An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: Plums (page 1 of 1)

Two Medieval Fruit Purees

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

pancakes with pear puree on a shallow plate with a spoon

The Recipes

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

bowl of stewed plums with a spoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Redactions

Chardewardon

1 pear

Enough white wine to simmer

1 tsp honey

1 tsp sugar

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

1 egg yolk

1/4 tsp ground ginger, or to taste

 

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

 

 

Stewed Plums

5 plums, ripe but still tart

A large knob of butter

1 tbsp honey (ish) (or sugar)

2 tsp riceflour (ish) (or breadcrumbs)

Ground galangal and/or cinnamon/cloves/ginger

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

A Plum Tart for Christmastide

 

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

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

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

The Recipe

recipe

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

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

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

low-quality

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

SHORT AND CRISP CRUST FOR TARTS AND PYES

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

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

pippin-tart

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

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

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

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

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

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

 unbaked-pie

The Redaction

Christmas Plum Tart

 

For the plums:

900g Plums

300g Sugar

315ml Water
For the Pastry:

70g butter

300ml cold water

290g plain flour

Eggwash or milk

To make the preserves

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

 

To make the tart

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

baked-pie

The Round-Up

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

The Date: c. 1675

How did you make it? See above.

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

Tobey, Elizabeth. “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.” Shakespeare’s World, December 24, 2015. https://blog.shakespearesworld.org/2015/12/24/a-christmas-damson-plum-tart-recipe/.

css.php