Almacks

Almacks (also Almack’s and Almack) is one of many recipes that have originated from people copying dishes they have enjoyed whilst eating out. Almack’s was a Georgian/Regency London club where the great and the good could socialise during ‘the season’, Pontacks is another such establishment, now equally long gone, whose reputation remains only in the names of recipes they have inspired.

By the end of the 18th century, being presented at the Royal court was deemed old fashioned for the up and coming ladies in society, so Almacks provided a setting whereby  socialising and marriage alliances could be conducted amongst the ‘Ton’. As an example of the importance of Almack’s in the social life of the capital, when Lady Caroline Lamb published ‘Glenarvon’, with a thinly-fictionalised Lord Byron as the main character, Sarah Villiers, Lady Jersey, was so incensed at the way she had been satirised, she barred Lady Caroline from Almacks in 1816, thereby making her a social outcast *gasps and clutches pearls*. Although Lady Caroline eventually managed to regain membership three years later, thanks mainly to the assistance of her cousin, Emily Lamb (Countess Cowper), her reputation never recovered.

Almacks provided refreshments to its member and this thick fruit ‘cheese’ would have been ideal as it has great keeping qualities and is easy to serve at short notice. It can be eaten a number of ways: as a sweet, with cream or as a savoury, with biscuits and cheese. It is also versatile in its preparation as it can be varied by type of apple, pear and plum, thus giving it subtle changes in flavour with each batch. It is an ideal way to use up gluts of fruit, or to waste-not-want-not with windfalls.

Almack recipe (1785-1825) from MS1827, Wellcome Collection.

This is the earliest recipe I have found, coming from a household manuscript dated 1785-1825. The quantities are huge, even allowing for a loss of volume during the cooking. A peck of apples is roughly 6 kg, so it calls for a total of 18kg of prepared fruit, although it’s probably going to be closer to 20 kg by the time you factor in weight loss due to peeling/coring/chopping.

Almack recipe, (1800-1822) from MS1830, Wellcome Collection

This is a recipe with slightly more reasonable quantities – 3 quarts of each fruit = 7.5kg, but in the end I thought the recipe from Elizabeth Pease (below) was both the simplest and most reasonable in terms of batch size.

Elizabeth Pease’s recipe for Almacks (1802-1871) in MS3824, Wellcome Collection.

Admittedly, it does take a few things for granted such as expecting readers to know the method and how to prepare the fruit, but I’ll be filling you in on those in the recipe below.

So how much Almacks you make is really up to you and what you have to hand. As a guide, I used 750g of prepared apples and pears and 800g damsons (to allow for the stones) and it made 8 generous portions as seen in the photo above, and about 400g in a box for more casual use. The damsons add a real tang to the paste, and the low quantity of sugar means it sits right on the edge between sweet and savoury. Serve (small) portions with a drizzle of cream and a biscuit (ratafias, macaroons, etc) for crunch as a dessert, or with your favourite cheese and crackers.

Almacks

I’ve reduced the quantities, so you can make a small batch to try, but you can scale it up quite easily if you have it in mind to pot and gift it for Christmas.

500g peeled, cored and chopped apples
500g peeled, cored and chopped pears
500g plums/damsons, stones removed if possible
500g demerera sugar.

  • Cook the fruit. You want it soft enough so that it can be sieved easily. This can be done a couple of ways:
    • layer the fruit and sugar into a large casserole  (preferably ceramic or enamelled) and put it in the oven, uncovered, at 150°C, 130°C Fan for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure the fruit floating on top of the juice doesn’t dry out.
    • Put the fruit and sugar into a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. This method generates more juice, as it won’t evaporate as much as it does in the oven, but it has the advantage of being able to be left unattended for an extended period of time.
  • Sieve the cooked fruit until nothing is left but skin and (possibly) damson pits.
  • Simmer the puree in a preserving pan until no excess liquid is visible when you draw a spoon across the pan, and it’s just fruit puree. This will take rather a long time, if you used the slow-cooker method, due to the extra juice.
  • You MUST stir the pan, otherwise the puree will burn. Towards the end, it will turn into fruit LAVA< so have a towel cover your arm handy, to avoid the hot splashes.
  • When your puree is ready, spoon it into moulds or hot, sterilised jars as you would for jam. Silicone moulds are great, especially if you’re making Almacks to serve at a special meal – although you don’t need a special occasion to serve some delicious fruit cheese in a pretty shape. The flexibility of the silicone makes it very simple to turn out the paste, once cold.

Incomprehensible Pudding

When browsing handwritten manuscripts, my eye is always drawn to recipes with unusual titles. Whether it’s someone’s name, or a location, or as in this case, an odd title.

Incomprehensible Recipe
Incomprehensible Pudding Recipe, circa 1785, MS2242, Wellcome Collection.

To be honest, after reading it, I wasn’t sure why this pudding is incomprehensible. There are only a few ingredients – none of them unusual, and a straightforward method.

Then I made it and it turned out so light and delicate, it was a real surprise. At first glance, it seems like a custard, but the addition of the apple pulp, especially if you can get Bramley cooking apples, makes it almost frothy. With the use of clarified butter (where only the fat is used, and not the dairy solids), you could arguably denote this dairy-free.

It makes the perfect dessert in that it appears decadent, but can be enjoyed without the heaviness associated with a lot of puddings.

The original recipe called for puff pastry round the edge of the dish, which is something that has puzzled me for years, as it appears in many pudding recipes of this time. I can’t work out if it is for decoration only, or for consumption. I decided not to include pastry, because the high temperature required to cook it properly is at odds with the gentle heat needed to just set the custard.

I also opted for individual servings, so aimed for a shorter cooking time, because in typical 18th century style, the original cooking instructions are short and vague: “an hour will bake it”. Sometimes custard-style puddings are baked in a water bath, and in testing I did try baking it both ways, and for this serving size the difference was so slight I’m going to suggest no water bath. If you wanted to make a large serving, then yes, use a water bath to ensure the mixture cooks without curdling.

I’ve scaled the recipe down to a single serving size. You can scale it up as required.

The puddings in the photo are served plain, but you could also opt to sprinkle them with sugar and blowtorch/grill them to caramelise the top.

Incomprehensible Pudding for One

120g unsweetened apple pulp
1 large egg
20g liquid clarified butter
20g caster sugar

extra caster sugar or brulée sugar

  • Heat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and sugar until pale and frothy.
  • Add the apple and butter and mix until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a shallow dish and bake for 20 minutes until almost set (slightly wobbly in the centre).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  •  (Optional) Sprinkle with caster sugar (or brulée sugar) and brulee with either blowtorch or grill.

Banyon Toat Pie

This recipe is bonkers: bonkers name, bonkers method. I’ve spent ages trying to work out what, in the 18th century world of erratic spelling, the name is supposed to be, and drawn a blank. I’ve pondered many an hour over the pancake-ception involved in the filling, and been baffled. It’s a true one-off. I’ve never read anything like it – and I’ve read a LOT of recipes. Finally, ealier this month, I decided to grab the bull by the horns and just make it, and see how things go. The result, after a little tweaking, is insanely delicious, so I thought I would share in time for Pancake Day (February 16th), so you can enjoy the deliciousness yourself.

Banyon Toat Pye
Banyon Toat Pye (1700-1735), MS1797, Wellcome Collection

Aside from the already-mentioned bonkers title, the method of this pie is very unusual: make some pancakes, mash them up, mix in yolks, cream and sherry, fry this mixture as thin pancakes, then layer them in puff pastry with candied peel, dried fruit, sugar and butter. When baked, pour a sherry/lemon custard (caudle) through the holes in the lid.

The adding-the-sauce-after-baking was an acceptable approach for pies at this time. Usually the pastry served mostly as a container for the contents and to keep in steam and moisture, and an interesting sauce was added at the end.

It was the pancakes-made-from-pancakes that really intrigued. And so I set to with a vengeance, and initially, it all went swimmingly. Unfortunately, the second batch of batter proved a giant stumbling block. The recipe called for it to be made into thin pancakes, but even using single cream, it was more like bread sauce. Trying to dilute the batter with more cream meant it just wouldn’t hold together. Batch after batch was scrapped, which meant I then had to re-make the first batch and pancakes before working on the second. I must confess, I got a little tetchy, telling myself: it’s a pancake batter! How can I mess up a pancake!?

Eventually, I came up with a compromise, and made just a single, standard pancake batter, but with the flavourings and enrichment that had been used in the second batch. This did indeed make wonderfully thin pancakes, which were delicious in their own right.

Once this hurdle had been successfully leapt, the rest of the recipe was almost straightforward. The pancakes are layered in a puff pastry case, with each layer being sprinkled with sugar, spices, dots of butter, candied peel and dried fruit. A cut-pastry top, 40 minutes in the oven and the addition of the caudle sauce finished it off quite easily, and I must admit, being rather impatient to taste the result.

Well, gentle reader, you’ll be pleased to discover that it is bonkers. DELICIOUSLY bonkers! The pancake layers keep the filling evenly spread, but are light and delicately flavoured with no hint of ‘stodge’. The spiced filling mixture is reminiscent of mince pies, and rich-tasting and thanks to the sharpness of the sour cherries/barberries neither heavy nor cloying. The sauce/caudle really brings the zing, with the sherry and lemon-juice adding freshness and richness. I commented on Twitter after the first trial that it was ridiculously delicious, and I stand by that claim. I literally had to hold my daughter at bay until I had photographed the smaller pies, as she is so taken with them!

Now that I have sorted out the pancake problem, it’s a very straight-forward recipe: much more an assembly rather than anything complicated. If you’re short of time, you could even opt to buy the pancakes rather than make them, although that would mean on missing out on their delicate flavour.

Slices of hot Banyon Toat Pie

There are no quantities given in the original recipe for the filling, so you can be as generous or as careful as you like. The quantities below make for a flavourful, rich pie without overdoing it, but for special occasions, you could really layer them thickly.

Banyon Toat Pie

This can make whatever size and shape of pie(s) you like. One large (20cm) pie will serve 8 generously. Due to the richness, a smaller, 10cm pie can be shared between two. The instructions and quantities below are for one large pie, but, as mentioned above, can be scaled up or down easily.

For the pancakes
50g plain flour
1 large egg
1 large yolk
100ml milk
50ml cream sherry

butter for frying

1 x 500g block of puff pastry

Filling
40g candied citron peel, diced small
40g candied orange peel, diced small
40g candied lemon peel, diced small
40g dried sour cherries or barberries
40g butter
4tbs caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg

Caudle
2 large egg yolks
juice 1 lemon, strained
50ml cream sherry
15g butter
2tbs caster sugar
2tsp cream sherry to finish

Egg white and caster sugar for glazing

  • Whisk together the pancake ingredients and make four thin pancakes. Use a 1/4 cup measure to ensure the batter equally. Lay the cooked pancakes on kitchen paper and leave to cool.
  • Grease your pie tin(s) and line with thinly (5mm) rolled puff pastry. Leave a generous edge overlapping the sides of the tins, to help secure the lid. Cut a lid a little larger than your pie. Chill the lid in the fridge.
  • Pile the pancakes on top of one another, and place your  lined pie tin on top. Cut around the base of the tin, to make four pie-sized pancakes. Eat the pancake offcuts and enjoy!
  • Layer the pie contents as follows. For each layer:
    • Place a pancake.
    • Sprinkle 1tbs caster sugar.
    • Sprinkle ¼tsp ground cinnamon.
    • Sprinkle ¼tsp ground nutmeg.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied citron peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied lemon peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied orange peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g sour cherries or barberries.
    • Cut 10g butter into tiny pieces and dot over.
    • Repeat for all 4 layers.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the pastry lid from the fridge.
  • Cut holes in the lid. You can do this by using a lattice wheel, or by cutting a lattice by hand. Alternatively, use small pastry cutters or even the wide end of a piping nozzle, to cut random holes in the pastry.
  • Moisten the pie edge with water and carefully lay the lid over the filling. Press the edges together firmly, to seal, and then trim the excess with a sharp edge (I use my metal bench scraper).
  • Whisk an egg-white to froth and brush it over the pastry lid. Sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is crisped and brown. Turn the pie around midway through cooking, to ensure even colouring. When fully baked, it will be easy to lift the edge of the pie and check that the base is also browned. If you’re making mini pies in 10cm tins, cooking time is 25 minutes, turning the tray around after 15 minutes.
  • While the pie is baking, make the caudle, You can do this after the pie has been turned, so that it is ready to go when the pie is fully baked.
  • Whisk the ingredients (except the final 2tsp sherry) in a pan over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened. It should be of the consistency of single cream. If you think it looks too thin, whisk in an extra yolk. Taste, and add more sugar if needed. When ready to add to the pie, add the remaining sherry.
  • Remove the pie from the tin to a wire cooling rack. Spoon/pour the caudle into the pie through the holes in the pastry lid. Gently shake the pie to help distribute the caudle.
  • Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before enjoying.
  • Best served warm. Delicious by itself, if you wanted to ‘gild the lily’, you could serve it alongside some unsweetened whipped cream.

 

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.

Chocolate Cakes

Whilst poring over old manuscripts, I love finding really early examples of recipes we would recognise today. And so I was delighted to come across this recipe for chocolate cakes. It appears near the front of a manuscript (MS1799, dated 1700-1775) digitised by the Wellcome Collection, and so, in my opinion, is closer in date to 1700 than the latter half of the century. The reason it caught my eye was because it reads as a ‘normal’ cake recipe, very unusual for the time.

18thC Chocolate Cakes
Chocolate Cakes, MS1799, (1700-1775), Wellcome Collection

Experience has led me to be cautious when it comes to the word ‘cake’ appearing in old recipes. In times past, this word was used for a broad range of ‘items that were circular’, rather than the baked confections of flour and eggs we associate with the word today. In the past I have been thrilled to find early recipes for lemon cakes and gooseberry cakes, only to find that they are for fruit paste and jellies, musk cakes that turn out to be incence, puff cakes that are meringues, rout cakes that are biscuits and spice cakes that are buns.

Even ‘chocolate cakes’ can catch the unwary, as many old recipes sporting such a title are actually instructions for making solid blocks of ‘chocolate’ ready to use in recipes. Unlike the cocoa powder we buy today, these ‘cakes’ were similar to the modern blocks of Mexican chocolate: solid, hard and requiring grating before use. The old recipes for ‘chocolate’ begin with the roasting of the cocoa beans, which are then pounded and ground extremely find and mixed with sugar, vanilla and spices before drying in cakes which are then stored for use, which makes me incredibly grateful that we don’t have to go through such Faff today.

Happily, this recipe omits the time-consuming ‘make your chocolate’ part, but in adapting this recipe for modern use, if an authentic 18thC flavour is required, the spices that would be part of the original cakes of ‘chocolate’ need to be added in. The quantities below might seem a lot, but there’s also a lot of cocoa, so to make sure they can all sing, the quantities need to be generous. You can play around with the spices to your taste – other chocolate recipes I’ve read include one or more of the following: allspice, cloves, aniseed, cardamom, musk, ambergris, and either achiote or cochineal for a reddish colour.

So what are they like? Well, to be honest, it took several batches of tweaking before I was happy with the result. The taste is intensely chocolate-y, and the addition of the spices makes for an unusual and rich flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, as can be seen from the photo, these are dense cakes, and are most definitely not of a lightness of a Victoria sponge, or even a sturdy Madeira cake. But to be frank, that is part of their charm. Since they are made without butter, I would recommend serving/eating them with some lightly whipped cream, or ice-cream, for the mosture as well as the contrast in texture and temperature: the rich warmth and spiciness of the cake against the cold cream is deliciously satisfying.

These cakes include ground almonds, which help to enrich the texture, but also require a little time to work their magic. Consequently, if you’re not eating them straight from the oven, these cakes benefit from being kept 1-2 days in order for them to soften. Freshly-baked, but cooled, they are rather – ahem – ‘firm’, but stick them in a ziplock bag for a day or two and they soften and become glossy and a little sticky (in a good way).

If you’d like to make a less sturdy, more modern sponge version, all it takes is the addition of 1.5tsp baking powder, sifted with the flour.

I used a silicon cupcake mould with straight sides, which look great, but, even thoroughly buttered, proved challenging when it came to getting the cakes out in one piece. Other options might be ‘regular’ bun/cupcake moulds, or use paper liners.

Chocolate Cakes

Circa 1700. Makes 8-12, depending on your small cake tin size.

30g melted butter
150g sugar
3 large eggs
1tbs vanilla extract/paste/seeds of 1 vanilla pod
40g cocoa powder*
2tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
75g plain flour
1.5tsp baking powder (optional)
pinch salt
75g ground almonds

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease your moulds with the melted butter.
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and foamy (5 minutes or so).
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa, spices, salt and baking powder if using.
  • When the eggs are foamy, use the whisk attachment (or a balloon whisk) to gently fold in the flour mixture.
  • Stir in the almonds.
  • Portion the batter out into the greased moulds.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the moulds around after 10 minutes to even the baking.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes to firm up.
  • Run a thin blade around the edges of the cakes (if not using cupcake papers) and gently ease the cakes from the moulds and cool on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy warm with cream, or place in an airtight container for 1-2 days to mellow.

* Modern cocoa is very drying, so if you’d like to use more than this amount, reduce the quantity of flour by that same amount. i.e for 50g cocoa, use just 65g flour.

Spiced Apple Rice Pudding

A new variety of rice arrived in Carolina in the 17th century that was to become incredibly popular for almost 200 years. However, it’s popularity dwindled in the 19th century, first with the abolition of slavery and secondly when the waterlogged lands of the Carolinas proved unsuitable for the heavy harvesting machines developed as part of the mechanisation of farming. The grain all but disappeared, but Carolina Gold has now seen a resurgence thanks mainly to the work of one man, Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills. You can read about him here.

This recipe caught my eye as I was transcribing some newly (to me) digitised manuscripts at the Wellcome Library. Although MS1810 is inscribed and dated on the inside cover with “J. Hodgkin. Oct. 2. 1913”, the recipes within have been dated to the middle of the eighteenth century.

Carolina Rice Pudding, MS1810, Wellcome Collection.

As a child, I was a huge fan of the classic rice pudding, with my favourite bit being the darkly caramelised skin that would form on the top. The cottage that we lived in for a while had a Rayburn – a smaller, low-budget version of an Aga. Since it was on all the time, it was no bother to throw some rice, sugar, milk and butter in a dish and pop it in the low-heat oven and let it do it’s own thing. Nowadays, preheating and using the oven for over an hour for a pudding is a little more effort and also more expensive. Consequently, alternative methods have been developed in order for us to continue to enjoy this classic and simple dish. Slow cookers are very useful, as are the various stove-top methods. For this recipe, I opted to steam the rice in individual-sized pudding dishes. I’ve managed to acquire some fancy-shaped ones, thanks to ebay, but you can also use classic, smooth-sided pudding bowls.

As much as I love traditional rice pudding, it is very carbohydrate-heavy, and it’s a short hop and a skip from that warm, fuzzy, comfort feeling to carb-coma. This recipe unwittingly addresses that – deliciously. The inclusion of apple and spices makes for a creamy cross between apple pie and rice pudding. By using Bramley apples, the pudding becomes positively light, as the cooked apples disappear into a froth of freshness. Dessert/eating apples can also be used, but the relatively short cooking time means they don’t break down as completely as the Bramleys do. But that might be just the bite you’re looking for, so have at it. Alternately, make a large pudding and steam/boil for an hour.

When eaten hot, they need no further adornment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘gild the lily’ as it were. Fresh double cream, as in the photo, is simple, delicious, and being cold, is a fabulous contrast against the heat of the rice and apples. Caramel sauce, home-made or spooned out of a tin of caramel condensed milk, steers them towards toffee apple territory. A drizzle of more evaporated milk can add creaminess without the calories of cream.

Spiced Apple Rice Pudding

The recipe predates pasturisation, so would originally have been made with raw milk, much richer than our modern-day whole milk. I’ve tweaked the original and replaced (approximately) half the milk with evaporated milk.  Next variation I plan on trying is all condensed milk and dark brown sugar, for a real caramel-y treat.

If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add more sugar. Taste the rice mixture before filling your moulds and decide.

Makes 4 individual puddings.

60g short-grain, pudding rice
1 x 170ml tin evaporated milk
130ml whole milk
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g soft, light-brown sugar
1 x 250g Bramley apple
zest of ½ a lemon
2 large yolks

4 individual pudding moulds
butter for greasing
foil to cover
steamer saucepan

  • Put the milks and the rice into a saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the rice is mostly cooked and the mixture has thickened (15 minutes or so).
  • Remove from the heat and stir through the spices and the sugar.
  • Peel, core and chop the apple finely. I find a food processor is best for this, as a couple of pulses can reduce it to fine pieces without pureeing them.
  • Add the chopped apple, and lemon zest to the rice mixture and stir well. This will have cooled the rice a little, so you can now also beat in the yolks.
  • Butter your pudding moulds well. Be thorough, as this is key in getting your puddings to turn out once cooked.
  • Fill your pudding moulds with the rice and apple mixture.
  • Tear off some foil and divide it into four. Make a fold in piece of foil and then cover your puddings, scrunching the foil round the sides to form a seal. The fold will allow for the rice expanding, whilst preventing any water getting in.
  • Arrange the covered puddings in your steamer pan and cover with the saucepan lid.
  • Bring some water to a boil and put your steamer pan on for 30 minutes. Make sure your water doesn’t boil away. A brisk simmer is all that is needed, not a raging, rolling boil.
  • When your puddings are cooked, remove from the pan and peel off the foil. Gently ease the edges of your puddings away from the sides of the mould, then turn them out onto your serving dish.
  • Enjoy warm or cold, with sauce if liked.

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.

Fasting Day Soup

On my other blog I recently posted my version of the classic Leek and Potato Soup, which is a firm favourite not only because of its deliciousness but also its simplicity to make. I thought it would be nice to complement it here with an equally delicious and equally simple-to-make soup from three centuries ago.

This Fasting Day Soup comes from the manuscript recipe and household book of the Coley family (MS1711), and is held in the archives at the Wellcome Library.

It would have been served on one of the many fasting (i.e. non-meat) days that used to be observed in the church calendar, and as such is eminently suitable for vegetarians and, with a little adjustment, vegans. It is so speedily made, it takes only about 30 minutes from start to finish.

In the original recipe, it is thickened through a combination of breadcrumbs and egg-yolks. For simplicity, I would recommend choosing just one of these, and to keep the soup accessible to anyone with a gluten intolerance, the yolks are the obvious choice, adding both richness and silkiness of texture. Vegans will obviously need to choose breadcrumbs, or a different thickener, or indeed no thickener at all.

The main flavourings are of lettuce, spinach and chervil, which are unusual for a soup, but their delicate nature allows for the soup to be quickly made. As already mentioned, the soup is enriched with egg yolk and also the addition of bright green pistachios. When purréed smooth, the colour is truly glorious, something not accurately reflected in the photo, alas.

I particularly liked the serving suggestion of a toast and a poached egg, to which I have added only a scattering of chopped pistachios.

Fasting Day Soup recipe
Fasting Day Soup recipe, circa 1750 – MS.1711, Wellcome Library Collection

Fasting Day Soup

50g unsalted butter
4 gem lettuce
200g baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chervil – or 3tbs dried
0.5tsp salt
50g shelled pistachios
1 onion – peeled
8 cloves
1 litre boiling water
3 large egg yolks
60ml white wine
juice of 1 lemon

to serve: per person
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 poached egg
a few chopped pistachios
coarse-ground black pepper

  • Shred the lettuce, spinach and chervil finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and heat gently until browned.
  • Add the greens and stir until wilted.
  • Stick the cloves into the onion and add to the pot with the pistachios, salt and hot water.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Take about a cup of liquid from the pan and remove the onion. Blend the soup smooth using either a liquidiser or use a stick blender.
  • Whisk the yolks with the white wine, then slowly add the cup of liquid to the yolk mixture, whisking thoroughly.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the soup and stir over a medium heat until the soup thickens. Do not let the soup boil.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, adding some or all of the lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve with toast, a poached egg and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.

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.