In the Kitchen: To Make a Cake (1604)

Dear Constant Reader,

[I wrote this in January 2020 and apparently it’s been sitting in my drafts all that time. It’s been well over a year since I shared a historic recipe with you and most of what I’ve been cooking this year is from the 1914 project. I can’t find a picture of the finished cake so you’ll just have to imagine it.]

It has been a while since I did any historic cookery. When our local medieval/Renaissance cookery group was having a joint meeting with a gaming group, that was enough to get me thumbing through my Elizabethan cookbooks. I wanted to bring something that didn’t need any cooking on site and was somewhat seasonal. It’s wintertime, which made me think of fruit and spice cakes.

To Make a Cake
Take a peck of flower, and fower pound of currance, one ounce of Cinamon, half an ounce of ginger, two nutmegs, of cloves and mace two peniworth, of butter one pound, mingle your spice and flower & fruit together, put as much barme as will make it light, then take good Ale, & put your butter in it, all saving a little, which you must put in the milk, & let the milk boyle with the butter, then make a posset with it, & temper the Cake with the posset drink, & curd & all together, & put some sugar in & so bake it.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book

Cakes in the 16th and 17th centuries were not much like today’s cake. They were raised with barm, which is the yeast used for making ale, rather than baking powder, which wasn’t invented for a couple of centuries. The results are more like bread than what we think of as cake today. I use yeast with a little beer added for flavor.

The above recipe would make a giant cake, as a peck of flour is eight quarts of flour or about 37 cups. I divided all the ingredients approximately by eight to make a more manageable cake. Since I have no idea how much mace or cloves a penny bought at the time, I just added the spices to my liking.

The big mystery here was these instructions “then take good Ale, & put your butter in it, all saving a little, which you must put in the milk, & let the milk boyle with the butter, then make a posset with it, & temper the Cake with the posset drink, & curd & all together”. My read of it is to take ale and add most of the butter to it. Put the rest of the butter into the milk and bring the milk to a boil. Then add the milk to the ale (a posset is a beverage made with warm milk curdled with alcohol) and add it to the cake mix. Why split the butter like that? I might understand if you worked part of it into the flour and melted the other part, but this baffles me. It all melted when I added the warm milk to the ale. Any thoughts?

The end result is a pleasantly-spiced, not too sweet fruit bread.

4 2/3 cups all purpose flour (I like a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat)
8 oz. currants
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 t mace
1/4 t nutmeg
pinch cloves
2 oz. butter (1/2 stick)
1 cup ale (I used a winter warmer)
1 cup milk
1 packet yeast
1/4 cup sugar

Mix together the flour, currants, and spices in a large bowl. Pour the ale and half the butter into a small bowl. Bring the milk and the rest of the butter to a boil in a sauce pan. Let the milk cool to body temperature (if you put a drop on the inside of your wrist, it should feel neither hot nor cold), add to the ale along with one tablespoon of sugar and the yeast. Mix the rest of the sugar into the dry ingredients.

When the yeast bubbles (about 10 minutes) add the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix until well combined. Knead a few times on a floured surface. Pat the dough into a ball. Grease the bowl and put the dough into it. Cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled.

Punch the dough down and place in a greased pan. I used a 9″ round cake pan. Cover and let rise again.

Bake at 400°F for half an hour. You can sprinkle it with coarse sugar when it comes out of the oven or make a glaze with powdered sugar and rosewater and pour over the warm cake.


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Published in: on 22 September 2022 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Best Ordinary Pottage (1615)

Dear Constant Reader,

Sinister Sarah, a member of my Advisory Committee on Patreon, requested an Elizabethan recipe. (If you’d like to make requests as well, please join the $5 tier). Technically this recipe was published after Elizabeth’s death, but it’s still got a  Renaissance style, rather than a Restoration one. 

therefore to make the best ordinarie Pottage, you shall take a racke of Mutton cut into pieces, or a leg of Mutton cut into pieces; for this meate, and these ioynts are the best, although any other ioynt or any fresh Beefe will likewise make good Pottage: and hauing washt your meate well, put it into a cleane pot with faire water, and set it on the fire; then take Violet leaues, Endive, Succory, Strawberry leaues, Spinage, Langdebeefe, Marigold flowers, Scallions, & a little Parsly, & chop them very small together; then take halfe so much Oat-meale well beaten as there is Hearbs, and mixe it with the Hearbs, and chop all very well together: then when the pot is ready to boyle, skum it very wel, and then put in your hearbs, and so let it boyle with a quick fire, stirring the meat oft in the pot, till the meat bee boyld enough, and that the hearbs and water are mixt together without any separation, which will bee after the consumption of more than a third part: then season them with Salt, and serue them vp with the meate, either with Sippets or without. (Gervase Markham, The English Huswife, 1615)

If you want to see how I cooked this (in 16th century attire!), you can join my Patreon at any level to watch the video.

I used lamb, since mutton is hard to acquire. For the herbs I used endive, spinach, violet and strawberry leaves (from my garden), parsley (also from the garden), & scallions. “Succory” is chicory, but my supermarket didn’t have any. I wanted curly endive, to be closer to the historic sort, but all the market had was Belgian. Although I’ve grown edible marigolds in the past, I didn’t this year. Even herbals of the time period were unclear about exactly what herb “langdebeefe” (ox-tongue) is, so I felt no guilt at leaving it out. Oat meal as used here is meal made from oats, not today’s rolled oats oatmeal. I started with steel-cut oats (since that’s what I could acquire) and ground them fine with a mortar and pestle.

I put the lamb, cut into chunks, and bones into a heavy pot and covered it with water and set it to boil. I chopped the greens fine. There were 4 cups of greens, so I added 2 cups oat meal, according to the recipe. Once the broth had almost come to a boil, I skimmed off any foam, and then added the greens and oats.

Markham says to boil it on a quick fire, stirring, until it’s one-third reduced. I had to keep stirring it as the pottage got very thick very quickly. After half an hour, I called it done and added some salt.

I was expecting a thick soup or stew and what I got was more of a porridge — very solid. Still, it tasted good. It was rather meaty-flavored but also fresh and bright from the greens. I had been concerned about the bitterness of the greens, but cooking mellowed them out. Markham says you can serve the pottage on sippets, pieces of stale bread to soak up broth or gravy. My version had absolutely no liquid to soak up, so I skipped the sippets. I wasn’t thrilled about how dense the pottage turned out, although I really liked the flavor.

The next morning I reheated some for breakfast and decided to add quite a lot of boiling water to thin it out. And that got me thinking about jook, a thick rice soup (thanks to Louise Hung for her recipe!). It’s also made with meat and veggies and grain, but a smaller amount of rice and a lot of liquid. The result is definitely soup and not cereal. I think the proportions of oats to water in the pottage needs to change. The pottage also wants to cook for a longer time on lower heat, mostly covered. 

Here’s what I’d do next time.

Proposed Pottage Reconstruction
1 pound lamb, cut into pieces
4 cups chopped greens (I used 1 1/2 cup each endive & spinach and 1/4 cup each violet leaves, strawberry leaves, parsley, and scallions)
1 cup ground oats
6 cups water

Cover lamb with water and bring to a gentle boil. If any foam rises to the surface, skim it off. Add greens and oatmeal. Loosely cover pot and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook about 1 hour. If mixture gets too thick, add up to 2 cups additional water. Salt to taste.

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Published in: on 23 June 2021 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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To boile Chickins (1596)

Dear Constant Reader,

With the recent warm weather and soaking rain, my herb garden has had an autumn renaissance. The sorrel in particular (normally a spring plant) was looking remarkably healthy. Having a rare night off, I decided to cook a 16th century dish for dinner and use it up all the sorrel before the frost hits. Sorrel has a delightful lemony flavor and is most often used in soup in several Eastern European cuisines. It’s hard to find, which is why I grow it, and it’s impossible to preserve, so when you have it, use it.

From The Good Huswifes Iewell by Thomas Dawson (1596)

To boile Chickins
Strayne your broth into a pipkin, & put in your Chickins, and skumme them as cleane as you can, and put in a peece of butter, and a good deale of Sorell, and so let them boyle, and put in all manner of spices, and a lyttle veriuyce pycke, and a fewe Barberies, and cutte a Lemman in peeces, and scrape a little Suger uppon them, and laye them vppon the Chickins when you serue them vp, and lay soppes vpon the dish.

I started with two split chicken breasts. In the past I’ve used a game hen, but there weren’t any at the market. You want to use meat on the bone for the best flavor. I put the breasts in a small pot (aka a pipkin) in which they just fit and added chicken broth to cover, maybe two cups. No scumming needed. I omitted the butter, because modern chickens are fattier than their Elizabethan counterparts.

Then I gathered all the sorrel, which turned out to be about 3 oz, and chopped it finely. I added it to the bird & broth. Then I let it simmer until the chicken was cooked through.

Then I removed the chicken and I added 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. ginger to the broth because those were the spices called for in “To dresse Chickins upon Sorrell sops” from A.W.’s A Book of Cookrye (1584) plus a little salt and pepper.

I’m unclear what “veriuyce pycke” means. Maggie Black, in her modernization, had something like “and a little verjuice. Pick a few barberries”, but that just didn’t seem right. I just ignored “pycke” for now. Verjuice is made from juice of unripe grapes and it’s a little like vinegar, but milder and with a hint of sweetness. I added 1/4 cup.

Next, the barberries. I had some dried barberries a friend gave me, but when I got the box out of the pantry, I discovered the berries, still tightly sealed up, were crawling with pantry moth larvae. Eeeewwww! Out to the trash those went in a hurry! Jerusalem: A Cookbook recommended substituting dried sour cherries or dried currants refreshed in lemon juice. However, references in Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book and Food & Drink in Britain both suggested that barberries were used fresh. I thawed some of our sour cherries and threw them into the broth.

I let the broth cook down for a while and then put the chicken back in for a bit.

Soppes, also called sippets, are slices of stale bread that are put in the bottom of a dish to soak up the broth or juice or gravy. They’re a holdover from the medieval days of trenchers — a slab of sturdy bread used instead of a plate. You want the bread to be really hard or it will get gummy quickly.

I didn’t have any stale bread, so I cut some slices of Italian bread and toasted them. Those went in the bottom of the dish. I put one of the breasts and a few ladles of broth on top. Then I cut about half a lemon into thin slices, sprinkled them lightly with sugar and laid them all over the bird.

The dish is deliciously tart, what with the sorrel, “barberries”, verjuice, and lemon. The sprinkling of sugar makes a nice balance.

I’ll probably cut the remaining breast into pieces and serve it in the broth as soup.

This recipe is a little rougher than most as I usually wing it, depending on how much sorrel is growing and how much broth it takes to cover the meat, and I didn’t time anything. Consider everything approximate and do as you see fit. That’s the beauty of historic recipes.

Boiled Chickin
1 1/2 pounds chicken on the bone
2 cups chicken broth (or enough to cover chicken)
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
3 ounces sorrel, chopped
1/2 cup sour cherries (or 1/4 cup dried barberries refreshed in water or 1/4 currents refreshed in lemon juice)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup verjuice
1 lemon
Slices of stale bread

Simmer chicken and sorrel in broth until chicken is done (the time will depend on the size and cut of your meat). Remove chicken. Add fruit, spices, and verjuice. Simmer until flavors combine and broth reduces somewhat. Add the chicken back into the broth to warm it up.

Place slices of stale or toasted bread with the crusts trimmed in a dish. Put the chicken on top and pour some of the broth over. Slice a lemon thinly and garnish chicken. Sprinkle some sugar on the lemon slices. Serve immediately.


Published in: on 2 November 2016 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Jumbles (1597)

Dear Constant Reader,

In the previous historic recipe, I mentioned jumbles, a kind of Elizabethan cookie. Some think the name comes from the Latin word for “twin”, gemellus, which hints that they were shaped with two loops. Here’s how you make them.

From The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell by Thomas Dawson (1597).

To make Iombils a hundred
Take twenty Egges and put them in a pot, both the yolks & the white, beat them wel, then take a pound of beaten suger and put to them, and stirre them wel together, then put to it a quarter of a peck of flower, and make a hard paste thereof; and then with Aniseede moulde it well, and make it in little rowles, beeing long, and tye them in knots, and wet the ends in Rosewater, then put them in a pan of seething water, but euen in one waum, then take them out with a Skimmer and lay them in a cloth to drie, this being doon, lay them in a tart panne, the bottom beeing oyled, then put them into a temperat Ouen for one howre, turning them often in the Ouen.


I didn’t need a hundred jumbles, so I cut the recipe way down. The first thing to note is that until the 20th century eggs were on the small size, so a good rule of thumb is to cut the number of eggs in half if you’re using standard supermarket eggs. A quarter of a peck of flour is about 3 1/2 pounds. Despite the whole wheat flour in the picture, I used white flour — it was in a less photogenic container.

Beat the eggs very well — they’re the only leavening in the dough. Add the sugar, then the flour and the anise seed. When I first made these many years ago, I used anise, which a lot of people (like Scratch) really don’t like. This time I used caraway. Not as historically accurate, but more likely to be eaten.

Then divide the dough up — I split it into 8 parts — and make it into long snakes. Tie them into knot-like shapes. I’ve done actual knots, but this time I twisted them into circles. Pretzel shapes would be okay too. The recipe says to wet the ends with rosewater and I’ve done that. I find it adds no discernible flavor, so I skipped it this time.

Now the fun part. Drop your jumbles into a pot of simmering water, a couple at a time. You don’t want to crowd them. They’ll sink to the bottom. After a couple of minutes, poke them with a spoon, so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they float, they’re done. Scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon or similar and place the jumbles on a clean towel on top of a cooling rack.

After they’ve dried for a few minutes, put them on a greased cookie sheet (I use a silicone baking mat — I love those things) and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Why not bake for an hour, like the recipe says? Elizabethan ovens worked with retained heat — you’d build a fire in the oven and when the bricks were hot enough, you’d pull all the coals and stuff out, swab the oven floor all down with water (you don’t want ash on your bread plus it makes steam which contributes to a really nice crust), and put in the stuff that baked at the highest heat first and as the oven cooled you’d swap in the things that needed a lower temperature. Trying to mimic the gradually falling temperatures is a pain, so I bake for less time at a constant temperature.

Let the jumbles cool on a rack. They will be hard on the outside (good for dipping!) and chewy on the inside, kind of like a tiny sweet bagel.

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon anise (or caraway) seed
2 cups flour

Beat eggs very well. Blend in sugar. Add seeds and flour. You should have a stiff dough. Divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and tie into knots or twist into rings.

Carefully place each jumble in a pot of simmering water. After a moment or two, nudge them with a spoon so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they float, remove with a slotted spoon and allow to dry on a towel.

Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 30 minutes, turning each jumble over after 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack.


Published in: on 16 August 2016 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen with Mina

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls every day!

To celebrate a successful run of The Bod of Avon, we’re having a wrap party at Stately Babydoll Manor. Scratch has promised authentic Elizabethan delicacies for the guests. This is not as crazy as it sounds.

You know from my writings here that I am a bit of a culinary historian with an interest in mid-century cuisine. But I also do research into Renaissance cooking, mostly Elizabethan England, and Scratch dabbles a bit too.

Here’s one of my favorite Elizabethan snacks. The recipe was originally published in The Good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson in 1597. And looked like this:

To make Peascods1 in Lent2
Take Figs, Raisons, and a few Dates, and beate them very fine, and season it with Cloves, Mace, Cinamon and Ginger, and for your paste seeth faire water and oyle in a dish uppon coales, put therein saffron and salt and a little flower, fashion them then like peasecods, and when ye will serve them, frye them in Oyle in a frying panne, but let the Oyle bee verie hotte, and the fire soft for burning of them

Odd as it may look, it’s more straight-forward than Medieval recipes. For one thing, it’s not in Middle English. Here’s my version:

Filling:peascod ingredients
4 dates
5 figs
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground mace3
pinch ground clove

1 c. water
1/3 c. oil
1 c. flour4
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch saffron

Oil for frying

Grind together salt and saffron5. Simmer together water & oil. When boiling, remove from heat and beat in flour, salt & saffron6. Keep beating. Really. It will turn into a soft dough. Let the dough cool.

Chop fruit finely and mix in the spices.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 3″ diameter rounds.7

peascods in progressPlace a spoonful of fruit filling on half of a round of dough, fold the other half over & pinch shut. They’re supposed to look like peapods, so you can curve them a little into shape. The dough might crack a bit, but that’s okay.

You have two options for cooking. You can fry them in oil, like the recipe says. Make sure the oil is quite hot because the dough is like a little sponge. Serve these hot. Or you can (less authentic, but healthier) bake them on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350°F for 25-30 minutes until golden. These will keep longer than the fried version.


Makes about a baker’s dozen.


1 A “Peascod” is a peapod. A “codpiece” is something else entirely. Even if they look similar.
2 In the 16th century Lent meant no meat, no dairy, no eggs — basically vegan, plus fish. There’s also a “flesh day” version of this recipe with meat, butter, and eggs.
3Mace isn’t that common a spice these days. If you don’t have any in your spice cabinet, you could substitute a little nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove are the classic quartet of Elizabethan spice. There’s even a little song.
4I use a mixture of flours, based on the researches of Marian Walke, to approximate the flour of the time: 3/4 c. white flour, 2 1/2 Tbs. cake flour, 1 Tbs. wheat flour, 1 1/2 tsp. rye flour. You don’t have to be this compulsive.
5 I do this with a mortar & pestle. The salt helps pulverize the saffron threads for even distribution. I did this hastily (because I was trying to cook & take photos) and ended up with little orange splotches in my dough instead of a lovely golden tint.
6 This is essentially choux pastry — like cream puffs or eclairs — without the butter & eggs.
7 A biscuit cutter works great for this.

Published in: on 26 February 2013 at 11:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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