Saturday, December 15, 2012

Spiced Cranberry Relish

I'm having a hard time justifying this post as an historical recipe.  My only defense is that I've been making it at least once a year since 1988 (I have records on this!).  I cannot recall where the recipe came from, although I have a vague recollection of a newspaper insert.

But I figured that this, the last post of my first year of blogging, could be on whatever recipe I wanted (ignoring that all the other posts were on whatever I wanted) and what I wanted to do was share with you my Most Favorite Cranberry Recipe Ever.

For those of you who only know the canned, jellied cranberry stuff that pops out of its container in a cylindrical shape, you really have no idea what cranberry sauce is all about.

This recipe is called a relish, probably because it is not just cranberries and sugar.  However it is thick, flavorful, fun to look at, and easy to make.  I can tell you with confidence that people who do not like cranberry sauce often like this recipe.

So here goes.  I am thrilled to present to you:

Spiced Cranberry Relish

4 C. fresh cranberries (a 12 oz bag).  Can be frozen and slightly defrosted.
1 to 2 cups sugar (I use closer to one)
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants (dried)
1/2 cup water or orange juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger (I use more but I am an addict)
1/2 cup candied orange peel or the zest of one medium sized orange, finely shredded

Mix cranberries and sugar in a large, non-aluminum saucepan, then mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Cranberries and sugar


Cook over low heat for 20 - 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You are looking to see that most of the berries have burst.

Cool then refrigerate.  Serve chilled.  Best if made in advance and will last a while if not quickly consumed.

The Verdict:  If I didn't think this was excellent, I wouldn't be making it year after year.  I love how it is sweet yet tart, thick and spreadable on bread for sandwiches, and yet still an excellent side spoonful as an accompaniment for roast turkey or really any roast meat.  It is so easy to make -- just toss everything into the saucepan and stir while cooking.  And if you don't measure everything precisely, you will still end up with a good dish.

So give it a try -- it is posted just in time for your Christmas celebration.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading my blog!



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

And Yet More on Fruitcake

Recently I attended a fruitcake competition in a local town.  

The rules were simple:  Bring a fruitcake (with recipe) to the given location at the given time.  The judges were the lead actors in a play that involved fruitcakes and they were a treat to watch as they were in character the whole time.  

There were no limits on what could go in your fruitcake and we were invited to present our recipe to the judges.  I took the opportunity to point out that this was from an original 1845 recipe and that it didn't have that sticky, imitation-colored, dried fruit mix or even baking soda or yeast.  I emphasized how the fruitcake was baked in August, soaked with brandy (they liked that part!), and wrapped and stored for three months.

The VerdictIn the end, they awarded my fruitcake with the title of "Best Traditional".  I was thrilled!

It was a fun day and we were all allowed to taste the entries.  You just can't go wrong with that!

Mine is front row, right

And now you can call Mrs. Elizabeth Ellicott Lea's recipe, "An Award-Winning Fruitcake!"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bring Us a Figgy Pudding

It started with this website discussing various English pudding techniques:

Then it got pushed along when I broke all the "rules" and started listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that I really wanted to make a boiled pudding for this blog and do it early enough that it could be posted before Christmas.

I have many recipes for puddings but what I really wanted was the classic "figgy pudding" referenced by my beloved Christmas songs.  Or at least what I imagined was classic!

There was really only one source I felt was worthy of this:  Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump.  Ms. Crump, a culinary historian, does historical cooking demonstrations (and thus is near and dear to my heart); this book is a compilation of her research which includes recipes from colonial Virginia families.  The treat is that all her recipes first have instructions for cooking at the hearth and side notes for using more modern equipment.

ISBN  0-914440-94-2
In particular, on pages 244 and 245, she gives detailed instructions on how to make a pudding cloth, prepare it for use, and how to actually boil a pudding.  This was what I had been looking for when I acquired her book.

Ms. Crump did not disappoint.  On page 257 is:

Mrs. Alexander Cameron's Fig Pudding

Original recipe:
1/2 lb stale bread crumbs.  1/2 lb figs put through meat chopper.  2 eggs.  6 oz. brown sugar, 2 oz. flour  1/4 lb suet, a little milk, about half a cup.  flavor with nutmeg.  Boil 2 hours & serve with or without sauce.   (From the Shirley Plantation Collection, link: Shirley Plantation)

What excited me was the tiny footnote:  "Best cooked a week or two before use.  Wrap and store in air-tight container.  Warm through before serving."  Hey, I can make this in advance!


1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half, rather than non-fat milk)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup finely chopped suet (I used solid shortening, just a little less than a cup)
4 cups stale bread crumbs
2 teaspoons nutmeg  (one "nut" made about this much)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped fresh figs or 3/4 cup dried (I used dried)

(My note:  I bought a loaf of French bread the night before I made this, sliced it thinly, and laid the slices out on a tray to stale overnight.  Then I processed them to crumbs.)

1.  Combine egg, milk, and brown sugar, blending well.

2.  Combine suet, bread crumbs, and nutmeg in a bowl.  Add liquid and mix thoroughly.

My Notes:  Since I used solid shortening instead of suet, I felt it was important to make sure it was well-distributed throughout the bread crumbs.  So I put it in a spoonful at a time, "mashing" it through the nutmeg and crumbs mixture, sort of like the way I would mix a pie crust.  At the end of the mixing, it looked pretty uniform.

I mixed in one little spoonful at a time

Crumbly like a pie crust

3.  Combine flour with figs, mixing well.  Fold into batter.

4.  Wet and butter a pudding cloth and gather around the batter.  Tie secure with string, leaving room for pudding to expand.

Dip the heavy linen cloth in boiling water, drain, spread with butter, dust with flour
Pudding mixture
Make sure ALL edges are tied up so nothing comes out during boiling

5.  Set an iron pot of water on crane and bring to a boil over flames.  Drop in pudding and boil 2 hours, turning occasionally and keeping water at a boil.  Replenish with additional boiling water as needed.

I have no crane, but this will do.  It barely fit in my biggest pot.

6.  Pull crane away from fire and carefully remove pudding.  Drain thoroughly in colander, then cut away string and put pudding in serving dish.

Steaming while draining

Unwrapped and cooling

7.  Serve hot, with or without sauce.

I want to serve it at Thanksgiving, so I am wrapping it and storing it away as per the footnote.

Other notes:
I made my first boiled pudding last spring in my own Tudor kitchen (see June 1, 2012 posting) and the recipe I used said to put a ball of butter in the middle of the pudding.  When that butter was seen in the boiling water, you knew the pudding was done.  That worked well.  This time I just went with the recommended two hour time.

Since my pot was so full during the boiling, I had to decide how hot it should really be.  I couldn't do a full, rolling boil without splashing all over, so I made it as hot as I could without making a mess.  I kept the pot very full of water, adding hot water from a kettle as needed, and turning the pudding every 15 minutes or so.  It swelled up visibly.

Post-Thanksgiving Feedback 

Here is the pudding after about 10 days of being tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator:

It was firm and smelled nice.

I heated it up (first in the oven, then in the microwave oven to get it thoroughly hot) and served it at Thanksgiving dinner without any sauce.  I considered it a side dish.

The Verdict:  I liked it!  The flavor with definitely "figgy" with a mild spice complement.  The texture was firm and slightly creamy.  The bread crumb "matrix" that held the fig bits was a little bland, which was a good thing.  It was only mildly sweet so the figs could add their sweetness and keep it from being more of a dessert.

In summary, I would recommend it.  It was easy to make and fun to serve, as a bit of true England.  Success!

If I were to make it over again, I think I would chop the figs finer, so you don't get such a big bite of all fig when you do hit a chunk.  However, that would spread the fig bits more thoroughly through the whole pudding -- I'm not sure if that would be good or not!

One thing I like about figs is how their seeds crunch, and I got that in this pudding.

A quote from Ms. Crump's book:  "Blessed be he that invented pudding, for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people."  Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Steak and Ale Hash

What should one do when one finds a boneless New York steak and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale in the refrigerator?   Why, make a beef hash, of course!

Actually, I was inspired by the recent arrival of the Jas. Townsend and Son 2013 calendar
( that comes complete with recipes.  It happened to be opened to August's tempting picture.

They cited this book:  The House-keeper's Pocket-book by Mrs. Sarah Harrison.  I found a copy of the ebook here:

Published in 1739!!!

The recipe was for "A Hash of Beef fine, without Expence".

Page 41
The original rendition is:  
Cut your Beef in thin slices, then make your Sauce for it as follows; take an Onion cut in two, some Pepper and Salt, a little Water and some strong Beer; then take a piece of Butter roll'd in Flour in your Pan, stirring it till it burns; then put in your Sauce, and let it boil a Minute or two; then put in your Beef, and let it just warm through, for if you let it lye too long it will harden it.
A little Claret may be put in just before you take it off the Fire; if you use no Beer, some Mushroom or Walnut liquors; garnish with Pickles.

I tried the calendar's redaction:

1 lb of beef, sliced as thinly as possible across the grain
2 - 3 T butter
1 small onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint strong ale or red wine
2 tsp mushroom ketchup (the calendar has a recipe for this) or Worcestershire sauce (I used this)

I trimmed the fat off the steak before slicing

Roll your butter into a ball and roll it in flour, being careful not to shake off any more than 
naturally falls off.  

Too cold to make a ball, so I just coated the chunk with flour

Melt the butter in a hot Dutch oven.  Add the onion and a bit of salt and black pepper.  
Stir until the flour has turned a golden brown.

That is as brown as it got before I added the ale

Add the ale or red wine to the browned flour, along with the mushroom ketchup or 
Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to a boil and allow to thicken, stirring continually.

Add the slices of beef to the broth and stir around, just until they are heated through -- a 
couple of minutes.  Do not heat too long, otherwise the meat will become tough.  
Serve immediately.

The meat is cooked enough

I had less than a pound of steak but it still made a good quantity using the given amounts of 
the other ingredients.

The pint (well, almost, after I made sure the taste was acceptable!) of ale was plenty and had 
to be reduced quite a bit.  The best part of this was how wonderful it smelled while the sauce 
was reducing.  Heavenly!  It was hard to wait until the sauce got thick.

The meat goes in pink but don't wait until it looks cooked before taking it out.  The thin 
slices cook quickly and will continue to cook from the heat of the sauce once you take it 
off the stove.

This is really quite simple and easy to prepare.

The Verdict:  Success!  Definitely a winner and a repeater because the taste was robust and 
flavorful.  There was some bitter from the ale, more so than just the ale itself; I think this is 
from the reducing.  If you don't like bitter, pick an ale that is not!

I think I could have put in more flour but that would have made the sauce more like a gravy
 -- a fine idea but that might change the flavor.

I wish I would have remembered to garnish with pickles!  I think that would be good.

Serve this with a hunk of warm, buttered bread.  You'll need it to sop up the sauce. 

Come to think of it, this would make a good "sloppy"-style sandwich on a roll.  Just reduce
the sauce a bit more.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Elizabethan Field Kitchen

A little while ago I set up an Elizabethan Field Kitchen to demonstrate historical cooking techniques.  This is different from the big set up I did last spring as I only had a small area, two tables on which to display my wares, a small metal fire pit and a tripod space, and NO FENCE so people could walk right up and talk to me.  The best part:  I could give the public a taste of my food!

Here's how it looked the first morning, after it was set up and ready to start cooking:

The view as you approach.  Fire pit on the left.
A close up of my bowls, platters, and implements

On the other table, foodstuffs and fun things to talk about

My various cooking pots, plus tripod and grates and fire moving tools

I cooked a variety of recipes, always in normal quantities (I'm not trying to feed the public, just give them a bite of what I had made).

My favorite recipe of the weekend was this:

Erbolate  (Baked Herbed Eggs)

To the King’s Taste, page 78

ISBN: 0-312-80748-1

Take parsley, mint, savory, sage, tansy, vervain, clary, rue, dittany, fennel, southernwood.  Chop them and grind them small.  Mix them with eggs.  Put butter in a baking dish and put the mixture in it.  Bake it and serve it in portions.

In other words...

6 Tbsp fresh herbs from the list above or to taste
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter

Mince herbs.  Mix with eggs and salt, beating a few moments.
Melt butter in an 8 inch baking dish.
Pour in egg mixture.
Bake in a preheated 325 degree F oven until eggs are set and top is brown. (about 35 min)
Serve as you would a pie.

Notes:  I used a blend of flat-leaf parsley, apple mint, peppermint, sage, and rue.  It was delightful, especially the mint.  I ended up cooking mine in a fry pan that was already greased from cooking bacon.  The coals were very low so the eggs cooked without scorching the bottom.  All the herbs floated to the top and made the omelet look very pretty.  I think this is the best way to make a simple, flavorful omelet that I have ever experienced (and much, much better than dried herbs, even if they have the chance to rehydrate!).


I took a mincemeat pie to share with my fellow re-enactors and the public.  Professional photographer Gar Travis took some excellent pictures of it:

I have a pie pan now!

Sharing it with friends.

Credit where it is due!  These two photos were graciously given to me by:
Gar Travis / GT©

The Verdict:  The weekend demonstration was a success.  The site was great to work at, the people were interested and interesting, and nearly every recipe was tasty and fun.  Only one was a border-line success but I think I just needed to measure things a bit more carefully.  I hope to retry some of the recipes at home to see what else I could do or if I could improve upon them.  And I recommend you try the Erbolate.  It is yummy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

More on Fruitcake

After I made five loaves of an 1845 fruitcake recipe (see Sept 1, 2012), I ate one and stored away the rest.  My goal was to wrap them in cheesecloth and soak them with brandy to see what they were like after a few months.

And so I did.  A few layers of cheesecloth was all that was needed and any extra bits got put to the underside of the loaf to soak up extra brandy.

I wrapped the loaf,

Fruitcake Mummy!

poured enough brandy over it to soak the cloth, plus a little extra for the loaf,

Soggy Mummy.  Plate catches the drips.

encased it in plastic wrap (put all edges on the top of the loaf, to prevent leakage),

Set the loaf on a sheet of plastic, then wrap upward.

and put it into a plastic bag, labeled with the contents and the date.

Three loaves went into the bottom of the refrigerator and one went into the dark, cool cupboard to keep the container of mincemeat (August 15, 2012) company.  I was curious to see if the fruitcake with brandy really needed refrigeration to keep from getting moldy.

I wondered if the cheesecloth was really needed.  After all, plastic wrap is a modern invention -- would it be able to take over completely?  I don't think so, just from observing how the brandy quickly soaked the entire cheesecloth.  I suspect the cloth will keep the brandy distributed over the entire loaf, instead of just sitting at the bottom.

I also think it would be okay to use muslin instead of cheesecloth, or any other undyed, natural fiber cloth, as long as it was clean and had the sizing washed out of it.

After two months, I pulled the loaf out of the cupboard and gave it a try.
Looking good despite no refrigeration

While unwrapping the plastic, I looked it over carefully for any signs of mold or spoilage.  I noticed it was uniformly moist (not soggy) and smelled nice.  The brandy was barely noticeable.

The cheesecloth wrap looks and feels moist

The loaf itself was moist and smelled fresh and inviting.  The slightly scorched part on the bottom was still there (ugh!) but it wasn't dry at all.

I sliced it open in the middle and found it was moist all the way through.  The flavor was lovely -- I could taste the spices, the fruits (cranberries were a good choice) and nuts, and a very light brandy overtone.

The Verdict:  Success!  It was nice to have it out of my refrigerator and still be good later.  I like it better than the freshly-baked loaf since it was more moist.  The slightly scorched part didn't taste as strong although for my second piece, I sliced it off.

This is definitely worthwhile.  Most people complain about fruitcake, saying it is like a brick or filled with cheap, artificially-colored peels and dried fruits.  This one is fresh, flavorful, tender, moist, and most definitely has no artificial colors or additives.  Quite yummy!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Saumon Rosted

The title translated from the medieval English:   
"Roasted Salmon in Onion Wine Sauce"

Salmon was on sale the other day and I found a piece that looked very inviting.  Once I got it home, I knew I needed to find an historical recipe for it.  The most common recipe I found was a fruit and salmon tart -- it looked great but after the posts on mincemeat and  on fruitcake, I was surely tired of dishes with raisins, currants, dates, and figs.  I needed something different!

This recipe really sounded tasty:

6 salmon steaks for broiling
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
4 small onions, finely minced
1 Tbsp vinegar

Garnish: 6 foils of parsley, wet in vinegar

I had to guess at what a "foil of parsley" was!

This recipe came out of Fabulous Feasts, Medieval Cookery and Ceremony, by Madeleine Pelner Cosman, page 172.

Pub. 1976 by George Braziller, Inc.

1.  Broil salmon steaks, or as the fifteenth-century recipe suggests, "roast on a grid iron", about 5 minutes on each side.

2.  Slowly simmer wine with spices, onions, and vinegar, about 12 minutes.

3.  Pour the hot syrup over the salmon and serve.  Wet parsley foils in vinegar to garnish the salmon steak.

This looks pretty straightforward, yes?

I changed the order a little bit.  First I used a food processor to make short work of making the onions "finely minced".  In fact, they were so finely minced they looked like coarsely made mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes?  Or snow?

I was happy with this because I knew the sauce wasn't strained before being poured over the salmon and I really didn't want to taste somewhat-cooked onion chunks with my fish.

Then, while the oven's broiler was heating up, I assembled the sauce ingredients.

Stirred and warming up
I used a medium heat to get it to start simmering, then I dropped the heat down to low -- just enough to barely simmer and I kept watch over it, adjusting as necessary -- while I got the salmon ready to broil.

I think the recipe would consider this one steak

Five minutes on one side, three minutes on the other was sufficient to cook the salmon without drying it out.

When the sauce and salmon were both ready,

I combined and garnished them.

Voila'!  I think it is pretty

I used three "foils" on this one piece of salmon because I thought it looked nice.

The Verdict:  I liked the flavor just fine.  It was very subtle and moistened the salmon nicely.  The onion was not strong at all and blended in with the spices.  I would say the only thing that disappointed me was I expected more of a flavor "zing".  In fact, I ended up putting some salt on the whole thing, which is a big deal because I normally don't salt my food.  I think if I did this again, I would keep out the vinegar from the simmering stage and mix it in just before serving, to give the overall flavor some of that acidic "sparkle".

This actually used only a little of the "syrup" (and it really was somewhat syrupy in thickness), so when I use the leftovers, I will add some vinegar just after reheating it.  I think it might be good on roast chicken. 

So I will call this a "success" with only a slight reservation.

Silly things I learned today:  Now I know that smoke alarm in the dining room exists to tell me I'm broiling salmon.  And I thought it was just to let me know when I was cooking bacon.  I also learned that when I am cooking over a very hot oven, I should not wear a metal necklace.  It got hot quickly and felt like it was burning my neck!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

More On Mincemeat -- The Pie

A few days after I covered the mincemeat in brandy and set it into a dark, cool cabinet, I looked in on it.

Interestingly enough, all the brandy on top was gone.  The mixture itself looked like it had absorbed a lot of the liquid throughout -- it was thick and not as fluid in the jar.  I took this to be a good sign for its "ripening" and poured more brandy over the top.  I felt it was important to have a 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer of brandy to help avoid mold growth.

After a month had passed, it was time to try it in a pie.  I kept it simple, as Mrs. Leslie suggested:  "These pies are always made with covers, and should be eaten warm."  (Here is her ebook:  Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches.)
Just two ingredients
I took that to mean that I should put down a crust, fill it with mincemeat, cover it with a second crust, and bake it until done.

Crust plus filling

With its top cover
The filling was thick and a little juicy.  Not at all what I had put into the container originally and for this I was glad.  Before I used it I inspected it carefully -- there was no mold in the jar and no "off" smells, so I think it was fine to use.  I tasted a little of it and liked the overall flavor although the brandy was strong for my tastes. 

My ancient copy of "The Joy of Cooking" said to bake it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook it for another 30 minutes.  This was for a store-bought mincemeat filling.  I wasn't certain if my filling needed significant cooking time but I guessed that at least the suet needed a chance to melt and make the filling rich. I really didn't want to take a bite of pie and get a mouthful of uncooked beef fat, even if it had been marinating in Madeira and brandy for a month!

I ended up cooking it for 35 minutes at 350.  It probably could have gone a little longer to be more browned on top.

I estimate that I used about 3 cups of the filling in this pie.  It looks like I could get another 5 to 6 pies out of what was left.  This looks to be a fun holiday season.

Hot out of the oven
The Verdict:  I sliced the pie when it was cool enough to handle but still warm.  With each bite I could still taste the brandy -- it was strong enough to warm me on the way down but not so strong as to make me want to stop eating it.  The juices, sugar, and spices combined to make a lovely syrup around the dried fruit and meat.  Occasionally I got a taste of meat as it was chewier than the fruit.  The flavor overall was very, very good; hearty, rich, flavorful, and in its way, old-fashioned.  It reminded me of the mince pies I've had before but was still different.  Partly, I think, because it wasn't as sweet as regular mince.  Yes, definitely a success!  I can imagine people eating this one to two hundred years ago, savoring the rich flavor with spice, brandy, meat, and fruits.

Other thoughts about it:  This is definitely an "adult" dessert.  The brandy was too strong for children, I think.  Also, as Mrs. Leslie recommends, it is best warmed.  When cold the flavors were harsh and the suet congealed.  I really didn't like seeing cold bits of fat in my pie.

Old-fashioned delicious

Mrs. Leslie leaves us with one more piece of her wisdom:  "Whenever you take out any for use, pour some additional brandy into the jar before you cover it again, and add some more sugar."  Done!  I mixed in about 1/2 cup of brown sugar, packed the filling down to remove air bubbles, wiped the sides of the jar above the filling level, and poured in enough brandy to cover the top.  Then I cleaned the outside of the jar well and put it back in the cabinet.