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?
June 2, 2010
Inspired by a thread on pancakes in forum on historical reenactment I wanted to do a few experiments with eggs today. While the eggs may have been cooked just like we do today I wanted to explore some other ways of using them.
Other cooking methods I
Could I boil the egg in some other way than by just putting it in pot of water? The first attempt of the day was to cook an egg by simply bury it in hot ashes. Though I was a bit afraid that the egg would simply crack and pour out, I figured that I could always throw away the remains. However, after letting it cook for a short while I could uncover the egg just to find some minor cracks and a minute leakage of the egg white. The egg was sort of semi-cooked, being hardboiled in the bottom and still runny on the part that had been turned towards the fire. Though perhaps a bit difficult to peel it tasted quite good.
Other cooking methods II
In the medieval cookbook “Le ménagier de Paris” from the late 14th century a recipe on how to make “lost” eggs were included: “LOST EGGS. Break the shell and throw yolks and whites on the coals or on very hot embers, and then clean them and eat.” The description of the recipe which seemed fairly simply would in theory be rather simple to recreate in a Viking age environment. In my first attempt I just tried to pour the content of an egg directly on the glowing embers. The egg cooked quickly but many small pieces of coals got stuck to the egg and it was rather difficult to both retrieve the egg and to clean it enough to be edible. In my second try, I cleared a small space in the middle of the hearth where the egg could be fried directly on the ashes. This egg took quite long to cook and while it was rather easy to retrieve, it was almost impossible to clean it from all the grit and ashes. One problem may have been that the base of the hearth was made of sand rather than stone or clay as would be the case of a medieval hearth. The second attempt would be far to slow for it to be a viable option. A possible third attempt would include removing a gloving ember that is large enough from the fire and quickly throw the egg upon it. Still I would figure that this would be a far to labour intense method for eggs to be cooked en masse using this method. Frying an egg with this method could perhaps been done by a singular individual needing a quick snack.
Using eggs as a thickener
In quite a few medieval recipes egg yolks are used as thickeners (Serra & Tunberg, 2009)and in the Italian cuisine a whole egg is used to make the classical dish Carbonara more full. In order to to try this out more in this context I chose to make a rather simple barley soup, using pre-soaked barley, water and a little stock. This I let cook for quite some time after which I added two whole eggs, that I stirred in a pot prior to adding them to the soup. By the time I was about to add the grains the soup was looking a bit milky and being almost slightly sweet, which perhaps should prompt some attempts to make a different kind of dish – a bit like the local byggecreme and medieval barley concoctions for sick people. However, continuing my experiment I could notice that the eggs did indeed give the soup a slightly thicker consistency, but using the whole eggs did give the soup a rather unpleasant appearance, which may have made the use of only the yolk being a bit more advantageous.
The present appearance of the barley soup is a bit bland and simple, some salt would have made a great difference , but I have still to come up with a good conclusion about the amount and sort of salt used up here.
All photographs uploaded today were shot by Frances Nelms who helped me out when I could not get the museum camera to work.
Serra, Daniel & Tunberg Hanna 2009, En sås av ringa värde,