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.

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).

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.



Gelatin for Later?

jelloeasyMany of us have grown accustomed to instant, flavoured, Jello along with the simple instructions of adding, and dissolving, one packet of flavoured gelatin in a cup of boiling water and then stirring in a cup of cold water, stirring it and then letting it set in the fridge.  This is easy, it can be done as a nearly last minute dessert (only need time to let it set) and it takes little thought apart from adding various ingredients and knowing not to add things like fresh pineapple to it (this will prevent it from setting).

So, yes, that’s easy enough so what happens when we come across recipes like this:

Gelye de chare.
“Take caluys fete, and skalde hem in fayre water, an make hem alle the whyte. Also take howhys of Vele, and ley hem on water to soke out the blode; then take hem vppe, an lay hem on a fayre lynen clothe, and lat the water rennyn out of hem; than Skore (Note: Scour) a potte, and putte the Fete and the Howhys ther-on; than take Whyte Wyne that wolle hold coloure, and cast ther-to a porcyon, an non other lycoure, that the Fleysshe be ouer-wewyd (Note: See other Cookery, No. 174, wese) withalle, and sette it on the fyre, and boyle it, and Skeme it clene; an whan it is tendyr and boylid y-now, take vppe the Fleyshe in-to a fayre bolle, and saue the lycoure wyl; and loke that thow haue fayre sydys of Pyggys, and fayre smal Chykenys wyl and clene skladdyd and drawe, and lat the leggys an the fete on, an waysshe hem in fayre water, and caste hem in the fyrste brothe, an sethe it a-3en ouer the fyre, and skeme it clene; lat a man euermore kepe it, an blow of the grauy. An in cas the lycoure wast (Note: Waste) a-way, caste more of the same wyne ther-to, and put thin honde ther-on; and 3if thin hond waxe clammy, it is a syne of godenesse, an let not the Fleyshe be moche sothe, (Note: boiled) that it may bere kyttyng; than take it vppe, and ley it on a fayre clothe, and sette owt the lycoure fro the fyre, and put a few colys vnder-nethe the vesselle that the lycoure is yn; than take pouder of Pepir, a gode quantyte, and Safron, that it haue a fayre Laumbere coloure, and a gode quantyte of Vynegre, and loke that it be sauery of Salt and of Vynegre, fayre of coloure of Safroun, and putte it on fayre lynen clothe, and sette it vndernethe a fayre pewter dysshe, and lat it renne thorw the clothe so ofte tylle it renne clere: kytte fayre Rybbys of the syde of the Pygge, and lay ham on a dysshe, an pulle of the lemys of the Chykenys, eche fro other, and do a-way the Skynne, and ley sum in a dysshe fayre y-chowchyd, (Note: Y-couched; laid) and pore thin (Note: Thine) gelye ther-on, and lay Almaundys ther-on, an Clowys, and paryd Gyngere, and serue forth.”
(From: Two 15th century Cook Books)


Isinglass or Gelatine Jelly

“3oz isinglass or gelatine
2 qts cold water
Bring quickly to a boil, boiling very fast till the liquor is reduces one-hald’ carefully remove the scum as it rises, strain it through a jelly-bag and it will be ready for use. If not required very clear, it may be merely strained through a fine sieve, instead of being run through a bag.
Rather more than 1/2 oz of insinglass is about the proper quantity to use for 1 qt of strong calf’s food stock, and rather more than 2 ozs for the same quantity of fruit juice. As insinglass varies so much in strength, it is difficult to give exact proportions. The laarger the mould, the stiffer should be the jelly; and where there is no ice, more isinglass must be used than if the mixture were frozen.
This forms a stock for all kinds of jellies, which may be flavoured in many ways.
The above, when boiled, should be perfectly clear, and may be mixed warm with wine, flavourings, fruits, etc., and then run through a bag.”
The Complete Practical Confectioner, 1890

This is likely not something you are going to prepare last minute and if you’re in a kitchen with staff consisting of one cook and help that is very unfamiliar with the dishes, it’s not going to be an easy production which means we might be less likely to go through with a gelatin dish. However, apart from drying it out and reconstituting for later use, you can at least prepare a concentrated stock ahead of time, taking a little aside to check how much extra liquid you can add (just water will do) and still allow it to set. Note: if you leave it uncovered in the fridge, it will concentrate more as it dehydrates more.

gelatin This picture shows some flavoured JELLO, some clarified gelatin and non-clarified Isinglass gelatin. The first two examples seem to produce a heavier and firmer gelatin but it could also be that the isinglass solution was just not as concentrated as it did get a little more firm over time. To me, the easiest way to deal with gelatin is to make up a clarified stock ahead of time and refrigerate, even if it’s just making it a week ahead to save time before you add all the other ingredients you want such as wine, spices and so on. Just reheat it until liquid and add what you need while it’s still in liquid form. gell2Do not worry about ruining the gelatin by boiling and refrigerating it, this picture is the from the same batch after reboiling and refrigerating several times. The firmness is more or less the same though I did add water over time as some was lost to re-cooking and dehydration in the refrigerator.

Another viable option for those really pressed for time or in need of more refrigerator space, is to freeze it. Yes, I do realize that if you let frozen gelatin thaw, it will not be the same as before you froze it and it’s even a decent way to separate liquids from the gelatin, however, it is still usable. All you have to do it reboil it and re-set it (this is a good time to add whatever you need to add at this point). The pictures below show some prepared gelatin I froze and the same stuff after it was boiled and allowed to set.

frozen gelatin
frozen gelatin
same gelatin reboiled from frozen and let to set again
same gelatin reboiled from frozen and let to set again

As you can see, gelatin can handle a lot of abuse so it’s quite fine to make up batches well ahead for future functions, just so long as you’re just making your base product. A fancy moulded dessert, or object for show, isn’t going to improve with time so that should not be made too many days ahead.

Silly reason not to drink soda

While there are several good reasons not to drink soda such as their being too much sugar or the gas makes me feel uncomfortable or that acid drinks are not great for my teeth, the fact that it could curdle milk is probably… well no, it is quite a silly reason.

Here is the “You’ll Never Drink Soda Again” webpage, showing such horrors as milk being added to dark pop and having it curdle and separate.

A Quick little look at milk in drinks:

If I took some somewhat unhealthy drinks such as sugary lemonade and coffee and compare them to drinks we consider to be healthy such as apple juice and orange juice…


and then add milk to this and wait a little:

IMG_0668 IMG_0683


We would have some pretty gross looking separation in the most acidic drinks, in this case that would be the Apple and the Orange, which are also more healthy beverages than the sugary lemonade (to the far left) and the coffee (to the far right). If anything, the acid is breaking down the milk and creating an easier to digest product. This is also the basis for cheese which can be made from easily found acids such as vinegar or by using rennet, which is commonly taken from the stomachs of animals (so guess what milk might do in our own).  img42-1
This is what we were seeing in the Coke/Milk page, the acid reacts with the milk and it separates into liquids and solids. In cheese-making, this would be the curds and whey.

Back through time, we took this idea and developed posset drinks, caudles and other concoctions to take advantage of this reaction which would help it to thicken, when they included milk. (eggs are another which makes it more custard-like, but not all drinks had them. Sometimes they may be carefully mixed and worked in to create a smooth drink but other times it could be quite curdled. See below for a few recipes. 


Of course, I don’t have to go back too far to find an acid + milk drink, in fact, I would be looking at “milk and Pepsi” which had some popularization due to it being the favourite drink of the fictional character “Laverne” from “Laverne and Shirley” which aired from the mid. 70’s to 1980. I even remember trying it in my youth because of that show.

So next time you read about some food being so awful for such reasons as because “it denatures the protein found in the milk”, do consider that it might not actually be a bad thing or may actually be quite delicious and not overly harmful in moderate amounts.


A sample of recipes that combine acids and milk to make drinks and sauces

To make a sacke creame
“take a pinte of creame and 8 eggs but 2 of ye yolks and beat it very well, and boyle ye creame and eggs together, stire it all ye while on ways, and then put in a quarter of a pint of sacke and still stire it on wayes. Let it but just boyle, lay your mace a litell while in roswater, then take it out and put in ye rosewater and sweeten it with suger.”
(1651, Jane Parker)

to make a (Sack) possett
“take a quart of milke, take 5 eggs, ye whites of but 3 of them, let ye milke boyle and let it be almost cold againe, befor you put in ye eggs, beat ye eggs very well, with halfe a pint of sacke, sweeten it with suger, then put it in to ye milke, and set it over ye fore againe till it begins to curdle, then put it into a bason, set it with embers rond about it, but not uneder ye botom of it, so let it stand till it is whalled, like a custard, stire it with a spone, then take it of and strew sinamon and suger mixt together on ye top and serve it.”
(1651, Jane Parker)

“1 quartyrn of red wyne, 1 quartyrn of whyte wyne halfe quartyrn brandye sugar to taste, 1 bowle of milk, half pound cream quartyr of a nutmeg. Milk the cow into the bowle or pour from a height.”
(Grace Acton, 1621)

For a cup of Zabaglione:
-In a pot heat up 4 egg yolks, sugar to sweeten, some cinnamon and sweet wine (the wine can be diluted with water or broth if too strong), being sure to stir constantly.
-When the drink thickens, take it from the heat and pour into a cup.
-This is served in the evening and at bedtime.
(The recipe for this can be found in: The Art of Cooking, composed by Maestro Martino of Como, 14th/15th century)

Cawdel Of Almaund Mylk.
“Take Almaundes blaunched and drawe hem up with wyne, do þerto powdour of gyngur and sugur and colour it with Safroun. boile it and serue it forth.”
Forme of Cury, 1390

A fine Caudle
“Take a Pint of Milk, turn it with Sack; then strain it, and when ’tis cold, put it in a Skillet with Mace, Nutmeg, and some white Bread sliced; let all these boil, and then beat the Yolks of 4 or 5 Eggs, the Whites of 2, and thicken your Caudle, stirring it all one Way for fear it curdle; let it warm together, then take it off and sweeten it to your Taste.”
The Complete Family-Piece, 1737

To mak a posthot
“put cow mylk in a pan and set it on the fyer and when it is at boiling do ther in other wyne or ale and no salt then tak it from the fyer and kele it and assone as the curddes gaddure take up the curddes with a saucer or a ladille and serue it and straw ther on pouder of ginger and ye may tak the sam curdde and lay it on the clothe and presse out the wyne and drawe it through a strener with swet wyne put ther to pouder of guinger and sugur and mele it to gedure and serue it as a stonding sewe for sopers and straw ther on anise in comfettes.”
A Noble Boke off Cookry, 1468

How to bake a First World War trench cake

Check out the The Telegraph for the official recipe released by the government for a cake sent to the soldiers in WWI.


What is interesting is that this one used brown sugar while in “War Economy in Food” written in 1918 suggests that people not only use less cake but to substitute with corn syrup, molasses, honey and other sugar syrups. This recipe doesn’t even seem to take advantage of stewing dried fruit to sweeten the cake.

Here is a somewhat more economical recipe with even an option to replace some of the flour (which is something that they needed to save on as well as sugar).

This is from “War Economy in Food”, 1918

War Cake

1 cup molasses
1 cup corn syrup
1 1/2 cups water
1 package of raisins
2 Tbsp fat
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
2 tsp baking powder

Boil together for 5 minutes the first 9 ingredients. Cool, add sifted dry ingredients and bake in two loaves for 45 minutes in a moderate oven.
This cake should be kept several days before using. It makes about 20-25 servings.
If desired 1 cup of oatmeal may be used in place of 7/8 cup of flour.

Melons and Gourds

Curious about melons and gourds before the 17th century? Ever wonder about those Coucumbers (sometimes “Cowcumber”) or Pompeons? Here is a section of one of my favourite 16th century publications known as the Four Books of Husbandry. Edit: It has been brought to my attention that I did not cite this page properly, and who knows, much of my blog and website are probably not properly cited, and this is plagiarism. This is all on me, I figured that naming the book as above with quotes below for the sections I transcribed in quotes and my commentary not in quotes but in italics, was enough to be clear I was not claiming this work as my own. Please read all the quoted area as from the 1570’s book by B. Googe called the Foure Bookes of Husbandry and the stuff in italics as my own commentary, be it correct or not… these are just me thinking out loud, please interpret on your own. I have read material from the 17th century that paints a different picture but that is what makes this entirely fun. Thank you for putting up with my sloppy transcribing!
***further note, for those who have not followed my husbandry posts, this is indeed a continuation of my posts from my retired blog (which I should probably move here to avoid further confusion): http://compendiumhistoric.blogspot.ca/search/label/animal%20husbandry

Melons from Tacuinum Sanitatis
Melons from Tacuinum Sanitatis

“Melons (which some, because they are fashioned like Apples call Pomes) are of the kinde of Coucumbers, and so are the Pepones which the Frenchemen call Pompeons. The Coucumbers in Greeke [word in greek lettering], in Latine Cucumer, in Italian Cucumero or Cedruolo, in Frech & Dutch Cocumbre. They change to Pompeons, and Muskemillions, from whiche they onely differ in shape and greatnes: when they exceede in grearnesse, they become Pompeons, and when they growe rounde, they are Mellonpompeons: all these kindes are called of some wryters Melons. The Grecians call all the sortes, as well Coucumbers ad Mellonpompeons, by the name of Pompeons and Melons: though there are some that make a difference betweene Pompeons and Mellons, neither doo the learned yet throughly agree uppon these meanes, nor can it bee certaynely saide what kinde of the olde writers ment by Pompeons, and Melonpompeons.”

–This is interesting as I’ve known people to interpret “Pompeons” as “Pumpkins” and though new world gourdes were known at some point, it seems here we are talking about melons.

“Pompeons doe creepe a long upon the ground with ruffe leaves and yellowe flowre, and are pleasaunt to be heaten when they are ripe. The sweetest sorte of them they call Succrine, or Muskmillions. The Mellonpompeons are supposed to spring first in Campania, beyng fashioned like a Quince. This kinde hangeth not, but groweth rounde lying uppon the ground, and beeying ripe, doe leave the stalke.

Some Coucumbers are called Citrini, of their yellownesse when they be ripe, and also Citruli or Citreoli, they growe all in length, and are spotted as the Citrons are: some be called Marin, and be called in Italian Cucussa Marina, the seede whereof is to be eaten before they be ripe: they are cut in peeces, and porredge made of them, not muche unlike in fashion to the Melon.

There is also an other kinde of Coucumber of a houge compasse, almost as bigge as a bushell: the Mowers and Harnest folked in Italie, use to carrie greate pieces of them to the feelde with them, to quenche their thyrst. You must set all these kindes in March, the seedes must be set thinne, two foote one from an other, in watrie ground well dounged and digged, specially sandy grounde: you must lay them in Milke, or Water and nony three dayes: and after drye them and sowe them, so shall you have them very pleasaunt. They will have a very sweete savour, if their seedes be kept many dayes among Rose leaves. Your Coucumbers shalbe long and tender, if you set under them water in a brode vessell, two handfulles under them.

They delight in water so much, as if they be cut of, they will yet bend towarde it, and if they hang or have any staye, they will grow crooked, as also if you let oyle by them, whiche they greatly abhoure. The flowers beyng suffered to growe in Pipes, doo growe to a woonderfull length. They love not the Winter no more then doth the Gourde, whereunto they are almost like in nature, for the flowres, the leaves, and the claspers, are like of them both: but the Gourde is more busie in clinnnyng, so that with hastie growth, it spreadeth quickly over the herbes and summer houses, runnyng by the walles, and mountyng up to the very Tyles of the houses, having a great fruite of a monstrous bignesse, hangyng by a small stalk, in fashion like a Peare, and greene in collour, although when it hath flowred, it will growe in what fashion you will have it: they say, there hath been some of them niene foote in length. The rounde ones also growe to be used for great vesselles: the rynde of the newe ones, is soft and tender, but of the olde ones hard, whereof when the meate is out, trauaylers make great bottles to carrie drinke in. ”

picking gourds, Tacuinum Sanitatis
picking gourds, Tacuinum Sanitatis

“The Gourdes that are used to bee eaten in sommer, are sundry in shape, for some are rounde, some long, some broade: and though the fashion be divers, yet the nature is all one: for it is made by arte to growe in what shape you will, as in the forme of a creeping Dragon, or what you lift, they are called in Greeke [more Greek lettering], I Italian Zuma, in Spainshe Calabaz, in Dutch Kuirbisch, the French Vne courge. The seedes that the Gourde beareth next to the stalk (as Paladius sayth) are longest, they in the middest rounde, and those that lye on the side, short, broade, and flatte: if you set the sharpe ende of the seede downwarde, as Columella sayth, you shall have them both greater Gourdes and Coucumbers. It delighteth in a moyst, ritch, wel dounged, and well watred ground. That which groweth without water, bringes the pleasanter fruite, and that whiche hath water yenough, needes the lesse looking to. The flowers where they beeset, must bee digged a foote and a halfe deepe, the thirde parte whereof must be filled with strowe, and then with doog ritche mould: it must be filled to the middest, then the seedes beyng set, must be watred tyll they be sprong, and after, eath layd to them still as they growe, till the Furrowe be filled. They must be set thinne, two foote a sunder, it commeth up in sixe or seven dayes after the setting. Those that are sette in drye grounde, must bee verie well watred, therefore they use to set by them earthen pottes full of water, with ragges or cloutes in them to water them. When they bee a little growen, they must have helpes set by them to climbe uppon, the longer they bee, the better the meate is.”

“You must beware there come no woman neare where you set them, for their presence dooth greatly hurt them.” –Though notice that the picture from Tacuinum Sanitatis shows a woman right in the thick of it, maybe this was a later development 😉

“Those that you keepe for seede, you must suffer to remayne uppon the stalke tyll Winter, and then geathering them, and drye them, eyther in the sunne, or in the smoke, for otherwise the seede will rotte and perishe. They will long bee preserved and continue freshe, if after they bee gathered they bee put into a close vessell with the Lees of white wine, or hanged in the vessell of vinegar, so that they touche not the vineger.”

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.