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A White Pot Recipe

 

Serves one to six, depending on how polite you are.

“A white-pot custard for my white-pot queen,” cried Kemp, waving his bauble. “Mark this boy,…A white-pot mermaid custard, with a crust, lashings of cream, eggs, apple-pulse and spice, a little sugar, and manchet bread. Away! Be Swift!” (Tales of the Mermaid Tavern, by Alfred Noyes)

The topic and contents of this post are taken from a video we produced a couple of months ago. Based on the amount of feedback we received, this recipe is apparently a viewer favorite. It’s definitely a favorite of ours!

The name “White Pot” originates from the Devon region of England. But this sweet, buttery custard bread pudding, layered with sweetmeats (dried fruits) and topped with a caramelized sugar crust, was known to colonial cooks as well, if not by name, by construction. As far as we are concerned, this dessert deserves a culinary resurgence.

Notes:
You will need a sloped-sided baking pan for this recipe that holds about a quart, such as a Charlotte mould (said to be named after King George III’s wife), a trade kettle, or any other sloped-sided ceramic or metal vessel. We used a Tin Bowl in our video. A medium rectangular bread pan will work as well.

If you use your range oven at home, preheat your oven to 350-degrees (F). A wood-fired oven should be heated to full temperature and then swept out and allowed to cool to medium heat. If you use a Dutch oven, prepare a small fire from which you can use embers. Or if using charcoal briquettes with your Dutch oven, use this formula: for the ring of coals used beneath your Dutch oven, take the diameter of your Dutch oven in inches minus two (example: if your Dutch oven is 12” in diameter, use 10 briquettes beneath). For the ring of coals for the top of your Dutch oven, take the diameter in inches plus two (example: for a 12” Dutch oven use 14 coals on top). That will heat your dutch oven to approximately 350 degrees.

If you are using a wood-fired oven or Dutch oven, be sure to also use a trivet onto which you can place your baking pan. This will prevent the bottom of your White Pot from burning. If you don’t have a baking trivet, a tripod of pebbles will do in the meantime.

Ingredients:
1 pint heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick (or 1⁄4 t ground cinnamon)
1⁄4 t ground mace
1⁄4 t freshly grated or ground nutmeg
dash of salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3 T sugar
1 loaf of white bread (we used soft Italian
bread, but white sandwich bread will work)
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) softened butter, plus enough
to butter the inside of your baking dish
1 cup raisins
1 cup dates, pitted, and sliced
additional sugar for sprinkling on top

Assembling:
Liberally butter the inside of your cooking vessel and set aside. Do not skip this step or you’ll be disappointed. Mix the heavy cream, spices, and salt. Set over medium/ low heat and bring  to a simmer, occasionally stirring to prevent a skin from forming. Remove from heat to cool slightly.

Beat together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar. When the cream mixture has cooled slightly, remove the cinnamon stick, and pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cream into your egg mixture, whisking as you pour until the cream is well incorporated. This will temper your eggs so they will not curdle. Continue to add approximately 1⁄4 cup of cream at a time to your egg mixture, whisking well as you pour, until all the cream is incorporated into the eggs. This is  our custard liquid. Set it aside.

Slice your bread into approximately 1⁄2” slices, then trim away the crusts leaving only the  slices of crumb. Butter your bread slices fairly liberally. This works best if your butter is softened.

Place a layer of bread, buttered-side down, into the bottom of your buttered baking pan. Push your bread down just a bit, but take care not to compress it. Fill in any gaps with smaller pieces of bread. Sprinkle a layer of raisins and dates on top of your first bread layer. It does not have to be a solid layer of fruit, as the raisins will expand while baking. Repeat the bread layer once more, placing the buttered-side down. Top with another raisin/date layer.

Once you have two layers of bread and two layers of fruit, pour enough custard liquid to fill the pan just to the top of the bread. Repeat layering as described in the previous paragraph. Cover with just enough custard to cover the bread layer. Continue until your pan is full.

Top off your pan with a layer of bread, buttered-side up. The custard liquid will soak up into this layer. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar on top. Your White Pot is assembled and ready to bake.

Baking:
Baking times will vary, depending on the size of your pan and the actual temperature of your oven. Check your White Pot after 30 minutes. The top will be well browned when it’s done. Your White Pot may jiggle a bit when jostled, but there should not be liquid pooled in the middle. If the top is not browned, continue to bake it, checking every 10 minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Serving:
Once your White Pot is finished baking, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the inside edge of the baking dish. If you are using a tin-lined pan, be especially careful with your knife so you don’t damage your tin lining. Invert the pan onto a plate and rap on the pan and jiggle it to get the White Pot to separate from the bottom of the pan. This is why it is important to butter your pan liberally.

An extra special finishing touch for your White Pot is to sprinkle it with sugar and brown the sugar as you would on a creme brulee. To do this in a period manner, you can use a Salamander or an ash shovel. Heat the plate of the salamander until it is cherry red, and prop the plate over the sugared top until it bubbles and browns. (Be very careful doing this. Handling a hot salamander requires a good pair of thermal gloves). You may also brown the sugared top using a modern kitchen torch or a conventional oven broiler. If you use a broiler, watch your White Pot closely to avoid over browning.

Slice into wedges. White Pot may be eaten warm or cold. It is delicious topped with a little cream or sack (sweet sherry).

The Overlooked Purslane

"Caricature

Just as it is across half of the United States, this part of Indiana where I live is under the oppressive effects of extreme drought. I’ve given up on my lawn. The grass crunches beneath my feet and breaks off at the ground with each step. I fear spontaneous combustion should the sun even look at it wrong. The only signs of life in my yard are the towering weeds which have shown themselves once again to be the most well-equipped to survive.

The other day I braved the heat and went outside to uproot those few remaining living things. I felt a bit “Grinchy” doing so. As I made my way to the front of the house where the tallest stand thrived, I was delighted to find a splayed-out clump purslane growing up through the crack in my scalding hot sidewalk.

Purslane is considered an exotic weed in most parts of the U.S., but there is some fossil evidence that it was at one time native to North America. It is common throughout many parts of the world. It’s a succulent plant that stores water in its leaves, stems, and roots. It reminds me of a diminutive version the jade plant I have growing in my living room. Both purslane and my jade plant seem to be equally resistant to drought.

""

A nice bowl of simple soup made of beef broth, leeks, and morning purslane, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served over croutons of hearty bread.

Both the stalks and leaves of purslane are edible. It has a snappy texture and its taste can vary depending on the time of day it’s harvested: pick it before the sun rises and it can have a slightly tart flavor; by midday, it’s likely to taste more mild with a hint of earth. And what’s especially nice about this plant is that it’s extremely high in Omega-3 oils — more so than any other leafy plant you can find in the produce section. It’s also high in Vitamins A, B, and C. If you suffer from kidney stones or gout, however, you may want to be careful about making purslane a regular addition to your diet, as it also contains high levels of oxalate, a contributor to these ailments.

Purslane can be found in a number of 18th century cookbooks. It was typically used in soups and stews, as well as eaten raw in salads. It was also used as a garnish, often being blanched and pickled. Here are a few recipes:

A New and Easy Method of Cookery, Elizabeth Cleland, 1755

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1739
 

By the way, a “walm” is a bubble according the O.E.D. Boil the stalks in salted water for a dozen bubbles…in order words, blanch them.

An Alchemist – Adriaen van Ostade 1661

Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685)

Ok, it might be easier to say what isn’t in this painting.

Detail: alchemist, wife, children, basket, window, raised hearth, curtain, ladder, herbs, basket, bowl, pot, bottle, flask bread, scales, funnel jar, box, stool, spoon, kettle, pipe, specticles, knife, tongs, bellows, book, retort, jug, hourglass, drill, fire bucket, sieve, pitcher, dust pan, oven, plate, mortar and pestle, small kettle, matches

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