Yummy biscuit recipe from Eliza Smith’s 18th century cookbook.
Yummy biscuit recipe from Eliza Smith’s 18th century cookbook.
O.k., so it may be an absurd question. The answer, however, is probably…but it may not be what you think.
When I hear the word “KETCHUP,” the tangy tomato condiment immediately blots across the canvas my mind like a crimson Rorschach test. Ketchup is a necessary component of the backyard cookout. It’s the not-so-secret ingredient to many a blue-ribbon meatloafs. There’s a bottle of it sitting on the tables of most every diner, separating the salt and pepper shakers like misbehaving children.
But when you’re in Chicago, don’t ask for ketchup on your hot dog, or you’ll be branded a tourist. Um…the fanny pack may give you away too.
One of my all-time favorite Sunday-morning comics was by the master cartoonist, Gary Larsen. It featured a committee of ruminating vultures huddling over their rather ripe roadkill repast, while two of them reminisce the virtues of…(you remember this one too?)…ketchup.
Believe it or not, ketchup has been around for hundreds of years; that’s just about as long as the debate that has raged over whether the word is spelled “C-A-T-C-H-U-P,” C-A-T-S-I-P,” or “K-E-T-C-H-U-P.” The Oxford English Dictionary declares the winner: “Ketchup” is apparently the more commonly used of the three, so I’ll stick with that name for now.
But wait, I thought people long ago believed tomatoes were poisonous!
Many did, and for good reason. The tomato belongs to the nightshade family. And with the tag “nightshade,” the tomato is looking pretty evil. Other people — some apparently with a death wish, knew better.
It is believed that the great Spanish explorer, Hernan Cortes, may have been the first to introduce the “love apple” to Europe upon his return from South America. By the early 1500s, tomatoes became a staple in Spanish and Italian diets. By 1600, many British cooks decided it was time for the Spaniards and Italians to share in the fun. By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were fairly common English fare, typically used in soups and as garnishes or sauces for meats.
In the book Every Man His Own Gardener, by John Abercrombie and Thomas Mawe, 1767, it reads, “[Tomatoes] in some families, are much used in soups, and are also often used to pickle, both when they are green, and when they are ripe.”
There are numerous references and recipes for sauces made from tomatoes. Some of these recipes included garlic and spices, as well as vinegar — typical ingredients in modern-day tomato ketchup. Here’s a recipe from the Culina famulatrix medicinæ: or, Receipts in modern cookery, by Alexander Hunter, published in 1810:
And here’s another recipe from 1817:
But who came up with the word “Ketchup”?
Who knows? There’s much debate over the origin of this word. Some say it’s a variant of a Chinese word for fish sauce. Others say it is a Malay word for the same.
We know from references and recipes that by the mid 1700s, “Ketchup” was a culinary term spoken frequently in English kitchens. The condiment, however, associated with it was not a tomato sauce, but rather a flavorful concoction, sometimes fermented, sometimes not, based on either anchovies or shellfish, walnuts, or mushrooms. Martha Washington included a recipe in her Booke of Cookery for pickled oysters, a fermented variant of ketchup.
You can still find a direct descendant of 18th century ketchup either in your refrigerator, or if not there, on a shelf at your local grocer: it’s called Worcestershire sauce (that’s pronouced “wuus-ter-sher” for those who, like me, have difficulty slurring the word enough). The bottle in my refrigerator has been there since, well, maybe even the 18th century!
18th Century Ketchup Recipes
If you’re an 18th century reenactor, historian, or foodie and you still crave your red stuff, you’re pretty safe to use a recipe like those above. Tomatoes will kill neither you nor generally your authenticity, unless, of course, you’re deathly allergic to them. Just don’t call it ketchup during the event; instead, call it tomato sauce. But if you want that authentic “ketchup experience,” and you’re up to making your own, there are many recipes found in the old cookbooks. Here are a couple:
Ok, those are a bit time- and labor-intensive. Here’s an authentic non-fermented recipe for mushroom ketchup that is quite tasty! We demonstrated this recipe in our video from our Cooking with Jas. Townsend & Son video series.
And here’s the written recipe:
18th Century Mushroom Ketchup
2lbs fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and broken or cut into small pieces.
2T Kosher or Sea Salt
2 -3 Bay Leaves
1 Large Onion, chopped
Zest of 1 Lemon
1T Grated Horseradish
1/4t Ground Clove
1/2t Ground Allspice
Pinch of Cayenne
1/2c Cider Vinegar
Combine the mushrooms, salt, and bay leaves in a non-metallic pot or bowl. Cover and let set overnight.
Transfer mushroom mixture to a cooking pot and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low to simmer the mixture for 15 minutes. (Optional: you could simmer the mixture longer, stirring all the while, to reduce the liquid to about half for a more concentrated flavor.)
Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain out all the solids through a piece of cloth, squeezing or wringing the cloth to remove as much liquid as possible.
Bottle and cork.
PLEASE NOTE! Don’t throw away the wrung-out mushroom mixture! Spread it out on a baking sheet and dry it thoroughly in a 200-degree (F) oven. Remove the mushrooms when they are completely dry and hard. This can be ground into a powder and stored in a tin for seasoning or left in its original form to be added to soups and stews. This mushroom seasoning is absolutely delicious!
So when did Ketchup turn red?
While there may be earlier recipes for a tomato-based ketchup, the earliest we found was in the Apicius Redivivus: Or, The Cook’s Oracle, by William Kitchiner from 1817. This is an interesting book in that it, like the aforementioned book by Charlotte Mason, also includes a good number of ketchup recipes, including “White Catsup” made with white wine vinegar and anchovies, cucumber ketchup, a sweet orange and brandy flavored ketchup for puddings, “Cockle and Muscle” ketchup, oyster ketchup, walnut ketchup, as well as mushroom ketchup. But it’s the “Tomata Catsup” that captures my attention.
This recipe seems to be a marriage of a typical tomato sauce recipe with a typical fish-based ketchup recipe.
By the mid 1800’s numerous recipes were written for tomato ketchup, many of which had dropped the fermented sea creatures from the list of ingredients. References, however, still are found from as late as the 1870’s (Check this link) which refer to the making of mushroom ketchup. So tomato ketchup hadn’t entirely beaten out the competition yet.
Our association of the word “ketchup” to that red blot running down our shirts, is likely the result of some fancy promotion and distribution footwork by the all-familiar Heinz family, who got their start in 1876. By the turn of the 20th century they had made a name for themselves and had given the folks of Worcester a run for their money. It’s also very likely that they changed forever the common perception of what ketchup was. By the early 1900s, they were shipping every year 12 million of those familiar glass bottles to kitchens around the world and to local diners like the one near you.
“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.
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.
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
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 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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
Who doesn’t like a nice big plate of French Toast? For me it brings back fond childhood memories of Saturday mornings — usually during the holidays when no one seemed to be in a hurry to change out of our pj’s to go anywhere. Truly, French toast a quintessential breakfast food, though I’ll eat it for any meal if given a chance — especially if it’s served with real maple syrup, a dab of melting butter, and maybe some fresh fruit or berries on the side.
But did you know that this delectable dish we call French Toast has been around for over a thousand years? And it wasn’t always breakfast fare, in fact, it likely started out as a dessert.
The earliest documented recipe for French toast can be found in the Apicius — a collection of 4th and 5th century Roman recipes. The dish is simply titled, “Another Sweet.” Its translation reads:
“Break a slice of fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces. Soak in milk and beaten eggs, Fry in oil, cover in honey, and serve.”
Bread was known as the staff of life. It was the dietary pillar of cultures around the world. But what was one to do when their bread went stale?
In an old nameless English cookbook from 1430, later compiled and published under the name “Two 15th Century Cookery Books,” We find a recipe for bread dipped in egg yolks, fried in butter, and sprinkled with sugar.
The name of this dish is the French word, “Payn Perdeuz,” meaning “Lost Bread” or “Wasted Bread,” suggesting the recipe was intended for bread that had gone stale. This name seemed to stick for many years in the vocabulary of English cooks.
Karen Hess, who transcribed Martha Washington’s Book of Cookery, says,
“The English early took to pain perdu and made it their own; it was rarely omitted from a cookbook, usually listed under “made dishes”…or any dish that amused the cook or showed off her skill.”
Here is our take on an 18th-century recipe for Payn Perdue:
1 – Medium loaf of firm enriched bread. (The No-Knead “French” Bread in our most recent video would make a perfect choice. If you’re not up to making your own bread, Challah, Brioche, or a Country French loaf will work perfectly. Stale bread is better. You can leave it out overnight if you need to, out of reach of the critters)
8 – Egg yolks
1 Cup of Cream
1/4 Cup Sweet Sherry
1-1/2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
3 – 4 Tablespoons Butter
For the sweet sauce (instead of maple syrup)
4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
1-1/2 Tablespoon Sugar
2 Tablespoons Sweet Sherry
Take a sharp or serrated knife and slice off all the outer crust of the bread. Cut the remaining crumb into slices about 3/4″ thick.
In a bowl, mix the egg yolks, cream, sherry, and sugar. Season with grated nutmeg.
Dip the bread slices in the egg mixture, making sure you get the edges as well, and set them on a plate for a while — 15 minutes should do, unless your bread is really stale, then it might take longer.
While the bread slices are sitting there soaking up the egg mixture, go ahead and mix the melted butter, sherry and sugar for the sweet sauce. Set this nearby for serving your toasts.
Melt 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. You may have to be very careful handling the bread at this point, depending on the type of bread that you use. When your butter has stopped bubbling and it’s quieted down just a bit, fry your payn perdue slices on both sides until they are a golden brown.
Pour the sweet sauce over your slices and serve.
For authentic alternatives to our 18th century sweet sauce, you can also use honey, light molasses, maple syrup, or you can simply sprinkle it with sugar and a bit of ground cinnamon.
A sweet and sour alternative that is likewise very authentic, would substitute verjus for the sherry. Verjus is the unfermented juice of unripe grapes. It was commonly used in the 18th century for pickling and spicing up sauces in place of vinegar. It’s available online.
There have been a number of videos floating around on YouTube the past few years which present an interesting method of baking bread. It’s called “no-knead bread.” It’s an easy recipe that uses a simple dough baked in a Dutch oven.
I would encourage you to watch the video that seems to have started it all. It’s very worthwhile. No knead bread, because of its ultra-simplicity and great flavor, is a very innovative technique.
But, shhhhhh…I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s not a new idea. In fact, no-knead bread has been around for hundreds of years.
Take for instance this recipe from Eliza Smith’s 1739 cookbook, The Compleat Housewife.
Or this recipe out of Richard Brigg’s 1788 cookbook, The English Art or Cookery:
And finally, this recipe from Elizabeth Moxon’s 1764 cookbook, English Housewifery:
Each recipe instructs the baker to work the dough as little as possible. Mix the ingredients with your hands and simply walk away. Nope! Don’t even think about kneading it!
Each of these recipes is for “French” bread. Now 18th century bread came in dozens of forms, differentiated by size, shape, and weight, as well as by ingredients and the quality of the flour. The boulangeries de Paris offered a cornucopia of bread styles, as did the bakeries of London and Philadelphia.
One particular bread, however, familiar to Englishmen and American Colonists alike was what they called “French” Bread. The name with which they christened this bread may have been just as much a commentary on French-style cookery as it was a delineation of its national origin. The French were known for their extravagant dishes and sauces which were often dripping with butter fat. French cooks were in demand for this reason in the higher British societies.
There are numerous other 18th century English recipes for French Bread. We found nine total. By the way, there are probably hundreds of 18 century English recipes that used French Bread as an ingredient, but we’ll talk about that later. All of the English recipes for French bread called for the use of milk instead of or in addition to water. Some also called for butter, and still others called for eggs. So it seems apparent that the term “French Bread” refers to an enriched bread.
Most English recipes for French bread called for fine white flour, however, we also found a recipe in Eliza Smith’s book for a French brown bread that used coarse-ground flour, grated bread crumb, and…wait for it…milk.
Brigg’s recipe for French Bread is preceded by a recipe for “English Bread the London Way.” By his heading and the juxtaposition of the two recipes, it seems apparent that he was making a comparison between the two styles. The most pronounced difference was the use of dairy fats in French bread.
Pain de Mie may be a modern descendant of such bread. Pain de Mie, or “bread of the crumb” is a fine white bread, similar to American “Pullman bread” that is baked in a special pan, resulting in loaf with a very thin or non-existent crust. Interestingly, some historic accounts suggest that Pain de Mie may have been introduced to France in the early 1900s by English tourists — a seemingly ironic twist of the dough.
While most modern bread enthusiasts enjoy the crispy-crackly crust of a properly baked artisan loaf, all of the English recipes we found for French bread required that the crust be either rasped off with a grater or chipped off with a knife, leaving nothing but the mellow white crumb structure beneath. It was in this crust-less form that French bread was most commonly used as an ingredient in so many other English recipes. The crust chips and raspings were also used.
Here’s our take of an 18th century English recipe:
No-Knead “French” Bread
Most original recipes called for the use of fresh barm, which was the suds or “croisan” skimmed from the top of a brewing batch of ale. Unless you’re a homebrewer, it’s unlikely you have access to barm. You can make an imitation barm by mixing the following ingredients:
1/2 cup water (or you can use a good imported ale)
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon INSTANT yeast
Set your barm aside.
In a large bowl, mix together 3 cups of all-purpose flour with 1-1/2 teaspoons salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together 3/4 to 1 cup milk with 1 egg white. In yet another bowl, whisk together 2 Tablespoons butter (just melted and not too hot, lest you cook your yolks) with 2 egg yolks. Finally, stir together the milk mixture and yolk mixture. Stir in your “barm” as well.
Now you may be asking, “Huh? What was the point of all that?”
Egg yolks are a natural emulsifier. They are made up of protein strings that are receptive to fats on one end and water on the other end. By mixing the egg yolks first with the melted butter and then with the milk, you are combining the butter fat with the milk at a molecular level. To mix them otherwise, the butter would simply float to the top of the milk in coagulated chunks. Yuck!
Enough of the science lesson.
Now it’s simply a matter of adding your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients. While all three original recipes above tell us to use our hands to mix the dough, Brigg is meticulous in describing how you should hold your fingers together at the tips.
Our experience suggests it’s fine to dig right in as long as momma’s not looking. You’ll want to mix it well, incorporating all the flour.
The dough is going to be very sticky. That’s good. Whatever you do, DON’T EVEN ATTEMPT TO KNEAD IT, otherwise it will not be No-knead bread!
Now in our video demonstration above, we suggest using a damp cloth to cover it. You probably need a couple of layers of damp cloth, because you don’t want a tough skin to develop on your dough while the yeast is doing its thing. A better choice is plastic wrap. Just press it right down on top of the dough.
Now set your dough aside in a warm spot to let it rise for 12 to 18 hours. We realize that’s a long time, but trust us, this will enhance the flavor of your bread. For another science lesson on why it does, check out Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 of our 18th Century Breads video series.
As the time approaches to bake your dough, you’ll notice it will have a spongy appearance to it. That’s good.
If you’re baking this at home in a Dutch oven, go ahead at this point and place your Dutch oven in the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees (F). Once the Dutch oven is preheated, sprinkle a little corn meal or wheat bran into the bottom of it. This will help keep the dough from sticking to the pot at it bakes.
If you are preparing your bread on a hearth or campfire, preheat your Dutch oven over a fire, from which you will gather your embers for baking. Once you have sufficient embers, form a circle of embers on the ground or on the heart floor over which you’ll place your Dutch oven. Then cover the lid with additional embers.
Back to the dough…
Turn it out onto a floured surface and with floured hands gently press it out into an oval or rough rectangular shape about 1 – 2″ thick.
Choose one of the short ends and fold it over about 1/3 of the distance to the far edge, slightly stretching the dough as you lift up and fold.
Then fold over the opposite edge, again slightly stretching the dough as you go.
Repeat this process on the each adjacent side, stretching and folding.
Now place your folded loaf into your preheated Dutch oven and close the lid. If your baking over a embers, you’ll want to check to make sure they don’t go out during baking. Also, it works well to rotate your Dutch oven over your ring of embers every 5 minutes. This will ensure even heat distribution.
Bake your bread for 30 to 35 minutes. Other modern recipes for No-knead bread (baked in a conventional home oven) suggest taking the lid off your Dutch oven and baking for an additional 15 minutes. Our bread, however, is enriched with lots of fats and will brown without this additional exposure.
Again, if you’re doing this at home and you’re shooting for consistency, the internal temperature of your bread should reach between 190 and 200 degrees (F) before it is removed from the Dutch oven. You should allow the loaf to cool for an hour before grating, chipping, or slicing.
All of the original recipes called for a wood-fired oven, not a Dutch oven. Dutch ovens, however, were commonly used for baking bread in the 18th Century (We invite you to watch our video on the Dutch ovens offered here at Jas. Townsend & Son). The high moisture content of the dough, combined with the high temperature and enclosed baking environment of the Dutch oven results in a crispy crust. Baking this bread in a bread oven or conventional oven (minus the Dutch oven) will likely result in a softer crust, which is likely more accurate to the intentions of the original recipes.