This past weekend I went on my Rare Books Bake Off adventure and it was an adventure, believe you me. While my end product was yummy and made my apartment smell like the best of local British pubs, it wasn’t much of a looker and it was a journey to get it made. Here are my takeaway lessons from this journey to make a recipe from early 19th century Britain, a venison pasty.
First lesson: A pasty was something different in the early 1800s; it was essentially a full size meat pie, not the handheld pies we know and love today. And I could find only three recipes that used “pasty” in their title in our Cookbooks & Herbals digital collection and all three were for the same thing, a venison pasty. It was always found among all the meat pie recipes though. The only difference I could discern is that the pasty called only for a crust on top of the pie filling with no crust under – all the other pies called for a traditional pie crust. It was also a recipe only to be found in cookbooks from Great Britain.
Second lesson: One cannot simply buy venison these days, at least not around Tallahassee. I spoke to the two main meat markets in the area and was told that if I killed a deer, I could bring it in and they would process it for me. That was a bit more commitment than I was willing to make for the Bake Off challenge so I subbed in stew beef for venison. All the recipes also called for mutton and that wasn’t something I even attempted to find as I didn’t think that would go well (nor did I really want to try mutton).
Third lesson: The recipes all assumed I know a lot more about cooking and baking than I do. One of the recipes I looked at simply remarked at one point to “pour the gravy over the meat” and yet had told me nothing about making a gravy or how to do so! Other recipes used venison bones and mutton to make a gravy, two things I did not have either. So, I needed a modern day recipe to guide me on this journey. Luckily, I found this fabulous recipe at The Spruce Eats, shared by one of their British writers so I would keep to the original character of this very British dish from its early 1800s roots. I did my best to also find British ingredients where I could. Thinking I would not find mustard powder (what even is that?), I thought I would need to sub-in ground mustard but Publix to the rescue! They had a mustard powder from Norwich in stock. I did not however buy or make the ginger biscuits the recipe wanted – I am curious how that might have thickened the final filling though as that was pretty thin in the end.
Fourth lesson: Puff Pastry is not my friend. This was my first time trying to make puff pastry from scratch and it actually went well until it came time to roll it out to place over the filling for the pie. My dough remained very sticky throughout the process and no matter how much flour I would put on the counter, it would stick! I did eventually get pastry over the filling but by then, I’d worked the dough a lot and it was breaking in lots of places. So while it does taste good, it did not puff as it should have in the baking process so the final product looks a flat and a bit sad. Also, since it didn’t puff, the underside is soggy (Mary Berry is so disappointed in me) but, as a pasty, there is only crust on the top of the pie so no soggy bottom at least!
Fifth lesson: The cooks of the early 19th century clearly had a lot of time on their hands (and I know often cooking was an actual occupation at the time) but this dish was time-consuming. I started work at 2pm and finally sat down to eat the final product at 7pm. And there were a lot of dishes and cleaning up in between and after as well. I was exhausted when I went to bed that night.
All that said, I really enjoyed this project and chronicling my journey through Instagram stories and getting lots of encouragement from the ladies of my network who are all great bakers and assure me for a first effort, my puff pastry wasn’t as much of a disaster as I thought it was (still, I think I might stick to the frozen pre-made versions in the future…). Now, I get to enjoy left over pie all week for dinner – yum!
This is a guest contribution to Illuminations for The Great Rare Books Bake Off by Matt Hunter, Digital Scholarship Librarian at FSU Libraries.
Outside of my day-job I study food in medieval England, so I was *very* interested in this challenge to see whether or not I had any skills to recreate some of the foods I study. Though the ingredients and techniques may often seem strange to modern kitchens, there’s much more that seems familiar once a bit of creative interpretation and translation is applied. Although I wasn’t aware of any medieval recipe-books in FSU’s Special Collections, I figured the mid-seventeenth century was a pretty good place to start!
For my recipe, I tried to find something from the 1658 edition of The Compleat Cook: Expertly Prescribing the most ready wayes, whether Italian, Spanish, or French, for dressing of Flesh, and Fish, Ordering of Sauces, or making of Pastry. There’s tons of fun stuff in there for those ready to experiment with historical food, but as someone who is dreadfully inept at baking and also a vegetarian, there weren’t that many recipes I could bring myself to commit to. But just as portobello steaks and burgers have come to serve as a stand-in for beef in many modern American sports bars, I figured the recipe “To ſtew Muſhromes” (pp. 97-98) would be right up my alley with a strategic substitution or two. I love mushrooms, and the mix of savory and citrus elements sounded incredibly interesting. The general modern* availability of the ingredients didn’t hurt either – though “mutton gravy” was a bit out of my grasp (it’s also the only thing I needed to swap out for a vegetarian option anyhow). All-in-all this was a pretty easy recipe and it turned out surprisingly good. There were some parts that I think I would change for future iterations, but I’ll get to those at the end.
* (Historical availability is a different matter altogether, which is discussed below!)
Here’s the recipe as transcribed from pages 97 and 98 of The Compleat Cook, long-s (ſ) retained:
To ſtew Muſhromes
Take them freſh gathered and cut off the hard end of the ſtalk,& as you pill
them throw them into a Diſh of White-wine, after they have lain half an
houre or there-upon, draine them from the Wine, and put them between two
ſilver Diſhes, then ſet them on a ſoft fire without any liquor, and when they
have ſtewed a while, poure away the liquor that comes from them which will be
very black, then put your Muſhromes into another cleane Diſhe with a ſprig
or two of Tyme, an Onyon whole, foure or five Cournes of whole Pepper, two
or three Cloves, a bit of an Orange, a little Salt, a bit of ſweet butter
and ſome pure Gravie of Mutton, cover them, and ſet them on a gentle fire,
ſo let them ſtew ſoftly till they be enough, and very tender, when you diſh
them blow off all the fat from them, and take out the Tyme, Spice and
Orange, then wring in the juyce of Lemon, and grate a little Nutmeg among
the Muſhromes, toſſe them two or three times, put them in a cleane Diſhe,
and ſerve them hot to the Table.
My version: Stewed Mushrooms, adapted for vegetarians
- 16oz Baby Bella mushrooms, peeled, stems trimmed
- ~2-2.5 cups white wine (or enough to cover mushrooms)
- 1/2 small yellow onion
- 1/4 medium orange
- 1/8 lemon
- 2-3 sprigs thyme
- 3-4 black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp salted sweet-cream butter
- 1/4 cup mushroom gravy
- Rinse the mushrooms. Peel the skins and trim the stems
- Put the peeled mushrooms in a small baking dish and cover with white wine
(a zip-top bag would work as well). Marinate for 30 minutes. [I would
suggest a very cheap wine since this is eventually discarded]
- Drain the wine from the mushrooms and transfer to a 10-inch high-sided
skillet. Cook on medium heat until the mushrooms dry and start to brown (8-
12 minutes), flipping frequently.
- Transfer the mushrooms into an 8-inch saucepan and add butter, onion,
thyme, spices, orange, and gravy. Simmer on low for 5-10 minutes (until
mushrooms are soft), stirring frequently and muddle oranges while stirring.
- Transfer to serving dish. Squeeze lemon and grate fresh nutmeg directly
Serve hot and enjoy!
Based on some preliminary research, I found that the original publication of The Compleat Cook was intended to be a sort of exposé of the domestic life of Queen Mary of England, (neé Henrietta Maria, princess of France, of the house of Bourbon), wife of King Charles I of England (r. 1625-1649). The Compleat Cook wasproduced as a separate volume of culinary recipes alongside a larger collection of medicinal and confectionary recipes in 1655 entitled The Queens Closet Opened: Incomparable Secrets in Physic, Chirurgery, Preserving, Candying, and Cookery. (The volume of Compleat Cook we have in Special Collections is a 1658 reprinting.) Scholars have previously interpreted this collection of recipes as a bit of royalist propaganda to rehabilitate Henrietta Maria’s public image in England after the First English Civil War, which saw Henrietta Maria exiled to her home country of France in 1644, and the execution of Charles I in 1649. Whether or not rehabilitation through the publication of these recipes was successful is up for debate, but Henrietta Maria’s son Charles II did eventually reclaim the throne from the republican, English Commonwealth in 1660, at which point Henrietta Maria returned to England. This collection of recipes, then, served as a sort of tableau of the intimate domestic composure of the monarchy’s innermost lives, exposed for the English public, that included comforting English recipes intended to show off Henrietta Maria’s proper Englishness. ¹
So what does all this mean for the recipe? Primarily, it was to understand the historical context of some of the ingredients and figure out some of the un-accounted amounts. In particular, I wanted to make sure my amounts for the spices and citruses were feasible in early-modern England. The fact that the clove, nutmeg, and black peppercorn would all have been imported in the spice trade from the East Indies or Caribbean (clove and nutmeg from the Spice Islands of Indonesia or the West Indies, black pepper from India or the Middle East), and that citrus—especially the orange—had to be imported from warmer climates meant that the inclusion of these ingredients may have very well been a show of status just as much as a culinary choice. I also wanted to try to get a decently-accurate sense of what mushrooms and wines would have been included.
In the end, this historical research was more of a “good to know” thing rather than instructive in how I approached the recipe – there are too many considerations in the modern grocery environment to effectively match a historic ingredient list without some serious legwork. But thinking about the English wine landscape of the seventeenth century, and thinking about the availability of citrus and spices to the wider English public helped determine what varietal and how sparing I was in my ingredients. For things like thyme, I felt as though I could be generous, while the historically more precious spices and citrus I tried to be hold back.
My Attempt at ſtewing Muſhromes:
Based on my limited understanding of the Floridian mycologic landscape, I was not comfortable going on a wild mushroom hunt for this recipe. Instead I stuck to the safe and grocery-store available (if somewhat boring) Baby Bella mushrooms. After trimming the stems and peeling the skins, I threw them into a small glass baking dish to let them soak in the white wine, as called for.
Given that Henrietta Maria was a French queen of England, I figured the best choice for the unspecified “White-wine” would be a mildly-flavored French varietal to compliment some of the citrus flavors of the orange and lemon. But since covering the trimmed mushrooms to soak ended up requiring almost 2 ½ cups, and (especially) since this is discarded immediately after a brief 30-minute soak, I opted for some cheap (read: boxed) Sauvignon Blanc I had in the fridge. Once the ‘rooms soaked their allotted 30 minutes and were drained, it was time for their first stewing—this time in a large high-sided skillet (my interpretation of stewing between “two silver dishes”) over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. If this were a traditional meat-based stew, this step would brown the meat Rather than having to drain the resulting liquid, I noticed that it was boiling off rather quickly once expressed from the mushrooms, and gave a nice Maillard effect brown on the caps and stems.
Once most of the liquid had boiled off but before the mushrooms got tough, I transferred them into a high-sided saucepan with the rest of the ingredients. Since the original quantity of mushrooms was never specified, I was guessing a bit on the appropriate quantities of butter, orange, onion, and gravy so as to not overpower anything. Keeping in mind that I wanted to highlight the taste of the mushrooms and the relatively high-status of the citrus and spices in the period, I decided to err on the lower side. I settled on 4 black peppercorns and 2 cloves as a compromise, and threw it all together to simmer as if on “a gentle fire” for about 7 minutes. That gave enough time for the butter to melt, the onion to sweat out some flavor, and everything to be incorporated into the gravy. I crushed the oranges a bit as they warmed to get more of the juice out, which I think helped a lot, though thinking back I think even a quarter orange may have been generous in historical context (the flavor was great, though, so it’s pretty good luck for us Floridians!).
After things had combined well, I pulled the orange rinds, thyme sprigs and onion out of the pot and transferred the mushrooms to a serving dish, topping off with a small squeeze of lemon and some freshly grated nutmeg.
The end result? Surprisingly complex! The earthiness of the mushrooms and thyme served as a great compliment to the brightness of the citrus and clove, all layered over the rich foundation of the butter and gravy. Unsurprisingly, the timidity of the Sauvignon Blanc was lost completely once it was expressed from the mushrooms, and since there were no other real flavors included in the ‘marinade’ that whole process seemed like a waste of both time and wine; I have the feeling that a stronger white like a buttery Chardonnay might stand up a little better, and that’s what I’d use on a second attempt. On the other hand, since the point of a marinade is to use an acid as a vehicle to pump flavor into the cell fibers of the marinant, without any other spices during the 30 minute soak, even a full-bodied white may not do much (I’d really prefer to marinate with all the spices together). Otherwise, I think the more modern, readily-available status of some of these spices would lend a helping hand – the flavor of just the four black peppercorns I used was completely lost, so I would definitely bump that up to a liberal dusting of the ground stuff during the second round of stewing. I also do want to note that the store-bought jar of mushroom gravy I used in lieu of the mutton gravy was extremely salty and rich in its own right, probably imparting a lot of flavor that would not have been present in an original version with its home-made mutton gravy. But I’ll leave that experiment to someone else to try.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
With a few modifications, this is definitely something I’d include into a rotation of family-gathering or holiday side dishes. The prep time for peeling the mushrooms (probably another unnecessary step with something as commercially-grown as white button or Baby Bella mushrooms) made it a little too involved for a more-common dish, though.
¹ For a deep investigation of the larger historical context of
The Compleat Cook, see Laura Lunger Knoppers, “Opening the Queen’s
Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromwell, and the Politics of
Cookery,” Renaissance Quarterly 60, no. 2 (2007): 464–99.
This week, we returned to Mrs. Beeton for appetizer ideas, and were inspired by this “Cheese Biscuits recipe” from her Book of Household Management.
We pretty much followed this exactly, but ended up adding some flour in the process of rolling and cutting. I’d have some flour ready to prepare and de-stickify your workspace. Armed with my biscuit cutter and some aged cheddar cheese, I decided to separate the dough into batches so I could experiment with time and temp. Here is the transcription of the recipe:
Cheese Biscuits.-- INGREDIENTS for small dish.--3 oz. of grated cheese, 3 oz. of flour, 3 oz. of butter, the yolk of an egg, cayenne.
AVERAGE COST, 6d.
Season the cheese well with cayenne, and rub it, with the butter, in the flour, moisten with the yolk of an egg. Roll out the paste very thin, and cut into biscuits with a tin cutter. Bake a light brown in a quick oven. These biscuits may be served either hot or cold, and will keep a long time good if put in a tin.
TIME.--10 minutes to bake.
Sounds pretty simple, no? There was a touch of disagreement in our house about what it means to “rub in” the cheese with the butter, which resulted in our recreation of one of our favorite scenes in Schitt’s Creek. No, mom and dad aren’t fighting, we’re just trying to get to the bottom of this recipe.
I mixed in the Cayenne with the cheese, then did my best understanding of “rubbing in” the butter and cheese.
Added flour and mixed until a somewhat greasy dough developed.
For the first batch, I attempted to roll out the dough directly onto the silicone baking mat, then cut out the circles. I went with a 1 ½ inch ring. Removing the excess dough was IMPOSSIBLE, and terribly frustrating. Mrs. Beeton calls for a “quick oven,” which I looked up; it’s apparently 375-400 degrees. After getting the mat into a 380 degree oven I set a timer for 10 minutes, then watched and waited, like any good Bake Off competitor would.
The crackers spread, lost most of their definition, and didn’t have much crispness to them. More like a doughy, cheesy cookie. Not the most appetizing.
For batch two, we cranked the oven to 400 and used flour to roll out the crackers. These turned out better, didn’t spread as much, but I managed to ignore Alexa when she announced the ten minutes were up, and these got far too brown. Paul Hollywood had some things to say about that:
Batch three was the closest we got to what we were aiming for! Even MORE flour to aid in rolling them out, poked a center hole and five others in a sort of star-point pattern, put them in the 400 degree oven for 9 minutes. These turned out pretty perfectly!
The taste: overall, these taste JUST like the cheese straws people give each other around the holidays. That’s not exactly my favorite food, but the well-cooked ones were pretty great topped with fun things like bacon and a buffalo dip from Trader Joe’s.
Then my partner had a GENIUS idea to make tomato soup for dinner, so we could garnish with the cheese crackers. This was delicious! Honestly tasted like a fancy parmesan tuile, and they stayed super crisp in the soup. We were pretty happy with these in this application.
Now for the reviews:
I would not eat these alone. It tastes like there’s something missing.
“Paul Hollywood,” my sous chef
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Excellent in tomato soup, and as a base for other appetizers. Most importantly, we had a great time testing this one out!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Looking at these cheese biscuits from Karen Wright’s IG (former Bake Off contestant). I think we might have made ours too small and too thin? What do you think?
I love hot drinks: coffee, tea, cider, cocoa. Serving a hot drink in a pretty mug is a sure way to welcome guests to an autumn or winter party. And as the weather turns…well, milder (this is still Florida after all), I find myself turning on my electric kettle regularly.
So I was excited to see this recipe for “Hot Punch” included in the recipe suggestions post by Kristin to lead off Cocktail Week! The photos above contain the recipe as it was recorded in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861 (the volume in our collection is a first edition). Below, you’ll see the book’s title page, along with a picture of Mrs. Beeton from 1854. This was a groundbreaking book, said to allow anyone to manage “all things connected with home life and comfort,” and it set the standard for English housekeeping.
I will not comment on the epigraph — “Nothing lovelier can be found / In Woman, than to study household good” — other than to say that my partner and I share household duties and I’m still lovely, THANK YOU.
Here is a transcription of the original recipe for Hot Punch:
“1839. INGREDIENTS. -- ½ pint of rum, ½ pint of brandy, ¼ lb. of sugar, 1 large lemon, ½ teaspoonful of nutmeg, 1 pint of boiling water. Mode. -- Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punchbowl; add the lemon-juice (free from pips), and mix these two ingredients well together. Pour over them the boiling water, stir well together, add the rum, brandy, and nutmeg; mix thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve. It is very important in making good punch that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; and, to insure success, the processes of mixing must be diligently attended to."
She then recommends how much to make (a quart for 4 persons) and gives a lovely little history of punch. Punch was a big deal in the 19th century, but had started to fade in popularity at this time, according to Mrs. Beeton: “Punch, which was almost universally drunk among the middle classes about fifty or sixty years ago, has almost disappeared from our domestic tables, being superseded by wine.” She goes on to comment on the wide varieties of punch in existence, and a quick look at auction houses and other sites shows that punch bowls, like that depicted in the illustration of Mrs. Beeton’s book, came in all shapes and sizes.
Here is my version of the recipe with modifications. I’m adapting the recipe and only making half, as it’s a Thursday night and we don’t need to drink an entire party’s worth of punch:
Modified Recipe, HOT PUNCH: 4 oz rum 4 oz brandy 2 oz sugar 1/2 a lemon’s zest 1/2 a lemon’s juice 1/4 tsp nutmeg 8 oz boiling water
Mrs. Beeton’s sugar would have been sold in lumps, and the recipe calls for you to use a sugar lump to sort of sand the zest off of the lemon. I tried this, unsuccessfully, with granulated sugar, and eventually gave in and got out my zester/microplaner.
Then I rubbed the sugar and zest together to make a very fragrant lemon-sugar that would be delicious sprinkled on blueberries.
Then I added the lemon juice and whisked until the sugar, zest, and juice were combined. Boiled water came next, which seemed to do a great job of melting down the sugar. Then rum brandy, and nutmeg, and a good stir — and voila! Hot Punch!
Here’s a quick snippet of me tasting it:
It is STRONG. I think a small mug would do. This tastes so much like a hot toddy, just rum & brandy instead of whiskey: lemony, boozy, and hot. And very sweet. The sugar really hides the amount of alcohol you’re consuming, which could be a problem. Brandy is also not an ingredient we had on hand. I had to buy it especially for this recipe, but I do like the flavor that it imparts when mixed with rum. I think I’d probably strain this if I make it again, as the nutmeg settled at the bottom and made for a nasty last swig.
As for making a mocktail version of the Hot Punch: I thought and thought, and frankly, alcohol-free hot drinks are kind of my thing; believe me when I say you should just make yourself a different fancy hot drink. Have a hot cider with a splash of caramel syrup, or a hot chocolate with foamed milk and a pinch of cinnamon. If you’re ill, a hot tea with that lemon sugar and some cinnamon and nutmeg might have a similar flavor? Who knows, give it a try!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Would be a fun drink for cooler weather, but beware: It’s stronger than you think. Thanks, Mrs. Beeton! – Rachel Duke
So, the title is more akin to Halloween than the newly arrived holiday season but this new digital collection fits the saying.
70 herbals and cookbooks have been added to the FSU Digital Library over the last month.
Herbals, which describe the appearance of medicinal plants, tell how to gather, prepare, preserve and store them. These books contribute to the work of physicians, pharmacists and botanists by providing data about the indication and dosage of these plants. Elizabethan literature is filled with references to herbal lore, herbs and their uses, herb gardens, and manners and customs associated with herbs and their use. Thus herbals can provide a vivid background of life in times past.
An interest in cookbooks and household management is a legacy from FSU’s earliest years as a women’s college. Cookbooks are held in our Rare Book, Florida and Scottish collections. The oldest in our cookbook collection is from 1622 Venice.
These books are pulled from various collections housed in Special Collections & Archives but are presented as a single collection in the FSUDL as they often would have been used in tandem by the women of the household to feed and keep healthy their families.
Please explore the collection – maybe you’ll find a recipe for a holiday meal to remember (or the secret recipe for treating warts from the 16th century).
All of us here at Special Collections & Archives wish you and your families a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We will close at 4:30pm on Wednesday, November 25th and reopen to our normal hours on Monday, November 30th.
In case you are still working on your Thanksgiving menu, here is a menu from an 1845 cookbook in a new collection we’ve been working on bringing into our digital library. Best get cooking!
We like to celebrate special events in our department such as birthdays and graduations. Everyone brings something to share, and we look forward to trying new recipes. In July, we celebrated staff member Ben Yadon’s birthday, and I chose a Key Lime recipe from a book in our Florida Collection called Seasonal Florida: A Taste of Life in North Florida.
We all agreed that this was a good recipe and I am sharing it here. However, if I were to make it again, I would not whip the cream and powdered sugar together for the topping since it did not come out in the consistency that I liked. Because of this, I used Cool Whip.
We have an eclectic selection of cookbooks in our Florida Collection including Old, Original and Favorite Recipes of the Florida Panhandlers,Burdine’s Cookbook, a Volume of Tested Recipes, The American Beach Cookbook, Florida Citrus Cookbook and Seminole Savorings: the Official Seminoles Boosters’ Cookbook.
I am looking forward to trying more of the recipes from cookbooks in this collection and sharing them on our blog.