Like many others, baking is providing a lot of comfort for me and my family as the world has been upended around us. But, now that I’ve run the usual gamut of quarantine baking from banana bread to sourdough, I’ve been taking a deep-dive into some historical cookbooks.
This week, that means taking a closer look at recipes from one of my favourite historical cookbooks: Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery. Even though the book is now named after Martha Washington (1731-1802), Karen Hess’ masterful research shows that like many Early Modern recipe books, the manuscript was passed down through several generations with new recipes being added over time. The majority of the recipes were probably copied in the first half of the seventeenth century, and the source they were copied from must have been even older.
The recipes in the book reflect this span of time, during which English cooking was going through considerable changes. Some recipes, like the one for green pease porrage (green pea porridge or purée) hark back to the medieval period in their ingredients and techniques, while others such as a series of gingerbread recipes show an evolution over time (to find out more about gingerbread’s development from candy to biscuit see these posts).
To Make Green Pease, Porrage
Take of ye youngest pease you can get, what quantety you please, & put ym in a little more faire water than will cover them. Boyle ym till they be tender. yn take new milke & make them of what thickness you please. let ym boyle wel together, yn take a little flower and wet it with milke enough to thicken it, & put it in with some spearmint & marrigoulds shread small. when it is boyled enough, put in a good piece of fresh butter, a little salt, & some pepper, If you please, & soe dish [it] up.
Green Peas Porridge
Cook 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas with 1/2 cup water until very soft. Mash the peas, add 1/2 cup milk and bring back to a simmer. Whisk 1/4 cup milk with 3/4 tbsp flour and add to the peas. Stir in finely chopped mint leaves and marigold petals. Add a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper and serve hot.
To Dress a Dish of [Mushrumps]
Take yr firm mushrumps & pill ye scin from them & scrape away all ye red yt grows on ye insyde of them, & pill yr stalks likewise. If you finde them firm, throw them as you doe them into faire water & let them ly 3 or 4 hours, then take them out of ye water & set them on ye fire in a pan. theyr own liquor will stew them. put in an ounion cut in halves and often shake them. As ye water rises, cast it still away till you finde them allmoste dry. Then take out the ounion & put in a little sweet cream yt is thick & shread in some time & parsley, & put in some grated nutmeg, & a little grose pepper, & a little salt, & soe let them boyle, shakeing them well together. & put in A piece of fresh butter, giveing them another shake, & soe dish them up. This is approved, but ye yolks of too Eggs with a [?] cold Creem and thick ym wth it.
To Dress a Dish of Mushrooms
Peel the outer skin off 8 portobello mushrooms, cook in a tiny bit of water in a pan with 1/2 an onion until soft and the pan is nearly dry. Remove the onion, add 1/2 cup of thick cream, some fresh parsley and thyme (or dried), freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.
To Stew Wardens
Boyle them first in faire water, then pare & stew them between 2 dishes with cinnamon, suger, and rosewater; or wth ye same seasoning you may put them in a pie & bake them
Simmer 4 firm pears (wardens if you can get them) in water until soft. Remove from liquid keeping 1 1/2 cups liquid. Combine the reserved liquid with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 tbsp rosewater, bring to the boil. When the pears have cooled, use a sharp knife to peel them, then add them back to the liquid and boil for 5-10 minutes. Serve hot or cold.
Notes – this was still too sweet for my taste, I would reduce the amount of sugar next time
To Make Cheesecakes
Take 6 quarts of stroakings or new milke & whey it with runnet as for an ordinary cheese, yn put it in a streyner & hang it on a pin or else press it with 2 pound weight. yn break it very small with yr hands or run it thorough a sive, then put to it 7 or 8 eggs well beaten, 3 quarters of a pound of currans, halfe a pound of sugar, a nutmegg grated or some cloves & mace beaten, 2 or 3 spoonfuls of rosewater, a little salt. yn take a quart of cream, & when it boyl thicken it with grated bread & boyle it very well as thick as for a hasty pudding. then take if from ye fire & stir therein halfe a pound of fresh butter, then let it stand till it be allmoste cold, & yn mingle it with your curd very well; yn fill yr coffins of paste & when they are ready to set into ye oven scrape on them some sugar & sprinkle on some rosewater with a feather. If you love good store of currans in them, you may put in a whole pound, & a little sack If you please. & soe bake ym.
To Make Cheesecakes
Mix together 250g fresh cheese (ricotta would do, or you can make your own) with 2 eggs, 170g currants, 110g sugar, some grated cloves, nutmeg and mace, a pinch of salt and 1 tbsp rosewater. Bring 500ml cream to the boil, then stir in 3 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs and cook until it thickens. Stir 115g butter into the cream and bread mixture and allow to cool before adding to the rest of the filling. Place in a pie case, or make individual small pies, and sprinkle with sugar and rosewater. Bake in a medium oven until the filling is just set.
To Make a Tart of Parsneps & Scyrrets
Seeth yr roots in water & wine, then pill them & beat them in a morter, with raw eggs & grated bread. bedew them often with rose water & wine, then streyne them & put suger to them & some juice of leamons, & put it into ye crust; & when yr tart is baked, cut it up & butter it hot, or you may put some putter into it, when you set it into ye oven, & eat it cold. ye Juice of leamon you may eyether put in or leave out at yr pleasure.
Boil 3 parsnips in 1 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine until they are soft. Peel them and mash or blend them. Add 3 handfuls of breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 tbsp rosewater and 1 tbsp white wine, 3 tbsp sugar and the juice of half a lemon. Pour into a par-baked tart case, top with some small pieces of butter and bake in a medium oven.
Notes – skirrets are a white root vegetable, and hard to find now, but you could add them in if you had them. It’s possible to get seed to try growing your own if you have a garden. If you want, you can make a decorative top as well by cutting shapes out of a piece of puff pastry the size of your tart. This is baked separately and then laid on top of the tart.