Today’s recipe is for “Apple Pasties,” the ancestral version of modern apple turnovers, taken straight from the pages of Eliza Smith’s 1758 cookbook, “The Compleat Housewife.” The fresh ingredients of this simple recipe let the flavor of the apples shine through…and we bring it to you just in time for apple-harvest season! You’ve got to try this one!
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Ivy is in the kitchen today! She’s preparing a a dish called “Tiny Purses” which turn out to be delicious turnovers. This recipe is from a 1596 cookbook called “The Good Housewives Jewel”. This is such a tasty dish, you have to try it!
Don’t be fooled by the word “cream.” This delicious recipe for Lemon Cream from Amelia Simmons’ cookbook American Cookery (1796), is ironically completely dairy-free. Instead, it uses an interesting egg-cooking technique which yields a delicious custard-like dessert. While fruit creams of this nature have over time fallen off most modern culinary menus, lemon cream is one of the few survivors. It’s most recognizable today in the form of lemon cream pie.
This is a very easy recipe. Be sure to use only fresh lemon juice!
6 egg whites
1 whole egg
the juice of 4 lemons (about 1 cup)
1 cup of water
2 cups of sugar
the rind of one lemon
Mix together the egg whites, egg, lemon juice, and water.
Whisk in the sugar until it’s completely dissolved.
Pour the mixture through a sieve to strain off any egg treadles.
Put the whole mixture in a pot with the lemon rind, and place it over medium-low heat.
Stirring constantly, slowly bring the mixture up to a simmer — just under boiling. If any foam or scum forms, remove it.
The mixture will remain very liquid as it heats up. It’s very important that you stir the mixture continuously. Immediately prior to boiling, the mixture will suddenly and noticeably thicken. When this happens, immediately remove it from the heat.
Remove the lemon rind.
Serve the cream warm or cold “in china dishes”. (Jon serves them in these beautiful bowls.) The cream will continue to set as it cools.
This cream can be served by itself or in other desserts. Jon, Michael, and Ivy brainstorm a few such desserts, like a tart, pie, and doughnuts.
Here’s a recipe that was apparently popular enough that it was copied almost verbatim in several 18th century cook books. It’s a recipe for fritters. A fritter, also occasionally called a fraze, was a fried pastry, like a doughnut. They were either skillet fried or deep fried. The batter could be thin or thick — more like a dough. This particular recipe was exquisitely simple, calling for only four to five ingredients.
Here is our adaptation, changing a few things up where necessary, but staying well within period-correct methods and techniques:
1 – 12oz. bottle of any Light* Ale or Hard Apple Cyder
approximately 2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 – 1/3 cups Zante Currants or 1 Apple (diced) or both
About 2-lbs Lard (or or other fat**, e.g., shortening or vegetable oil) for frying
*Hard apple cyder adds a wonderful taste to this recipe. If you chose to use an ale instead, use one that is not heavily hopped or bitter. Any off-the-shelf brand-name “lite” American beer will work, however, you’ll be missing out on some of the flavor that a nice honey brown ale, for instance, can add.
*All of the recipe copies I found for this dish called for frying in butter. This would have typically been a fairly expensive method of frying over, let’s say, Lard. If you choose to use butter, be sure to clarify it first by slowly melting it over low heat and pouring off the oil from the dairy solids that precipitate to the bottom. If you do not take this step, the solids will burn before the butter reaches frying temperatures, resulting in a burnt flavor imparted to the fritters.
Heat your frying fat to about 350-degrees (F).
Pour your ale into a large mixing bowl and sift the flour into it, stirring until a sticky dough forms. It may take a little more or a little less than 2 cups of flour.
Blend in your diced apple and/or your Zante currants. I prefer using both simply for the additional flavor and sweetness. Some recipes for apple fritters suggest a little ground nutmeg or cinnamon. You can also add a pinch of salt of you wish. That’s your call. I love the simplicity of this recipe, and chose to leave those seasonings out. I did not regret my decision.
Carefully drop in dollops of the batter, about the size of a walnut or small egg, into your hot frying fat, making sure they don’t stick together. Fry them for 4 or 5 minutes, or until they are golden brown on the bottom side. The recipe suggests turning the fritters with an “egg slice.” If in case you’re like us and had never heard of an egg slice before, it’s simply a spatula. Fry the fritters for 3 to 4 minutes longer, or until they are an even gold brown. If your dollops are too big, you will likely end up with a nicely browned fritter that’s still doughy on the inside.
Ale in this recipe acts as a leavening agent. The ale’s carbonation will puff up the dough while it fries.
Carefully remove the fritters from your hot fat, and drain on layers of paper or a clean cloth. Dust with powdered sugar and stand aside before you’re trampled.
As I began my quest to understand the 18th century pasty, I figured the first thing I needed to do was to leave behind all of my modern notions of what they were. I needed to travel light, leaving plenty of room for the period recipes and definitions and between-the-lines clues that I would gather as I combed through my resources. I visited many of the old cookbooks, dictionaries, journals, and magazines, looking for signs leading to a uniform definition, so that I could recommend the historically accurate method of making pasties. Whenever I hit a dead end, I’d consult the secondary sources for hints that I may have overlooked.
After studying all the souvenirs I collected along the way, I decided to return home, leaving the path for others to explore. I did so not with some sense of defeat, but rather with the somewhat enigmatic conclusion that there simply is no definitive answer…no single historically accurate method of making an 18th century pasty.
The Oxford English Dictionary claims pasties were pies made without a dish. This same definition can be traced back to 18th century dictionaries. Yet, the most commonly published recipes in 18th century cookbooks utilized baking dishes.
The Oxford Companion to Food attempts to delineate between pies and pasties by claiming either a multiplicity or singularity of ingredients used in each dish. Yet you look across the terrain of period recipes and you’ll find the two terms, pie and pasty, are often used interchangeably (The Country Housewife Family Companion, for example, by William Ellis).
Hannah Glasse recommended the use of a baking dish. William Rabisha, in his 1682 cookbook, “The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected” suggested crimping together two pieces of pastry. Other authors recommended a tin patty pan.
Some pasties were baked. Others were fried (e.g., Charles Carter’s recipe, below, from his 1749 cookbook “The London and Country Cook“).
Pasty crusts were often highly decorated — one of many showpieces that might adorn a multi-course meal. Pasties were also made in a free-form crust to be taken into the field or on a journey to be eaten cold, out of hand. Ellis copies the following pasty recipe from Rabisha:
Rabisha’s Way to bake Brawn to be eaten cold.–Take (says he) your raw lean brawn, that is not useful to collar, and as much fat bacon, mince them small together, and beat them in a mortar; beat a good handful of sage with them; season them with some pepper, salt, and beaten ginger; pour in a little vinegar, and break in a couple of eggs; you may make a cold butter paste in a sheet form, and lay this your prepared meat on it; put in butter, and a few bay-leaves on the top, and so close up your pasty for baking.
(Brawn is any meat suitable for roasting, but often is the breast and/or leg of fowl.)
So which style of pasty is most historically accurate? They all are. It seems the common denominator between all pasties is simply two things: a crust and a meat filling….oops, then again, there were fruit pasties. Ok, it seems there is ONE common denominator: crust. And that takes us back to the O.E.D. which explains that the word “pasty” can be traced back through the Old French language to words from the ancient Latin dialect meaning, “something made of paste.”
I feel as though I’m walking in circles.
Why all the variations? It could be due to possible regional differences; possibly socio-economic differences as well. I mentioned in my last post that the beloved modern pasties that exist in similar form in insular regions throughout the United States, Latin America, Australia, and South Africa, are culinary descendants of the Cornish pasty of the Cornwall region of England. While the folded-over meat pastry may be the most common form of the pasty today, it appears it was only one of many forms in the 18th century.
Here’s our take on a recipe for a delicious meat pasty from an earlier version of Mollard’s cookbook:
About 1 pound of veal, coarsely chopped (Beef will also do)
2 ounces Fat Bacon (modern-day salt pork or jowl bacon), coarsely chopped
1 cup each, green beans, asparagus, mushrooms, onion, parsley (all fresh), coarsely chopped
Salt and Pepper
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 cup Cream
Puff Pastry Dough (see our previous blog post and video on making a puff paste)
Lard, a sufficient amount for deep frying.
Combine the veal and the vegetables in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat a large skillet or spider and fry the fat bacon for 2 or 3 minutes until much of the fat is rendered. Add the meat and vegetable mix and fry for about 5 minutes. Return the mix to the bowl, add the bread crumbs, and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolk and cream together. Add this mixture to the meat and vegetable mix, and stir it until it is well incorporated.
Roll out your puff pastry dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick, keeping it as square as possible. Then cut it into about 6″ squares. Once the meat and vegetable mix has cooled, spoon a portion of it onto the middle of each pastry square.
Brush two of the edges of each pastry square with egg wash, fold the square over the meat mixture so that it forms a triangle, and crimp the edges closed.
In a cooking pot or kettle, preheat the lard to about 350-degrees (F). carefully add the pasties, 3 or 4 at a time, and fry for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. You’ll want to keep the lard around 350-degrees. Any lower, and the pasties will be greasy. Any higher, and the crust may become golden brown on the outside, but remain doughy on the inside. Drain on sheets of paper or on a cloth.
Say the word “Pasty” (pronounced “past-ee”), and you’ll likely receive a passionate Pavlovian response from hungry folks from several regions of the U.S. (i.e., Michigan’s U.P., or parts of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Montana, and California). Echoes of the lip-smacking cheers reverberate across the globe from distant parts in Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. But the loudest ruckus of all comes from enthusiasts in a western region of England; whose fierce pride is expressed through laws and regulations that define authenticity while protecting the tried-and-true recipes of old — making the Cornish Pasty a National Heritage Food (and some would argue, a national treasure more valuable than even the Crown Jewels).
While other forms of hardy meat turnovers exist elsewhere around the world, the pasties so beloved in the regions mentioned above, find their common culinary roots in English cooking. Food historians tell us that the free-form pasty co-migrated with 19th and 20th-century Cornish tin miners as the tin mines at home dried up and other hard-rock employment opportunities opened abroad.
Pasties have been a popular dish on English tables for centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary claims the earliest use of the word in English literature was in 1300. The OED’s definition of a pasty matches most modern expectations of the dish: a meat filling, enclosed in a crust of pastry, and baked without a dish. I have traced similar definitions at least as far back as 1764. Earlier definitions seem to be a bit more generic or obscure, describing a pasty as “a great pie” or “a pie made with flesh or fruit.”
I think it’s important, however, to try to consider such definitions apart from our modern expectations. For instance, “baked without a dish” could mean the pie used a standing crust instead. But when one examines 18th century pasty recipes, contrary to contemporary definitions, a completely different sort of dish takes shape: most often it’s a meat pie prepared in an earthen dish that is partially lined with a thick puff paste and then topped with the same.
Now that’s not to say that the free-form versions of the pasty are an inaccurate option for historical re-enactors and foodies. I’ll share some period recipes free-form pasties in my next post. But today, I want to give you a typical 18th-century recipe for a beef pasty that uses what some cookbooks called “a proper paste” (I say that at the risk of raising the hackles of many free-form fans).
While most 18th century recipes were for venison pasties, other types of meats were used (e.g., beef, pork, mutton, and poultry). Most period pasty recipes also call for either neck, shoulder, or breast meat (brisket), while a few call for rump or sirloin. The previous cuts are from the front end of the animal, and are usually more flavorful than those from the rear. They are, however, also tougher due to high levels of collagen or connective tissue between the strands of muscle.
Collagen is broken down through slow roasting or boiling. Some of the best modern barbecue brisket can be roasted for 12 hours or more. If you try to roast your meat too quickly, it will turn out too tough to eat. Some 18th century recipes for venison pasties argue against what was apparently conventional wisdom: that one had to be careful not to overcook venison. To the contrary, these recipes claim that when it comes to pasties, you can’t overcook the meat. I suspect, that is why the pastry crusts on these pies are so extraordinarily thick — up to 1/2″ thick…before it’s baked! One such recipe even suggested covering the thick paste with buttered paper to prevent it from scorching due to the long baking time.
Many period recipes also suggest marinating and aging meat for several days, as well as beating it to a pulp with a rolling pin. This was done to further tenderize the meat. Beef was likely much tougher then than it is today. Most of the meat sold in U.S. markets is aged prior to hitting the store shelves, so we skipped this step…it’s another example of how modern food developments have made exact historic food reproduction difficult, if not in some cases impossible.
Carter’s recipe also uses cochineal — a red dye (“Natural Red 4”) derived from parasitic scale insects living off cacti throughout warmer climates. Carter’s recipe was the only one I found that used this ingredient. We’ve eliminated it from our rendition primarily because many people today are highly allergic to it. If you want to try it, you can purchase it online.
18th-Century Beef Pasty
1 to 1-1/2 pound Beef, cut into 1-1/2″ to 2″ chunks (we used chuck roast (or shoulder) …in honor of Charles Carter!)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon each, Salt & Pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup Burgundy wine
3 to 4 Tablespoons Suet, grated or crumbled fine (multiple period recipes suggest using butter instead)
1 Puff Paste (if you need a recipe for puff paste, watch our video or read our earlier post.)
1 pound Beef Bones, cut or broken into chunks
salt and pepper
Several hours before you wish to serve your pie, or even the night before, combine the beef, salt, pepper, and wine in a ceramic or glass bowl. Set aside to marinate.
Preheat your oven to 350-degrees (F).
Roll out your puff pastry dough to between 3/8″ and 1/2″. Lay an inverted pie pan on top of your pastry and cut out a circle slightly larger than the pan. In the center of this circle, cut out a hold approximately 2″ in diameter. Save the plug from this hole.
Turn your pan back over, and with the larger scraps of pastry, line only the walls (not the bottom) of your pan, keeping the pastry about 3/8″ thick.
Combine and roll out the remaining pastry scraps until it is about 1/8″ thick. Cut out your decorations from this piece of pastry dough, and arrange them on the top of your pastry round.
Fill your pastry-lined dish with your meat mixture. Top the meat mixture with the suet or butter. (If you are planning to use suet, be sure to first read our post on what suet is and what it is not.) Finally, cover the meat with the pastry round, and replace the plug that was cut from the center hole.
Prior to placing the pasty in the oven, place your beef bones into a cooking pot, season with salt and pepper, and pour in just enough water to cover them. This will be placed in the oven and baked alongside the pasty. This will make a lear or thin gravy that will be poured into the pie once it’s done baking. Other recipes suggest placing the bones in a pot over medium heat and simmering the bones until the liquid is reduced by half.
Bake the pasty (and lear pot) for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. If your crust looks as though it’s getting too dark, cover it with paper.
Once the pie has finished baking, remove the center plug from the crust. Strain the lear, discarding the bones, and pour the lear into the hole. Then replace the plug. Allow this to set for about 15 minutes before serving.
While perusing several 18th century cookbooks, I’ve identified and included below a selection of recipes using suet. I chose these recipes because they seem to be fairly typical representations of food categories which commonly use suet: puddings, dumplings, pastry crusts, potted meats, cakes, sausages, forcemeats (stuffings), as well as fried and broiled foods. There are countless other recipes I could have chosen: beef olives, for instance, or forced leg of lamb — recipes that, judging by the number of cookbooks including them, were apparently very popular. I encourage you to try these!
This recipe for dumplings is from Sarah Martin’s 1795 book, “The New Experienced English Housekeeper.” These dumplings are to accompany boiled beef. Don’t worry about how big “the bottom of a plate” should be. Make them however big you feel dumplings should be.
– Pastry Crust –
I have vowed to myself to one day make a Yorkshire pie. Yorkshire pies were commonly served around Christmas and Epiphany, and were intended to serve large crowds. Be sure to read our blog post on Christmas pies. This recipe makes an enormous pie. When was the last time you made a pie crust using 24 pounds of flour? This clip is from John Farley’s 1783 book, “The London Art of Cookery.”
– Potted Meat –
Here’s one method of of using suet to keep beef for longer periods in pots. This recipe is from Mrs. Frazer’s 1791 book, “The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, and Confectionary.” Rendered suet can be used in place of butter to seal the jars. By “Oiling the butter” Frazer means to clarify it, skimming all dairy solids from it. If you use butter to seal the pot, be absolutely sure it is well salted. Unsalted butter will quickly spoil and become moldy.
– Cake –
Here’s a recipe for cake using suet from John Perkin’s 1797 book, “Every Woman her own Housekeeper.” Dried orange blossoms are available online. Reading between the lines on this recipe, I suspect it is meant to be understood by the reader that the suet is first to be rendered, then allowed to solidify, and then grated before adding it to the other ingredients. There is very little instruction given here.
This recipe is an exception to my comments above regarding my choice of recipes based on their representation of their food category. Most period cake recipes depend on mechanical leavening for their light and airy texture. This is accomplished by beating egg whites into chiffon, which is then carefully folded into the cake batter. This recipe, however, omits eggs altogether. I suspect it uses suet instead to create a heavier, yet spongy texture. If this is indeed the case, the suet would need to be added in grated form as opposed to melted, as a cursory reading might suggest.
– Sausage –
Here’s a simple, but amazingly delicious recipe for sausage from Maria Rundell’s 1807 book, “A New System of Domestic Cookery.” Similar recipes suggest that these can be made up into “finger-like” shapes and browned in butter.
– Forcemeat (Dressing) –
Here’s a recipe that uses suet. It’s for forcemeat, or dressing. It’s from Mary Johnson’s 1753 book, “Madam Johnson’s Present.” If rabbit isn’t your thing, a fowl of your choice will work as well. A couple notes of clarification: obviously, you can substitute ground spices for those pounded in a mortar, or you can use one of our spice mixes that accurately follow original 18th century mixed-spice recipes. Also, the ‘catchup” mentioned here is likely either walnut or mushroom ketchup. (Be sure to check out my previous post on 18th century ketchups.) If you don’t have 18th century ketchup, I suggest a spoonful of Worcestershire sauce instead — a close substitute.
– Frying –
Come late spring, I love to head down the hill with fishing pole in hand, hoping to stink up a frying pan with a few bluegill or a nice bass. You can bet I’ll be trying this recipe from Francis Collingwood’s 1792 book, “The Universal Cook.”
– Grilling & Broiling –
And finally, here’s a technique for using suet when grilling or broiling. This is from T. Williams’ 1797 book, “The Accomplished Housekeeper.” Beef steaks can be grilled in the same fashion.
While many foods (and people’s taste preferences for them) have changed dramatically over years of culinary evolution, some remain unaltered from their ancestral origins. Take pie crusts, for instance: any trustworthy modern recipe likely calls for flour, cold butter and/or some other form of fat, a little salt, and just enough water to hold it together. One recipe may differ from another in terms of proportions, but interestingly, the basic recipe, as well as many if not most of the variations, can be found in cookbooks published a couple of hundred years ago.
According to the “All English Cookery Books” by Arnold Whitaker Oxford, there were nearly 120 cookbooks published during the 18th century. A remarkable number of them are available on line either in free electronic format, or in print-on-demand copies. I maintain an electronic bookshelf on Google Books that contains over forty 18th and early 19th century cookbooks. I am repeatedly drawn into their pages, conducting word searches, and comparing recipes to their contemporary and modern counterparts. I guess you can call me a food nerd. Discovering a connection between my dinner table and palates of centuries ago can be the highlight of my day.
I’ve been recently researching pastry crusts or “pastes” as they were called in the 18th century, in preparation for a new video series in 18th Century cookery. After reading through countless recipes and comparing ingredients and procedures, it became apparent that, while variations existed, period pastry crusts can be divided into three basic categories: standing pastes, puff pastes, and short pastes.
Modern American foodies are likely most familiar with the latter two. One can usually find convenient ready-to-use puff pastry and pie crusts (short pastes) in the frozen food section at the local grocery store. Most people on this side of the pond are less familiar with standing pastes, but ask our friends in Great Britain, and they will likely hand you a Melton-Mowbray Pork Pie.
As alluded to earlier, short pastes are the pastry used to make the flaky crust in good ol’ apple pie. While one could say that short pastes are the latest innovation in pastries, fact is, they’ve still been around since the mid to late 1700’s. Period cookbooks recommend their use in fruit tarts and pies.
Puff pastes were most often assigned to savory dishes, though an occasional recipe suggested their use as top crusts for fruit pies. A pie pan or baking dish could be lined with puff paste prior to filling the dish with meat or vegetables. A top crust of puff paste was often added before the dish was baked. Some period recipes suggested putting the dish’s ingredients directly into the pan and then topping it with a puff paste.
Puff pastes could also be folded into free-form pasties (pronounced PAST-eez). Original pasties were nearly always made with venison, suggesting, considering the scarcity of venison, they were intended for the aristocracy. Beef and mutton pasty recipes began appearing in the mid to late 18th century. They were eventually popularized as mobile meals for the working class. Culinary descendants of the original pasty exist in numerous cultural and regional forms throughout the United States, Great Britain, and around the world.
Both the short paste and the puff paste find their flaky success in the chilled temperature of their ingredients. The colder your butter, the better — an excellent rule to live by. While some differences in ingredients exist between these two types of pastries, the biggest difference exists in how the doughs are constructed.
In short pastes, whether you are using butter, lard, or modern-day shortening, the fat is evenly distributed throughout the dough by either cutting or rubbing it in. The result, if done properly and prior to adding water, is a dry mealy flour that resembles corn flour. Moisture is then added to bind the dough together.
In puff pastes, the butter is laid between layers of dough. This layered dough is then folded upon itself, rolled out and folded again. This process is repeated a number of times, increasing the number of layers while making each layer of dough and butter thinner with each rolling out. The fine layering of butter and dough, if done properly, remains intact even after baking.
In contrast to short pastes and puff pastes, standing pastes go in the opposite direction on the temperature scale. Ingredients are relatively the same, but the fat is melted in boiling water. The resultant dough has a similar texture to “Play-do.” It can be rolled out into sheets, allowed to cool, and then constructed into large free-standing crusts, or it can be pressed and manipulated into individual-size cups.
Standing pastes are the oldest form of pastry crusts, dating back several hundreds of years. They were also called “coffins,” a word derived from the Old French term meaning “basket.” Frequently, standing crusts were large and ornate, exhibiting elaborate decorations.
Standing crusts — especially earlier forms which used only butter, were seldom eaten with their contents. They were too hard and often over-baked. Their intended purpose was to serve as a baking and serving dish. When a standing crust dish was brought to the table, the top crust was broken, the contents dished out, and the crust was either discarded, or taken back to the kitchen to be used at a later time as a thickening agent in other dishes.
Once a dish was baked in a standing crust, it could also be drained of it’s juices through a hole in the top the crust, and those juices would be replaced with melted butter or rendered mutton fat in order to seal the dish’s contents from the open air. The dish could then be stored in the larder for days or even weeks, and brought out to be reheated and served at a later date. The dish would be reheated, the fat poured off, and a lear or cullis of gelatinous broth added back through the hole in the top crust to replace moisture in the baked meat.
Modern British pork pies are still topped off with a lear before being allowed to cool prior to serving.
In upcoming posts, we’ll share authentic 18th century recipes for a standing paste, a puff paste, and a short paste. We will also post subsequent recipes for dishes that use these different types of crusts (e.g., beef pasties, pork pies, and pear tarts, just to name a few). Stay tuned to our website and YouTube channel for accompanying videos as well!