Tag Archives: cookery

Getting the Ball Rolling: Gardening, Colonial Foodways, and Local Focus

When I initially planned this book, the goal was to write a book that adapted Markham’s soil amendment and other gardening techniques (from across several of his books) to a modern garden. This idea comes with a variety of challenges for an apartment dweller, having to do with the space to experiment in (apartments typically aren’t known for their sprawling gardens) as well as my desire to not incur my landlord’s wrath by digging up her yard. Another potential challenge for this project is the fact that I don’t live in England (or a similar climate), which is where Markham’s intended audience lived.

Then there’s the issue of sunlight, which is something I’m told is important to plants. My ‘garden’ (currently a few potted plants on a porch table) is far from being a sunny spot. My yard is filled with trees and bamboo plants, which makes it beautiful and cool in the summer, but not the greatest for growing lush planters full of fruits and veggies.

So why continue with the book with all these obstacles in the way? First, because a challenge is fun, but mostly because because it lets me explore a new direction for my work that ties in with the gardening theme. We’re in an interesting place as a culture at the moment, where eating locally is an option rather than the only option, and where it is actually cheaper in some instances to eat food produced elsewhere (there are many pieces on the politics of this and on its relationship to income inequality, which I’m sure I’ll explore at some point as a necessary part of writing about local food).

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Boiled Chicken

Well, dear readers, it’s my final recipe for this project, and the only meat dish that’s a part of the banquetting menu. I’ll be back to post updates on the calligraphed book that I’m making and the e-book/print on demand book over the next few months, and I’d love to hear from readers about your experiences with my blog and my versions of the recipes! This final one is for boiled chicken (which sounds less than appetizing but believe me, it’s pretty good). Here’s Markham’s take on ‘an excellent way to boil chickens’ (from page 79 of Best):

If you will boil chickens, young turkeys, peahens, or any house fowl daintily, you shall, after you have trimmed them, drawn them, trussed them, and washed them, fill their bellies as full of parsley as they can hold; then boil them with salt and water only till they be enough: then take a dish and put into it verjuice, and butter, and salt, and when the butter is melted, take the parsley out of the chickens’ bellies, and mince it very small, and put it into the verjuice and butter, and stir it well together; then lay in the chickens, and trim the dish with sippets, and so serve it forth.

I chose this dish because it was one of the few that addressed how to prepare chicken (a much more affordable option in our local store). Most recipes dealt with fish/seafood, lamb, and waterfowl, with the occasional mention of capon and pork. The main preparations seem to be based in boiling the meat or roasting it on a spit. I had hoped to make this dish with capon but alas, at over $30 a bird in our local store, chicken seemed the more appealing option. Unlike today, verjuice (from red grapes) seemed to be popular on both poultry and darker meats. This recipe, like many of the meat recipes (although not all), seemed easy: most involved flavoring/stuffing the meat and then placing it in boiling water or on a spit before plating with a sauce. I was a little nervous about using something stuffed in the bird in a sauce (fear of raw chicken juices) so I cooked the chicken a bit longer than it probably warranted. Mine was a small chicken, so adjust as necessary based on the size of your bird!

-1 whole chicken (mine was a hair under 3 lbs)
-kitchen twine, for trussing
-salt
-1 cup light red wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon would be good here)
-2 tbsp butter
-1 bunch parsley

1. In a large stockpot, bring to a boil enough water to cover the chicken (I probably used ~8 cups) and some salt (I probably used 2-3 tbsp).
2.Take the bunch of parsley and cut of the stems.
3. Holding the bunch tightly, push it into the chicken cavity as far as it will go (leaving too much stem sticking out will make it more difficult to truss the chicken).
4. Truss the chicken.
5. Place the chicken into the boiling water and cook until the chicken is done (it springs back when you touch it and the juice runs clear). Set aside until it is cooled just enough to retrieve the parsley stuffing.
6. In a saucepan, bring the wine to a simmer with 1/2 tsp salt. Add the butter and continue gently simmering.
7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley finely and add to the sauce.
8. Pour the sauce over the chicken in a serving dish.

Well, that’s it for my final project recipes–thanks so much for coming along for the ride! I hope I’ve made these historic recipes seem a little more accessible and encouraged you to branch out and try a few. If you have, I’d love to know about it!

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Interview in the Indiana Food Review

This past week, the Indiana Food Review published an Op-Ed piece by doctoral student Ellen Ireland called “Romanticizing the Historic Diet.” Ellen interviewed me about the Markham project and Robin Danek about her experience trying a paleo diet. Although the projects are very different, she does a great job of talking about how (and why) we feel a desire to revive historic food traditions: in my case, to explore the recipes in order to better understand the past, and in Robin’s case, as a part of leading a healthy lifestyle. I really enjoyed the article and I’m excited Ellen asked me to be a part of it! Blog readers/Twitter followers, I’d love to know what you think, both about the article and about reviving historic diets!

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Quince Marmalade

Today I’m making something I’m a little more familiar with cooking: marmalade! I found a website where you can order quinces, although because shipping of perishable goods is pretty hefty, I want to make sure I use them in a recipe with a high chance of success (thus increasing the likelihood that I will get to try my quinces in a finished dish!) Quince was one of the most popular fruits in Markham’s day–it appearsed probably more often than any other fruit in The English Housewife, and that holds true for the other books I’ve looked at as well. Its history goes back to ancient times, and although they aren’t especially common now in the U.S., they are a popular addition to recipes in several global cuisines. The fruit is useful in these sorts of preparations because of its high pectin content, which allows the marmalade to thicken considerably. Markham’s recipe (pg 112 of Michael Best’s book) goes as follows:

Marmalade of Quinces Red

To make red marmalade of quinces; take a pound of quinces and cut them in halves, and take out the cores and pare them; then take a pound of sugar and a quart of fair water and put them all into a pan, and let them boil with a soft fire, and sometimes turn them and keep them covered with a pewter dish, so that the steam or air may come a little out; the longer they are in boiling the better colour they will have; and when they be soft take a knife and cut them cross upon the top, it will make the syrup go through that they may be all of a like colour; then set a little of your syrup to cool, and when it beginneth to be thick then break your quinces with a slice or a spoon, so small as you can in the pan, and then strew a little fine sugar in your box’s bottom, and so put it up.

He also has a recipe just below it for “Marmalade white:”

To make white marmalade you must in all points use your quinces as is beforesaid; only you must take but a pint of water to a pound of quinces, and a pound of sugar, and boil them as fast as you can, and cover them not at all.

The quinces I received are huge (about a pound each), so I used one for each type of marmalade.

Quinces

Large quince fruit prior to cooking.

Red Marmalade

As per Markham’s instructions, I peeled the quince, halved it, and cored it. The peels are thin, so you can use a vegetable peeler unless you prefer working with a knife. Markham urges readers to let the quince boil for as long as possible to develop the color, so I planned on simmering them for about 2 hours. This marmalade is very easy to make, and like the strawberry conserve I made a while back, it’s something you can have on the stove without attending to it constantly. Here is the recipe for those who wish to try it:

Red Quince Marmalade

1 lb quince(s)

2 1/4 c sugar

4 c water

  1. Peel the quince using a knife or vegetable peeler, cut it in half and remove the core.
  2. Place in a medium saucepan with the water and sugar.
  3. Simmer over a low heat, loosely covered, for about 2 hours. Turn fruit occasionally during cooking.
  4. After the first half an hour, take a knife and made two perpendicular cuts on the outside of each half.
  5. Once most of the water has evaporated and the fruit is in a thick syrup, use a spoon or potato masher to break the quince apart into evenly distributed bits.
  6. Allow to cool.

White Marmalade

The only difference between this and the preparation method above is that it is cooked quickly to prevent the red color from developing. The raw quince fruit has a light, cream-colored flesh, and so in this instance we are trying to preserve that color rather than allow the reactions to occur that turn cooked quince red (see a blog post with a brief explanation of that process here). The water is reduced by half so that it evaporates more quickly.

White Quince Marmalade

1 lb. quince

2 cups water

2 1/4 cups sugar

  1. Peel, halve, and core the quince.
  2. Combine the halved fruit in a pot with the water and sugar.
  3. Boil rapidly until a thick syrup develops (about 30 minutes), then break down the fruit with a spoon or potato masher to desired smoothness.
Quince marmalade

The finished white and red marmalades.

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Try and Try Again

If you remember from last week, I tried two times to make Paste of Genoa (pg 116 in Best) using apples. I suspect part of the reason for my failure lies in the fact that our produce today is different from what it used to be: I am still trying to find good sources that will explain how vegetables and fruits looked in the 17th century, but from what I’ve read in other sources it seems that apples were much smaller. Today, I am trying this paste (again) using Red Bartlett pears, which seemed to be the most firm variety available at the Co-op. Here’s a reminder of the recipe:

To make a paste of genoa, or any other paste.

To make paste of Genoa, you shall take quinces after they have been boiled soft, and beat them in a mortar with refined sugar, cinnamon, and ginger finely searced, and damask rose-water  till it come to a stiff paste; and then roll it forth and print it, and so bake it in a stove; and in this sort you may make paste of pears, apples, wardens, plums of all kinds, cherries, barberries, or what other fruit you please.

I am also implementing what I learned from the last attempts in the hopes that it will produce the paste-y texture I seek!

The Cooking Process

I boiled the pears until they were just soft enough to be mashed, hoping this would keep any excess water from them. I then strained them, put them back into the pan, and mashed them. Last time, I let the apples sit in the strainer for about 5 minutes while I used the back of a spoon to press any excess moisture from them. This time, I did that several times to make sure I get all the water out that I could. I measured out equal weights of sugar and fruit pulp and combined them, but ran into the same problem I ran into with the apple paste, where the sugar would start dissolving right away (see photo below).

Pear soup, even after adding 2 cups of sugar.

Pear soup, even after adding 2 cups of sugar.

I thought I would have to scrap this recipe, until it occurred to me that I could have just put all this fruit in the food processor from the beginning, and that would make a much finer fruit pulp than I would be able to do by hand with a plastic potato masher. I put the sugary pears into the food processor, then strained them again (bringing me down to about 1/4-1/3 cup of pear pulp). I added more sugar along with the ginger, cinnamon, and rose water, and it seemed like it *might* be turning into paste. Sugar still dissolved, but it dissolved less, and I was able to get it into the mold well enough.

The last time I did this, I tried to bake the paste very slowly, and discovered that all it did was make a sugary soup in my oven which was very unpleasant to clean. To avoid a repeat performance, I baked it in the mold (it was still a little too soft to just shape in the mold and then bake) on high to see if that would help. The answer is: no, it does not. Still got the same bubbly soup. It confirms my suspicions that the pears and apples we find commonly today are just not close enough to reproduce this recipe. You’ll notice that Historic Food’s Quince Recipe page has these decorative pastes made from quinces, so it may be that I would need to use those. The quince paste is also very thin, and I was unable to get either the pear or apple pastes to be wafer-thin in my pan. After three tries, I think it’s safe to say that fruit pastes and I are not going to meeting again anytime soon, so I’ll be moving on in the coming weeks to try other recipes. Sorry Markham.

Kitchen scale

Weighing out fruit pulp on the kitchen scale.

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Want More Markham? Other Published Resources

I have found quite a few good articles on Markham’s The English Housewife so far, and have discovered that since his own writing spanned so many disciplines, he invites study and criticism from a number of modern disciplines including history, medicine, and literary criticism. For those looking for a few extra resources, or to approach the text from different perspectives, these are a great place to start. It should be noted that most of these articles do not focus exclusively on Markham, but instead situate his work within a larger discussion along with other writings.

Knoppers, Laura Lunger. “Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromwell, and the Politics of Cookery.” Renaissance Quarterly 60 (2007): 464-499. (This article talks about the portrayal of powerful women in cookery manuals that were produced after Markham’s. What struck me the most was the author’s discussion of the Cromwells as the focal point of The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth. The author notes that, while early manuals like Markham’s applauded frugality and country living, this later book marks those behaviors as a mockery (pg 487). )

Leong, Elaine. “Making Medicines in the Early Modern Household.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 82, vol. 1 (2008) 145-168. (While Markham is mentioned only in the briefest of terms, the subject matter of this article reminds us of a very important part of The English Housewife that is not being explored in my project. That is the matter of healthcare, which was a major part of the housewife’s duties. Markham spends a lot of time talking about how to create and use treatments for a staggering array of ailments, many of which involve herbal compounds that are consumed or placed on the flesh. There is also a part for surgery, as the housewife may have needed to perform a procedure to help with injury or disease. )

Martin, Meredith. “Interiors and Interiority in the Ornamental Dairy Tradition.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 20, vol. 3, (2008): 357-384. (This article deals with Markham’s writing on dairies, a part of The English Housewife, in great depth. Martin uses Markham’s work as a way of discussing women in the English dairy. She also relates the attributes Markham encourages in the housewife of purity, patience, gentleness, delicacy, and charity to later conduct books’ classification of ‘good’ women. (pgs 358-359). She also reminds us of the role of servants: while Markham’s work was directed toward literate middling and upper-class women, this dairy work would have been done largely by female servants, with the housewife herself performing more of a supervisory function (pg 359). )

Wall, Wendy. “Why Does Puck Sweep?: Fairylore, Merry Wives, and Social Struggle.” Shakespeare Quarterly 52, vol. 1 (2001), 67-106. (Wall provides an insightful look into gender in early modern England, and while I recommend reading the whole article, there are a couple notes from it that are particularly relevant to this project. First is her note on page 77, where she notes that the first English cookbook was addressed to elite male readers, but that subsequent books, including Markham’s, moved toward addressing women. Her footnotes also provide great references for tracking down other contemporary cookery book authors, whom I will be mentioning in the ‘about’ section).

Mylander, Jennifer. “Early Modern ‘How-To’ Books: Impractical Manuals and the Construction of Englishness in the Atlantic World.” The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9, vol. 1 (2009) 123-146. (Mylander deals with Markham’s writings in great depth as she discusses how they circulated across the Atlantic to find their way into Colonial American homes. Both Markham and Nicholas Culpeper, who wrote somewhat later, promoted self-sufficiency, and both of their books were amongst those that were shipped to the Americas (and which the Mylander says were considered indispensable to colonists of all classes, on page 124). While Mylander does discuss the English Housewife, it is in the context of his larger body of work, particularly in showing how that work promoted ‘English-ness,’ but also how the agricultural practices in his other books did not fit with the new world).

While not relevant to this project, per se, Markham wrote a sizable number of other texts on horsemanship, soldiery, hunting, and agriculture; he even wrote some fiction earlier in his life. Those texts are referenced in a number of scholarly articles that may be of interest, including:

McMullin, B.J. “Early ‘Secular’ Press Figures.” The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 10, vol. 1, (2009): 57-65.  (Mentions ‘A Way to Get Wealth’ and ‘Cheap and Good Husbandry’).

Golz, David. “Diamonds, Maidens, Widow Dido, and Cock-a-diddle-dow.” Comparative Drama 43, vol. 2, (2009): 167-196. (Mentions ‘The Dumb Knight,’ a work of fiction by Markham. There are many other articles out there that talk about his fictional writing within the context of contemporary literature).

Kelly, Ann Cline. “Gulliver as Pet and Pet Owner: Conversations with Animals in Book 4.” ELH 74, vol. 2 (2007): 323-349.   Landry, Donna. “The Bloody Shouldered Arabian and Early Modern English Culture.” Criticism 46, vol. 1 (2004): 41-69.    (These talk a bit about Markham’s horsemanship manuals, of which he had many).

Benson, Sean. “‘If I do prove her haggard’: Shakespeare’s Application of Hawking Tropes to Marriage.” Studies in Philology 103, vol. 2 (2006): 186-207. (This text mentions Markham’s book, Country Contentments, especially its advice for falconers.)

Mullett, Charles F. “Gervase Markham: Scientific Amateur.” Isis 35, vol. 2 (1944) 106-118. (While this article is significantly older than the others, I like it because it gives an overview of Markham’s different writings and their subject matter).

Wall, Wendy. “Renaissance National Husbandry: Gervase Markham and the Publication of England.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 27, vol. 3 (1996) 767-785. (This article talks about Markham’s writing as a whole, and particularly focuses on his definitions of English agriculture as being unique from that of other countries. This is a very useful article, and I’m sure I’ll cite bits of it later on. Even if the scope is a bit different from that of this project, I definitely recommend it as a go-to source for Markham researchers).

I’m sure there are a ton more articles that talk about Markham, and that I didn’t mention here. Obviously there’s Michael Best’s edited version of The English Housewife, but because I have spent quite a bit of time with it already I don’t want to list it as a ‘new resource!’ If there is a citation that I failed to include, please put it in the comments! It would be great to give readers as many resources as possible for learning more about Markham.

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