Black Broth

I have no idea who Mr Sparks was, but he obviously made an impression on at least one of the many ladies through whose hands one particular manuscript¹ passed, for there are no fewer than nine of his recipes included over the course of ten pages.

I have been unable to find any printed cookery book with a Mr Sparks as author, so must assume that these recipes were copied from one handwritten source into another as a result of having tasted the dishes in question. I almost have more confidence in a handwritten recipe with a name attached that is otherwise untraceable, because it hints at genuine originality: someone created it, someone ate it, that someone liked it so much, they asked for the recipe.

Original Black Broth recipe
Source: MS7851, Wellcome Library Collection

This black broth is made with venison. Venison is beautifully lean meat, which also means that it can be prone to toughness on the less prime cuts such as shoulder, or the ‘helpfully’ diced meat (that gives no hint as to which part of the animal it came from) available in packs in the supermarket.

Long, slow poaching in a flavoursome broth makes for fall-apart tender meat, perfect for a warming winter soup. This recipe uses a method gleaned from old manuscripts that is the opposite of what we do today, namely frying the meat after it has been cooked. I’ve used it with ragoos and fricassees and have been delighted with the added richness it gives both to the flavour of the meat and to the dish as a whole. The butter might seem extravagant, but it is a sumptuous
complement to the leanness of the venison.

A slow-cooker is ideal for this largely set-it-and-forget-it hearty soup, but you can also cook it on the stove top on a very low heat, or covered in the oven at 140°C/120°C fan/gas 1.

Black Broth

1kg venison shoulder, in one piece if possible, otherwise cut into large cubes.
3 slices wholemeal bread
3 onions
9 cloves
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch mixed herbs
1tbs peppercorns
1tsp salt
1.5 litres beef stock
50g unsalted butter
3-4tbs chopped, mixed herbs
gravy browning (optional)

2-3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1cm cubes

marigold petals to garnish

  • Toast the bread as dark as possible without turning black.
  • Peel the onions and stick 3 cloves into each one.
  • Add all of the ingredients down to the stock to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the cooking liquid and trim all fat, skin and connective tissue. Cut into suitably-sized pieces if not already cubed.
  • Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids. Remove all fat from the broth, either with a separator jug or by chilling the liquid in the fridge and allowing the fat to solidify on top, then lifting off. Taste and decide if the broth requires any embellishment. You can improve the flavour of the broth, if necessary, with various flavouring sauces such as, but not limited to, mushroom ketchup, walnut ketchup, anchovy essence, Henderson’s Relish, Worcestershire Sauce, Marmite, Bovril, soy sauce.
  • Melt the butter in a large pan and add the pieces of cooked venison.
  • Braise the meat over a medium-low heat, turning often but carefully, to avoid breaking it apart further, until the meat is richly browned.
  • Return the meat to the broth and heat through. Add the chopped herbs and taste to check the seasoning. Add pepper, salt and more of the flavourings as required. If you’d like your broth darker, use a drop or two of gravy browning.
  • Add the cubed bread to the remaining butter and toss over medium heat until crisped and browned.
  • Serve sippets (for that is what you have just made) and marigold petals (if available) sprinkled into the broth.

 

¹ MS7851, Wellcome Library Collection. Various marks of ownership are written in the book, in a number of hands. ‘Elizabeth Browne 1697’, ‘Penelope Humphreys’, ‘Sarah Studman’, ‘D Milward’ and ‘Mary Dawes Jan 18 1791’.

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Mussel Pottage

A pottage is a thickened, substantial cross between a soup and a stew. I was drawn to this recipe by the lazy cook in me that is always looking for a simpler, easier way to achieve tasty food.

When this recipe was jotted down three hundred years ago, it would have been quite hard work to prepare: collecting the mussels, cleaning them, steaming them, straining the sand from the broth, etc.

Luckily for us, we have the luxury of buying what someone else has collected and cleaned, and also cooked. Whilst you can certainly buy fresh mussels in their shells and prepare them yourself, cooked mussels and prepared fish stock can bring this dish together in just minutes. I’ve been rather specific with the number of mussels, however you should feel free to increase this quantity with abandon, if so inclined.

Mussel Pottage

Serves 4

500ml fish stock
250ml water
4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
2 blades mace
½ tsp ground allspice
150ml cream
3 large yolks
1tbs anchovy sauce
32 cooked mussels
30g butter
2tbs chopped parsley to serve

  • Put the stock, water, bread, spices and anchovy sauce into a pan and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, fish out the mace and purée with a stick blender.
  • Mix the cream, anchovy sauce and the yolks together and whisk into the soup.
  • Set aside 12 mussels for garnish and add the remainder to the soup. Warm gently.
  • When ready to serve, melt the butter in a pan and when hot, quickly toss the mussels set aside for garnish in the hot butter for about a minute, to heat through .
  • Serve garnished with the fried mussels and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

English Butter Sauce

This is the classic and multi-purpose Butter Sauce much complained-of as being, for many years, the only sauce we British had.

It is perfect for spooning over new potatoes as well as a whole range of freshly-cooked vegetables, and can also be adapted to enhance numerous other dishes merely by changing the liquid and selecting a variety of ingredients as flavourings.

Butter Sauce
5g cornflour
30ml milk
60g salted butter
60ml cold water
salt and pepper to taste

  • Put the cornflour and milk into a small saucepan and whisk to combine.
  • Add the diced butter and stir briskly over a medium heat until the butter has melted.
  • Add the water and continue whisking until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. This is plain Butter Sauce

Fruit Pudding Pies

Mary Rooke, 1770

Pudding pies used to be immensely popular in the 18th century, and describe a particular style of dish where a pastry case is filled with a thick, flavoured and sweetened porridge and the two baked together. Obviously, you’re now saying to yourself, ‘Hang on a second, that’s a tart, not a pie’, and you’d be quite right, of course, but only by 21st century semantics. In addition, the ‘pudding’ of the title is to our modern eyes, rather vague, but to those of an 18th century cook, it was curiously specific, and not for the reason you might think.

Look up the word ‘pudding’ in the Oxford English dictionary, and the very first definition is: A stuffed entrail or sausage, and related senses. Yes, no mention of warm, comforting delicacies served at the conclusion of a meal, but innards and stuff in ’em! In the 17th and 18th centuries, pudding could be sweet or savoury. Echoes of these savoury puddings are still visible today in the black and white puddings sold in butchers shops. Sweet puddings included dense mixtures of dried fruits, peel, suet and spices, either stuffed into entrails or wrapped in floured cloths and simmered in water, as the traditional Clootie Dumplings of Scotland are today.

A more accurate description of pudding from these times would be that of a foodstuff of a certain texture, and so it is with pudding pies. The texture is more akin to a baked cheesecake, smooth and dense, but with just a fraction of the richness, they’re practically health food! In this instance, the filling is flavoured with the sharpness of gooseberries. I like the way it cuts through the denseness and really lifts and brightens the filling, but any smooth fruit puree will work well, the best results coming from sharply acidic fruit.

Original Recipe
Source: D/DU 818/1, Essex Record Office

Fruit Pudding Pies

112g ground rice
112g butter
225ml milk
112g sugar
100ml gooseberry pulp
4 large eggs
zest of a lemon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 individual pudding, or deep tart, dishes lined with shortcrust pastry

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
  • Stir the ground rice, butter and milk over heat until quite thick, then pour into a basin.
  • Add the sugar and stir together until cold.
  • Add the gooseberry pulp, well-beaten eggs, lemon and nutmeg.
  • Mix thoroughly.
  • Spoon the mixture into the pastry-lined dishes and smooth over.
  • Put the tarts onto a baking sheet and cover lightly with a sheet of foil, to prevent the filling darkening too much.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your pie dishes. Remove the foil after 15 minutes and turn the pie dishes around if they seem to be colouring unevenly.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm or cold with cream or custard.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Raised Pie

Traditional

There’s a 200-year-old tradition in Oldbury-on-Severn of making gooseberry pies with a sweetened hot water crust pastry as part of the Whitsun celebrations. Jane Grigson mentions them in several of her writings on English food. Due to the age of the recipe, it was some time before I managed to find a picture of these iconic tarts, and for a long time had to rely solely on my imagination. Consequently, what I pictured in my mind was the pie you see above, and was just a little disappointed to eventually learn that the pies were small, hand-sized, shallow, round pies with a single layer of gooseberries and a lot of sweet/sharp juice.

The use of a hot water crust for a fruit pie is unusual, and can be tricky to work with. Some recipes even recommend that once the tart shell has been formed, the pastry is chilled overnight in order to make a firm casing for the gooseberries, but this then makes it difficult to attach the lid firmly once the paste is cold.

In my searching, I also found accounts that seemed to agree on two things: everyone seemed to like these tarts, even if they didn’t like gooseberries, and that they were extremely juicy when bitten into. I decided to make a large, consumer-friendly variation of this classic dessert pie by setting the juice with gelatine, so that it could be sliced and each slice would hold its shape.

Elderflower is a classic flavour pairing with gooseberries, and this pie combines a jelly made from the gooseberry juice syrup and elderflower cordial with fresh gooseberries and a sweetened hot water crust. The jelly is sweet and delicately flavoured and the gooseberries are so sharp, the contrast between the two is both delicious and refreshing. To make everything much easier, it is baked in a loaf tin.

Sweet Hot Water Crust
600g plain white flour
400ml water
100g butter
100g lard
60g caster sugar

  • Put the fats, sugar and water into a pan and warm over a low heat just until the fat has melted.
  • Put the flour into a bowl and pour on the warmed liquid. Stir well.
  • The paste will be very soft when it comes together, and you can roll it out if you like, but it can also just be flattened and pressed into the tin by hand.

1kg fresh gooseberries
1kg caster sugar
2-3 tablespoons of elderflower cordial

beaten egg to glaze.

3-4 sheets of leaf gelatine

  • Use a sharp knife to top-and-tail the gooseberries, removing the stalk and the calyx.
  • Generously grease a large loaf tin. You can, of course, make this in any shaped tin, but a rectangular loaf tin does produce pretty and regular slices. In order to decide what size of tin to use just tip in your prepared gooseberries. The best fit will be from the tin the gooseberries only just fill.
  • If liked, line the tin with baking parchment in order to help with the removal of the pie once it has cooled.
  • Make the pastry and divide into two. Roll out one piece and cut a lid for your pie. Use the empty tin to mark out its size, then cut the pastry 3cm larger all the way round. Set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings and the rest of the pastry together and roll out to about 1cm. Line your greased loaf tin and allow the excess pastry to drape over the sides for now. Make sure any cracks are well patched, so that the juice stays inside the pie.
  • Layer the gooseberries in the lined tin with the sugar.
  • Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and place the pastry lid on top of the pie. Press the edges together and trim the excess. Crimp the edges in a decorative manner.
  • Cut three circular vent holes in the lid at least 2cm in diameter.
  • Use the pastry trimmings to make additional decorations if liked.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour to firm up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Brush the lid of the pie with beaten egg and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is crisp and golden and the sides are well-baked. It is better to cook the pie a little longer than for the pie to be under-baked, so if the top is becoming too dark, cover with some foil.
  • When you’re happy with the done-ness of the pastry, remove the pie from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Tricky Part: You need to drain the juice from the pie in order to mix in the elderflower cordial and the gelatine that will make it set. After much experimentation, I recommend the following method:
    • Put your pie onto a wire cooling rack.
    • Put a second rack upside-down on top of your pie.
    • Place a large bowl on your work surface. If you think it necessary, place a damp teatowel underneath to prevent slippage.
    • With your thumbs uppermost, pick up your pie tin, sandwiched between the wire racks.
    • Holding the pie tin over the bowl, flip it towards you and let all of the juice drain out of the pie through the vent holes. Once the juice has topped dripping, turn your pie the right way up and set aside.
  • Taste the syrup and add sufficient elderflower cordial to flavour. Since the pie will be eaten cold, you can make the flavouring slightly stronger than usual, since the flavours will be somewhat muted when served.
  • When you’re happy with the taste, measure the volume of syrup. For every 150ml, you need to bloom (soak in water) 1 leaf (sheet) of gelatine. Once bloomed, drain and add the gelatine to the syrup and warm gently until melted.
  • Pour the syrup/gelatine mixture back into the pie. You want enough syrup in the pie to make the cooked gooseberries float.
  • Leave your pie to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the fridge.
  • Allow to come to room temperature before removing from the tin and cutting in slices to serve.

Old-Fashioned Lemonades

I don’t think I’ve done drinks on the blog before, but I’ve got a trio of delicious variations on lemonade, originating in the 17th century manuscript books at the Wellcome Library. They are each wonderfully thirst-quenching and will make for a delicious treat to have in the fridge.

Mrs Yorke’s Lemonade – the best that can be made

From the recipe book of Mary Rooke, 1770s (back right in photo).

Mary Rook's Original Recipe
Source: DDU 818/1, Essex Record Office

225g granulated sugar
225ml fresh lemon juice (from 4 juicy lemons – have 5, just in case)
Thin strips of peel from 4 lemons
900ml boiling water
450ml boiling milk

  • Put the sugar, lemon juice, thinly peeled lemon peel into a bowl.
  • Pour over the boiling water and stir to dissolve the sugar.
  • Cover with plastic and allow to cool.
  • When cold, pour in the boiling milk. NB The lemon juice will cause the milk to curdle. DON’T PANIC – THIS IS FINE.
  • Cover with plastic and allow to cool, then chill overnight in the fridge.
  • Strain the solids out by passing the lemonade through a fine-mesh sieve.
  • Strain the lemonade finely by passing it through a jelly bag, or a double layer of muslin. Be sure to scald the muslin first by pouring boiling water over it, then squeeze out the excess moisture.
  • To have your lemonade especially clear, rinse the muslin thoroughly and double the layers to 4 and pass the lemonade through it again. This will take longer than the first time, due to the greater number of layers of material.
  • Taste and add more sugar if liked. For adults only, you can add 225ml of white wine. Choose one with light, citrus flavours.
  • Chill thoroughly.
  • Serve over ice.

Cool Summer Drink

Anon., 17th century (back left in photo).

Original Recipe
Source: MS8097, Wellcome Library Collection

This is a very refreshing drink similar to an Indian lassi. The milk will tend to separate slightly, so blending the drink just before serving helps combat this.

450ml milk
400ml water
½ tsp rosewater – I use Nielsen Massey
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1 sprig rosemary
1 tbs granulated sugar

Slices of lemon and sprigs of rosemary to serve

  • Bruise the rosemary to release its flavour by gently tapping the leaves with a rolling-pin.
  • Put all of the ingredients into a jug.
  • Cover with plastic and allow to infuse for 2 hours in the fridge.
  • Remove the rosemary and strain the drink by passing it through a fine-mesh sieve, which will catch any rosemary leaves that might have fallen from the stem.
  • Using a stick blender or liquidiser, thoroughly mix the drink to an even consistency.
  • Serve at once.

Lemonada

Anon., 17th century, (front left in photo).

Lemonada Original Recipe
Source: MS8097, Wellcome Library Collection

600ml light and fresh German white wine – Liebfraumilch or Reisling
450ml water
225g granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
juice of 1 orange
5cm stick of cinnamon
1/4 nutmeg in 1 piece
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced thinly

  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil, cover and remove from the heat.
  • Allow to steep until cold.
  • Strain to remove solids and chill in the fridge until required.
  • Serve over ice.

18thC English French Bread

Bread is a curious topic to go a-hunting in the recipe archives because there are relatively so few recipes. Considering how central it was for such a large part of the population, the proportion of recorded recipes is surprisingly low.

The reason for this might be similar to that often cited as being behind Marco Polo’s failure to mention paper money in his account of travels in China: familiarity. It is a theory that Polo was so familiar with its usage after his many years in the country, and since his memoirs were written so long after his return, he completely forgot the surprise and wonder that the concept paper money would have for his readers. Perhaps the ability to make bread was so fundamental, so ingrained, few thought to write down the recipes since it was a skill everyone possessed.

It was also, however, a specialised craft, requiring both skill and equipment to produce on a large-scale, not to mention the unsociable hours and back-breaking work mixing huge quantities of dough without machinery. As such, as hard, manual labour, it was firmly in the province of the labouring classes, however skilled.

The more well-to-do, whose recipes have survived in household manuscript books, seem to have been partial to French bread, and it has been interesting to note the numbers of recipes for French bread consistently exceeding those for anything English. A large proportion of them are variations on this recipe, using egg whites as part of the liquid component.

French Bread recipe

French Bread recipe dating from 1703, MS7788 in the Wellcome Library

I chose this 1703 recipe because of its simplicity – other recipes use whole eggs/butter/milk/cream, and I wanted to see whether the egg-whites had a noticeable effect on the flavour and texture of the loaf without any other distractions. The answer is yes – it is certainly different to a bread made without egg-whites. There’s no way to tell whether this is a genuine approximation of the French bread of the time, but I suspect that it wouldn’t have been too far removed from the sourdough bread enjoying a resurgence today.

Traditional sourdough, baked in a wood-fired oven, is a wonderful thing – insanely crusty with a great ‘chew’. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, though – which is where this loaf might gain favour. After baking, the crisp crust softens as it cools, making it easy to slice without the dangers of crust fragments ricocheting off at alarming speeds that comes with cutting a traditional sourdough. The crumb is open and springy with enough of a chew to make it very satisfying. From the photo above, it would appear that the centre of the loaf actually has a more open texture than the edges. It can be relished spread with just a little butter – and how long is it since you can say you honestly enjoyed a slice of white bread and butter?

I’ve obviously scaled this recipe down from the original and have made just one change: salt. True to my own code of conduct when working with old recipes, I did bake it ‘as written’ in the first instance, and while it had the great crust and texture described above, the flavour was lacking. Finally, I find it amusing to note that 300 years after it was jotted down, this recipe still takes just 30 minutes to bake.

18th Century English French Bread

450g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp salt
50ml egg-white whisked with 300ml warm water
Additional warm water (maybe)

  • Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl.
  • Whisk together the eggwhites and the warm water and add to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly, adding more water if required (unlikely), to form a rather soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Cover lightly with plastic and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour. If your kitchen is on the cool side, you can turn the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan for 2 minutes, then switch it off and put in your dough to prove.
  • Tip out the risen dough and pat gently to deflate.
  • Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a greased 1kg loaf tin. The dough should half-fill the tin. If you’d prefer a taller loaf, use a smaller or longer shape.
  • Set aside to rise for 30 minutes. On cold days I put the loaf into the small top oven while the main oven below warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, turning the loaf around after 20 minutes to help colour it evenly.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Slice when cold.