Last year, I was invited to a Thanksgiving potluck and I thought this might be the ideal time to try out a 17th century pumpkin pie recipe. I read early modern perfume and aromatic recipes often for my own research, but had not tried my hand at reconstructing a recipe. Inspired by the many recreated recipes of Rebecca Laroche (amongst others, especially Hillary Nunn, Amy Tigner, and Amanda Herbert‘s use of recipe reconstruction in the college classroom), I thought this might be the perfect time to try my hand at making a pie from scratch following a Renaissance recipe. I began with a recipe from Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion (c. 1670) “To Make a Pumpion Pye” (the steps are embedded in the pictures below), and rolled up my sleeves.
I had a few reasons for attempting this project: I hope to recreate some early modern perfumes and thought this might be a good practice round. My classroom assignments are experiential, whether having students operate an old printing press to make broadsides or blocking scenes from a Shakespeare play in an outdoor ampitheatre. So, I thought I should try my hand at this same sort of praxis, especially if I hoped to one day assign recreating perfumes and cosmetics in the classroom. Finally, and most pressing at the time, I needed to bring a dish to the potluck.
A few caveats: Despite my interest in the idea of early modern recipes, I don’t do much recipe-dependent baking at home. I cook on-the-stovetop meals that I make by following my nose and adding a dash more of this or that.
Two medium pumpkins added up to around one pound. Because the very first step states to “slice it,” I cut the lid off of the pumpkin, hollowed it, and extracted as much of the pulp from the rind as possible. From this first step, I realized that unlike the measurements of modern recipes, early modern recipe measurements is often intuitive (also see Kayla Perkins’ recent post on “Quantities in Recipes“). Less surprising, there are no indicated temperatures or bake times.
My second issue was encountering several unfamiliar terms: froise and caudle. Using EEBO, I discovered that “froise” was listed in several “dictionaries of difficult terms” with variant meanings as either a “Pancake of Eggs,” “a Pancake [with bacon intermixt],” or an “omlet.” With these definitions in mind, I created a crepe/omelet/pancake hybrid (and added currants based on a modern “Welsh froise” recipe I looked at online).
The next step called for “filling the pie.” Yet, I couldn’t figure out exactly what this meant. If I was supposed to prepare a traditional piecrust, there was no recipe throughout Woolley’s other pie recipes in the Gentlewoman’s Companion. (Ken Albala, noted food historian, offers some yummy early modern coffin (pie crust) recipes.)
If I was supposed to repurpose the pumpkin shell for the pie, that was also unclear. I did have a large clear casserole dish which allows us to nicely see the layers. I interpreted that the froise and some sliced apples could serve as the bottom layer/crust.
I simmered “some white wine” on the stove and added egg yolks to make a caudle. They immediately poached and smelled horrible. I tried to modify my mistake by consulting Woolley’s own “almond caudle recipe” and replaced the wine with almond milk in my second attempt. My caudle still smelled was rancid and I had to toss it. Lesson Learned: Trust your nose.
Overall, I learned a lot through this experiential process about ingredients and measurements, baking vocabulary, pre-prepared foods, and following all steps. The end result was rather tasty. Because of the heavy spices of nutmeg and cloves, and the general weight of the dish due to the eggs, it tasted much more like a savory pumpkin quiche-stuffing hybrid than a dessert. The casserole pan returned home empty (always a promising sign). I would try this recipe again (after conquering caudle!).