Tag Archives: early modern England

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).

Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Getting Started on the New Book

(Image can be found here)

After much (much!) delay, including the completion of my PhD, my move to Atlanta to start my job as Rare Books Curator at Kennesaw State University, and many other adventures, I’m finally finding a free moment to start on the second book in the MM series. One of the approaches I considered in this book was seeing what from Markham’s text could be applied to urban container gardening, and given that I live in an apartment without an in-ground garden space, that looks like the path I’ll be pursuing. One sticking point is the limited amount of sun in my yard, but that’s something Future Julia gets to deal with (lucky her).

For now, I’m starting to research the new book, beginning with a quick revisit to English Housewife, and moving on to Markham’s Farewell to Husbandry, Or, The Enriching of All Sorts of Barren and Sterile Grounds in our Kingdome, To Be as Fruitfull in all Manner of Graine, Pulse, and Grasse (at least we know Markham likes to keep his titles short and to the point). EEBO has put some of their online resources into print, so I’ll be looking at a printed reproduction of this book (unlike Best’s reprinting of English Housewife, which reprinted the text itself, this book is just the scans of the original text, so has all the printing quirks commonly found in books of this era).

The book is also going to include some recipes made from locally-sourced produce, so I can talk about how some of these English recipes might look in Georgia, and how they do and don’t mesh with farm-to-table approaches to food. Imported food was definitely a component of the early modern English diet, although less so in the country where residents were farther from central markets. Markham encouraged frugality to a greater extent than many of his peers, so he pushed his readers to maintain a kitchen garden and use food scraps for compost and animal feed. Part of the reason he could encourage this was because he targeted country gentry rather than city dwellers like myself, who have to be a bit more creative with where and how they grow their own food. If you’re very lucky (or I’m feeling very adventurous), I might play around with comparing some recipes and gardening approaches from other contemporary authors with Markham. Or maybe that will wait until book number 3!

Finally, I’m hoping to acquire (through purchasing or donations) books to build up our collection of English cookery manuals at the Bentley, particularly since English books are one of our focus areas. I’m also hoping to collaborate with culinary programs and other food-focused folks to do work around historic foodways, so some of that may be appearing on the blog too. It feels good to be back!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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).

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized