Tag Archives: lent

Oyster Pie Part 2: Cooking

I have to confess first of all that I had trouble getting my hands on fresh oysters. I didn’t seem to be able to find them anywhere. I did get some tinned smoked oysters though. Not ideal, but I think it’s a reasonable substitute. Here’s the recipe:

To make an Oyster Pye

Save the liquour of your largest Oysters, season them with Pepper, and Ginger, and put them into a Coffin: put in a minst Onyon, a few Currins, and a good piece of Butter. Then poure in your sirrup, and close it. When it is bakte, cut up the Pye, and put in a spoonefull of Vinegar, and melted Butter: shake it well together, and set it in againe into the Ouen a little while: Then take it out, and serue it in.

John Murrell, A new booke of cookerie. 1615

The “coffin” in question is a pastry case. I took the pastry recipe from a later cookbook, The art of cookery refin’d and augmented by Joseph Cooper (1654). Pastry (or paste as it is usually known) recipes seem quite hard to come by especially in earlier cookbooks. Most of the recipe I found included egg yolks, but since I was trying to make a Lent-friendly pie, I opted for this one:

Paste for thin Bake-meats.

THe Paste for your thin bake-Meats must be made with boyling liquor, as followeth: When your liquor (which is water) boyleth, put to every peck of Flower two pound of Butter, but let your Butter boyle in your Liquor first.

A bake-meat is another word for a pie, and a peck is equal to about 16 dry pints. I only wanted to make a small pie just for me – plus I didn’t have many oysters – so I decided that I should divide the recipe by 16. I used 1 dry pint of flour (16 oz), and there are 16 ounces in a pound , so that means 2oz butter. I heated the butter with 100ml of water and added it all to the flour. I stirred with a knife at first, and then kneaded the dough when it started to come together.

After making the pastry, I lined a shallow cake tin with just over half of it.  I then put the oysters in the bottom, then sprinkled them with a little ground ginger and a grinding of pepper.

I then added a small finely chopped onion, a little bit of butter, and a couple of currants. I realised I probably should have got two tins of oysters, there was not really enough to cover the pie base, so I gathered the edges in to make a little parcel and put another piece of pastry over the top. This actually only used about half of the pastry.

I put it in an oven, preheated to 180, and baked it for about half an hour. I then took it out, cut a hole in the top, and poured in a few drops of balsamic vinegar and about a tbsp melted butter. I shook the pie to distribute the oil and butter, then returned the pie to the oven for another 10 minutes.

I did try the pie and it was…. well, to be honest it wasn’t particularly nice. I was hoping that the unusual combination of ingredients would turn out to be unexpectedly delicious (think chocolate and chilli, or strawberries and vinegar). Alas, it was not to be. The currents were not a welcome addition in my opinion. Maybe it would have been better with fresh oysters, but the whole thing seemed to me to be full of very strong clashing flavours. On the plus side, the pastry was quite interesting, it was crisp and flaky, much crisper than regular short crust.

I’d certainly like to try another pie. I’m reluctant to post a recipe here since as I wouldn’t really recommend eating this let alone cooking it! Next time I’ll try to cook something more palatable.

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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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