Saturday, September 03, 2005

Cooking, Sixteenth-Century Style


I spoke in an earlier entry about the difference in awareness of time then and now. This isn’t just my Kentwell experience talking; my academic head would argue the same thing. One obvious area in which this is clear is in the recipe books.

The late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw an explosion in publishing. Partly inspired by advances in printing technology (it’s hard to publish much without a printing press) and partly by the development of a meritocratic elite who sought to learn how to portray themselves as fit their status, the presses churned out books on handwriting, etiquette, music, clothing and embroidery as well as the more obvious poetry and plays with which we’re familiar today. This was a society obsessed with the new, be it in music, clothing or art; an interest in new tastes and new foods was thus simply part of wider Jacobethan culture. It was this obsession with copying the new and exotic fashions of court which drove the publication of high status cookbooks, many of which survive – and are readily accessible - today.

Reading these recipes, the different approach to time is clear. I can’t imagine, in my modern kitchen, cooking a dish that would be several days in the making, but it’s not at all unusual for Tudor recipes to instruct the cook to simmer or soak or dry something for days. Equally, precise cooking times are often hazy; sometimes recipes do include information on times (“cook for one hour”) but more often they’ll simply say “cook until it is done”.

So, with this in mind, I decided this event was the time to try out a recipe that I knew would take three days or so to do: puddings of hog’s liver.

First, I extracted a piece of pig’s liver from the kitchen. I boiled it until it was cooked, then – waste not want not – used the water to boil barley for frumenty to eat then and there. The liver was left to cool, and grated.

On the second day I mixed the liver with breadcrumbs, flour, cream, sugar, salt, pulped apple, eggs and ginger. It looked vile. I took a strip of muslin, sewed it into a tube, and dropped tennis ball size blobs of the liver mixture into it, tying the tube with string between each blob. This, by the way, was an anachronistic cheat, as cooking puddings in bags dates from about fifty years after Kentwell. In the sixteenth century, liver puddings such as this should be cooked in intestines, but my butcher looked at me funny when I asked for some. (Befuddled butchers are – alas – but one of the difficulties facing the twenty-first century Tudor cook.)

The liver-filled bag was boiled for a couple of hours or so, before being taken out and hung by the fire. It caused much amusement amongst the punters who had obviously never seen anything like it. That, I decided, made the exercise worth-while, even if the puddings themselves turned out to be inedible.

On the third day, the puddings were removed from the bags. This was a messy business as they tended to stick, and I ended up with something the consistency of day-old cat-food smeared over my apron. The puddings were sliced, coated in oil, and baked in a hot oven, before being served forth.

They were delicious.

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Blogger Sandy said...

Instead of intestines, ask your butcher for "sausage casings." Same thing, just semantically cleaned up for us moderns who'd rather forget where our food comes from!

I'm very new to 160th century cooking, but in the U.S. there are all sorts of do-it-yourselfers who like to do this sort of thing for the 19th century, and a *few* tradesmen who've figured out there's profit in catering to them!

Susana Narvaez (SCA)

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