To Preserve Fruit (Fruit Jam)

To Preserve Plums or Gooseberries
Take to every pound of plums a pound of suger, then beat it small, & put so much water to it as will wet it, then boyle it till it bee sugar againe, then put in the plums, & let them boile very softlie, till they be doone, then when they bee cold put them up, if they begin to grow then set them where fire is in a cupboard; you may doe respis this way & gooseberries, but you must boyle them verie soft, & not put them up till they bee cold, & likewise may Cherries be doone as your gooseberries & respis.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, ed. Hillary Spurling.

To Preserve Plums or Gooseberries
Take to every pound of plums a pound of sugar, then beat it small, & put so much water to it as will wet it, then boil it until it be sugar again, then put in the plums, & let them boil very softly, until they be done, then when they be cold put them up, if they begin to grow then set them where fire is in a cupboard; you may do raspberries this way & gooseberries, but you must boil them very soft, & not put them up until they be cold, & likewise may cherries be done as your gooseberries & raspberries.

This recipe is quite different to a modern jam recipe – first you create a sugar syrup, set it to a candy, then add the fruit and gradually dissolve the candy into a syrup again. The fruit then melds into the sugar syrup, creating the jam. It takes time and patience, because you DON’T want the fruit and syrup to boil, however the flavour is far superior to modern jams, and you don’t have boiling mixes spitting on the stove.

Along with some friends, I have made this recipe using mulberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.

Ingredients

450g fruit 450g caster sugar

Method

  1. Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add just enough water to turn the sugar to a stiff paste – it should not be too wet.
  2. Put the pan of sugar paste onto a low heat, and stir it until the sugar is dissolved. Then leave the sugar syrup to heat to 115°C. Give the pan a good jiggle and stir to set the sugar syrup to a candy. Allow to cool completely. You will end up with a solid mass of candy in the base of the pan.

    Set sugar syrup

  3. Meanwhile, cut the fruit into small pieces and set aside.
  4. When the sugar candy is completely cold, put the pan back onto a low heat and pour the fruit on top.
  5. Give the sugar candy and fruit an occasional stir to allow the fruit and sugar to mix. DO NOT LET IT BOIL.

    Adding the fruit to the sugar

  6. To test when the jam is set, put a small amount onto a cold plate and tip the plate. If the mix is very runny, leave it to cook a little longer. Otherwise, remove from the heat and allow the jam to cool.
  7. Pour the jam into sterilised jars and store in a cool place.

Notes

  • The weights of fruit and sugar given are only guides – you can make this recipe with more or less fruit. The important thing is to have equal weights of fruit and sugar.
  • Elinor Fettiplace’s instruction “to boile” can be quite confusing. Often she actually means “simmer,” and you generally have to work out the meaning from the context. Because she specifies “boile very softlie” in this instance, she is talking about simmering in this case.
  • If using a low pectin fruit such as raspberries, you will get a better final set if you use juice from the fruit to make the initial sugar candy rather than water.
  • If you’ve made jam using a modern recipe, not boiling the jam mix may not seem as though it will work. However, it actually gives you a far better result, though it does take time and patience to get a set. Pectins are released from the fruit at 70°C, rather than boiling point. But because the mix doesn’t boil, none of the fruit flavour is lost through evaporation (Spurling, 2011, 129). So you wind up with a jam that is a little more runny than typical modern jams, but has a much more intense fruit flavour.
  • Lady Elinor’s instruction to “set them where fire is in a cupboard” “if they begin to grow” refers to instructions to follow if the jam starts to get mouldy. She means to put the jam pots in a cupboard with a slatted bottom over a fire, where the heat and smoke will prevent mould from forming (Spurling, 2011, 129).

Tudor jam
Left: mulberry jam. Right: strawberry jam.

Further Reading

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

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Tarte of Strawberries (Strawberry Tart)

To make a tarte of Strawberries.
Wash your strawberries, and put them into your Tarte, and season them with suger, cynamon and Ginger, and put in a little red wine into them.
Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswife’s Jewell, 1596.

To make a Tart of Strawberries.
Wash your strawberries, and put them into your tart, and season them with sugar, cinnamon and ginger, and put in a little red wine into them.

THE GERMAN RECIPE
89 Ain erbertorten zú machen
Mach das bedellin vnnd laß erstarcken jn der tortenpfanen/darnach nim die erber vnnd legs daraúf vmber aúfs allernechst zúsamen, darnach zúckeres woll aúfs allerbast, laß darnach ain klain weil bachen, geúß ain malúasier daraúf vmber vnnd laß ain weil bachen, so jst er gemacht.
Das Kuchbuch der Sabrina Welserin, c1553.

89 To make a strawberry tart
Make a pastry shell and let it become firm in the tart pan. Afterwards take strawberries and lay them around on top as close together as possible, after that sweeten them especially well. Next let it bake a short while, pour Malavosia over it and let it bake a while, then it is ready.

The text of the original German recipe can be found here.

The translation of the German recipe is by Valoise Armstrong, and can be found here.

I tried cooking the Dawson recipe several times. The first time, I pureed the strawberries, sugar, wine and spices (despite there being no instructions to do so). And I used far too much wine, so the puree was extremely wet. This caused the pastry shell to completely collapse because it was far too wet. The next two times I used less wine each time, but the tart still collapsed when the pastry got soggy.

And then I found Sabrina Welserin’s recipe. I found it interesting that she specified to bake the strawberries and sugar for a time, then add the wine and continue baking. And trying this, it worked. Even though the pastry still absorbed some liquid from the strawberries and sugar, adding the wine after they had baked a while ensured the strawberries absorbed the wine, not the pastry.

I would recommend eating the strawberries from the pastry shell with a spoon, then eating the pastry separately. It’s still very tasty.

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 50g sugar Optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon
300g strawberries 30mL madeira wine (see notes) Optional: 1 tsp ginger

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights. Blind bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200°C oven. Remove the paper and weights when finished.
  3. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake for a further 8 minutes, to firm the base. If necessary, line the rim of the pie with foil to stop it browning too much.
  4. Wash the strawberries and remove the stalks. Cut any large strawberries into smaller pieces.
  5. Arrange the strawberries in the pastry shell, and sprinkle with sugar and spices, if using.
  6. Bake the tart in a 160°C oven for around 10 minutes, until the strawberries have softened.
  7. Drizzle the wine over the strawberries, and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
  8. Leave the tart to cool, and serve cold. You will probably want to spoon the strawberries out of the tart, and eat the pastry separately.

Notes

  • Modern strawberries are typically hybrids of the indigenous European variety, Fragaria vesca. These would have been used in the medieval and early modern period. They are extremely sweet, but tiny. If you want to use them, you will probably have to grow them yourself. You will need more than one plant to provide the fruit to make a single tart. The plants and seeds are frequently sold was “wild strawberries” or “alpine strawberries.” You may also be able to forage them in Britain and Europe.
  • Malavosia is a sweet, fortified wine, originally from the Greek island of the same name. A similar wine is produced on the island of Madeira, which is why I have substituted it.

Strawberry Tart
The tart is garnished with dianthus flowers, also known in Elizabethan England as gillyflowers. They are edible (rather tasteless, but they are pretty!).

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (1996). The Good Housewife’s Jewel
Brears, Peter (2011) All the King’s Cooks

Tarte of Ryce (Rice Tart)

To make a Tarte of Ryce.
Boyle your Rice, and put in the yolkes of two or three Egges into the Rice, and when it is boyled, put it into a dish, and season it with Suger, Sinamon, and Ginger, and butter, and the iuyce of two or three Orenges, and set it on the fire againe.
Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswife’s Jewell, 1596.

To make a Tart of Rice.
Boil your Rice, and add in the yolks of two or three eggs into the rice, and when it is boiled, put it into a dish, and season it with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, butter, and the juice of two or three oranges, and set it on the fire again.

 

Except for the eggs, all the ingredients in this dish were imported, so it would have been quite a status dish. Fortunately for us, these ingredients are cheap today, so this is an excellent feast dish, particularly as it is quite easy to make. Although the recipe is called a Tart of Rice, there is no mention of pastry aside from putting the flavoured rice into a dish; the recipe below puts it into a pastry case, and the rice mixture sets well as a tart filling. However, I have served the rice by itself as a side dish, and it was extremely well received (and quick to make!).

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry 1 tsp ginger
200g rice ½ tsp cinnamon
3 egg yolks 2 tbs sugar
250mL orange juice 50g butter

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  2. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights. Blind bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200° oven. Remove the paper and weights when finished.
  3. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake for a further 6 minutes, to firm the base. If necessary, line the rim of the pie with foil to stop it browning too much.
  4. Rinse the rice in cold, running water until the water draining from the rice is clear.
  5. Cook the rice in lightly salted water until it is still slightly firm in the centre.
  6. Drain the rice, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to combine.
  7. Spoon the rice mix into the tart shell and press down lightly.
  8. Bake the tart in a 180° oven for about 20 minutes, or until the rice filling feels dry and firm.
  9. Serve hot or cold.

Notes

  • Although this is a sweet dish, it would have been served alongside savoury dishes, most likely in the second course.
  • Rinsing the rice before cooking it removes excess starch from the rice, which means it doesn’t go gluggy when cooked. If you are worried about wasting water, hold the strainer over a bucket to catch the rinsing water – gardens love it.

 

Tarte of Ryce

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (1996). The Good Housewife’s Jewel

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

Prince Bisket (Revisited)

20. To make prince bisket.
TAke one pounde of verie fine flowers, and one pounde of fine ſugar, and eight egges, and two ſpoonfuls of Roſewater, and one ounce of carroway ſeeds, and beat it all to batter one whole hour, for the ore you beat it, the better your bread is, then bake it in coffins of white plate, being baſted with a little butter before you put in your batter, and ſo keepe it.
Hugh Plat, Delightes for Ladies (1602)

20. To make prince biscuit.
Take one pound of very fine flour, and one pound of fine sugar, and eight eggs, and two spoonfuls of Rosewater, and one ounce of caraway seeds, and beat it all to batter one whole hour, for the more you beat it, the better your bread is; then bake it in coffins of white plate, being basted with a little butter before you put in your batter, and so keep it.

Bisket was originally a long lasting, but tasteless and hard to eat food, consisting of flour and water, used as food for soldiers, and there were many complaints about how inedible they were (Brears 2016, 568). They were twice cooked to make them hard enough for weevils to avoid (Spurling, 2011, 117). But then in the sixteenth century, in a form of cultural appropriation, sugar, eggs and spices were added to create a high end version that was often enjoyed at banquets. Some biskets were twice baked, similar to a modern Italian biscotti, while others were baked once, like this.

Some of you may remember my original post about Prince Bisket. This interpretation was highly influenced by the recipe for Bisket Bread; while the ingredients for Bisket Bread are similar to Prince Bisket, Bisket Bread is quite different. For one thing, it is twice baked, and more significantly, the ingredients are combined differently. Hugh Plat simply says to mix the all the ingredients together and beat for an hour. However in Bisket Bread, the eggs must be beaten first, then the sugar added, then the flour. This results in a light, crisp bisket. When I started making Prince Bisket, I was combining the ingredients in the same way, so I ended up with a light, crisp Prince Bisket.

When I put this first recipe for Prince Bisket up on Facebook, it was quite rightly pointed out that I wasn’t using the method described by Hugh Plat, which results in a very different texture – it is still light, but is soft rather than crisp. So I decided to re-do the Prince Bisket, by mixing everything at once rather than adding the ingredients in sequence.

The resulting bisket still tasted the same, but was indeed much softer. When I trialled the two varieties with testers, some preferred my original crisp bisket, while others preferred this softer version. I will continue to make this recipe both ways, but the crisp biskets will be called “Pretender Biskets.”

Ingredients

225 g flour 1.5 tbs rosewater
225g caster sugar 2 tsp caraway seeds, ground
4 eggs

Method

  1. Mix together all the ingredients. If doing this by hand, you will indeed need to beat the mixture constantly by hand for at least an hour in order to combine the batter to the right consistency. It needs to be quite stiff. If you are using a stand mixer (as I do), start slowly until the ingredients are roughly combined, then increase the speed until the mixture is stiff. This should take 20-30 minutes.
  2. Line the moulds of a mini muffin tray with mini patty cases, or grease well with butter, and carefully spoon the mix into patty cases. The mix is quite stiff, so it will help to use two spoons. Fill each mould about ¾ full.
  3. Bake in a 150ᵒC oven for 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into one of the biskets comes out clean.

Notes

  • Normally, I will do things such as mixing, pureeing or grinding at least once manually, to get an appreciation for the process the medieval cooks had to go through (and then I break out the power tools because I don’t have an army of minions; I do have minions but not an army of them). But this is one where I will never do the mixing by hand, because it does indeed much constant beating to get the right consistency for the batter! When eggs are beaten, you are breaking down and re-combining the proteins in the yolk and white of the egg, and combining the water in the egg white, to create a foam that will give the biskets their rise. And the eggs need to be beaten a lot, in order to bring about the protein structures. However, the sugar and the flour both interfere with this re-combining of the proteins, resulting in a less stable egg foam and the softer bisket texture (McGee, 2004, 100-106). If you were to beat the eggs first, then add the sugar, then the flour, the egg foam would have a much stronger structure and the end result will be crisper.
  • Bisket recipes continued to feature in cookbooks well into the seventeenth century. The following recipe comes from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May, and was published in 1660.

    To make Bisquite du Roy. Take a pound of fine searsed sugar, a pound of fine flour, and six eggs, beat them very well, then put them all into a stone mortar, and pound them for the space of an hour and a half, let it not stand still, for then it will be heavy, and when you have beaten it so long a time, put in halfe an ounce of anniseed; then butter over some pie plates, and drop the stuff on the plate as fast as two or three can with spoons, shape them round as near as you can, and set them into an oven as hot as for manchet, but the less they are coloured the better.(p273)
    To make Bisquite du Roy. Take a pound of fine sieved sugar, a pound of fine flour, and six eggs, beat them very well, then put them all into a stone mortar, and beat them for the space of an hour and a half. Beat it continuously or it will be heavy, and when you have beaten it for the length of time, put in half an ounce of aniseed. Then butter over some pie plates, and drop the stuff on the plate as fast as two or three can with spoons, shape them round as near as you can, and set them into an oven as hot as for manchet, but the less they are coloured the better.

    This will be stiffer than Prince Bisket as it doesn’t contain as many eggs, and closer to a modern biscuit or cookie. As Robert May notes, you will be able to shape them.

 

Prince bisket revisited
These were made in a mini muffin pan lined with paper cases, so they could be served easily at a food competition. You could also make them in a tea saucer or shallow bowl, as Hugh Plat suggests in his recipe. But I suggest using more than a “little butter,” because the final result will stick because of the high sugar content.

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (2002). The Good Housewife’s Jewel.
May, Robert (1660) The Accomplisht Cook
McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book.
A.W. (1591). <a href=”https://www.bookdepository.com/Book-of-Cookrye-Very-Necessary-for-All-Such-as-Delight-Therin-Gathered-by-W-1591-W-W-W/9781171316305?a_aid=leobalecelade&#8221; target=”_blank”A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin.

Bisket Bread

To make bisket bread.
Take one pound of flower, & one pound of sugar, one ounce of annisseeds, halfe an ounce of coriander seed, mingle these together, take viii eggs beat them verie well, then put in your stuff, then beat it alltogether very well, then take dishes &annoynt them with butter & put the stuf into them, Let the oven be as hot as it is for manchet, when it is brown at top turne it & set it in againe, if you would have it light put the yolks of viii eggs more to it, & beat the sugar with the eggs, before the flower bee put in.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, ed. Hilary Spurling, p 119.

To make bisket bread.
Take one pound of flour, one pound of sugar, one ounce of aniseeds, and half an ounce of coriander seed. Mingle these together, take 8 eggs and beat them very well. Then put in your stuff, then beat it all together very well, then take dishes and anoint them with butter, then put the stuff into them. Let the oven be as hot as it is for manchet. When it [the bisket] is brown at the top, turn it and set it in again. If you would have it light, put the yolks of 8 eggs more to it, and beat the sugar with the eggs, before the flour be put in.

Bisket was originally a long lasting, but tasteless and hard to eat food, consisting of flour and water, used as food for soldiers, and there were many complaints about how inedible they were (Brears 2016, 568). They were twice cooked to make them hard enough for weevils to avoid (Spurling, 2011, 117). But then in the sixteenth century, in a form of cultural appropriation, sugar, eggs and spices were added to create a high end version that was often enjoyed at banquets. Some biskets were twice baked, like this one, while others were baked once.

There are many other versions of bisket recipe (see, for example, The Good Housewife’s Jewel pp 79-80 and Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book pp 117-121). They are all similar in that they are combinations of equal amounts of flour and sugar, with many well beaten eggs, with added flavourings such as spices and rosewater. Biskets were also probably commercially available; there are recipes that use biskets without actually having a recipe. See for example A.W’s A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin, which specifies in several pie or tart recipes to sprinkle bisket on top, but does not have a recipe for them (a transcript of this cookbook is available online here).

I have seen other bisket redactions where people change the proportion of flour to sugar, possibly influenced by modern biscuits where the biscuit mix holds its form when uncooked. But Elizabethan biskets are more like a cake batter than a modern English biscuit, North American cookie or Italian biscotti.

Lady Fettiplace’s instructions for combining the ingredients are exact, if a little obscure in the writing. The eggs must be beaten “verie well,” then the “stuff” added. However, the final line of the recipe specifies the sugar must be added to the eggs and beaten in before the flour (and presumably the spices). Spurling, who produced the Receipt Book from Lady Fettiplace’s handwritten journal noted the final line is clearly a later addition to the text of the recipe. The order in which the ingredients are added does have an impact on the final texture of the bisket (see notes). Clearly, Lady Fettiplace made some bisket bread adding the sugar and the flour at once and got an unsatisfactory result. She then added an extra note to her working journal to remind herself of the better method. My own working recipe journal is full of similar additions and corrections.

Ingredients

(The recipe is quartered to make it easier to handle.)

115 g flour 2 tsp aniseed, ground
115g caster sugar 1 tsp coriander seed, ground
2 eggs

Method

  1. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs slowly until they are combined, then increase the speed of the blender.

    Lightly_Whipped
    The eggs at the start of the whipping. Note the colour and the volume.

  2. Beat the eggs until they are light and frothy, and increased in volume.

    Fully_Whipped
    The eggs fully whipped. The colour has changed and the foam has nearly doubled in size.

  3. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating until the mix is shiny and is starting to resist the beaters.
  4. Add the flour, aniseed and coriander, and continue to beat until the mix is well combined and stiff.
  5. Take two flat, ovenproof plates with steep sides, and cover them well with butter. Carefully pour the bisket batter into one of the plates.
  6. Bake in a 180ᵒC oven for 12-15 minutes, until the edges of bisket have turned golden and have started to come away from the sides of the plate.
  7. Carefully remove the plate from the oven, then put the other plate on top of the plate containing the bisket. Flip the plates so the bisket falls into the second plate, and the top of the bisket is now at the base. Return the bisket to the oven and bake for a further 10-12 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the bisket comes out clean.
  8. If the business with the plates seems like too much work, you can spoon the mixture into mini muffin pans. Line the moulds of a mini muffin tray with mini patty cases, and carefully spoon the mix into patty cases. The mix is quite stiff, so it will help to use two spoons. Fill each mould about ¾ full, and bake in in a 180ᵒC oven for 10-12 minutes.

Notes

  • Normally, I will do things such as mixing, pureeing or grinding at least once manually, to get an appreciation for the process the medieval cooks had to go through (and then I break out the power tools because I don’t have an army of minions; I do have minions but not an army of them). But this is one where I will never do the mixing by hand, because it does indeed much constant beating to get the eggs to foam properly! When you beat the yolks and the whites together, you are breaking down and re-combining the proteins in the egg, and combining the water in the egg white, to create the foam that will give the biskets their rise. And the eggs need to be beaten a lot, in order to bring about the protein structures. You can beat the eggs less, but you won’t get a light, crisp bisket (McGee, 2004, 100-106).
  • The final bisket has a crisp, light texture. In order to achieve this, you need to follow Lady Fettiplace’s method of combining the ingredients. That is, beat the eggs to a foam first, then add the sugar, to stabilise the egg foam, before adding the flour, or your biskets will collapse when cooked (McGee, 2004, 104).

 

Bisket bread

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (2002). The Good Housewife’s Jewel.
McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book.
A.W. (1591). A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin.

Succade of Citrus Peel (Candied Citrus Peel)

To make Succade of Peels of Oranges and Lemons.
Chapter xxxii.
FYrste take, offe your Peeles by quarters and seet hthem in fair water from .iii. quartes to .iii. pynts, then take them out, and put to as much more water, and seethe them lykewyse, and so doe agayne, till the water wherin they are sodden haue no bitternesse at all of the Peeles, then are they ready. Now prepare a Syrop as ye doe for quin ces condict in syrop in ye .xiiii. chapter before written: seeth them in the Syrope a while, a keep them in a Glasse or Pot.

(For Syrup, chap.xiiii)
… & put into the liquor being .ii. or .iii. quartes .i. pynte of Rosewater, & for euery quart also of lyquor, one half pound of suger, seeth them againe together on a soft fire of coles tyl ye suger be incorporated with the liquor, then put in your Quinces, let them seeth softly tyll you perceaue that your Syrope is as thick as liue honuy, the set them to keel, and take them out, lat them in a tray or treene platter: tyl they be cold, then take one ounce of brused Cinamon, & some of the Cinimon in the Syrope, and when it is colde lai a larde of quinces in your glasse (called a gestelyn glasse) or an erthe pot well glased, then straw a little of your Cinimon vpon you Quinces, the power some Syrope, lay on an other larde of Quinces, and agayne of your spice, and Syrope, and so foorthe tyll you haue done:
John Partridge, The Treasurie of commodious Conceits (1573)

First take off your peels by quarters and boil them in 3 quarts to 3 pints of fair water, then take them out, and put to as much more water, and boil them likewise, and so do again, until the water wherein they are sodden have no bitterness at all of the peels, then are they ready. Now prepare a syrup as you do for quinces in syrop in xiiii. chapter before written: boil them in the Syrup a while, and keep them in a glass or pot.

(For Syrup)
… and put into a liquor composed of 2 or 3 quarts (of water plus).1. pint of rosewater, and for every quart of liquor, add one half pound of sugar. Simmer them again together on a soft fire of coals until the sugar be incorporated with the liquor, then put in your quinces, let them simmer until you perceive that your syrup is as thick as live honey, then set them to cool, and take them out, lay them in a tray or treene (?)  platter until they be cold, then take one ounce of bruised cinnamon, (and put) some of the cinnamon in the syrup, and when it is cold lay some of the quinces in your glass (called a gestelyn glass) or a well glazed ceramic pot, then strew a little of your cinnamon upon your quinces, the pour some syrup, lay on another lot of Quinces, and again of your spice, and Syrup, and so forth until you have done.

The text of this recipe is taken from the transcript by Johnna Holloway, available here.

I was first taught how to cook candied peel by my great aunt, and when I first read this recipe I realised it was describing her method. This influenced my redacting, especially in some of the timings.

Ingredients

Peels of 6 oranges or lemons 100mL rosewater (see notes)
1 L water (optional) 1-3 sticks cinnamon
225g sugar

Method

  1. Make sure as much as the flesh as possible is removed from the peel, and cut it into pretty strips.
  2. Put the peels into a large pan, with enough cold water to make sure they are well covered. Make sure you don’t put too many peels in the pan – they need to be able to “move around” in the water as it boils. It would not hurt to even nearly fill the pan with water.
  3. Bring the pan to the boil, and boil the pan for around half an hour.
  4. Drain the peels, and return to the pan with another lot of cold water. Return to the boil and boil for around half an hour.
  5. Drain the peels, return to the pan for another lot of cold water, and boil for another half hour, for a third time.
  6. Drain the peels and put aside.
  7. Put the litre of water, rosewater and sugar in a pan, and over a low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  8. Put the peels in the syrup, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced to the desired consistency.
  9. If not using immediately, store the peels in a sterilised jar layered with crushed cinnamon, with the remaining syrup poured over.
  10. When you want to serve the peels, drain them and put the peels on greaseproof paper on a rack to dry slightly. The reserved syrup is great spread on sweet cakes or biscuits.

Notes

  • Suckets were an important part of a banquet, whether served as an individual dish or as a garnish for other dishes, such as marchpane. They were sold ready made (Brears, 2016, 531); while it is possible to buy candied peel today, it’s less expensive to make your own, and is not particularly difficult.
  • If you look at modern recipes for candied peel, they are remarkably similar, however the times for the initial three boils varies considerably. Around half an hour was the time my great aunt used, so I went with that.
  • The most important thing to remember while candying citrus peel, is don’t put too many peels in the pan during the three boils. This triple-boiling removes the bitterness from the peels, and if there are too many peels in the pan and not enough water, not enough bitterness will be removed from the peels, and the final result will not be as pleasant to eat.
  • If going by the original recipe, I should be using twice as much rosewater in the final syrup. However, when I tried this, I found the rosewater flavour far too overpowering, and other people found the taste quite unpleasant. Especially seeing as rosewater is one of those love it or hate it flavourings. If you want to make it closer to what the original probably was, use at least 200mL of rosewater.
  • You can use other peels of other citrus, such as lime or grapefruit, in this recipe.

Candied peel

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Brears, Peter (2016). Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England