Every day the weather app promises me snow. And every day, without fail: no snow. I’d almost given up hope until last Friday when I woke to see the long-awaited drifts and the less long-awaited sight of next door’s cat, pissing in them.
Either I overestimated how much snow there was, or Stanley’s urine contains antifreeze, because by lunchtime it had all melted away. All of it. Gone.
Needless to say I was pretty disappointed; I’d hoped for sugar dusted foliage and undulating mounds of the stuff to spend the day messing around in. A pile of yellow slush does not a snowman make, no matter how many times you get your toddler to hold it in place.
For today’s experiment, then, I needed something that would cheer me up and bring back the wintry weather I’d hoped for. Written half way through the 16th century in A Proper Newe Boke of Cokerye, ‘A Dyschefull of Snowe‘ seemed perfect.
To make a dyschefull of Snowe. Take a pottell of swete thycke creame and the whytes of eyghte egges, and beate them altogether wyth a spone, then putte them in youre creame and a saucerfull of Rosewater, and a dyshe full of Suger wyth all, then take a stycke and make it cleane, and than cutte it in the ende foure square, and therwith beate all the aforesayde thynges together, and ever as it ryseth take it of and put it into a Collaunder, this done take one apple and set it in the myddes of it, and a thicke bushe of Rosemary, and set it in the myddes of the platter, then cast your Snowe uppon the Rosemarye and fyll your platter therwith. And yf you have wafers caste some in wyth all and thus serve them forthe.A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye
A dishful of what now?
Basically this experiment is a plate of whipped cream, reinforced with beaten egg whites. It sounds as if it should be a topping on a cake rather than a dessert, but it would have been served as a dish in its own right during the 16th century.
Remember that dishes were served all together rather than one after the other at banquets, so a plate of whipped cream wouldn’t have been too odd when served alongside plates of chopped fruit and nuts.
What makes A Dyschefull of Snowe unusual isn’t the ingredients, but the presentation. Essentially this dish was intended to be decorative as well as edible and fits somewhere on the ‘food masquerading as other things’ spectrum the Tudors loved so much (see my post ‘marchpane‘ for another example.) Once completed, this dish should look like a tree (an apple with rosemary in it) surrounded by thick drifts of new fallen snow.
A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye wasn’t the only cookbook with recipes for snow. I found at least three other almost identical versions; a French one from 1604 that omitted the apple but included “a branch of rosemary”, a 16th century German version “to make Snow” and another English recipe from 1591 that seemed to be an exact copy.
The easiest recipe ever?
When I read this, the thing that struck me most was how simple it was. One reason for this may be the intended audience. A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye was one of the first cookbooks to be aimed at a general reader, rather than just professionals. Previously, most cookbooks were aimed at cooks within royal – or at least rich – households and were designed to showcase wealth and skill.
A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye straddled these two types of book. One the one hand, recipes for peacock harked back to the old ways of cooking. But the inclusion of instructions for when to serve each dish and what are essentially menu suggestions also points to a newer, more inexperienced audience. This is where ‘Snowe’ fits in – a dish that was accomplishable and straightforward while still retaining some of the old style ‘wow’ factor of cookery.
So I suppose it’s time to address the elephant in the room. With a recipe as simple as this, did I cut corners and use a food processor to beat the egg whites or did I attempt the 16th century way: cutting the end of a twig into four and using it as a whisk?
Look, I tried, I really tried. I didn’t go so far as to cut my own twig, but did attempt to use a manual whisk. I gave it a really good go for a full 30 seconds before thinking “sod this”, and plugging my electric one in. Life’s too short, people!
Once the egg whites had risen to form peaks, I slowly added my cream, sugar and rosewater (beating all the time) and continued to whisk until the whole mass held its shape.
I selected my fanciest glass plate to compensate for the simplicity of the recipe and placed an apple in the centre. The rosemary fit nicely into the hole around the stalk and I began to pile my snow in heaps around it.
This was one of the oddest looking things I’d made. The apple with tufts of rosemary sticking out of it looked, well, exactly like an apple with tufts of rosemary sticking out of it. I couldn’t really see the resemblance to a tree that others had suggested, but I don’t know – maybe 16th century trees just looked different to modern ones?! One though I had afterwards was that I was supposed to bury the apple under the snow so that only the rosemary was visible, but it was too late by that point.
The snow itself was very pleasant. It wasn’t too sweet because I hadn’t added a huge amount of sugar. Because of the addition of egg whites this was a little lighter than standard whipped cream – and in fact it took longer to whip up – but there wasn’t much difference beyond that that I could tell. Really the only thing that made me think this was something historical was the perfumed flavour of rosewater. It wasn’t overpowering (I’d learnt my lesson from last time), but just added a subtle fragrance to the cream.
The original recipe seemed to suggest eating this on wafers, but I hadn’t made any. We ate ours on pancakes instead, and it worked just as well.
In the end this wasn’t the kind of snow you could pelt at anyone. You couldn’t make a snowman out of it and there wasn’t enough for a snow angel either. But as I looked resentfully at my damp and drizzly cat-piss drenched garden, I thought that maybe, just maybe, this type was a bit better anyway.
A Dyschefull of Snowe
2 egg whites
200ml (or 6.5 fl oz) double cream (or heavy cream if you can’t get double cream)
1 teaspoon rosewater
50g caster sugar
- Whip the egg whites up until they form stiff peaks.
- Add the sugar and rose water to the cream and stir to dissolve.
- While still beating the egg whites, add the cream slowly and continue to whip until the mixture stiffens. It will take several minutes.
- Once the mixture has formed soft peaks, stop beating. Set it to one side.
- Take an apple and stick as many stalks of rosemary in the top of it as will fit. Place the apple on a plate.
- Spoon the beaten cream around the apple, spreading some of the cream on the rosemary tufts to make it look like they are covered in snow.