleans: F.F. Hansell & Bro. Ltd., 1885.

Koivuvaara, Pirjo. “Hunger, Consumption, and Identity in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Novels.” University of Tampere, 2012.

Leslie, Eliza. Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1828.

McWilliams, Mark. “‘A Vulgar Care’: Talking about Food in Eighteenth-Century Anglo-American Novels.” In Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2009, edited by Richard Hosking, 227–36. Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2010.

Moss, Sarah. Spilling the Beans: Eating, Cooking, Reading and Writing in British Women’s Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2013.

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

Wells, Richard. The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant. London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1890.






This fortnight’s challenge for the Historical Food Fortnightly is ‘Sweets for the Sweet’. For the last little while I’ve been meeting up with a group of fourteenth century reenactors to sew/whittle/cook/relax. One of the questions that has come up is why there aren’t many recipes for cake or biscuits in fourteenth century cookbooks, so when I stumbled across a recipe for ‘emeles’ or almond cakes on the St Thomas Guild blog I knew that I was going to have to try them out.

MS 32085

A page from ADD MS 32085 with a puzzle initial, [Public Domain] via  the British Library  Illuminated Manuscripts Catalogue

This recipe comes from the manuscript B.L. Add. 32085, dating from the late 13th Century. The original version says:

“Emeles. E une friture k’ad a noun emeles. Pernez sucre e sel e alemaundes e payn demeyne, e braez les ensemble; e pus metez des oefs; e pus gresse ou oile ou bure, e pernez une quilere e oingnez les; e pus pernez sus e rose les de sucre sec, &cetera.”[1]

Constance Hieatt and Robin Jones translate this as:

“Emeles [almond cakes]. Here is a fritter which is called emeles. Take sugar, salt, almonds, and white bread, and grind them together; then add eggs; then grease or oil or butter, and take a spoon and brush them [i.e., the emeles, while they are frying] and then remove them and sprinkle them with dry sugar, etc.”[2]


What I think is particularly interesting about this recipe is the way in which it highlights the difficulties of dealing with recipes in Middle English. There are no standardised spellings and the copying of recipes could, and did lead to even more corruptions, especially of foreign words.

Initially Hieatt saw a connection between this recipe, and the recipe for ‘alumelle frite au sucre’ (omelette fried in sugar) in the Menagier de Paris.  Later she realised that that the word ‘emeles’ actually comes from the Catalan ‘ametlles’, meaning almonds.[3]


A nearly identical recipe appears in the 14th century Diuersa Cibaria:

A fritur þat hatte emeles

Nym sucre, salt, & alemauns & bred, & grind am togedre; & soþþen do of ayren. & soþþen nim grece oþur botere oþur oyle, and soþþen nim a dihs, & smeore heom; & soþþen nym bliue, & cose wiþ sucre drue: & þis beoþ þin cyueles in leynten ase in oþur time.”[4]

And again, in the 15th Century Laud MS. 553, although by then the word had been corrupted to ‘cyuele’:

“Nym almandes, Sugur & salt, & payn de mayn, & bray hem in a morter / do therto eyren, frie hit in oylle or in grese, cast theron sugur, & ȝif hit forth.”[5]

Of course, none of these recipes include any idea of the proportions involved. This means that there have been a whole range of different products, all made from the same ingredients. Some are like pancakes and some are like doughnuts while others are more like fritters.

My version are closer to doughnut holes than anything else, and they would be very good with some cinnamon! That being said, they were a bit on the dense side and I didn’t love them. If I was doing them again I might try a higher proportion of almonds to breadcrumbs, a wetter batter, and maybe a different fat to cook them in (I used butter this time).

[1] Hieatt and Jones, “Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections Edited from British Library Manuscripts Additional 32085 and Royal 12.C.xii,” 866.

[2] Ibid., 877.

[3] Hieatt, “Making Sense of Medieval Culinary Records: Much Done, But Much More To Do,” 105.

[4] Hieatt and Butler, Curye on Inglysch, 185.

[5] Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, 113.


The Redaction


150g fresh breadcrumbs (I used sourdough bread with the crusts cut off)

150g almond meal

50g sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 eggs

Oil/butter/grease to fry

Caster sugar to sprinkle


  1. Combine the breadcrumbs, almond meal, sugar and salt. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be slightly sticky, but thick enough to roll into balls.
  2. Put the oil, butter or grease in a pan and heat over medium. Roll the batter into balls about the size of a ping-pong ball. Shallow fry the balls in batches, using a spoon or a brush to scoop the cooking fat over the balls. Turn as necessary until golden on all sides. Remove the balls and drain on paper towel.
  3. Place some caster sugar in a bowl and roll the still warm balls in the sugar until coated. These can be served hot, warm or cold.


The Round-Up


The Recipe: Emeles from Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections Edited from British Library Manuscripts Additional 32085 and Royal 12.C.xii by Constance B Hieatt and Robin F Jones (available through JSTOR).

The Date: 1275-1300

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins.

How successful was it?: As I said, I didn’t love them because I thought they had a kind of funny taste. That being said, my sewing group enjoyed them and happily ate the rest. The main comment was that they were very dense, and only lightly sweetened (some people thought this was a good thing, others would have liked them to be sweeter).

How accurate?: It’s really impossible to tell, given the myriad ways that the recipe has and can be interpreted. The proportions of the ingredients is one of the big questions, and how to shape and cook them is another. Some people have deep-fried theirs, but I think that shallow frying sounds more likely given the instruction to use a spoon to moisten/brush/anoint them.

Read more

Peach Snowballs

Peach Snowballs, recipe from 1895

I made these peach snowballs months and months ago, but never quite got around to writing up the recipe. We’ve talked before about Mina Lawson’s The Antipodean Cookery Book when I made potato corks. Just like the potato corks, these peach snowballs are all about fast, cheap and filling food; they only have three ingredients after all!

The Recipe

Recipes like this one are known from the late 18th century and continue to appear throughout the 19th century. Nearly all are balls of rice wrapped around an apple, or apple pieces, but some are more unusual. Rachel Snell has written about snowballs in the context of 19th century class concerns and budget constraints[1]. She has suggested that the rice versions may be a variation on earlier dumpling recipes which use pastry rather than rice. Another possible forerunner of the snowball might be something like the recipe for ‘A cheap Rice Pudding’ from The Whole Duty of a Woman[2]. This recipe calls for the rice to be mixed with raisins then gathered in a pudding cloth and boiled.

Yet another variation is to omit the apple and a recipe for this appears in the Canadian book The Frugal Housewife’s Manual, where we are instructed to simply form balls of rice and serve them with a sauce[3]. A similar recipe appears in an 1895 Australian newspaper, however these snowballs are moulded in cups rather than being boiled in a cloth[4]. Interestingly, this is followed by a recipe for ‘Apple Dumplings’ which are clearly the same as ‘Snowballs’.

Yet in all these recipes, except for the one with raisins and a single Eliza Acton recipe which uses oranges[5], the fruit is always apples. This makes the following recipe for peach snowballs in The Antipodean Cookery Book rather unusual.

“Peach Snowballs: – Ingredients: 1 pound of rice, some sugar, 6 peaches. Mode: Throw the rice into a saucepan of boiling water and let it boil from five to seven minutes. Drain it, and when it has cooled spread it in equal parts on six small pudding cloths. Peel the peaches carefully, coat them thickly with sugar and place one in the centre of each layer of rice; gather the cloth round and securely tie it. Then plunge these puddings into boiling water, and when done turn them out, sprinkle with sugar, and serve with a sweet sauce over them. Time, one hour and a half to boil.”[6]

Peach Snowballs, recipe from 1895

The Redaction

As I’m sure you’ve already figured out from the picture above, I had a lot of difficulty getting the rice to form a nice smooth ball around the peaches. Kevin Carter over at Savoring the Past has an excellent article about apple snowballs, and it includes a video which you might want to watch if you are going to give this recipe a go. He also recommends using medium grained sticky rice, and that might be better than the long grained rice that I used.

Peach Snowballs

For 2 snowballs

150g rice


2 peaches

  1. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the rice. Boil for 5-7 minutes. Drain the rice and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Carefully peel the peaches and roll them in sugar until evenly covered.
  3. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.
  4. Cut a piece of calico into 2 squares with sides about 20cm long. Place half the drained rice into the middle of each square and spread it out in a circle. Place the peach in the middle and gather the four corners of the cloth at the top. Use your hands to spread the rice around the peach and when it seems to be evenly covered tie off the cloth.
  5. Place the balls into the boiling water and boil for an hour and a half.

Peach Snowballs, recipe from 1895

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Peach Snowballs from The Antipodean Cookery Book by Mrs Lance Rawson

The Date: 1895

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 2 hours.

How successful was it?: The peach was delicious, but the rice fell apart around  and was so watery that it didn’t taste very good.

How accurate?: I’m not sure what type of rice Mrs Lawson would have used, I used what I had on hand and maybe it was the wrong type since it didn’t hold together well.

[1] Rachel A Snell, “Snowballs: Intermixing Gentility and Frugality in Nineteenth Century Baking,” The Recipes Project, August 13, 2015,

[2] Anonymous, The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex: Containing Rules, Directions, and Observations, for Their Conduct and Behavior Through All Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, Or Widows : With … Rules and Receipts in Every Kind of Cookery … (London: Printed for T. Read in Dogwell Court, White-Fryers, Fleet Street, 1737), 476.

[3] A.B of Grimsby, The Frugal Housewife’s Manual : Containing a Number of Useful Receipts, Carefully Selected, and Well Adapted to the Use of Families in General : To Which Are Added Plain and Practical Directions for the Cultivation and Management of Some of the Most Useful Culinary Vegetables (Toronto: s.n., 1840), 9,

[4] “SOME RICE RECIPES.,” Leader, June 15, 1895.

[5] Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the Use of Private Families. In a Series of Receipts, Which Have Been Strictly Tested, and Are Given with the Most Minute Exactness (Lea and Blanchard, 1845), 282.

[6] Mrs. Lance Rawson, The Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion (Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, n.d.), 64.

Peach Snowballs, recipe from 1895


A.B of Grimsby. The Frugal Housewife’s Manual : Containing a Number of Useful Receipts, Carefully Selected, and Well Adapted to the Use of Families in General : To Which Are Added Plain and Practical Directions for the Cultivation and Management of Some of the Most Useful Culinary Vegetables. Toronto: s.n., 1840.

Acton, Eliza. Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the Use of Private Families. In a Series of Receipts, Which Have Been Strictly Tested, and Are Given with the Most Minute Exactness. Lea and Blanchard, 1845.

Anonymous. The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex: Containing Rules, Directions, and Observations, for Their Conduct and Behavior Through All Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, Or Widows : With … Rules and Receipts in Every Kind of Cookery … London: Printed for T. Read in Dogwell Court, White-Fryers, Fleet Street, 1737.

Rawson, Mrs. Lance. The Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, n.d.

Snell, Rachel A. “Snowballs: Intermixing Gentility and Frugality in Nineteenth Century Baking.” The Recipes Project, August 13, 2015.

“SOME RICE RECIPES.” Leader. June 15, 1895.

Pass the Pickled Eggs

So a couple of months ago, just before my birthday, I was talking about birthday presents with my cousin Ryan and his girlfriend. While my request for a penguin seemed perfectly reasonable, I was a bit surprised when he said that all he wanted for his birthday was some pickled eggs. When The Old Foodie posted a selection of historical pickled egg recipes a week later, it just seemed like the universe was sending me a message.
Fast forward several months and the week of his birthday I was not only ridiculously busy but also quite sick. I suppose I could have changed my mind and used a modern recipe with, you know, quantities and real instructions, but where is the fun in that? Oh and why just make one historical recipe when you can do two?

Girl with a Basket of Eggs by Joachim Beuckelaer (circa 1533–1575) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Girl with a Basket of Eggs by Joachim Beuckelaer (circa 1533–1575) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Recipes

And so, although the process was not without hiccups, the eggs were pickled and enjoyed and I sat down to write this post. Actually I’ve tried a number of times, but each time I got side-tracked into doing more research. In spite of scouring dozens of cookbooks, I cannot find an older English recipe than the sage recipe which was posted by The Old Foodie and dates from 1725.

“Boil New laid Eggs in Vinegar, Cloves, Pepper, and a Handful of Sage-leaves, till hard, then peel them and put them into Glasses; when your Pickle is cold, put it to them, and cover them down close.”[1]

Sage Pickled Eggs, recipe from 1725

Since the pickled egg is a favourite among re-enactment groups I had just assumed that they were much older, and so apparently do lots of modern cookbook writers. These led me back to Dorothy Hartley’s book Food in England which says that, “When eggs are plentiful, farmers’ wives take four or six dozen newly laid, and boil them hard; then, taking off the shells, they place them in earthenware jars and pour upon them scalding vinegar well seasoned with pepper, allspice, ginger, and garlic. The eggs are fit to use after a month.”[2] She says this recipe comes from 1700 or thereabouts, although nearly identical recipes appear throughout the 19th century, the earliest version I can find is from 1844 in The Mechanic’s Magazine[3].

In fact pickled eggs are much older, just not in England. Going back further, there is a reference to pickled eggs in Andrew Boorde’s A Dyetary of Helth from about 1542 which says that:

“In Turkey, and other hyghe chrystyan landes anexed to it, they use to seth two or thre busshels of egges togither harde, and pull of the shels, & sowse them, and kepe them to eate at all tymes; but hard egges be slow and slack of dygestyon and doth nutryfye the body grosly.”[4]

Sousing is the process of preserving meat or animal parts in a pickle, so these are definitely pickled eggs. Boorde’s comment that these eggs come from Turkey and surrounding lands is interesting in light of a recipe from Kitab Wasf al-At’ima al-Mu’tada or The Description of Familiar Foods. A 14th century cookbook written in Arabic, possibly from Cairo, The Description of Familiar Foods includes the following recipe:

“Baid Mukhallal – Take boiled eggs and peel and sprinkle with a little ground salt and Chinese cinnamon [cassia] and dry coriander. Then arrange them in a glass jar and pour wine vinegar on them, and put it up.”[5]

That’s definitely going to be the next pickled egg recipe I try, but I doubt that it will be as pretty as the second recipe that I made. Dyed pink with beetroot juice, this recipe comes from The Practical American Cook Book, Or, Practical and Scientific Cookery. The Old Foodie quoted an 1855 edition, but I have only been able to find an 1863 edition. Today these pink eggs are particularly associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch and they make a lovely addition to salads with their variegated colours.

Pickled Eggs. Boil them until hard; throw them hot into cold water, which will make the shell slip off smoothly after the eggs have remained in it about ten minutes; boil some red beets till very soft; peel and mash them fine, and put enough of the liquor into cold vinegar to color it pink; add a little salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves; put the eggs into a jar and pour the beets, vinegar &c., over them. This makes a pretty garnish for fish or corned meats. Cut the eggs in slices when used.[6]

Pink Pickled Eggs, Recipe from 1863

The Redactions

Safety Note: These are the quantities and processes that I used to make these recipes, but because the liquids are cold when poured over the boiled eggs there is a higher chance of bacterial growth than in modern pickled egg recipes. If you decide to try these recipes you should keep the eggs refrigerated and consume them within days of making them. You can also increase the safety heating the pickling liquid to boiling point and pouring it over the eggs. 

Sage Pickled Eggs

12 eggs

2 1/2 cups vinegar

3 cloves

1 tsp peppercorns

Small handful of sage

  1. Hard boil eggs, then allow to cool and shell them. Place into a sterilised jar.
  2. Mix the vinegar, spices and sage in a saucepan and just bring to the boil. Allow the liquid to cool and pour over the eggs.

Beet Pickled Eggs

12 eggs

1 beetroot, or use the whole, pre-boiled beetroots that you can sometimes find vacuum sealed

1tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup normal vinegar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup juice from beetroot

3 cloves

  1. Quarter the beetroot, place in a saucepan and cover in boiling water. Bring the pot to the boil and cook until the beetroot is soft, this takes longer than you would think, about 30 mins. When soft, remove the beetroot and allow the pieces to cool enough to handle. Peel the beetroot, then dice it and roughly mash the cubes.

2. Put the eggs into a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a rolling boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Allow to cool and peel.

  1. Place the eggs in a sterilised jar, then add the beetroot over the top. Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour over.

Pickled eggs, recipes from 1725 and 1863

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Pickled Eggs from Robert Smith’s Court Cookery: Or, The Compleat English Cook 128.(available here) and from The Practical American Cook Book by A Housekeeper (preview available here).

The Date:1725 and 1865

How did you make it?: See above.

Time to complete?: The beetroot took a very long time to cook, so those ones took over an hour and a half, but the sage ones were faster; including cooling time they probably took about an hour.

How successful was it?: I only tried the beetroot ones which were a beautiful colour, slightly rubbery but very pleasant. Ryan preferred the sage eggs, but that may be because he isn’t the biggest fan of beetroot.

How accurate?: I ended up changing the process of the sage eggs somewhat, because the first time that I made them I diluted the vinegar with water which would have changed the eggs preservative properties. The sage also through off a nasty scum when boiled like that. In the end I started again, boiling the eggs in water and then heating the other ingredients separately. The biggest difference in terms of ingredients is probably the type of vinegar used, but there was no indication of the type of vinegar in the recipes and I haven’t done enough research to really know what would have been used.

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[1] Robert Smith, Court Cookery: Or, The Compleat English Cook (London: Printed for T. Wotton, at the Three-Daggers in Fleet-Street, 1725), 128.

[2] Dorothy Hartley, Food in England (London: Little, Brown & Company, 1999), 345.

[3] Robertson, ed., Mechanics Magazine (London: James Bounsall, 1844), 352.

[4] Andrew Boorde, The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge Made by Andrew Borde, of Physycke Doctor. A Compendyous Regyment; Or, A Dyetary of Helth Made in Mountpyllier, ed. Frederick James Furnivall (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N.T. Trubner & Co, 1870), 265.

[5] Charles Perry, “Kitab Wasf Al-At’ima Al-Mu’tada [The Description of Familiar Foods],” in Medieval Arab Cookery, by Maxime Rodinson, A.J Arberry, and Charles Perry (Totnes, U.K.: Prospect Books, 2001), 397.

[6] A Housekeeper, The Practical American Cook Book (New York: D Appleton and Company, 1863), 91.

And my penguin? He's already making friends.

And my penguin? He’s already making friends.


A Housekeeper. The Practical American Cook Book. New York: D Appleton and Company, 1863.

Boorde, Andrew. The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge Made by Andrew Borde, of Physycke Doctor. A Compendyous Regyment; Or, A Dyetary of Helth Made in Mountpyllier. Edited by Frederick James Furnivall. London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N.T. Trubner & Co, 1870.

Hartley, Dorothy. Food in England. London: Little, Brown & Company, 1999.

Perry, Charles. “Kitab Wasf Al-At’ima Al-Mu’tada [The Description of Familiar Foods].” In Medieval Arab Cookery, by Maxime Rodinson, A.J Arberry, and Charles Perry, 373–450. Totnes, U.K.: Prospect Books, 2001.

Robertson, ed. Mechanics Magazine. London: James Bounsall, 1844.

Smith, Robert. Court Cookery: Or, The Compleat English Cook. London: Printed for T. Wotton, at the Three-Daggers in Fleet-Street, 1725.

Rotten as a Medlar

The next challenge for the Historical Food Fortnightly is to make something with a rare or scarce ingredients. Last October I was lucky enough to stumble upon a rather elusive fruit in a small French market. Called nèfles in French, medlars are very hard to come by in Australia, so I jumped at the opportunity to try these much maligned fruits.

A member of the rose family, medlars might look a bit like giant, brown rosehips but in texture they are more like their other relative, the quince. Like quinces medlars are extremely hard and sour, or at least until they are bletted. Bletting is the first step for basically any medlar recipe and involves leaving the fruit for several weeks to rot. The whole rotted fruit thing is part of the reason that the fruit has a bit of a bad name, but it’s also got centuries of bad nicknames (‘cul de chien’ in French, and an even more graphic one in English) and a history of sexual inneundo (Chaucer, Shakespear and D.H. Lawrence have all had a go at the poor medlar) to overcome. Don’t be put off though, for all its resemblance to certain anatomical features, the medlar is seeing a resurgence amongst foodies and for good reason too!

Some of the sites I read about bletting suggested putting the medlars in the fridge but I found that it was much faster to leave them out on the counter in a paper bag. It took a number of weeks and not all of the fruit ripened at the same time, you can arrest ripening by putting them in the fridge while you wait for the rest to be ready. They’re ready when they are wrinkled, soft and squishy, it’s not hard to tell. You can see the clear difference between the medlars before and after bletting in picture below.


Once the medlars are bletted they can be eaten straight, just squeezed out of their skins but watch out for the seeds! I tried them like this and quite like the flavour which is similar to applesauce, but I didn’t like the texture which was quite grainy. With a carton of medlars to use up I turned to the historical cookbooks for directions. The most common way of using medlars seems to be as jelly which was particularly popular in the Victorian period, but other options include medlar tarts, medlar cheese or medlar preserves.

 The Recipe

This recipe comes from Foreign Desserts for English Tables which was published in 1862. The recipe is incredibly simple, can be applied to whatever quantity of medlars you have and makes a delicious jelly. It can be eaten like a jam, added to gravies and sauces or eaten with cheese as an alternative to quince paste, and it’s definitely worth a try if you can find some medlars!

Medlar Jelly, recipe from 1862

“Medlar Jelly – Pick over your medlars, choose them that are ripe but perfectly sound; halve them, and put them into a saucepan with the juice of a lemon and enough water to float them. Boil them until the water is reduced to a third of its original quantity. Mash the fruit in the liquor put it in a very fine sieve, and let the juice run through without using pressure. Take weight for weight of the latter and highly refined loaf-sugar, boil and skim it carefully, and when thick enough place it in your glass mould. This jelly should be beautifully clear when well made.”[1]

Now I don’t think its worth me giving a redaction, partly because I didn’t have scales in France when I made it and so don’t know what quantities I used, and partly because the original recipe is very straightforward. If you are concerned about using this recipe and want something with quantities you could use David Lebovitz’s recipe which is similar but adds an apple to up the pectin content (what helps the jelly set). The process for testing the jelly and bottling it is the same as for Transparent Marmalade.

 The Round-Up

The Recipe: From Foreign Desserts for English Tables (available here)

The Date: 1862

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 1hr 30.

How successful was it?:  Very nice indeed, a lovely translucent jelly with a rosy colour (it was less orange than it looks in the pictures).

How accurate?: Pretty good I think, with the exception of the sugar maybe?


The Cook and the Curator on medlars and medlar cheese

Theodore Garrett’s Medlar Cheese

The Old Foodie on medlars and medlar tarts

 Medlar Jelly, recipe from 1862

[1] The Author of Everybody’s Pudding Book, Foreign Desserts for English Tables, by the Author of “Everbody”s Pudding Book’. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 147.


The Author of Everybody’s Pudding Book. Foreign Desserts for English Tables, by the Author of “Everbody”s Pudding Book’. London: Richard Bentley, 1862.

Got the Blues

Sky-Blue Sauce

This fortnight’s challenge “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” was one of the hardest challenges to find something to make. I really wanted to do something blue, but blue foods are always a bit thin on the ground. The exception seems to be the Middle Ages when a range of colourants were used to dye foods: saffron or egg yolk for yellow, alkanet, blood or berries for reds, ground toast or liver for browns and blacks, spinach or parsley juice for green and almond milk and chicken for white.[1] To make blue medieval cooks had a range of options: ground lapis lazuli (don’t try this at home!), cooked carrot peel, blackberries, cherry or grape juice, or the rather enigmatic turnsole[2].


Many of these ingredients were used in jellies or leaches (milk jellies) to produce fanciful, multi-coloured dishes. Another popular use was coloured sauces, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy lists white, green, yellow, pink, black, blue and camel-coloured sauces.[3]


The Recipe


The pleasant-sounding ‘Sky-blue sauce for summer’ (I’ve also seen it translated as ‘heavenly’ which I think is even nicer) seemed promising. I don’t speak Italian so I used an English translation (from The Medieval Kitchen) but an Italian version is available here called ‘Sapor celeste de estate’.


“Sky-blue sauce for summer. Take some of the wild blackberries that grow in hedgerows and some thoroughly pounded almonds, with a little ginger. And moisten these things with verjuice and strain through a sieve.”[4]


Unfortunately, as you may have guessed from the pictures there was a major problem with my version, it’s not blue. To add insult to injury, it also tastes pretty awful (it somehow managed to be both too watery and too sour at the same time). Because of these rather major faults I won’t be giving a redaction (if you want to try it you can find the redaction from the book here). I used similar proportions, although I halved the recipe and used slightly less verjuice. I do wonder if that was the problem, although having had a look at some other blogs it seems that no-one has really succeeded at turning the recipe blue, let alone “a lovely midnight-blue”[5].

Sky-Blue Sauce

The Round-up

The Recipe: Sky-blue sauce for summer from Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Martino de Rossi (available here in Italian)

The Date: c. 1465

How did you make it?: I mashed 2 cups of blackberries then added the 2 tbsp of ground almonds, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger and 1/4 cup of verjuice before straining the mixture.

Time to complete?: About 20 mins.

How successful was it?: Well it didn’t turn blue and didn’t taste good so it failed on pretty much all counts. Whether the taste was correct but just not my thing I’m not sure. As to not turning blue, I wonder if either I didn’t add enough verjuice or it wasn’t acidic enough. Epulario by Giovanne Roselli has a nearly identical recipe but he uses mulberries instead, would this work better?

How accurate?: I wonder what medieval verjuice was like, something to investigate further.


[1] Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 5th ed. (Suffolk and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2006), 114–116.

[2] Turnsole is a dyestuff that yields a colour that varies from red to purple to blue depending on the PH level of the liquid it is mixed with. It has been identified as several different plants, although the most likely is chrozophora tinctoria.

[3] Odine Redon, Francoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy, trans. Edward Schneider (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 165–178.

[4] Ibid., 168.

[5] Ibid.



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.


Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. 5th ed. Suffolk and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2006.

Flat Fruit

The next challenge for the Historical Food Fortnightly is “Ethnic Foodways” and given that I’m in France I thought this was a great opportunity to explore the history of some of the local specialities. Well, I have to report mixed results. The modern sources all seem to be quoting each other, and even if you can discover what the original source was, that’s no guarantee that it is an any way accessible (my Latin is non-existent and $300 first edition cookbooks are a little out of my price-range). Nonetheless, I think I have been able to pin down enough to give you a bit of a glimpse into two local specialities (the second is coming soon).

First up, pommes et poires tapées or dehydrated, flattened apples and pears. They might not sound too appetising at this point, but they’re actually not all that different from the dried apple rings you can buy in the supermarket. Drying fruit to preserve it is a time-honoured tradition, going all the way back to prehistory. In France, archaeologists interpret pieces of carbonised fruit dating to the late Iron Age as evidence of dried fruits.[1] Jumping forward a bit but staying surprisingly close geographically, in 1560 the king’s physician Jean Bruyérin-Champier referred to pears and apples which were dried in ovens around Orleans and Tours.[2]

Pommes tapéesBy the beginning of the 18th century, a rather unusual technique had developed with whole fruits (apples, pears and peaches) being dried in the oven for several days, and gently pressed with a wooden implement to flatten them. It is widely believed that fruit dried in this way was a staple for sailors, and that the flattening was to make them more space-efficient on ships. The industry expanded over the next hundred years, and in 1878 the region was exporting some 500,000 kg of dried fruit, but the glory days of  pommes tapées weren’t to last. Refrigeration and cheap imported fresh fruit took their toll and production nearly stopped in the 20th century, only starting up again in the ‘80s.[3]

Michel Albin explains that there are certain features of the ‘traditional’ technique

  1. Plants aren’t watered while growing to give naturally drier fruit.
  2. The wood fire oven is heated for three days and three nights to infuse the bricks with heat.
  3. The temperature is held between 60 and 90˚C for up to four days, being brought back up to temperature as necessary.
  4. The fruits are pressed one by one (sometimes with a platissoire).
  5. The fruit is then returned to the oven for a final drying period.[4]

Pommes tapées


Historical sources, however, show quite a lot of variation in the methods used to dry the fruit. Some fruit is dried whole, some is cored and/or peeled first. Some is blanched before drying, some dipped in a sugar syrup flavoured with their own peel and yet others are sprinkled with sugar. To flatten them you can use a special implement called a platissoire, press them with the palm of your hand, squash them between your fingers or as in the recipe below with a wooden bat.

This recipe is from La nouvelle cuisinière bourgeoise published in 1817:

“Pelez des pommes très-seines, des reinettes ou autres ; avec une spatule creusé, extirpez-en le cœur ; mettez-les ensuite sur des claies, assez distantes les unes des autres, pour qu’elles ne se touchent pas ; mettez vos claies au four ; le lendemain, les pommes sont assez séchées pour que vous puissiez les taper avec une batte de bois ; remettez-les sur les claies ; faites chauffer le four modérément ; puis remettez-y vos pommes jusqu’à lendemain ; recommencez a les taper ; remettez-les de nouveau au four, jusqu’à ce qu’elles aient acquis le degré de sécheresse nécessaire ; puis mettez-les dans des boites, dans un endroit très-sec.”[5]

(Peel unblemished apples, Reinettes or another type. With a hollow spatula (apple-corer) remove the cores; then place them on racks far enough apart so that the apples aren’t touching one another, and place your racks in the oven. The next day, the apples should be dry enough for you to flatten them with a wooden bat, then put them back onto the racks. Bring the oven to a moderate heat and return the apples to the oven overnight, then begin to press them again. Place them in the oven once again until they have reached the right degree of dryness. Then pack them into boxes and store in a very dry place.)

But having spent three days heating your oven and four drying the apples or pears, how are you going to enjoy the fruits of your labour? Well don’t worry because you have between 3 and 10 years to decide, assuming the fruit was well dried. Nowadays the back of the packet recommends eating them as a snack, rehydrating them in liquid (e.g. wine, tea or cider) or incorporating them into your favourite sweet and savoury dishes (think pork roast with apples or a fruity tagine). You can also buy a variety of secondary products: jam, terrines, wine, fruit in wine, brandy or syrup, or pastries with a fruity filling.

Pommes tapées in Mulled Wine


As to how they were enjoyed historically, well that’s where I hit a bit of a brick wall. The one clear reference I found is from 1856 and says to enjoy them as a dessert, cooked in wine and sugar.[6] To be really historically correct, I suppose you would have to stop there. But. Considering that they are now enjoyed in a spiced, wine syrup, generally using spices which have been available in France for centuries, and because it’s coming up to Christmas, I decided to rehydrate the apples that I had bought in what is basically mulled wine.

And if you don’t have a wood-fired brick oven/four days/any desire to make your own? You can order pommes et poires tapées and assorted variations on them here or here. Another option would be to try something similar with dried apple rings, which aren’t as tough and chewy, but would give you a similar experience. This recipe makes a warming, spiced dessert which would be perfect served in crystal glasses on a cold winter’s night.

Pommes tapées in Mulled Wine


1 bottle of red wine, pretty much any type will do but you will have to adjust the sugar to taste

Sugar, probably between 1/4 and 1/2 a cup depending on the wine and how you like it

125g of pommes tapées, about 10 dried apples.

2 cinnamon sticks

3-4 cloves

Half an orange, sliced


  1. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for 30 mins or until the apples have swollen and are soft. Serve hot.

Pommes tapées in Mulled Wine

The Recipe: Extrapolated from a reference in Bulletin de L’instruction Primaire : Journal D’éducation et D’enseignement, (available here)

The Date: 1856

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins.

How successful was it?:  Quite chewy, but really very tasty. I think it make a lovely winter dish, and it smells just like Christmas!

How accurate?: Well, I think it’s a combination that is possible, but without an actual recipe it’s very hard to tell.


An English recipe for pommes tapées is available here

A French recipe for wine made from dried pears is available here

And to dry your own pears you could try this recipe (also in French)

[1] Benedicte Pradat, “L’économie Agro-Pastorale Dans Le Loiret À L’âge Du Fer (du Hallstatt Ancien À La Tène Finale) : Synthèse Des Données Carpologiques,” Revue Archéologique Du Centre de La France 49 (2010): 132.

[2] Michel Albin, “Pommes Tapées,” in L’inventoire Du Patrimoine Culinaire de La France, Région Centre – Produits Du Terroir et Recettes Traditionelles (France: Editions Albin Michel, 2012), 227.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 228.

[5] Cousin d’avallon, La Nouvelle Cuisinière Bourgeoise, 4th ed. (Paris: Chez Davi et Locard, Pigoreau et Philippe, 1817), 248.

[6] A Y, “Économie Rurale et Domestique: Conservation et Préparation Des Fruits,” Bulletin de L’instruction Primaire : Journal D’éducation et D’enseignement, Aout 1856, sec. Vo. 3, No. 16, 126.


Albin, Michel. “Pommes Tapées.” In L’inventoire Du Patrimoine Culinaire de La France, Région Centre – Produits Du Terroir et Recettes Traditionelles, 226–28. France: Editions Albin Michel, 2012.

Cousin d’avallon. La Nouvelle Cuisiniere Bourgeoise. 4th ed. Paris: Chez Davi et Locard, Pigoreau et Philippe, 1817.

Pradat, Benedicte. “L’économie Agro-Pastorale Dans Le Loiret À L’âge Du Fer (du Hallstatt Ancien À La Tène Finale) : Synthèse Des Données Carpologiques.” Revue Archéologique Du Centre de La France 49 (2010): 103–61.

Y, A. “Economie Rurale et Domestique: Conservation et Préparation Des Fruits.” Bulletin de L’instruction Primaire : Journal D’education et D’enseignement, Aout 1856, sec. Vo. 3, No. 16.

Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!

Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

The Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge for this fortnight was to make a dish that still exists, even if it is in a very different form. For me this was a great opportunity to try out a recipe which has intrigued me for a while now, gingerbread! But before you think “Oh but I make gingerbread all the time”, let me assure you, you’ve never had gingerbread quite like 15th century gingerbread.

The history of gingerbread is extremely complicated and as far as I can tell there is no clear evolution. It probably developed from Roman honeycakes, but in different ways in different regions of Europe. In France gingerbread is called pain d’epices, literally spice bread, but it is really a spiced cake like parkin from Northern England. In Scandinavia there are pepper cookies, and in Switzerland biber are filled with marzipan. Perhaps the most familiar are the spiced biscuits which are still made in Germany and Poland. Called lebkuchen and pierniki (you can see Sabrina Welserin’s lebkuchen recipes from 1553 here) these biscuits were produced by official guilds from about the 13th century.

The biscuit type of gingerbread is often shaped using detailed moulds, such as this one which I saw Volkskunde (Folklore) Museum in Bruges, Belgium. This mould is unusual however because of its scale, it is at least a metre tall!

The biscuit type of gingerbread is often shaped using detailed moulds, such as this 20th century mould which I saw Volkskunde (Folklore) Museum in Bruges, Belgium. This mould is unusual however because of its scale, it is at least a metre tall! To see more gingerbread moulds, check out my Pinterest board.

In England you can now find both types of gingerbread, but the earliest recipes are for a kind of candy made with honey, breadcrumbs and spices. One of the most popular recipes among re-enactors is the recipe from a manuscript written around 1430[1]. It is made from warmed honey and fresh breadcrumbs, and flavoured with spices but no ginger! It’s hotly debated whether leaving out ginger was deliberate or a mistake by the scribe.

A similar 14th century recipe calls for ginger, long pepper, sanders and cloves[2] while later recipes, such as ‘To Make Culler’d Ginger Bread’ from Martha Washington’s cookbook (which probably dates to 1650 or even earlier), use even more spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, nutmeg, liquorice, sanders and aniseed[3]. These heavily spiced confections hark back to a medieval understanding of digestion. Based on Classical sources, doctors explained that cooking was the first step in digestion, and that the cooking process continued in the stomach. In order to discourage overcooking in the stomach it was important to eat things in the correct order, ideally following a series of steps:

  1. An aperitif to open the stomach and kick-start your digestion e.g. wine, fruit, nuts or spices candied in sugar or honey, fresh fruit and salad.
  2. Moderately warm and moist foods (according to the humours) which are easy to digest e.g. boiled and stewed foods, cereals, chicken and kid
  3. Foods that are difficult to digest e.g. cheese and other dairy products, venison, beef and pork.
  4. A digestif to close the stomach e.g. wine, nuts and candied spices (extra points if you can combine these in one recipe like hypocras, a spiced red wine)[4]

In this sense, serving gingerbread at the end of a meal showed your understanding of the latest medical advice, and that you were concerned for your guests’ welfare.

George Flegel, Still Life with Bread and Confectionary, 17th century, [Public Domain]  via Wikimedia Commons.  Here you can see comifts, spices which have been covered in layer after layer of sugar, wine and a moulded biscuit, perfect for rounding off the meal.

George Flegel, Still Life with Bread and Confectionary, 17th century, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.
Here you can see comifts, spices which have been covered in layer after layer of sugar, wine and a moulded biscuit, perfect for rounding off the meal.

It wasn’t until much later that baked gingerbreads came to England, maybe as late as the mid 1600s, but they quickly acquired magical connotations. Miriam Hospodar claims that gingerbread figures were “originally prepared by crones for lovesick women”[5], explaining that women infused the biscuits with ginger because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac and then gave the man-shaped biscuits to the lucky (or unlucky) lover, thereby enslaving his heart forever. Helen Ostovich has also studied the symbolism of gingerbread and witchcraft in Early Modern theatre. Gingerbread in human shapes had especially strong magical associations and Puritans in particular feared their potential for enchantments and their similarity to idols. It’s not a huge leap from the contemporary trials of witches accused of crumbling clay figures of their victims to worrying about similar magic being performed with gingerbread, a substance that was already dangerously tempting and seductive[6].

The Recipe

Gyngerbrede. – Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, and skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw there-on; take gratyd Brede, & straw there-on y-now; then make it square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-styked ther-on, on clowys. And if thou woult haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.[7]

The recipe is surprisingly straight forward, considering its age. It of course doesn’t give many quantities, but you can essentially spice it to taste. As to whether you should include ginger or not, I think that it’s a matter of personal preference, or you can do as I did and add ginger to half the recipe. I haven’t tried using sanders to colour the paste but it seems to be available online, or you can substitute it with a little food colouring.

I didn’t boil the honey very much at all, I think that the boiling and skimming was probably in order to get rid of any impurities and if you are working with honey that has already been processed then you don’t need to worry about it. Just bring the honey up to simmering point so that it’s nice and liquid in order to absorb the breadcrumbs.

 Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

The Redaction


1 cup of honey

A pinch of saffron

1/2 tsp pepper, finely ground

Approx. 270g of fresh breadcrumbs (remove the crusts slices of slightly stale bread and whizz the bread in a food processor for a couple of seconds at a time until you reach an even consistency, or rub pieces of bread between your fingertips to do it the old-fashioned way)

1 tsp cinnamon, finely ground

1/2 tsp ginger, finely ground

Cloves and bay leaves to decorate*

  1. Heat the honey in a saucepan until it is just simmering. Dissolve the saffron in a little hot water then stir it into the honey with the pepper and cinnamon. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until the mixture has become a coherent mass. The honey should dissolve the breadcrumbs to form a mouldable paste, if it seems too wet add more breadcrumbs.
  2. Use wet hands to spread the paste into a baking tin lined with greaseproof paper or mould into small shapes. Leave in a cool place for several hours to harden up slightly.
  3. Turn the paste out onto a board and cut into squares or diamonds. You can decorate them with bay leaves and whole cloves. Make sure you remind people to remove the decoration before eating.

* The original recipe calls for box leaves but I used bay leaves instead as box leaves are poisonous.

The Recipe: Gyngerbrede from Harleian MS 279 in Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks, edited by Thomas Austin (available here)

The Date: c. 1430

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins + cooling time.

How successful was it?:  It was very different from modern gingerbread, more like a sweet than a baked good. It was very sweet so you can’t eat too much at a time, but it was pleasantly flavoured by the spices and quite chewy.

How accurate?: It’s hard to tell how much of each spice to put into the mixture, but I was quite happy with the amounts that I used. Next time I would like to experiment using sanders to colour the mixture, and it would be interesting to see how different types of bread change the texture.

Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

[1] Thomas Austin, ed., Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 (London: Printed for the Early English Text Society by N Trubner & Co., 1888), pg 35.

[2] Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler, eds., “Goud Kokery,” in Cury on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (London, New York and Toronto: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985), No. 18, pg 154.

[3] Karen Hess, transcriber, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats (New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995), pg 345–346.

[4] Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 5th ed. (United Kingdom: The Boydell Press, 2005), pg 126–136.

[5] Miriam Hospodar, “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 4, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 85.

[6] Helen Ostovich, “Gingerbread Progeny in Bartholomew,” in Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, ed. Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich (England and USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014), pg 203–14.

[7] Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55, pg 35.

Austin, Thomas, ed. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55. London: Printed for the Early English Text Society by N Trubner & Co., 1888.

Hess, Karen, ed. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Hieatt, Constance B., and Sharon Butler, eds. “Goud Kokery.” In Cury on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century, 147–56. London, New York and Toronto: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

Hospodar, Miriam. “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 4, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 82–93.

Ostovich, Helen. “Gingerbread Progeny in Bartholomew.” In Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, edited by Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich, 203–14. England and USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014.

Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. 5th ed. United Kingdom: The Boydell Press, 2005.

In a Jelly

Lemon Jelly, recipe from 1748

This is just a quick extra post, following up on my promise for the In a Jam challenge to provide the recipe for Lemon Jelly which I made. I had a surplus of lemons and as I was researching marmalade recipes for the challenge a couple of weeks ago I came across several rather intriguing recipes for Lemon Jelly.

It’s a jelly in the American sense of the word, as in a spreadable preserve rather than a semi-solid, wobbly dessert. In preserving terms, the use of jelly instead of jam means that it is made from the juice of the fruit, rather than the pulp which makes jellies much smoother but less efficient than jams. Typically in a jelly the fruit is cooked to release the juices, then strained through muslin for several hours to separate the juice from the pulp. The juice is then re-cooked with sugar until it reaches the setting point before being poured into hot jars.

These recipes are quite unusual, however, because two of them contain egg-whites.[1] Beacause of the difficulty in interpreting the recipe which I used, and because I would like to try the other recipes first, I have not given a redaction, but if you would like to try making the jelly it should be easy enough to follow my steps with the quantities given.

The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book and Compleat Family Cook (4th ed. 1748 available as a PDF here) by Mrs. Sarah Harrison of Devonshire offers three recipes for Lemon Jelly (like the marmalade it is served in glasses as part of the dessert course).


The first recipe:

“TAKE five large Lemons and squeeze out the Juice, and beat the Whites of six Eggs very well; put to it twenty Spoonfuls of Spring Water, and ten Ounces of double-refin’d Sugar beat and sifted; mix all together, and strain it through a Jelly Bag, and set it over a gentle Fire, with a bit of Lemon-peel in it; stir it all the while, and skim it very clean; when it is as hot as you can bear your Finger in it, take it off, and take out the Peel, and pour your Jelly into Glasses.”[2]


The second recipe:

“TAKE three large Lemons, or four small ones, cut them in half, and take out all the Meat, and put it into a silver Pot; put as much Water as the Skin of your Lemons will hold into them, and let them stand three quarters of an Hour; then take the Whites of four Eggs, beat them very well, and let them stand till the Froth is fallen, strain your Lemons upon a Pound of double-refin’d refin’d[sic] Sugar broke into Lumps, let it stand till it is quite melted, then put in your Eggs well skimm’d being first strain’d through a thin Cotton Cloth; stir it till it will jelly, and take out your Peel before you put it in the Dish. You must see that your Lemons be free from Spots, or else your Jelly will not be white.”[3]


The third recipe:

“TAKE the best Lemons without Seeds, peel off the Rinds, and put the Meat in Quarters, having a Care of breaking the Skins; then take their Weight in double-refin’d Sugar, put your Sugar into a silver Bason [sic], and put it upon the Fire with as much Water as will wet it, and stir it till it comes to a clear Syrup; in the mean Time you must have your Lemon Quarters in another silver Dish upon the Fire, with as much Water as will keep them wet, and let them boil till they are tender; then put them into the Bason [sic] of Syrup, and set them on a soft Fire to heat, but not boil; as soon as ever they begin to simmer the least that can be, take them off, and shake them, and let them not be on the Fire again till they are pretty cold (for if they boyl they are spoil’d); and so continue setting them on and off till the Syrup will jelly; and then either put up the Jelly by itself in Glasses, and put the Quarters on a glass Sheet to dry, or on a Slieve [sic] in the Sun, or glass the Quarters and the Jelly all together, for they will do well both Ways.”[4]

Lemon Jelly, recipe from 1748

My Process

I used the second recipe which calls for three large or four small, spotless lemons. I cut them in half and spooned out all the pulp that I could. I placed the pulp into a saucepan, filled each half lemon with water and poured the water into the saucepan. I then left this to stand for 45 mins.


Whilst waiting for the pulp to be ready, I beat the whites of four eggs. This for me was the main problem with the recipe, it sounds like you beat the eggs to peaks and then allow them to drop, but does that even work? Or do you just beat it until slightly foamy? I beat it until I had foamy, very soft peaks on top, but after standing for a while there was also liquid underneath. On reflection I think it would be better to whisk it until it was a bubbly liquid, but maybe it is possible to allow it to drop by leaving more time.


Having beaten my eggs I strained the lemon pulp through muslin onto 450g of sugar with a piece of lemon peel (this is mentioned later in the recipe to be removed so I think it’s just missing the instruction to add it in). After gently stirring the mixture over a low heat until the sugar was dissolved I then added the egg whites by straining them through muslin into the saucepan. This is where it quickly became apparent that they were too well whipped. The liquid was easily incorporated into the jelly, as was some of the froth but most was not and had to be skimmed off the top of the jelly. I then cooked it until it reached setting point, removed the piece of lemon peel and poured it into dessert glasses.


Given what seemed to be an awful mistake, the jelly turned out remarkably well. It was one of the most delicious preserves I’ve ever eaten with a flavour similar to lemon-sorbet and the most delightful, effervescent texture. It felt light and bubbly on the tongue, an effect which I think must be because of the egg whites. It really was like Spring for the palate!

Lemon Jelly, recipe from 1748


Harrison, Sarah. The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book; And Compleat Family Cook. 4th ed. London: Printed for R. Ware, at the Bible and Sun on Ludgate-Hill, 1748.


[1] Warning: If you are in an ‘at risk’ group (babies, toddlers, pregnant women, elderly people or the immune-compromised) for raw egg please don’t try the recipes containing raw egg.

[2] Sarah Harrison, The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book; And Compleat Family Cook, 4th ed. (London: Printed for R. Ware, at the Bible and Sun on Ludgate-Hill, 1748), 148.

[3] Ibid., 148–149.

[4] Ibid., 149.