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Gingerbread – Part 1

Gingerbread by spaceamoeba  Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Gingerbread by spaceamoeba Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s been quite a while since my last post, so I am very happy to be back blogging again. I’m also happy to finally have some free time to do it in – this term I have been busy with many PhD related things including entering the world of teaching and marking for the first time. It’s been a lot of fun, despite being rather time consuming. Anyway, I have been keeping the blog in mind and have been gathering thoughts together for this post, and I’ve decided to write about something I’ve been considering for a while: gingerbread. I almost didn’t write this post as Stephen Schmidt over at the Recipes Project wrote a wonderful post on it’s history, so I worried this would be a little redundant. I also stumbled on quite a few “history of gingerbread” type blog posts and articles, such as this one, while I was Googling around, and I don’t think the internet needs another one from me! But then I came across a few mentions of gingerbread in some plays I’ve been looking at, and thought since I’m going to be making the stuff (as you will see in the follow up post) it might be fun to do a background post on it anyway, focusing on the literary rather than the historical (though where you place the divide between those things – if at all – is a discussion for another day!). So, gingerbread – let’s take a look…

Firstly, I think it’s worth pointing out that there are two types of gingerbread – the cakey kind, and the little man kind. From what I have seen so far while prodding around the recipe books, what I’ll be making in the follow-up post will be more like the latter kind. But, for now I will start by taking a look at some appearances of gingerbread in the popular fiction of the early modern period.

What prompted me to revisit this idea that had been lurking for a while was a very brief mention of gingerbread in Fletcher and Massinger’s The Elder Brother (1637). The play concerns an inheritance dispute of sorts between two brothers – Eustace, a charming courtier, and his elder brother, the bookish scholar Charles. Their father ask Charles to agree to being disinherited in order to arrange a marriage between Eustace and Angelina, the daughter of a neighbouring nobleman. Charles looks set to agree, happy to spend his life undisturbed with his books, that is until he meets Angelina, then things get a little more complicated. It’s an entertaining little play, I’d recommend reading it. My current interest in it is about the portrayal of Charles’ library rather than any food angle. Anyway, the elder brother is supported by his uncle, Miramount, who has this to say about Eustace:

He is an asse, a peece of ginger-bread

Gilt over to please foolish girles and puppets.

Gingerbread definitely has some negative connotations here, similar to the way comfits are often described in the period. Eustace is silly, empty and “gilt over” – decorated on the outside but with little real substance, unlike the learned Charles. “Gilt” refers to gold leaf which was used (and still is sometimes) to decorate particularly lavish treats. After finding this little reference to gingerbread, I thought I would go looking for more, intrepid EEBO explorer that I am.

I’ve noticed two general trends in the appearances of gingerbread in early modern drama. One is demonstrated above – gingerbread (particularly iced or gilt gingerbread) as a metaphor for a decorated and fancifully dressed person, generally with negative connotations. In Heywood’s The Golden Age (1611), the first of his mythology based “Age” plays, Jupiter disguises himself as a female nymph in order to infiltrate Diana’s entourage, his eventual target being the nymph Caliope. He describes his own deceit as such:

There I strid too wide. That step was too large for one that professeth the straight order: what a pittifull coyle shall I haue to counterfeit this woman, to lispe (forsooth) to simper and set my face like a sweet Gentlewomans made out of ginger-bread?

Interestingly, Jupiter seems to be implying that the nymph he is imitating has a face like a “sweet Gentlewomans made out of gingerbread”. In adopting – and then complaining about – her disguise he criticises her. However, the gingerbread reference is obviously applicable to him as well, he is a man in the form of something else, just as gingerbread is a food in the shape of a women. Again we see gingerbread takes on a meaning of disguise, deceit, embellishment. Like comfits and the “candied tongue”, the face of the predatory Jupiter is covered and “sweetened”, rendering him not harmless, but indeed more harmful.

The other trend I’ve noticed also puts gingerbread to a fairly negative use – it is used to connote class. For an example we can look to the mildly villainous Quicksilver from Chapman, Jonson and Marston’s Eastward Hoe! (1605) displaying a rather prejudiced attitude to gingerbread makers:

Sfoot man I am a Gentleman, and may sweare by my pedegree, Gods my life. Sirrah Goulding, wiit be ruled by a foole? turne good fellow, turne swaggering gallant, and let the Welkin roare, and Erebus also: Looke not Westward to the fall of Don Phoebus, but to the East; Eastward Hoe,

“Where radiant beames of lusty Sol appeare,
“And bright Eous makes the welkin cleare.

We are both Gentlemen, and therefore should be no coxcombes: lets be no longer fooles to this flat-cap Touchstone. Eastward Bully: this Sattin belly, & Canuas backt Touchstone; Slife man his father was a Malt-man, and his mother sould Ginger-bread in Christ-church.

Ben Jonson in particular seems to have been particularly keen on gingerbread – while in Eastward Hoe! it is afforded a passing mention, it plays a larger role in both Bartholomew Fayre and The Alchemist (1612). The latter features gingerbread used in a particularly unexpected way, as a gag to silence and hide Dapper, a troublesome “client” of the tricksters Subtle and Face:

Subtle: He must nor see, nor speake
To any body, till then.
Face: For that, we’ll put Sir,
A stay in ‘is mouth.
Subtle: Of what?
Face: Of Ginger-bread.
Make you it fit. He that hath pleas’d her Grace,
Thus farre, shall not now crinckle, for a little.
Gape Sir, and let him fit you.

The use of gingerbread to silence Dapper seems to refer to both of these trends – Dapper is a legal clerk with aspirations of raising his social status. Gingerbread reflects his desire to “gild” himself, but also he is ultimately inhibited it, perhaps also alluding to his inability to successfully move up the social scale due to his humble roots.

Perhaps the most famous example of gingerbread in 17th century literature comes in Jonson’s Bartholemew Fayre(1631), where the character of Joan Trash, a seller of gingerbread, appears throughout the play attempting to sell her wares. I’ve always particularly liked the moment where zealous Puritan Busy takes umbridge with her gingerbread men:

Busy. And this Idolatrous Groue of Images, this flasket of Idols!

Ouerthrows the ginger-bread.

which I will pull downe—

Trash. O my ware, my ware, God blesse it.)

Bus. In my zeale, and glory to be thus exercis’d.

There seems to be a particularly interesting link between gingerbread and the body – one can rather easily look like the other, and in The Alchemist the former can be used to inhibit the latter. In this light, Busy’s extreme reaction strikes me as rather amusing and well observed, playing on this perhaps rather overdone trope.

Next time, I shall be making some gingerbread of my own!

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A little bit of housekeeping

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly two years now – although somewhat intermittently at times. It’s a lovely side project for me – I like having a place to explore tangents that don’t fit into my main research, and of course the actual cooking is great fun. I also love hearing about others who have tried the recipes – please do get in touch via the comments if you do! Pictures are particularly appreciated. I’ve never had anyone send me any – if you do I would love to post them on the blog.

I don’t have any plans to change the format of the posts or the site (nor, sadly do I intend make my updates more frequent, much as I would like to I just don’t have the time), but as you will see if you look above the posts, I have made one small change and added an extra page to the site.

I really don’t know how many of my readers come here looking for recipes to try themselves, but I suspect a few do since I see things like “marchpane recipe” or “recipe for early modern posset” cropping up in the search terms now and then. In any case, I’ve added a recipe index so that past successful recipes can be easily located without having to search or scroll through lots of posts. There are 14 recipe, which I was quite surprised by actually, I didn’t think I’d done that many. I accidentally ended up writing a rather long introductory section explaining the reasons behind my recipe choices and cookery methods, it was quite interesting to write as I’ve never really sat down and thought about the approach I’m taking before. Whether it is interesting to read is a completely different matter, so feel free to skip straight to the recipes if you like!

I think February will be quite a busy month for me, so the next post might be a few weeks away, but I’ll get to it in the end. In the meantime, enjoy the index! Also, as this seems to be an appropriate place for it, I would just like to say “thank you!” to all of you for reading, and thanks in particular to those of you who retweet, email, repost or otherwise link to my posts. Like I said, I have lots of fun writing this blog, so it’s lovely to know it gets read by a few people at least!

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Christmas Special: Minced Pies

I once knew a chap who absolutely hated mince pies. To be honest they are not my favourite Christmas fare, but they are quite nice in the right context (hot, topped with some thick brandy cream and served with a glass of mulled wine of the side, ideally). Anyway, this fellow loathed them. The reason for this was the first time he was offered one, as a child of about 11 I believe, he had never heard of the things before. Nevertheless, he accepted, assuming it was just a small version of a hot minced beef pie. However, when he bit into what he expected to be a meaty treat, he found instead some very unexpected sugary fruit. The experience of getting such intense sweetness when he expected savoury put him off the things for life.

It is fairly common knowledge, I think, that mince pies at one point back in the mists of time actually did contain real meat (and no, I don’t just mean beef suet). It’s the kind of fact that comes up in Christmas quizzes and the like around this time of year. The name “mincemeat” is apparently a remnant from the days when there would be some meat in there. The taste would probably not have been much less surprising to a modern day eater expecting a standard meat pie though, for as we shall see in the recipe (coming soon in the next post!) there was indeed plenty we would recognise in early modern minced pies. In looking for recipes, I found quite a number. Not all contained beef mince, however – I found a recipe for “Minced Pye of Eggs” in one of the ever helpful Hannah Woolley’s cookbooks (The compleat servant-maid, 1677) containing hard boiled eggs along with suet, dried fruit, sugar, caraway seeds,orange peel and a few other sweet things. Mounsieur Marnette’s The perfect cook (1656) features recipes for Italian style minced pies (featuring veal, partidge, chesnuts, currants, sugar, sweet-breads and many more ingredients), Spanish minced pies (including capon, pork, mutton, kidney, bacon, suet, leeks, salt and sweet spices), several kinds of fish-based minced pies,  and “Princesse” pies (containing roast or boiled meat, beef marrow and sweetbreads). The most popular ingredient, however, did seem to be beef, or more specifically neat’s tongue (ox tongue). The aforementioned Hannah Woolley cookbook has tongue as the primary ingredient for “An excellent Minc’d pie”, as does The accomplished ladies rich closet of rarities (J.S., 1687). I didn’t go for the tongue when I tried it as I already had some beef leftover from cooking the hash of raw beef.

So, we have many recipes for mince or minced pies, but were they considered Christmas fare? It seems not exclusively so – one of Martnette’s fish pies for example specifically excludes butter so that it can be made and eaten during Lent. However, the phrase “a mince pie at Christmas” comes up in a number of texts, and minced pies are included – alongside a large number of other foods, mind you – on a Christmas menu in Robert May’s The Accomplist Cook (1660). Here’s the menu in full – it’s length is certainly not uncharacteristic for the feasts and banquets of the upper classes during the period:

A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the Meat in order. Oysters

  • 1 A coller of Brawn.
  • 2 Stewed Broth of Mutton Marrow bones.
  • 3 A grand Sallet.
  • 4 A pottage of Caponets.
  • 5 A Breast of Veal in Stoffado.
  • 6 A boild Partridge.
  • 7 A Chine of Beef, or Surloin roste.
  • 8 Minced Pies.
  • 9 A Jegote of Mutton with Anchove sauce.
  • 10 A made dish of Sweetbread.
  • 11 A Swan roste.
  • 12 A Pasty of Venison.
  • 13 A Kid with a Pudding in his Belly.
  • 14 A Steak Pie.
  • 15 A hanch of Venison rosted.
  • 16 A Turkey roste and stuck with Cloves.
  • 17 A made dish of Chickens in Puff-paste.
  • 18 Two Brangeese rosted, one larded.
  • 19 Two large Capons one larded.
  • 20 A Custard.

The second course for the same Mess. Oranges and Lemons.

    • 1 A young Lamb or Kid.
    • 2 Two couple of Rabits, two larded.
    • 3 A Pig soust with Tongues.
    • 4 Three Ducks, one larded.
    • 5 Three Pheasants, 1 larded.
    • 6 A Swan Pie.
    • 7 Three brace of Partridge, three larded.
    • 8 Made dish in puff-paste.
    • 9 Bolonia Sausage, and Anchove, Mushrooms, and Caviare, and pickled Oysters in a dish.
    • 10 Six Teels, three larded.
    • 11 A Gammon of Westfalia Bacon.
    • 12 Ten Plovers, five larded.
    • 13 A Quince Pie, or Warden Pie.
    • 14 Six Woodcocks, 3 larded.
    • 15 A standing Tart in puffpaste, preserved fruits, Pippins, &c.
    • 16 A dish of Larks.
    • 17 Six dried Neats Tongues.
    • 18 Sturgeon.
    • 19 Powdered Geese.


And you thought your Christmas dinner was extravagant! It’s interesting to see turkey on the menu, along with goose and swan, the latter of which we don’t eat at all any more. I thought this had something to do with them being owned by the Queen, I did a bit of googling but didn’t find anything definitive. Anyway, they were apparently still eating them in the 17th century. Turkeys, however, we are often told are a recent introduction as a Christmas dinner, but this seems to contradict that. Turkeys are relative newcomers to these shores, having been brought here from America in the mid-16th century. By the time of this menu they had been available to eat for around 100 years. But this huge menu doesn’t prove much about mince pies being Christmassy, so to make my case I have for your delectation a short interlude of sorts included in a festive pamphlet entitled Mother Shipton’s Christmas Carols with her Merry Neighbours (1668). The eponymous (and no doubt fictitious)  Mother Shipton also includes a dialogue between roast beef, mince-pie, and plumb pottage contending for superiority (remind you of anything?), complete with terrible food-based puns. I shall be back with a recipe for mince pies very soon, but in the meantime I present to you this jolly interlude that I have transcribed it myself from a scan on EEBO:

Here followeth a Dialogue Between Roast Beef, Mince-pie, and Plumb-pottage, contending for superiority with the verdict of Strong beer, their moderator there on

Strong B. Now Gentlemen this is the time and this the place you have appointed for your disputation : and having chosen me for your Moderator. I advise you (and good counsel too I hold it) to do nothing rashly, but first lets drink

All. We relish it

They drink

Strong B. And now having liquored your lips, pipe on and spare not

Plumb-pot. Why then Mr. Beer craving your good attention, I declare and hope to prove it is my property to preceed, Mr. Mince-pie and Roast beef, and ought in any sound opinion to be the first dish on the Table, and my plea for it is Ancient Custome, which I hope may suffice without any further reasons

Mince-pie. Pish, never tell me of your Reasons: your Reasons are not in Date and therefore starj nought, and as for Custome, I say ’tis more Customary to prefer Pye before Pottage, ergo your Custome is not worth a Cucumber

Roast B. Nay then Gentlemen room for Horns, though I have been silent all this while, don’t you think to rule the Roast

Mr Beef, consider I am Beef, a good substantial food: a dish for a Prince, and indeed (as ’tis Recorded) the King of meats

Plumb-P. Gravely spoken

Strong B. In truth so it is, and I think it fit to exalt the Horn

R.B. And not without cause considering the Dignity his Royal Majesty King James was pleased to confer on me, when one day coming down into his Kitchin, I gave him such satisfaction that he daign’d me with the Honour of Knighthood, with the title of Sir Loine, and therefore claim precedency before these mincing Mimicks

P.P. But pray Beef, was you ever in this jovial time of Christmas prefer’d before me

Mince P. Or even gave that pleasing satisfaction or delight to Ladies, or any sort of Persons as I have done

R.B. Mr Sweet tooth hold you your prating I always had the upper hand of you

M.P. Tell not me of upper hand nor underhand I say I am a dish full of dainty

Roast B. Yes for old women that have no teeth: besides you come but once a yea, but I am in season at all times. You but please Children and Fools, but I am in repute with all sots of what quality soever

Plumb P. Pray Gentlemen let me speak

Roast B. Prethee what can’st say? nothing: but mutter as if you had plums in your mouth, why thou art nothing of thy self, whence art though deriv’d or what’s thy pedegree? nothing by a little water, and fitting for nothing but to cleanse the dishes after me, were it not for the goodness of Beef that gives the being by its favor

Strong B. Mince pie, me thinks thou should’st bear up man, slid for all their talking thou makst their teeth water sometimes at thee

Roast B. And we are much obliged

Mince P. You are a stinking peice of Beef to abuse me so, I make you rotten?

Roast B. Yes sweet Sir, that you do

Mince P. Tough Sir but I do not

Strong B. Nay lets have no quarrelling good, Mr Beef, pray Mr Pye

Roast B. Slid tempt me a little more, I shall fall foul on you

Mince P. If you doe, I’m sure you, you’ll shew foul play and bite me, but Ile maintain my honour in spight of they teeth

Roast B. Let me come at him Ile crumble him Ile warrant you

Strong B. Nay good Beef be not so hot, Let him alone a little till he is colder then you may fasten on him at more advantage

Mince P. I shall pull down his fat sides no doubt

Strong B. Come Gentlemen i’m sorry to see you at violence, pray let me moderate the business between you, why should friends fall our? Come what say ye will you all stand to my award

All. With all our hearts? Eloquent Strong-Beer!

Strong B. Then first for you Mr Plumb Pottage: Since it hath been so long a Custome for you to be first ushered to the Table, we shall continue it still to you during the time of Christmas, so that you do not take it ill, that some at other times make use of you last of all, as is sometime necessary to fill up the chinks, And for you Mr Mince-pye, for the time of Christmas also are to be the Senior in all mens mouths, but ever after to disappear and vanish. As the Prince at Lincolns Inn was cominus factoreum for twelve days but afterwards shrunk into his former peasantry for ever after So must you yeild the preheminence to Mr Roast Beef as royal for all the year after. What say ye, are ye all satisfied!

All. O very well, very well! Rhetorical Strong Beer!

Strong B. Come on then, then lets end all differences in a cup of Strong Bub, and spend the time in singing and carouzing a health to all that love Plumb-Pottage, Mince pye, Roast Beef and Strong Beer.

The Song

Of lusty brown Beer I joy for to hear

But a pox of your White-wine and Claret

I hate for to hear

Of such pittiful geer

For a barrel-ful’s not worth a Carret

Then bub with good courage

‘Tis season’d with Burrage

Their’s nothing more wholesome and merry

Though our cloathes be but thin

It warms me within

And makes us sing he down a derry

There’s nothing above it

He’s a food does not love it

At Christmas it maketh good cheer

Nay more to invite you

And still to delight you

‘Tis as plentiful all the whole year!

I hope you enjoyed that. Don’t say I never give you anything! Merry Christmas everyone!

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“A Proper Secrete”

I am trying to write up a little section of a chapter at the moment to show to my supervisor, so I haven’t much time for cookery experiments this week. I’m working on something about the golden apples in Dekker’s Old Fortunatus, so I thought I would do a post about apples once I’ve finished with what I’m doing, hopefully later in the week. In the meantime, I came across this little “trick” concerning apples in a book entitled “Naturall and Artificiall Conclusions” (Thomas Hill, 1581), and I thought I would share it as I found it quite amusing. The book contains a variety of advice, some, like this one are purely for “entertainment” value, but most seem to be of the old wives tale variety, there are methods for determining whether an unborn child is male or female, for making a chick hatch with feathers of a certain colour, or for seeing in the dark (by putting bat’s blood on your eyelids. Yuck!). Anyway, here’s how to make an apple move on it’s own. I wouldn’t recommend trying it for your next dinner party!

To make an Apple move on the Table, a proper secrete.

HOw to doe this, take an Apple and cut the same in the middest, and in the one halfe make a rounde hole, putting therein a black Beetle, and so laie the same half on the Table, and it will then moue.

More on apples to follow in a week or so.

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Renaissance food brought to life

I’ve always been a keen cook, and until recently I’ve considered the reasons for this to be as follows:

1. I love eating. If I make my food, I can make it just how I want it (although essentially, this usually means with extra cheese).

2. Creating time-consuming meals somehow helps me to relax. The more stressed I am, the more complicated the food. While writing my Masters dissertation last summer my fiancé was treated to an endless procession of ridiculous kyaraben-style lunches. I am sure his colleagues at the office were confused about why a 30-something year old was tucking into onigiri in the shape of panda bears.

3. Cooking for other people is wonderful. Having friends over for dinner is one of the greatest pleasures in life. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just happy people eating tasty food. Food is a great way to celebrate.

Literature has always been another great interest of mine, and at some point during my postgraduate studies I got the idea to combine two of my favourite things, and I wrote a few term papers about early modern cookbooks and food in literature.

I had discovered a new reason to cook. Trying out recipes as printed in the earliest cookbooks felt like it could be a way to connect with the past, a way of uncovering centuries-old mysteries. When I finished studying, my mother said to me “you don’t have to stop learning just because you’re not paying for it anymore”. Weirdly, I hadn’t really thought about this. So you’re not at Uni any more, I thought, Why not do some research anyway? Why not just do something for fun? And then, Why not start a blog about it?

I’m trying to do something a bit interesting, a bit personal, and hopefully a bit fun. There are a lot of good resources out there on the internet relating to cooking from historical recipes, particularly the excellent which is a great directory to other sites and cook book texts, as well as a fascinating site in itself. However, this blog will be my attempt to contribute a little bit to the wealth of information on the web about Renaissance cookery mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. I’ll be focussing on particular foods, trying out some authentic recipes and also delving a little into the wider culture of the period, looking at how foods are used in literary texts as well as in recipe books.

The adventure begins later this week with a classic confection, “marchpane”….

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