Tag Archives: food preservation

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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Apple Pie…Markham Style!

Today I’m going to be making Markham’s “A pippin pie.” Pippins are cooking apples, and I chose this recipe over Markham’s “codling tart” mostly because it has dates and oranges in it (the codling tart is apples and spices). Over the centuries, both sweet and savory pies have been made as a method of preservation.
I know how to make a modern pie crust (where cold fat is cut into the flour), but pie crusts in Markham’s time were made much differently: the fat was cooked with water, then the hot mixture was added to the flour to form the dough. The crust from this time was called a coffin, and it was filled both with sweet fillings (like the pie I’m making) or savory fillings (mostly meat). There are some good sources online for these crusts, including a good breakdown of recipes for different types of pie crusts on Medieval Cookery (although the references are earlier than Markham, looking at how the pies were made in the previous centuries can give us a sense of how they evolved). The most useful discussion of coffins I’ve found online is Monica Gaudio’s post, (which for those who are curious is the same one involved in the current Cooks Source scandal, and serves as a gentle reminder to all of us to attribute online information to its author). Gaudio’s recipes are great because she shows a 14th century pie recipe, and a 16th century pie recipe, with some discussion of the recipes historically and how the two pies differ. Best of all, her recipes are really easy to follow, which will make it a really helpful resource for someone who’s never made a coffin before!

Harold McGee also talks a bit about these pastries in his book, On Food and Cooking. He traces the roots of hot-water pastry to medieval times where it served as a container for meat dishes needing to be preserved for some time. It’s tender to eat, but retains cooking juices. It is made with a large amount of water (McGee says 50 parts water per 100 parts flour, along with 35 parts lard). The water and fat are heated to almost boiling, and the flour is stirred in just until it forms a mass, then the dough is rested. The large amount of fat limits gluten development which helps make for a tender crust, and repels water, keeping cooking juices from breaking down the crust. (McGee, 568).

Here’s Markham’s recipe (from pg 104 in Best):
A Pippin Pie
Take the fairest and best pippins, and pare them, and make a hole in the top of them; then prick in each hole a clove or two, then put them into the coffin, then break in whole sticks of cinnamon and slices of orange peels and dates, and on the top of every pippin a little piece of sweet butter: then fill the coffin, and cover the pippins over with sugar; then close up the pie, and bake it, as you bake pies of the like nature, and when it is baked anoint the lid over with store of sweet butter, and then strew sugar upon it a good thickness, and set it into the oven again for a little space, as whilst the meat is in dishing up, and then serve it.
(Best’s footnote suggests a baking time from another source: about 2 1/2 hours.)

Markham also has a recipe for the coffin itself, on p6s 96-98 of Best:
Of the Mixture of Pastes:
To speak then of the mixture and kneading of pastes, you shall understand that your rye paste be kneaded only with hot water and a little butter, or sweet seam and rye flour very finely sifted, and it would be made tough and stiff that it may stand well in the raising, for the coffin thereof must ever be very deep; your coarse wheat crust would be kneaded with hot water, or mutton broth and a good store of butter, and the paste made stiff and deep because that coffin must be deep also; your fine wheat crust must be kneaded with as much butter as water, and the paste made reasonable lithe and gentle, into which you must put three or four eggs or more according to the quantity you blend together, for they will give it a sufficient stiffening.

The crust I’m making is the last one, and it’s a bit different from the recipe Gaudio wrote because Markham wants his readers to include eggs. Gaudio’s recipe is still helpful though for learning about technique. After another search, I found Margaret MacDuibhShithe/Gretchen Miller’s recipe (at the very bottom of the page) that includes eggs. Her recipe is actually a modernized version of Markham’s crust, so I am just going to follow her crust recipe rather than mess with figuring out proportions, and focus on the yummy filling.

For the filling, I followed Markham’s suggestions and kept the apples whole (I found some small Ginger Gold apples at the farmer’s market that worked well). I peeled them, then cored them by using a paring knife cut in a circle around the top. I arranged them in the crust, then put cloves inside each one. Then, I pitted some dates and arranged them around the apples so that everything stayed in place. Then I added orange peels and cinnamon sticks (Note: if you decide to make this in a household where kids would be eating it, definitely replace the whole spices with dried ones and sprinkle them around evenly. And tell anyone who eats the pie to eat somewhat carefully, as the chunky spices make it hard to devour this pie like you would a modern pie). Markham also instructs readers to put pats of butter on each apple and sprinkle them with sugar before putting on the second crust. After you bake it for a while, you brush melted butter on the crust and sprinkle with sugar (I am using turbinado (raw) sugar for more crunch, but you do what you want). Here are some photos:

The pie after filling.

The center of the pie after being buttered and sprinkled with sugar.

As an aside, I just got a new Nikon D40, so I’m hoping to put more photos into the blog as I continue cooking (and I’m definitely open to criticism on my photography skills!)

So, there were many things that went well with this recipe, and a few things I might do differently. First of all, Margaret’s crust recipe worked really well! All of the drawings of coffins I’ve seen from Markham’s times depict a pie with freestanding sides. I was worried about making a pie that way, so I put it in a 9 inch round pan in order to get the flat sides I’ve seen in pictures (rather than the angled, shorter sides of a pie pan). The crust may have been a bit too small for this, as I had trouble getting the edges to meet after I put the top crust on, but a little tugging got those edges in place eventually. Also, the footnote from Best suggested a 2 1/2 hour cooking time (taken from a contemporary source, not suggested by Best himself). I found the pie cooked to perfection in about an hour and 15 minutes. I also might use ground spices next time, although it is a deviation from the recipe, just so it makes the pie easier to eat.

The pie was absolutely delicious! So flavorful and good smelling. I’ve never made a pie with dates in it before, but this one definitely makes me consider doing it again. The crust tasted very similar to a modern pie crust, but a bit more dense. Enjoy!

For the crust (This is from Margaret’s site)
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water
1 stick butter
2 1/2 cups flour
3 egg yolks

For the filling:
8 small cooking apples, peeled
16 whole cloves
The peels of two oranges
4 cinnamon sticks, halved
12 dates
1/2 cup sugar, plus more for dusting

1.Preheat oven to 350.
2.Combine  water and butter in a pan and simmer until butter melts.
3.Meanwhile, stir egg yolks into the flour until evenly distributed.
4.Make a well in the center, and pour the butter mixture in. Stir to combine, then knead until it forms a dough ball.
5. Divide the ball in half, and roll out to the size you need.
6. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9″ round pan, and put the bottom crust in, making sure it also covers the sides of the pan.
7. Using a paring knife, cut a hole in the top of each apple and remove the seeds, and put two cloves in each apple. Arrange in the crust.
8. Arrange the dates in the open spaces around the apples, then evenly distribute the orange peels and cinnamon sticks.
9. Place a small pat of butter on top of each apple, and sprinkle the entire filling with 1/2 cup sugar.
10. Roll out the top crust, and place on top of the pie.
11. Bake at 350 for 75 minutes, or until the apples are tender and the crust is just golden brown.
12. Brush the crust with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar, then continue baking for 10-15 minutes.

Slice of pie

A slice of the finished pie!


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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.


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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