The Cooking Up History Sessions – 6: festive fare

Before we knew it, Advent was upon us and it was time for us to roll out some mince pies and mulled wine for our final Cooking Up History Session this year. Our seasoned cookery volunteers Christina and David joined us to create Lemon Caudle and Mammas Mince Pyes from our Georgian-era Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. We were also delighted to welcome food historian Annie Gray to our session. With a professional in our midst, we were keen to show off the knowledge and skills we’d accumulated over the past year, as well as learning some new tips on historic cookery.

Our mincemeat pies were based on the recipe for Mammas Mince Pyes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Our mincemeat pies were based on the recipe for Mammas Mince Pyes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

We began with our mince pies. The recipe was met with some hesitancy by the group, as the list of ingredients included a rather hefty amount of beef tongue. Fruit, spice, sugar… and meat? It challenged our preconceived idea of a mince pie should be! But Annie allayed our fears, telling us that once we’d tasted a proper mince meat pie, we’d never want to go back to modern shop bought ones. We determined to stay true to our 18th century ladies and forged ahead with the recipe.

David kicked off our mince pie preparation by shredding the ox tongue

David kicked off our mince pie prep by shredding the ox tongue

David began dicing our meat: cured ox tongue. We’d decided against preparing the tongue from scratch, as the skinning and boiling would have taken more time and space than we had available. There was the added bonus, of course, that for the more squeamish among the group the meat looked and handled just like ham. We then added an fruity mix of apples, currants, raisins and sweetmeats (dried apricots, dried cranberries and candied peel and ginger) to the mixture, stirring well to combine. Sugar and spice were then sprinkled in, along with a good measure of sherry.

The mincemeat mixture, ready for putting in the pie cases

The mincemeat mixture, ready for putting in the pie cases

Christina had expertly rolled and lined a muffin tin with shortcrust pastry. We filled some of the pastry cases with the meaty mincemeat and others with vegetarian mincemeat so that we could compare ‘Mammas mince pyes’ with their modern day counterparts.

Annie showed us how to make and fill a hand-raised pie

Annie showed us how to make and fill a hand-raised pie

Annie then showed us how to craft a hand-raised mince pie, building up the pastry little by little to create a free-standing pie case. We were all very impressed by Annie’s expertise!

Annie’s hand-raised pie case, filled and ready for the pastry lid

Annie’s hand-raised pie case, filled and ready for the pastry lid

After just over half and hour in the oven, it was time to take out the pies and have a taste. Golden brown with crisp short-crust pastry, they were a proper festive temptation and an ideal start to our Christmas celebrations. Our concerns about the meat had been unwarranted. Much to our surprise, the ox tongue added a richness to our mince pies which really enhanced the taste.

Our golden mincemeat pies, ready for tasting!

Our golden mincemeat pies, ready for tasting!

Christina noted that there was something extremely satisfying about all the ingredients – apples, raisins, sultanas etc and that they blended surprisingly well. The sherry gave the mixture real depth, and the nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and ginger provided the warm spice flavours that we have come to associate so closely with Christmas. But unlike the mince pies we buy in the shops today, these 18th century style ones weren’t too sweet – the sugar was really well balance by the saltiness of the tongue. The effect was really very pleasing.

Annie's hand-raised pie was the star of the session!

Annie’s hand-raised pie was the star of the session!

Lemon caudle

Mince pies baked, we went on to make our lemon caudle. It was a quick and relatively easy recipe.

Christina getting the lemon juice ready for our caudle

Christina getting the lemon juice ready for our caudle

We gently heated our milk on the stove and curdled it with freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Once we were sure that all the milk had turned, we strained off the curds and discarded them. The whey was then poured over a couple of egg yolks in a large bowl, whisked all the while, and once combined was returned to the saucepan on the hob. We were really careful to keep stirring the mixture and not let it heat up too much, as while we wanted it to thicken, we definitely didn’t want the mixture to split a second time!

Curdling milk to make lemon caudle. We turned the milk with lemon juice.

Curdling milk to make lemon caudle. We turned the milk with lemon juice.

As the caudle cooked, we began to get a better idea of what we might expect from it in terms of taste and texture. Christina thought the caudle would be a bit like custard, while Annie suggested that it would be warming and comforting – perfect for warding off the cold of winter.

Lemon caudle, ready for serving!

Lemon caudle, ready for serving!

We were pleased to find our end product a pleasant, milky drink, which led some of our group to compare it to our modern day equivalent of ‘Ovaltine’. The rose water, now so strongly associated with our Georgian cookery, still added the slightly unfamiliar taste to our drink, despite the little we had added. Still unsure of this perfumed taste, Christina and Kim agreed that one glass of this was more than enough, despite its soothing taste and texture.

As a post dinner treat, the combination of our mince pies and lemon caudle worked surprisingly well together. Christina was so blown away by our mince pies, she claimed they were the best she’d ever tasted! A comment to be cherished! Although our lemon caudle hadn’t tickled anyone’s tastebuds to quite the same extent, we had also enjoyed trying it out. Relaxing with a glass of mulled wine, we went on to discuss the pros and cons of historic food recreation with Annie…a lovely conclusion to a busy afternoon!

You can find the recipes we followed for the mince pies and lemon caudle on our Cooking Up History page. Why not give them a go?

Currant wine

This makes a seriously large amount of currant wine: 86 pounds of sugar to over 100 pints of water and 80 pounds of red or blackcurrants… Wow!

"To make a quarter cask of curran wine": a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“To make a quarter cask of curran wine”: a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Quarter Cask of Curran Wine

86 pds of the best Jamaica sugar

27 half gallons of fine soft cold water

80 pds of pickid whole carrans full ripe

10 eggs put in to the cask hole.

The liquor is put in the caske & 2 qurts of good brandy

Not to be dranke till 4 years old

Brandy was added to fortify the wine, and the eggs to clarify it. The only yeast included in this recipe is that which is found naturally on the fruit skins. But while the list of ingredients looks reasonable enough, the method is minimalist to say the least. For a better idea of what was involved in brewing this kind of fruit wine, this second recipe is worth a look:

Currant Wine

Take 16 pounds of full ripe currants. Break them small, stalks & all, in an earthen pan. Put to them 16 quarts of pipe water. Let it stand 24 hours, stiring it 3 or 4 times. Strain it throw a hair sieve. Then put [for] every four quarts of liquor 3 pounds of ye best Jamaica sugar. Let it stand 2 or 3 days, to work. Then fill up your cask. Save some of the liquor to keep ye vessel full till it done workeing. When it has done working, stope it close. It will be fit to bottle at Christmass.

It’s worth noting that this recipe calls specifically for pipe water rather than the river water used in our Irish Sack recipe – and consequently requires a lot less time in skimming the liquor for scum!

Poppy blossom cordial

It is hard to think of a more summery name for a drink than poppy blossom cordial. Today’s cordial recipe from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies uses petals from the common poppy, Papaver rhoea, which brings a splash of colour to British fields and gardens between June and August. But although the name may sound appealing, the author of this recipe would have intended it as a medicinal remedy.

The cordial combines the blooms with licorice, a host of warm spices, raisins, aniseed and sweet fennel seed, and steeps them in a brandy – a pungent mix! After 2 weeks the brew is strained and sweetened with sugar.

Poppy cordial recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Poppy cordial recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Poppy Cordial

To 2 qrts of brandy, put half a pound of red poppys, well pick’d & sifted from ye seeds & ye black cut of; one ounce of licorish, sliced very thin; half an ounce of cinnamon, broken in small bits & bruis’d; with a small quantity of cloves & mace & nutmeg; half a pd of raisins of ye sun ston’d; anisseeds & sweet fennel seeds, of each a quarter of an ounce, pick’d & sifted & bruis’d. Let these steep in ye brandy about 14 days in a black pitcher well glaz’d, close cover’d. Yn strain it well and put it into bottles with about a qr of a pd of loaf sugar to each qrt. This is good for ye collick or any surfeit.

Detail from an 18th century cartoon, showing two fashionably-dressed women holding a large bottle of medicinal cordial

Detail from an 18th century cartoon

This recipe was written in with the true sense of a ‘cordial’ in mind: a drink that would do good to the heart (‘cor’). The Georgian author recommends taking the cordial in cases of colic and ‘any surfeit’ – perhaps an instance of over-indulgence at the dinner table.

Over the course of the 18th century, cordials started to be embraced for their intoxicating properties, and as such contributed to those symptoms of gluttony and over-indulgence that they were originally intended to cure.

As the recreational use of cordials increased, so their herbal content decreased, evolving into what we, today, would recognise as an alcoholic liqueur.

Irish sack: a treat for mice and men

This recipe for honey wine, or Irish sack,  is among the earliest in our Cookbook. Water (river water) and honey are boiled and ‘scummed’ for three hours. Once cooled, the mixture is left for a couple of days until any solids have settled and the liquid can be poured off into a cask. And then there’s a further six months of brewing time until the wine can be finally bottled.

It is time-consuming, but simple, and the instructions are unusually thorough. There’s even a tip about stopping mice getting to the drink before you do!

A recipe for Irish sack from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A recipe for Irish sack from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Receipt to Make Irish Sack

Take what quantity of river water you please. Mix honey with it till it will bear an egg [so] that the end appears a little above the water. Keep out a little of your liquor in a convenient pot or kettle, and as it boils up put in a little of your cold liquor to make the scum rise […] better and prevent its boiling over. Scum it clean and so continue to do for two hours as the scum rises. Then boil it another hour, having put in all the cold liquor, and keep it constantly scumming as you see occasion. When boiled, put into a clean wooden vessel in a cool place & let it stand [for] two days. [Separate] it […] from the settling and [put it in a cask]. Keep some of it in a black glazed crock covered with a pewter dish to fill up your vessel as it shrinks, &  you must skim of [the] scruff that rises on the top of your vessel with a spoon, and so do till no more rises, keeping it constantly filled up as you find occasion. Keep your vessel covered with a clean slate or thin stone to keep out mice, but not too close as when you stop it because, if it has not air, it will work over and waste. It will be six months, or near it, before you can stop it up. When it is [a] year old, bottle it and put into every bottle 3 [stoned raisins]. Cork up the bottles.

No cold liquor to be put in the third hour. It will waste a third part in the boiling.

Of course, if you do decide to try this one at home, please don’t use river water. Tap water may lack a little in authenticity, but is a much safer option!

And here’s a quick 19th century tip on sealing bottles, passed down from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle:

To Make Bottle Cement

½ lb black rosin, same of red sealing wax, quarter oz of bees wax melted in an earthen or iron pot. When it froths up, before all is melted and likely to boil over, stir it with a tallow candle, which will settle the froth till all is melted and fit for use.