July 8, 2011
While most dishes in medival or renaissance cookbooks have rather matter-of-fact names there is one that stands out and has always tickled my imagination. In the cookbook A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye from the 16th century one can find a dish called ”Eggs in moonshine”:
”To make egges in moneshyne.
Take a dyche of rosewater and a dyshe
full of suger, and set them upon a
chaffyngdysh, and let them boyle, than take the
yolkes of viii or ix egges newe layde and putte
them therto everyone from other, and so lette
them harden a lyttle, and so after this maner
serve them forthe and cast a lyttle synamon
and sugar upon them.”
This is also one of the recipes that I find rather straightforward without many pitfalls. In a three fotted pan I heated equal amounts of rosewater and sugar. The sugar I used was brown cane sugar, though I suspect that a bit more refined cane sugar would have fitted the dish better. I must admit that am not entirely sure about the sugar qualities of the time – but the name of the dish suggest a rather light coloured sauce. The rosewater used was a commercially available rosewater, which may differ some from the rosewater made at the time. (A recipe for making rosewater can be found in ”The goodman of Paris”.)
While the sauce was working its way to a boil I started separating egg yolks from the white. Though the egges were storebought and refridgerator kept, I became quite aware that the eggs where not newly laid – most of the yolks burst at the mere sight of them. When I considered the sugared rosewater hot enough I placed the yoks, one by one in the pan. With the quality of the yolks I had this was a tricky operation.
I let the egg yolk cook just long enough to still be semi-soft. The decision to do so was partly based on personal preferences, my estimation on how the dish would tie together better but also repeated references from medieval sources that runny or softboiled eggs were preferred.
Here I might have let the rosewater syrup cook for a bit long as it started to caramelise, and got somewhat brown and sticky. Still I could pour some of the sauce over the eggs. Before serving I sprinkled the eggs with some cinnamon and finely ground sugar.
Though it did not look exactly as I was imagine it, it turned out to be a very nice little dish. Though rose water often may give desserts a somewhat perfumed and soapy taste, it ws actually quite balanced here. The fairly rich amount of sugar makes it a good and rather simple example of renaissance cooking. And though it may seem a bit strange it was really appreciated by the few co-workers that got a chance to try it. In keeping the yolks somewhat soft, they mixed quite well with the sauce giving it almost an impression of a custard in texture and taste.
In order to be served at a high table it should be improved somewhat visually, with a clearer sauce and perhaps even served on a silver plate. This may however be my modern association of moonshine and a silvery shine.
According to C.S. Lewis “eggs in moonshine” seem to be a term meaning something else than just this dish, anyone who has a clue?
July 6, 2011
Just outside the moat on the way from the parking lot to the manor, stands some impressive hedges with elder. As the fragrance became more and more present, I realised that I had to do a dish with elderflowers. Though I was primarily connecting elderflowers with rather sweet dishes, I wanted to try out a dish from Sabrina Welserin;
“38 To make elderflower pudding Take elder flowers, boil them in milk and strain them, make a firm dough from eggs and flour and roll it into a thin flat cake, cut it into the shape of little worms and put them into the milk, salt it and put fat into it and let it cook. “
In boiling the elderflowers with the milk I became quite aware of their fragrance, however it was not to perfumed. While the milk was seething I prepared the dough. I was a bit unsure if it was meant to be thickened or made firm with the mixture of eggs and flour. For the dough I used wheat flour, which would have been the probable choice in a dish like this. As I was preparing the dough It became clear to me however that “cutting dough into the shape of little worms” was actually a description for the chef to make noodles ( or some kind of pasta).
As I felt that the milk had seethed enough I drained of the flowers, returned the milk to the pot, added a small knob of butter, some salt and a part portion of the noodles I had done. As they cooked picked them up with a regular wooden spoon – the slotted spoon, that is made according to a medieval find, was to big to fit in the pot. The noodles reminded me of German spätzle, but were salty with a hint of elder. Still, some milk remained so I put in the rest of the uncooked “worms”as they cooked, the flour from both batches of noodles startened to thicken the milk, becoming more sauce like. Though this was not entirely what I had expected it did strike me as fitting the description of a pudding. In fact, the mixture of butter, salt, milk and flower almost made me end up with an elder bechamel with noodles.
In this mixture the taste of elder was much more prominent, and it was also the more preferred dish by my testsubjects (the employees of the museum). When testing the dish it struck me that both the noodles by themselves or the actual pudding would have fitted excellently together with a spitroasted chicken. Though it is a bit odd with a savoury dish with elderflowers to the Swedish palate, it was really enjoyable.
July 2, 2011
In my continued explorations of the oven I wanted to make one of the many fruit pies present in the cookbook of Sabina Welserin. The recipe I used for the dish:
“131 To make a pear tart
Take the pears and peel them, then fry them in fat, put them into a mortar and pound them well, put rose sugar and rose water in it, put ginger, cloves, cinnamon and sugar therein. Taste it, make a pastry shell as for other tarts, make no cover for the top and bake until crisp.”
The recipe was rather straight forward, with only a few steps . For the pie crust I used the recipe for a short paeste that I tried earlier though I made two batches which both were a bit to soft – possibly because I used a bit to much water in them. (I will never be an accomplished pastry chef).
For the filling I fried the pear pieces in butter using the three legged pan. The resulting soft pears wear beaten to a pulp using my brass mortar, though a widerimmed stone mortar would probably have been used for this purpose. To this I added the ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger and a dash of rosewater. The resulting mush was poured into the pieshells and put into the oven. Though I started the ovens early I was uncertain if I had reached the right temperatur, the lack of proper fire wood and perhaps my conservative use of wood made the fire in the oven burn rather slowly, though in effect it could just have been a case of not having enough time to heat the rather massive oven. The pies were baked for about an hour which was not enough as they were still a bit soft and moist when taken out of the oven. The taste was nice and a bit spicier than what one would expect in a modern pear pie – even if I did miss some raisins in it ( which are used in several other pear pies from the same book) The main lack in my interpretation – apart from the oven temperature- was that I was to conservative on the rose water, as it was almost undistinguishable.
Apart from a nice combination of tastes in the pie the main feature was the rather aromatic scent from the cloves. It is likely that the rosewater was added for the same reason – to create an olfactory sensation from the pie. Just as colours and appearance has been of importance in historical (and modern food) we ought perhaps also think about how some food may have been made with an olfactory experience in mind, using scents that does not entirely reflect the most immediate tastes.
June 26, 2011
During the weekend of 18-19th June a small renaissance festival was held at Glimmingehus, among the invited groups and crafters was couple that among other things churn butter and brew beer. Grethe which had used similar breadovens could give suggested from previous experiences that a good way of deciding the right temperature for baking was to observe when the walls were white instead of black. And most certainly after a few hours firing the walls were indeed white instead of black. This suggestion will be good and can be combined with other was to observe the proper temperature in the oven.
As this took place during the festival, where I gave out samples of renaissance food I realised to late that I had no time to for any other experiments. Grethe, however, managed to bake some bread in the oven.
June 26, 2011
As I worked with the piecrusts I tried to heat up the oven, however the lack of time and perhaps proper firewood did not allow me to get it hot enough during the time of my workhours. In order to properly work the oven I need to consider three things. What fuel to use, how long time is needed and when I should be able to recognise the proper temperature.
As for the question of the proper fuel, I would imagine that it is somewhat difficult to get hold of today. Peter Brear mentions in “medieval kitchen” how bundles of small faggots, or small branches, where used to fire up the oven. However as in most other open air museums all I could get hold of was the fire wood that people today use in their ovens.
The time needed would ofcourse be dependent on the size of the oven, and to some extent the fire woods, this I need to monitor better for the future.
The ability to monitor the time needed to heat up the oven, is ofcourse dependent on my ability to determine when the oven is hot enough. At the start of this experimental session I had only a few hints on proper ways to measure the temperature through ocular means.
I would appreciate any suggestion of traditional ways of heating a dome shaped breadoven made of bricks. It would be interesting to compare these methods. I remember reading about the use of flour or dry straws.
June 26, 2011
In order to get myself a bit more familiarised with the kitchen I started of lightly with a few investigations that were not completely dependent on getting the heatng, embers and fire wood completely right.
Both in the medieval and the renaissance cuisine pies and pastries seem to have played an important role, and the role of the pastry chef was quite important. Pastries seem to range from mere vessels containing meat or fruits to elaborate subtleties depicting castles and the like. In “Book of caruynge” the reader is given instruction on how to cut a pie according to how it was shaped and what it contained. The main question is however, were the actual pie crust intended to be eaten or was it just used as a vessel? Did they use some kind of pie shell or were they standing by them selves? Though I have mainly favoured the latter interpretation, some more work with early pie-recipes may give some insights.
Though the earlier pie recipes rarely give any further clues to the actual pie dough, some recipes from the mid 16th century gives us some further clues. For this experiment I have used two recipes from the cookbook by Sabina Welserin and an English recipe from about the same time.
Sabina Welserin, 1555
61 To make a pastry dough for all shaped pies
Take flour, the best that you can get, about two handfuls, depending on how large or small you would have the pie. Put it on the table and with a knife stir in two eggs and a little salt. Put water in a small pan and a piece of fat the size of two good eggs, let it all dissolve together and boil. Afterwards pour it on the flour on the table and make a strong dough and work it well, however you feel is right. If it is summer, one must take meat broth instead of water and in the place of the fat the skimmings from the broth. When the dough is kneaded, then make of it a round ball and draw it out well on the sides with the fingers or with a rolling pin, so that in the middle a raised area remains, then let it chill in the cold. Afterwards shape the dough as I have pointed out to you. Also reserve dough for the cover and roll it out into a cover and take water and spread it over the top of the cover and the top of the formed pastry shell and join it together well with the fingers. Leave a small hole. And see that it is pressed together well, so that it does not come open. Blow in the small hole which you have left, then the cover will lift itself up. Then quickly press the hole closed. Afterwards put it in the oven. Sprinkle flour in the dish beforehand. Take care that the oven is properly heated, then it will be a pretty pastry. The dough for all shaped pastries is made in this manner.
65 The dough for the pastry
Take rye flour, according to how large the fish is, take it, and put water, about three pints, in a pan and a good quarter pound of fat into it, and let it cook together, put the flour on the table and put the solids from the melted fat-water on top, until it makes a good firm dough. You must knead it well so that it becomes good and sticky. Afterwards make two parts out of it. First the bottom, roll it out as large as the fish is. After that lay the fish on the bottom crust and roll out the top crust just as wide and put it over the fish and shape it like the fish. Make fins on it and take a small knife and make dough scales, also eyes and everything which a fish has. And put it in the oven and spread it with an egg. Then you have a fish pastry.
A Propre new booke of Cokery , 1545
To make shorte paest for tart.
Take fine floure and a curtesy of faire water and a disshe of swete butter and a litle saffron and the yolkes of two egges and make it thin and tender as ye maie.
As it was only a trial to see how I could make the dough stand without any aid of a pie shell, they were made without any filling and just to see how I managed to shape them. One of the recipes – the rye dough was meant to be shaped like a fish and not as a regular pie, so that one I just made into an empty fish shaped pastry.
The recipes were followed rather closely, though the amounts were headed only superficially. To a pair handful of flour I mixed an egg, after which I added a mixture of lard dissolved in water. The resulting dough was rather rubbery dough that at first seemed to have had some problems in getting the sides to stand. After I twisted the sides into the classical s-shape of pies the sides kept standing.
The butter based dough in the third recipe was perhaps slightly softer, but should not have proven any problem. With my modern preferences I would have used the third dough for a sweeter dish and the first one for a more savoury pie, as the use of lard gave the pie a distinct association to bacon.
However, the main observation was that all the doughs that were meant to hold a mixture or even a liquid content seemed to be able to keep their walls up and hence not losing any of their contents. It should therefore be possible to bake pies without the use of any pieshells or the like.
While it is likely that these ashen bottomed piecrusts were merely used as vessels for cooking and serving, I would find it likely that these remains of the pies wandered down the hierarchy and were used as a handouts.
Although I would conclude that most pies were baked and served in their dough, there are some mentions of a pie-shell in the mid 16th century recipes, so it is possible that both existed. The rather common occurance of pies in 16th and 17th century recipes will certainly have me revisit them.