I love to read old cookbooks–I mean really old cookbooks, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and of course these texts reflect a culinary culture that is far more tied to the land than that of the present: farm to table was the rule rather than the trend. From a pre-modern culinary standpoint, September is the month of feasting, the time when all manner of meats and fruits are now in their proper vigor and perfection in the opinion of Richard Saunders (Apollo Anglicus: The English Apollo, 1665). September was not only the time of the harvest, but the commencement of both Oyster and Partridge seasons, so it was truly the time of plenty. One of the most popular cookbooks of the seventeenth century, reprinted time and time again, was Robert May’s
Robert May’s September Feast (1665)
OYSTERS/ An Olio/Breast of Veal in stoffado/ Twelve Partridge hashed/Grand Sallet/Chaldron Pie/Custard
Rabbits/Two Hearns, one larded/Florentine of tongues/ 8 Pigeons roasted, 4 larded/ Pheasant Pouts, 2 larded/ A cold hare pie/Selsey cockles broil’d after
There is certainly no sentiment of saving or storing for the lean months ahead here, but rather fattening up for the winter. I just love the language of these dishes: Florentine of tongues, Pheasant pouts! Essentially there are lots of baked stews and pies on this menu: “sallet” is the seventeenth-century spelling for “salad”, chaldron refers to a measure of coal, but there is a traditional recipe for calf’s foot chaldron pie, so I assume that is what May is referencing, and “hearns” are herons. The Sussex seaside town of Selsey had definitely earned a reputation for its catches of cockles by this time, so May is using that term in much the same way we would say “Maine lobster”.
Title page of Robert May’s The Accomplisht cook (1671 edition), British Library; Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Turkey-Pie (and Oysters!), 1627, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam