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:


An English Cheese Pastry

A couple of days ago I decided that I wanted to compare a variety of English Cheese Pastries so I dug up 8 different recipes ranging from the end of the 14th century to the end of the 16th century.

To compare, I made a basic batch of paste and used a small tart pan to shape the pies. I did this mainly for consistency as it was more about trying the different fillings. The cheese used was a basic fresh cheese that was lightly pressed and somewhat firm, a ripened cheese that I had bought (age and name unknown but had a decent tang and for comparison was harder than cheddar but not as hard as Parmesan) and then another I had to make on the spot (details in the recipe/instructions).

On following the recipes, I went by taste, texture and feel, basically with the yolks you are adding enough to bind and with the sugar, I added enough for it to be sweet which can be about 1/3 the amount as the cheese. Spices, when used, were to taste and saffron enough to colour (does not take much) and so on.

All the items are on white plates, which has become my plate of choice for showing off the food, even though I did not attempt to make pretty pastries this time around as, again, it was more about just getting to test the fillings.

#1 and #2 are Tart de Bry. I did not use Bry but I have played with it before and it makes a lovely tart, as would any similar type of cheese, it’s just a bit of a pain to prepare while avoiding too much waste and it can be quite expensive. Bry, which is also a place, of course, which in fact could be what the recipe is alluding as was common in many recipe names.

Tart de Bry #1-(Forme of Cury- 1390) an inch deep vessel is lined with pastry. Filling: raw egg yolks, “Cheese rauyn” mixed together with powdered ginger, sugar, saffron and salt. Fill it up, bake and serve.
Tart de Bry #2-(Forme of Cury- 1425) A coffin is made and filled with: Raw egg yolks mixed with good fat cheese and powdered ginger, cinnamon, sugar and saffron. The coffins are filled and baked and served forth.
**note: I covered these pies but am guessing they were probably cooked uncovered. I had made them uncovered before and was curious about the difference, there really doesn’t seem to be any, however if one wanted to make a really white pie, a removable cover would be useful.
Pie #1 is the whiter pie as it has no cinnamon, #2 is the darker one
Tart de Bry with covers

The texture was actually softer and nicer than it looks, the flavour profile is going to be subjective, I really enjoyed the subtleness and balance of #1 where my other taster preferred the slightly more robust flavour of #2.






#3, Sambocade (also from Forme of Cury): Line a vessel with pastry and make a filling with curds wrung from their whey, strain and fill the pastry. On top of this add sugar, egg whites and elderflower blooms with a little rose water.
sambocade version one

This is version #1 where I mixed all the ingredients together rather than layering them in. Version #2 to come, however version #1 worked out quite well and was probably my favourite tart of the day.

And…. here is #2

sabocade two


It’s pretty thin but I only achieved a tiny little bit of cheese curd (I was prepared to only make up enough for one), it sure makes for a different, but not entirely unpleasant, look. The taste is actually not completely different than the first version but the sugar top is more enhanced with quite a punch.







#4 (with notes about #8 which was not made) Tart out of Lent (MS Pepys 1047, 1500): Filling: take soft cheese and remove any outer skin then grind it in a mortar adding eggs, butter and cream, mixing this all together. (not adding too much butter if the cheese is fatty) Make a coffin of dough, fill it, and close it up. Colour the top of the pie with egg yolk and bake it well and serve.

Tart out of Lent


This is the only tart I made without sugar, however there was another recipe from A.W., 1591 called a “Tart of Cheese” which is very similar. The differences being the paste is driven fine so presumably done in a vessel and is covered with a fair cut cover (decoratively cut covers became “a thing” at this point in time), the filling differed where the filling was just mixed with egg yolk and clarified butter so suspect it would be just a bit more dense than these but the overall flavour is likely quite similar. BTW, these were quite tasty and a welcome change from all the sweet tarts I tried.



#5. Tarte of Cheese (William How, 1575): Hard cheese is broken down via soaking in water (or sweet milk) for 3 hours and then pounded in a mortar. This is drawn through a strainer with 6 yolks, seasoned with sugar and sweet butter and baked (it is presumed one knows to put it into a pastry shell).

cheese tart

This is the first of the bunch that I made that just felt more like what we would expect a modern “cheesecake” to taste like but it was pleasant in it’s own right as simple as it was. This picture shows it baked with and without a cover, I suspect is was baked without as a tart should be and it was a little better that way but not entirely different.





#6 To Make a Curde Tart (Housewives Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1590’s): Take cream, yolks of eggs, white bread and cook these together in a pot, then add a saucer-full of  rosewater or Malmesey (a sweet white wine, possibly fortified) to turn it (curdle it). Put this onto a cloth to let the whey drain out, then strain it and add cinnamon, ginger, salt and sugar then lay it in the paste and bake it.

curde tartI basically kind of rushed the curd production so I didn’t get quite as much curd as it should have had but it turned out quite a tasty pastry over all in an almost butter tart fort of way which is probably due to the extreme freshness of the curd and the caramelizing of the sugar as it cooked. I would like to try it again but with more time and patience to make better, and more, curds.





#7 To Make a Tart of Cheese (Housewives Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1590’s)  Take “Bamberie Cheese” (I shall admit that I have no idea what Bamberie cheese was like) and pare away the outside of it and cut it into small pieces and put them in the tart (assuming you already made a pastry and either formed a shell or lined a pan with it). When the tart is full of cheese, add two handfuls of sugar (I read this as being a fair bit of sugar, possibly similar to the 1/3 part sugar measure as mentioned earlier), cast in 5 or 6 spoonfuls of rosewater and close it with a cover and lay sweet molten butter upon it and fine sugar and bake it in the oven.

make a tarte of cheeseAs you can probably tell, I forgot to ice it! This was a shame because that is one of the features of period tarts that I really love be it just butter and sugar or icings as fancy as egg white, rosewater and sugar. Sugar on the pastry did happen though, the sugar boiled up and caramelized the bottom of the pastries… much care needs to be taken with these, perhaps a deep pastry style and a good, tight, lid with a small vent.



The Red Herring in Period Pastry

After a recent book dive into tracking down my oldest recipe for butter tarts (The Canadian tart I never thought of as Canadian) and an afternoon of making and rolling out pastry, I had a few thoughts about the whole process.

What is pastry anyway? Ever look into a fairly old cook book and look for a pie recipe? Chances are, you may end up finding it in the pudding section and that makes sense because it’s the filling that is featured, not the casing so much which is just there to… well… hold it or envelope it. Another common term on looking for pies is not so much pastry but simply “paste” because this is what we are making, how it cooks up is a different matter and the design is related to the purpose.

So, first off we have to remove all notion of “period pastry” and “modern pastry” and that all pastry must equal “flaky pastry”. What we need to consider if what the pastry is for. Does it need to keep it’s shape? Do we want it to be light? Is it going to hold liquid or a solid mass? Various questions come to mind. Often when I hear the phrase “makes period pastry” what is really meant is that the person makes raised pies that keep their form when baking. Those being a dense paste designed to hold shape and contents while baking, but those are not the only period pastry and even those are not all alike… there is no ubiquitous period pastry, just as there is no one shape or purpose to a period pie.

So far on looking at pies, and just off the top of my head (aka: with no notes in hand), I can think of rye pastes made with mostly flour or meal and water and maybe rubbed with fat after it’s cooked, warm pastes made for standing pies that have little good in them to others with butter and sugar and all that’s good. There are also pastes cooked in butter in very thin layers, pastes that are designed to be flaky and others that just sound like nothing special… paste of flour, butter and egg yolk or flour, butter and a little sugar… they all vary but what you are doing with it will determine just how much butter to flour or how much egg you are going to use.

And this is where my day of making up pastry came in… didn’t use a recipe, didn’t do anything special, I just simply took 2 cups of flour (my scoop is an old tin 1 cup measure) sprinkled in a bit of salt and daubed large globs of shortening into it and mixed it with a fork… it didn’t feel like I had enough for a somewhat short pastry (which is what I wanted) so I globed more in… mixed it up, looked good… stuck it under the tap and poured in a little cold water, mixed it up a little and balled it up a little with my hand, looked good, if it wasn’t enough, I would have added a little more water. Also, because this is a short paste with the purpose of being flaky, I was careful not to handle it, this is because if it is over handled, the fat would melt into the paste causing it to cook up flat. The opposite is true for a pastry that needs to keep it’s shape… you want the butter to be warm enough to liquefy so it will work evenly into the paste and better keep it’s shape while it cooks. Egg on the other hand, can warp it’s shape but can also make it better for eating but I do find it also has a far shorter working time as it dries out more quickly. To make a raised pie, a few yolks only can improve it’s edibility while not causing the pastry to warp/bubble too badly… and yes, you can indeed eat the pastry and it is good.



General Advice on Roasting Meat

In Gervase Marham’s “The English Huswife” published in 1615, are fairly well described steps, or general advice, on Roasting Meat. Now, many of us might not have access to indoor roasting facilities, however summer is quickly gaining ground so thought this may make for some food for thought for the upcoming months!

Here is a simplified breakdown of the advice given, and though it is post period for those of you who play in the SCA, the advice is good for far earlier periods and many specifics in the book itself is still quite useful for late 16th century English cookery.


Spitting Meats

  • The meat should be thrust onto the spit snug/tight enough to help prevent shrinkage from becoming an issue as the meat roasts. The meat should also not be able to turn about the spit.
  • **note: spits shown in many paintings tend to be flat rather than round and also often tapered, this would certainly aid in keeping the meat put. 
  • The spit should not go through any “principal part of the meat”, basically we want to preserve much of the meat that will be eaten.
  • When spitting fowl, as above, it’s advised to put the spit through the hollowed part of the bird and to fasten it on with skewers under the wings, about the thighs and at the feat or rump (according to your manner of trussing and dressing the bird).
  • **note: I have also come across various roasts where the bird is stuffed and sewn up at each end before spitting, sometimes parboiling it after stuffing but before roasting. A fully stuffed bird, depending on it’s stuffing, is going to stay in place somewhat better on the spit but may still need trussing. 


Roasting Temperatures

  • A slow and long heat, where the spits are placed low and along side of the fire where they can soak in the heat over a longer period of time without much fear of scorching: All Large flowl and large joints of meat.
  • Placed near a “quick and sharp fire”, that being a faster fire: Compound roasted meats (dishes with meat and other components which typically are not too large), smaller roast meats and fowl and simple roast puddings. These would be made while the first course of meat has been already served out.


Complexions of Meat OR What your meat will look like when it’s done!

  • Pale and White Roasted: Middle and small sized poultry, mutton, veal and lamb
  • Brown Roasted: Large fowl, beef, venison, pork or other things with “black meat” (likely what we would call dark and/or red meat today)


Best Bastings for Meat

  • Sweet Butter (not melted)
  • Sweet Oil
  • Barreled Butter (preserved)
  • Fine rendered animal fat with cinnamon, cloves and mace
  • some use only water and salt

Best Dredging  (Think shake and bake, only better because it’s on a spit and cooked with butter)

  • Fine white bread crumb (well grated)
  • a little very fine white meal and crumbs well mixed together

How do I know when my meat is cooked?
The meat should be roasted enough and not too rare which is unwholesome or too moist or too dry which is not nourishing.

For Large Joints:

  • The meat starts to steam
  • The meat begins to shrink from the spit
  • or Juices from the meat comes out clear with no blood

For Fowl:

  • The thighs are tender
  • The hinder parts of the pinions ,at the setting of the wings, are without blood
  • or You can stick your knife into the thickest part of the meat and if the gravy comes out clear with no blood, it is done.

Before Drawing the meat from the Spit:

  • Have it well basted with butter (or other aforementioned bastings), then dredge it (again with aforesaid dredging, and take 2 or 3 turns doing this to crisp the dredging. When this is done, remove it from the spit into a fair dish with salt sprinkled over it and serve it forth.

Enjoy, and I do hope this aids you with your future period inspired roasts.