Tag Archives: The art of cookery refin’d and augmented

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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Posset: Part 2

And now for part two, in which I make a posset. See part one for some background on it. Here is the recipe, from The art of cookery refin’d and augmented by Joseph Cooper, published in 1654:

To make a posset

TAke a quart of new Cream, a quarter of an ounce of Cynamon, Nutmeg quartered, and boyl it till it taste of the spice, and keep it alwayes stirring, or it will burn to; then take the yolks of 7 Eggs beaten well together with a little cold Creame; then put that into the other Creame that is on the fire, and stir it till it begin to boyle; then take it off and sweeten it with Sugar, and stir on till it be indifferent coole; then take somewhat more than a quarter of a pinte of Sack (half a pinte will be too much) sweeten that also, and set it on the fire till it be ready to boyle; then put it in a convenient vessel, and pour your Creame into it, elevating your hand to make it froath, which is the grace of your Posset; and if you put it thorow a tunnell, it is held the more exquisite way.

Once again I decided to halve the recipe, since really I didn’t expect that the fiancé and I would want to drink a pint of the stuff each. In reality, even half a pint each was too much.

Spiced cream

After assembling the ingredients I heated the cream with the nutmeg and cinnamon. The largest pot of cream I could find was 600ml, which is just over 1 pint, so I kept a little of it back for the “cold cream” to beat with the egg yolks. I couldn’t find whole nutmeg though I did have cinnamon sticks, so I used one cinnamon stick and about 1 tsp of ground nutmeg. In retrospect, this was too much and the resulting posset was very cinnamonny indeed.

Making custard

I had large eggs, so I used 3 of them – since 7 obviously doesn’t divide easily into two. I boiled the cream with the cinnamon and nutmeg for about 4-5 minutes, stirring all the time. Then I added the egg and cream mixed together and stirred – this thickened up very quickly, you only need to do this for a minute or so. It should be the sort of thickness where if you lift some up with the ladle and drop it back down then a little crater is left in the cream that holds for a while. You are looking for the sort of thickness of a white sauce. I added 2 tbsp of caster sugar and stirred, then left it until it became “indifferent coole” – which I interpreted as “lukewarm”.

“Sack”

“Sack”, according to is an old term for sherry, take a look at this website for more background on that: http://www.winepros.com.au/jsp/cda/reference/oxford_entry.jsp?entry_id=2790

I put the sherry with another tablespoon of caster sugar in a different saucepan and heated it just until bubbles started to appear around the outside – there is not a lot of sherry so you will lose some of it if you boil it too much.

I put the sherry back in the measuring jug, then poured the cream into it. I whisked it together, “elevating” my hand then poured it into a glass to serve. I assume putting it through a tunnel means a funnel, but I don’t have one. I’m sure the effect would not be too different.

It was quite tasty, and if you like eggnog and custard tarts and the like you’ll probably enjoy it. The fiancé said it tasted like “rice pudding juice”. It was very rich and I couldn’t manage a whole glass though. Not wanting it to go to waste, I froze the remainder and turned it into posset ice cream, which was probably a better way of eating it in my opinion. So, why not make some to serve as a hot wintery eggnog alternative, or freeze some to add a Renaissance twist to a dinner party?

Spiced Posset

600ml single cream

3 egg yolks

100ml dry sherry

Sprinkling of nutmeg, to taste

1 cinnamon stick

4 tbsp caster sugar

Gently heat 500ml of the cream with the cinnamon and nutmeg for 5 minutes, stirring often to make sure it doesn’t burn. Mix the remaining cream with the egg yolks, then, while the spiced cream is still on the hob, add the cream and egg yolks and stir until it boils. It will increase in volume quite a lot. Take it off the hob and then add 2 tsbp of sugar. Leave it to one side for about 10 minutes.

Heat the sherry in a pan with the remaining sugar, just until it boils. Then whisk it into the cream. Pour into individual glasses (or cool and freeze), then serve.

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