Green Apple Pie: 1574

One of the topics I’ll soon be starting with year 10 is the American West. It’s the study of how and why people in the 19th century moved westwards to settle across the vast landmass that is now the United States of America – pausing periodically for the odd massacre of the people who already lived there, moving again, pausing again to have a civil war and moving on.

When I ask my students what they think of when they think of modern day America the responses are varied and predictable: patriotism, flags, eagles, guns, baseball, fast food and big cars. But that’s not all America is to 15 year old British kids, is it? What about the values – the ideas – that make America similar and different to us?

Usually we manage to steer the conversations away from Donald Trump’s hair and on to more academic things like why the idea of ‘freedom’ (whatever it may mean) is so important to many Americans. The American West course isn’t just about looking at the actions of 19th century Americans and European migrants, but what their motivations were too. It’s about analysing the decisions and events which came to develop American beliefs such as personal liberty and patriotism into the forms we know today (including Donald Trump’s personal right to wear his hair however inexplicably he wants to.)

But when I take my teacher hat off and stop trying to think too deeply about it all, I always come back to food when I think of America. Hot dogs, fries and that weird plastic cheese that my mum made me think was worse than drinking a gallon of bleach when I was growing up, but that melts like nothing else on a burger. And I think of the food I’ve never tried but really want to: corn dogs, biscuits and gravy (which sounds like an abomination to the average Brit), kool-aid, grits… But the most American food of all – the quintessential American dessert – is apple pie.

Or is it?

Before the first settlement in Jamestown had even been dreamed of, the Tudors already had several varieties of apple pie and apple tart. In fact, pies of all kinds were an absolute staple of the Tudor dining table. Whilst hunting for the perfect apple pie recipe I also found recipes for pear pies, quince pies, peach pies, citron pies, gooseberry pies, prune pies (though why anyone would feel the need to make multiple versions of this is anyone’s guess) and cherry pies.

Only slightly disturbingly, pie crusts were known as coffins and their primary function was just to hold the delicious meat or fruit filling in place, sort of like a baking tin. The pastry itself wasn’t necessarily meant to be consumed, although it could be.

Pies were a favourite of that most rotund of Tudors: Henry VIII. He was reportedly particularly fond of quince marmalade and orange pies and in 1534 his household records the purchase of an orange strainer – an exotic and rare piece of equipment for both Tudor kitchens and my own kitchen. As part of the vast kitchens at Hampton Court there was a dedicated department known as The Pastry whose job was to produce the tart cases and coffins for Henry’s meat or fruit of choice. Such was the popularity of pies at Henry’s court, one of Hampton Court’s four great pastry ovens measured twelve feet in diameter. Most of the pastry cases made at The Pastry were wholemeal, but the king’s would have been made of the finest white flour. For more information on this definitely check out Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: King and Court.

This recipe is taken from A Proper New Booke of Cookery which the British Library tells me was one of the first books to include practical instructions of the kind we might recognise today: measurements – spoonful, ladleful – and cooking times. Like a pro, I’ve managed to eschew such helpful recipes and have instead succeeded in selecting one of the few that seems to contain neither measurement nor timings.

Imagine how pissed off you’d be to have painstakingly set the type on the printing press for this book, only to have someone rubber stamp it in 0.5 seconds
Copyright: British Library

For this recipe I felt it was time to call in some reinforcements so I gave my dad a call. Big mistake. He is a very good cook, but struggled to accept that this 500 year old recipe might be slightly different to his beloved Delia one.

“What on earth is it talking about: take your apples and core them as ye will a quince?” he frowned. “When was the last time you cored a quince?” he asked, like I’d personally written the recipe to spite him. “Do quinces have cores?”

We agreed to slice the apples thinly and sprayed some lemon juice over them to stop them going brown, even though the recipe didn’t call for it, because I actually think the man would have had an aneurysm if I hadn’t have let him. While he looked at a picture of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course to calm down, I got on with the coffin.

I had assumed that this pastry would be like a Tudor version of a shortcrust, but upon closer inspection it wasn’t anything like it. First I melted butter with water in a pan and added saffron to it. Then, I added the whites of two eggs and enough flour until the pastry formed a thick and smooth dough. It ended up a little like choux pastry, but much thicker.

I got dad to roll the pastry out onto my forever-ruined wooden worksurface while I added “enough” sugar, cinnamon and ginger to the apple slices. As with many other Tudor recipes, the quantity “enough” served as an indication to add ingredients in quantities that the master’s palate preferred. I calmly added as much sugar and spices as I desired and then my dad decided it was time we had an argument about butter.

“You should definitely butter the pastry dish,” he told me.

“It doesn’t mention it in the recipe, and the pastry has a lot of butter in it already. Anyway, we already added lemon to the apples and that wasn’t meant to be there either.”

“I would. Delia would.”

Long story short, we ended up compromising with an amount of butter that was neither negligible enough to match the butter-less recipe nor large enough to do anything useful in Delia’s eyes. Lose-lose all round!

The apple mixture encased in its coffin, I got on with the decoration. Since I used fine white flour, such as would have gone in a pie for the king, I felt that my apple pie should have some decoration befitting the royal table.

After his defeat of Richard III, and to stop any rebellions or power grabs from relations of Richard, Henry Tudor (father of Henry VIII) married Elizabeth of York who was Richard’s niece. In order to show that the two families were now one, Henry, master of propaganda that he was, combined one of the symbols of his house of Lancaster – a red rose – and one of the symbols of Richard’s house of York – a white rose to create that well known motif: the Tudor rose. He wasted no time in slapping this not at all subtle symbol everywhere – on doorways, building arches, bridges and wall panels. Anything that stood still enough for long enough was at risk of having the image carved into it. What could be more fitting for a Tudor pie than to decorate it with a Tudor rose?

Not ones for realism, the Tudors

I have to stop playing the ‘gormless dad’ angle at this point though because after seeing me struggle with freehand pastry carving he was the one who suggested drawing a stencil on grease proof paper and cutting round it. Instantly my roses were transformed from the sorts of splodgy modern art-esque designs that might have had me beheaded for treason into something that semi-resembled Henry VII’s emblem. The recipe then called for a rose water and sugar glaze to be pasted onto the top of the pie with a feather, but I felt that this would take too much time and since we’d already adulterated the original method with lemon juice and buttered dishes, I thought using a pastry brush wouldn’t matter now. The pie glazed, I put it into the oven for 1 hour and waited.

I was a bit worried that the pastry might not hold its shape, being a bit wetter than a bog standard shortcrust, but I was delighted to see that I’d be keeping my head when I pulled the pie out of the oven and saw that the rose was still in tact! In fact, the whole pie looked pretty damn delicious.

The pastry held its shape well when cut and the apples still had a bit of crunch to them, which I quite like. It was also neither too sweet nor too spicy because the quantities of sugar and ginger had been added according to my personal taste. I do have to grudgingly admit that the areas of the dish which had been greased well offered up the bottom of the pie crust a lot more easily than those areas that had only had trace amounts of butter smeared over them, but it wasn’t a huge effort to get it out. The only slight issue was that there was a lot of liquid in the pie, but that was quickly mopped up and could be drained out by making a small hole in the crust once cooked.

I don’t want to be presumptuous but I’m absolutely certain I would have become wife number seven if I’d presented this to Henry VIII

I had wanted to serve this with clotted cream and had found a 1594 recipe for it: “Clowted Cream after Mistres Horman’s Way” (whoever she is.) However, since the recipe begins “Once you have taken the milk from the cow…” and all the cows in Britain are currently underwater thanks to storm Dennis, I just bought some instead. Either way it was delicious!

E x

Green Apple Pie

5 bramley apples
285g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Few strands saffron
125g butter
350g plain flour
2 egg whites
Rose water or egg wash
Water

  1. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into slices.
  2. In a pan melt butter with a tablespoon of water and saffron. When melted, add the egg whites and flour gradually, stirring until incorporated and smooth.
  3. Roll out dough to 1cm thickness and place in a pie dish.
  4. In another bowl, toss the apples with the sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Lay on top of the pastry in the pie dish.
  5. Cover the pie with a pastry lid and brush with rose water with a little sugar mixed in or an egg wash if you prefer. If you have dough left over you could make your own design and add it to the pastry lid. If you do this make sure you stick the design to the lid with a beaten egg.
  6. Bake at 160 degrees for 1 hour.

Spinach Tart: 1699

We’d had quite a long day having yet again been up early, each of us lying silently and pretending not to hear our toddler’s 6:00am shouts, hoping that the other would break first and get up with her. I won, but my husband got his revenge by allowing her to play with a toy drum kit very loudly and enthusiastically in the room directly under our bedroom. After what seemed like a never ending day, 13 hours later she was back in bed drifting off to sleep and we crashed onto the sofa, exhausted.

I’m giving you this background so you’ll understand that I was tired and slightly delirious when I decided to unwind by making this dish. Because what could be more relaxing than making puff pastry from scratch for the first time ever using vague historical methods, whilst hoping that any noise or swearing you make doesn’t drift up to the bedroom above you? As soon as I started I realised I’d basically become a hostage to butter and dough, unable to stop what I’d started but also unable to call for help.

This recipe is taken from a 1699 Stuart book called Elizabeth Birkett’s Commonplace Book, which the National Trust has helpfully transcribed here and which you can also find in Sara Paston’s Book of Historical Recipes.

The Stuart era was one of the most turbulent and violent periods of English history, seeing the attempted assassination of its first monarch, an increasing obsession with witchcraft, a full on civil war, the Interregnum, the restoration of a monarchy that seeemed hell bent on bankrupting itself and the eventual increased curtailing of royal prerogative. Phew. How fitting, then, that a dish from this time period should mimic the unpredictable and confusing nature of the era.

First, I had to take a “good quantity” of spinach and boil it. Taking into account that even a tonne of spinach has an uncanny ability to wither away into just enough to feed an ant, I settled on a 900g bag of frozen spinach to start with, with emergency back up spinach in the fridge if the frozen stuff dwindled too much into nothing. If this experiment didn’t work it did at least indicate that I should change banks because the anti-fraud squad at NatWest still has yet to contact me; after all, if spending £10 on healthy green veg and nothing else doesn’t constitute unusual activity on my credit card I don’t know what does.

After I’d boiled an ungodly amount of spinach I had to strain it completely, shred it and then mix in the yolks of 4 eggs and an ambiguous amount of sugar, stated only as “a good flow” in the recipe. At this point I really began to question myself: What was this dish for? Was it a pudding? Was it a main? Some quick research told me that sweet spinach tarts were a popular “second course” dish in the 17th century. Out of how many dishes, though, I couldn’t find. Was it meant to be served alongside roast beef or with custard? The bewildering nature of this recipe was shining through loud and proud.

I read on and was perplexed to see that I also needed to add a “pretty amount of butter.” I paused.

“Darling,” I whispered sweetly through to my husband, aware that the bat-eared child was dozing directly upstairs. “How would you describe this butter?”

“For God’s sake, if it’s mouldy just don’t use it,” he hissed back, not even looking at it. “No one will care if you have to use marge instead.”

I thrust the half used pat of butter under his nose. “Would you say it looks pretty?”

I genuinely think he thought I’d lost it.

“Would you describe this butter as the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? More radiant than your wife, more delightful than your child?”

His eyes twitched. “Er -“

“Look at its shiny greasy gleam. Look at the little toast freckles poking out at you, even though I’ve asked you a thousand times to use a different knife, look at it’s pretty gold wrapping. This is one hot piece of butter, right?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you!”

Back to the kitchen I skipped, while my husband quietly researched psychotherapists in our area.

I melted the ever so pretty half pat of butter and mixed it into the spinach, sugar and egg mix. The recipe then just casually mentioned that I’d need some puff pastry to lie the mixture on. I don’t know why I didn’t read ahead fully, but by now it was 9pm and my will was waning. Learning that I’d have to make puff pastry from scratch for the first time in my life, and using instructions that were clearly already written by a madwoman was almost too much.

(Luckily?) Elizabeth Birkett didn’t provide a recipe for 17th century puff pastry, so I began to toy with the idea of using shop bought ready rolled. I mean, no one would know, right? I could just say I’d made it myself… My eyes read down the recipe to where, underneath the ingredients for the tart filling, I saw another 17th century recipe, from an unknown document: ‘To Make Pufe Past’. Damn.

Puff pastry is one of those things that I always thought sounded really daunting and belonged firmly in the realm of Serious Cooking. It’s the sort of thing I imagined Nigella Lawson might silkily say was ‘divinely simple’ to make from scratch before whipping out twenty different ingredients and revealing you need a chemical engineering degree for. The instructions for making 17th century puff pastry were, however, fairly straightforward, but I still Googled how to make it just in case.

Of all the things I’ve accomplished, including my family, this is the best

The difference between 17th century pastry and modern day pastry was obvious: eggs. Modern day puff pastry is basically a bucket load of butter mixed with dough made of flour and water. 17th century was a bucket load of butter mixed with a dough made of flour and a bucket load of eggs. This 1686 recipe was one of the most decadent display of a culture going ‘sod it’ in the face of political, religious and financial uncertainty I had seen. I guess if you thought you might lose everything tomorrow (and for King James II this was true just 2 years in 1688 later during what became known as the Glorious Revolution) then you might as well eat all the eggs and butter you have all at once, a la Ron Swanson.

First I added 3 eggs and 1 egg yolk to 275g of plain white flour. The dough was very wet and I doubted that I’d be able to roll it out like it was required, so I added more flour until it was firmer. I then stuck it in the fridge, which wasn’t wholly historically accurate, but did give me an advantage later on when I had to add lumps of butter and roll it without it melting.

After it had chilled for 15 minutes or so, I rolled it out and stuck lumps of butter over it. Thanks to my Googling, I knew I had to fold the dough into thirds, give it a quarter turn and then roll it out. Then, I added more lumps of butter and had to repeat the process 10 times. In all, I used up an entire block of butter and I definitely lost count of how many turns I did. It still looked bloody awesome, though.

Once the pastry was made I placed it onto a baking tray and slopped my weird sweet spinach mix onto it. I spread it around, covered it with another layer of dough and brushed it with a rose water and sugar glaze. It then baked for 25 minutes while I did my best Bake Off impression, peering in through the oven door every 30 seconds and whispering “rise, rise, rise” to myself. In the other room, my husband dialled the number for the psychotherapist.

The kitchen filled with a pleasant buttery aroma. Because the oven had to be so hot when it went in to give the pastry a chance to rise properly the rooms downstairs also got very hot. We switched the central heating off, basking in the glow of the oven, and tried not to think about another Stuart event, the Great Fire of 1666, which started in a bakery perhaps making spinach tarts like this one.

Finally, the tart was golden and was even doing a very good impression of successfully risen puff pastry. I narrowly avoided 3rd degree burns when I opened the oven door and removed the dish, genuinely excited to try this enigmatic experiment.

A delicious vegetarian wellington/quiche/custard tart, my favourite

By now it was after 10pm. We were both exhausted. The kitchen looked it had been the site of a fight between an army of millers and dairy farmers. There was butter in every crack and crevice of the work surface and my husband visibly recoiled in horror when I emerged like a crone with hair and face covered in a thick dusting of flour. I cut us a slice, not sure what to expect.

The pastry had worked! It wasn’t perfectly flaky layers like Paul Hollywood would have liked, but it was definitely closer to puff than any other type. The mixture wasn’t as watery as I had expected either, perhaps because I’d spent so long pressing the spinach into the sieve to drain it. Because it had called itself a tart, I cut it into two generous slices, but after a few mouthfuls both of us agreed that standard portions were far too big. It was just far too rich to be able to eat a whole slice of; baklava sizes would have been much better.

Taste wise it was subtle and sweet but the spinach was still the main flavour. Luckily, spinach isn’t too strong of a flavour anyway, so it wasn’t overpowering. The rose water and sugar glaze was a bit perfume-y for my tastes, but because there was only a little bit of it, it was easily hidden with another bite of filling.

I’m waiting for that handshake, Paul

It definitely wasn’t unpleasant and actually when I came home I had a bite of it cold as an after work snack, but I still don’t know where it would fit in a modern day dinner. It wasn’t pudding-y enough to be a dessert, and I think the subtle flavours would be lost if you tried to serve it with custard or cream. It was too sweet to be a main. It might fit in well at a brunch alongside other pastries but you’d have to think of another name for it because if someone gave me the choice of an almond croissant or something called a spinach tart, I know what I’d pick.

One of the more minor reasons I started this blog was to eat more greens. Though it’s taken some time to achieve this, and most other adults manage it without needing to resort to making an egotistical song and dance about it, I felt that in this recipe I might have finally managed it. Unfortunately any healthy kudos I might have achieved were definitely neutralised by the amount of butter that also went into this. It was one of the most unhealthy things I’ve eaten. As it cooked, I watched the butter pour off it and as soon as it hit my tongue, melting and rich as it was, I heard my long suffering junk food clogged arteries sigh ‘not again.’ Still, in small quantities, definitely one to try!

E x

Spinach Tart

For the pastry:
275g plain flour
3 eggs plus an extra yolk
250g unsalted butter
water

For the filling:
900g frozen spinach

4 egg yolks
50g of sugar
125g melted butter
a tablespoon of rose water and sugar for glaze

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Mix flour and eggs together to form a dough. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  3. Roll dough out into a rectangle the size of a baking tray.
  4. Place 50g of butter, in lumps, onto the dough.
  5. Mark the dough into thirds and fold it over itself. Turn it a quarter clockwise and roll it out into a rectangle again. Repeat this until all the butter is used up.
  6. Divide the pastry into half.
  7. In a pan, cook the spinach. When it’s cooked, drain it and dry it completely.
  8. Mix in the yolks of 4 eggs and 50g of sugar.
  9. Add the melted butter and when all combined, spread over half of the pastry which has been rolled to cover a baking tray (it will be very thin).
  10. Cover with the other half of the pastry and glaze with a mixture of rose water and sugar.
  11. Bake at 200 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden and risen.

Boiled Chicken After The French Fashion: 1594

We had a dinner party last week.

I mean, sure, instead of a perfectly clean and tidy house my husband was still madly hoovering up the lounge when people arrived. And yes, it’s true that we saved on toastmaster fees by getting our toddler to do it instead by running round in only a nappy, gleefully screaming at guests and trying to push them over. As for ballgowns and bowties? Unfortunately as all mine were at the dry cleaners or something I had to make do with a 2 day old top of dubious odour and jeans that were so snug I spent half the evening with the button undone – before eating. But damnit, I’m still calling it a dinner party.

Luckily our friends aren’t nobs, and fully expected this to be the case. They mucked in with the cleaning and manfully refrained from shoving the toddler back and not one of them turned up wearing a ballgown. It was all very harmonious and then I said, “tonight’s meal is going on the blog.”

Lots of silence. I think one of them went, “oh?” in a sort of quiet fear.

“No, no, it’s all okay!” I panicked, “I picked one that wasn’t too out there, in terms of ingredients, and I can’t see why it wouldn’t taste nice.”

“So what is it?”

“Boiled chicken -“

“Oh for fu-“

After the French Fashion”, I interrupted triumphantly. “It has to be good if it’s French, right?”

“It’s okay, we can get a takeaway later,” someone muttered to their partner.

Boiled Chicken after the French Fashion was a Tudor dish from Thomas Dawson’s The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin which I’d found in Terry Breverton’s book The Tudor Cookbook. I really wasn’t kidding when I said I’d tried to pick something that would appeal to modern day tastes but was still dinner party worthy and despite it’s anaemic sounding name, it fit the criteria perfectly. In fact it was delicious.

Okay, was it truly representative of a Tudor feast? No. But I had limited time and resources to work with so although I’d had every intention of making the 1516 dish Live Blackbird, Rabbit, Frog, Dog or Dwarf Pie, where live animals, and I guess people (!), were sealed into a pre-baked pie crust before jumping out to the delight of the king and his courtiers, I found getting hold of enough dogs to fill it adequately was difficult. Also, the meal I had prepared was just one dish, but by royal Tudor standards that was basically peasant fare. For example, over the course of just 3 days Lacey Baldwin Smith tells us that Elizabeth I’s court ate: 67 sheep, 34 pigs, 4 stags, 16 bucks, 1,200 chickens, 363 capons, 33 geese, 6 turkeys, over 1000 pigeons, almost 3000 eggs, 430 lbs of butter and a cartload of oysters. In earlier years, Henry VIII, (well known for his restraint when it came to meals) was said to have frequently spent £1520 a year on food for the royal household. In today’s money that’s approximately £860,000. In comparison, as my husband pointed out, I was offering guests unseasoned chicken with a 60p bag of curly kale and a couple of boxes of Matchmakers for dessert. Do you think Henry VIII would have found that a behead-able offence?

Still, I was determined that this would be a success. Dawson’s recipe asks cooks to quarter an unknown quantity of whole chickens and add them to a pan of white wine at a rate of 1 pint of wine per 2 chickens. Maths wasn’t my strongest subject at school and my determination wavered as I had flashbacks of trying to work out the fairest payment plan if Paul, Danny and Sue bought a pack of sweets for £3.47 but split them according to a 20:33:47 ratio. (In my mind it always ended with Sue absolutely losing it, grabbing the bag and sprinting off, culminating in a ratio more representative of playground life at 0:0:100.)

Because there were 6 of us, we were hungry and I was hoping to have leftovers, I settled on 12 chicken breasts cut into thirds. Post-Roman and early medieval chickens in England were smaller than their modern day counterparts and though I expect they had grown by the time of the Tudors, I can’t find any evidence to show whether they were of a comparable size to chickens today. I estimated that 12 breasts was roughly equivalent to 3 or 4 Tudor chickens so added 2 pints of white wine to the pot. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my maths teacher cheered me on.

I added thyme, parsley and half a thumb’s worth of ginger, chopped up into as tiny pieces as I could manage, and then sliced 5 dates. This was one of the more unusual ingredients, but actually the technique of mixing exotic sweet fruits with savoury dishes was typical for the Tudor time period, especially for the rich where it was yet another opportunity to show off their wealth. It’s something that we perhaps don’t do as much now, or if we do it’s only done with specific meals, (pork and apple sauce, for example), but during the reigns of Henry VIII and his murderous offspring, it was common for cooks to use a mixture of ingredients that we might now consider almost experimental.

The dates weren’t easy to chop and ended up being more of a paste, but I added them anyway. I had one left over, which I gave to my toddler who excitedly shouted, “chocolate! chocolate!” as she ate it, so there’s a mum win for me.

The final ingredient was 6 hardboiled egg yolks. I had no idea what they were for, or whether they should be sliced, crumbled or added whole. I assumed they were to act as a thickener for the wine to turn it into more of a sauce, but couldn’t see how 6 yolks would do that on their own. Still, I dutifully chopped and added them to the pot.

Definitely the most vibrant and healthy looking meal so far. Luckily, this would all change

I left it to simmer for about 1 and a half hours on a low heat. After a while I checked to see if the yolks had done their thing and was unsurprised to find they hadn’t. In fact, before they’d been added, this meal looked quite appetising. After their addition, however, it had turned a sort of creamy grey colour, still the thickness of water only now with lumps of rubbery yolk bobbing on the surface like deformed bath ducks. In order to salvage the appearance of the meal, and not to be blacklisted from any dinner parties ever again, I mixed in a tablespoon of flour to make up for the lacklustre thickening efforts of the egg yolks. Other than this addition, everything else was as the recipe intended.

Once the liquid resembled a silky looking white sauce and less like Satan’s bathwater, I added some salt and cinnamon and “served it forth” along with some distinctly un-Tudor mustard mash and greens. It’s a myth that the Tudors added spices to rotting meat to disguise the disgusting taste; spices like cinnamon, which became popular during the reign of Elizabeth I, were so expensive that their presence in recipes indicates that the chef could definitely have afforded good quality meat. It would have been more than it was worth to a royal chef to use up rotting meat for the king or queen, and so as with the dates the cinnamon would have been an exciting way to show off relatively unusual ingredients and wealth.

It. Was. Amazing.

Before anyone was allowed to tuck in, I had to get the perfect picture. Cue 10 minutes of my guests hiding unsightly wine glasses, adjusting the positions of the knives and forks and just generally getting out of the way. All for me to end up picking a super close up shot

The chicken was tender and had just started flaking and the alcohol had cooked away to leave a rich fruity flavour behind. It was sweeter than any other savoury sauce I’d had before thanks to the dates, but the salt and herbs stopped it from tipping too far. Despite what I thought was quite a lot of ginger at the time, it wasn’t spicy at all. I thought I could detect the hint of cinnamon in a warming way, but whether or not that was because I knew it was in there was unclear; some people could taste it and others, (inferior guests, in my opinion), couldn’t. The addition of flour helped the overall attractiveness of it, but I can see that even without it it would still taste good, just maybe more broth like.

My fear had been that people would try it and go quiet, suddenly remembering that they’d actually eaten recently already, or that they were trying to lose weight for January. But in reality, every plate was cleared! In fact, there was only a small portion left by the end, enough for lunch later in the week.

This dinner party might not have been quite as sophisticated as Mary Berry’s, or as showy as the Tudor’s but in the end it was very us – and not a frog, dog or dwarf was harmed in the making of it.

E x

Jumbles: 1596

In 2016 The Great British Bake Off set its contestants a Tudor technical challenge: to bake a batch of Jumbles. These sweet little doughy knots were popular in the 16th century because they used basic kitchen ingredients and were lauded as being so easy that even the most cackhanded of cooks would struggle to mess them up. This was, obviously, too tempting a challenge to ignore.

Despite having a ready made recipe in the Bake Off’s version, I wanted to do a bit of hunting to see how accurate it was. Nothing against Bake Off, but history wasn’t made by bowing to the interpretations of national institutions with armies of qualified food historians and access to every library in Britain behind them. Good historians question everything put in front of them, hoping for the moment when they can triumphantly push their glasses further up their nose, wag their finger and whine, “er, actually, I think you’ll find…”

Anyway, we can all rest easy because thanks to my dedication I can confirm that Bake Off‘s version is fairly true to the original. This means that my breakthrough history discovery is yet to come, which I’m not annoyed about at all.

The 16th century was the first time that cookery books began to be published and collected in any sort of significant numbers. They were overwhelmingly owned by the aristocracy, however, because much of the population still couldn’t read and because many of the recipes used ingredients that would have been too expensive for ordinary people. Lots of the recipes in them were still about impressing guests with exotic flavours and showing off wealth, rather than filling hungry stomachs. It was not until 100 years later in 1664 that the poor could hope to compete with the rich by showing off meals made with a relatively new addition to England – the potato – with a treatise of their own by John Forster, concisely entitled *deep breath*: England’s Happiness Increased, or a sure and Easy Remedy Against all Succeeding Dear Years by a Plantation of the Roots called Potatoes: Whereby (with the Addition of Wheat flower) Excellent Good and Wholesome Bread may be Made Every 8 or 9 Months Together, for Half the Charge as Formerly; Also by the Planting of These Roots Ten Thousand Men in England and Wales Who Know Not How to Live, or What to Do to Get a Maintenance for their Families, may on one Acre of Ground make 30 Pounds per Annum. Invented and Published for the Good of the Poorer Sort. We can only imagine he was paid by the word.

The recipe I used for my Jumbles was taken from a popular 1596 work by Thomas Dawson called The Good Huswifes Jewell and would have been one of the books that became popular during this culinary boom. Dawson’s recipe used 20 eggs to make 100 Jumbles, and though I suspect my toddler would have happily worked her way through 100 of them, I wasn’t prepared to become a mother to a child that had become 50% dough.

First I mixed 400g of plain flour with 150g of caster sugar in a bowl and added 2 beaten eggs and 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds and kneaded it together. The dough was very dry, so I added 50ml of water, which helped bind it. I tipped it out onto a non stick sheet, which after this attempt I’m renaming ‘a total liar sheet’, and divided it into 12 sticky blobs.

The real story here is that I’ve discovered the artistic blur setting (aka food mode) on my camera

While I waited for a saucepan of water to boil, I rolled the dough balls into sausages and tied them into knots, or jumbles. My first jumble attempt was actually pretty impressive! Maybe as promised, the recipe was genuinely inclusive of kitchen klutzes after all? A quick and confident twist of the next sausage told me: no.

I created 2 bespoke designs – the elegant ‘twist and loop’ and the ‘squashed turd’. In fairness, ‘squashed turd’ hadn’t started out that way, but after 5 attempts at threading the dough through a loop of itself I had to admit that that’s what it had become.

After the dough had been shaped I dropped each one, one at a time, into the saucepan of boiling water for about 5-10 seconds until they bobbed to the top. I then fished the molten, distorted shapes out with a spatula, because my slotted spoon was on holiday somewhere, and put them on a greased tray in the oven at 180 degrees, brushing each one with rose-water and a sprinkling of sugar before they went in.

Part way through dipping these in water, I texted my husband to tell him I had just boiled 2 turds. He didn’t reply

After 20-25 minutes they were golden and smelled lovely with a fragrant spicy aroma. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, they had lost some of their shape in between being boiled and then baked. Some of the elegant twist and loops had lost their loops and some of the squashed turds just looked like little round buns, but they were still quite appetising! I tasted one of the blobbier looking ones and found that it was chewy like a bagel with just a hint of sweetness. The caraway seeds mixed with the rose water glaze to be quite fragrant without being overpowering. There was a definite non-modern feeling to these, despite them using modern ingredients. The Jumbles were quite heavy (one was filling enough), and though I had mine plain, I think they’d work well with some honey or salted butter hot from the oven. Definitely worth a go!

It’s hard to do a cover up when you only have one pretty jumble to pile over a bowlful of ugly jumbles, but I tried

E x