My entire summer can be summed up by the fact that I am only now offering up this “summer reading list” on August 2! I’m still teaching for a few weeks yet, but other obligations have lifted, so I’d really like to get into my library (to pick out books–I seldom read there, because as you can see below, there is no comfy chair). I’m not really a fiction reader, but I do have a few novels on my list, including Kate Hickman’s The House at Bishopsgate, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, and a strange pioneering Gothic novel that I’ve been wanting to read for years: Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (I like variations on the Faustian Pact). Local readers will probably assume that the Essex Serpent is about the famous Gloucester sea serpent that appeared off Cape Ann several times in the colonial era, but most famously in August of 1817–so this is his/her anniversary year! But no, Perry’s book is about another mythical Essex Sea Serpent, appearing across the Atlantic at the close of the nineteenth century.
My nonfiction stack is higher, and comprised of books I need to read for course prep as well as for pleasure. The former titles are, for the most part, a bit too dry to reference here (the latest biography of John Knox!), but some might appeal to a broader audience. I like to pick themes for my medieval survey every year, just to make it interesting for myself and my students because it is indeed a survey, and this fall’s theme is medieval outlaws, ideal and real. That means I must reread Robin Hood, as well as as Maurice Keen’s classic The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, and finally finish a few biographies, including one on Simon de Montfort. I’m also going to try to up my food history game this coming academic year, so am reading two books by Massimo Montanari: Cheese, Pears & History is amazing! Anything regarding consumption is always interesting to me, but I am trying to read more agricultural history so I’m not always talking about the one percent: this Oliver Rackham book has been by my bedside for years and I am determined to finish it this summer. Finally (and I’m not really sure where this “fits”: I guess it it reading for pleasure!), I just picked up a copy of the very amusing and collectible Cooking to Kill. The Poison Cook-Book (1951), the book that has been called “not only a cook-book to end all cook-books, but also a cook-book to end all cooks”.
There is much focus on food and drink during December, of course, and today I’m thinking about “pastry castles”, an early form, perhaps, of our own American gingerbread houses? The British Library recently digitized one of the oldest English cookbooks (which is actually a cook-scroll), the Forme of Cury (Add MS 5016),and the recipe for “chastletes” is a conspicuous entry. The Forme of Cury ( a Middle English title for “method of cookery” having nothing to do with England’s current national dish) was written by the chefs of Richard II’s kitchen in the later fourteenth century, and includes recipes for both “common” and “curious” foods, and “for all manner of states, both high and low”. One assumes that the pastry castles, which are a curious mix of sweet and savory in typical late medieval fashion, were produced for the former.
Forme of Cury scroll and recipe for pastry castles, BL Add MS 5016; a feast featuring a “chastlete” in a late-medieval Bruges manuscript, BL Royal MS. 15 D I.
Here is the recipe for chastletes in its original Middle English: Take and make a foyle of gode past with a roller of a foot brode. & lyngur by cumpas. make iiii Coffyns of þe self past uppon þe rolleres þe gretnesse of þe smale of þyn Arme. of vi ynche depnesse. make þe gretust in þe myddell. fasten þe foile in þe mouth upwarde. & fasten þee oþere foure in euery syde. kerue out keyntlich kyrnels above in þe manere of bataiwyng and drye hem harde in an Ovene. oþer in þe Sunne. In þe myddel Coffyn do a fars of Pork with gode Pork & ayrenn rawe wiþ salt. & colour it wiþ safroun and do in anoþer Creme of Almandes. and helde it in anoþer creme of Cowe mylke with ayrenn. colour it with saundres. anoþur manur. Fars of Fygur. of raysouns. of Apples. of Peeres. & holde it in broun. anoþer manere. do fars as to frytours blanched. and colour it with grene. put þis to þe ovene & bake it wel. & serue it forth with ew ardaunt.
The “Coffyns” refer to the pastry shell, encasing the savory mixture of pork, saffron (amazingly dear at the time!), almonds, raisins, apples and pears—mincemeat essentially. The entire form was not made of “bread”, consequently it’s difficult to make the link between these constructions and our own modern gingerbread houses, which seem to have more modern, continental origins, although Elizabeth I purportedly instructed her cooks to make gingerbread men and women in the recognizable forms of her courtiers and guests. I think we’re talking about multiple lines of food cultural evolution here—pies, cakes, ginger, ginger cakes, breads, and houses–and perhaps I shouldn’t mix them up except under the label of “architectural pastry constructions”. If I could make my own pastry castle, which I would fill with cake and not mincemeat, I would certainly recreate one of Elizabeth’s very favorite castles, Nonsuch Palace, built by her father in the last years of his reign. This is well beyond my baking abilities, but wow, just imagine such a structure!
Two views of Nonsuch Palace by Joris Hoefnagel–the second was just acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum.
I don’t know if you noticed the photograph of old recipes on the kitchen table in the Ropes Mansion in my last post: no worries, I’ll put it in this one. At the bottom of one piece of paper is the beginning of a recipe for “Shaking Quaker Pudding”–only the beginning, unfortunately, which set me off on a strange quest. As a descendant of a Shaker (I know–Shakers were/are celibate–how can they have descendants? Well, after he had had his family, my great-great-great? grandfather Calver sold everything at auction over in England and departed for New Lebanon, New York in the nineteenth century: we have the auction poster to prove it) I knew immediately that the reference was to the Shakers, who have developed quite a foodie reputation over the past few years, in addition to their long-established renown for furniture, seeds and herbal tonics. I thought it would be easy to find the rest of the recipe but when I first googled “Shaker Pudding” I came up with Jello Shake-a-Pudding! I can’t imagine anything less Shaker-ish, really. Then I found a British pudding called “Shaker Quaker” Pudding, but it did not start out with the “stone raisins” line of the Ropes recipe. Finally I found the entire Shaking Quaker recipe, in Mrs. J. Chadwick’s Home Cookery: A Collection of Tried Receipts, Both Foreign and Domestic (1853). So here it is:
and bake for half an hour!
The digitized version of Mrs. Chadwick’s cookbook cut off the recipe as well, but fortunately I found another source. All this work for a raisin custard bread pudding (the Shaker Quaker puddings seem to omit the bread) which I doubt I will ever make (unless I add lots of rum or bourbon). However, I did discover several recipes that did tempt me, especially “Shaker Lemon Pie”, apparently a favorite of Martha Stewart’s. And the pudding shaker.
The delicious-looking Shaker Lemon Pie–made with thin lemon slices–is from the blog Love & Flour.
I am not cooking this Thanksgiving (fortunately), but that did not stop me from browsing through cookbooks old and new (which is of course much easier than cooking). My recent dip into the history of molasses exposed me to a world of puddings, and I would like to make a least one over the holidays. Puddings of the past seem so interesting and textural, much unlike the smooth packaged puddings we have today. Pudding has become a rather generic word for desert in British English, but in the past, there were clearly variant types of puddings–savory and sweet, boiled, steamed, moulded, drippings, blood, bread, fruit, pastry, custard–with a wealth of amazing names: “Quaking Pudding”, “Hasty Pudding”, “Spotted Dick”, Cabinet, Bakewell, “Queen of Puddings”, Roly-Roly. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when the popular Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management was first published, the list of puddings had been whittled down some, but was still quite long.
Before the nineteenth century, puddings were both savory and sweet: the trend line is definitely towards the latter but it takes time. I’m looking through my neat little facsimile edition of The Second part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell (1597) and what puddings do I see? A pudding of “Calves Chaldron”, several recipes for that perennial Scottish favorite, Haggis pudding, a pudding of veal and spices, and a “pudding in a pot” with mutton or veal. No sweets. I consulted Joseph Cooper’s The art of cookery refin’d and augmented containing an abstract of some rare and rich unpublished receipts of cookery (1654) to gauge pudding developments in the seventeenth century, and found a mix of savory and sweet: rice puddings and bread puddings, “white puddings” and “black (blood) puddings”, oatmeal pudding, French barley pudding, “a hasty pudding in a bagge” and shaking and quaking puddings. Haggis was hanging in there too. For the eighteenth century, I looked at two cookbooks and found a diverse array of pudding recipes. Henry Howard’s England’s Newest way in all sorts of Cookery, Pastry and all Pickles that are fit to be Used (1708) offers up Green Pudding, Calves’ Foot Pudding, Puddings in which to boil chickens and/or pigeons, and cabbage pudding (yuck), along with a “Good Pudding” that looks like a mix of sweet and savory, while A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery (1734) has recipes for apple, orange and lemon puddings, along with liver pudding (yuck, yuck) and the soon-to-be classic plumb pudding.
The eighteenth century does seem to be the golden age of puddings, which were so important that they even became political. I found a Salem pudding story in the charming little book written by Marianne Cabot Silsbee, A Half-Century in Salem (1887): apparently the city’s Federalists and Democrats were divided not only in their politics but also their pudding-eating habits, with the former eating their pudding before the main courses, the latter after. Puddings were perfect symbols for satire and caricature across the Atlantic, as the plum(b) pudding came to be both quintessentially British and Christmas in the nineteenth century. It in this century that my favorite pudding (besides “Hasty Pudding”, which is transformed into “Indian Pudding” in America with the substitution of corn meal for oats) emerges: “Tipsy Pudding”, better known as Trifle. That’s pretty common now, so I want to go for something old/new in my own pudding experiments: I think I might try out the “Amber Pudding” (which is very old) and “Hedgehog Pudding” recipes in the wonder book of Victorian puddings, Puddings and Pastries à La Mode (1893) by a certain Mrs. DeSalis. Because right after Thanksgiving, it’s pudding time.
All Cookbook images: British Library; Puddings & Pastry here; George Cruikshank, “Pudding Time”, Plate 6 from Illustrations of Time (1827), British Museum.
The amalgamated Holidays officially kick in this week, so it’s time to think about festive things to eat and drink. Last year at this time, I seemed preoccupied with the latter, but now I’m thinking about food. I came across my grandmother’s recipe for molasses cookies–very thin, crispy and buttery, my absolute favorite, and started wondering about the principal ingredient. There must have been tons of it here in Salem in the nineteenth century, as it was the key ingredient in rum production and there were so many distilleries here. I know that molasses was imported into New England from the West Indies in the colonial era, but it think there were domestic refineries in the nineteenth century: was it produced in Salem? If so, where? Molasses-making is a messy business: was Salem ever in danger of experiencing its own version of the disastrous 1919 Great Molasses Flood in Boston? And what about consumption (besides rum): molasses does seem to have been much more in demand a century or so ago than now: why? There are so many recipes out there–for Black Jacks, still produced by America’s oldest candy shop, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie right here in Salem, as well as for another local molasses creation, Anadama bread, not to mention Indian Pudding, Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread. Molasses seems to be as characteristically New England or “Boston” as the Red Sox. Then the English historian in me kicked in and I confronted the age-old question: what’s the difference between molasses and treacle? Then the sixteenth-century historian in me kicked in, and I wondered what was the connection between molasses and the root of that old English word treacle, theriac, which was sold as a powerful panacea across early modern Europe. And just like that, my mind had wandered/wondered from cookies and candy to plague cures.
Advertisement for the famous Mary Jane molasses and peanut butter candy, made first by the Charles N. Miller Company in Boston in 1914 and later by the New England Confectionery Company (Necco).
The migration of medieval medical recipes into the culinary sphere was not always a straightforward process, but it’s best to proceed from the past rather than the other way around. Theriac was an ancient electuary (medicinal paste) used first and foremost as an antidote to venomous snake bites. In the classic case of fighting fire with fire, The flesh of the snakes themselves was an essential ingredient, along with lots of others–64 in all in the classic Galenic recipe. In the course of the Renaissance, theriac was compounded to various formulas and came to be regarded as a universal antidote and panacea, with that produced in Venice generally regarded as the most effective, and the most expensive, naturally. As poison was associated with plague in the late medieval medical mentality, so theriac became the key plague antidote and consequently its preparation was serious business: under official supervision to ensure the proper process and correct composition.
Theriac preparation from snakes (the origins of snake oil???) from the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach, Mainz, 1491; woodcut illustration by Hieronymus Brunschwig of a physician supervising the manufacture of theriac by an apothecary, Liber de Arte Distillandi de Compositis, 1512, and seventeenth-century Italian majolica theriac jar, Wellcome Library.
Despite its (undeserved) reputation for efficacy, Venetian theriac could not crowd out the market in plague cures and regional recipes began to develop. In England, there were several major developments in the use and perception of theriac over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: in typical English fashion, the foreign word had long been anglicized as “treacle”, and “Venetian Treacle” became an ingredient in variant plague cures and preservatives, rather than the exclusive antidote at about the same time that the London College of Pharmacists ruled that treacle need not contain snakes, and treacle (sans Venetian) started appearing in both medicinal and culinary recipes. Everything really changed–or came together–in the course of the seventeenth century, an era that was characterized by many, many recipes for “treacle water” as well as increasing imports of refined sugar from the West Indies, along with its by-products. These sweeter syrups, collectively called treacle, began to replace honey in the medicinal “London Treacle”, at about the same time that they started to appear as key ingredients in recipes for gingerbread, tarts, and puddings. So treacle comes to mean any syrup made during the sugar-refining process: black treacle, golden syrup, blackstrap, and molasses–all of which were relatively cheap ways to sweeten your plague water or your pudding. There were also treacle “lozenges” that soothed the throat and provided a bit of “sweatmeat” at the same time, and a recipe for gingerbread cakes that closely resembles that for my grandmother’s molasses cookies.
A mid-17th century recipe for Treacle water containing Venice Treacle and less exotic ingredients, Wellcome Library Manuscripts; recipes from Mary Kettilby’s Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses (1714–Thick Gingerbread) and Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747–Gingerbread Cakes); The two British treacles: plain treacle or “golden syrup” and “black treacle”, the closest approximation of American molasses.