Old Notes in Old Books, Festive edition

A lot of old books I pick up are loaded with bits of notes from advice to piratically re-writing recipes to telling me to avoid them all together, and sometimes I really luck out and get hand written recipes shares by someone’s aunt or mother or copied from who knows where.

Figured today I would go through some of my older books and share some of my more festive ones!

First are a couple of recipes glued to a blank page that was held on to an old, and very tattered, copy of “Household Management” I picked up many years ago. It was actually in such horrible shape, the dealer priced it around $4-$5 just because of the stuff that was held to it with elastics.

Gingerbread recipe scanned

The first part of the recipe reads:

“Mrs. Henry’s Gingerbread
1 cup molasses 2 tabsp butter
1teasp cinnamon & 1 of ginger
1teasp of soda 2 cups flour
3/4 cup barley water pinch of salt”

I found the rest very difficult to read word for word, but it appears to be the basic instructions for a hot water gingerbread.
“Put boiling water [into] the molasses
ginger and cinnamon into flour
melt butter & put into last [?]
? dissolve soda into a little 
[milk?] and mix well & bake
If you want it richer add
a [??te] more butter.

 While I don’t have a date for this recipe, it is glue to a piece of paper, along with another recipe I’ll be sharing next, that is dated “’93” and given the appearance of the paper and that I purchased the book in the early 90’s, it’s very likely to be 1893.

scotch fruit cake recipe scan

“Scotch Fruit Cake
1 1/2 lb flour
1lb fine Sugar White
12 eggs
12 oz butter
6 oz each citron, lemon
& orange peel
60z Almonds
1 Nutmeg, Wine glass
brandy. Strew Caraway Comfits on top”

This is a name of fruit cake I don’t recall seeing in modern context, however, a couple of 19th century cook books instruct the readers to layer cake batter in the pan and then strew it over with the fruit mixture (which is finely chopped or sliced and then floured) and then alternate finishing with a cake layer. In this case, I could guess a cake layer with an extra topping of the comfits.

In my 1877, “Home Cook Book”, came a somewhat more modern recipe for “Mrs Watts Xmass Cake” that the writer said to have made in 1936.

Watts Xmass Cake recipe scan

Xmass cake part 2

Not my best work at transcribing and I have to admit a bit of defeat here…

“Mrs. Watts. Xmas Cake
10 eggs
1 lb butter
1 [lb] [?] . sugar
2 cups flour (1 lb) good [?]
2 teas – baking powder
1 lb. cherries (candied)
1/2 lb almonds
leave whole these two
2 rings green pineapple (1/2 [?]-)
1 piece citron peel (about 4oz)
2 [piece] orange [peel]
1 1.2 teaspoons [?] water
3 drops oil of lemon
2 wine glasses milk, or brandy
1 winglass vanilla &
1 wineglass milk
flour Fruit night before
with 2 more cups flour –
add 1 lb – dessicated cocoanut
2 lbs light raisins (whole sultana)
(put [these?] in wet towel and rub)

line pan with brown paper
well buttered
[small diagram] . Put layers one
end wise and one across –

Have oven 250° & cook 5 hours.

This is the cake I made at
[5. ???] in 1936″

I’m really not quite sure what some of the items were that I put down as [?] though I did have some guesses but I really can’t be sure. Even the location at the end… pretty sure it wasn’t the “SS Glencairn”, but what it actually is, I can not say.

Well, that is all for tonight…


When is a Cup Cake a Cupcake?

Watching cooking shows on the television is something I haven’t done in a long time, but it has come to my attention, through other viewers, that a British cooking show called “The Great British Bake Off” has made some claim to the origin of the name for “cupcakes”, being they were once baked in cups and this is how they received their name.

(*edit: I finally managed to watch this episode, I must give some credit to a nod to the “cup cake” being measured by cups, though I still wish the ‘cooked in a cup’ was not so definitive on the show)

Out of curiosity, I did a quick search to see if this was the prominent thought on this matter and found two articles of some interest. The first being on Wikipedia where the writer suggests that two separate entities evolved, one being a cake that used cup measures giving it the name (opposed to other cakes that were measured in weight) and one that received it’s name through being a cake baked in a cup. Amelia Simmons , in American Cookery was credited as having the first cake baked in a cup, while the actual term “cupcake” being said to be first from the 1828 book “Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats” by Eliza Leslie.

This is where I’ll bring up the other article (or really, articles), “Food History Jottings” on this very subject. If you click on the link, you will see Ivan Day’s three articles on this very subject. There is a fair bit of information here (which I sadly only clicked after spending a few hours reading through recipes and books), it’s pretty decent and I’d suggest the read if this is of interest to you. What I would like to do though is elaborate a bit, but not on cupcake papers or particularly where we are on cupcakes today, but more on when a “cup cake” is not a “cupcake” (as we know them now) and when they changed to their present status.

Gem Pan
Gem Pan, one of the many different sorts of pans that were suggested for cupcakes, along with larger, single pans, and basins.
Cakes are Baked in…

“Soft Cakes in little pans.
One and a half pound sugar, half a pound of butter, rubbed into two pounds flour, add one glas wine, one do. rose water, 18 eggs and a nutmeg”

“A light Cake to bake in small cups.
Half a pound sugar, half a pound butter, rubbed in to two pounds flour, one glass wine, one do rose water, two do. emptins, a nutmeg, cinnamon and curants.”

Indeed Amelia Simmons’s recipe (above) “A light Cake to bake in small cups” and recipes where cakes are baked in pans or ‘little pans’ suggest something “cupcake” like in our minds, but nothing present in her book is actually called a “cupcake”. Eliza Leslie’s recipe, however, does suggests a “cup cake”, such as we associate the name with today in this recipe of 5 eggs, “two large tea-cups full of molasses” and “the same of brown sugar”, “the same of fresh butter”, 1 cup rich milk, 5 cups flour, 1/2 cup of powdered allspice and cloves and 1/2 cup of ginger which is cooked in small buttered tins.  However, with her recipes, and while two are indeed cooked in buttered “small tins” or “little tins”, another recipe has the “cup cake” simply baked in a buttered “tin pan”. This, unfortunately, is hardly proof that the term “cupcake” originated from the cakes being cooked in cups.

“Cup Cake. This is about as good as a pound cake, and is cheaper. One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs, well beat together, and baked in pans, or cups. Bake twenty minutes, and no more.”
The Lady’s Annual Register, and Housewife’s Memorandum-book for 1838
By Caroline Howard Gilman

This same recipe, word for word, also shows up in a later published, and expanded version, of The American Frugal Housewife by By Mrs. Lydia Maria Child in 1841, which serves as a lovely, and early, example of a “cup cake” recipe actually baked in cups (as opposed to tins). The catch here, of course, is that it was also baked in pans, as were earlier versions by the same name.

In “Every lady’s book”, “By a Lady of New York”, published 1845, we have before us several “cup cake” recipes. The “Common Cup Cake” batter is cooked in “a couple of two quart basins”,  one of them is unspecified, two are cooked in square pans and then cut up into smaller squares and the last is most interesting…

“Tea Cup Cake, without Eggs.–One cup of butter; two cups of sugar; one cup of sour milk or cream; a bit of volatile salts, the size of a small nutmeg, or a teaspoonful of salæratus; half a nutmeg grated; a gill of brandy; and a teaspoonful of essence, or the ring of a lemon grated; use flour enough to make a stiff batter; bear it well; put it an inch and a half deep in buttered basins, and bake in a quick oven.”

The name itself, does suggest it could be baked in “tea cups” or at least something pretty darn close in shape. However, going back to Eliza Leslie’s recipe for “Cup Cake”, her “tea cups” are clearly meant as measures “Two large tea-cups full of molasses” which could very well be what was meant by “Tea Cup Cake” regardless of the basins that were used for baking. Similar examples of tea cups being used as measures can be found in “The American Matron”, 1851, where one “cup cake” recipe is measured with “tea-cups” and another “cup cake” recipe is even measured with “coffee cups”! Also in 1881, “Housekeeping in the Blue Grass: A New and Practical Cook”, a few “cup cake” recipes are also measured with a “tea-cupful”.

Of course tea cups were actually used in baking and not just in reference to Simmons’s “small cups”. With a little searching, I found a recipe in “The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook”, by T. Williams, published in 1717 showing  a recipe for Citron Cheesecakes being baked in “teacups”.  In “The London Art of Cookery”, by John Farley, published in 1789, “Citron Pudding” is again baked in “tea-cups” and then turned out of the cups onto a china dish. Of course various basins, tins and custard cups existed for the purpose of baking. This brings us to “Queens Cakes” (also mentioned in “Food History Jottings”, linked previously), where the recipes do not only compare but also relate to each other in some ways.

Queen Cakes??

If you looked at the article, you will see pictures of the various types of tins these were baked in, being typically fancy little shapes and in sizes not too distant from that of a modern cup-cake. Here is an example of two early recipes for “Queen Cake”:

“To Make Queens Cakes” (1725)

“You must take a Pound of dry’d Flour, a Pound of refin’d Sugar sifted, and a Pound of Currants wash’d, pick’d, and rubb’d clean, and a Pound of Butter wash’d very well, and rub it into the Flour and Sugar, with a little beaten Mace, and a little Orange-Flower-Water; beat ten Eggs, but half the Whites, work it all well together with your Hands, and put in the Currants’ sift over it double refin’d Sugar, and put them immediately into a gentle Oven to bake.”
“Court Cookery: or, The Compleat English Cook” by Robert Smith

“Queen Cakes” (1739)

“Take a Pound of sugar, and beat it fine, four Yolks and two Whites of Eggs, half a Pound of Butter, a little Rose-water, six Spoonfuls of warm Cream, a Pound of Currans, and as much Flour as will make it up; stir them well together, and put them into your Patty-pans, being well butter’d; bake them in an Oven, almost as hot as for Manchet, for half an Hour; then take them out and glaze them, and let them stand but a little after the Glazing is on, to rise.”

The House-keeper’s Pocket-Book, by Sarah Harrison

Though early, and with some differences, they read similarly to a pound cake with currants, flower water and are for making “cakes” as opposed to just one or two large cakes. (note: In the next century, mention of flower waters start to cease and currants are not always present) They also bare a fair bit of resemblance to Simmons’s “A light Cake to bake in small cups” mentioned at the beginning of this article, with the difference of having no added leaven where hers specifically has yeast added where her actual recipe for “Queens Cake”, in “American Cookery” does not.  It does, however, have wine instead of flower water, which is sometimes seen. Her “Queens Cake” is baked in pans, which does not describe well the type of pan generally used for these recipes, though often it was small tins, as mentioned in the second recipe above, or tins made specifically for baking “Queen Cakes”. Of course, as seen in the recipe below, from the “New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, published in 1872, you can see that even a “Queen Cake” was sometimes baked in teacups.  

Queen Cake recipe from 1872

Teacups and other measures…. 

So yeah, maybe the one thing that makes a “Cup Cake” a “Cup Cake” is the fact that it is measured in cups rather than pounds, like all the recipes I’ve found….
except for these two found in “Economical Cookery: Designed to Assist the Housekeeper in Retrenching her expenses”, published in 1840:

“Cup Cake
Half a pound of sugar, the same of butter, 2 pounds of flour, 1 glass of rose water, a nutmeg, and some currants, a little yeast.”

Which, btw, sounds an awful lot like a “Queen Cake” if it were to be baked in little tins that is. However, this is not the only “Cup Cake” in that book, here are two others:

“Another cup cake. Three pounds flour, 2 of sugar, 1 pound of butter, and 8 eggs, a little carraway seed’ add milk, if the eggs are not sufficient.”

“Cup cake
One cup of butter, 2 of sugar, 3 of flour, and 4 eggs, well beat together and bake in small pans or cups. Bake just twenty minutes. This Cup Cake is about as good as pound cake and is cheaper.”

…well, one… maybe two? out of three ain’t bad? However the last one is baked in “small pans or cups” at least.

Sooooo…. What did other people have to say about the Cup Cake? 

Here is a neat little story I found in the Farmer’s Review, 19th May, 1906 (also found in “Everyday Housekeeping”, 1899 and could quite be possibly published elsewhere)
It starts off with someone attempting to sell a batch of cookery books with a plethora of cake recipes where she, quite nervously, takes the books to “Aunt Susan”, a well known local baker with some fame… She looks through the books and says…
“Yes,” said Aunt Susan, “and let us look at the recipes and see if they are not all made after the one, two, three, four cake rule which my mother used to call ‘cup cake,’ but which I always call ‘the mother of cakes.’ White Mountain cake, one cup sugar, one-half cup milk, one and on-half cups flour, baking powder and vanilla extract. Double that and you have the one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs of the old time recipe.”

So according to this bit of history, that has been around since at least 1899, “Cup Cake” is the original name for “1,2,3,4 cake”, which is a cake that uses the formula of:

“one cup of butter,
two cups of sugar,
three cups of flour,
and four eggs”

And indeed, there are some “Cup Cake” recipes that follow this rule, such as the 1840 recipe previously shown from “Economical Cookery” where the measures are exactly the same: “One cup of butter, 2 of sugar, 3 of flour, and 4 eggs”, as was the 1838 recipe from “The Lady’s Annual Register” (previously mentioned). And we see this again in the “Ladies’ indispensable assistant” published in 1852:

“Cup Cake: Take one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs. Tea-spoonful of salæratus, nutmeg and rose-water.”

In this 1895 excerpt from a publication called “Household News”, “one, two, three, four cake” is further explained:

“In making one, two, three, four cake, there is no milk mentioned. Is none required?”
“No. One, two, three, four cake is simply a sort of pound cake, and was originally called cup cake.”

Of course there are other variations of “Cup Cake” that have cream or milk in them, though sometimes called “Cream Cup Cake”. The “Ladies’ indispensable assistant” from 1852 has two more such recipes:

“Best Cup Cake
Five cups of flour, three of sugar, one of milk, three eggs, one tea-spoonful of salæratus, raisins, one cup of butter, nutmeg, rose-water.”

“Cream Cup Cake
Four cups of flour; two cups of sugar; three cups of cream; and four eggs. Beat it well, and in square tin pans. When cold, cut it in squares. Bake in a quick oven.”

In American Cookery – 1925, Volume 29, Issue 9, “Cup Cake” is also described: “So, likewise, you might bake an angel cake mixture in individual cups, and this we should think ought not to be difficult. But never, never can you make a cup cake from any angel cake mixture that ever was mixed. The true cup cake means the “One, Two, Three, Four” cake, which called for one cup of butter, two of sugar, three of flour, and four eggs. It was called “Cup Cake” because a cup or its multiple was the standard of measuring — a cup filled to the brim, and with no divisions into fractional parts.”

Even 1917 “Favorite Recipes Cook Book: A Complete Culinary Guide” by
Marion Harris Neil, treats “Cup Cake” as a type of cake useful for making layer cakes, where it instructs under the title “Layer Cakes” that layer cake batter “may be made of plain cup cake or sponge cake and may be put together with any desired filling or icing and frosted to suit the individual taste.” This idea also shows up earlier in 1895 in “Instruction in Cooking with Selected Receipts” that states: “1-2-3-4 cake can be used for layer or cup cakes, or baked in a sheet iced and cut into blocks; or it may be used as a pudding eaten with a sauce.”

And… according to the “Blue Ribbon Cook Book”, printed in 1905, (one of my lovely Canadian publications to shake things up a bit) tells us that for “Cup Cakes”: Any cake mixture may be used, but scant the flour. Serve plain, or iced, or remove a small part of the centre and fill with custard filling, whipped cream, fruit, etc.”  Sounds positively modern doesn’t it?
For comparison, my 1930 copy of “The Boston Cooking School cook Book” suggests that any cake recipe can be used for “cup cakes” by “reducing the flour by 1 tablespoon for each cup flour in the recipe.” These are then baked in individual tins or paper cups.

cupcakes from the 1930s
cupcakes from 1930’s pamphlet

But just as we figures this all out, the 1883 book “Ice Cream and Cakes”, offer up another history following the instructions for this cup cake recipe:

“Cup Cake
1/2 pound Butter
1 pound powdered Sugar
1/2 pint Sour Cream
1 1/2 pounds flour
5 eggs
1 Nutmeg, grated
1 teaspoonful cinnamon
1 gill Rose-Water
2 teaspoonfuls Saleratus- Water
Cream the butter and sugar, gradually add the cream, by turns with one-half the flour. beat the eggs well and stir in, alternately with the rest of the flour. Add the spices, rose-water, and saleratus, beat the whole very hard, put into small tine, or patty-pans, and bake in a moderate oven, about twenty minutes. It is also baked in cups, and hence its name. By some it is made, and preferred, without any spices.”

So this bring us back to the “baked in cups” origin of the name, not that it proves much, but points out that even accounts about these old recipes, made about over 100 years ago varied and even contradicted. This is further shown where the same book claims: “Number Cake” was “formerly known as “1, 2, 3, 4 Cake,” and afterwards as Measure Cake.” Their recipe, incidentally,  to bake the batter “in cups, or cake-pans”.
“Measure Cake”, “Number Cake” and “1, 2, 3, 4 Cake” do all appear to be just different names for the same sort of cake, but it’s hard to say if there is one meaningful order in which they came or if the names sort of staggered in.  “The Practical Housekeeper”, by M. L. Scott, published in 1855 has such a recipe which was written almost 30 years later :
“Number Cake–Take one up of butter, two do. of sugar, three do. of flour, and four eggs.”


So, Cup Cakes… a little more complicated than One, Two, Three, Four? 

Because I already started to pull out the Canadian Cook books, here are some from “The Home Cook Book” published in 1877 to compare further.

1 cup butter, 2 cups, sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs. Add a little more flour, roll out very thin on sugar, cur any shape, and bake quickly.

This version of the 1, 2, 3, 4 Cake is a bit unusual as it seems to want us to add more flour and treat it more like a cookie, however it’s basic premise is still a 1, 2, 3, 4 cake.
Lets compare “Cup Cakes” from the same book:

Cup Cake (from Mrs. Arthurs)
One cup butter, two cups sugar, three cups flour, four eggs, cup milk, three teaspoonsful Cook’s Friend.

Cup Cake
One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, four eggs, a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in a cup of milk, two teaspoonsful of cream of tartar mixed into the flour, flavour with essence of any kind.

Here we see that the first recipe is essentially “1, 2, 3, 4 Cake” as above and the second one is not entirely different. The only really notable difference is the addition of Baking Powder (the “Cook’s Friend” and the soda + cream of tartar). This reminds me a bit how Simmons’s “A light Cake to bake in small cups” breaks away from from her “Queens Cake” with the addition of yeast. However, later, books end up publishing “queen cake” recipes with the addition of baking powder, such as a recipe found in”Hints on the Daily Duties of a Housekeeper”, by Elizabeth Nicholson, published 1856. Similarly, a recipe from the same book has a recipe for “1, 2, 3, 4 Cake” made with: “1 cup butter, 2 sugar, 3 flour, 4 eggs, nutmeg, 1 tea-spoon soda, 2 cream tartar.” Later, in 1893, in “The Home Queen”, recipes for “Number Cake” and “1-2-3-4 Cake” have additions of soda or baking powder.
Below: Two other recipes, from “The Home Cook Book”, move a little further from the 1-2-3-4 formula of measures but are still very comparable.

2 cupcake recipes

Some for fun cake comparisons from “The Dominion Cook Book”, published in 1899. (Canadian, of course)

4 different cake recipes

What I like, is that we can see a nice strong break from Queen Cakes, though also showing a change to the Queen Cake recipes while they still maintain most of their original essence with a pound cake type batter and currants still being used. With the Ginger cup cake, we are actually instructed to bake it in a buttered “pan or earthen mould” but, alternatively, may be baked in “queen cake pans”, just earlier described as “little buttered tins” in the recipes above.
The “Handy Cake” actually resembles a “1, 2, 3, 4 cake” quite a bit as well, but with one notable difference not found in either the “queen cake” or the “cup cake”, which is the use of boiling water.

1940's cupcakes, cooked in greased muffin tins
1940’s cupcakes, cooked in greased muffin tins
But what about Cup Cakes baked in Muffin tins?

cup cake recipe

This recipe was scanned from a 1906 book called the “Royal Baker and Pastry Cook”, another Canadian publication. Now we are seeing a real move away from the basic pound cake and the “1, 2, 3, 4 cake” where we begin to see a rising in… well raising agents such as baking powder, as well as the addition of cream or milk which used to mostly show up previously in recipes such as “cream cup cakes”.

Here are a few more random recipes from around the same era:

“Cup Cake
Five eggs beaten separately, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup butter, 3 cups flour, 2 tea-spoons baking powder; flavor to suit taste: bake in 3 tins and fill with jelly or icing.”
“The Home Queen” published in 1893

“Cup Cake– 1-2 cup of butter, 2 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, 1-2 cup of milk, 1 1-2 cups of flour, 1 heaping teaspoonful of baking powder sifted with the flour, 1 cup raisins and currants, beat butter, sugar and yolks of eggs together, stir in milk, then whites well beaten, then flour and raisins.
Mrs. M.V.B.Dunham.”
“A Book for the Cook: Old Fashioned Receipts for New Fashioned Kitchens”, 1899

“Small Cup Cake.–Two eggs, 2 cups of flour, 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup of sweet milk, 1 teaspoonful of baking powder.”
“The Portland Ideal Cook Book”, 1905

“Cream cup cake –Mrs A. Dean
Cream together 1 cup thick cream and 1 1/2 cups sugar, add 3 eggs, beat well. 3 cups flour sifted with 1 teaspoonful soda and 2 of cream tarter, 1/2 cup milk. Flavour to taste.”
“Sunnyvale Cook Book”, 1906

“Cup Cake.–1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon Royal Baking Powder, 3 cups flour, 20 drops extract bitter almonds. Rub the butter and sugar to a cream. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, beating 5 minutes after each addition. Sift together the flour and powder, which add to the butter etc., whith the extract. Mix into a smooth, medium batter. Bake in well-greased cups or muffin-pans in a rather hot oven, 20 minutes.”
“Royal Baker and Pastry Cook”, 1911 (printed in New York)

“Cup Cakes with Orange Frosting
1/4 cup butter or other fat. 2 cups sugar. 4 eggs. 1 cup milk. 3 cups flour. 4 teaspoons baking powder.
Mix according to the usual method for butter cakes, and bake in gem tins. This recipe should make 24 cakes.” (the frosting recipe followed this with a note recommending it as a means of using orange juice and uncooked egg yolks)
“Farmers’ Bulletin”, January 17, 1916

“Anna’s Cup Cake.—One-half cup of sweet milk, 1/2 cup of butter, 2 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoonfuls’of baking powder. Can use this for many kinds of cake, with or without fruit, with different kinds of flavoring and different kinds of filling; bake in loaf or layer, or in patty pans.”
“The People’s Home Recipe Book”, Alice Gitchell Kirk – 1920

cupcakes from mid. 20th century margarine recipe book
cupcakes from mid. 20th century margarine recipe book

I think the line does indeed go like this: “It’s complicated”

What I believe I’m seeing here is a sort of evolution of “Cup Cake” not before or after “1, 2, 3, 4 Cake” but along with it. As “Cup Cake” evolved from a sort of cheaper to make pound cake to something with milk or cream and baking powder added, as did “1, 2, 3, 4 Cake” or “Measure Cake”. As these cakes evolved, however, older versions of these recipes were still being published and even showing up in the same cook books, as very similar recipes, but with different names. The only real connection with a “queen cake” and a “cup cake” seems to be that sometimes the same vessels were utilized in baking them. Ingredient-wise, the Queen cake would either have wine or other liquor in it and/or flower water and would more often, than not, have currants, raisins or some other dry/candied fruit. But, unlike the “queen cake”, “cup cake” was not always baked in a small vessel.

Why did “Cup Cake” evolve into what we consider a cupcake to be today?
This I don’t know, it could be that as the recipes for “1, 2, 3, 4 cake” and “cup cake” evolved into something that used measures beyond cups and the standard “1 cup butter, 2 cups, sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs” formula, the meaning became obsolete, especially as “cup measures” became more commonplace.
It could be, as this happened, that the only major thing to carry on from the original recipes was the fact that it was sometimes baked in small cups, evident as more cook books from the early to mid 20th century tended to offer instructions for baking cup cakes using other recipes in their books.

So, you’re going to a medieval-themed potluck

People having a meal, Painting by Lucas van Valckenborch, 16th century
People having a meal, Painting by Lucas van Valckenborch, 16th century

Often, for smaller events, parties and gatherings (whatever the theme), potlucks are offered, but what to bring? Not everyone knows what type of foods would fit well with a medieval theme and not everyone is going to want to research or read through books written hundreds of years ago, but we also don’t want to break the theme of the party by simply bringing our usual potluck fare.

So… what to bring?

Well the easiest thing to do is to cull your list of unknown and lesser known foods to those in medieval Europe. (yes, some of these food might be known in the 16th century and yes, some adaptations existed in various places/cultures but I am hoping to simplify to make this easier, not more complicated)
This means avoiding, as best you can: Potatoes, tomatoes, corn (as in maize), peppers (capsicum) and American squash. Also avoid baking soda and baking powder raised items such as cakes, cookies and what we generally know as soda bread.

So what’s left?

Lots of stuff really.

People throughout the ages enjoyed salads, these were either cooked or uncooked vegetable dishes which ranged from leafy greens to cooked roots with sauces or dressings to rather complicated compilations of fruit, vegetation and even cold meats. A plate of pickled capers would be considered a salad.
Some simple dressings would be made of a combination of things such as oil, sugar and/or pepper and/or salt and some sort of souring agent such as orange juice or vinegar but a dressing did not have to include all those items, or it could have extra items.

From the Garden: 
See above, not all salads were cold.
Generally speaking however, there are lots of items to choose from and it doesn’t have to be all about cabbage and turnips either, as the renaissance grew, so did many food choices. There were carrots, parsnips, garlic, fennel, greens from beets and spinach or even stalks from chard and both greens and bulbs from onions and leeks and so on.  Artichokes, cucumbers, gourds, asparagus, peas and beans (fava) and a host of stuff we don’t even see so much any more.

While many recipe books show these items as being fancifully prepared, this was not necessarily how they were always done. Of course if your looking to impress or being of a nobler character, you may wish to use a known recipe, but if you just want to maintain a theme and bring something that isn’t glaringly modern, many of these items can be prepared much the way we still prepare them today. This is boiled, baked (being in a pie or in a casserole) or roasted… also fried… There is a lovely, and very simple, 16th century dish from Bartolomeo Scappi of new peas, still in the pod that are sauteed in oil with chopped parsley and garlic and dressed with orange juice and pepper. This is how simple a dish can be, yet still be very delicious (and travels far better than say, other types of fried foods, such as fritters and the like). Equally simple is a mushroom dish from the 14th century “Forme of Cury” which involves nothing more than chopping up mushrooms, slicing up a leek and cooking them in broth with a bit of saffron and pepper. (makes a lovely side for roast meats btw)

Roasting birds by the fire, from the Decameron, Flanders, 1432
Roasting birds by the fire, from the Decameron, Flanders, 1432

Meat! (and other animals, yes, even fish!)
Meat is probably one of the easiest things to prepare when your not sure what to bring and don’t quite know much about medieval (or renaissance) foods. This is simply because of roasting. From the earliest of times, roasted meat seems to be a thing and there isn’t much you necessarily need to know about dressing it… salt and pepper are still viable seasonings. (and yes, we can get into many variations and details about carving and so on, but for now… simple) 
As for choices of meat, well let’s just say that they prepared far more species than we generally do today.
Other, somewhat more complicated recipes can be found for boiled, baked and fried meats, not to mention sausage/force-meats, but not all need be so complicated either. Some 15th century directions for Lobster (or crab) mainly involved boiling it (like we do today) and serving it cold with vinegar.

Sweets (the finishing course)
While many meat and garden dishes can be indeed sweet, I’m talking about your standard idea of the dessert. Happily, medieval people too enjoyed a finishing course of sweet things, as well as nuts, cheeses and varying other things.
One of these easiest preparations is raw. That is, some raw fruit prepared for the table as well as cheeses and nuts, though then, as today, something a bit more prepared may be appreciated. (noting some foods were considered healthier prepared various ways)
Some simple suggestions: Fruit pies (apple being a good example), Fruit sauces (such as applesauce), cheese pies, rice pudding, sugar/spiced nuts, fruit pastes, stewed fruit… with seasonings not being far from what we still use today such as our very common sugar/cinnamon combination.


This, of course, is a very simplified rundown of items that are not going to stand out as being horribly modern on a sideboard full of other offerings at a Medieval-themed Potluck. (the actual variety of things to choose from are astounding in both number and variety though not all entirely suited to a Potluck setting)

tasting... from: Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen, 16th century
tasting… from: Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen, 16th century

Some other things to consider are food safety (being able to keep foods at needed temperatures, contamination issues and cleanliness for some examples), what makes sense to prepare on site (since some foods are better fresher than others) and how well your dish is going to travel in general. Aside from this is also keeping in mind that people have allergies and food sensitivities, as well as food choices, so the courteous thing to do is listing out all the ingredients so people can make informed decisions.
**Keeping in mind that while most of us do make efforts to not cross contaminate (you do this right?), most of us do not have fish-free or gluten-free or nut-free kitchens so there is always an amount of risk that can not be avoided at Potluck events.


One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four!

Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem Artichoke, by Joseph Jakob von Plenck, 18th century

Very recently I posted a new article on the history of potatoes in England, basically covering three questions (and possibly a little more): Did the English indeed eat potatoes in England before 1600? What sort of potatoes would they have eaten? and How did they view potatoes.

For the most part, I had guessed what they used were sweet potatoes and that they were at least considered rare from early on and, at least for the most part, this all turned out to be true from everything I could gather (and my reading went well beyond what was just discussed in the article). Though, I was also able to show that the English did indeed have knowledge of our common potato (Solanum tuberosum), which of course eventually displaced the Sweet potato in popularity. I also touched on the Jerusalem artichoke (known as the Canada Potato through various sources), which went from being served to the queen to rather quickly being very very common in England (sometime before 1629). Given this talk on these tubers, I have actually wondered if the pie recipes meant for either artichokes or potatos were actually intended for Jerusalem artichokes (that is, in place of the potatoes, the mentioned artichokes were of course, Cynara cardunculus). However, and oddly, I found more to suggest sweet potatoes were used rather than the Jerusalem artichoke. Actually, pretty much nothing was found except for this curious coincidence along with a description liking this root to that of the bottom of artichokes.

..Or so I thought…


Apparently I neglected to re-check the 1633 expanded version of Gerarde’s Herball… Now, this does not prove much for the “Canadian Potato’s” case before 1600, but it does make it probable that it would be known at least in the early 17th century England and eaten in pies (because I apparently have an obsession with eating tubers in pies).

From Gerard's Herbal
From Gerarde’s 1633 Herbal

In this book we have various tidbits and quotes, mentioning “I will now deliuer you the Historie, as I haue receiued it from my oft mentioned friend Mr. Goodyer, who, as you may see by the date, took it presently vpon the first arrival into England.” This being dated 17th of Octob, 1621, with the only other date being mentioned, is 1617 when John Goodyer reportedly received the roots: “Where this plant groweth naturally I know not, in Anno 1617, I receiued two small roots thereof from Master Franqueuill of London, no bigger than hens egges: the one I planted, and the other I gaue to a friend, myne brought mee a pecke of roots, wherewith I stored Hampshire.”

To this, he discusses how they are prepared: “some boile them in water, and after stew them with sacke and butter, adding a little ginger. Others bake them in pies, putting Marrow, Dates, Ginger, Raisons of the sun, Sacke,&c. Others some other way as they are led by their skill in Cookerie.”

and… for your amusement, he further details “But in my judgement, which way soever they be drest and eaten, they stirre and cause a filthy loathsom stinking winde within the body, thereby causeing the belly to be pained and tormented; and are a meat more fit for swine, than men: yet some say they have usually eaten them, and have found no such windy qualitie in them”


So… while maybe not all before 1600 (and it’s not looking terribly good for the Jerusalem Artichoke before then), all 4 described potatoes (from the article mentioned before) being the “Spanish Potato”, “Virginia Potato”, “Canada Potato” and the “English/Irish Potato” could be utilized in a potato pie recipe, the only real trick is figuring out when each of these potatoes become known and/or named (The English/Irish one being either developed through breeding, isolated or naturally culled).

Milk, Butter and Cheese

Being that the Foure Bookes of Husbandry (1578, Barnabe Googe) is mainly about farming and keeping of produce, the section on cheese mainly concerns itself with the keeping of cheese, however the author does give a nod to the higher nutritional value of younger cheese as well as the desirability of the time towards softer and more delicate cheeses rather than the hard and stronger flavoured cheeses that resulted from long keeping (obviously a necessary result when keeping in storage)


Buffe– This would most likely be referring to Buffalo (not to be confused with Bison)
pappes– Teats
Meates– food, can include plant products



EVPHOR. You have for your part very well satisfied us, touchyng the good orderyng of your Cattell: there remaynes yet one thyng for you, whiche wee all fogate to speake of, and that is the orderyng of Mylke, our cheefest foode and sustenaunce.
HEDIO. Seeing that of this cattell whereof I have entreated, the profit of the Milke is not small, it is no great reason wee should overpasse the orderyng of the same: for Milke (as Varro sayth) of all liquid thinges wherewith wee feede, is the greatest nourisher. Milke differeth in goodness, accordyng to the nature of the bodies that geve it: as the Milke of the Women, of Rine, Sheepe, Goates, Asses, Mares, and Cammels: the greatest nourisher is Womans Milke, the next Goates Milke, whereby the Poets fame, that thier god Iupiter hymselfe, was nursed with Goates Milke: the Sweetest next to Womans milke, is the Cammels milke: the holsomest, is Asses Milke: the Asse as soon as she is with Colt, geveth Milke: the Cowe, never tyll she have Calved: most comfortable to the stomache, is Goates Milke, because hee rather feedesth on Bruttes and bowes, than upon grass. Cowe milke is most medecinable, and most of all looseth the belly. sheepes Milk is sweeter, and nourished more, but is not so good for the stomache, by reason it is fatter and grosser. All Milke that is milked in springtyme, is watrisher then the milke of sommer, as likewise is the milke of young Cattell: it is holsemest beying sodden, specially with the prebbles of the Sea. The Sheepe about Pontus, neare to the Ryver Astace, doo geve (as Plinie saith) black Milke. All Milk generally (as Dioscorides writeth) is of good nourishment, but silleth the stomache and the bellye, with Winde: that whiche is milked in the spring, is thumest, but looseth the Belly most.
The difference of Milke, is taken (as Varro sayth) of the pastures, the nature of the Cattell, and the milking. Of the Pasture, when the Cattell is fedde with Barly, Strawe, and all other hard and drye Meates, and this greatly nourisheth. For cattell feede of purging hearbes, as Cadamus in his booke de plantis teacheth, that if you will pourge Melancholy, you must feede your mylche Goate, or Asse, with Polipodi, and for all other humours Sene, for the Dropsie with Spurge, or Agarick: for cleansyng of the blood, with Funuitotye, or Hoppes: and if you will onely loose the belly with Mercury, or Mallowes, so farre Cordanus. Our countrymen doe cheefely commend for milke, the Pastured where groweth Spery, and Clavergrasse, and that is all bedeckt with yellowe flowres. For the Cattell, the difference is the betwixt the sicke and the healthy, the young, and the alde: and for the milkyng, that is best, that is not long kept after the milkyng, nor that is milked immediatly uppon the Calving, a grosse unholsome kind of Milke. To trye whether miulke me mingled or not, you shall take a sharpe Rushe, and puttyng it into the Milke, let it droppe from thence uppon your Nayle, and if the droppe runne abroade, it is a signe there is water in it: if it keepe together, it shewes it to bee pure and good.


Of Milke is made Butter, whose use (though it bee cheefely at this daye among the Fleminges) is yet a good and profitable foode in other countreys, and muche used of our olde Fathers, yea even of the verie Patriarches (as the Scriptures witnesseth) the commoditie thereof, besides many others, is the aswaging of hunger, and the preserving of strength: it is made in this sort. The milke, assone as it is milked, is put out of the Payle into Bowles, or Pannes, the best are earthen pannes, and those rather broade then deepe: this doone the seconde, or the third day, the Creame that s’wyins aloft, is fletted of, and put into a vessell rather deepe, then bigge, round and Cilinder fashion: although in some places they have other kinde of Charines lowe and flatte, wherein with often beatying and moovyng up and downe, they so shake the milke, as they sever the thinnest parte of from the thicke, whiche at the firste gather together in little crombles, and after with the continuance of the violent mooving, commeth to a whole wedge, or cake: this it is taken out, and either eaten freshe, or barrailed with Salt.


The Buttermilke that remayneth of the Butter, is either kepte for the famely, or geven to Calves and Hogges, as a daintie foode.


Cheese is also made of the Milke of Cattell, the Milke beeyng powred into a Vessell of earth, putting into it a little Rennet, the quantitie of a Walnutte, in a great vessell of milke, where by it turneth into Curd.
Varro doth better like the Rennet of the Leuret, or the Kydde, then the Lambes: howbeit: we commonly use the Calves Renner: others use sundry ather means onely with heate, warminf it in Tinne vesselles, and after dipping these Vessels in colde Water, whiche is the sweetest and cleanliest manner: others put in the seede of wylde Saffron, and being so turned, the Whay dooth greatly pourge fleame: others agayne use the mi(l)ke of the Figge tree, and then doth the Whay pourge both choler and fleame: some turne it with Oximell, or syrope of Vineger, whiche if of all other wayes the holsomest: some besides, use the little skinne of Birdes Guysards, and other, the flowres of wylde Thystles, or Hartichockes.

The newer and better the Milke is, the better wyll be the cheese: for made of two sorts of milke, or milke that is to neare fleeted, it soon sowreth, and wareth hard and nought, and is not to enduce any whyle. Agayne, being made of fatte and newe Milke, it will very long endure, and long continueth in his fatness and softnesse: about a two or three houres after you have put in your Rennet, the Milke commeth to a Curd, whiche is straight wayes put into Formes, or Cheesefattes, and pressed: or if they bee but small, they are only pressed with the hand. If they be of any quantitie, they have great weyght uppon them, it is very needefull you presse out the Whay with as muche speede as you can, and so sever it from the curd, and not to let it lye slowly drayning of it selfe. Those that make greate Cheeses, have mouldes for the purpose, and weightes and presses answerable. After this, they take them out of the Press, and laye them uppon Hardelles, or fayre smothe Tables, in a shadowy and colde place, and close frow all windes, springling them all over with Salt, that they may sweate out all their sourenesse, laying them so, as they touche not one the other. When they bee nowe wel hardned and thickned, they are taken up, and pressed agayne with greater weyghtes, and rubbed over with parched Salte, and after layd in presse againe, whereby it is thought they will neyther have eyes, nor be over drie: whiche saltes hapneth to rome when they be either not well pressed, or too muche salted.

Some use to put into the borrome of their Payles, the greene kernelles of the Pine apple, and milking into them, doo cause it so in turne. You may also cause your Cheese to relishe of what soever you will, as Pepper, or any other Spice: but Columella countes that for the best Cheese, that hath least mixture in it. The Strongest Cheese, and hardest of digestion, are those that are made of Buffes Milke, the next are such as are made of the Milk of Ewes, but the myldest, and lightest of digestion, are those that are made of Goates Milke: the Cheese that is made of mares Milke, is of the same quantitie that the Buffe Cheese is. There is Cheese also makde of Cammels Milke, and of Asse Milke: the Cheeses that are made of Buffes Milke, are at Rome in great estimation of all other cattell. Suche as are touched both above and beneath, and have more then soure pappes, you can make no Cheese of their Milke, for it will never curd. In our dayes, the best Cheeses are counted the Parmasines, made about the Ryver of Po, esteemed for their greatnesse, and dayntinesse, of whiche you shall have brought int other countreys that way above threescore pounde. Next are commended the Holland Cheese, the Cheese of Normandy, and the English Cheese. In England, the best Cheese is the Chesshyre, and the Shropshyre, then the Banbury Cheese, next the Suffolke, and the Essex Cheese, and the verie worst the Kentish Cheese. The places where the beste Cheese is made, appeareth by this alde English Distinchon, better sensed, then footed:
Banbury, Langtony, Suffolke good Cheese, Essex go though by, Shropshyre, cum Cheshyre, Hertford may well with the best peere.

Of the discommoditie of Essex Cheese, our Englishe Martiall John Haywood, thus meerily wryteth:
I never saw Banbury Cheese thicke yenough
But I have seen Essex Cheese quicke yenough.

Cheese they say will beste endure, and is longest preserved, if you keepe them in heapes of Pulse, or Wheate, and if you steepe your Rennet in juyce of Byrche, you shall bee sure to have neither Myte nor Creeper in your cheese. The Cheese that is soft and newe, doth more nourishe then the dry, and be more comfortable to the stomoack, not long in digesting: the old is contrary, according to the proverbe, No Cheese good but the new. Old Cheese will become new in taste, if you lay them in Time, Vinegar, or in Wine: if through age it bee hard and bitter, let it be rubed over with Meale and undried Barley, and then dipt in water, and after, the outer rinde scraped of. We have oft times, proved, that hard Cheese wrapped in Cloutes wet in Vineger, or Wine, and oftentimes sprinkled with wine, and so layde up, returne to a softness, and a verie pleasant taste. Some lay it in Leaven, covering it close therewith, and thereby make it soft. It is reported, that Zoroastes lived twentie yeeres in wilderness with Cheese so ordered, as it never waxed olde.

EVPHOR. Of the Whay that commeth from the Cheese, being sodde with soft fyre, rill the fatnesse of the Cheese swim aloft, are made Welcurds:
HEDIO. You were moont to love them well.
EVMEVS. I doo in deede, specially if there be good store of newe milke put into the Whay.
The olde wryters doo teache the making of a kinde of white meate, not much unlike to Welcurdes, which they called Melcan, and made it in this sort. Thei put into a newe earthen vessell Vinegar, and suffered it to boyle softly upon the fyre, till the vessell had drunke up the Vineger, and into that vessell thei powred in milke, & set it where it might stand stedfast, whereby they had within a while their desire. But me thinketh I have for my part done yeough, it commet now to your turne EV MEVS to goe forward with the rest.

Entry on Swine

From the Four Books of Husbandry (1578, Googe)

This has been typed out from the book true to the spelling (with the odd possibly typo or misread letter). The text below has also been divided up into sections, however in the original book, each line simply moves into the next with the occasional reference note in the margin.

Some words:
Meat: as a food, this does not necessarily mean flesh but can include plant matter as well
Bacon: in this text there is no differentiation between salt cured meats, it is simply bacon
Pappes: Sows teats
Cattell: referring to domesticated animals, not necessarily bovine

I do hope you enjoy this as much as I had, exaggerations and an interesting look as what people desired in swine, what they thought about swine and how they kept them.

Pig Slaughter, from the Da Costa Hours, 1515
Pig Slaughter, from the Da Costa Hours, 1515

“That the keeping of Swine belongeth to husbandrie, doth evidently appeare by the saying of the auncient husbandes, counting him a slouthfull and an unthriftie husband, that hath his Bacon rather from the Butcher, then from his owne Roofe: for there aryseth as greate prodife many tymes to us of our owne Swyne, as dooth to you that bee keepers of greater cattell of your flockes: for is Bacon bee away, the cheefest supporter of the husbanmans kitchin is wantying. and wheras Swines flesh semeth abonmable to the foolish Jewes, I beleeve verily they never tasted the Gamonds of Fraunce, so highly commended by Varre, Strabe, Athenens, and other learned wryters: which I suppose were no other but the Flitthes of the westphaly, so greatly esteemed as this day, not onely in Germany, but in Rome, and that they were called by the names of Celtick Gamonds, because the old wryters, specially the Greeks, called all the countrys on this side the Alpes, both Fenche and Dutch, by the name of Celtyck. Surely there is no beast besides, that makes more dayntie dishes, there is in hym neare fiftie different tastes, where everie other beast hath but on: and hereof came at first the sharpe law of the Censores, forbindying it to be used at sappers, the Udders, the stones, the trypes, and the forepart of the heads of Swyne, (as Plinie witnesseth). And most apparant is it, that not only the Frenche, and the dutche in those dayes, but also the Italians, and the Greekes, nourished greate heardes of Swyne. Among the Greekes, Homer maketh mention of one of my name, that had twelve hogsties, everie stye conteyning fiftie porklinges, and Polybius writeth, or more then a thousand to be rered at a tyme among the ancient Italians, Tuskans, and French, Varre accounteth a hundred bu a small heard. Who so will nourishe Hogges, must have regard both to the fayrenesse, and the age: Varro addeth beside, the nature of the kinde, and the country. and because the young doo commonly resemble their parents, hee would have you choose such as are fayre,”

*(descriptions of swine starts here)*

“and large bodied, and whiche make most to the matter, as fruitefull as may bee: whiche Varro, dooth cheefely commend chose that be on one colour, their bristelles would be thicke, hard, and blacke, if it bee in a colde countrey: if in a temperate, you may nourish the smooth. Thir proportion would be long, large syded and bellyed, wide buttocked, short legged, & footed, bigge necked, and well brawned, short groyned, and turnyng upwarde, his tayle wrynckled. The kinde is most commended, that bringeth may Pigges, the country that breedeth large and greate:”

*(ages start here)*

“the best age for the Boar, is a yeere old, though at halfe a yeere old they are able to serve a Sowe: one Boare is yenough for tenne Sowes and more. The Sowe is sufficient to bring Pigges at a yeere olde, and so for seven yeeres after, the fruitfuller she is, the sooner she wareth olde: at her fyrste farrowyng, you shall easely see what number she will bryng foorth: for shee will not muche differ in the other. The best kinde of Sowes have twelve Pappes, the common sort tenne, or not so may. Every Pigge dooth knowe his owne pappe that hee was borne to, and sucketh onely that, and none other: if you take away the Pigge, the pappe dryeth, as both Plinie, and experience sheweth. They were wont to be bought and bargained for in this sorte. Doo you warrant that these Swyne and found, that I shall well enioye them, that you will answere the faulted, and that they be of a healthy breede:”

*(habitat and food in the wild)*

“A wet moorish ground, is meetest for this cattell, for he delighteth no in water, but in durt and myre, so much (as Varro writeth) that the Woolfe, as soon as he hath caught a Sowe, draggeth her to the water, her ause his teeth are not able to abide the heate of her flesh. And although this beast will away with any ground, (for he feedeth both in mount aynes, champion, and marish) yet his cheege delight is in the Woods that is full of Quagmires, where there groweth store of Oke, Corke, Beech, Mastholme, wyld Olyves, wild Dates, Haselnuttes, Crabbe trees, Plome trees, and Chery trees: for these doo fruite divers tymes, and feed the heards, almost all the whole yeere. Where there wanteth Wooddes, they must bee fedde from the ground, wherein a Marrishe is to be preffered before a drye ground, that they may mousell in the Marsh, digge up woormes, wallowe in the myre, and toomble in the puddeles of water, whiche in sommer is most needefulll. they also hunt after rootes, specially Fearne rootes, and the rooted of Bullrushes, Rushes, and Sedges, beside good grasse well feedeth a Swyne, and Orchardes of Cheries, Plomes, Apples, and Nuttes. and notwithstandyng all this the Barne,”

*(feeding and care of swine starts here)*

“for you must feede them often by hand, when meate fayles abroade, and therefore you must preserve store of Acorns, in Cestornes, in the water, or dried uppon smoky Floores, also Beanes, Pease, and tares must be geven them, and not so muche as Barly spared: for this kinde of feedyng dooth make them fayre, and not onely fattes them, but geveth the fleshe a pleasaunt taste. When they are yet young and sucke, both they, and their dammes must be well sedde, they must be put to feede early in the mornyng afore the heate of the sunne, and after kept in shadowy places, where there is a good store of Water. Afore they goe to pasture, they must be medecined, least the Grasse skarre them to much, by whiche they withe greatly weakened. In Winter they must not be put abroad, till the frost bee of the ground, and the use thawed. and though the swyne will runne at the knowned voyce of their Swyneheard, yet Varro will have them be brought both to pasture, and homeward, with the sound of a horne: their meate must be geven them skattered thinne, so shall both lesse duffice, and the greater shall not harme the smaller: as soone as they heare the Horne, though they bee veber so farre of in the Woods, they come runnyng with all haste. Polybius telleth, that the Italians use not to follow their heardes, as the Greekes and other doo, but goyng a pretie waye before them, they blow their Horned, their Heardes being acquainted with the clast doo follow them in great order. They doo so well knowe and obay the call of the swyneheard, if we may beleeve Aliannus, that when certaine Rovers landing uppon the coast of Tuskan, and taking great numbers of them out of their styes, caried them aboord, the theeves havying wayed up their anker, and beyng under sayle, the Swyne uppon the hearyng of their keepers voyce, suddenly ran to the one side of the ship, and overturned her, whereby (the Pirates drowned) the Swyne came safe to land to their maisters. As thatte here told you of the condicions of the Boar and the Sowe, and of their keeping, so wil I nowe shewe you the maner of their breeding.”

*(breeding start here)*

“The bremyng tyme is reckoned to be from winter, till the twelfth of March, so shall you have them to farrowe in sommer: for the Sowe goyng foure monethes with pigge, farroweth in the fifth. Shee is with pigge at the first breming, but they use to let them goe often to Boare, because they soone miscarry. And if you will have two farrowes in one yeere, you must put your Sowe to Boare in Februarie, or January, that she may farrowe by Aprill, or May, when as there is good pasture abroade, and milke is in his cheese strength: and when they bee weaned, they may well feede upon straw, and grottens, and after, the Sowe may farrow agayne in the ende of Autumne: for Varro saith, her farrowing times are so divided for the nonce, as she may farrowe twyse a yere, whyle the hath foure moneths to beare them, and two to feede them. As soone as they be with Pigge, you must keepe the Boare from them: for with his vurulinesse, hee maketh them to cast. Young Swine for breede, must not bee lesse then a yere olde, as Varro would have it: howbeit, they behin as eight moneths, and continue seven yeres. The Boare beginneth at eight moneths, or sixe, and continueth well foure yeeres, and after at three or foure yeeres olde you may geld them, and fatte them. Some would not have you keepe by above eight, others not above sixe: not that the Sowe is able to keep no more, but that she that keepeth more, soon faileth. Varro reporteth, that the Sowe of AEneas Lauinus, farrowed at one tyme thirtie white Pigges: but it is monstrous when shee farroweth more then she hath Pappes. Everie Sowe must have her stye by herselfe when shee hath farrowed, and not suffered to goe with the whole heard, as other cattell are, but little Cotes to me made for them, wherein they may bee kept either farrowing, or with farowe: for Swine, if they lye together in any number, beyng commonly ill manered, doo lye one upon the other, whereby they hurt such as are with pigge. And therefore you must have severall styes where they may frarrowe, a made hye, that the Swoe ran not great out: for covered they must not bee by no meanes, that the swineheard may looke that the Sowe overlay non of them, and to see what they want, that hee may make it cleane, as as oft as he cleanseth it, he must strawe sand, or suche like, to dry up the moysture: for though she be but a swinish creature, yet loveth shee to have her Chamber cleane. When shee hath farrowed, she requireth greater quantitie of meate, whereby she may geve the more Milke, speciallie Barley steeped in Water, or ground & tempered with water. And if you have not good store of meate, your best is to sell the Pigges: so shall the damme being delivered of her burden, bee sooner with farrowe agayne. Such as are farrowed in winter, are commonly poore and wretched, both because of the cold, and that their dammes do not like them for wanting of milke, & biting their pappes. If the Sowe eate her pigs, it is no wonder, for swyne of all other beastes, can most awaye with hunger, whiche when it provokethm, they eate not onely their owne, but young, children, which not long since happened, in Sussex, to the pitifull discomfort of the Parent. They suffer not the Sowe to goe abroade in tenne dayes after her farrowing, except it be to drinke: after, they suffer her to go about the house, that she may the better geve milke. When the Pigges ware greate, they desire to goe abroade with their dammes, at whiche tyme they are deffe by them selves aparte, to the ende they may the sooner foreat their Mother: which they will doo in tenne dayes. It behoueth the swyneheard to be carefull and diligent about his charge, that he have in memory everie one of them, both olde and young, that he consider every farrow, and shutte up those that be great with Pigge, that they may farrow in their Scye. He must have speciall regard of every young Pigge, that every one of them bee brought up under their one damme: for if they geat out of the Stye, they straightwayes mingle one companie with an other, whereby the poore Sowe is forced to geve milke many tymes, to more Pigges then her owne: and therefore the swyneheard muste shutte up every damme with her owne Pigges. And if his memory serve not to knowe them all, let hym pitch every Sowe and her Pigs with a severall marke: for in a greate number it shall behoove hym so to doo, for confounding hus memory, The olde husbands observed alwayes twoo tyines in the yeere for cuttyng of them, the spring, and the fall of the leade, whereby they anoyded the danger, both of the heate, and the cold. The Bore Pigges they curre when they were sixe monthes olde, and againe at doure yeere olde, to make them fat, making two woundes, and taking out the stone of every side: or ells when you have taken out one stone, you must thrust your Knife agayne into the wounde, and cutting asunder the skinne bemixt both the stones, drawe out with your fingers the other, so shall you make but one skarre, but this kinde of cuttyng is somewhat more dangerous. The Sowes are sayd by burning the Matrixe with an iron, and the skarre healed up, whereby they will both have no more Pigs, and be the fatter. Aristotle, & following him Plinie, would have the Sowe after two dayes fasting, hanged up by the fore Legs, and so cut, whereby she will be the sooner fat: but Jiudge it better to cur them when they be young, at two monethes olde, or younger, for so are they in least jeopardy. After they be cut, you must keepe them from drinke, and geve them but little meate: the wound must be annoynted with freshe butter, and sowed up.”

*(here starts the wellness/sickness of swine)*

“as the wrystlyng and turnyng up of the tayle, is a signe of a sounde Hogge, so be there certaine and assured signes of their sucknesse: for if you plucke of the Bristles from the backe, and finde that their rotes have blood in them, if shewes the swyne is not well. Besides, if your Hogges be sicke, or taken with a Fever, they hanf their heades a toneside, and suddenly as they runne abroade, they stay, and beyng taken with a turnyng giddinesse, they fall downe: and therefore you must marke “well on whiche side they hand their heades, that you may cur the eare of the contrarie side to let them blood: and under the tayle beside, twoo inches from the Roompe, you shall strike the vaine, whiche there is easely to be seen: for the bigness of it, you must first beate it with a little sticke, and after is swelleth with the beatyng, open it with your Knife, and havyng bledde sufficiently, binde it up with the rinde of Willow, or Eleme: aqfter this, keepe them up in the house a day or two, and geve them warme water, with a good quantity of Barley flowre.”

*(disease and remedies…)*

“There is a kind of disease amongst Swyne (though other wise they bee healthy and fatte (wherein their fleshe is all infected with little graines as bigge as Peason: the Greekes call them Chalazos, and we at this day measled Swyne, which you shall sone perceyve by the sight of the tongue, and the horseness of their voyce: this disease they say, is naturall unto them, from whiche you shall preseve them, if you nayle certayne plates of lead in the bottome of their Trough. You shall also keepe them from this disease, if you geve them to drink, the Roote of Briony: the generall and common remedie, is Allonie, Brimstone, and Bay berries, of eache alike: adde thereonto a handfull of Soote, beate them all togeather, and put them in a Bagge, whiche bagge you shall cast into their water when they drinke, and reue it twyse in the yeere.”

*(fattening and slaughter, in the form of conversation)*

“EV PHOR, I pray you EV MEVS do no dissemble, but tell us truely hou you doo to have your Hogges so fatte. I beleeve you are in the Barne sometime when you should not be.

EV MEVS, What meanes soever I use in ordyng my flocke, is not to my masters losse, no more then is your diligence, whereby you bryng your cattell to be so fayre. I told you before, that hee was an unthryftie husband that had his Bacon from the shambles, and not of his owne provision: and besides my maisters the Phisitions give great commendations to hogs fleshe, in that it hath suche a nearenesse and agreement with out bodyes, neither is there (as I sayde before) a beast that makes more dishes. And therefore it is greatly for profite, to have the husbandmans kitchen whell stored with Bacon, wherrwith hee may sustaine his household all the whole yeere. You shall easely (though woods be wanting) find Barnes, Marches, and Corne feeldes to feed them with. They will be fatte (as Plinie supposeth) in threescore dayes, specially if they bee kept from meate three dayes before you feede them: they are fatted with Barley, Otes, or other Corne, or Pulse: and that fleshe is better, and of more substance that is fed with Acornes, then that whiche is fatted with either Beechmast, or Chestnutte. This beast will in tyme bee so fatte, as hee will bee able neighter to goe, nor stande Yea Warre tells, that there was seene in arcadia a Sowe so fatte, that she was not only unable to ryse, but suffered a Mouse to make her Nest in her body, and to lay her young there. The same Varra reporteth, that there was sent to Volumius a Senatour of Rome, a peece of Porkey of two Ribs, that wayed three and twentie pound: the thickness of whiche Sowe from the skinne to the Ribbe, was one foote and three inches. Your best is to put to fatting your Swyne of two or three yeeres olde: for if they be younger, their growing will hynder their feeding. To keep your Bacon any long time, you must use greate diligence in the saltyng and drying of it, whereby you shall have it both handsomer and sweeter, and besides to continue divers yeers to serve the turne, if scarsitie happen. Your Hogge beeyng in this sort fatted, you must shut up, and not suffer him to drinke the day before you kill hym, whereby the fleshe will be the dryer. When you have this after his thrydt killed hym, you shall either skalde hym with water, or with a flame made with krawe, or stickes, synge hym: for the maner of such as flea hym, I lyke not. After that, hangyng hym up by the Heeles, you shall pluck out hys bowels, and put them to dressing: his fleshe being cold, and hard, you shall lay uppon a table, and cuttyng out the Head, the Gammon and the fleetches, pouder them with salt, thrustyng greate store thereof in every place, specially where the bones bee: that donne, put it into your pouldring tubbe, strowyng salt yenough under it: some woulde have you salt in the wane of the Moone. Before you pouder it, you must presse and drye out all the blood and the Water. Some before they Salt it, doo plucke out the bones, thinking it the best way for preserving it, and to Keepe it longest sweet. Others agayne doo not strayghtways put it into the pouldering tubbe, but doo leave it upon a Table for ten dayes after, and then hang it up in the pure ayre, to dryie in the larde. And when it hath been dried in the winde certaine dayes, by little and little they let the smoke come to it, and afterwards more aboundantly. The Bacon will be the sweeter, if beside the smoke, the winde may come to it: if you hang it in the greate smoke at the first, it will be rustie. Dydimus sayth, that the Bacon will long continue sweet, if after the dressing, coolyng, and drying, it be handed up in the shaddowy and moyst places, rather toward the North, then toward the South, and that it will be sweeter, if it be covered with Snowe, and Chaffe: the Tubbes that you poulder in, must bee suche as have had Oyle in? rather then those that have had Vineger. Although I have before spoken of the woorthyness and antiquitie, of Shepheardes, and heardsmen, yes must There say, that it is in vayne to medale with the ordering and keeping of cattell, except you have handsome, and skilfull men that may take the charge. For the knowledge of keeping of cattell hath a disipline, wherein a man must from his very Childhood bee brought up: and surlie it is meete that the husband, or Bayliffe, have been brought up, or tryned in all these trades, and to come by degrees to his maisters pryse…..”

Food on a budget, Macaroni

When I used to browse for interesting historic recipes, for years I would stumble on websites full of fabulous equipment or pretty amazing ingredients I could never hope to find, or if I did, affording would be yet another issue. But not everything takes special equipment or ridiculously hard to find ingredients and we can make some pretty darn cool stuff with what we find just kicking around the kitchen… or house.

Macaroni is something that just came to mind. For years I figured, well I can’t make that, I do not have an iron rod the right size and so I didn’t make it. Silly me. So, today, just for fun, I decided to simply use what I had. For starters, I just used a thin wooden dowel. Now this was not quite as thin as prescribed in the instructions but it sure worked in a pinch and I made quite a few! While I was at it, I also played with different lengths where the smaller lengths pulled off the dowel easier but longer ones (as prescribed) did mean a lot more noodles in less time. Then it was mentioned that I was using skewers to roll them… ugh! Why didn’t I think of that? So I gave it a go… well, if that isn’t a great substitute for the iron rod suggested by both authors. I am not sure how many I would want to make like that though, the thinner the rod, the more difficult the task it seems, though the results are lovely.


In the picture you can see a test I did with a wood dowel, a metal skewer and a darning needle. All provide the means to make a hollow tube of pasta with their own pluses and negatives. If we were to do a large feast with macaroni, I would want a macaroni party to make these… skewer or just dowel (rubs sore neck, scrunches back…).

So… how do we make these?
Well let’s just look at some instruction..
(*with a note on recipes: Martino’s recipe does make a pasta that will puff a bit, probably why he also cautions on not using too much egg white, Scappi’s doesn’t so much and will make a yellower pasta. When working out a recipe that works for you, depending on your flour, humidity etc., I would start with 1/2 lb, 2 egg whites and an ounce of water mixing a little flour at a time if not firm enough. I would also suggest leaving the dough to sit for about an hour before using.)

Martino (1465)… white flour and egg white and rose water or common water. (no more than one or two egg whites) Make sure it’s very firm, shape into long thin sticks the size of your palm and as thin as hay. Take an iron rod as long as your palm or longer and as thin as string and place it on top of each stick, then roll with both hands over a table. Remove the rod and the macaroni will be perforated in the middle.

Scappi (1570), used a recipe with breadcrumb (4oz) soaked in milk, flour (1lb + extra flour to make very firm) and egg yolks (4) with sugar (2oz +). He also talks about letting the pasta dry out before using an iron stiletto to shape the macaroni however he also mentions using flour to keep the dough from sticking to the iron. I didn’t roll out the pasta and let it dry and yet had no issues with sticking of any sort, so am guessing the dough that was made for rolling was much wetter than we tend to use today.

So basically, with this, your using a thin strip of rolled pasta and forming it around your dowel (yes, using the larger wood one here so the pasta is a little thicker as well… call it a sort of blown up version of the tiny metal rod stuff). This is then rolled smooth useing the palm of your hand and the table. After this is done, you can easily pull out the dowel, being careful not to crush the pasta as you do it. Before cooking, let it sit to dry for a while, which according to the original instructions, this would be dried out completely.

making macaroni   making macaroni

making macaroni   macaroni on a metal skewer

If you have the time, and hopefully the manpower, to make a large batch of macaroni using a metal skewer (last picture above) to shape it, this method is likely to be your easiest one.

To make this using a larger dowel (as shown in the pictures), it may be equally easy to roll the dough very thin (having a pasta roller makes this even easier bit not necessary) and cut it in somewhat wider strips and wrapping them rightly around the dowel and then pulling out the dowel as before. The results from doing it this way are very comparable.

rolling macaroni   rolling macaroni   extruding macaroni

and that’s it, you just leave it to dry and then cook and serve according to your recipe. To note, both authors seem to be game for soft cooked macaroni served with cheese, butter and sweet spices with sugar (such as sugar and cinnamon).

Have fun!


Because, Zulabiyya…

Yesterday I decided to give a try at making Zulabiyya which is basically a funnel cake. I used instruction from an anonymous Andalusian 13th century recipe translated by Charles Perry. That directs us to make a dough of fine flour and water and to let it rise some place warm. It also instructs us to make it slacker than the dough for musahhada, the modern day problem being that we are not truly familiar with any of these recipes so we can not take a stir of the dough and say, well… that is not slacker than musahhada dough. As far as I can gather, musahhada is a flatbread and it can be pierced but it doesn’t say how dense or fine the bread is anywhere that I could find, even in the same book, the only other surviving mention seems to be in reference to the “already mentioned” musahhada.

So, from the recipe (in the link above), what we do know is that the dough is made from fine flour and honey and that it is a risen dough, so had yeast, and it is fine enough to run freely through a hole in the bottom of a vessel. We also know that it does not have to be fried in a pan of very deep oik but that there still needs to be a deep enough layer of fat to prevent it from sticking and the given that the oil should be hot enough.

These really are enough clues to develop a batter from. For my test, I took a squeezy condiment jar and filled it with my batter made from risen dough mixed with saffron water (for some colour) and let it run through the hole… it sputtered into the hot oil and made a mess. Too thin! So, I thickened the batter with more flour… had to give the bottle a good squeeze to get the batter through so I opened up the hole a bit more. This made for a little bit of a thicker pastry but still very delicate (the hole was still fairly small) however I still had to use too much effort and found it difficult to get any lacy patterns going…. so…. I thinned it out just a slight bit more… then beautiful, effortless, swirls happened. I found I still ended up squeezing the bottle for speed so am guessing if I did this with a bowl, I would end up making the hole just a bit larger still resulting in a somewhat thicker product than what I produced.

This is an example of why I sometimes wish to avoid creating an exact recipe. An exact recipe would not give this sort of detail on how to troubleshoot one’s way through a recipe in order to get it to work and it doesn’t show that it is a lot of guess work and can be trial and error when dealing with period instructions and often with modern recipes as well. What I can offer, however, is that I managed to get a heaping 10″ platter full of these out of a 12 oz (give or take a bit) batch of batter which was made with flour and water to which I added a lump of previously prepared yeast. This was left to sit for about 40 min to an hour where I then thinned out the dough with saffron infused water and troubleshooted from there.

For those looking for a modern equivalent, Zoolbia/Zulbia/Jalebi is still prepared today, however almost all the recipes call for yoghurt or kefir and cornstarch. Other variations may even include baking powder. There is also a similarity to modern funnel cakes in that it is batter fried in oil though I could make a decent guess (and that is all it is) that these would be smaller than funnel cakes given that they are then dunked in spiced honey. That would be a lot of sugar to dunk something rather large in, it also helps that they tend to come out quite crisp and rather solid. For monetary reasons, my test batch was dunked into a rose syrup which is also done today and was done with many sweets during the time of the original recipe.

Here is what I ended up with:


strange little things

and this is just out of the blue… not sure if I mentioned it… the damson preserve I had slated for the upcoming feast really should be offered early in the menu. I kinda thought that, and this is why I saw fit to have it in a dayboard at an earlier event… it’s one of those foods that simply should be ordered earlier before other foods… humors eh, found in many books, basically put, the hurt the stomach less if eaten before meat (meat being food in general).

No doubt it will be moved to the opening course


upcoming feast…

I just recently shared this with a group of like minded folk in a social media group, it’s basically about an upcoming feast I am preparing for an SCA group at an event called “Middleground”… As per my usual blogging style, it’s just written off the cuff and not prepared like I would for a more static page type of article, but it gets some of the points/ideas across

The menu was developed after studying the menus in Opera (Bartolomeo Scappi) 1570 that is reflective of a menu that would have existed in that time during either April or May in Italy.
This meal is relatively small in number of dishes, but then some meals were much smaller than others by variety.
It is separated by cold service and a hot service (cold being served from the credenza and hot dishes coming from the kitchen). Obviously the jelly is not a “hot dish” but acceptable table fill even though it’s a kitchen service.

The reasoning for a cold service (and by “cold” we mean not hot out of the oven/spit) generally coming first meant to allow the kitchen to serve out pre-prepared dishes so to give time to have hot dishes ready.
I have seen some menus like this that offered several services (courses) from the kitchen.

Cheese shows up early in the menu, but in various writings, some dairy appears to be okay at the beginning of a meal though I typically see it consumed outside of a meal, sometimes for breakfast or at the end of a day… the meal also concludes with a fair bit dairy and nuts (often preferred at the end of a meal).

The meats include salted/prepared dishes which I thought unusual for spring eating where generally young animals (typically cooler meats) are typically consumed, but the combination does make it a well rounded meal. I could only imagine it could be a regional preference as well as something possibly left from winter stores.
I won’t be using veal however, due to price. A farming book (still published around the time as this cook book called 4 books of Husbandry) does touch on calves, yearlings, steers, heifers, cows and bulls… obviously I would be using a steer as this is the most readily available and affordable beef, so the results will be different but given modern feeding/growing, wont be the same as eating a 16th century steer either. anyhow, modern raised beef does tend to work out nicely.

The very last item of the sweet fennel, toothpicks and comfits would be served out after the table had been cleared and set clean. The toothpicks in this book seem to have been served with rosewater and along with the sweet fennel and comfits would do wonders for the diners oral hygiene (or at least help with one’s breath along with a little teeth cleaning).

(3/24/15 menu has been slightly updated to reflect some proper names of dishes and avoid confusion/mix-up/poor translation with modern dishes by the same name)

First service from the credenza:
-Asparagus salad
-Mixed Green Salad (with flowers)
-Caper Salad
-Sliced Sausage
-Prosciutto (meaning Ham in this instance) Pie
-Strawberries and Cherries

First and Last Service from the Kitchen:
-Brisavoli with Orange Sauce
-Young Beans (or peas)
– Rice Dish in the Lombard Style
– Coloured Aspics

Last Service from the Credenza:
– Herboletta
– Tart of Elderflowers
– Snow and Rolled Wafers
– Damson Conserve
– Almonds
– Seasoned Chestnuts
–finished with sweet fennel alongside toothpicks (please don’t eat the toothpicks) and comfits