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!
Tag Archives: historic food
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).
When I have engaged in conversation about this project lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of folks are timid about trying older recipes because they are uncomfortable with the techniques. I tend to just go full boar into a recipe and see what happens (and to be honest, the vast majority of the time it does actually work out), but I’m also more accustomed to doing things like baking bread/pastry, making jam, and other things that I think are really easy once you learn how to do them, but can feel really intimidating if you’ve never tried it.
So with that in mind, I went through my bookshelves and pulled out a few texts that I thought were really useful for helping me expand my culinary horizons, and hopefully will serve as a good reference for a few readers as well!
Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger. The Lost Art of Real Cooking. New York: Penguin, 2010.
This book is incredibly useful. It just came out quite recently, and every review I have seen so far has been nothing but positive. It’s a great way to learn more about food preparation done by hand (rather than by, say, chucking everything in the food processor), and a great text to help get you into the mindset of cooking food the way it used to be cooked. Best of all, the authors’ style is approachable and not at all intimidating (great for those who are feeling a bit nervous about their abilities), and there are illustrations for some of the steps that you might not be familiar with (i.e. making a lattice pie crust). Ken Albala is a food historian, which means there are plenty of useful tidbits in there about how these foods were prepared historically (and how some of the ingredients or techniques have changed). It’s been such a valuable resource for me when I want to double-check my technique before plunging in to making a pie or pasta or most anything else I care to cook.
Gillian Riley, Renaissance Recipes. San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1993.
This book is a good introduction to Renaissance Italian food. It includes recipes that are simple to prepare, along with paintings and historical background. I received it as a gift, and it’s a beautiful book to look at as well as fun to cook from.
Maxine McKendry, Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking. Ed. By Arabella Boxer. New York: Exeter Books, 1983.
Nell Heaton, Traditional Recipes of the British Isles. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951.
I learned about both these books through some excerpted recipes that are included in David Schoonover’s (ed.) Ladie Borlase’s Receiptes Booke, which I’ve mentioned before. For a project like this, these books are useful because they allow me to see other modernized recipes in order to get a better sense of how older recipes translate into use with the ingredients and equipment we have today. Although most of the recipes are not directly contemporary to Markham’s time, they are still a good resource.
Mollie Katzen, The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000.
Mollie Katzen’s books will always have a special place in my heart after receiving The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest as a birthday gift from one of my dearest friends. Beyond sentimental reasons, Katzen prepares dishes far beyond what I’ve found in most other cookbooks (vegetarian or otherwise). She’s great at combining ingredients you might not think to combine, and explaining the techniques she uses in a way that’s easy to follow. I also love that the entire book is lettered and illustrated by her (and is actually a part of my inspiration for illustrating and lettering my modernized recipes from this project).
Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner: New York, 2004.
This is another great reference to have on hand for any type of food. McGee is wonderful at going through a dizzying number of foods and explaining how they’re made, the chemistry behind the technique/combination of ingredients that creates the finished product, and the history of the food (he puts some great historical tidbits in little boxes underneath the text—in one he mentions Markham’s puff paste, which I’m hoping to make soon). I am hoping to make a pie from Markham soon, so going through here I have learned a lot about different types of crust and pastry, which will help me when it comes time to recreate the recipe!
If anyone has any other good resources to share, I would love to hear them! I am especially interested in learning about new web resources, as I suspect a lot of readers will want to be able to look up recipes on the internet as well as in books!
As an aside, a friend from Indiana brought me a big stash of quinces, and I just snagged some little apples from the last farmer’s market of the season, so keep your eyes peeled for some good recipes in the coming weeks!
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.
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
- Peel the quince using a knife or vegetable peeler, cut it in half and remove the core.
- Place in a medium saucepan with the water and sugar.
- Simmer over a low heat, loosely covered, for about 2 hours. Turn fruit occasionally during cooking.
- After the first half an hour, take a knife and made two perpendicular cuts on the outside of each half.
- 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.
- Allow to cool.
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
- Peel, halve, and core the quince.
- Combine the halved fruit in a pot with the water and sugar.
- Boil rapidly until a thick syrup develops (about 30 minutes), then break down the fruit with a spoon or potato masher to desired smoothness.
One of the recipes in Markham’s book is for ‘Paste of Genoa.’ The recipe is found on pg 116 of Michael Best’s edited version of the text:
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.
To see some beautiful examples of what these pastes look like, spend some time on Historic Food. Unfortunately, I am having a really tough time sourcing quinces, although I finally found a place that sells them here. It’s good news for the quince marmalade I want to make in the future! Quinces are related to pears, and so I considered using pears in this recipe to try to emulate the texture, etc. I may do that at some point, but I decided instead to use apples (which Markham also says will work in this recipe) because our local orchards produce some great varieties that I’m looking to add into more of the food I prepare.
If you looked at the Historic Food site, you will see that these pastes were put in molds before baking to create elaborate shapes. I actually have a pan I got at a second hand store that will be absolutely perfect for this, and I am really excited to use it.
The process of creating the paste itself is one that I feel warrants a couple side notes. First of all, it suggests beating the boiled apples in a mortar with the remaining ingredients. Unfortunately, my mortar and pestle are rather small, which means that I will either have to work in 5 or 6 very small batches, or I will have to improvise using a larger bowl. I do have some bowls that will work, so perhaps I can use my small pestle with them. Best’s endnotes also bear mentioning here–the first says that Markham’s writing, as well as that of his contemporary, Hugh Platt, recommend using 1/2 pound of sugar for each pound of ‘quince pap.’ Platt’s book, The Ladies Companion, gives a much better description of the technique than Markham: “Set your [paste spread on a] pie plate in a warm oven or stove (upon two billets of wood for to keep it from the bottom of the oven) all night; then on the morrow turn it, and so do it every day until it be dry.” (Best, 266, quoting from Platt, pg 46). To try and emulate this in a modern oven, I’ll set it to the lowest setting (‘warm’ or about 200 degrees). Then I can leave it on today while I’m up so that I can keep an eye on it and make adjustments as needed before letting it continue to dry tonight while I sleep. More updates to come as the day continues!
So the first step is to boil the apples. Since Markham gives no special instructions about boiling them with sugar or anything, I just chucked them in a pot with some water. I’m using Rome apples because they are cultivated more for cooking than for eating raw (although they are delicious raw as well!) from Apple Cart Orchard in Vinton, IA. I am using five medium-sized apples (not the giant ones in the supermarket), chopped and boiled.
In order to get the correct amount of sugar, I had to use a 2:1 ratio of apples to sugar. This time, my kitchen scale is out and usable! I had about 720 grams (~1.5 lbs) of cooked apples, so I figured I would need to use about 3/4 lb. of sugar to mash with the fruit. Unfortunately, my estimate was wrong (very wrong indeed). I think the big secret with this recipe, were I to make it again, is to not only strain the apples but to mash them and strain the mashed apples before adding the sugar. I made the mistake of adding the 2 1/4 c sugar prior to straining, only to discover that it looked like applesauce. After straining that mixture, I kept adding more and more sugar to make this elusive ‘paste’ Markham was aiming for (I added another 3 1/4 cups) but I actually ran out of sugar before I got to a paste that could be rolled out. The recipe might not be salvageable (we’ll see), but I’m cooking it in the oven at 200 right now to see if I can slowly dehydrate it, and perhaps end up with the same end product that just takes longer to make!
The flavorings I added were definitely on the mark, though, so if nothing else I will have an *incredibly* sweet and delicious mixture. As per Markham’s recipe, I added rosewater (1/8 c), cinnamon (1 tsp), and freshly grated ginger (1 tsp). You can buy rosewater at specialty markets, or you can make it by infusing water with roses by gently simmering. The flavor is deep and complex, which is one of my favorite parts of using these kinds of spices and waters. I left it in the oven for several hours, only to discover that it (not surprisingly) was not going to dehydrate to the paste I needed it to be. So, now I have a pie filling, and I’m en route to the store to get more apples to make it a second time!
So I made the paste a second time! I’ve decided that the problem might be the fruit I’m using: even after squishing all the water out of the apples after mashing them, I still couldn’t get a paste once I added the sugar. So, now I have two batches of pie filling! I’ll have to give it a shot with pears later on.
I’ve decided to start out this project with one of the simpler recipes from the book. The English Housewife is full of recipes for preserving food, so it is likely that I will be doing a lot of it in the coming months. Preservation would have obviously been important for storing food without refrigeration, but this method also would have been viewed as healthful, because the fruit was cooked prior to being consumed (raw fruits and vegetables were seen as non-nutritous at best and poisonous at worst). I mentioned that Markham’s book is filled with recipes for preserves, and I think part of that might be due to his focus on frugality. While preserved foods are found in contemporary cookery manuals, I have yet to see one with as large a section on the subject as The English Housewife. Many books stress the importance of impressing guests and using fashionable food preparations (which Markham does too, but perhaps to a lesser extent). Markham instead chooses to place emphasis on cultivating frugality, and this point is reiterated (again and again!) in his section on the character traits a good housewife should embody (frugality, modesty, deference to the husband, etc). Growing food in a kitchen garden is encouraged as a way to save money, and what better way to stretch that money farther than by preserving the excess produce?
Today, I am using the recipe entitled “to make any conserve,” found on page 116 of the work edited by Michael Best:
“To make conserve of any fruit you please, you shall take the fruit you intend to make conserve of; and if it be stone fruit you shall take out the stones; if other fruit, take away the paring and core, and then boil them in fair running water to a reasonable height; then drain them from thence, and put them into a fresh vessel with claret wine, or white wine, according to the colour of the fruit: and so boil them to a thick pap all to mashing, breaking, and stirring them together; then to every pound of pap put to a pound of sugar, and so stir them all well together, and, being very hot, strain them through fair strainers, and so pot it up.”
This recipe is a slight departure from my normal method of jam production, in that it includes wine, which I typically don’t add. I chose this particular recipe because it works for “any fruit you please,” and strawberries happened to be on sale at the grocery store. I used red wine in order to stay true to Markham’s recommendation for red fruit with red wine. We have some tasty wines that are made here in Iowa, so I picked up a Cabernet Sauvignon from Cedar Ridge Vineyards.
I tend to make jams that are boiled and reduced down to the finished product, rather than jams that are strained. I’ve looked at several different jams from Markham’s time period, and the method described in the recipe above seems fairly typical.
While modern strawberry hybrids come from species native to the Americas, strawberries would have been available in Europe at this time too. The species was called ‘fraises de bois’ (literally ‘strawberries of wood’ or wild strawberries), and was found around Europe. For centuries, the only ones available in Europe were wild varieties growing in the edges of wooded areas, and were known by a variety of names in countries all over western Europe. The term ‘strawberry’ came from the English practice of placing straw under the fruits to keep the off the damp soil. They were not cultivated until the 15th century, in part because of the amount of room they took up and the fact that they drained the soil of nutrients so had to be moved occasionally (Toussaint-Samat, 652). Thanks to Ken Albala for telling me about this variety
Dr. Albala also mentioned that more tart fruits are usually used for jams, and that is definitely true of Markham’s book. Quinces were very popular (see Best, pg 112, for ‘Marmalade of quinces red’) but so are oranges. Markham also has a recipe (on Best, pg 117) for a ‘conserve of flowers,’ which is not a cooked jam in the way fruit jam is, but would be very interesting to try.
This recipe and the others of its time are not written using the measurements we use today (cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.) Cookery manuals of the time were more of a guide rather than a specific set of instructions, so many of the recipes use weights (if they provide any specific measure at all) and guide you by how the food looks or feels during cooking rather than using times and temperatures (cooking temperatures were not as exact as a thermometer in a modern oven, so time and temp aren’t as useful for someone using this technique).
I’ve been in the process of moving, so I had packed my kitchen scale and thus could not measure out equal weights of sugar and fruit pulp. I had initially considered doing a 1:1 ratio, but worried that would make it too sweet. I planned on adding sugar in ¼ cup increments, but ended up not needing any more than one addition. Markham doesn’t specify what ratio of wine to other ingredients one should use, so I had to guess on that as well. ¼ cup seemed like the magic number in this recipe!
After straining the jam one last time, I finally got to taste the finished product. I had been worried that all that boiling and straining might result in a bland jam, but that was not the case at all. The wine added a more complex, deeper flavor to the jam, and the limited amount of sugar I added made the jam tasty (but not overly sweet). I bought some Delice de Borgogne cheese, and I think dinner tonight will consist of cheese and baguette topped by this jam, accompanied by the rest of that bottle of wine.
4 c strawberries, sliced
¼ c Cabernet Sauvignon
¼ c sugar
-In a medium saucepan, place the strawberries in the bottom and add enough water to cover them. Bring to boil, and cook until very soft (about 20 minutes).
-Using a fine strainer, strain the liquid from the strawberries and add to a high-sided skillet. Add the wine, and bring to a boil.
-While the mixture is boiling, use a potato masher to mash the fruit into a pulp.
-Turn off the heat and add the sugar, stir until dissolved.
-Using a fine strainer, strain excess liquid from the mixture and place into a heat-proof container.