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.

Jellyes

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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Beef: Cooking “a hash of raw beef”

I have actually made two early modern beef recipes today, but you’ll have to wait to see what the second one is. Here’s a clue: it’s appropriate for the time of year. The background and recipe posts for that will be appearing very soon, but for now, here is the conclusion to my recent post on beef.

The recipe book I used for this recipe was Robert May’s The Accomplist Cook (1660) . It contains a section entitled “A hundred and twelve ways for the dressing of beef”. A hundred and twelve! I really had the pick of the bunch there! As the beef I was planning on using was a some ready diced rump steak I was already using for dinner and  for the aforementioned mysterious other recipe, I couldn’t really do one of the roast recipes, and because I only had a little to use I decided not to make a stew. I should also mention that amongst the beef recipes there were many recipes for offal – things like ox cheeks but also, to my surprise, recipes for cooking udders! I have never heard of eating udders before, I must say, but I’m not quite brave enough to try that! Besides, I do like to focus on ingredients that are easy to source so others can try them out should they want to.

Anyway, I opted eventually for a recipe entitled “A hash of raw beef”. The beef is not raw in the finished product, I hasten to add, this is not a steak tartare kind of recipe (which I have still never tried, though I think I’d probably like it as I am very keen on rare or even blue steak). I think the reason that the recipe specifies that it is raw is that hashs are usually made with meat that has already been cooked. A hash, which I will do a proper background post on at some time, is basically a mixture of finely chopped ingredients cooked together. Think hash browns, or corned beef hash. We often have the latter  for tea in my house, it’s one of my favourite comfort foods.

Without further ado then, let’s get on to the cooking. I haven’t done a recipe this time because I’m not sure this is the sort of thing people will be wanting to cook – it wasn’t bad at all, not by a long shot, but it’s probably not the sort of thing I’d recommend. Also, there were no quantities given at all, so a recipe would be purely my interpretation. If you really want to make it, I’m sure you can work it out from the recipe here:

To make a hash of raw Beef.

MInce it very small with some beef-suet, or lard, and some sweet herbs, some beaten cloves and mace, pepper, nutmeg, and a whole onion or two, stew all to|gether in a pipkin, with some blanched chesnuts, strong broth, and some claret; let it stew softly the space of three hours, that it may be very tender, then blow off the fat, dish it, and serve it on sippets, garnish it with barberries, grapes, or gooseberries.

I got back from the supermarket, having happily found all the ingredients I needed there. Or so I thought. I soon realised I’d forgotten the chestnuts, so I hurried up to the  greengrocers in the hope that they would have some. They did, hooray! Usually I would have bought ready cooked ones, but they were fresh, and after a little digging around on the internet I discovered I could boil them. I cut a slit in the shell and then boiled them for 10 minutes or so, until they became soft.

SAMSUNG

My beef was already cut up, but I cut it smaller. My knives are not as sharp as I’d like so I cheated and used kitchen scissors. I was only planning on making a single serving so I didn’t use much.

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I then added all the other ingredients. I used a thick slice of onion, chopped, a pinch of all the spices, a tablespoon full of suet, and a glug or two each of stock and red wine. I chopped up the chestnuts (though I bought 4 I probably only used about 1 and a half). For the herbs I used taraggon, because it’s one of my favourites. Then I put the whole lot in a small saucepan and cooked it over a very low heat.

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The recipe stated 3 hours, but after 2 mine was becoming rather dry, and as I had only a small amount of the beef I thought that a shorter cooking time would suffice. Once it was ready, I made some sippets (see this recipe for instructions on what they are and how to make them (it’s very easy!)) and put the hash on top of it.

SAMSUNG

I know it doesn’t look that great but it was, as I said, not bad at all. I must say I am becoming very familiar with the flavours of mace and cloves! I no longer really associate the flavours of these spices with sweetness, admittedly I have always used them a little in savoury cooking – nutmeg with spinach, for example – but they are much more pronounced in these dishes. They really do bring out the rich flavours of the meat. The depth of flavour in this is rather lovely, benefiting from the long, slow cooking, and the sauce was very rich and thick, I think the suet and chestnuts acted as thickening agents. Not one of my best experiments, I suppose, but certainly not one of the worst. I suspect that a hash like this wouldn’t have been part of the “beef, bread and beer” that I talked about in my last post, that would more likely be roast beef or a stew. A hash was a more luxurious dish, it would have been served as part of a feast. But as I said, more on that another time…

 

I shall be back very soon with a seasonal special, so watch this space!

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Beef

A Victorian cow butchery diagram. Click the picture to go to Miss Mary’s Victorian and Vintage Archive, where I found the picture

Hello hello! I have not disappeared off the face of the blogosphere, I have just been working very hard finishing a chapter which is now done – hooray! Raise a glass of buttered beer! It is the season for trying that recipe actually, I highly recommend making a thermos of it and heading out for a lovely walk in the woods. Try it – it’s the new mulled wine!

Speaking of beer, contrary to the title, this post is not just about beef, it is really about the phrase “Beef, bread and beer” (though the order of the foodstuffs varies, as you’ll see in the first quote) which I first noted in the background post on beer itself. As I said in that post, the phrase appears to denote hospitality in William Kemp’s A Knack to Know a Knave (1594):

My father in his lyfe time gave hospitality to all strangers, and Distressed traueillers, his table was neuer emptie of bread, beefe And beere

I’ve since spotted this in number of other places, so I thought it might be worth investigating:

Then no more ado, but I pray thee go with me abord,
Thou shalt be sure to haue poore Mariners cheare:
Harme shalt thou haue none, I promise thee at a word,
Thou shalt be sure to haue bread, beefe, and beare.

Robert Wilson, The Pedlers Prophecie, 1595

As well as finding it in plays, like the two examples above, it turns up in other kinds of writing. A 1606 pamphlet recounting the entertainments put on by Robert Cecil at Theobalds for the visiting King of Denmark points out that the host’s hospitality extended to all those who might require it, not just his noble guests. The town had apparently become so busy with people flocking to see the royal visit that there was not enough room at the inn, as it were, for everyone:

there was not lodging to bee had for many commers thether, not victualls for their moneyes, wherof many of good sort complained, & might haue fasted, had they not beene prouided for in that honorable house. Such was the bountie of this Noble Earle in his large allowance to all Officers for that time, that Beefe, Breade, Beere, Wine, and other Vyandes, was not denyed to any that were either acquainted in the house with the Officers, or anye their friends which wold seek it, as many found to their great comfort and honor of the honorable Patrone of that house.

H.R., The most royall and honourable entertainement, of the famous and renowmed king, Christiern the fourth, King of Denmarke. 1606

Beef, bread and beer, while still associated firmly with hospitality, does seem to be at the “basics” end of the hospitality scale, something for the common folk perhaps. Here’s another example:

And where the Porters lodge, did yeelde beefe, bread and beere,
The Kitchen, Haul, & Parlor to, now wantes it twice a yeere:
Now Seruingmen may sing, adue you golden dayes,
Meere miserie hath taken place, where plentie purchast prayse.

Gervase Markham, A health to the gentlemanly profession of seruingmen, 1598

This is part of a song reported by Markham (it’s not clear whether he wrote the song or has just heard it), and, like much of the text, it laments the “decay of hospitality”, blaming it on, amongst other things, excessive spending on such luxuries as “costly and fashionate Apparrel”. The honest and dedicated servingmen, unlike their selfish employers, apparently regret this change as much as Markham. Beef, bread and beer seems to stand for a kind of honest generosity, something basic and fueling, down to earth, and available for everyone – officers, servingmen and visitors alike.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their apparent status as the staples of a good diet, beef, bread and beer also turn up in several travel narratives. I found a few examples, but here’s my favourite, the seafarer Luke Foxe describing the provisions for his expedition to investigate the North-West Passage:

I was Victualed compleatly for 18 Moneths, that whether the Baker, Brewer, Butcher, and other, were Mr. of their Arts or professionsor no I know not, but this I am sure of, I had excellent fat Beefe, strong Beere, good wheaten Bread, good Iseland Ling, Butter and Cheese of the best, admirable Sacke and Aqua-vita, Pease, Oat-meale, Wheat-meale, Oyle, Spice, Suger, Fruit and Rice; with Chyrurgerie, as Sirrups, lulips, condits, treSingle illegible letterhissis, antidotes, balsoms, gummes, vnguents, implaisters, oyles, potions, suppositors, and purging Pils, and if I had wanted Instruments my Chyrurgion had enough.

Luke Foxe, North-West Fox, 1635

Note how, while Foxe describes a number of other provisions, he foregrounds beef, beer and bread and his cooks are “the Baker, Brewer, Butcher, and other” – clearly the three Bs are considered the essentials. However, those travelling on other ships, perhaps those without master bakers on board, would have to make do with the slightly less appealing beef, biscuit and beer, which is mentioned in a few texts including Richard Hakluyt’s The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation made by sea or ouer-land (1599-1600).

The earliest example of the phrase I have found (and of course please note that this is by no means an exhaustive study, just a brief lurk around EEBO on a wintery Friday afternoon!) comes from Holinshed’s Chronicle (first published in 1577):

for they were woont to haue banketing at euerie station, a thing commonlie practised by the religious in old time, wherewith to linke in the commons vnto them, whom anie man may lead whither he will by the bellie, or as Latimer said, with beefe, bread and beere

As you can see, that this clearly points to an earlier usage, but I’m really not sure who the Latimer in question is. I thought it might be Hugh Latimer, but a cursory EEBO search of his works turned up nothing that looks remotely like the phrase.

So, it seems like beef, when accompanied by bread and beer, was the food of the traveling worker – a hospitable welcome for those touring about great houses with their employers and a staple on the high seas for the adventuring seafarer. Beer was a very common drink in early modern England, it was drunk by all at any hour of the day, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Servants and other workers were often provided with beer as part of their payment, particularly in country houses which often had their own breweries. If beer was a part of everyday life, then I suppose this little phrase suggests that beef and bread were too. It seems to me that “beef, bread and beer” is the early modern equivalent of the 20th century’s “meat and two veg”, representing a balanced meal in the eyes of the consumers of the time. In fact, the combination is still alive and well today as a trip down to your local chain pub will no doubt attest – I refer to the ubiquitous “burger and a pint” deals that can be found on many a high street!

I’m currently trawling through the early modern cookbooks for a good beef recipe to try out soon, I will keep you posted and hopefully have a follow up post within a week or two. After that, I think it will be time to get Christmassy.

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Hippocras part 2: The recipe

It would be a bit of a stretch to call this post “cooking and the recipe” as I usually subtitle the second parts of my food adventures. This is a ridiculously easy recipe, and unlike either of the other drink based recipes I’ve made previously, there is no cooking involved – it doesn’t even involve heating anything.

To make Ipocras. Cap. xl.

TAke of chosen Cinimon, two ounces, of fyne Gynger one ounce, of Graynes halfe an ounce, bruse them all, & sleepe them in. iii. or. iiii. pyntes of good odiferous wine, with a pound of Sugre by the space of. xxiiii. howres. then put them into an Ipocras Bag of Wollen, and so receaue the liquor. The rediest and best waye is to put the Spices with the halfe pownde of sugre, and the Wine into a stone Bottle, or a stone pot stopped close. and after: xxiiii. howres it wyll bee ready, then cast a thin linnen cloth, or a peece of a boulter cloth on the mouth, & let so much run thorow: as ye wyll occupy at once, and kepe the vessell close, for it will so well keep both the sprite, odour and vertue of the Wine, and also Spices.

Today’s recipe comes from John Partridge’s The treasurie of commodious conceits, & hidden secrets (1573). I shall, as with the beer post, not be giving step by step pictures because it’s so easy.

I am no wine expert, and I don’t really drink red anyway (hippocras was usually, though not always, made with red wine), so I can’t really suggest which would be best. In the interests of authenticity, a French wine would probably be best, since the majority of wine imported in the 16th century would have come from France. Even as someone who prefers white, I have to say that red is much more “odiferous” (i.e. pleasant smelling). On a practical note, if you are planning to make the hippocras in the bottle a screw-cap is better as it won’t leak when you shake it.

I scaled the recipe down somewhat, in fact I quartered it. I discovered that a pint of wine is pretty much a bottle minus a large glass when I measured out what was left in the bottle my husband started drinking last night. So that was rather fortuitous.

The spices are mostly self explanatory, except for one. The “graynes” mentioned are in fact “grains of paradise”, what we know today as cardamom. I absolutely love the taste of cardamom, it makes me think of drinking chai tea at 2am in the Green Fields. But I digress.

As for sugar, there seemed to be conflicting instructions about how much to use, first Partridge stipulates a pound of sugar, and then later refers to half a pound. I went for a whole pounds (well, the scaled down equivalent) which turned out to be far too much, in my opinion.

Not having a stone bottle, I opted to just reuse the glass bottle the wine came in. I imagine you could use one of these instead though, which would look rather nice: http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/30213552/.

After having left it for a day, I tried the hippocras, as did my husband and our friend Ed, who happens to be visiting this weekend. I put a jelly bag over the top of the bottle and tried to pour, but it was reluctant to come out as the spices were blocking the neck, but with a little shaking it came out soon enough. The general consensus was that is was nice, but far too sweet. Ed even compared it to Ribena! The spiciness was pronounced, but not as strong as in mulled wine. If I made it again I think I’d probably scale down the sugar by at least half. Still, it was rather tasty, and would make a good aperitif or, even better, digestif. You could use it anywhere you’d serve port or sherry. It would also be nice in cooking, I think, especially around Christmas time – perhaps used in stewed red cabbage or poached pears.

So, onto the recipe!

Hippocras (makes 1 pint)

1 bottle of red wine (your choice, but as with mulled wine the better the wine the better the hippocras)

3 large cinnamon sticks

About 20 cardamom pods

1/2 ounce fresh ginger

1/4 pound sugar (or less, to taste – this could easily be halved and was too sweet for my tastes, but it’s up to you)

Measure out a pint of the red wine in a measuring jug. You do not need what remains in the bottle, so find some other use for it. Bruise the ginger, break it up as necessary and add it to the bottle. Add the cardamoms and the cinnamon sticks too. Add the sugar to the wine and stir to combine as much as possible. Put the sugary wine back into the bottle, this will be a lot easier if you have a funnel. Put the screw cap on, or use a stopper if it had a cork. Upend it a few times (easier if it’s a screw-cap) to mix the sugar in as much as possible.

Leave the wine for 24 hours, turn it upside down a few times if you remember to help the sugar mix in.

After it’s been sitting for a day or so, open and strain through some muslin, cheesecloth or similar. Enjoy!

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Hippocras

Hippocrates, engraving by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638. Image via Wikipedia.


In this blog, I’m looking drink rather than food, and like the drinks I’ve looked at before, this one is alcoholic. Early modern people drank rather a lot of alcohol, and it wasn’t just reserved for an evening tipple – beer, and especially ale, were regularly drunk throughout the day with meals, even breakfast. Water was generally too unsanitary to drink, and tea and coffee entered the national diet sometime around the mid-to-late 17th century, so for the majority of the early modern period were not widely consumed. By the 18th century tea and coffee were very popular indeed, but heavy drinking had certainly not gone away – just look at the gin crisis.

Anyway, early modern society had what you might call a complex relationship with alcohol, though I suppose the same could be said about many societies, including our own. Drunkenness was a problem much bemoaned by many 16th and 17th century writers, such as James Hart of Northampton who, in his treatise on health and morality Klinike, or the Diet of the Diseased (1633), wrote that “Drunkenness is an excessive and unseasonable powring downe of strong drinke” that was the cause of “mischiefs there insuing to the soule, body, and good”. On the other hand, alcoholic drinks were a key part of the everyday diet, they provided nourishment, and in some cases, they were used as medicine.

This is where hippocras comes in. Also spelled hypocras, ypocras, ipocras (and others I’m sure), this was an ancient drink, popular during medieval times as well, very popular at banquets and for medicinal purposes. Hippocras takes its name from the ancient physician Hippocrates, he of the Hippocratic oath fame, though only indirectly, it is in fact named after the hippocras sleeve. This was an invention of Hippocrates, essentially a bag used to purify water. Presumably this lends its name to hippocras as the drink is made by filtering spiced wine through one of these bags. The medicinal associations of the name, however, were quite fitting given the various uses of the drink. In one 1612 text, Child-birth by Jacques Guillemeau, hippocras is suggested to help “the weake and dainty women” during labour, or alternatively they can “be fed with yelkes of egges, cullis, a tost with wine and sugar”.

The end to a great feast would often involve “wafers and hippocras” being served together. This was either served after the banquet course or was part of it. Banquet courses themselves generally consisted of comfits, sugar-plums and other kinds of sweet foods. Robert May in The Accomplisht Cook (1660) suggests serving wafers and hippocras, along with other banquetting foods, at the end two of his suggested menus:

First set forth mustard and brawn, pottage, beef, mut|ton, stewed pheasant, swan, capon, pig, venison, bake, custard, leach, lombard, blanchmanger, and jelly; for standard venison roste kid, fawn and coney, bustard, stork, crane, peacock with his tail, hearn-shaw, bittern, woodcock, partridge, plover, rabbets, great birds, larks, dowcets, pampuff, white leach, amber-jelly, cream of almonds, curlew, brew, snite, quail, sparrow, martinet, pearch in jelly, petty-pervis, quince bak’t, leach, dewgard, fruter-sage, blandrells, or pippins with carawayes in comfits, wafers, and ipocras…

…and later in another menu…

…Fresh sturgeon, bream, pearch in jelly, a jole of salmon, sturgeon, welks, apples, and pears rosted with sugar can|dy, figs of molisk, raisins, dates capt with minced ginger, wafers, and ipocras.

Medicinal or not, hippocras was a popular drink – but did it taste good? I shall soon be finding out when I try making some! It does involve leaving the wine and spices to infuse for a while though, so I won’t be posting the results right away. I have a feeling this is going to be a good one though, my previous adventures in early modern drinks have been some of the nicest things I’ve cooked. Anyway, thanks for reading, come back for the recipe in a week or so!

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Cakes: Cooking and the recipe

 

For this recipe I’m going back a little further than usual – the majority of the recipes I cook tend to be mid-17th century, but this one if from the late 16th century. I’m using Thomas Dawson’s The good huswifes jewell (1587) which I don’t think I’ve used before for this blog. This is odd as I am quite familiar with it from my work, and there are some fascinating recipes in there. It’s an interesting book, containing not just recipes but also some information about animal husbandry and some home remedies for various ailments. I think I’ll have to make more of an effort to try out some of Mr Dawson’s recipes in the future – though possibly not his medicines. He also provides the following tip “For to make one slender”:

TAke Fennell, and seeth it in water, a very good quantitie, and wring out the iuyce therof when it is sod, and drinke it first and laste, and it shall swage either him or her.

It seems fad diets and those “weird old diet tips” so beloved of annoying internet ads have a long and proud tradition stretching back hundred of years!

Anyway, here’s the recipe I’ll be cooking today:

To make fine Cakes.

TAke fine flowre and good damaske water you must haue no other liquor but that, then take sweete butter, two or thrée yolkes of egges, and a good quantitie of suger, and afewe cloues, and mace, as your Cookes mouth shall serue him, and a litle saffron, and a litle Gods good about a sponful if you put in too much they shall arise, cut them in squares like vnto trenchers, and pricke them well, and let your ouen be well swept and lay them vpon papers and so set them into the ouen, do not burn them if they be three or foure dayes olde they be the better.

As is often the case, there are few indications of quantities in this recipe, so there is a lot of guesswork involves. As I said in the last post, early modern cakes were more of a “fancy bread” than the sponge cakes we eat today. There is also a clue in the fact that the bread is cut into squares before being baked – clearly this is a kind of dough and not the thick batter that a modern recipe would produce. With this in mind, although this recipe contains all the ingredients of a modern cake (flour, eggs, butter and sugar), I didn’t want to be basing my quantity estimates on a traditional cake mix, but rather I approached this as a bread enriched with sugar, butter and eggs, like brioche or challah. It didn’t turn out much like either though.

Although this cake can’t really be described as a bread, there is some yeast in this recipe – that’s what the “God’s good” is. The etymology is quite interesting. According to the OED, “God’s good” was also used to refer to “property or possessions belonging to God (applied esp. to Church property); also, worldly possessions, food, etc., viewed as the good gift of God”. I would assume that perhaps yeast came to be associated particularly with this as it is a naturally occurring substance, it comes not from man’s intervention but from the “good gift of God”. Whatever the reason, there is yeast in this recipe, but curiously the recipe does not seem to want the cakes to “arise”.

I started by activating some yeast in a small cup. I took 200g flour to which I added 3 tablespoons of water and a few drops of rose water. As I have discussed before, the rose water you can buy today is very strong, and you shouldn’t really use large quantities of it, so it needs to be diluted into normal water. I added 2 egg yolks and 50g each caster sugar and softened butter to the mixture and beat it until it was combined.

I then added a pinch of ground cloves and mace, and then a tablespoon of the foam from the top of the yeast. Sadly I couldn’t get hold of saffron, if you are using it I’d advise steeping it in the tablespoonful of water and then adding it with the rosewater at the beginning.

This makes a stiff dough so you’ll have to get in there and kneed it with your hands. If it won’t quite combine, add a little more water.

At this point, I rolled out the cake and cut it into squares. I then baked it in a medium-hot oven (about 200c) for about 20 minutes.

After letting the cakes cool for a while, I tried one (as did my resident early modern food guinea pig aka husband). They were rather tasty, though not all that much like cakes or even bread for that matter. They are probably best described as a cross between a scone and a biscuit. They were quite sweet, the texture soft crumbly, flaky and a little bit risen. Very tasty, if a little dry. You could, however, ice them which would probably help with this, or spread some jam or other preserve on them to eat.

Fancy making your own early modern cakes? Here’s a recipe:

 

Fine cakes

Makes about 8 small cakes

200g flour

3 tbsp water with a few drops rose water dissolved in it, plus additional water

50g sugar

50g butter, softened

2 egg yolks

Pinch each ground cloves and mace

Saffron, if desired

Dried active yeast

 

If you are using saffron steep it in the water for half an hour (warm the water first), then add the rosewater. Make up the yeast according to packet instructions. This will usually involve dissolving it with sugar in warm water and waiting for some foam to form on top. While the yeast is activating, put the flour in a large bowl with the sugar. Make a well in the centre and add the butter, water with rosewater and egg yolks. Stir to combine. Add the spices with a tablespoonful of the yeasty water, then kneed until the bread comes together. You might have to add more water.

Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out. I rolled mine out to around the thickness of 2 pound coins. Once it it rolled, cut into squares, put onto a greased baking sheet, prick all over with a skewer, and bake in the oven on a medium-hot heat, about 200g. Check after 20 minutes, remove if they seem cooked, leave them in a bit more if not.

 

Enjoy your early modern cakes! They are best when they are warm. If anyone tries this recipe please let me know how you got on in the comments.

 

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Cakes: History and background

Stacked Books Tassles by ChicosMom, found on www.cakecentral.com. Click the picture to head over there and have a look if you want to look at lots of amazing cakes and lose several hours of your life!

Finally, a new post! I’m afraid the lack of blog posts is not due to me jetting off on some kind of holiday in August, but because I have been trying to write a chapter. The chapter focuses on alcoholic drinks, so aside from the buttered beer I haven’t come across much in my reading that I can write about here. Today, however, I thought I might do a little baking, and I figured that while I was at it I might as well bake something for the blog too. So, I shall be making some early modern cakes, and here you shall find a little bit of background on them. I am still wading through books on alcohol and allegories and trying to pull a chapter together, so I don’t have time to really get into the history of cakes, but here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite before I post the recipe in a few days:

Thou bel amy, thou Pardoner,’ he seyde,
‘Tel us som mirthe or Iapes right anon.’
‘It shall be doon,’ quod he, ‘by seint Ronyon!
But first,’ quod he, ‘heer at this ale-stake
I wol both drinke, and eten of a cake.’

The Canterbury Tales. 317-328

I’ve gone back a little further than usual looking for references with this one. Cakes are mentioned several times in the tales but I’ve gone for this quote from the Pardoner. As characters in the Canterbury Tales go, the Pardoner is one of the least appealing, and his eating and drinking here seems to me to be suggestive of greed.

What did cake mean in the early modern and medieval world? Well, according to the OED it had two  meanings. The first, originating from an earlier time, was “a baked mass of bread or substance of similar kind, distinguished from a loaf or other ordinary bread, either by its form or by its composition”. The cake would be smaller than a loaf of bread, “round, oval, or otherwise regularly shaped, and usually baked hard on both sides by being turned during the process”. I suppose this would be somewhat similar to what you would call a roll, bun or batch today (depending on which part of the country you live in). Anyway, it seems that a cake need not be something sweet, as it usually is today (excepting things like potato cakes, I suppose). Another meaning which ran alongside the first but came to prominence during the 16th and particularly the 17th centuries was that which eventually lead to the modern sense, “fancy bread, and sweetened or flavoured”. Now, of course, we see cake as a different substance to bread – the latter being as a rule risen with yeast and made of flour and water, and the former being made of flour, butter, sugar and eggs (6oz each of the first three and then 3 eggs – or at least that’s what my mother taught me).

It’s also worth mentioning that “cake” could also refer to a type of “thin hard-baked brittle species of oaten-bread” which was eaten in Scotland and the north. In Edward Sharpham’s The Fleire (1607), the titular character says: Send her an Oten cake, t’is a good Northern token”, illustrating this point.

I’ve seen “Court cakebreads” mentioned in a few plays, and I think these might be the “fancy bread” referred to above – court food is, as I’ve discussed before, usually described as being fancy and embellished in some way. Cakebreads seem to go hand in hand with custards, you’ll see they are mentioned in a few of the quotes I used in my post about custard.

Now, I said this wouldn’t be a very long post, so I’ve just got one mention of cake from a play that I thought was interesting. As it happens, there is a copy of this play in the collection I’m studying.

In Richard Brome’s The Late Lancashire Witches, wedding cake, or “bride-cake” has a role to play. At a wedding feast, some revelers wait with the bride cake to “cracke and crumble upon her crowne” – this seems to be some kind of wedding tradition. However, there is a spirit in the house, and he turns the cake to bran, prompting a cry of “the divell of crum is here, but bran; nothing but bran!”. As the play is set in Lancashire, perhaps this is a reference to the “oat-cakes” mentioned earlier? It’s also interesting to see that wedding cakes have apparently been around for a while, though I am glad that they don’t get crumbled on people’s heads anymore. Having said that, there is a growing tradition, mainly in America, I believe, of brides and grooms squashing cake into each other’s faces, so perhaps this is coming back!

And finally, here’s some wisdom from a 16th century book of proverbs:

Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?

John Heywood, A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue (1546)

Doesn’t it just make so much more sense that way around? I never understood why it was a bad thing to want to have your cake and eat it – surely that’s what you do when you have a cake?! But yes, it would be silly to want to eat it and then have it back again.

Anyway, that’s all for now, I shall be back soon with a recipe for 16th century cakes!

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