Buttered Oranges

For the past several years I have been making a searchable index of the digitised household books held at The Wellcome Library. In doing so, I’ve read over 300 manuscripts and logged more than 32,000 food and drink recipes and have a ‘To Do list of interesting recipes as long as my arm.

‘Buttering’ was exceedingly popular in times past, and was applied to numerous dishes: crab, chickens, rolls, loaves, turnips, rice, salmon… For the most part, this consists of a healthy slathering of butter over the dish in question. Buttered Oranges, however, stands apart, since it’s not a pairing that seems obvious. So it was that this year, in the midst of a Seville orange flurry of kitchen activity, I grabbed a net of sweet oranges and determined that Buttered Oranges would be promoted to the top of the To Do list with immediate effect.

Buttered Orange recipe
Buttered Orange recipe, circa 1750, MS1357, Wellcome Library Collection

I re-read all of the recipes from the collection that I could find, and they were all pretty similar. I selected this one because of the novel presentation suggestion, which is to serve the buttered oranges in candied orange peels. Completely optional, of course, but it does make for an eye-catching dessert.

Which hopefully makes up for what might possibly be a bit of a let-down, because it turns out that Buttered Oranges is pretty much what we today would call a fruit curd: juice and zest, sweetened and thickened with eggs with a generous, but not excessive, quantity of butter melted in.

After experimentation, I found the best way to present this dessert was to make each element separately and then assemble before serving. I felt the original recipe’s instruction to bake the filled oranges until set was a little too risky and prone to mishap to risk all the preparation, but don’t let that deter you from trying it for yourself – I would just advise against a spur of the moment decision during an important social occasion.

Preparing the peels

I chose blood oranges to serve the curd in, as they were a beautiful colour and relatively small, thus being perfect for serving elegant portions of this rich dessert.

1 orange per person
1kg caster sugar
1 litre water

Before you start, you should make a decision on how you will be preparing the peels. The original recipe says to zest the oranges, slice off the top, hollow out the flesh, then simmer in water until tender, then finish in syrup. This gives the skins a pale, almost pastel colouring, which is delightful, and means the whole of the orange is put to good use but also makes them rather fragile during the cooking. One solution would be to tie them lightly in muslin or cheesecloth, to protect them, or alternately, use un-zested oranges, which will have a darker colour, but are also much more robust and less likely to split during the cooking. The results of both are illustrated in the photograph at the top, the zested peels on the right, the un-zested on the left. If you choose to use un-zested oranges, then you will need twice as many oranges overall.

  • If you’re zesting the oranges, do that now and reserve the zest for later.
  • Slice a lid off the top of each orange, and scoop out the insides using a combination of sharp knife and teaspoon. Reserve the flesh and juice for later.
  • Make sure there’s no orange flesh or fibres left inside.
  • Place the hollowed oranges and their lids into a saucepan of cold water, making sure the water fills the cavities.
  • Slowly bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until tender. This will take about 1.5-2 hours.
  • Change the water and scrub the pan every 30 minutes to remove the bitter oil.
  • When the peels are tender enough to be pierced by a toothpick, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over a low heat.
  • Add the peels and allow to simmer gently until the peel appears translucent.
  • Remove from the heat. The peels can remain in the syrup until required.

Buttered Oranges

As already mentioned, this is a variation of Orange Curd, so if you already have a favourite recipe, then by all means use that instead.

2 large eggs
the zest and juice from at least 4 oranges
the juice of 1 lemon
Sugar to taste
50g unsalted butter

  • Add the strained juices and zest to the eggs and whisk thoroughly.
  • Add the butter and whisk over a gentle heat until thickened.
  • Add sugar to taste.
  • To serve, you can either pour the curd into your oranges warm, or fill them and allow them to cool before serving.
  • I recommend serving some kind of biscuit or shortbread alongside to dip!

Oatmeal Pancakes

 

This recipe comes from the manuscript of Jane Newton dated circa 1675-1700. I like Jane’s manuscript a lot – she has ruled out the pages with red margins, still bright after more than 300 years, and stamps her character on them with occasional personal comments that are a pleasure to find. The one that always sticks in my mind is her snappily titled “To Make the Puffs I was Speaking of Before in my Pottage”.

Oatmeal Pancake Recipe
Oatmeal Pancake Recipe from Jane Newton’s manuscript, 1675-c1700, MS1325, Wellcome Collection

I chose this recipe this week because tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday and someone out there might fancy something different to the regular lemon & sugar pancakes. (Ratafia Pancakes are another option). Also, Jane’s comment at the bottom of this recipe: “They are the best pancakes that is made if you make them as directed” – quite the gauntlet you’re throwing down there, Jane! I’d have initially made it as written anyways, but now I’m feeling Jane’s beady eye on me. No pressure.

Long story short – she’s right. They might look fairly ordinary, but they are the first pancakes that I’ve tasted that I could eat with no further adornment. Yes, I know the picture shows them dusted with sugar – I added it for photographic purposes only. The batter is sweetened and spiced, and, as all good recipes using oatmeal, lightly salted which kicks in at the end of each mouthful as a delightful contrast.

Oatmeal Pancakes

60g medium oatmeal flour
150ml single cream
1 large egg
1 large yolk
1tbs plain flour
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2tbs caster sugar
30g unsalted butter – melted

  • Mix all the ingredients, except the butter, thoroughly and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
  • Stir through the melted butter until combined.
  • Melt some butter in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Add spoonfulls of the batter into the pan, you can cook 3 at a time.
  • Turn the pancakes when the undersides have browned.
  • Remove cooked pancakes to a sheet of kitchen roll.
  • Enjoy warm as is (it really is the best way) or with your favourite toppings.

 

Pickled Onions

I do love a pickled onion, and not having had any for a while, decided to put to the test some of the old recipes from the Wellcome Insitute Library archives. The methods are a little different from modern recipes and I was curious to see the differences made to the final product, if any.

Some of the pickled onion recipes were too involved for my purposes (and lack of patience), with the brining going on for almost a week before any actual pickling was done. I chose these two recipes because they were both immediate and do-able in a morning, and I liked that they had slightly different aromatics as well as methods.

A lot of pickling recipes take weeks to mature, and originally I hadn’t planned to post these recipes for quite a while. However, after a taste test this morning, the results were so delicious after just 24 hours, here we are.

Pickled Onion manuscript recipe 1

This is the recipe from a manuscript (MS751) that belonged to one Elizabeth Sleigh, with later additions by a Mrs Felicia Whitfield. The manuscript has been dated to from the middle of the seventeenth century (1647) to the early 18th century (1722). The method involves blanching the peeled onions briefly in two changes of salted water, simmering the pickle with some aromatics and combining the two when both are cold.

This recipe is from MS2323, originally owned by Amy Eyton and subsequenty by Mary Eyton and possibly even Mrs Sarah Justice. With a similar date (1691-1738), it is interesting how closely the recipes resemble one another in terms of method. This later recipe calls for initially soaking the peeled onions in two lots of brine, blanching in brine and then cooling in cold brine, and drying. The vinegar and aromatics are simmered for a while, then poured over the onions.

The results for both are deliciously similar: the onions have crunch and tang from the vinegar, but none of the harshness of raw onion nor eye-squinting ‘burn’ that accompanies the use of malt vinegar. The aromatics give subtle flavouring to the vinegar, which I suspect might intensify as time passes. As already mentioned, and by far the best part of this whole experiment, is they can be consumed almost immediately.

Elizabeth Sleigh’s Pickled Onions

1647-1722

I didn’t think I had any black peppercorns, so I used long peppercorns that were in the cupboard.

500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
9tbs table salt (divided)
800ml white wine vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
4 blades of mace

clean jar(s)

  • Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin
  • Bring the brine to the boil and drop in the peeled onions and cook for two minutes. Drain.
  • Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
  • Bring the fresh brine to the boil and drop in the onions and cook for another two minutes. Drain.
  • Cut the ginger into thin slices.
  • Add the aromatics and salt to the vinegar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add the blanched onions and cook for 2 minutes
  • Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the onions from the vinegar and set to cool on a baking tray or wire rack. Return any of the flavourings to the pickle.
  • Cover the vinegar pan and allow to cool.
  • When both onions and vinegar are cold, transfer them to your jar(s) and cover. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
  • Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.

Amy Eyton’s Pickled Onions

1691-1738

This recipe called for alegar – vinegar made from ale – of which I obviously have none, so I used half cider vinegar, half white wine vinegar. Use whatever light vinegar combination you like/have. Oh, and I found the black peppercorns.

500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
15tbs table salt (divided)
400ml white wine vinegar
400ml cider vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tsp whole cloves
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
the zest of a lemon, cut in strips
4 bayleaves

clean jar(s)

  • Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin. Drop the peeled onions into the brine.
  • Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
  • Drain the onions, then add them to the fresh brine for 30 minutes.
  • Make a third brine (2 litres water, 2tbs salt) and bring to the boil.
  • Drain the onions, then add them to the simmering brine for 3 minutes.
  • Mix 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Drain the onions and drop them into the cold brine for 15  minutes
  • Add the aromatics and 1tbs salt to the vinegars and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Drain the onions from the brine and dry with a clean cloth. Put the onions in your jar(s).
  • Turn off the heat under the pickle and allow to cool for five minutes,
  • Pour the pickle over your onions and seal. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
  • Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.

Fruit Puffs

This recipe appears in the 17th century manuscript book of Lady Anne Fanshawe (MS.7113 at the Wellcome Collection), and is attributed to Lady Scarborough. What might appear, from the name, at first to be something pastry-based, is in fact a form of meringue.

Unsweetened fruit (I used apples) pulp is mixed with sugar and eggwhites and whisked until stiff and white. The recipe calls for this to be dropped in spoonfuls onto glass and dried in the oven, although I made adaptations for the modern kitchen. After a couple of practice runs, the result is, to all intents and purposes, an apple-flavoured meringue. Not as sweet as regular meringues, with the pleasantly tart flavour of sharp apples.

It is from the same recipe family as Apple Snow, with a slight alteration in porportions and a spell in the oven, and to my mind would be delightful served alongside that ethereal confection.

The main challenge with this recipe was the missing details. Apple and sugar quantities are given, but the instruction to beat them ‘with white of egg’ is open to interpretation. Additionally, “dry it in a stove” is hardly suffering from an over-abundance of detail. Hence the trial runs.

One of the batches I made whilst juggling baking times and temperatures turned a light caramel colour, which I suspect is not how the finished puffs should look, but proved to be absolutely delicious – crisp, delicate with a whisper of toffee apple. I’m counting that particular error as a win!

Apple and Caramel Apple Puffs

Fruit Puffs

Although I have only used apple here, the recipe does state that any fruit pulp can be used. My advice would be to choose pulp that has some bulk to it. Berries might prove too moist. Stone fruit, rhubarb and gooseberries would all be suitable, especially if tart, as the sugar content is quite high, and it would ‘cut through’ it nicely.

340g cooked cooking apples
225g caster sugar
2 large egg-whites (about 80g)

  • Puree the apple smooth with a stick blender. Sieve the puree if liked (I didn’t, but I was very thorough with the blender).
  • Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until light, white and stiff. I used a stand mixer on High and this took 10 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan. This temperature will be for the white puffs, for caramel puffs, increase the temperature to 140°C, 120°C Fan after 2 hours.
  • Add a decorative nozzle to a piping bag and spoon in some of the mixture. Pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. There will be some shrinkage as the puffs dry out, so pipe them on the large side. For example, the white puffs in the top photo were 5cm tall when first piped. When dried, they are about 3cm tall.
  • Dry in the oven for 5-6 hours, depending on the size and how moist they are. Prop the oven door ajar by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon, for the first hour or so, to help dispel the moisture, (otherwise it stays trapped in the oven and slows down drying time).
  • After about 4 hours, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. The puffs should be firm enough by this stage to gently peel off from the parchment. Turn the puffs upside down and lay them back on the parchment, so that the bases can dry (about an hour). If you don’t let the puffs cool down first, you will squish them as you try to remove them from the paper. If the puffs aren’t firm even when cooled down, put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again.
  • For Caramel Puffs, bake as above for 2 hours, then increase the heat to 140°C, 120°C Fan and bake for 1 hour. Check the colour/dryness and bake a little longer if still sticky.
  • Once the puffs are dried to your liking, store them in an airtight container. They will absorb moisture and become sticky if left in the open air for any length of time.

Ratafia Pancakes

Pancakes have been the traditional pre-Lenten meal for centuries. Pancake Day is preceded by Collop Monday, when the last  of the bacon and ham was fried up for the evening meal, usually with some eggs. The fat in the pan was then retained for frying the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

There are almost as many pancake tradition as there are households. In my childhood, we had sugar and lemon juice on our rolled pancakes, which I just assumed was the one and only way to serve them. Only when I went away to college did I learn about jam, syrup, honey, treacle also being options, puffy American pancakes with syrup AND bacon, and in more recent years Scandinavian æbleskivers and Dutch poffertjes.

Ratafia Pancakes, MS.2767 c1750-1825, Wellcome Collection
Ratafia Pancakes, MS.2767 c1750-1825, Wellcome Collection

This recipe comes from a Georgian manuscript recipe book, and is a charming twist on regular thin pancakes. Filled with a spiced custard and glazed with egg-white and sugar, they are then baked in the oven until crisp. There’s no ratafia flavouring in them, so I’m assuming that the name comes from the crunch of the caramelised sugar and the crisped pancake edges. The combination of warm, spiced custard, crisp pancake and crunchy sugar glaze is delicious. For an adult flavour, you can add a tablespoon of something alcoholic to the custard – cream sherry is probably the closest to the sack that was much in vogue at the time, Madeira, Marsala or Mead are also good choices.

You can use your favourite recipe, or the one below, and if short of time, use ready-made custard, or indeed ready-bought pancakes for that matter. The quantities given below are very modest, enough for four pancakes and filling. Increase the quantities to suit the number of diners you’re serving.

Ratafia Pancakes

For the pancakes
115ml milk
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g plain flour

Butter for frying

For the custard
250ml milk
2 large yolks
30g cornflour
50g caster sugar
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground mace
1/4tsp ground cinnamon
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
1tbs cream sherry/Marsala/Madeira/Mead (optional)

For the glaze
1 large egg white
caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Whisk together the ingredients for the pancake batter.
  • Melt a little butter in a pan and fry ¼ of the batter at a time to make four, thin pancakes. Don’t worry if they’re uneven – the folding/rolling will neaten everything.
  • Set each cooked pancake aside to cool.
  • Whisk together the yolks, sugar, spices and cornflour.
  • Heat the milk in a pan and when almost boiling, pour over the egg mixture, whisking briskly.
  • Return the mixture to the pan and stir over medium heat until thickened.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool. Stir in the alcohol, if using.
  • Cover the surface of the custard with plastic film and chill until cold.

To finish

  • Take ¼ of the custard and lay it in a log shape along the bottom edge of a pancake.
  • Fold the left and right sides of the pancake inwards (to contain the custard) and then roll up the pancake, keeping the custard filling well wrapped.
  •  Lay the rolled pancake on a parchment-lined baking sheet, with the free edge of the pancake underneath to keep it from unrolling.
  • Repeat with the remaining pancakes and filling.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg-white until frothy and brush generously over the rolled pancakes.
  • Sprinkle the caster sugar over the rolled pancakes.
  • Bake the pancakes for 15 minutes to caramelise the sugar and crisp the pancakes. Add an extra 5 minutes more, depending on how brown/crispy your tastes are.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving – the custard inside will be very hot.

Apple Snow

This recipe is more usually served in the late summer and autumn months, but I’ve chosen it now because the weather outside today has carpeted the garden with a thick layer of snow.

This is a classic dessert whose provenance stretches back centuries. Although the name ‘Apple Snow’ is the one more usually found in modern recipe books, it can also be found under the name Apple Fluff, Apple Souffle, Apple Puff and this version, Apple Cream Without Cream.

This last was found in a manuscript from the 17th century, held by The Wellcome Library. The manuscript has been attributed to the splendidly named Mrs Deborah Haddock, who sounds as if she should be the twinkly-eyed star of stories set in a small, quaint fishing village.

It is elegant in its simplicity, requiring only apple pulp, an egg-white and a little sugar. It is also, thanks to modern kitchen gadgetry, prepared incredibly swiftly, requiring less than ten minutes to come together before serving, once the initial preparation has been completed.

Apple Cream Without Cream, aka apple Snow, c1675, MS7892, Wellcome Library Collection

Choice of Fruit

This recipe can be made with any apple you have to hand, either keeping a purity of flavour with a single variety, or mixing and matching in a clearing-out-the-fruit-bowl, waste-not-want-not kind of way.

One of the manuscript recipes I read recommended green apples as being the best, but failed to elaborate any identifying characteristics beyond colour. I prefer to use Bramley apples, for the pale insides and sharpness of taste. Other varieties you might like to try include Worcester Pearmains, which have dazzlingly white flesh that tastes faintly of lemon and rough-skinned Russets that have an almost nutty flavour.

Alternatively, you could follow the recommendation in the recipe above and try this with gooseberries.

Apple Snow

This recipe tweaks the original slightly with additions found in other versions. In terms of quantity, it will make a visually impressive amount, but is so light and delicate, a full glass is still only a relatively small amount. It will hold its shape for two hours or so, but can be mounded in more impressive heights if served immediately after preparation.

Serves 4 – 8

5 Bramley apples, or apple of your choice.
juice of 1 lemon
2tbs cream sherry (optional)
4tbs caster sugar
1 large egg-white

  • Peel, core and chop the apples finely. Toss them in the lemon juice as you go, to prevent them from discolouring.
  • Add the apple and lemon juice to a saucepan with the sherry, if using.
  • Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the apples soften and turn to froth.
  • Mash the apples to a pulp, then sieve to remove all lumps. Chill until required.
  • Whisk the egg-white until it will stand in soft peaks. Set aside.
  • Put 250ml chilled apple pulp into a bowl and whisk on High for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the whisked egg-white and continue whisking, adding in the sugar one spoonful at a time.
  • After 2-3 minutes the mixture will have both increased in volume and become dazzlingly white.
  • Taste and whisk in more sugar if needed.
  • Spoon or pipe into glasses and serve with some crisp biscuits on the side.
  • If you have apple pulp spare, you could spoon a little of it into the glasses before adding the apple snow.

Marmalade

It’s that time of year, when Seville oranges are in the shops and marmalade is the name of the game.

For the competitively-minded, the Marmalade Awards are an annual competition to find the best marmalades across a number of categories. Whatever your forte  –  plain Seville, dark and chunky, boozy – or even if you are a complete novice, there’s an opportunity to enter and get feedback on your jar from those doyennes of home-produce, the Womens Institute.

Each jar is tasted and scored out of twenty. Less-than-perfect specimens are given hand-written feedback on where improvements can be made. High-scoring jars get certificates. It’s great fun.

I’ve entered for a number of years, some more successful than others – and have garnered a range of Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. The recipes here have both won Gold for me over the years and are ideal for the novice marmalade maker as they are small batch recipes, one making four and the other just two x 450g jars.

Both of these recipes were found in handwritten recipe books, one from the middle of the 19th century and the other from the late 17th century.

Dundee Marmalade

1850

This marmalade is simplicity itself: boil the oranges, chop, then simmer with sugar for 30 minutes. I’ve made only one adjustment to the original recipe, which is to change the water the oranges are boiled in, in order to remove the harshness of the oil contained in the skins. If this sounds like too much hassle, then by all means use the same water all the way through – the result will be on the feisty side!

Top Tip: The cooked oranges will freeze excellently, so if you like this recipe, or have limited storage space for jars, cook a large number of fruit and then freeze until required. The recipe can be easily scaled, so you can use just a couple of oranges to make one large jar at a time.

Seville oranges
granulated sugar

  • Put the oranges into a pan with enough water to cover them. They will float to begin with, but gradually become heavier as they absorb moisture.
  • Bring the pan to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer.
  • After 25 minutes, bring a second pan of water to a simmer.
  • Transfer the oranges to the second pan and continue simmering.
  • Discard the first lot of cooking water and scrub the saucepan. The bitter orange oil will have gathered on the sides of the pan. Fill the pan with fresh water and bring to a simmer.
  • Repeat the above until the oranges have been simmered for 2 hours – 4 changes of water.
  • Lift out the oranges and set aside to drain and cool.
  • When cooled enough to handle, cut the oranges in half and remove only the pips.
  • Chop the rest of the fruit as liked. I prefer to slice it by hand into strips and then into thin shreds with a sharp knife.
  • Weigh the fruit and for every 450g, put 600ml of water and 900g granulated sugar into a clean pan.
  • Heat the sugar and water gently, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Add the chopped peel and pulp and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches setting point of 105°C. For 450g of fruit, this will take about 30 minutes. Smaller or larger quantities of fruit will require slight adjustment of this time.
  • Pour into clean, warmed jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Clean and label once cold.

Bridget Hyde’s Very Good Marmalade

1680

Bridget Hyde's Marmalade recipe
Bridget Hyde’s Marmalade recipe, circa 1680, MS2990, Wellcome Library Collection

This recipe is unusual in that it uses the setting qualities of the pectin in green apples and the luxury of wine to create a light and brightly-flavoured, shred marmalade. It is very straightforward to follow the recipe as written, but equally easy to use some of the fruit cooked in the previous recipe, so the recipe below will follow this adaptation. Even without the original musk and ambergris perfuming the result, this is a delicious and delicate marmalade. Any sweet, dessert white wine can be used, however for my Gold-winning entrant in the Marmalade Awards I sought out some Muscat de Frontignan, whose richly perfumed aromas of citrus and honey perfectly complements the fruit in this marmalade. Reflecting the high cost of the ingredients of the time, this recipe makes just two jars per batch.

225g granulated sugar
300ml sweet dessert white wine, Muscat de Frontignan for something really special
150ml water
450g green apples – Granny Smith or Bramley
3 Seville oranges – cooked as above
225g granulated sugar
1 lemon – optional
1 sweet orange – optional

  • Put the first portion of sugar, the white wine and water into a saucepan.
  • Chop the apples into 2cm pieces and add to the pan also, cores, seeds and all.
  • Cut the Sevilles in half and use a teaspoon to scrape out all of the flesh, membranes and seeds. Add this to the saucepan as well.
  • Simmer the contents of the saucepan gently over medium low heat until the apple pieces become translucent.
  • While the apples are simmering, slice the cooked peel into thin shreds.
  • When the apples are translucent, strain the liquid of the pan through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all of the liquid.
  • Rinse the pan and return it to the heat with the wine syrup.
  • Add the remaining sugar and stir until dissolved
  • Add the shredded peel and simmer until it reaches setting point of 105°C, which will take around 20-30 minutes.
  • Taste and adjust the finished flavour to your own liking by adding some freshly-squeezed lemon and/or orange juice.
  • Pour into clean, warmed jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Clean and label once cold.

 

Oat Cakes

I’m using the recipe for these oatcakes as an example of the pitfalls of projecting 21st century understanding onto 17th century recipes.

Mention the word ‘oatcakes’ and most people will think of small, crisp biscuits that are enjoyed with cheese, pate and the like.

These oatcakes, however, come from an altogether different origin, resembling as they do, what we nowadays would call a muffin. And here is where I have to hold my hand up and make a confession.  Back in 2011, in this post, I had a bit of a chuckle at Hannah Glasse’s distracted recipe for Muffins and Oat-cakes, that never mentions oatcakes beyond the title, and her mistake at the end of the method where she writes

Observe, muffins are made the same way.

However, upon reading this and several other early oatcake recipes, it became clear to me that Hannah’s method had actually been describing the making of oat-cakes, which are muffins made with a significant proportion of oat flour. I’d just assumed she was in error because I was thinking of the wrong kind of oatcake, putting the modern notion of a biscuit onto her 18th century recipe.

Oat Cakes recipe
Oat Cakes recipe, circa 1700, MS7788, Wellcome Library

The manuscript in which I found this recipe dates from around 1700, which makes them of the time of Queen Anne, last of the Stuart monarchs. The spicing and flavouring make them deliciously decadent and aromatic, perfect for an elegant afternoon tea-table. They are best enjoyed warm, with just a little butter. If you’re not eating them fresh from the pan, then the outsides should be lightly toasted under a grill before gently pulling apart and buttering.

These take a little longer than regular muffins in the initial cooking, but my guess is that is down to the oat flour. Speaking of which, I made these by sifting fine oatmeal, which is also sometimes sold as oat flour. It is coarser than wheat flour, being somewhere between brown flour and stoneground wholemeal flour in texture.  I firstly sieve out the coarser particles and then whizz these coarse siftings in a blender/spice grinder (the offset blades are more efficient than a food processor) and re-sieve in order to get the maximum amount of ‘flour’. This process is a little tedious, and frankly, you could just use the oat flour as is and they would be fine, but by using only the finest quality of oat flour ensures the delicacy of their texture matches the delicacy of the flavourings.

Oat Cakes

Makes 14

300g plain flour
300g oat flour
20g fresh yeast
150ml whole milk
150ml water
1 large egg
2 large yolks
2tbs sweet sherry/Madeira/Marsala
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2tsp salt
20g caster sugar

  • Put the dry ingredients and the yeast into a bowl. I use my stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  • Whisk the milk, water, egg, yolks and alcohol together then add to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly for 10 minutes.
  • Mix on high for 2 minutes, then and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  • Deflate the dough gently then divide it into 75g portions.
  • Cup your hand over each piece of dough and roll it in small circles, shaping the dough into a smooth ball. Set the ball on a flour-dusted surface to rise. Don’t put the balls of dough too close together, or they might rise into each other.
  • Allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes from the moment the first ball of dough is shaped. They will take time to cook in batches, so with the staggered batch cooking, the last few will have risen just in time to be cooked.
  • Put a heavy-based pan onto a large ring on a medium heat. On my 1-9 induction hob, I use 6.
  • Cook the muffins in batches. Depending on the size of your pan, you can cook 4 or 5 at a time.
  • To transfer the risen dough to the pan, gently slide a thin spatula underneath and transfer it to the pan turning it upside down as you do so, so that the top of the oat cake cooks first. This will help create the perfect muffin shape. If you cook the base first, the top will continue to rise and curve, and since the radiated heat from the pan will dry the surface of the dough as it cooks, this will thus make it ‘reluctant’ to flatten into the traditional muffin shape. Cooking the soft top first, the weight of the dough pressing down allows it to settle like a gently deflating cushion, into the flattened shape, and a partial hardening of the already flat bottom (which has become the top) is fine.
  • Cook for 6-7 minutes, then gently turn the cakes over and cook for another 5-6 minutes. When done, they should sound hollow when tapped.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Damson Preserves

Here’s a trio of preserves that champion one of my favourite sorts of food – free stuff!

Damsons grow wild in the hedgerows and along the canal banks and lanes of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, and the only cost is your time to pick them. They are tart, wild plums, about the size and shape of a large grape, with a soft, hazy-blue bloom to the skin. NB The size/shape is key to identifying true damsons – if the fruit is round and apple-shaped, it is a different wild plum known as a bullace.

I had an especially impressive haul of damsons this year, from three difference sources, so aside from the obligatory Damson Gin, I had enough to make batches of the above preserves for the first time, the recipes for which I have had bookmarked for years. Whatever your toothsome preference, there should be something for everyone here.

If you’re unable to find damsons, then all of these recipes will work with any kind of small, tart plums.

Damson Conserve

MS1795
From MS1795, circa 1685, Wellcome Library Collection

First up is the oldest of the three recipes, found in a household manuscript book at the Wellcome Library. Sadly for those of us interested in people as much as recipes, it is anonymous,  and dates from around 1685. It caught my eye because of the slightly unusual method it employs. Usually, the vigorous boiling in the making of damson jam renders the delicate fruit into a pulp, but the method in this recipe is strikingly similar to that employed by the modern queen of jam-making, la fée des confitures, Christine Ferber. Sugar is used to both draw out the juices of the fruit, and to infuse the delicate flesh, so that it can all the better withstand the cooking process. The result is beautifully whole damsons in a richly flavoured syrup.

You can make any quantity you like, by scaling up the recipe to suit the quantity of fruit you have. I have altered the recipe slightly, based on my experience of working with Madam Ferber’s recipes.

1lb damsons
1lb granulated sugar
120ml water

  • Remove the stalks and with a sharp knife, cut the skin of the damsons around “in the crease” as the recipe puts it.
  • Sprinkle a layer of sugar in a pan and set the damsons into the sugar, to draw out the juice.
  • Sprinkle the remainder of sugar over the top.
  • Pour over the water.
  • Cover and leave overnight.
  • Next day, heat very gently until the sugar has melted.
  • Lift the fruit out of the syrup and bring it to a boil.
  • Return the fruit to the now hot syrup and allow to steep overnight.
  • On Day 3, lift the fruit out of the syrup and bring it to a boil again.
  • Return the fruit and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to warmed pots and seal while hot.

Miss Milward’s Pickled Damsons

19th century

Alison Uttley’s fictionalised autobiographical book The Country Child was one of my favourites growing up, and it remains so to this day. The book details her childhood growing up on a Derbyshire farm in the late nineteenth century – I highly recommend it.

Ms Uttley came across her mother’s recipe book whilst researching Country Hoard, and in response to encouragement from her published, produced Recipes from an Old Farmhouse in 1966. This recipe was made in vast quantities, to ensure there was a ready supply for the many mouths fed at the farm.

Almost equally sweet and sharp, they are equally good served alongside cold meats and cheeses, as spooned over ice cream.

You can halve or even quarter this recipe if liked.

3.2kg damsons
1.8kg white, granulated sugar
2 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
20g whole cloves
malt vinegar to cover

  • Layer the damsons and sugar in a casserole.
  • Add the spices and vinegar enough to just submerge the fruit, and cover with a lid.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Bake gently for 1 hour to draw out the juices.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • When cold, drain the fruit from the syrup.
  • Heat the syrup until boiling, then pour over the fruit and allow to stand until the next day.
  • Repeat this draining/boiling each day for the next 7 days (for a total of 8 days).
  • Allow the damsons to stand in the syrupy pickle for seven  more days.
  • Spoon the damsons into warmed pots, boil the syrup and pour over the fruit.
  • Seal at once.
  • Cherries may also be pickled in this way.

Mrs Musson’s Baroda Chutney

This recipe, from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, won first prize in the Farmer and Stockbreeder Competition in 1950, and it is my new, favourite chutney. It can be found in a delightful little book entitled “Cook it the Farmhouse Way” by Barbara Wilcox. A digitised copy of the book can be borrowed for 2 weeks from The Internet Archive – click here.

The damsons give it a beautiful, rich colour, and the chutney can be eaten immediately. It is fantastic with both cold meats and cheeses.

1.35kg apples – peeled and cored
1.35kg marrow – peeled and chopped roughly
1.35kg tomatoes
900g damsons, counted
1.125kg onions – peeled
225g shallots
170g garlic
140g salt
1tsp dried chilli flakes
900g sugar
115g mustard seed – yellow or black
50g fresh ginger – sliced thin
15g whole cloves
1.7 litres malt vinegar

  • Chop the apples, marrow, tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic. You can do this by hand or, as I did, by pulsing them 2 or 3 times in a food processor. You want  your resulting chutney to be fine enough to spread in a sandwich without any unseemly large pieces.
  • Put into a large bowl with the damsons, salt, chillies and sugar.
  • Mix thoroughly, then cover with cling film and leave overnight.
  • The next day, tie the spices and the sliced ginger in a muslin bag and add to the vegetables, together with the vinegar.
  • Mix thoroughly then pour everything into a preserving pan.
  • Bring slowly to the boil, stirring frequently, then turn the heat down and simmer until no excess moisture is visible – 4-6 hours – stirring regularly. Alternatively, you can cook this, uncovered, in a slow cooker. It requires less stirring, although the cooking time then increases to about 10 hours.
  • Remove the muslin bag of spices and fish out the damsons stones (optional – but you might want to write a reminder on the label if you keep them in). If you counted your damsons before cooking, you can easily keep track of how many stones you need to retrieve.
  • Pot and seal at once.

Mini Chicken and Bacon Pies

Jane Newton, circa 1675

Jane Newton’s 17th century manuscript recipe book (MS1325 at The Wellcome Library) is unusual for the time, because it appears to have been written by the lady herself, rather than a scribe. It is meticulously set out, beginning with an alphabetical index and progressing through a range of recipes, informally grouped together: potages, roasts, boilings, collarings, puddings, picklings, tarts, wines and preserves.

The handwriting is regular, the lettering excessively flourished – Jane loves an upper-case letter and refuses to confine them to the beginning of sentences – the spelling quirky and capricious. The ink has faded to brown, but the scarlet margins and diligently underlined titles are still bright and bold.

The book has a very informal tone, and on reading, it is possible to imagine Jane chattering away about her cookery recipes, complete with interruptions to her train of thought. In the recipe for Taffety Tarts, she gets as far as rolling out the pastry, only to leave the instructions hovering unfinished on the page as she then gets distracted into starting a recipe for Manchet. This too appears incomplete as, after setting the dough to rise, the recipe is hurriedly ended with the vague hand-wave of “yn bake itt.”.

Two incomplete recipes from the pen of Jane Newton
Two incomplete recipes from the pen of Jane Newton

The title of this miniature pie recipe is a perfect example of the informal tone of most of the book. In the early pages,  Jane closes out a recipe for Partridge Pottage with the following comment:

This Pottage is proper to bee Garnished wth Pitti Patties or Little Pa∫sts a thing never yet in Print And I shall give yow the be∫t diretton for the makeing them when I treat of Bakemeates wch wil bee thereafter given yow

It takes more than twenty pages for this recipe to turn up. Rather than a succinct yet descriptive title, Jane opts to call it To make the Pufes I was Speaking of before in my Pottage. I don’t know about you, but I can almost hear Jane’s vague introductory “Oh…you know…. those things…. pastry bits…. whatchamacallits…. the ones I was talking about earlier!” and all-too-easily picture the accompanying distracted, flapping hand.

Jane was, justifiably, very proud of these tasty morsels:

The∫e are a thing wch is delightfull to the Eater & is not a u∫uall thing at many Tables to be had and Invented by an Italian

These pies are a true déja food recipe through the use of cooked meat in their composition. Although I’ve chosen to use just chicken, the original recipe suggests a combination of both chicken and veal. Other suitable alternatives would be most poultry and pork.  The filling also differs from most modern pies in that it contains neither sauce nor gravy. A mere squeeze of orange juice, possibly a Seville, and the moisture in the fresh ingredients keeps the filling from drying out and keeps the pastry from becoming soggy during baking. Once baked, a few drops of chicken stock are added into the pies to supply both seasoning and lusciousness.

The most unusual detail for these little savoury pies is the inclusion of a grape in the middle. Originally, these would have been from bunches taken as thinnings of the vines commonly grown by the great houses (there’s never enough room to allow every bunch of grapes to ripen) so they would be small, underripe and quite sharp to the taste. In the baking they soften a little and provide a bright burst of freshness to the cooked pie.  Small green gooseberries work equally well, if you don’t have a vine to hand.

Jane suggests serving these as garnishes to the aforementioned pottage (meaty soup) or even on a dish by themselves. I would widen this by recommending including them in lunchboxes, picnics or as nibbles/appetisers.

Mini Chicken & Bacon Pies

Makes 20 mini pies

shortcrust pastry – made with 300g flour
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry.

150g cooked chicken
60g smoked, dry-cured streaky bacon – about 4 rashers
3tbs finely chopped fresh parsley(10g)
1tbs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks
2 rounded tbs chopped shallot (1 ’round’ or ½ a smallish ‘banana’ shallot)
¼ tsp ground white pepper
a pinch of salt
juice of ½ an orange – about 2tbs/30ml
20 small, sharp grapes/gooseberries

Egg for glazing

100ml well-flavoured chicken stock

  • Dice the chicken and bacon finely and stir together with the herbs, onion and seasoning.
  • Add the orange juice and stir to combine.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry, cut out 20 rounds and line the greased cups of a mini muffin tin.
  • Spoon a little of the mixture into the cups, place a grape in top, then cover with more of the filling mixture.
  • Dampen the edges of the pastry with a little water.
  • Cut out 20 lids from the puff pastry and press them gently on top of the mini pies.
  • Trim any excess pastry.
  • Brush over with beaten egg and cut a small hole in the top of each pastry lid – a plastic straw works well.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is cooked, the lids puffed and golden.
  • Use a small funnel or teaspoon to pour a little chicken stock into each pie to moisten the filling.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.