Tag Archives: Great Rare Books Bake Off

McClellan Family Molasses Cookies

The cane mill

For five generations, my family has spent Thanksgiving at our family farm, making 100% cane syrup in our cane mill. It’s a fact I’ve hung my hat on my entire life, one that every single one of my cousins has done a project on at some point in our lives, and a source of pride and tradition within my dad’s side of the family. Every year of my life, my dad’s entire life, my grandpa’s entire life, and two generations before THAT, have repeated the same process every year to create the end product that is 100% pure cane syrup. There is nothing like a warm biscuit covered in hot, fresh, golden syrup. Of course, Coronavirus has thrown a wrench in our plans for this year. We’ll be doing 2 cookings of cane syrup, as opposed to our average of 4-5, and replanting as much as we can for next year. 

And this is what we call trash ^^^^

I won’t go into the entire process, but as a bit of background on how the sauce syrup is made, you start by planting your cane. Then you strip the cane of its leaves. You then cut the tops of the cane off. Just when it’s time to start making the syrup, you cut the cane from the base of the plant. Once you have all of the cane compiled (approximately 1 trailer = 1 cooking), you start the juicing process. The cane is juiced and stored in a holding container. Once all cane is juiced, it’s sent via pipes to the kettles to cook for 6-8 hours. It must be constantly skimmed to remove dirt and impurities. The syrup must reach a certain density that is taken by a hydrometer. Once it’s ready, it will be scooped into the trough, strained, and put in a warming container. Once in the warming container, the syrup is sent via a pipe system to a control that lets us fill each glass bottle of syrup by hand.

Now to the cookies themselves. This recipe comes courtesy of my Great Aunt Norma McClellan Starling. My dad is very good at making these cookies. I had actually never made them completely by myself before! 

To be completely honest, I thought this whole process was going to be way more complicated than it actually was. I will say, my parent’s kitchenaid mixer helped A LOT. In fact, these cookies can’t really be made by hand. They also can’t be made without Crisco. Okay technically they can be made with butter. But sometimes you really do have to use Crisco, and that’s okay. 

After mixing the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, I mixed the two together. I did not let them chill for an entire hour (due to time restrictions), and instead only let them chill for about 20 minutes. I then took them out and used a small scoop, formed them into balls and rolled them in sugar.  

The resulting cookies were SO GOOD. They were warm, soft, delicious and made the house smell like Fall. They were given 5/5 stars by my dad – high praise!

The last little piece that I wanted to add were photos from our family archive. In the middle of the map, to the right of “Oak Ridge Pecan Orchards”, you’ll see “McClellan’s Store” – where we still sell syrup when we can.

Tasting History: A Modernized Recipe for Bizcochos de Chocolate

This is a guest post to Illuminations for the Great Rare Books Bake Off, by Dr. Tanya M. Peres, Associate Professor of Anthropology.

Do you put together a cookie tray for the holidays? The first time I did was in 2003 with my good friend Kristin when I lived in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve been making them every year since to share with family, neighbors, and co-workers. Not sure what a cookie tray is? The way I understand them is that they are actual platters (often decorative) on which you place an assortment of homemade cookies and other treats (candies, popcorn, muffins, etc.). These are then given out to friends, family, co-workers, or brought to potluck holiday parties. I really enjoy them because you get to make a variety of treats – all the favorites and often some new ones. Kristin and I made at least 8 different recipes that year and it was a lot of fun (though her glass top stove suffered a major crack!).

When I signed up for the Great Rare Books Bake Off I knew I wanted to try something that was suitable for a cookie tray. Since we are all crunched for time and trying to limit trips to the grocery store, the recipe could not contain hard-to-source ingredients. It had to be something that my kids would eat. I also wanted something that tied into one of my research interests – namely foods and foodways of the Spanish Colonial period. The first book I turned to was Nuevo Arte de Cocina, sacado de la Escuela de la Experiencia Economica, written by Fransican Friar Juan Altamiras of Aragon. Much to my disappointment, the sweet recipes for Feast days consisted of apples and red wine ragout or creamed rice with almond milk (at least in the translated and edited version published by Vicky Hayward in 2017). The ingredients for these recipes were easy enough, but neither was suitable for a cookie tray and in the matter of my kids liking them? It was a toss-up.

I decided to reach out to my colleague, Dr. John Worth, a historical archaeologist at the University of West Florida who specializes in the Spanish Colonial period. He has translated numerous 15th, 16th, and 17th century Spanish documents for research purposes (and I think out of his own curiosity). If anyone had a secret stash of appropriate dessert recipes, it would be Dr. Worth! My major requirement was that it contain at least one ingredient native to the Americas. 

Dr. Worth consulted the 1755 Arte de Repostería, en que se contiene todo genero de hacer dulces secos, y en liquido, vizcochos, turrones, y natas: bebidas heladas de todos generos, rosolis, mistelas, &c. con una breve instruccion para conocer las frutas, y servirlas crudas. Y diez mesas, con su explicacion, written by Juan de la Mata. You can find a digital copy here. 

(Image: Front page of Arte de Repostería, en que se contiene todo genero de hacer dulces secos, y en liquido, vizcochos, turrones, y natas: bebidas heladas de todos generos, rosolis, mistelas, &c. con una breve instruccion para conocer las frutas, y servirlas crudas. Y diez mesas, con su explicacion, written by Juan de la Mata. Text is written in difernt size and style of fonts.)

He quickly translated the recipe for little cakes called Vizcochos de Saboya (Mata pp. 94-95):

Beat eight egg whites very well, until they are very foamy, and when they are in this state, mix in just as many egg yolks, beating them in the same manner, so that everything blends, adding on top of everything a pound of sugar passed through the sieve, and dried in the drying rack [estufa], beating everything a third time very well, to which are added three cuarterones [9 Spanish ounces, or 0.25881 kg] of very dry flour, mixing it by means of the spoon with the preceding composition [boxwood], with which it should be beaten, as is stated.  And if you wish to give it an agreeable flavor, a grating from the peel of a lemon can be added.  And it should be distributed on molds of tin plate, or playing cards, all of which should be covered with a little pork lard, although not in the manner that greases them, but just sufficient to contain the pasta so that it doesn’t stick.  And if you wish to make them small, like eight-real coins, they should be placed on paper with the spoon in small portions, round, and somewhat heaping, sprinkled with sugar, blowing them curiously on one side so that it is disproportionate, with which they should be cooked in a breadmaker’s oven (horno de Panadero) at medium heat.  And in order to know when the bizcochos are cooked, and somewhat consumed, that is to say, lighter, take one out, trying it, and if it is ready, take the rest out hot, in conformity to whether they are large, from the molds, or if they are small, from the paper, with the point of a knife underneath, and they can be served or kept in a little box.

(Image: Screenshot of the original recipe for Vizcochos de Saboya written in Spanish.)

Since I wanted a recipe with an ingredient native to the Americas, he also sent the chocolate variation of vizcochos. 

Vizcochos de Chocolate … Another way (Mata pp. 97):

Take six fresh eggs, and having separated the whites, beat them vigorously until they have made lots of foam, adding six egg yolks, and beating everything together again while it dissolves, next adding twelve ounces of powdered sugar, seven of flour, and one and a half of chocolate, all passed through the sieve, beating it well for the space of a quarter hour so that it mixes.  And finally, it should be distributed, like the rest, upon sheets of paper, drying the already formed bizcocho in the same manner that was stated for those of Saboya.

(Image: Screenshot of the original recipe for Vizcochos de Chocolate written in Spanish.)

In reading over the ingredient lists and instructions, I realized that I did not have enough eggs at home (we have chickens and the weather change is slowing down their egg production + my son used a bunch this week for his science fair experiment). 

(Image: My son’s science experiment consisting of glass jars of vinegar and eggs.)

I liked the idea of making little cakes, just not enough to feed a banquet hall – at least not in 2020! 

I did what all modern cooks do – I went online and searched for Chocolate Bizcocho. Bizcocho is a general term Spanish for desserts and depending on where you are in the Spanish-speaking world will determine what you are served if you order them. For instance, in Uruguay, bizcochos may be a croissant or a cookie. In Spain, bizcocho is a single layer sponge cake. Closer to home in the Southwestern US, bizcochitos are cinnamon-anise cookies. They are so popular they were named the New Mexico State Cookie! 

I wanted something more cake than cookie and that included chocolate (because it is native to the Americas and well, why not?). I found a modern recipe that met this requirements and was scaled down for the home cook looking to feed a modest family of four. 

I further modified and updated the recipe to fit what I had available in my kitchen (no trips to the grocery store!) and modern dietary trends. I’ve named it Chocolate Bizcocho de Tallahassee.

Chocolate Bizcocho de Tallahassee (by Tanya Peres)


  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter (soften to room temp) (coconut oil would work well, too)
  • ¾ cup sugar 
  • 2 eggs (fresh from our backyard!)
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp orange extract
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (could use a gluten-free mix)
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (use a good one – it is the star of the recipe!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (sweetened with Stevia)
(Image: Ingredients include sugar, almond meal, cocoa powser, baking powder, soy milk, eggs, dark chocolate baking chips, and butter. All-purpose flour and spices not pictured.)
 - Preheat oven to 350F.
 - Mix the softened butter and sugar until creamy.
 - Add the eggs. Mix well,
 - Add the milk, stir until combined.
 - Stir in the cocoa powder and baking powder (use a low speed or you will have cocoa powder everywhere).
 - Stir in the flours (also using a low speed).
 - Stir in the chocolate chips.
 - Spray a ceramic loaf pan with cooking/baking spray (or grease with butter).
 - Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well in between.
 - Add the milk and stir until combined.
 - Add the orange and almond extracts.
 - Stir in the cocoa powder and baking powder (use a low speed or you will have cocoa powder everywhere).
 - Add in the cinnamon, stirring to just combined.
 - Slowly stir in the flours (also using a low speed) until combined.
 - Stir in the chocolate chips.
 - Pour the batter into the pan, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula.
 - Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes. Mine took 55 minutes in a thick ceramic loaf pan. I recommend that you start checking at 35 minutes. It really does depend on the individual oven and the choice of pan (thin aluminum, glass, ceramic).
 - Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. If it is comes out clean, the loaf is done cooking.
 - Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then invert on a wire rack to cool completely. 
- When completely cooled, slice into ½” thick slices. Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. If it is comes out clean, the loaf is done cooking.

The resulting loaf was dense, flavorful, and not overly sweet. I got distracted with kids and overcooked it a smidge and we still really liked it.

This is something I would serve to guests at brunch (if we could have guests right now). My youngest child really liked it, the older one liked it but thought it was not sweet enough, though it can’t be terrible – there is very little left (24 hours after making it). I will continue to experiment with this recipe (maybe double it for a bundt pan or completely veganize it) and I will for sure try out the bizcochitos recipe from New Mexico. I might even try to convince my husband to build a traditional horno in the backyard! Either way – the bizcocho recipe, originally published in 1775 (though likely was around as part of a cook’s mental recipe book for a lot longer), let’s us taste history, which is what the Great Rare Books Bake-Off is all about.  Happy Baking Season 2020!

FSU Special Collections & Archives Presents: The Great Rare Books Bake Off Dessert Week

Welcome to the final week of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off! We saved the best for last, this week we will be sharing and attempting dessert recipes from our collection. Please visit our introduction post to find out how you can participate.

An excellent source of inspiration for desserts and other sweet is Luncheon & dinner sweets: including the art of ice making by Charles Herman Senn (1920’s) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX773S461920z

This book, once a part of the FSU Hospitality program reference library, features a variety of recipes for sweets and specialty ice desserts.

Another excellent resource for archival dessert recipes outside of FSU Special Collections & Archives is Cooking in the Archives, a blog that shares historic recipes that have been updated with modern measurements and baking instructions.

All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order By Isabella Beeton (1890) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B421890

Pumpkin Pie: To every quart of strained pumpkin allow 6 eggs, 1/4 lb butter, 1/2 pint of sweet milk, 3/4 lb of white sugar, 1 Tbsp brandy, 1 gill (1 cup) sherry or madeira. To every quart of pumpkin add the ingredients listed above, beating the eggs til thick and light, and stirring the butter and sugar to a cream, when well mixed bake in a puff-paste 1 1/2 hour.

Snow Cake (a genuine Scotch recipe): 1lb arrowroot, 1/2 lb of pounded white sugar, 1/2 pound of butter, the whites of 6 eggs, flavoring to taste of essence of almond, vanilla, or lemon. Beat the butter to a cream, stir in the sugar and arrowroot gradually, at the same time beating the mixture. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, add them to the other ingredients, and beat well for 20 minutes. Put in flavoring; pour the cake into a buttered mold or tin and bake in a moderate oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

The queen-like closet, or, Rich cabinet By Hannah Wooley (1675) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX705W61675

Sugar Cakes: Take a pound of sugar with 4 ounces of flour, mix well with one pound of butter that has been washed in rosewater; beat 4 egg yolks with 4 spoonfuls of rosewater steeped with nutmeg and cinnamon; then add enough cream to make a stiff paste; knead and roll into thin cakes, prick them and bake on baking sheets, there is no need to butter the sheets.

Recipe for “A Premium Fruit Cake” by Mrs. Sarah Hopkins, May 18, 1874; November 1903, Box: 2, Folder: 09. Pine Hill Plantation Papers, 01-MSS 0-204. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS0204_B02_F09_01

“Premium” Fruit Cake: 1 lb flour, 1 lb brown sugar, 14 oz butter, 10 eggs, 3 (Tbsp/ounce/lb unsure) seeded raisins, 3 (Tbsp/ounce/lb unsure) currants, 1 (Tbsp/ounce/lb unsure) citron, 1 wineglassful of brandy, 1 wineglassful of wine, 1 wineglassful of sweet milk, 1 tsp of soda, 1 Tbsp molasses, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Brown the flour; dissolve the soda in the milk, add the brandy and wine to it in order to make it curdle; beat the yolks and sugar together, then the butter, then the egg whites, add the flour, then the milk brandy and molasses; flour the raisins and add a handful of fruit from each plate at a time; butter your pan and bake 3 hours or longer in a slow oven. This makes 1 large cake or 2 small ones.

Snow Cake Recipe Attempt

I tried the recipe for Snow Cake from All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order by Isabella Beeton (1890). I was curious because this cake recipe uses arrowroot instead of flour so it is gluten free. I followed the recipe with just a few modifications for a modern kitchen. I used a stand mixer to mix all the ingredients and therefore didn’t need to mix for nearly as long as suggested in the recipe. The batter was very thick and had more of an icing-like consistency. I had to put it in dollops in the pan and then spread them out. I baked my cake in a moderate 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes.

Once the cake had cooled a bit I inverted it onto a plate. The whole cake had a golden brown color but a bit stuck to the bottom of the pan. There were no serving suggestions so I tried the cake as-is.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I found the cake to be very dense but it could be improved with icing or the addition of fruit -Kristin Hagaman

Join us for a wrap up post for the Great Rare Books Bake Off on November 30th!

Les Poissons & Louisiana Lagniappe

This is a guest contribution to Illuminations for The Great Rare Books Bake Off by Adam Beauchamp, Humanities Librarian at FSU Libraries. 

I love seafood. If it lives beneath the waves, I’m willing to fry it and try it. I grew up on the Great Lakes and then spent most of my adult life in Louisiana, so I’ve never been more than a few city blocks from major bodies of water. Naturally, then, when it came to my entry into the Great Rare Books Bake Off, I gravitated to the many preparations for fish. For an added challenge, I decided to dive into classic French cooking and test my translation skills with La grande cuisine illustrée: sélection raisonnée de 1500 recettes de cuisine transcendante by Prosper Salles and Prosper Montagné. 

Published in 1902 in Monaco, La grande cuisine illustrée is emblematic of the French haute cuisine that emerged in nineteenth century France in the ritzy hotels and restaurants of the Belle Époque. These dishes scaled down the heavy sauces and ornate garnishes of the pre-revolutionary aristocracy in favor of lighter sauces that enhanced rather than masked the flavors of their expensive ingredients.

Instead of trying to make one of the many dishes that call for one or two spoonfuls of eight different sauces–I don’t think I own enough sauce pans for that!–I went with simple preparations for trout and asparagus that would let me focus on technique: Truite à la Meunière (p.214) with a side of Pointes d’Asperges à la Chantilly (p. 627). 

Challenge number one was translating unfamiliar culinary terms from French to English. The online Dictionnaire de l’Academie Française, along with my pocket-sized French-English dictionary, were key to decoding words like ebarber (take off the fins) and ciseler (score the skin). The fishmonger at Whole Foods was kind enough to scale and ebarber my fish, so I only needed to score it before seasoning inside and out with kosher salt and pepper.

Wait, that’s not a trout! Correct, mon ami, that is a red snapper, fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. There were no trout available when I made groceries. Red snapper is both a close substitute for trout and a delicious local option. When you live this close to excellent fisheries of the Gulf, why would you eat anything else? 

Also, unlike Chef Louis in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, resist the urge to cut off the head. There’s a lot of flavor in the head and bones, so cook your fresh fish whole if you can.

With my fish scored and seasoned, it was time to bring on the butter! As described in La grande cuisine illustrée, à la Meunière is a preparation of few ingredients, essentially referring to any fish prepared in melted butter. Chefs Salles and Montagné suggest using une poêle, ovale de préférence. Poêle has several meanings. Un poêle, the masculine noun, is a stove, as in a wood-burning stove. It can also mean a black cloth used to cover a coffin during funeral services. My fish was certainly dead, but I don’t think the recipe called for a funeral. The feminine noun, une poêle, refers to a frying pan. I don’t have an oval pan as recommended, so I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet and added about two tablespoons of butter. When the butter started to bubble, I gave the fish a quick roll in flour and laid it in the pan, whole. 

My sous-chef, Ophelia, wanted to eat the fish raw rather than assist in its preparation, so she was dismissed from the kitchen. Basting regularly, I cooked one side for about 7 minutes, then flipped it over to cook the other side. The nice thing about fish is that it cooks quickly, so hungry dinner guests won’t have to wait long. Chefs Salles and Montagné advise that the butter should not be too hot in order to cook the fish slowly and avoid frying the fish to a crisp. I failed in that task; my butter got too hot and I ended up with crispy, though delicious, skin. No one was sad about that.

While the fish was frying, I turned my attention to the Pointes d’Asperges à la Chantilly, or asparagus points served with crème fouettée (whipped cream). No, this is not a dessert. The whipped cream is not the sweetened variety that you might dollop on your slice of pecan pie, but rather an unsweetened cream sauce meant to melt over the asparagus. The French are not shy about their use of dairy.

Chefs Salles and Montagné instruct us to prepare the asparagus points in the “ordinary method,” which I took to mean wash them and break off the tough bottom part of the stalks. My asparagus ended up being much longer than “points,” which created some problems later, but they cooked up beautifully. Following the instructions, I blanched them in salted boiling water. 

I learned lots of French culinary vocabulary following the next steps of the recipe: Les égoutter (drain them), rafraîchir (cool), and les mettre à étuver dans une sauteuse (steam them in a sauté pan) with a pat of butter. As if that wasn’t enough dairy, I then added three spoonfuls of crème double (heavy whipping cream) to the sauté, which thickened quickly to coat the asparagus. While the asparagus were steaming, I prepared my crème fouettée, beating a healthy pour of whipping cream in a bowl until I had achieved “soft peaks.” I was ready to serve. 

This was the tricky part. Dresser en timbale, instruct Chefs Salles and Montagné. Build a timpani drum? That can’t be right. In culinary terms, dresser means to plate or arrange, and as best I can tell, a timbale is a round mold or dish. Being fresh out of timbales in my kitchen, I arranged my asparagus in teacups, which were too small for my overly long asparagus points. They hung over the sides as I arranged them around the outside of the cups, leaving a gap in the middle in which to drop une forte cuillerée (a large spoonful) of whipped cream. This seemed like an awfully fussy way to serve asparagus, but it made for a rather fancy presentation.

Overall, the meal was delicious. The fish was hands down the star of the show. A simple preparation is always best for a whole fish; it came out sweet and buttery (indeed!), and the crispy skin added a nice salty crunch. The asparagus were tender and added a nice grassy note to the richness of the fish, but the whipped cream did not add much flavor. The spiral presentation of asparagus in my substitute timbales made the whole spread feel more elegant. My partner and I enjoyed our meal, appropriately, with a French chardonnay, and blue crab beignets for lagniappe.

Louisiana Lagniappe

In Louisiana, lagniappe is a little something extra, either an extra side dish at a restaurant or a small gift with purchase from a shopkeeper. For this blog post, my lagniappe is an additional seafood recipe. Last week I spent some time at the beach on Saint George Island and filled my crab trap with fresh blue crabs from Apalachicola Bay. Crab are highly perishable, so I boiled them up right away, but brought home plenty of leftover crab meat.

My recipe for Blue Crab Beignets (p. 54) comes from Donald Link’s cookbook, Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything. That subtitle is very good advice. Donald Link is an award-winning chef from Louisiana’s Cajun Country. He runs several New Orleans restaurants, including one of my favorites, Pêche. Like Chefs Salles and Montagné, Link’s recipes are simple enough to highlight the quality of the ingredients, but his rustic style and bold Louisiana flavors are a lot more satisfying. 

The beignets recipe is relatively simple. Whisk two eggs with a cup of mayonnaise and two tablespoons of Creole mustard. Stir in one quarter cup each of diced red onion and finely sliced scallions, and season with 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Fold in one cup of panko bread crumbs, and finally, gently fold in one pound of crab meat, being careful not to break up the crabmeat. Let the batter chill for about an hour to firm up.

Using two large spoons, shape the loose batter into coherent little footballs, or what the French would call quenelles. Fry the beignets in a neutral oil at 350°F until golden brown, then remove to a plate covered with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

These rich seafood beignets were a great way to showcase the leftover crab meat. We enjoyed them with a white remoulade dipping sauce, which added a tangy note to the fried beignets. These made for a flavorful Gulf Coast addition to our classically prepared French entrée.

Bon apétit!  

“Venison” Pasty Adventure

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. 

This was the recipe I started with but…I ended up not following most of it. Recipe from Modern domestic cookery, and useful receipt book, London, 1817 [see original cookbook page]

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). 

Collecting together the ingredients to get started

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! 

Puff pastry is shown rolled out on a kitchen counter
Rolling out the puff pastry to create the layers
A pie crust is shown over the pie dish and sitting on a cookie sheet to go into the oven
It didn’t look pretty but I got the pastry on top of the filling!

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.

The final product out of the oven
Digging in (finally!) – It was yummy and made my apartment smell like a local!

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!  

To Bake a Neates-Tongue, To Be Eaten Hot

This is a guest contribution to Illuminations for The Great Rare Books Bake Off by Matthew Burrell.

The recipe I chose came from a book published in London in 1632 by John Murrell1. Held in the Florida State University Special Collections department and available digitally. The difficult and time-consuming part of this project was deciphering the text itself. I found the database Middle English Compendium, and MedievalCookery.com very useful.

One example spelled in the recipe is Vergis. The Middle English Compendium explained that it was a variation of the correctly spelled verjǒus2, (an acidic juice extracted from unripe or sour fruit, chiefly grapes but also crabapples).  Verjǒus is used today and can be found on Amazon3.

A Neates Tongue is a beef tongue. Beef tongue is not a regular dish in my home, and a little more expensive than I thought, but it compared nicely to a pot-roast. Although the recipe is over 350 years old, the ingredients were easy to find and resulted in a delicious meal.

The recipe called for boiling the tongue until tender. I boiled it for 5 hours in a crock pot. The directions did not call for any spices to be added at this point. When the tongue seemed tender, the outer skin was easily removed.

The next step was baking the meat with nutmeg, pepper and salt, minced dates and parboiled currents. Being allergic to currents, I left them out and instead used raisins.

An unusual part of the directions was to use a silver spoon to mix egg yolks with sweet cream and dried orange peel for the sauce. I couldn’t find why the author suggested a silver spoon. Sulphur in the eggs reacts negatively with silver.

Baking took one and a half hours at 350⁰ with regular basting with sweet butter “that it may not bake dry on the outside”.

The result was amazing and will forever change how I make beef tongue. Just before eating sprinkle nutmeg, sugar, and orange juice on the meat.

1 Murrell, John,17th cent. A Nevv Booke of Cookerie VVherein is Set Forth a most Perfect Direction to Furnish an Extraordinary, Or Ordinary Feast, either in Summer Or Winter. also a Bill of Fare for Fifh-Dayes, Fasting-Dayes, Ember-Weekes, Or Lent. and Likewise the most Commendable Fashion of Dressing, Or Sowcing, either Flesh, Fish, Or Fowle: For Making of Iellies, and Other Mide-Dishes for Seruice, to Beautifie either Noble-Mans Or Gentlemans Table. Together with the Newest Fashion of Cutting Vp any Fowle. all Set Forth According to the Now, New, English and French Fashion: By Iohn Murrell. London, Printed by T. Snodham] for Iohn Browne, and are to be sould at his shop in Dunstanes church-yard, 1617. ProQuest, https://login.proxy.lib.fsu.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.proxy.lib.fsu.edu/docview/2269046490?accountid=4840.
2 https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary/MED50960/track?counter=1&search_id=4623826 
3 https://www.mikuniwildharvest.com/shop/product/noble-verjus/ 

A Short Cut for (stewed) Mushrooms

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!

A white ceramic dish of stewed mushrooms surrounded by thyme, whole nutmeg, an orange and lemon wedge, and three baby Portobello mushrooms.

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!)

The Recipe

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
 onto mushrooms.

 Serve hot and enjoy! 

Historical context

Title of The Queens Closet Opened, with facing page portrait of Henrietta Maria. The title page contains the text "The Queens Closet Opened. Incomparable Secrets in Physick, Chyrurgery, Preserving and Candying, &c.  Which were presented unto the Queen By the most Experienced Persons of the Times, may whereof were had in esteem, when she peased to descend to private recreations. Corrected and Reviewed, with many Additions: together with three exact Tables. Vivit post funera Virtus. London, Printed for Nath. Brooke, at the Angel in Cornhill, 1659

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 was produced 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.

FSU Special Collections & Archives Presents: The Great Rare Books Bake Off Main Course and Sides Week

Welcome to the third week of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off! This week we will be discussing oven temperatures and sharing main course and side dish recipes from our collection. Please visit our introduction post to find out how you can participate.

The way oven temperatures have been described in recipes has changed drastically over time. A range of temperatures are required for different types of food and very few of the recipes in our collection specify exact temperatures. Instead, they might use terms such as “quick oven” or “slow oven,” and cooks had to estimate the temperature of their oven by how long they could hold their hands in the oven before it was too hot to bear. Converting a historic recipe for a modern kitchen may require some trial and error to find the temperature that will cook your food just right. Oven temperature conversion charts are also available online to help guide your efforts.

Yorkshire pudding is a British side dish that isn’t what most people would consider a traditional “pudding.” Instead, it is more like an airy bread roll that can be served filled with meat and vegetables or as a side for a traditional British Sunday roast. What is now known as Yorkshire pudding was once called Dripping Pudding, but was renamed by Hannah Glasse in her book The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy in 1747. FSU Special Collections & Archives has a 1751 edition of the book. The recipe for Yorkshire pudding is shown below.

The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy By Hannah Glasse (1751) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX705G541751

Yorkshire pudding: Take a Quart of Milk, four Eggs, and a little Salt, make it up into a thick Batter with Flour, like a Pancake Batter. You must have a good Piece of Meat at the Fire, take a Stew-pan and put some Dripping in, set it on the Fire, when it boils, pour in your Pudding, let it bake on the Fire till you think it is nigh enough, then turn a Plate upside-down in the Dripping-pan, that the Dripping may not be blacked; set your Stew-pan on it under your Meat, and let the Dripping drop on the Pudding, and the Heat of the Fire come to it, to make it of a fine brown. When your Meat is done and set to Table, drain all the Fat from your Pudding, and set it on the Fire again to dry a little; then Hide it as dry as you can into a Dish, melt some Butter, and pour into a Cup, and set in the Middle of the Pudding. It is an exceeding good Pudding, the Gravy of the Meat eats well with it.

The Great Majestic range cook book by Majestic Manufacturing Co. (1910-1919) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX715G843

Sweet Potato Custard: 1 pint of milk, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup sugar; beat yolks until light, add milk and sugar; press steamed potatoes through a sieve and stir into custard until it is thick; season with cinnamon and a Tbsp of butter. Bake in an under-crust; make a meringue of the whites and spread over the top and return to the oven and brown. Irish potatoes may be used in the same way.

English Roast Turkey: Stuff with bread crumbs (not using the crusts) rubbed fine; moisted with butter and 2 eggs, seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, sage, thyme or sweet marjoram; sew up, skewer and place to roast in a rack within a dripping pan; spread with bits of butter, turn and baste frequently with butter, pepper, salt, and water; a few minutes before it is done glaze with the white of an egg; dish the turkey, pour off most of the fat, add the chopped giblets and the water in which they were boiled; thicken with flour and butter rubbed together, stir in the dripping pan, let boil thoroughly and serve in a gravy boat.

The Country kitchen: the farmer recipe book. (1911) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX715C8631911

Scalloped potatoes: Pare and slice the potatoes; let stand in cold water 1 hour; take a pudding dish, put in 1 layer of potatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper; add some small lumps of butter, then dredge a little flour over; another layer of potatoes, etc., until dish is as full as you wish; then pour sweet milk over, enough to cover the whole; bake in a moderate oven until potatoes are done.

Spinach: Wash and pick 1/2 peck young spinach; wilt by pouring boiling hot water over it; drain in colander; chop fine with small onion; put a lump of butter the size of a hickory nut and 1 Tbsp flour into hot pan; when brown add spinach and a cup of water; season to taste; cook until tender.

Yorkshire Pudding Recipe Attempt

I was excited to try the recipe for Yorkshire pudding from The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1751). I have had Yorkshire pudding with a Sunday roast in England so I was curious to see if my attempt would taste anything like the authentic pudding I had eaten.

I made some changes to the amounts of ingredients from the original recipe. I used 4 eggs but decreased the amount of milk from a quart to 2 cups. No exact amount of flour was given so I added until my batter resembled a thinner pancake batter, about 1 cup of flour. Since I didn’t have any drippings or an open fire available, I settled for a thin coating of cooking oil on a cast iron pan heated in the oven. For obvious reasons no oven temperature was given in the original recipe so I consulted several other modern Yorkshire pudding recipes online and settled for a 450 degree oven. Once the pan was preheated and the oil was hot I poured the batter into the sizzling pan.

Most modern Yorkshire Pudding recipes recommend not opening the oven once the pan is in because the pudding can deflate and fall. I kept my oven light on and checked the pudding every few minutes. I took it out once the sides were puffed and the pudding was golden brown, about 20 minutes. I made the pudding on a Sunday evening that we were having steak for dinner so we had a sort of Americanized version of a Sunday roast supper.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m happy with my first attempt! The edges were airy and fluffy but the center was too dense. The recipes was easy and quick, I would just tweak the ingredient amounts next time -Kristin Hagaman

We saved the best for last! Join us November 24th for the final week of the Great Rare Books Bake Off – dessert week!

Paul Hollywood hates Mrs. Beeton’s Cheese Biscuits

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. 
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: 

It’s a shame, really.

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!

Rachel Duke

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?

Pick a Gourd, any Gourd: Winter Squash Soup

This is a guest contribution to Illuminations for The Great Rare Books Bake Off by Christianne Beekman.

Winter Squash (or pick any gourd) soup

I initially wanted to call this recipe “Pick Your Favorite Gourd” Soup. After some research it became clear to me that pumpkin (or butternut squash, which I ended up using) is not a gourd at all, but rather a winter squash. Hence, the last minute name change. Being from Europe, I did not grow up eating pumpkin or any winter squash or gourds of any kind! After moving to the US, pumpkins and squashes quickly became favorites of mine. While I do not really care that much for pumpkin pie (probably due to the pumpkin spice), perhaps a shocker, I absolutely love using pumpkin, or a close relative, as a veggie in any dish. I am sharing this recipe for winter squash soup because it is super easy to make, it can be easily customized, and it is a great appetizer or an easy weeknight dinner if you combine it with a salad and some bread. 

The ingredients (most are shown in the photo):

  • ½ butternut squash (you can substitute with any squash or gourd)
  • 3 green onions (I would usually use 1 small yellow onion or a shallot, but when I started with this recipe the other day I realized I only had the green onions and it worked really well!)
  • Garlic! Anything tastes better if there is garlic in it, right? I used 4 big cloves. 
  • Your favorite spices: I used 1-2Tbsp. Thyme (fresh is better, I had to use dried), ½ teasp. cumin, ¼ teasp. Ginger, ¼  teasp. Smoked paprika, ⅛ teasp. Cayenne pepper (for a little kick),  pepper and salt to taste.
  • 1Tbsp. Butter and 2 Tbsp. of flour, the butter and flour combine to make a Roux. I think this is an excellent way to bind the soup and give it a little creaminess. Note, due to lactose intolerance of my partner, I cannot use the heavy cream that most recipes call for.
  • 1 cube vegetable broth (1- 2 cups). You can add more if it is for a bigger crowd, I only made this for two!
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)

I started by heating some olive oil in a sauce pan and sauteing the onion for a few minutes until the white parts are translucent. I used most of the onion (white and green bits), leaving only a few green bits for garnishing. After this add the garlic and saute for another minute until fragrant. While one would put heavy cream in near the end, I add the butter and flour now, starting with the flour coating all the onion and then add the butter. The fat and the flour will make a Roux, the longer you cook it the darker it gets. If you have the time, cook it for 10 – 15 min (the darker it is the more flavor you get). If you do not have time just a few minutes is enough too.

Only the onion and garlic with the butter and flour

Now add the squash and the spices. I cut the squash in 1” cubes and boiled them for 15 min to get them soft enough to mash before adding them. You can also use canned pumpkin or something similar, if you do not want to deal with prepping the squash.

Add vegetable broth and simmer for a few minutes. I added 1Tbsp. Of brown sugar here to sweeten it slightly. You can also use honey or maple syrup.  If you want to add cream, now is the time, right at the very end, when you take it off the stove. I used an immersion blender to make the soup smooth. Garnish with the leftover green onion. You can also use toasted pumpkin seeds or any other topping.

Serve with bread, a salad, or by itself. It was delicious!

-Christianne Beekman