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Chocolate Puffs – ‘rough side upwards’

16 Sep

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Hannah Glasse’s Chocolate Puffs recipe

 

It was more chocolate experimentation this week at Fort York.  This time we were working with Hannah Glasse’s 1800 Chocolate Puffs recipe from her book The Complete Confectioner. A puff brings to mind something light, airy, even ethereal.  Among Dr Johnson’s many definitions for the word puff he includes ‘any thing light and porous’.  It was difficult to see how the recipe’s call for a pound of sugar (even if it was double refined) and a half a pound of grated chocolate mixed together with the white of two eggs might ever achieve this status.

 

18th century recipe books contain  a number of different recipes for puffs.  You can find apricot puff, almond, puffs, lemon puffs, curd puffs and German puffs.  These latter were created from a mixture of milk, flour, egg yolks and sugar, flavoured with rose water, nutmeg and lemon and then fried in boiling lard, to be covered in Sack for a sauce.  I have never seen any before but the recipe’s planted in my mind a vision of a bite sized boozy doughnut.

 

Other volunteers at Fort York have made the most delicate and light lemon puffs, morsels of sugary heaven.  Our first attempts at chocolate puffs confirmed that we were dealing with a very different type of recipe.  First, The grated chocolate and sugar were mixed together and then the two egg whites were added.  But far from creating a paste which the recipe suggested would emerge we were left with a grainy mixture which resembled wet sand in texture.  How were we to create any sort of shape from this?  And it was clear from the recipe that the mixture was meant to be malleable; it says ‘you may form the paste into any shape’.  We were going to be lucky if we were able to get the mixture from the bowl to the baking tray, let alone have the luxury of choosing what form it would take.  For our first trial we simply heaped the ‘wet sand’ into little mounds (about 2cm across) and baked them at 300ºF for 15 minutes.  After leaving them to cool (not easy to do when you’re curious to try) we sampled the results.  The outside had a pleasingly crunchy and granular texture, a little bit like a chocolate sugar cube.  However, we weren’t convinced that this is what they were meant to be like.

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the wet sand mixture of a pound of double refined sugar, half a pound of grated chocolate and two egg whites

The next experiment involved thinking about how we might possibly create a paste from the quantities mentioned in the recipe (no tampering with the proportions or adding extra ingredients!) Since the mixture was clearly very dry we decided to try melting the chocolate.  The sugar was then added to the melted chocolate and with the beaten egg white folded in at the end.  This created a very thick paste, but it was at least a paste and it was possible to use it to create shapes.  We opted for small, simple rounds.  Another part of the recipe which had been bothering us was the instruction to place the shapes ‘rough side upwards’ on the tins strewn with sugar.  This had led me to thinking about trying to create the shapes by using a mould (see the continuation of this thought below) but I suddenly had the idea that this instruction might mean that you were meant to place your puffs on the sugared baking tray and then turn them over ‘rough side upwards’ so both sides were covered with sugar.  This is what we tried and cooked these at 300ºF, leaving some in for 15 minutes and some in for 20 minutes. The results this time were no more light and airy.  They had a hard edge and a slightly chewy centre, with a hint of the granular still in the structure of the biscuit, as well as the sugar on the outside.

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Making a paste by melting the chocolate

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The rounds from the melted chocolate recipe

The final method we tried involved my thought about creating the puffs in moulds.  I think at this point the trial became a little less than historically accurate but I wanted to see what would happen if the ‘wet sand’ mixture was shaped using a mould.  Since there were no small mould shapes at the Fort I improvised with a measuring teaspoon which was a half sphere and about 3.5cm in diameter.  Since the mixture was like sand this felt a little bit like making very miniature rounded sand castles and my first attempts were far from perfect.  If I didn’t pack the mixture in tightly enough it simply fell apart.  But if I packed it in too tightly I then needed to knock it out too viciously and ran the risk of squashing it as I tried to prise it from the spoon.  Finally I had a whole tray of these dark little mounds to bake and again they went in at 300ºF for 20 minutes.  When they came out of the oven they reminded me of stylised hedgehogs; there were just enough of the granular on the surface to give them a roughened texture and the uniform shape gave them a particularly pleasing appearance.  This final experiment seemed to be the preferred one in terms of edibility too.  Melting the chocolate may have allowed us to create a paste but the resulting puff was not as successful as those made from the more unwieldy mixture.

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Miniature sandcastles turn into ….

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…..hedgehogs

This got me to thinking about whether the word puff refers not to the texture of these sweetmeats, as in Johnson’s light and porous, but to the shape, or something that was simply a mouthful?  All three of our experiments had a very solid and dense structure, nothing light and airy at all.  The proportions of ingredients in other 18th century chocolate puff recipes suggest something lighter than Hannah Glasse’s version.  For example the version that appears in Elizabeth Raffald’s, 1769 Experienced English Housekeeper, and others:

 

To make Chocolate Puffs
Beat and sift half a pound of double-refined sugar, scrape into it one ounce of chocolate very fine; mix them together. Beat the white of an egg to a very high froth, then strew in your sugar and chocolate, keep beating it till it is as stiff as a paste. Sugar your papers, and drop them on about the size of a sixpence, and bake them in a very slow oven.

(the British Museum have a modern version of this recipe on their Young Explorers pages – what a great way to get children into cooking)

 

These would still be much more dense than the floating melt-in-the-mouth lemon puffs in Raffald’s book which use the juice of two lemons, 1 egg white and 3 eggs to a pound of sugar.

 

So, some success with the chocolate puffs but room for further investigation.  Of course how close our 21st century ingredients are to those used in the 18th century.  And we haven’t even got round to trying to ‘colour it with different colours’ as suggested at the end of the recipe.

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Bruising Chocolate

4 Sep

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J Bell’s Chocolate Biscuit recipe from The French Family Cook

Today was a rather quiet and calm kitchen at Fort York.  Mya was keen to try a 1793 recipe for chocolate biscuits from J Bell’s The French Family Cook: Being a Complete System of French Cookery.  This recipe involved no butter so it suggested a biscuit in the French manner, like a Naples or Savoy biscuit.  It also called for the ounce and a half of chocolate to be ‘bruised very fine’.  I was intrigued by this instruction not least because I was sceptical that solid chocolate could be easily ‘bruised very fine’.  What exactly did the instruction mean?  Mya and I decided that it probably meant that the chocolate should be beaten using a pestle and mortar.  I began by cutting up the blocks of Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate    which we were using with a knife.  This chocolate conveniently comes in wrapped ounce blocks which are divided in two so I put one half block in the small brass mortar at a time and began to grind and beat it down.  I was impressed that it did begin to produce something like a powder, fine beads of the dark chocolate.

Having pounded for a good number of minutes I sieved the first round of chocolate to get it as fine as possible.  Back went the larger lumps for another beating.  With each of my three blocks this process was repeated at least three times and I think to create this mere ounce and a half of bruised chocolate took me something like an hour!  Not a technique or recipe I shall contemplate using on a regular basis.

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All in an hour’s work – my efforts at bruising chocolate very fine

As I say I found the use of the term ‘to bruise’ fascinating.  It conjures up images things being bodily damaged and battered both in the sense of bruising the human skin and the bruising of fruit.  In general the idea of bruising has a less than positive association.  As I was pounding the chocolate I was reminded of a classic example of the negative connotations of bruising, the King James translation of Genesis 3:15, when God tells the serpent after he has tempted Eve

‘And I will put enmitie betweene thee and the woman, and betweene thy seed and her seed: it shal bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heele.’

I decided to see if Dr Johnson could offer a helpful 18th century perspective on a definition of ‘to bruise’ and sure enough his 1755 dictionary gives the following description for the verb:

‘To crush or mangle with the heavy blow of something not edged or pointed; to crush by any weight; to beat into gross powder; to beat together coarsely.’

What interested me was that this definition wasn’t simply ‘to bruise’ as in the sense of smashing and damaging but also in the sense of creating a powder which suggested perhaps a more productive outcome. The OED didn’t provide any further elaboration on this idea of creating a powder by bruising ingredients and merely noted one definition of ‘to bruise’ as ‘To beat small, pound, crush, bray, grind down‘.  However it did add in brackets after its definition of ‘to bruise’ as breaking something down or into pieces (a use it points out is now obsolete) that in this sense it was apparently French.  Perhaps Bell’s description of the way to prepare the chocolate was more French than English.

In my cursory exploration through some 18th and 19th century cookbooks there were few uses of the term ‘to bruise’ for preparing ingredients and when it did occur it either referred to bruising fruit for jam making (Nutt, 1789) or bruising caraway seeds for a cake (MacDonald 1809).  Neither quite as exotic (or time consuming) as bruising chocolate for biscuits.

After I had finally bruised my way through the ounce and a half of chocolate it was time to combine it with the other ingredients. The fine beads of chocolate gave the resulting mixture an appearance almost like a very delicate Stracciatella ice cream mixture.  It was also a very runny and Mya and I were unsure how it might behave once spooned onto the paper.  We went for fairly small penny sized biscuits and baked them in a 325˚F oven for 15 minutes.  The results of this first batch were not bad but we had forgotten to sprinkle the sugar on top and decided that they would benefit from being more crisp.  To help us achieve this we made the next batch slightly smaller in size and left them in for longer  – 20 minutes this time.  The results were definitely improved.  For the third and final batch we gave them 25 minutes and these were even better.  The chocolate taste was subtle but definite and the crispness of the final batch suggested that they would be the perfect accompaniment for an after dinner coffee.

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The finished biscuits; small, crisp and very tasty!

We didn’t try spooning any of the mixture into a buttered paper case as suggested by the recipe.  Ivan Day has written a great blog post about cakes and paper cases but we didn’t have the right materials to trial this approach for the chocolate biscuits. It’s an experiment that will have to wait for another day.  Mya and I have agreed however, that however noble our attempts historic chocolate bruising, next time we might try the recipe with grated chocolate.  I wonder if anyone would notice the difference?

A Young Ladies’ Guide to gingerbread making

21 Apr

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a sample of cakes and biscuits baked from Elizabeth Marshall’s Young Ladies’ Guide; it includes Amy’s beautifully iced rice cake on the far right and Mya’s almond cake on the far left

Over the last few months some of the Toronto historic cooks have been meeting up to sample each others attempts at recreating recipes from various 18th and 19th century cookbooks.  The sessions have been generously hosted and ably organised by Mya, whose dedication to historical accuracy and passion for pratical problem solving in the kitchen is the perfect combination for following in the footsteps of the cookbook writers of the past.  We’ve been concentrating on cake and biscuit recipes and so far we’ve looked at Duncan MacDonald’s The New London Family Cook (1808), Mrs Dalgairn’s The Practice of Cookery (1841) and Richard Briggs’ The English Art of Cookery According to the Present Practice (1798). This month’s text was The Young Ladies’ Guide in the Art of Cookery, Being a Collection of useful Receipts Published for the Convenience of the Ladies Committed to her Care by Elizabeth Marshall in 1777.  As someone who attended a Ladies’ College (worlds apart from Mrs Marshall’s establishment I’m sure) I was particularly pleased to have the chance to look more closely recipes from this book, even more so since Mrs Marshall ran a school near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a part of the world I know and love.

 

According to her Wikipedia entry Mrs Marshall was born in Northumberland in 1738 and ran a cookery school in Newcastle between about 1770 and 1790.  In her introduction to The Young Ladies’ Guide she explains that she has compiled the cookbook ‘at [the] … urgent and frequently repeated request’ of her students who wanted ‘an assistance of this sort to [their] … memory’.  As such it offers a fascinating compendium not only of 18th century recipes but the sort of recipes that ‘young ladies’ might be expected to know how to make. The cake and biscuit chapter contains staples of the 18th century kitchen like a seed cake, fruit cakes, queen cakes, Shrewsbury cakes and macaroons but also has some less common inclusions.  We were all intrigued by Spaw Biscuits until the Oxford English Dictionary and Dr Johnson solved the riddle; the definition in Johnson’s dictionary reads ‘[from Spaw, place in Germany] a place famous for mineral waters; any mineral water’, ie. a biscuit to help to take away the taste of nasty, sulphurous mineral water, that you might drink in a spa town.  We wondered about the taste of Musk Cakes, using one grain of musk, and on exactly what sort of occasion Corporation Cakes might have been eaten (did towns celebrate their day of coporation?).

 

One spice which Mrs Marshall includes in a number of her recipes (including the one for Spaw Biscuits), is coriander seed and I was curious to know what it would taste like in a gingerbread cake recipe so this is the one I decided to attempt.

 

To make little Gingerbread Cakes

 

‘Take two pounds and a half of flour, a pound and a quarter of treacle, half a pound of butter, half a pound of fine sugar, one ounce of coriander seeds, ditto of beat ginger and carraway seeds; beat your seeds and mix them with your ginger, melt your butter, sugar, and treacle; then make it into a stiff paste, roll them pretty thin, and cut them with a drinking glass bottom: Bake them in a slow oven’.

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my ingredients for little gingerbread cakes

I was particularly interested to find out how the taste combination of ginger, caraway and coriander might work. Mya explained that coriander was a spice more commonly used in the earlier centuries and gradually caraway became more popular so in some ways this recipe marks a transition point, combining the older spice with its newer and more favoured rival.  It was interesting to see too that Mrs Marshall’s pepper cake recipe used the same mix of spices, caraway, coriander and ginger, no pepper as the title might suggest (but then gingerbread recipes with no ginger were common too, the names just suggesting a spiced cake of some sort).

 

While Mrs Marshall might have praised my enthusiasm my actual experimentation was far from the perfection I suspect she might have hoped from her young ladies.  I decided that I would reduce the quantities in half – these 18th century recipes always seem to use such large amounts. This was part one of my downfall.  Still being in a kitchen equipment limbo with some utensils in the UK, some in storage and some in Canada raised other challenges.  I had to improvise my pestle and mortar by quite literally beating my caraway and coriander seeds with a rolling pin in a plastic bag. (well, I admit, I first tried to pulse the caraway seeds in a mug with our hand blender but only succeeded in scattering them to the four corners of the kitchen)  Then I looked at the coriander seeds and wondered if an 18th century cook would have used them with all the chaff left in?  Was I meant to remove it, or was it simply because I hadn’t beaten my coriander seeds for long enough?  (sometimes 18th century instructions have some very long times for beating or stirring things – for example the recipe for the Rice Cake calls for you to beat the ingredients all together for a full hour!) Since I wasn’t sure about the coriander chaff I left it in.

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my beaten coriander and caraway – as you can see beating seems to have little effect on caraway

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melting the butter, sugar and treacle

Now this is the bit of the story where my recipe really begins to deviate.  I had checked my cupboards to make sure I had all the ingredients but clearly not well enough.  My first failure was with the white sugar. Here I was just a tiny bit short so I added a bit of brown sugar, reasoning that as the recipe called for butter, treacle and sugar to be melted it wouldn’t make too much difference. Then I discovered that the treacle which I’d weighed and of which thought I had enough was about an ounce short.  What would the disorganised 18th century housewife have done I wondered?  She wasn’t about to throw away her precious mixture of expensive ingredients.  A quick survey of my cupboards offered up honey and golden syrup.  Since the latter wasn’t an option for the 18th century cook I decided to add some honey to make up for the shortfall.  But it was only when I came to add the mountains of flour that I realised the real issue; I had calculated that I needed 9 ounces of treacle, when of course half of 1 ¼ lb is actually 10 ounces.  That would explain why the mixture was almost impossible to bind together.  Again I was determined not to be entirely defeated and so added a little more of my honey in order to get a mixture which would actually stick together.  By now of course it was probably far removed from the original and the recipe’s instruction to ‘roll pretty thin’ the dough wasn’t easy to follow.

 

The next thing I had to do was to ‘cut them with a drinking glass bottom’.  Now most drinking glass bottoms I’ve looked at are not well designed to use as a biscuit cutter; it’s their top lip that’s far more suited. I decided that perhaps this instruction had to be taken with a practical pinch of salt.  Once you turn the glass upside down to use it, the top is actually the bottom (in the same way descriptions of shoes traditionally discuss the sole first, as this is the way the shoe would be placed on the shoemaker’s bench).

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cutting out with a drinking glass bottom – you’ll notice that my dough does not look at all pliable!

The recipe called for the cakes to be cooked in a slow oven.  Feeling a little unsure about how hot this would be I cooked the first batch at 325 degrees for 15 minutes; I then tried reducing the temperature to 300 degrees as I felt that they might be cooking a bit too quickly.  And in the end all my ‘cakes’ were very hard, a danger to dental work, and quite dark in colour.  The taste however was good.  I don’t know if all this historic cooking is altering my palette but the more caraway I taste the more I enjoy it.  I found it difficult to taste the coriander in the finished biscuit but the combination of spices worked well.  And if the biscuits were to be eaten with a fortified wine then maybe a hard texture wouldn’t have been so bad.  (I’ve now come to the conclusion that if in doubt about when an historic cake or biscuit was meant to be eaten consider the ‘cakes and ale’ principle and indeed so many of these recipes produce something that would work beautifully with something a little stronger than water)

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two versions of the little gingerbread cakes – Rosemary’s are on the left and mine are on the right

Interestingly Rosemary had tried the same recipe as me so we were able to compare our results.  Rosemary’s gingerbread cakes were much thinner and darker (but she of course had not added any interloping honey to her recipe).  They also had a greater aniseed taste which we put down to the fact that she had used ground coriander, giving it a stronger flavour of coriander.  I wonder what Mrs Marshall would have made of our efforts? I imagine her as an 18th century Mary Berry, judging the technical challenge she’d set her girls; mine would definitely be marked down for their untidy, rustic appearance, but might have received a reassuring smile for a pleasing taste and an acknowledgement that a little bit of creative pantry searching was better than wasting all those valuable ingredients.

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Mark’s York Cakes – the recipe contained no sugar

Other recipes which were tried for the evening were the seed cake – oh why did seed cakes go out of fashion, they are so tasty! , an iced rice cake – lovely and light, the delectable queen cakes, heart cakes (this one from MacDonald’s recipes), the pepper cake – a curious, paneforte like rich cake surely to be enjoyed with a good spirit, an almond cake and York cakes.

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Peggy’s seed cake – such a good flavour

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Kathryn’s Pepper Cake; don’t be fooled by it’s chocolately looking colour – that all comes from the spices and treacle

We’re going to be taking a summer break, but I’ll be looking forward to the autumn and the chance to try out more of Mrs Marshall’s Young Ladies’ recipes ……

Learning your limes

24 Mar

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limes on sale in my local Loblaws grocery store

While we were preparing for the Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus event at Fort York this February I was struck by the fact that none of the recipes that we were testing included any limes.  As a commonplace citrus fruit into today’s kitchen it seemed like either a surprising or deliberate omission.  Bridget, the Heritage Food Programme Officer at the Fort, confirmed that it was the latter.  ‘Well,’ she said, when I asked her why we weren’t making any biscuits or cakes with lime in, the recipe, ‘it’s because they didn’t use limes for cooking cakes or biscuits in the 18th or early 19th century’.

So when do limes start to become part of the baking artillery?  Today it’s impossible to come across an on-trend cookery book without some sort of recipe for a delicate lime sponge or biscuits iced with a lime infused frosting (see for example the recipe for mini lime-syrup sponges in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – p.242).  In fact it often feels as if limes are the 21st century sophisticated version of lemons, adding zest to sparkling water and gin and tonics, packing a punch in Mexican food or adding a sharp contrast to the sweetness of Vietnamese dishes at smart, upscale restaurants.  But I was interested to try and trace something of the lime’s culinary history.

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A gin and tonic with lime – the perfect end to a day

The fruit lime, as the OED defines, is ‘the globular fruit of the tree Citrus Medica, var. acida, smaller than the lemon and of a more acid taste; more explicitly sour lime. Its juice is much used as a beverage. Sweet lime n. Citrus Medica, var. Limetta.’ The OED’s earliest cited mention in English is in 1638 when T. Herbert writes in Some Yeares Trav. ‘The Ile [Mohelia] inricht us with many good things;..Orenges, Lemons, Lymes’.  The lime gets a brief mention in the epic poem The Task, by the 18th century writer William Cowper which talks about ‘The ruddier orange and the paler lime’.  As a cooking ingredient however it seems to get short shrift throughout the 18th and 19th century in England.  The only place where it seems to surface is when the juice is used in a beverage.  For example the London Gazette in 1704 talks about ‘A Parcel of extraordinary good Rum and Lime-juice’.  And in 1774 a P V Fithian records ‘We had after Dinner, Lime Punch and Madaira.’

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lime juice in the age of convenience shopping

Of course lime juice wasn’t only good as a mixer for alcoholic drinks.  The importance of lime juice to the British navy in the 19th century as a method of staving off attacks of scurvy for sailors going for long periods without fresh fruits and vegetables was so great that it earned sailors and by extension all Brits the sobriquet of ‘limeys’.  There’s a fascinating account of the complacency and misunderstanding which surrounded the use of lime juice (and that of other citrus fruits) to control scurvy on naval voyages on the Idle Words blog.
Lime takes time to emerge in other British culinary products.  For example it’s not until the 1930s that the reassuringly British Rose’s lime marmalade appeared. Interestingly the strength of the original Mr Rose’s business was built on supplying the British Navy with lime juice but it seems that it took him a number of years to experiment with it as flavour for marmalade.

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Rose’s lime marmalade, a nursery staple from the 1930s

In fact until relevantly recently the most likely mention of ‘lime’ in British cook books is likely to refer to the calcium oxide product, for use in cleaning and other household tasks.  Not the lovely vibrant green lime at all.  For example in Mrs Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management she advises that ‘To preserve bright Grates or Fire-irons from Rust’ one should ‘Make a strong paste of fresh lime and water, and with a fine brush smear it as thickly as possible over all the polished surface requiring preservation. By this simple means, all the grates and fire-irons in an empty house may be kept for months free from harm, without further care or attention.’
So back to the issue of limes in baking.  Perhaps the best known dessert recipe using limes is the iconic Key Lime Pie from Key West, Florida (anyone who watched last year’s Great British Bake Off will remember Ryan’s perfect Key Lime Pie that wowed judges Mary and Paul).  It appears that its it exact lineage has been clouded in the mists of time but most stories contain the following suggestion, that the dish originated with the cook of William Curry, the first millionaire of Key West.  The dessert used the distinctive key limes grown in the area (the 1926 storm wiped out most of the local production) and condensed milk.  The comparative isolation of the islands, without cows, meant that the only source of milk was the sweetened condensed milk, first made available by canned condensed milk in mid 19th century before the advent of modern refrigeration.  As many of the websites I looked at suggested, the smaller key limes are very different from the more familiar vibrant green lime variety and a true Key Lime Pie should be tinged a delicate yellow, not a strong green colour.

The difficulty comes when you try and pin down the first written Key Lime Pie recipe.  I’ve been looking for a number of days now without success.  A number of sources suggested that I wouldn’t have any success pre-1930 and so I began looking at a number of American classics from The Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer’s Boston cookbook to James Beard’s American cookery.  None of them contains a recipe for Key Lime Pie.  The very helpful woman in the Cookbook Store, Toronto pointed out to me that it might well be that the recipe first appeared on the back of a condensed milk tin.

In fact finding any recipe using limes for much of the 20th century is tricky.  I felt hopeful when I looked at the promisingly titled Zestful recipes for every meal: Pure Gold and Silver Seal oranges, lemons, grapefruit published in California sometime in the 1930s by the Mutual Orange Distributers.  Alas, no lime recipes. When you do fine pre-1950s lime recipes they tend to be for cocktails or for marinating fish. For example The Modern Cook Book for the Busy Woman, by Mabel Claire, published in 1932 contains a recipe for a lime rickey and a non alcoholic lime cocktail.  Mrs Vaughan Moody’s 1931 Cook Book tells you how to make a lime sherbet with 12 limes and a Hawaiian cocktail to marinate fish with limes.  The Patio Cook Book from 1951 includes Joe Tilden’s Garlic Sauce (created we’re told by one of California’s most famous amateur chefs) which incorporates lime to create a sauce perfect for French bread, fish or jacket potatoes.

By this point I was beginning to feel really despondent – where was I going to find any written proof of the beginning of our love affair with lime as a baking ingredient?  Well, my perusing on a local bookshop shelf of American cookbooks did reveal something slightly more helpful.  A reprint of the first Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book from 1950 contained a range of lime recipes; its Lime Meringue Pie recipe was contributed by a member of staff from Florida (could this be a Key Lime Pie in disguise?) and it was accompanied by a Lime Cake Pudding and a Lime Chiffon Pie.  At last, the lime seems to have made its mark on the baking scene!

There’s plenty of gaps in this culinary account of limes, especially in terms of their use in Mexican, Indian and south East Asian cooking (one of my favourite discoveries in Singapore last year was lime juice, refreshingly sharp, with just a hint of sweetness below, the perfect drink for a bakingly hot day).  I would love to be presented with an earlier recipe using limes in the baking of something sweet.  And please, please do let me know if you come across a recipe for Key Lime Pie pre-1950.  For this amateur historic cook there’s plenty more lime learning to do.

Kensington Palace Recipes 4 – Sebastian’s stain remover

10 Mar

 

 

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Title page from the Compleat Servant-Maid by Hannah Woolley (1677) image from Design your life

Would you turn to Nigella for tips on household cleaning?  Or how about consulting Jamie about how to treat a common cold, or reduce a swelling?  Our modern separation of food from medicine from cleaning products is one which would probably have seemed strange to our ancestors who would have expected to produce a range of all three at home.  Many books which we might now term cookery books were so much more than this; offering the housewife or housekeeper advice on a diversity of household management topics, including the making of herbal remedies and preparations for cleaning clothes, furniture and textiles.  A sample of some of their titles not only underlines this point but also demonstrates the value placed on the skills of good household management:

 

  • Domestic management, or the art of conducting a family; with instructions to servants in general.  Addressed to young housekeepers, c.1800

 

  • The Housekeepers Manual of Cookery and Domestic Economy, 1859

 

  • Housekeeping A Guide to Domestic Management by Mrs Humphry (Madge of Truth) 1893

 

As Mrs Humphry warned readers in her introduction ‘Good housekeepers are comparatively rare.  To keep house efficiently needs a combination of qualities which Nature seems niggardly in doling out.’  Books of domestic management therefore were needed to guide women in the arts of housekeeping, so that they could be an asset to their husband/employer.

 

Medicines and cleaning products, just like cakes, soups and preserves, would all be prepared using  what was known as a ‘recipe’ or more commonly before the 19th century a ‘receipt’.  The Oxford English Dictionary etymology shows how the word developed from the Latin verb recipere, to receive, which in its 2nd singular imperative, was written by physicians at the top of their prescriptions.  The earliest use the OED cites for recipe/receipt being used to describe the ingredients and methods for making an edible preparation is 1595 when the Widowes Treasure talks of  ‘A notable receite to make Ipocras.’  And in his 1755 dictionary Dr Johnson defines ‘receipt’ (derived from recipe) as a ‘prescription of ingredients for any composition’.

 

It’s in this broad context of household management that we find in the lengthily titled The Housewife, being a most useful assistant in all domestic concerns, whether in a town or country situation (1785?) by Laetitia Montague, (Sometime companion to a lady in one of the first families in the Kingdom) the fascinating ‘recipe’ For an earwig gotten into the ear;

 

‘Get rue, and stamp it in a mortar; then strain off the juice, and put it into the ear; then lie down to rest on the contrary ear, and when you awake the juice will come out and the earwig will be dead.

 

The juices of wormwood, southernwood, and rue equal quantities, put into the ear will also kill any vermin that is got into it.’

 

While Mrs Humphry (1893) advises that To Dislodge a Fish Bone from the Throat;

 

‘Take an emetic compounded of four grains of tartar emetic dissolved in a tumberful of warm water.  Immediately afterwards, drink down the white of four eggs.  This will be efficacious in causing sickness and the bone will probably come away with it’

 

No-one offered me a medicinal receipt in my Kensington book of Historic Royal Recipes but the contribution from Sebastian was a receipt for the cleaning of household linen.  Sebastian is the softly spoken Deputy Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, full of wise and witty advice and a fount of knowledge on a whole host of subjects including the furniture of royal palaces (look out for his Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber opening at Hampton Court on 27 March!)  He was also responsible for handling the return of one of my favourite portraits to Hampton Court, the wonderful Van Dyck painting of the young Princess Mary (eldest daughter of Charles I) which is believed to have hung in the palace while Charles was living there under house arrest during the English Civil War.

 

Now, I’m more than prepared to try most of the recipes in my book but this one I have not verified by practical experimentation (not only did I not want to mess about with the necessary ingredients, I didn’t have any ink stained clothing to practise on).  You’ll be even more delighted to hear that this means that there is no photographic evidence to accompany it.  Here is Sebastian’s recipe (courtesy of Hannah Woolley) in full:

 

To get Spots of Ink out of Linne Cloth

 

‘Before that you suffer it to be washed, lay it all night in urine as if you were washing it in water; then lay it in more urine another night and then rub it again, and so do till you find they be quite out.’

 

Hannah Woolley, The Compleat Servant-Maid (1677)

 

It’s ironic in a way how important urine has been in the preparation of cloth and the care of clothes, given how much time is spent trying to remove human waste from laundry.  Fulling the process of cleansing newly made cloth to remove impurities and make it thicker used urine (or wash as it was known) to soften and whiten the cloth.  The medieval toilet, the garderobe, gained its name because clothing was hung there so that the ammonia rich environment would kill the fleas and other insects.  As Hannah Woolley’s spot remover demonstrates urine continued to be important in the care of clothes and urine from chamber pots and privies was collected for the purpose.

 

Of course a fabric cleaning recipe is a very appropriate choice for a curator of historic dress (this was not a technique we ever used to try and get rid of ink spots at Kensington) and despite my reluctance to begin testing this within the confines of our modern apartment I am fascinated by the history of keeping clothes clean, not least because a brief trawl through the history of clothes laundering and cleaning quickly reminds you how pain free modern appliances and commercial dry cleaning have made the business of keeping clothes clean.  No longer the messy, arduous and sometimes highly dangerous business of preparing your own soap and urine stain removers, poking clothes through mangles and lifting heavy piles of soaked washing from boiling coppers.  When you next lift your clothes from your user-friendly washing machine or treat the coffee spill on your shirt with a neatly packaged, pre-prepared stain remover you can be glad that you don’t have to think about setting your urine aside for future use!  Thanks for the recipe Sebastian.  See below for a few more clothes cleaning recipes and links to some of my favourite historic laundry pictures.

 

Recipes

 

Housekeeping A Guide to Domestic Management by Mrs Humphry (Madge of Truth,) 1893

‘To take out a wax candle or sperm stains Lay a piece of blotting-paper on the stain.  Put a live coal from the fire into a kitchen spoon, hold the spoon on the blotting paper.  The heat will cause the latter to absorb the grease’

 

The New England Cook Book, or Young Housekeeper’s Guide, n.d

 

36. To clean Silk Stockings.

Wash the stockings in mildly warm hard soap suds, rinse them in soap suds and if you wish to have them of a flesh color, put in a little rose, pink or cochineal powder; if you prefer a bluish cast, put in a little indigo. Hang them up to dry without wringing, when nearly dry, iron them on the right side, till perfectly so. If you wish silks of any kind to have a gloss on them, never rinse them without soap in the water.

 

39. To clean Light Kid Gloves.

Magnesia, moist bread and India Rubber, are all of them good to clean light kid gloves, if rubbed on thoroughly.

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton, 1861

Silks, when washed, should be dried in the shade, on a linen-horse, taking care that they are kept smooth and unwrinkled. If black or blue, they will be improved if laid again on the table, when dry, and sponged with gin, or whiskey, or other white spirit.

 

The Easiest Way In Housekeeping And Cooking. Adapted To Domestic Use Or Study In Classes by Helen Campbell, 1903

 

‘If any fruit-stains are on napkins or table-cloths, lay the stained part over a bowl, and pour on boiling water till they disappear. Ink can be taken out if the spot is washed while fresh, in cold water, or milk and water; and a little salt will help in taking out wine-stains. Machine-oil must have a little lard or butter rubbed on the spot, which is then to be washed in warm suds. Never rub soap directly on any stain, as it sets it. For iron-rust, spread the garment in the sun, and cover the spot with salt; then squeeze on lemon-juice enough to wet it. This is much safer and quite as sure as the acids sold for this purpose. In bright sunshine the spot will disappear in a few hours.’

 

Pictures

The Fortress of Konigstein: Courtyard with the Magdalenenburg by Bernardo Bellotto, 1756-8, which shows on the right hand side women putting the linen out on the grass to dry and bleach in the sun.  (Manchester City Art Galleries)

Manual Labour: An Interior with Three Figures Folding Laundry by Wyn Casbolt, 1943 (UCL Art Gallery)

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Morland, c.1765-82 (Tate Galleries)

Restored Cathedral with Washing on the Drying Green by H Eadie, 1907 (Dunblane Museum)

Y Lein Ddillad (The Washing Line) by Helen Steinthal, 1964-1966 (Bangor University)

Worth its weight….

17 Jan

This week at Fort York I was making a pound cake.

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Some of the pound cake ingredients; the grated rind of a lemon, just under 1/4 cup of sherry and eight eggs, all combined with a pound of flour, sugar and butter

The OED defines a pound cake as   ‘A large rich cake, originally one in which one pound of each of the principal ingredients is used’ and uses Hannah Glasse’s 1747 Art of Cookery recipe as a demonstration of the principle; ‘Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream, then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven. For change, you may put in a pound of currants, clean washed and picked.’  The pound cake was a staple of 18th and 19th century cookbook; the one I was making came from the 1753 Lady’s Companion.  An element which has really struck me with these historic recipes is the great flavour the cakes have, even without many of the flavourings, like vanilla, that we consider essential.  The finely pounded sugar gives the cake a lovely light texture and the sherry, just under 1/4 of a cup, gave it just the right level of flavour.

 

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Beating up the eggs. Despite the fact that this cake has no other raising agent the eggs weren’t separated, just beaten together

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 The pound cake in a Kugelhopf style tin, often known in the 19th century as a Turk’s cap, because of it’s turban like appearance (cf. the OED 1859 quote F. S. Cooper Ironmongers’ Catal. 178   Jelly and Cake Moulds… Turk’s Cap.)

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The cake out of the oven; it was baked at 325  degrees F for almost two hours.

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The end result; the cake was being used for an event at the Fort so we couldn’t try it fully but a little piece that fell off the base allowed us to get a glimpse of what it might be like.  

Do you care for caraway?

9 Jan

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The seed cake, with its fine, close texture

My visit to Fort York today gave me the opportunity to try the seed cake which I made on Sunday.  With a pound of butter and sugar the cake was beautifully sweet, with a fine, dense texture, studded with the distinctive caraway seeds.  The seeds have a strong, almost aniseedy flavour, which felt strange to my modern palate at first but which is fast growing on me.  Mya felt that the cake was too dry but I actually quite liked the texture; the cake sliced very well and was the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

The OED describes caraway as  ‘An umbelliferous plant ( Carum carui): its small fruits, commonly called ‘caraway-seeds’, are aromatic and carminative; they are used in cakes, sweetmeats, etc., and yield a volatile oil’.  Dr Johnson, in his 1755 dictionary, talks about the seeds being used in medicine and confectionary.  It was a popular flavouring in Britain for many classic cakes and biscuits; as well as the seed cake made on Sunday caraway seeds are a key ingredient for the Shrewsbury biscuits we made today.

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Shrewsbury biscuits, again with caraway seeds, although some recipes have currants, and pricked with a fork

As well as the Shrewsbury biscuits we made little fine cakes (Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipe) for the upcoming Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball to be held at Fort York on 19 January, and started some marmalade with bitter Sicilian oranges from Mya’s carefully tended orange tree.

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Little fine cakes – as indeed they are!  There’s no flavouring, just a lovely soft texture punctuated by juicy currants

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some of Mya’s bitter Sicilian oranges