Powdered Beef (Salted Beef)

A good way to powder or barréll beefe.
TAke the beefe and lay it in mere sawce a day & a night. Then take out the beefe and lay it vpon a hirdle, and couer it close with a sheete, and let the hurdle be laid vpon a peuerell or couer to saue the mere sauce that commeth from it: then seeth the brine, and lay in your Beefe againe, see the brine be colde so let it lye two dayes and one night: then take it out, & lay it againe on a hurdel two or three dayes. Then wype it euerie peece with linnen cloth, dry them and couch it with salt, a laying of Beefe and another of salt: and ye must lay a stick crosse each way, so that the brine may run from the salt.
The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, 1594

Take the beef and lay it in mere sauce a day & a night. Then take out the beef and lay it upon a rack, and cover it close with a sheet, and let the rack be laid upon a bowl to save the mere sauce that comes from it: then bring the brine to the boil, and lay in your beef again, see the brine be cold so let it lie two days and one night: then take it out, & lay it again on a rack two or three days. Then wipe it every piece with linen cloth, dry them and cover it with salt, a laying of beef and another of salt: and you must lay a stick across each way, so that the brine may run from the salt.

The text of the original recipe comes from the transcript by Sam Wallace, available here.

“Powdered Beef” is listed as a suggested dish to serve in the first course of a feast in A Proper New Booke of Cokerye, A Book of Cookrye and The Good Huswifes Jewell part 1. However, none of these books contain a recipe for this dish. This indicated to me that a household manager would receive the Powdered Beef readily prepared (perhaps from the butcher who sold the meat) – it wasn’t made by the kitchen staff.

However, given it was clearly an important part of most feasts, I set out to find out what it was, and whether I could make it. I found the recipe above, from which I concluded Powdered Beef was clearly preserved beef, similar to modern corned beef; the beef is soaked for several days in a brine solution, then packed in salt.

However, this method did not contain a recipe for the brine solution, or “mere sauce.” What was a mere sauce, precisely? In the glossary of the printed, annotated edition of The English Housewife, I discovered a “mere sauce” was a marinade (Markham and Best, 1994, 305). I also discovered a recipe for baked red deer, where the deer is soaked in a mere sauce for a night; this mere sauce consisted of vinegar, beer and salt (Markham and Best, 1994, 98).

Even though this recipe uses red deer, I wasn’t sure about the mere sauce using beer; it did not seem “refined” enough. I remembered a recipe for a wet brine Australian chef Adrian Richardson suggests for beef which is based on red wine (Richardson, 2009,246), which was very easy to adapt into an Elizabethan recipe; I just needed to substitute appropriate spices for allspice. Richardson uses this recipe for bresaola (p251), or air dried beef, and the process of soaking the beef is very similar to the method described in the Good Huswife’s Handmaide.

I made this for a Lochac cooking competition, and I had no idea how it was going to turn out until I opened the container to set up for the competition. We discovered you could actually eat the meat without cooking it – the long soak in the mere sauce and then the salting basically “cooks” the meat, similar to bresaola.

I intend to try this again, using the beer and vinegar mere sauce, and seeing how the beef goes in a pottage. This would also be a great way of preserving meat for camping if you don’t want to use an esky/fridge/cooler.

Ingredients

1.5 kg boned beef joint, such as topside, rump or silverside

For the mere sauce:

1.25L red wine 1 tbs black peppercorns 1/2 tsp mace
500mL water 1 tsp cinnamon bark 2 bay leaves
150g salt 1/2 tsp cloves

Method

  1. Combine the mere sauce ingredients in a pan, and bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt is dissolved.
  2. Bring the mere sauce mix to the boil and boil for 2 minutes. Then remove from the heat and leave overnight to cool.
  3. Remove any excess fat and sinew from the meat. At this stage, it will be a vibrant red and quite soft to the touch (as typical meat is).

    raw_meat

  4. Pour the mere sauce into a non reactive bowl, such as glass or plastic, and then put the meat into the mere sauce, making sure it is submerged. Cover very loosely with plastic wrap, and then put a weighted plate on the plastic, ensuring it submerges the beef.
  5. After a day, turn the meat over within the mere sauce, then re-cover and re-weight. You will see the meat has taken on a deep purple colour from the red wine, and is now slightly hard to the touch.

    one_day_meat

  6. After another day, remove the meat from the mere sauce, and place on a rack over a plate to allow any excess liquid to drain off. It should be slightly harder to the touch.
  7. Put the mere sauce in a pan over heat, and bring to the boil. Boil for at least 2 minutes, then leave to cool completely.
  8. Return the mere sauce to a clean non-reactive bowl, then return the meat, and re-cover and re-weight. Discard any liquid that drained from the meat.
  9. Soak the meat for another four days, turning the meat in the mere sauce once every day.
  10. After a week, remove the meat from the mere sauce and discard the mere sauce. The meat will now be very firm to the touch. Put the meat on a rack over a plate and leave in a cool place for at least a day, to drain off any excess liquid (which should be discarded).
  11. Dry the surface of the meat completely, and cut into chunks that will fit into your storage container. Cut some wooden skewers so they will fit inside the storage container. Put salt in the bottom of the container, then liberally rub each chunk of meat with the salt. Layer the meat inside your container, with a layer of the wooden skewers between each layer of meat. Store in a cool, dark place.
  12. When you want to use this, after brushing off the excess salt, you can eat the meat from the middle right away – the long soak in the mere sauce and packing in salt has effectively “cooked” the meat. However, it is quite salty and some may find it too salty.
  13. If you want to use the beef in a pottage, soak the meat for at least 4-6 hours in water to remove some of the excess salt, then add to the pottage as normal. You probably won’t need to salt it.

Notes

  • It is unusual to find a dish like this in feast menus. Preserved meat such as this was the primary meat of the lower classes, not the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a feast intended to show off. It may have been intended for lower tables where lesser guests were seated, or it may have been served to the high table, with the mere sauce as I have made it here, using expensive ingredients like wine and spices, to serve “poor man’s food” that poor men couldn’t afford to eat; or to contrast with the more luxurious dishes to highlight the divide between rich and poor.
  • I have largely followed the method from the Good Huswife’s Handmaide, but I soaked the meat for a longer period, which was suggested by Adrian Richardson’s recipe for bresaola, where he specifies soaking the meat for a week and turning it every day. The longer the meat is soaked, the further the mere sauce penetrates.
  • Finding the right salt for preserving can be tricky. Modern table salt has anti-caking agents added to stop it from clumping; you also find salt sometimes has extra iodine added. Both will interfere with the preserving. Iodine actually destroys the enzymes in the meat that help to break down the fibres. If you can’t find salt that doesn’t have additives, get some rock salt and crush it.
  • The spices have very little to do with the preservation process – they simply add flavour (and would have enhanced the luxury factor). However, oily spices such as cloves and cinnamon do have antiseptic properties which help can stop the growth of bacteria.
  • When you’re preserving, you’re attempting to prevent food spoilage from starting – once food has started to spoil, pretty much all you can do is throw it out. Food spoilage is caused by harmful bacteria. Like most organisms, bacteria require certain essentials to grow – a food supply, and a comfortable environment; most also prefer a moist environment. Some harmful bacteria also require oxygen, but one of the most dangerous organisms, botulism, prefers an anaerobic, or oxygen-poor, environment. Essentially, when you’re preserving, you are creating an environment that’s hostile to bacteria (McGee, 2004, 173).
  • Salting is one of the oldest food preservation methods, and is still used today in the production of gourmet meats such as bresaola (beef), prosciutto (ham) and gravlax (salmon). It works by drawing out the moisture from food, which sees off most bacteria, and prevents the growth of botulism, which doesn’t like a highly saline environment. When used with meat, salt also reacts with enzymes in the meat to change its chemical structure, breaking down the fibres and tenderising the meat. (McGee, 2004, 174).
  • In medieval times, food spoilage was considered to be caused by an excess of cold, wet humours. So to preserve food, you had to drastically increase the hot, dry humours. According to Platina, “the virtue of salt is fiery so that it contracts, dries and binds whatever bodies it touches. If dead flesh is salted in time, it is very well preserved.” (Scully, 1995, 55).
  • You will lose some volume from the meat during the soak in the mere sauce. The soak in the salty liquid drives the water from the meat, which results in the meat becoming harder and denser, and aids in the preservation(McGee, 2004, 174).

Powdred beef

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.

Markharm, Gervase, and Best, Michael, 1994. The English Housewife
McGee, Harold, 2004. On Food and Cooking
Richardson, Adrian, 2009. Meat
Scully, Terence, 1995. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages

Pickled Mushrooms

TO PICKLE MUSHROOMS
Take your Buttons, clean ym with a spunge & put ym in cold water as you clean ym, then put ym dry in a stewpan & shake a handfull of salt over ym, yn stew ym in their own liquor till they are a little tender; then strain ym from ye liquor & put ym upon a cloath to dry till they are quite cold. Make your pickle before you do your Mushrooms, yt it may be quite cold before you put ym in. The pickle must be made with White-Wine, White-Pepper, quarter’d Nutmeg, a Blade of Mace, & a Race of ginger.

Take your Buttons, clean then with a spunge and put them in cold water as you clean them, then put them dry in a stewpan and shake a handful of salt over them, then stew them in their own liquor till they are a little tender; then strain them from the liquor and put them upon a cloth to dry until they are quite cold. Make your pickle before you do your mushrooms, so it may be quite cold before you put them in. The pickle must be made with white wine, white pepper, quartered nutmeg, a blade of mace, and a race of ginger.

Contrary to popular belief, there were some vegetables that were extremely popular in Elizabethan times. One dish that was becoming more popular was the Sallat, which like modern salads were composed of leaves, vegetables such as cucumbers and mushrooms, nuts and dried fruits. They were arranged to look beautiful on a plate, but of course there were times of year when popular sallat foods simply weren’t available. This is where pickling recipes like this one would have come in – in the autumn when mushrooms were plentiful, they would have been gathered and pickled en-masse to be available all year round.

Ingredients

1.5kg mushrooms 1 tsp white pepper corns
500mL white wine 1/4 of a whole nutmeg
approx. 1/2 cup of salt 1/2 tsp mace
1 piece dried ginger

Method

  1. In a mortar and pestle, roughly crush the pepper corns and mace. Using a grater, grate the ginger and the nutmeg (grate a whole nutmeg until you have used a quarter of it).
  2. Put the spices and the wine in a pot and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, then leave to cool completely.
  3. Wash the mushrooms and remove the stalks.
  4. Put the mushrooms in a heavy bottomed pan, then throw the salt over them. Heat the mushrooms well and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have coloured and shrunk considerably. A lot of liquid will leach out of them.
  5. Strain the mushrooms, and put on a towel so they can dry and cool.
  6. When both the mushrooms and pickling wine are completely cool, put the mushrooms into a sterilised jar and pour over the pickling liquid. If there is any spice residue, pack this on top. Ensure the mushrooms are completely covered by the liquid.
  7. Keep the jar of mushrooms in a cool, dark place and leave to steep – the longer they steep the better.

Notes

  • Lady Fettiplace would not have had access to fresh ginger, and if you can find whole dried ginger it’s a revelation. I found some in an Indian grocers and it smells incredible.
  • Mace and nutmeg come from the same plant, Myrstica fragrans. Nutmeg is the seed in the middle of the fruit, and mace is a lacy membrane that surrounds this seed. Even though they come from the same plant, they have quite different tastes, and you can’t really substitute extra nutmeg for mace.
  • You will lose a lot of volume from the mushrooms as you are stewing them in the salt. We lost over 600g of weight – at the end of the process, we had 830g of mushrooms after starting out with 1.5kg.

Pickled mushrooms

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book.

Marmalad of Apricocks

TO MAKE MARMALAD OF APRICOCKS
Take to a pounde of Apricockes a pounde of suger wanting 3 ounces wet yor suger in water & boyle it until yt come to candy then pare the plumes and cut them in quarters so put them into yor suger let them boyle till they will cut still stiringe and breakeinge them as fast as they boyle, when yt is enough put yt in boxes but cover yt not until yt bee cold
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book

To a pound of apricots, take a pound of sugar. Using 3 ounces of water wet your sugar and boil it until it comes to candy, then pare the fruit and cut them into quarters. put them into your sugar and let them boil until the mixture can be cut. Stir and break them as fast as they boil, and when it is done put it in boxes but do not cover it untl it is cold.

When I first read that Elizabethan marmalade was a solid jelly (Sim, 2005, 158) rather than the somewhat gloopy substance we’re used to today, I was intrigued and began to look for recipes. This recipe from Elinor Fettiplace describes how marmalade was often presented as gifts in little boxes.

Ingredients

450g apricots, peeled and stoned 450g fine sugar approx. 80mL water

Method

  1. Put the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add just enough water to turn the sugar into a stiff paste; how much water will depend on how hot and humid the day is.
  2. Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has completely dissolved to syrup, stop stirring, and allow the syrup to reach 114ᵒ (soft ball stage).
  3. Add the apricots and stir, giving the apricots a bit of a bash. Leave the mix over a low heat and stir it well every few minutes, to make sure the apricots don’t stick to the bottom of the pan, and to break them up. Leave it like this until the apricots have completely turned to mush. This can take at least an hour- do not rush it, and do not turn the heat up, or you will burn the apricots and possibly set the marmelad before the apricots have completely broken up.
  4. When the apricots have completely broken down, turn the heat up, and stir the mix really vigorously. It will start to resist the stirring. When the mix has reached 114ᵒ again, take it off the heat and pour into an oiled pan. Leave to cool completely, then carefully cut it into squares.
  5. If storing, use a layer of parchment paper or baking paper in between each layer to prevent it sticking.

Notes

  • “Marmelade” is derived from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince (Sim, 2005, 158-159). This recipe is the same as is used to create quince paste (that is, to preserve quinces). As the same method was applied to other fruits to produce a similar result, the name “marmalade” was also applied.
  • Marmelade was often given as gifts in little wooden boxes (Spurling, 2011, 163).
  • When making this recipe, use good quality sugar. I made it once with cheap, generic supermarket sugar, and the end result was quite grainy, even though it set properly.
  • When making this recipe, try not to do it on a very humid day. The process of turning sugar into candy relies on boiling the water out of the sugar. On a humid day, it will take a lot longer, and if the weather is too humid, it won’t set at all. If your hair is wet with sweat or your clothes are stuck to your body, it’s too hot.
  • Unlike water, sugar syrup gets to 100ᵒ and keeps on getting hotter. It is also very sticky. So be careful not to splash any on yourself – sugar syrup burns really, really hurt.

IMAG0839

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Sim, Alison. Fast and Feast in Tudor England. Stroud, 2005.
Spurling, Hilary. Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. London, 2011.

Cheries in Conserve (Preserved Cherries)

Take suger and Cheries a like Quantity put as much water to yor suger as will wet yt, and boyle yt till yt allmost come to suger again, then stone yor cherries and put them in and two every pound of them put 3 spoonfulls of the Juice of Red Respice wth them let them boyle so fast that the sirop may boyle upp above the Cheries till they are boyled enough, sciminge of yt as the scum ariseth, as soone as you take them of the fier put them presently into a dish of either silver or earth there let them stand until they bee almost cold then put them upp. (Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book)

Take equal quantities of sugar and cherries. Put as much water to your sugar as will wet it, and boile it until it almost come to sugar again, then stone your cherries and put them in. To every pound of cherries put 3 spoonfuls of the juice of raspberries. Let them boil so fast that the syrup may boil up above the cherries until they are boiled enough, skimming off the scum as it rises. As soon as you take them off the fire put them into a dish of either silver or earth. There let them stand until they be almost cold then put them up.

Ingredients

450g cherries, stoned 40mL raspberry juice
450g fine sugar approx. 60mL

Method

water

  1. Put the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add just enough water to turn the sugar into a stiff paste; how much water will depend on how hot and humid the day is.
  2. Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has completely dissolved to syrup, stop stirring, and allow the syrup to reach 114ᵒ (soft ball stage).
  3. Put the cherries and raspberry juice in the syrup and return to the boil. Keep watching until the syrup boils up over the cherries, as described in Lady Fettiplace’s recipe. This is actually when the syrup gets to around 114ᵒ (soft ball stage) again.

    IMAG0269

  4. Allow to cool before serving or storing in a sealed, sterilised jar.

Notes

  • Raspberry juice has quite a tart flavour, and it was probably added to cut through the extreme sweetness. However, it’s quite hard to get hold of proper raspberry juice unless you juice them yourself. Do not add raspberry cordial instead; it is too sweet and actually doesn’t taste of raspberry juice. If you can’t get hold of proper raspberry juice, use rosewater instead as a period appropriate substitute.
  • Use good quality sugar to make this recipe. Cheap sugar can result in the syrup having an unpleasant, grainy texture.
  • Feasts in the Tudor and Stuart periods ended with a banquet course, a gathering of the most favoured or important guests, where they were served a range of sugary confections. A dish like this would have been considered a wet sucket, and served in its syrup. The cherries would have been eaten by spearing them with the end of a spoon.

Cherries in preserve

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book

Dry Curing Bacon

Food preservation was extremely important in ancient and medieval times. They didn’t have refrigerators or artificial preservatives; any excess produce was preserved both to prevent waste and try and ensure a continuous food supply.

When you’re preserving, you’re attempting to prevent food spoilage from starting – once food has started to spoil, pretty much all you can do is throw it out. Food spoilage is caused by harmful bacteria. Like most organisms, bacteria require certain essentials to grow – a food supply, and a comfortable environment; most also prefer a moist environment. Some harmful bacteria also require oxygen, but one of the most dangerous organisms, botulism, prefers an anaerobic, or oxygen-poor, environment. Essentially, when you’re preserving, you are creating an environment that’s hostile to bacteria.

Salting is one of the oldest food preservation methods, and is still used today in the production of gourmet meats such as prosciutto (ham) and gravlax (salmon). It works by drawing out the moisture from food, which sees off most bacteria, and prevents the growth of botulism, which doesn’t like a highly saline environment. When used with meat, salt also reacts with enzymes in the meat to change its chemical structure, breaking down the fibres and tenderising the meat. (McGee, 2004, 174).

In medieval times, food spoilage was considered to be caused by an excess of cold, wet humours. So to preserve food, you had to drastically increase the hot, dry humours. According to Platina, “the virtue of salt is fiery so that it contracts, dries and binds whatever bodies it touches. If dead flesh is salted in time, it is very well preserved.” (Scully, 1995, 55).

So now we’ve got all the boring science out of the way, let’s get down to the meat of the matter.

Method of curing hams and Puteolan ofella
You should salt hams in the following manner, in a jar or large pot: When you have bought the hams cut off the hocks. Allow a half-modius of ground Roman salt to each ham. Spread salt on the bottom of the jar or pot; then lay a ham, with the skin facing downwards, and cover the whole with salt. Place another ham over it and cover in the same way, taking care that meat does not touch meat. Continue in the same way until all are covered. When you have arranged them all, spread salt above so that the meat shall not show, and level the whole. When they have remained five days in the salt remove them all with their own salt. Place at the bottom those which had been on top before, covering and arranging them as before. Twelve days later take them out finally, brush off all the salt, and hang them for two days in a draught. On the third day clean them thoroughly with a sponge and rub with oil. Hang them in smoke for two days, and the third day take them down, rub with a mixture of oil and vinegar, and hang in the meat-house. No moths or worms will touch them.
Cato, De Agri Cultura (On Farming), 127.

The above recipe comes from a work on farming written by Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Censor) in C2 BC. At a time when Rome was expanding and coming into contact with other cultures, Cato was very eager to preserve what he saw as traditional Roman values, which is probably why he wrote a book about how to run a farm. It was a highly influential work and was used as a blueprint for farm management for decades after.

Even though this recipe is over 2,000 years old, the process hasn’t really changed. The following process is adapted from Australian chef Adrian Richardson’s Meat – “Dry Cure Mix for the Enthusiast,” p 244. All I have done is change the spices to be spices available in the medieval period. I prepared this for Spring War 2013, where I wanted enough that 200 or so people would be able to have a taste.

Ingredients

4 kg pork belly, boned 100 g ground pepper
2kg Preserving salt (see Notes) 100g ground fennel seeds

Raw_Bacon
The starting point. At this stage, the pork belly is pink and moist, and very soft.

Method

  1. Slice the pork belly into roughly equal pieces.
  2. Mix the salt and the spices together.  Have your main preserving mix in one container, and then put some into a separate bowl before beginning the next step.
    Salt_Mix
  3. Work a generous handful of the mix into each piece of pork, then stack them on top of each other in a non-reactive bowl (glass, plastic or ceramic – not metal), putting skin to skin and flesh to flesh. The first piece should be skin side down. Cover the container and put in a cool place – the fridge is ideal, and won’t interfere with the salt’s action.
    First_Salting
    Pork belly stacked after first salting. You can see moisture already starting to pool on the meat.
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    The pork belly after 24 hours. As you can see, the salt has largely dissolved into the flesh, and there is a lot of liquid in the bottom of the container.
  4. After 24 hours, drain off the liquid, then rinse and dry the bowl. Rub a fresh handful of curing mix into each piece of pork, then stack back into the container in the opposite order (so the one on the bottom is now on top).
  5. Repeat this process every 24 hours for 5-8 days. You will know the process is complete when there’s very little liquid in the bottom of the container. You can expect to lose as much as 10% of liquid from your pork belly. The liquid will be extremely salty – it makes an excellent weed killer.
  6. Rinse and dry the pieces well, and store in a cool place – again, the fridge is good. It will keep for around 6 months.
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    The finished product. There is some staining from the pepper, but the meat has darkened considerably and has become very leathery in texture.
  7. The meat will now be really salty – too salty to eat. Before eating, slice the meat into strips, and then soak for at least 12 hours, preferably changing the water once. Drain and dry well, and fry as you would normal bacon.

Notes

  • Finding the right salt for preserving can be tricky. Modern table salt has anti-caking agents added to stop it from clumping; you also find salt sometimes has extra iodine added. Both will interfere with the preserving. Iodine actually destroys the enzymes in the meat that help to break down the fibres. If you can’t find salt that doesn’t have additives, get some rock salt and crush it.
  • These are just the spices I used. You could also use mustard, cinnamon or cloves, or add dried herbs such as rosemary or thyme.
  • The spices have very little to do with the preservation process – they simply add flavour. However, oily spices such as cloves and cinnamon do have antiseptic properties which help can stop the growth of bacteria.

Further Reading

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2004.
Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1995.