Tag Archives: broadside ballads

Custards: Part 1

Custard tart by Shanti, shanti used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license


I am working on a chapter section about The Great Duke of Florence by Philip Massinger (1636) at the moment, and  these lines spoken by Calandrino, a servant of one of the main characters, gave me the idea of trying out a custard recipe:

Why how to behave my self in Court, & tytely
I have beene told the very place transformes men,
And that not one of a thousand, that before
Liv’d honestly in the Country, on plaine Sallads,
But bring him thither, marke me that, and feed him
But a moneth or two with Custards and Court Cakebread,
And he turnes Knave immediately. I would be honest;
But I must follow the fashion, or die a beggar.

Calandrino is the play’s comic relief character – the comedy usually centres around him wanting to fit in at court in spite of his country roots, as seen in the extract above. The difference between country and court life, one plain the other elaborate, is a recurring theme in the play, and is in fact fairly common throughout Renaissance drama, particularly 17th century works.

“A custard” does not just refer to the thick yellow stuff we know and love (well, I do anyway), an early modern custard is almost always referring to thick custard baked in a pastry case, we still have these today in the form of custard tarts (which I also love).

Custards are referred to in many plays of the period, I’ve noticed that they’re often listed as part the menu of a banquet, seeming to bring with them connotations of richness, excess and courtly luxury. Here is an example from Thomas Heywood’s A Maidenhead Well Lost (1634):

Enter the Clowne with his Table-bookes.

Clowne: Let me see, the Prince is to bee married to morrow, and my young Mistris meanes to keepe a Feast in the Forrest, in honour of his wedding at the Court: Now am I sent as Ca|terer into the City to prouide them victualls, which they charg’d me to buy; no ordinary fare, no more it shall, and therefore I haue cast it thus; First and foremost, wee will haue—(yes downe it shall) we will haue a Gammon of Bacon roasted, and stufft with Oysters; And sixe Black-Puddings to bee serued vp in Sorrell-sops; A pickell’d shoulder of Mutton, and a surloyne of Beefe in White-broth, so much for the first course. Now, for the second, we will haue a Cherry-Tart cut into Rashers and broyled; A Custard Carbonado’d on the coales; A liue Eele swimming in clowted Creame; And sixe Sheepes-heads baked, with the hornes peering out of the pasty-crust.

A tablebook is a notebook so I suppose the clown is keeping a note of his bizzare food ideas unless he forgets them. Though I would think it would be hard to forget about the live eel swimming in cream. The first course sounds fairly normal, if extravagant, but everything in the clown’s second course is comically absurd. “A Custard Carbonado’d” is, to quote the OED, “A piece of meat or fish scored across and grilled over coals” which sounds like a very strange thing to do with a custard tart.

Heywood appears to have had a thing about custards – he mentions them, again in a list, in The Late Lancashire Witches (1634, written with Richard Brome):

‘Tis a busie time, yet will I review the Bill of fare, for this dayes dinner—(Reades) for 40· people of the best quality, 4. messes of meat; viz. a leg of Mutton in plum-broth, a disSection of illegible text of Marrow|bones, a white-broth, a Surlovne of beefe, a Pig, a Goose, a TurkiSection of illegible text, and two Pyes: for the second course, to every messe 4. Chickens in a dish, a couple of Rabbets, Custard, Flawn, Florentines, and stewd pruines,—all very good Country fare, and for my credit,—

Enter  playing before, Lawrence, Doughty, Arthur, Bantam, WhSection of illegible texttstone, and Gregory, with dishes: A Spirit (over the doore) does some action to the dishes as they enter.

The service enters, O well sayd, play up the meat to the Table till all be serv’d in, e see it passe in answer to my bill.

The spirit over the door casts a spell on the food that transforms it strange things, and the custards become “cow sheards” – cow dung. Strange goings on with food are often a feature of witchcraft plays – I’ve written a little on this before, see my post on marchpane.

Custards are also mentioned in at least two of Heywood’s other plays – How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (1602) and The Fair Maid of the Exchange (1607).

Thanks to their consistency, custards are often described as “quaking”, as in these lines from James Shirley’s The Wedding (1629):

They fight? a doublet, stuft with straw, aduancing
A bull-rush, were able to fright em both
Out a’their sences, tha’not soule enough
To skirmish with a field-mouse; they poynt a duell?
At Hogs-don, to shew fencing vpon Creame
And cake-bread, murder a quaking Custard,
Or some such daring enemy.

While the Captain may mock the ferocity of custard, an anonymous broadside ballad from 1684 reveals that it could prove very dangerous indeed – it is entitled Strange and wonderful news from Newberry: concerning a youth that was choak’d by eating of custard. The story goes that a boy named Chuf made a wager with another young lad that he could eat a custard in the time that the boy could run a certain distance and back. The boy was quicker than Chuf expected, however, and he hadn’t finished half of the custard by the time the boy was on his way back, so Chuf “Thrust t’other half into his Throat”, with unpleasant results:

The suffocating Custard wrought
within his Gullet so,
That to the ground he tumbled down;
a woful overthrow.

The ballad writer ends with this warning about the evils of custard, which, whatever the old joke says, is apparently yellow and dangerous even without the sharks:

Let this a Warning be to you
that go to Islington,
Custard will kill, Experience shows,
as quick as any Gun.

Beware you that on Holydays
abroad do feast your Wives,
For you that feed on Custard go
in danger of your Lives.

I laugh in the face of danger, however, so I shall be ignoring this warning and making a delicious custard from a recipe in Gervase Markham’s Countrey Contentments. Check back for the recipe later in the week!

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Oyster pie: Part 1

A pie I made a few years ago for a friend's birthday. I believe it was chicken and mushroom.

Apparently it’s British Pie Week this week. I am a big fan of pies, and I have been wanting to make one for this blog for a while – pie week seems like a good time a try a recipe out.

References to pies are fairly frequent in the literature of the period. Much like today, they seem to have been a popular, if unhealthy, food – readily available on city streets and at courtly banquets alike.

With that I marked all the trades
Were round about the Cittie,
The cryes of youngmen, boyes, and maydes,
And all their pleasant dittie:
Ripe Cherrie, ripe ripe,
Hotte Pippin- pies; they pipe:
Hay’ny Boules or Trayes to mende?
White young Radish, white.
I haue fresh Cheese and Creame

The verse above is from an anonymous 1610 broadside ballad, I Have Fresh Cheese and Cream. The ballad is about a young man who is in love with a London dairy maid, and this verse is wonderfully evocative of the various foods and other items available on the London streets, including the delicious-sounding “Hotte Pippin-pies” (pippins are apples).

Pies were popular with the upper classes too. In 1672, Elias Ashmole published a book containing details of the activities of the Order of the Garter, The institution, laws & ceremonies of the most noble Order of the Garter collected and digested into one body. Menus for various feasts are contained in the book, one such banquet included seven different types of pie – pigeon pie, venison pie, oyster pie, beatilia pie, tongue pie, skerret pie and lamprey pie.

Unsurprisingly, most regimens and diet books do not recommend pies as a healthy food, particularly for sick people:

When a man getteth the Stranguria or difficultye to make water / the~ anoynt him his nauel wt suet warmed & no more / & it auoydeth very shortly.

Such diseased must beware of salt meates & smoked / as Hering / Ling / Coddes / grene Places / smouth fishes / as Iles / La~priles / Barbels / Te~ches: also must he beware of fat meates as baco~ / pasteys or pyes / fatt chese / raw milke

Brunschwig, Hieronymus. A most excellent and perfecte homish apothecarye or homely physik booke.(1561)

Here’s another:

The pacient oughte to vse thynges of easye digestion, and in smal quanty|ty, and ought to absteine from breade to litle leuened, cakes, tartes pasties, pies, hogges fleshe, beafe, and poudred meates, and fumishe.

Goeurot, Jean. The regiment of life. (1550) 

However, Thomas Twyne’s The schoolemaster, or teacher of table philosophie (1576) takes a slightly more positive view of pies:

Generally all sortes of Pasties and Pies yéelde but litle nourishment in comparison of meates made with brothes. Yet many times they do good to them yt are full of humours, & pleasure them that would dry vp, and make their bodies proper.

Since it’s Lent I thought I would avoid using anything that would have been forbidden during Lent in the Early Modern period – essentially that means no meat or eggs. I’ve found a tasty looking recipe for Oyster Pie, and I’ll be making it later in the week. From the looks of this line from George Chapman’s May-Day (1611), oyster pies could also have made an appearance in my Valentine’s post a few weeks ago, here they are part of an aphrodisiac feast – the setting for potential adultery:

For that sir, she is prouided: for you shall no sooner enter but off goes your rustie skabberd, sweete water is readie to scoure your filthy face, milk, & a bath of fernebraks for your fustie bodie, a chamber perfum’d, a wrought shirt, night cap, and her husbands gowne, a banquet of Oysters pyes, Potatoes, Skirret rootes, Eringes, and diuers other whetstones of venery.

I’ll be cooking the oyster pie on Thursday afternoon, and I’ll hopefully be posting the recipe later that evening if all goes to plan.

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Shrove Tuesday special – Pancakes: Part 1

home :: pots and pans by cloth.paper.string | sarah used under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons liscence

It’s Shrove Tuesday, so that means pancakes! Actually, I eat pancakes fairly frequently, not just on pancake day. I usually go for savoury ones with some kind of spinach based filling, but I’ve been known to make breakfast pancakes sometimes (usually the small puffy ones made with self-raising flour). When I was growing up we seemed to eat pancakes with sugar and lemon (or better yet, jam or golden syrup) almost every week. It was the most certainly popular standby pudding in our house, better even than freezer treats like Vienetta and Arctic roll. I used to particularly enjoy trying to flip them over by tossing the pan – although I’m sure quite a few ended up on the floor or stuck to the ceiling!

My mum showed me how to make pancakes when I was quite young and I’ve always done it by “feel” – not measuring or weighing anything, just mixing up eggs, milk and flour until it looks right, adding more of each ingredient as necessary. I’ve discovered on my food adventures so far that this seems to be how most Early Modern cooks worked as well, it’s fairly rare to find actual measurements. Most of the measurements that do exist seem to rely on prior cooking knowledge – a lump of butter should be “the size of a walnut”, artichokes should be pared “as you would an apple”. The pancake recipe I’ll be using specifies 20 eggs (I’ve scaled it down!) but gives no guidance for any of the other ingredients, only saying that the batter should not be too thin.

Shrove Tuesday, or course, marks the beginning of Lent, or rather the last day before Lent begins. I’m sure many people are familiar with the concept of eating up “luxury” foods before the fast began. Thinking about fasting reminded me of a tract by Henry Mason from 1626 called The epicures fast: or: A short discourse discouering the licenciousness of the Romane Church in her religious fasts. I think it is very interesting that fasting, as opposed to feasting, was considered licentious by some. Mason’s main bone of contention with fasting seems to be that it is an easy way out of major sins that should not be committed in the first place. There a shade of deviousness in the faster – he sins safe in the knowledge that a simple fast will cure him.  A devout Christian would not try to achieve absolution in such an easy way: “those who heare Christ say, and consider what he meaneth, when he saith, Striue to enter in at the strait gate; cannot thinke to buy heauen at so easie a rate, nor to make satisfaction for their sins with so sleight a penance”. Despite Mason’s concerns, fasting was commonplace and in fact mandated during Lent, periodically proclamations entitled “By the King” (or “By the Queen” during Elizabeth’s reign, of course) would be issued explaining the restrictions, particularly targeting inn-keepers, butchers, and other proprietors. Once such proclamation from 1625 is entitled “A Proclamation for restraint of killing, dressing, and eating of Flesh in Lent, or on Fish daies, appointed by the Law, to be hereafter strictly obserued by all sorts of people”, and also warns fishmongers against profiting excessively by charging over the odds for their fish during fasting times.

I’ve noticed that quite a few of the plays I’ve been studying were first performed on Shrove Tuesday,  such as Thomas Carew’s Coelum Britanicum, published in 1634, and subtitled “A masque at White-Hall in the Banquetting-House, on Shrove-Tuesday night, the 18. of February, 1633”. Maybe they had pancakes at the banquet? It seems that plays and masques were part of the Shrove-Tuesday celebrations, and were presumably avoided or maybe forbidden during Lent. An anonymous broadside ballad called Lent from 1661 presents Lent and Shrovetide as anthropomorphic figures, with Lent coming to conquer Shrovetide, who represents feasting and overindulgence:

Thou puff paunch’d Monster (Shrovetyde) thou art he
That wer’t ordain’d the latter end to be
Of forty five weekes gluttony, now past
Which I in seaven weekes come to cleanse at last:
Your feasting I will turn to fasting dyet
Your Cookes shall have some leasure to be quiet,
Your Masques, Pomps, Playes, and all your vaine expence
I’le change to sorrow, and to penitence,
I will reforme you, and I hither came
To keep flesh from you, your proud flesh to tame:

It’s interesting that “Masques, Pomps, Playes” are to be changed to sorrow by Lent, clearly they represent joyfulness, abandon, even carnivalesque.

So, let’s celebrate with Shrovetyde before Lent triumphs over him, and make pancakes! The recipe shall be following shortly.

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