Monthly Archives: December 2010

Wafers

Wafers are a very thin cookie, originally developed for the end of wealthy feasts to aid digestion (a good historical post about wafers can be found here). I didn’t find a modern equivalent of the recipe, although there are similar wafer cookies that stem from Eastern European and Nordic traditions. Another stumbling block for wafer making by the modern cook is the fact that wafer irons are somewhat hard to come by. This one is the most reasonably priced Nordic iron I’ve found, and it also is a stovetop model, which will make it easier to use (another bonus: purchasing it from that site helps to support the Danish Windmill museum in Elk Horn, Iowa). It’s technically a Nordic Krumkake pan, but is the most affordable ($50) solution: antique wafer irons that are truer to those used by women in Markham’s time will run in the hundreds (and possibly more). These were similar to modern krumkake irons, but had a long wooden and metal handle for holding them near the fire to cook.

Markham’s recipe for wafers (on pg 117 of Best):
“To make the best wafers, take the finest wheat flour you can get, and mix it with cream, the yolks of eggs, rose-water, sugar, and cinnamon til it be a little thicker than pancake batter; and then, warming your wafer irons on a charcoal fire, anoint them first with sweet butter, and then lay your batter and press it, and bake it white or brown at your pleasure.”

I was surprised at how easy they are to make–I’m bringing the fruits of my labors to my calligraphy class tomorrow so I can get some more opinions on them! The recipe below makes ~15 cookies. Make sure to preheat your iron on medium-low heat for a few minutes before adding any batter!

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup rosewater (available in Middle Eastern markets or Asian food stores if not at the supermarket)
1 cup cream

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth.
2. Grease your iron with a little butter, and add one rounded tablespoon of batter to the center.
3. Close the iron and hold closed tightly for about 30 seconds to press the pattern on the iron into the cake.
4. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes or until golden brown, turning the iron over once to ensure both sides are cooked.

That’s it! I let them cool on a plate or rack before transferring the cooled wafers to another plate (this keeps them from getting soggy).

White and brown wafers (brown ones are just cooked a little longer).

krumkake iron

Wafers

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Wet Suckets (or, candied orange peels)

‘Wet sucket’ is one of the more unappetizing culinary terms I’ve run across, but Markham and his contemporaries would have understood it as referring to fruit in syrup. The Oxford Companion to Food indicates that wet suckets and dry suckets (candied fruit) appeared in England in the early 17th century, right around the time Markham would have been compiling The English Housewife. They were made using fruit, but also vegetables, roots (like Angelica root), and nuts. Markham’s recipe may require a bit more adaptation than the other ones I’ve worked with, both because of size and ingredients.

Here is Markham’s recipe for suckets (from Best, pg 120):
Take curds, the parings of lemons, of oranges or pomecitrons, or indeed any half ripe green fruit, and boil them till they be tender, in sweet wort; then make a syrup in this sort: take three pound of sugar, and the whites of four eggs, and a gallon of water; then swinge and beat the water and the eggs together, and then put in your sugar, and set it on the fire, and let it have an easy fire, and so let it boil six or seven walms, and then strain it through a cloth, and let it seethe again till it fall from the spoon, and then put it into the rinds of fruits.

There are quite a few terms in there that may be worth explaining: wort (or sweet wort) is “the liquor made by an infusion of malt in water, from which beer and ale are fermented” (Best, 312). As awesome as I think home brewing is, I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, so I don’t have the actual malt water that they need. My internet browsing suggests (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) that wort is the substance you have prior to adding the hops. I don’t have any malt here (and I suspect not all my readers keep it around either), so I’m going to cheat (I know, and I’m sorry). Malt is just a sprouted grain using in brewing and distilling, and while I don’t have any wort laying about, I do have malt whiskey. I know it’s not the same, but I’m hoping that adding a little bit of it to the water will be close-ish to the flavor Markham was going for. The amount of sugar Markham asks for is pretty steep too (almost 7 cups) which may warrant halving the recipe to keep me from having to buy more bags of sugar. A few other terms in the recipe you may not know are pomecitron (which, as far as I can tell, is a member of the citrus family although I haven’t found a really thorough description yet), swinge (to whip or beat), and walm (boil). I haven’t found any modern recreations of the wet sucket, so I played it by ear when determining how thick my syrup should be. Since I’m making the fruit in syrup today (and not regular suckets, which are more like hard candy) I won’t want the syrup to completely harden when it cools!

There are a couple things to point out when doing this recipe: first of all, you want to heat the egg white mixture slowly and stir it often so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Also, don’t whisk it too vigorously (like I did in the beginning) or you’ll end up with fluffy meringue on top of your syrup. If you do get a couple bits of egg that harden, just scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Markham suggests straining the mixture, which leads me to believe that this might be a problem inherent in the recipe. When you’re finished, you’ll have a really thick syrup (egg white has been used as a thickener in foods and binder in all sorts of things, including photographs). Just toss your fruit in there and toss to coat, then put it in a jar!

For the peels:
4 oranges
1/4 whiskey
2 c water

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of orange rind, being careful to not get too much of the bitter white pith. Cut into bite sized pieces (1/4″-1/2″ long).
  2. Boil the whiskey and water in a saucepan and add the orange peels. Boil until tender (about 10 to 15 minutes). (Sidenote: I also prepared some ginger this way since I had a lot of syrup.)
  3. Drain.

For the syrup:

2 egg whites
8 cups water (make sure its cold or room temperature)
3 1/2 cups sugar

  1. Whisk egg whites into water until incorporated.
  2. Heat slowly over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to ensure that the egg doesn’t scramble. While heating, add the sugar to the water, 1/2 cup at a time.
  3. Boil for 30-45 minutes, or until the syrup is very thick (for those who have made caramel, you want it to coat a spoon in the way caramel sauce does).
  4. Let cool slightly, then toss the orange peels into the syrup and pour the mixture into a jar.

I’m not sure how I’ll serve this yet, although I suspect it would be good on ice cream (which, I know, is not a historically accurate way to use fruit in syrup!)

Candied orangesOranges on top, ginger on bottom.A few hours after posting this, I discovered that the top of the syrup in the jar crystallizes somewhat. This means you can lay the candy out on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet and the sugar should crystallize (although it won’t turn into a hard candy, just a slightly crunchy exterior).

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Class and The English Housewife

I have spent a lot of time talking about The English Housewife as an instruction manual and as a place to learn about cookery. What I have spent less time with is the issue of class and audience, those issues that would give us a better picture of who the English Housewife actually was. Beyond her gender and marital status, the title won’t tell us much, but we do know enough about Markham to make some pretty good guesses. Markham is particularly interesting to me because he is writing for a country audience (this and his other books focus on activities that would be undertaken by a husbandman, or small landowner, and housewife), and because he encourages frugality (later authors seem more lavish).

Food and Class

In order to start thinking about class and cookery manuals, it’s important to know what the different classes were eating. Of course social classes were different from how we think of them today–rather than having a ‘middle class’ there were ‘middling sorts,’ which is kind of a hodgepodge term (that I still have trouble defining well) for those who lived comfortably but were not gentlemen/noblemen. The ‘gentry’ were gentleman landowners, whose social status would have been a bit higher.

If you remember my post on the Markham Meal, you probably noticed that the menu was almost entirely vegetarian (save for the one meat dish). That’s not to say that vegetarianism was a common concept in the 17th century (in fact, vegetarian monastic orders were heavily criticized by authors of books on health, who felt a lack of meat shortened one’s life; see Albala 201-202), but rather that there seems to be a misconception that only meat, and not much else, was eaten during this time. Markham does include another menu for a feast that includes a large number of meat dishes, but both this and the banquetting menu I’m working from are noted as not being “of regular use,” but still important for the housewife to be able to cook on special ocassions (Best, 110). Meat had fallen in price in the time after the Black Plague, but its cost had risen by Markham’s time when meat would have been available regularly only to the elite (others ate meat less frequently or ate less expensive cuts, like organ meats–see Albala, 188). Vegetables made up the majority of the diet of the lower classes, who could not afford to have meat or dairy regularly. Meat was commonly eaten by the nobility in the middle ages, but plant-based foods became more popular and began their ascent up the social ladder during this time (Thirsk, 4-8). Books like Markham’s helped further ensure the place of fruits and vegetables on middling tables. These books taught proper social graces and the newest food preparations, and so their inclusion of vegetables made those foods seem worthy of their tables (Schoonover, 20-21).The food on one’s table was indicative of social standing, but was also seen almost as a determinant as well: a peasant eating the food of the peasantry would absorb those elements within the food making it crude, while a courtier’s consumption of exquisite foods served not only as a symbol of wealth, sophistication, and power but also as that courtier’s embodiment of those qualities through the consumption of that food (see Albala, 184).

Cookery Manuals and Class

Most cookery manuals during this time would have been directed toward middling sorts and gentry, and became increasingly popular along with other self-help and how-to manuals (Cormack and Massio, 79-84). Other manuals, such as John Murrell’s A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen… all seemed to follow the theme of providing readers with the newest preparations of foods that were most fashionable at the time. Markham is interesting because he offers some of these preparations, but does so more to provide a well-rounded education in homemaking to his readers, who would need to know how to prepare such dishes for special guests or occasions (see Best, 110). He focuses more heavily on thrift, and on encouraging the use of items grown in the kitchen garden and available in the home (this may be due in part to his own social status as a gentleman, and the fact that he saw his wealth and status decline over his lifetime. For an excellent biography, see Best’s introduction).

The women who read Markham’s book would not only need to be educated enough to be literate, but would also need to be of a social standing where they were still directly involved within household tasks. Middling women, whose husbands owned estates or ran businesses, worked alongside servants to assist with the growing and preparation of food, as well as the production of household goods, such as linens (Mendelson and Crawford, 307). While women in the gentry and merchant classes also supervised workers and organized household affairs, they were much more directly involved in household labor than noblewomen, who directed the labors of large numbers of servants without direct involvement in their tasks (Mendelson and Crawford, 307-309). These women also were likely to be literate: David Cressy places the gentry along with the clergy and professionals on the “accomplished end of the literacy scale,” and his research shows at least a thirty percentage point difference between them and the next most literate group, comprised of yeomen and tradesmen (Cressy, 124). Thirsk suggests that Markham’s writing bridged the gap between gentry and laboring classes through his simple recipes and his focus on economy (Thirsk, 91-92), and while his work may have been more accessible to them, his use of spices and imported ingredients situates it solidly within a gentry/middling audience. His writing also would have been inaccessible to most members of the lower classes and even to the housewife’s servants, which clearly indicates the country housewife would have used the book in the direct supervision of servants’ work. Literacy among servants in most of the country was low, akin to husbandmen and laborers, with illiteracy rates for servants estimated at 76 percent. Only servants in London were more likely to be literate, with a surprisingly low 31 percent illiteracy rate (Cressy, 129).

I’m hoping to write more soon about the different ingredients in Markham and how these relate to class–please let me know if you have any questions or want me to explain/expand upon anything!

Sources:

Albala, Ken. Eating Right in the Renaissance. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Cormack, Bradin and Carla Mazzio. 2005. Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700. Chicago: University of Chicago Library.

Cressy, David. 1980. Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mendelson, Sara and Crawford, Patricia. 1998. Women in Early Modern England: 1550-1720. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murrell, John.  A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen… London: widow Helme. 1617.

Schoonover, David E., ed. 1998. Ladie Borlase’s Receiptes Booke. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Thirsk, Joan. 2007. Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760. London: Hambledon Continuum.

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