Tag Archives: Robert May

Christmas Special part 2: Cooking minced pies

And so, the thrilling conclusion to my special Christmas post on mince pies!

I used a recipe from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1660), as I pointed out in the last post, there were a number of different recipes involving different ingredients, but I went for one using beef, as well as the well known dried fruits and spices that we find in our mince pies today.

To make minced Pies of Beef.

TAke of the buttock of beef, cleanse it from the skins, and cut it into small pieces, then take half as much more beef-suet as the beef, mince them together very small, and season them with pepper, cloves, mace, nut|meg, and salt, then have half as much fruit as meat, three pound of raisins, four pound of currans, two pound of prunes, &c. or plain without fruit, but onely seasoned with the same spices.

As you can see it’s a pretty straightforward recipe. I went for a basic shortcrust for the pastry since it didn’t specify. The mincemeat itself was rather easy, there was no pre-cooking required, just chopping things up and sticking them in a pie. The best kind of cooking! Here is the meat, fruit and suet mixed with spices:

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Unlike modern mincemeat, there was no talk of letting it “mature” for weeks on end. And no alcohol either. Here is is in the pie “coffin”:

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The completed pie:


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And it’s filling in all it’s meaty glory:SAMSUNG

The mince pie did in fact taste very sweet, to be honest I couldn’t really detect much of a savoury note at all even though there was no sugar in it. I think this is probably at least in part a result of not cooking the meat first and sealing in all the juices and flavours. It should not be surprising though to find that minced pies were sweet – in the short playlet from the last post, we saw Roast Beef teasing Mince Pie for his sweetness, calling him “Mr Sweet tooth”, amongst other things. My own personal taste test did indeed bear out that the mince pie was certainly a sweet treat, despite it’s meaty filling.

I am reluctant to post an adapted recipe for two reasons. The first being that I only made a single serving pie, and I am not sure how much call for that there really is. Secondly, it was very easy, and the original recipe is fairly straightforward and easily adaptable to your circumstances. As a rough guide, my individual pie was based around about 2 generously heaped tablespoons of finely diced beef. This doesn’t need to be exact – for the ratio of raisins, currents and prunes you don’t need to be too worried about measurements, just make sure you’ve got about half as much to the meat, and that you have more raisins than currents, and more currents that prunes. You should be able to guess how much pastry you’ll need (I did, but such is my way) – you could make a simple shortcrust from butter, flour and water, or you could even buy a ready rolled pack. If you would like an authentic early modern pastry recipe, look here.

I know this isn’t very scientific, but I am sure that all of you other intrepid food explorers can work it out. Have fun with your early modern cookery, experiment!

And on that note, I shall wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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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.

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.

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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.

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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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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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