*

Since many otherwise noble Shire members incontinently bunked the dance evening on 27th September 2003, and since my rather bizarre mundane commitments ** precluded me providing the usual feast booklet, herewith, in the interests of information and education, the dishes that I cooked. And I hope those of you who missed a very fun (and energetic) evening are feeling sorry!

As usual, the intentions behind the menu were twofold; to provide a varied assortment of dishes suitable for snacking on informally; and to offer a reasonably coherent spread from a particular time and place within the medieval corpus, preferably appropriate to our mainly late-period and post-period dances. The combination of the two sets of requirements resulted in an Elizabethan meal from English late-16th and early-17th-century sources, with a heavy weighting towards pastry.

There are a good number of late-period cookbooks, available online and in collections, so I had a large variety of potential dishes from which to choose. Two of the dishes came from Sallets, Humbles and Shrewsbery Cakes, a modern collection of Elizabethan recipes whose editor provides the original recipe but annoyingly doesnít say which specific source it comes from, which is why I havenít been able to specify.

The Menu

My Lady of Portlandís Minced Pyes (Sir Kenelme Digbie)

Roasted Capon (Gervase Markham)

Plain Savoury English Potage (Sir Kenelme Digbie)

Lumdardy Tarts (John Partridge)

Spinage Tarts (Sallets, Humbles and Shrewsbery Cakes)

Shellbread (John Murrell)

Tarts of Strawberries (Sallets, Humbles and Shrewsbery Cakes)

THE RECIPES

My Lady of Portlandís Minced Pyes
(Sir Kenelme Digbie, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Opened, 1669)

Take four pounds of Beef, Veal or Neats-Tongues, and eight pounds of suet; and mince both the meat and Suet very small, before you put them together. Then mingle them well together and mince it very small, and put to it six pounds of Currants washed and picked very clean. Then take the Peel of two Limons, and half a score of Pippins, and mince them very small. Then take above and Ounce of Nutmeg, and a quarter of an ounce of Mace, some Cloves and Cinnamon, and put them together, and sweeten them with Rose-water and Sugar. And when you are ready to put them into your Paste, take Citron and Orangiadoe, and slice them very thin, and lay them upon the meat. If you please, put dates upon the top of them. And put amongst the meat an Ounce of Caraway seeds. Be sure you have very fine Paste.

I must confess to taking liberties with this recipe. The quantities given in the original suggest that this is more a fruit pie than a meat pie, with a very high proportion of fat. I used about 1kg of beef mince, a couple of tablespoons of finely-minced bacon fat, three apples grated finely, and a couple of handfuls of currants, and my standard pastry recipe (see here for recipe). I am thus a bad medieval bunny. I also managed to forget the nutmeg, somehow, although I included the other spices and the lemon rind. I omitted the dates and (I assume) candied orange peel laid on top of the pies; however, I rather enjoy the flavour of the beef/apple/fruit/lemon, even without the orange or dates.

Plain Savoury English Potage
(Sir Kenelme Digbie, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Opened, 1669)

Make it of beef, mutton and veal; at last adding a Capon, or Pigeons. Put in at first a quartered Onion or two, some Oat-meal, or French barley, some bottome of a Venison-pasty-crust, twenty whole grains of Pepper; four or five Cloves at last, and a little bundle of sweet-herbs, store of Marigold-flowers. You may put in Parsley or other herbs.

This was a new recipe to me, which I stumbled on while cooking on Saturday morning, and was rather a good discovery. I decided to do a soup as the weather had suddenly turned nasty, and was able to improvise this from ingredients I happened to have on hand. Itís a lovely recipe. I fried up a couple of onions and added a good, strong beef broth made from commercial stock powder, spiced with pepper and cloves. I then slow-simmered several chicken breasts (with bone and skin) in the broth with a couple of handfuls of barley, which bulked the soup out nicely. When cooked, the chicken breasts were removed, and the skin and bone discarded while the meat was shredded and put back into the soup. Towards the end of cooking I added "sweet-herbs", which I interpreted fairly liberally given that I needed to use whatever was available Ė in this case, English spinach, shredded fine, and parsley. I didnít thicken the soup, which is what I assume the Venison pastry crust would be for; strangely, venison pastries were not coincidentally to hand in my kitchen.

Roasted Capons
(Gervase Markham, The English Housewife, 1683)

Then to know the best bastings for meat, which is sweet Butter, sweet Oyl, Barrel Butter, or fine redred up seam, with Cinnamon, Cloves and Mace.

Fairly straightforward: I roasted chicken pieces uncovered in the oven, and basted with butter melted with cinnamon, cloves, mace and salt.

Lumdardy Tartes
(John Partridge, The good Huswifeís Handmaide for the Kitchin, 1594, in Dining with William Shakespeare)

Take Beets, chop them small, and put to them grated bread and cheese, and mingle them wel in the chopping, take a few Corrans, and a dish of sweet Butter, & melt it then stir al these in the Butter, together with three yolks of Eggs, Synamon, ginger, and sugar, and make your Tart as large as you will, and fill it with the stuff, bake it and serve it in.

The great debate on this - and similar - recipes is whether the cook meant beet roots or beet greens. In retrospect, I suspect that beet greens may have been meant in this case, since the egg, cheese and spinach/herb tart is a recurring theme in medieval cookery; for the purposes of this feast, however, I followed Lorwin's use of beets. Two bunches of beets, peeled and grated small; a block of cheddar, ditto; a handful of currants, a smallish wedge of melted butter, three egg yolks, and spices as specified above. Pastry recipe here . These make good open tarts.

Spinage Tarts
(Sallets, Humbles and Shrewsbery Cakes)

Take some cast creame, and seeth some Spinnage in faire water till it be verie soft, then put it into a Collender, that the water may soake from it: then straine the Spinnage, and cast the creame together, let there be good plentie of Spinnage: set it upon a chafingdish of coales, and put to it Sugar and some Butter, and let it boyle a while. Then put it in the paste, and bake it, and caste blanche powder on it, and so serve it in.

Beebe suggests that "cast creame" is sour cream. I chose to use fresh instead, although itís not really the best for creating a pie filling; itís too thin and, while the spinach absorbs some of it, the rest just runs out of the pastry case. On the other hand, the filling is quite tasty Ė cooked spinach briefly boiled in butter and cream, with spices and a bit of sugar. See here for pastry recipe .

Tarts of Strawberries
(Sallets, Humbles and Shrewsbery Cakes)

Wash your strawberries, and put them into your Tarte, and season them with suger, cynamon and ginger, and put in a little red wine into them.

This recipe doesnít specify cooking the strawberry tarts at all; itís possible that the writer simply assumed that youíd cook the tart, but itís also possible that itís a fresh filling. Iíve chosen to interpret it as uncooked. The finely-chopped strawberries were seasoned with spices, sugar and port, and then packed into pre-cooked pastry shells (see here for recipe). I served these with whipped cream, just because.

Shellbread
(John Murrell, A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1617, in Dining with William Shakespeare)

Beate a quarter of a pound of double refined sugar, cearse it with two or three spoonefuls of the finest [flour], the youlkes of three new laid eggs, and the white of one, beate all this together in with two or three spoonefulls of sweete cream, a grain of muske, a thimble full of the powder of a dried Lemond, and a little Annise-seede beaten and cearsed, and a little Rose-water, then baste Muskle-shells with sweete butter, as thinne as you can lay it on with a feather, fill your shells with the batter and lay them on the gridiron or a lattise of wickers into the oven, and bake them, and take them out of the shells, and ise them with Rosewater and Sugar. It is a delicate bread, some call it the Italian Mushle, if you keepe them any long time, then alwaies in wet weather put them into your oven.

This was a somewhat bizarre and strangely pleasant recipe. I used 110g caster sugar to a couple of tablespoons of flour, 1 egg and two additional egg yolks, three tablespoons of cream, the grated rind of one lemon, and about half a teaspoon of concentrated rosewater. In an effort to make these lighter, I beat up the eggs, sugar and cream with the lemon and rosewater, and then folded in the flour. I suspect the process would have baffled an Elizabethan, but the shellbread was good Ė light, lemony, fragrant. Iíll definitely make these again.


Bibliography

Ruth Anne Beebe. Sallets, Humbles and Shrewsbery Cakes: A collection of Elizabethan recipes adapted for modern kitchens. David R. Godine, Boston, 1976. Recipes from Thomas Dawson, Gervase Markham, John Murrell.

*Digby, Sir Kenelme. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. Together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c. Published by his Son's Consent. Printed by E. C. for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain. London, 1669. Rpt in Cariadoc Volume I, 121-190.

Madge Lorwin (1976) Dining with William Shakespeare. New York: Atheneum.

Gervase Markham (1683) The English Housewife. Transcribed by Kirrily Robert, http://infotrope.net.sca/texts/english-housewife


NOTES

* By which I mean snack sideboard for an evening of dance, rather than a piece of Elizabethan dining hall furniture with the ability to do the caprioleÖ

** You donít know bizarre until youíve waded through 50 badly-drawn first-year film storyboards for an excerpt from Flashman and the Great Game.


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