In the Kitchen: Christmas Pudding

Dear Constant Reader,

You may have seen the title of this missive and thought “Mina, Christmas pudding? Christmas is like a year away. Can’t you read a calendar?” Fear not, O Reader, for this pudding wants to be made well in advance and aged like a fine wine or cheese. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. The last pudding I served had been aging for about 16 months and was just amazing.

Now, one does not *have* to age a Christmas pudding — there are Victorian recipes for puddings to be made and eaten right away — nor does one even have to use alcohol for an unaged pudding (the temperance movement, you know), but those are not the kind of pudding we’re going to make.

This pudding is going to be steamed and will require some specialized equipment, which I shall discuss in another missive.

You need a vast array of ingredients (so many I couldn’t get them all in the shot), thusly:

Flour, bread crumbs, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, mace, various dried fruits, nuts, lemon, eggs, suet, and booze.

The most important ingredient is suet. Suet is a white fat from around beef kidneys and has a very neutral flavor. Any other beef fat (aka tallow) can have a kinda meatish taste. I’m told there is vegetarian suet out there and some people have used vegetable shortening in steamed puddings, but I don’t know how well it ages.

The suet should be grated. I find it’s easiest to freeze it and then grate it with a food processor. If you’re grating by hand, keep it cold, so it stays firm. If it starts to get mushy, put it back in the fridge for a bit. Once I’ve grated a batch of suet, I split it into 4-ounce portions and freeze them until I need them for pudding.

Equally important is the booze. I use rum, but you could also use brandy or bourbon, really whatever brown liquor you prefer. You need this for the aging process. Also for the flaming, but that’s quite a ways away.

Combine the flour, bread crumbs, sugar, salt, and spices in a big bowl. I make my own bread crumbs, but you could use purchased plain crumbs.

Add the fruit and nuts. I use a mix of raisins, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried sour cherries (from my tree), and candied citron. Sometimes I add candied orange peel, but I didn’t make any this Christmas, so I didn’t have any to hand. You could pretty much add any dried fruit you liked, as long as it was cut into little bits, about raisin-sized. You’ll want 5-ish cups of fruit. For the nuts, I use slivered almonds, but you could substitute your favorite nut, chopped into bits. Toast the nuts for better flavor.

Peel the lemon and chop the zest finely. Add to the batter. Hang on to the rest of the lemon.

Toss the fruit around in the dry ingredients until they’re coated. This will keep the fruit from clumping up and sticking together.

Add the suet and mix it in. Lightly beat the eggs and mix them in. Juice the lemon and add the juice and then the rum. At this point it’s going to be easiest to mix with your hands.

Your pudding batter is ready to be molded and steamed! Steaming is a bit of a process and deserves its own missive. I’ll cover that next week.

Here’s the recipe I use. It’s not based on a specific historic recipe, although I was inspired by Kathleen Curtin‘s workshop at Plimoth Plantation and the book Lobscouse and Spotted Dog.

Christmas Pudding
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each ground mace, nutmeg, and ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup dried currants
1 cup rasins
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 dried cranberries
1/3 cup candied citron
1/3 cup candied orange peel
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 oz. suet, finely grated
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup rum

Combine the flour, bread crumbs, sugar, salt, and spices in a big bowl.

Add the fruit, nuts, and lemon peel.

Toss the fruit with the dry ingredients so they’re coated. This will keep the fruit from clumping up and sticking together.

Add the suet and mix it in. Mix in the lightly beaten eggs. Add the lemon juice and then the rum. Mix with your hands.

Stay tuned for the next step!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

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Published in: on 21 February 2018 at 11:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Blini

Dear Constant Reader,

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras! And Shrove Tuesday! And Maslenitsa*!

At The Manor that means pancakes. Actually it means blini. Blini are Slavic yeast-raised buckwheat pancakes that are fairly involved to make. Usually we made quick blini, which are easy and good, but don’t have the flavor you only get with a yeast batter. Then I found Ruth Reichl’s recipe, which is much simpler than traditional blini and still so delicious.

1/4 cup buckwheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, my go-to for unusual grains)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Mix together flours, sugar, salt, and yeast. The sugar is just there to give the yeast something to eat. These pancakes aren’t going to be very sweet.

Melt the butter into the milk in a small saucepan. Cool until it’s just warm. If you put a drop of milk on the inside of your wrist and it doesn’t feel hot, it’s about the right temperature for the yeast. Whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients.

Cover the bowl — plastic wrap is fine — and put it someplace warm to rise until doubled. My fancy new oven has a bread proof setting, but I used to set the bowl next to one of our cast-iron radiators. Rising will probably take about an hour and a half. Once it’s doubled, whisk in the eggs.

Now stash the batter in the fridge until the next day (that’s why I’m giving you the recipe today instead of tomorrow). You could make your blini right away, but they’re better if the batter rests overnight. Stir the batter well before using and let it sit at room temperature just a bit to get the chill off.

To cook, generously butter a frying pan or griddle. Really be generous with the butter. Maslenitsa means “Butter Week”. Pour out some batter into the hot pan. You can make huge blini the size of the pan or little bitty ones. Totally up to you, but they should be thin. The blini only need to cook for about a minute on a side. The first couple are going to be terrible looking, so eat them right away before anyone can see the evidence.

As the blini come out of the pan, put them into a low oven (about 200F) to stay warm.

Serve with melted butter, sour cream, jam, and/or caviar. If your blini are thin enough, you can roll them around the fillings for an elegant presentation. I usually don’t bother.

I served the ones in the photo with sour cream and homemade sour cherry jam.

Enjoy!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

*which actually starts today, but it lasts a week.

Published in: on 12 February 2018 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Zuppa Inglese

Dear Constant Reader,

Last month we celebrated both Scratch’s & Devora’s birthdays and I made zuppa inglese for our little party. What?, you may ask.

True Italian zuppa inglese (“English soup”) is sponge cake soaked in alkermes and layered with pastry cream. There’s great debate as to the age and origins of the dish. One theory is that it’s an Italian take on English trifle, hence the name. As much as I want to, I’m not going to take you down a rabbit hole of culinary history. Not now, any way.

Alkermes (also spelled “alchermes”), since I know you’re going to ask, is a liqueur flavored with spices and colored a gorgeous red with dried cochineal insects (also known as kermes, hence the name of the liqueur). Do not be repulsed by the inclusion of bugs. They’re totally harmless and frequently used to color food and cosmetics as “carmine”. I’ve made alkermes and it’s such a beautiful color. That, however, is a story for another time.

Now, the zuppa inglese I made is not the authentic Italian version, but more of an American adaptation. I got the recipe from Angie Pontani via her Go-Go-Robics II DVD (yes, she provides recipes on a exercise video).

This zuppa inglese is the style of dessert known as “icebox cake”, since, after layering cake or cookies, pudding or whipped cream, and perhaps fruit, you chill it in your fancy new-fangled icebox. During the 1920s it was also known as “flapper pudding” because it was so quick and easy even a flighty modern gal could throw it together. Icebox cakes of many different styles have been popular throughout the 20th century. You might remember one made of chocolate wafer cookies layers with whipped cream.

For this recipe start with sponge cake or lady fingers. Some say you can use pound cake, but I think it’s too heavy. If you don’t have time to make cake, you can certainly buy it. I baked a sponge cake of the sort the Brits call a “fatless sponge”. It has no butter and is lightened with well-beaten eggs.


You’ll need flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, hot water, vinegar, and eggs.

Separate the eggs. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Beat the yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in sugar.

Add flour mixture, hot water, and vinegar to egg yolks. Fold in egg whites.

Bake in a greased and floured pan and let cool completely. You can make this a day ahead.

When you’re ready to make your zuppa inglese, you’ll need the cake, a big can of crushed pineapple, a jar of maraschino cherries, amaretto, a box of French vanilla pudding, milk, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract.

Cut the sponge cake into 1/2″ thick slices. Drain pineapple and reserve the juice. Drain maraschino cherries and reserve the juice. Make the pudding, but use one cup less milk, so it’s thick & spreadable, and chill it.

Lay half of the sponge cake slices side by side in a large dish. I was transporting this to rehearsal, so I used a 13″x9″ baking dish, which was perfect.

Drizzle half the pineapple juice over the cake. Do the same for the cherry juice. Then repeat with some amaretto (or rum).

Spread the pineapple over the cake. Get it right to the edge!

Cover the pineapple with another layer of cake slices. Sprinkle with the remaining pineapple juice, cherry juice, and amaretto.

Spread the pudding on top of the cake.

Make whipped cream with heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla. Spread over the top of the cake. Decorate with the cherries and chill for a couple of hours in the fridge.


Isn’t it pretty!


You can sort of see the layers and attractive colors here.

You want to serve this the same day you make it or the cake gets very soggy. It’s still delicious, just wet and easier to scoop than slice.

If you want the actual recipe, you’ll need to get a copy of Go-Go-Robics II or perhaps Angie will post it on her new blog.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 20 December 2017 at 2:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: A Novelty in Cakes (1920)

Dear Constant Reader,

The novelty for this cake is that it’s made with graham cracker crumbs instead of flour. The recipe comes from the pamphlet 100 Delicious Walnut Recipes by the California Walnut Growers Association, probably published in 1920. I’ve also found a similar recipe for the cake (but not the frosting) in a Utah newspaper from 1915.

We had a box of graham crackers left over from making s’mores at the Mini Expo cook out and I wanted to make something for our Sunday Social after Cover Girls. This fit the bill nicely.

A couple of notes:

Take the butter and eggs out of the fridge early and let them come up to room temperature. It will be easier to cream the butter and to beat the egg whites stiff when they’re not so cold.

Toast the nuts first. Toasted nuts always taste better. Also, get as much of the skin off the walnuts as possible — it can be bitter. Obviously the Walnut Growers want you to use walnuts, but the cake is probably just as good with other nuts or no nuts at all.

Most vintage recipes call for squares of unsweetened chocolate, which was an ounce. These days chocolate usually comes in bars with 4 squares to the ounce, but double-check and use a scale if you’re in doubt.

One of the challenges was figuring out how many graham crackers to use. The recipe calls for “26 graham crackers”. Is one cracker one of the rectangular cracker quarters? The square half crackers, like for s’mores? Or an entire unbroken cracker sheet? The right answer seems to be 26 square crackers aka 13 full cracker sheets.

Here’s how you make the cake:

Crush graham crackers to fine crumbs. I like to use a rolling pin, but it’s faster and more uniform if you use a food processor. Separate eggs and beat whites to stiff peaks. Mix sugar & baking powder, then cream with butter. Mix together egg yolks, milk, vanilla, cracker crumbs, and nuts. Fold in beaten egg whites. Pour batter into buttered pans. The original recipe says just to “bake in loaf or layers”. A little research lead me from this vague instruction to the appropriate size and shape of pans and the temperature and time. Let cool before frosting. See recipe below for specifics.

To make the frosting, cream butter and powdered sugar. Add melted unsweetened chocolate. Add enough cold coffee to make the frosting spreadable. I don’t drink coffee so I don’t usually have left-over coffee hanging about. I use instant espresso powder for intense flavor and make a single cup. I used about 1/4 cup of cold espresso, but the amount will depend on what consistency you like your frosting and a bit on how humid it is. Finally, mix in ground walnuts. Frost the cake(s). If you used round cake pans, level the layers before frosting and stacking (or use cake bands so you don’t have to).

It went over really well. Someone tasting the cake said the cake and the frosting have the right balance of sweet. Everyone loves the mocha frosting.

Graham Cracker Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk
26 graham crackers, crushed into fine crumbs (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup chopped nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugar and baking powder. Cream with butter. Add egg yolks, milk, graham cracker crumbs, walnuts, and vanilla. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks and fold in. Bake in greased pans: two 9″-round pans or two loaf pans or a 13×9″ rectangular pan for 30 minutes at 350F. Let cook and frost with Mocha Nut Frosting.

Mocha Nut Frosting
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup cold strong coffee
1/2 cup ground toasted nuts

Cream butter and sugar. Add melted chocolate. Add enough coffee to make a spreadable consistency. Stir in ground nuts.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 9 October 2017 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Spiced Cherry Soup (1958)

Dear Constant Reader,

For a couple of weeks in late June and early July, it’s sour cherry season at The Manor. We are constantly picking, pitting, and cooking cherries from the orchards (all right, it’s just one tree). I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting cherry recipes to add to our arsenal of favorites.

Recently Scratch gave me a clutch of vintage recipe pamphlets which included Good Housekeeping’s Around the World Cookbook: specialty recipes with a foreign flavor. I was surprised at the variety of countries represented and the sophistication of the recipes, especially compared to some other cookbooks of the era and their idea of “international” cuisine.

Hungary was one of the countries well represented with many recipes. Since Scratch was recently in Budapest, Spiced Cherry Soup (Hideg Cseresnyeleves in Hungarian) sounded perfect. It specifically calls for sweet cherries, but of course I used our sour ones.

Pit and stem cherries. Remove strips of zest (no white pith) from half a lemon. Stick whole cloves into the peel. Put the cherries and lemon peel into a sauce pan along with a cinnamon stick, some sugar, salt, and water. Simmer. Stir in tapioca and bring to a boil. Add red wine then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Remove lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon then chill.

Serve cold garnished with a thin lemon slice and a dollop of sour cream.

It make a deliciously tart and refreshing soup, great as a starter or as dessert. The tapioca thickens it, but doesn’t make it utterly gloppy, which I had feared. I think the lemon garnish is optional, but the sour cream (in the original recipe as “commercial sour cream”) is mandatory.

I made only one change (besides using sour instead of sweet cherries). In the original recipe, you add the wine after taking the soup off the heat. I find the raw alcohol taste unpleasant and prefer to let it simmer for another moment or two to cook out some of that harshness.

Here’s the recipe, slightly modified:

1 lb. cherries (washed, pitted, and stemmed)
1 lemon
6 whole cloves
3” piece of cinnamon stick
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups water
3 Tbs. quick-cooking tapioca
1 cup red wine

With vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemon in strips; stick cloves into peel.

In saucepan, combine cherries, lemon rind with cloves, cinnamon, sugar, salt, water. Simmer, uncovered, 15 for minutes.

Gradually stir in tapioca; bring to boil; then stir in wine; remove from heat; allow to cool. Remove and discard lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon; then refrigerate until serving time.

To serve, ladle ice-cold soup into individual soup bowls or plates; top each serving with a lemon slice and spoonful of sour cream.

Makes 4-6 servings

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 7 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 18 July 2017 at 2:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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In the Kitchen: Asparagus Forced in French Rolls (1790)

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s been a while since I did any really historic cooking. This late 18th century recipe for asparagus bits in a savory custard sauce served inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread makes a delightful light supper or, as recommended, a side dish.

From The Housekeeper’s Instructor by William Augustus Henderson (1790)
Asparagus forced in French Rolls.
Cut a piece out of the crust of the tops of three French rolls, and take out the crumb; but be careful that the crusts fit again in the places from whence they were taken. Fry the rolls brown in fresh butter: then take a pint of cream, the yolks of eggs beat fine, and a little salt and nutmeg. Stir them well together over a slow fire till it begins to be thick. Have ready an hundred of small grass boiled, and save tops enough to stick the rolls with. Cut the rest of the tops small, put them into the cream, and fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top crusts to stick the grass in. Then lay on the pieces of crust, and stick the grass in, which will make it look as if it were growing. This makes a very handsome side-dish at a second course.

The original recipe makes three loaves, but I cut it down to one, as is my wont.

“Forced” (sometimes spelled “farced”) means stuffed.

Asparagus was well known in the classical world, where it was called “asparagus” by the Romans. The Emperor Augustus is reported to have said “celerius quam asparagi cocuntur” (“quicker than cooking asparagus”) to describe something done very fast. The vegetable didn’t become popular in northern Europe until the 16th century. The English, because they’re like that, mutated the perfectly good Latin name into “sparrow grass” or just plain “grass”, as did our author above.


I start with a small loaf of French bread (you don’t want to use a baguette for this — it’s too long and skinny) and cut a big rectangle out of the top crust. Be careful not to break it when removing (done that). Carefully scoop out all the bread inside without cutting through the crust. I just pull it out with my fingers and maybe use a spoon for the last bits. I save the innards for something that needs bread crumbs. Poke a bunch of holes in the top crust. They should be just big enough to hold an asparagus stalk.

Then melt some butter in a skillet and fry the bread until it is toasted. There’s no butter in the above photo because I forgot it in the fridge. The lid is easy to fry, but the loaf is a bit awkward. I like to brush the interior of the loaf with some of the melted butter.

Cook asparagus until it’s just tender. This doesn’t take long (see the Latin quote above) If you don’t have your favorite method, you can see how I cook them here. Cut the cooked asparagus into small pieces. I think I usually cut them about an inch long. Reserve as many asparagus tips as holes poked in the bread lid.

Warm some cream in a small saucepan. I was using light cream, but you can use heavy cream for a creamier custard. I don’t like whipping cream because it has thickeners added to it. Beat an egg yolk in a small bowl. When the cream gets hot, temper the egg yolk by added a little cream to the egg, beating the whole while. Add the egg/cream mixture back into the cream. Season with salt and grated nutmeg (also missing in the picture — where was my head?).

Cook custard over low heat until it thickens a bit. Add the asparagus bits to the saucepan and remove from heat. You don’t want the asparagus to cook more, just warm up a touch.

Spoon the asparagus-custard mixture into the loaf. Take the reserved tips and stick them into the holes you poked in the lid. Put the lid on the loaf. Voila! It looks like a little grassy hill. Adorable!

I end up cutting this into very messy, but delicious, slices, because the custard oozes out as soon as the structural integrity of the loaf is breached. I suppose one could treat it like a bread bowl, where the loaf is primarily a serving vessel, but I like the combination of bread, custard, and asparagus in each bite.

Asparagus Forced in a French Roll
1 small loaf of French bread (should be crusty, but not a baguette)
Butter
5 oz. cream
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 bunch asparagus (about 30 skinny stalks)
Salt to taste
Nutmeg to taste

Cut out a lid from the top crust of the loaf. Carefully scoop out all the bread inside without damaging the crust. Cut several holes in the lid.

Melt a little butter in a skillet, about a tablespoon or so, and fry the bread until it is toasted.

Cook asparagus until tender. Cut the cooked asparagus into small pieces. Reserve as many asparagus tips as holes poked in the bread lid.

Warm cream in a small saucepan. Temper egg yolk and add to cream. Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg. Cook over low heat until sauce thickens. Add the asparagus bits to the mixture and remove from heat.

Spoon the asparagus-custard mixture into the loaf. Take the reserved tips and stick them into the holes cut in the lid. Replace the lid on the loaf. Serve.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 21 June 2017 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chocolate Pudding: The Video

Dear Constant Reader,

One of the things I want to do with Patreon support is make video expansions of my blog posts. I decided to make one so you can all see what I’m trying to do. This is me cooking the chocolate pudding from my previous missive:

My plan for future videos is to have a videographer with an actual camera to shoot and edit these videos, but for this deathless cinema, it was just me and my iPhone, cooking one-handed, occasionally frantically deleting stuff when my phone ran out of memory. Then I kinda edited it in iMovie, which I’m still learning how to use.

If you couldn’t tell, this is completely unscripted and there were no retakes. Just me rambling away as I cook. One-take Murray. That’s what old Jack Warner used to call me.

If you like this and want to see more (better filmed, better produced) videos, consider supporting me on Patreon.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 25 May 2017 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Chocolate Pudding (1956)

Dear Constant Reader,

This recipe came from a Baker’s Chocolate recipe pamphlet from 1956. Baker’s Chocolate used to be made just down the road from The Manor, so I was delighted at the local connection.

Although there are all sorts of fun and interesting chocolate recipes, I was looking for something I could scale down and that I had everything already. I decided on Chocolate Pudding. Easy and simple.

Untitled
Start by combining sugar, cornstarch, and salt.

The original recipe called for flour to thicken the pudding, but I know from experience that it tends to have a “floury” taste and can be difficult to incorporate smoothly. I used cornstarch instead. Rice flour would probably also work as a thickener

Add milk and stir to combine. Obviously you’re supposed to use real milk, but almond milk works perfectly fine. If you’re using flour, mix really well to keep it from being lumpy. Add the unsweetened chocolate and place over boiling water.

Baker’s unsweetened chocolate used to come in individually wrapped one-ounce squares and many recipes call for squares of chocolate. Recently Baker’s switched to selling the chocolate as a bar with half-ounce squares. Just be aware.

Chopping the chocolate before adding it makes it melt faster and more evenly. It would have taken so much longer with the whole one-ounce squares. As it was I broke the squares into quarter-ounce pieces and they didn’t melt very evenly.

Cook the pudding over boiling water until it starts to thicken. Then cook 10 minutes more. Add the vanilla and chill.

Serve with cream poured over. There were variations that were topped with flavored whipped cream (like with orange marmalade folded into it), but the basic recipe used plain cream. This was a new one to me, but it worked.

Untitled

Here’s the recipe, scaled for 4 servings.
Baker’s Chocolate Pudding, Miss Mina’s Way
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon corn starch
pinch salt
2 cups milk
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugar, corn starch, and salt in a medium saucepan that works as a double boiler. Also start water boiling in the bottom pan of the double boiler.

Add milk and mix well. Add the chocolate and place pan over the boiling water. Stir frequently until mixture thickens. Cook 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Pour into serving dish or individual bowls. Chill. Serve with cream poured over.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 24 May 2017 at 2:30 pm  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 it 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.

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
Sugar
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.

M2

Published in: on 2 November 2016 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Spritzen (1788)

Dear Constant Reader,

Let us return to my kitchen for an 18th century treat. At this time the British monarchs were still basically German, so German cuisine had intergrated itself into English cookbooks. “Spritzen” is the German word for “splash”, “squirt”, or “spray”. These days it’s mostly used for a kind of cookie that is squeezed out of a press. I’m not sure how the name applies to these pastries.

From The Lady’s Complete Guide by Mary Cole (1788)

Spritzen
Mix two spoonfuls of fine flour with two eggs well beat, half a pint of cream or milk and two ounces of melted butter; stir it all well together, and add a little salt and nutmeg. Put them in tea-cups, or little deep tin moulds, half full, and bake them a quarter of an hour in a quick oven; but let it be hot enough to colour them and top and bottom. Turn them into a dish, and strew powder sugar over them.

As we learned from previous recipes, a good rule of thumb for pre-20th century recipes is to cut the number of eggs in half. Everything else seems pretty straight forward except the quantity of flour. How big was a spoonful? Karen Hess, in her excellently researched book Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, suggests that a spoonful in the later 17th century was equivalent to two of our tablespoons. I decided that it was probably still the case by the time this recipe came around.

I beat the hell out of the egg, since that’s the only rising agent. Added the flour, cream (since I had some from a different cooking experiment), butter, salt, and grated in some nutmeg. I used a standard size muffin tin (I’m pretty sure I greased it) and filled 8 cups.

A “quick oven” is about 375-400F. I baked the spritzen for 22 minutes at 400F.

They puffed up beautifully in the oven, like popovers, but fell completely before I could get them out of the pan. I sprinkled them with a little granulated sugar. If I’d been really authentic I would gave ground it up in my mortar, since “powder sugar” was sugar that was ground fine. Modern powdered sugar isn’t the same and usually has cornstarch added.

Despite being nicely browned and crispy on top and bottom, they were quite custardy in the middle. And very delicious. I’m not sure how well they keep, because they were gone before they even had a chance to cool.


Spritzen
1 egg
1/4 cup flour
1 cup light cream or milk
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Beat egg very well and stir in flour. Mix in liquid ingredients and then seasonings. Pour batter into greased muffin tins, about 1/2 full. Bake at 400F until puffed and brown, 15-20 minutes. Immediately sprinkle with sugar and remove from tin. Serve hot.

Makes about 8.

M2

Published in: on 5 October 2016 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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