Waste Not Want Not: Leftovers – the Afterlives of Early Modern Food

By Amanda E. Herbert

Grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) on strawberries. Credit: Macroscopic Solutions. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) on strawberries. Credit: Macroscopic Solutions. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

As part of Before “Farm to Table”: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures project, a $1.5 million Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’ll be working on a new book, Leftovers: the Afterlives of Early Modern Food. In this book I aim to explore the instability of food in this period.  This was of course literally true, as it was easy for early modern food to go bad.  But early modern food was also intellectually and philosophically unstable.  What food meant, what it tasted like, where it came from, how to put it to its best use, its moral and cultural symbolism: all of these were in constant flux. The book project will consider things like food preservation, food charity, artificial or faux food, the British colonisation of dishes, and the recycling and reuse of food containers, all of which will offer some insights into the ways that early modern women and men treated and thought about their food, and how these reflected the practical as well as the philosophical food insecurities of the past.

Today I’ll offer a glimpse into the project through one evocative example: faux or artificial foods, which enabled early modern people to reimagine what they ate.  Much has been made over early modern food follies at feasts, and for good reason; some of these, whether they existed in the historical record or only in the imaginative one, were remarkable.  My favourite of these is from Robert May’s Accomplish’t Cook, first printed in London in 1660. 

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mastery of Cookery… (London, 1665).
Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mastery of Cookery… (London, 1665).

May, a British chef who trained in France and served in elite British households, designed food entertainments for higher-status women and men.  These edible entertainments worked to manipulate diners’ senses of reality and fantasy. One of May’s most well-known food performances instructed cooks to take a whole deer and roast it, cut a hole in it, and fill ‘his body… up with claret wine’. The hole was then to be stoppered with ‘course paste’ [thick dough] and the cook was to place ‘a broad arrow’ into the dough on the roasted deer’s side. During the dinner entertainment, May explained, ‘order it so that some of the Ladies may be perswaded to pluck the Arrow out of the Stag, then will the Claret wine follow as blood running out of a wound’.   

This juxtaposition of what was real and unreal – an animal, which likely had been hunted with bows and arrows, was then butchered, cooked, and presented so that diners could imagine themselves back at the site of the kill, but in such a way that they could then immediately eat the (cooked) deer and drink its (wine) blood – would surely have offered early modern women and men a strange sense of slippage.  Were they valued guests, enjoying an elaborate meal in elite society? Or were they vicious, impulsive, and animalistic? Given the opportunity to reimagine themselves, their meal, and their relationship to it as consumers, May assured his readers that they would evoke not horror or confusion, but senses of ‘admiration to the beholders’.[1]

For home cooks, artificial foods could take on different forms of re-imagination.  Many such acts of culinary creativity were undertaken out of necessity, lack of resources, or thrift.  A recipe in an anonymous c. 1720 manuscript cookbook included instructions for how ‘to keep Mushrooms without Pickle for sauce’, which was really a guide to making mushrooms (common all over Britain) taste like truffles (typically imported). Readers were told to ‘take large Mushrooms peel them & take out all the inside, lay them in Water some hours then stew them in their own liquor…with a little Mace & Peper’. This process was to be repeated ’till they are quite dry’. As a result, the author claimed ‘they eat very well thus & look like Troufles’.[2]  A 1740 recipe book created by a Mrs. Knight explained how to make ‘artificial venison’ by beating ‘a rump of veal or a large shoulder of mutton…[with] a rolling pin’ before seasoning it ‘with peper & nutmeg’ and soaking it for ’24 hours in sheeps blood’.[3] This supposedly produced the richness, gaminess, and flavour that early modern people associated with venison (a food intended only for the elite) but utilised ingredients that would have been available to most middling-sort people (veal, mutton, spices, and sheep’s blood).  

Faux foods – whether they were constructed purely for fun, or purely out of need – changed the ways that early modern people perceived what they ate.  It’s certainly possible to see these substitutions as efforts on the part of middling-sort people to mimic the wealthy, or to pretend to eat beyond their means.  But we should not ignore the imaginative resonances produced by these fantasies. When an early modern person ate fake venison, false truffles, or even took in the spectacle of a roasted deer bleeding wine onto a table, did they know that it was not real? Were they merely enjoying the sensation of the forbidden or unavailable food, or were they truly fooled? What was old food, and what was new?

[1] Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mastery of Cookery… (London, 1660).

[2] Anon., Cookbook, W.b.653, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[3] Mrs. Knight, Mrs. Knight’s receipt book, W.b.79, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Textures: a Thematic Series

By Amanda E. Herbert and Marissa Nicosia

In a casual conversation about hippocras recipes over a year ago, we realized we had a shared interest in the many ways that texture was represented in recipes, and we wanted to explore this interest in a Recipes Project series. Hippocras, a spiced wine that was popular in Europe and the Americas c. 1400-1800, offers an excellent example of the ways that textures were and can be expressed and experienced in recipes. Making hippocras seems straightforward, if strange. After infusing wine with spices and sweetening it with sugar, hippocras recipes then often call for adding cream or milk. The dairy curdles for over an hour, with creamy lumps slowly coagulating within the wine. The milk solids are then strained out using cheesecloth, sieves, or “jelly bags.” The straining process clarifies the beverage, leaving the dairy’s sweetness behind. But for both of us, the intervening minutes when our precious infused wine was swimming with undesirable curdled matter was absolutely abject. (And we weren’t the only ones who found this process to be fascinating and unsettling: later this month, you’ll see how Emily Brandt undertook a similar project in her piece on “Milk Punch.”)

 

Elisabeth Hawar, Culinary and medical recipe book, c. 1687, f MS.1975.003, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA.
Elisabeth Hawar, Culinary and medical recipe book, c. 1687, f MS.1975.003, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA.

For us, the curdled dairy in the hippocras was off-putting: clumpy, soft, squishy, the curds sent us messages about rottenness, wrongness.  But for early modern Euro-American eaters and drinkers, these curdles would have sent very different, desirable messages. Curdles were essential elements of many premodern dishes. In possets, such as this “London Possett” (excerpted above, see the full image here): eggs, cream, alcohol, and seasonings are combined and heated for the express purpose of forming a curdled layer.  

And of course, curdled dairy is a central component of many modern dishes made around the world: Dulce de Leche Cortada, featuring milk curdled with lime and then mixed with egg, cinnamon, and sugar; paneer or chhena, essential to dishes in east Asia.

By Sonja Pauen - Stanhopea - Own work, CC BY 2.0 de, https///commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4140434
By Sonja Pauen – Stanhopea – Own work, CC BY 2.0 de, https///commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4140434

People who work on recipes from the past are used to thinking about taste as subjective, malleable, and changeable in the ways it signifies. We should remind ourselves that texture works this way, too.  It informs what we believe to be edible or inedible, whether that assessment is based on logic, experience, or cultural norms. We experience texture through other senses: touch, taste, and sight. And recipes reveal how texture was considered both in the process and in the product of medicinal and culinary preparations.

In this series, we approach texture from the perspectives of food and medicine, materials and sensations. Over the course of this month at The Recipes Project, we will learn about textures from many different times, spaces, and cultures.  Jack Bouchard will discuss methods of preservation and preparation that transform ingredients in his post on stockfish. Susan Brandt will teach us about the textures of medical preparations and their application to the body in her post on “musk julep.” Jennie Egloff and Andrea Crow will write about pleasurable and abject mouth-feel in their posts on a premodern vegetarian diet, and on an early pressure cooker: the “digester of bones.” We’ll learn about encounters with new spices and foods through trade in Emily’s Brandt’s post on “Alcohol’s Empire,” and Elaine Leong will discuss the meaning and feeling of sweetness in her post on honey. A Tales from the Archive Post by He Bian will allow us to consider human milk – warmed by the body, like and yet unlike other animal milks in its consistency, color, and taste – as medicine in Imperial China. And RP Community Editor Sarah Kernan will bring us an Around the Table post from Helen Davies and Alex Zawacki of The Lazarus Project. Sarah, Helen, and Alex will discuss the “texture” of recipes via the materiality of texts, as they talk about their work with multispectral imaging and manuscripts

This is a processed spectral image of David Livingstone's 1870 Field Diary. The original manuscript page is held by the National Library of Scotland. This image is copyright National Library of Scotland and, as relevant, copyright Dr. Neil Imray Livingstone Wilson. The image has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.
This is a processed spectral image of David Livingstone’s 1870 Field Diary. The original manuscript page is held by the National Library of Scotland. This image is copyright National Library of Scotland and, as relevant, copyright Dr. Neil Imray Livingstone Wilson. The image has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.

A sticky substance on a kitchen floor, the jammy center of a hardboiled egg, the weave of a luxe brocade, the slipperiness of a rice noodle, the smooth surface of a metal spoon: the world of recipes is replete with texture, and this month, we’re delighted to explore all of these things with you.

Colonizing Condiments: A (Very) Short History of Ketchup

Ketchup.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Ketchup. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

ByAmanda E. Herbert

Today we imagine ketchup as the ultimate modern American food (and it is true that we like to put ketchup on…well, a lot of things).  But ketchup’s origins are found in Asia, and its adaptation into the thing that resembles our thick, modern-day ketchup began in early modern Britain.

The word “ketchup” is borrowed either from the Chinese language (kôe-chiap, a brine of pickled fish or shellfish, with “kôe” as a kind of fish, and “chiap” as juice or sauce), and/or from Malay (with “kecap” or “kicap,” soy sauce).  It’s likely that Britons encountered this tasty sauce – a thin, black-brown liquid that was either a type of fish sauce or a type of soy sauce – during acts of travel and colonization. 

Ketchup (which early modern Britons spelled a lot of different ways: ketchup, katchup, ketchop, katchop, kitchup, ketsup, catchup, cachup, catchop, and even catshup) began to appear in British texts at the end of the seventeenth century.[1] These were sometimes travelogues and books about colonization, with a description of the sauce – and how good it tasted – but without any instructions on how to make it.  When ketchup did start to show up in recipe books, it was often listed as an ingredient, but again, without providing readers with a guide on how to produce it themselves.  This might mean that the recipe book authors trusted that their readers would be able to purchase ready-made, imported ketchup. 

Eighteenth-century ketchup bottle. Blue glass and gilt cruet bottle and stopper, ca. 1790-ca. 1800, 117&A-1907, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Eighteenth-century ketchup bottle. Blue glass and gilt cruet bottle and stopper, ca. 1790-ca. 1800, 117&A-1907, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Thanks to Angela McShane for this reference.

But ketchup was either so popular, so hard to get, or so expensive, that early modern British people soon started trying to make their own.  Evidence for these early ketchup experiments can be found in manuscript recipe books from the period.  In their quest to replicate the umami flavor found in soy- or fish-based Chinese or Malay sauces, Britons turned to a variety of ingredients: mushrooms, anchovies, oysters, walnuts, and even horseradish.  One 1693 recipe for “Cucumber Catchup” called for cooks to “put a handful of scraped horseradish” to “every quart of the Liquor” in the dish.[2] 

Like that cucumber ketchup, most early modern British ketchups were heavily flavored, seasoned, and spiced.  Mrs. Marshall’s “white Catchup,” found in Jane Staveley’s 1693/4 handwritten recipe book, called for “a pound of shallots…a quart of Madira, a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, [and] a quarter of an Ounce of whole white pepper.”  Staveley – or someone in her household – clearly liked ketchups, because her book also contained receipts for oyster ketchup, made with lemon peel, a quarter of an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and one sliced nutmeg.[3] Spices were also added to a recipe “to make catchup of Wallnut [from] Mrs Richmond” which is found in an anonymous recipe book from c. 1720.  This recipe author included a quarter of an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, and a little bit of pepper to their ketchup, which was supposed to be cooked until “it’s the Couler of Clarett.”  Another recipe in the same anonymous book claimed that ketchup could be made spicy by using Dianthus caryophyllus, the clove gillyflower – also known as the clove carnation – as a base.  This Carnation Ketchup called for the “top of three clove gilly flowers” along with one nutmeg, half an ounce of cloves, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cinnamon, and one shallot.  This combination of botanicals created a mixture so potent, the author warned, that “a little of this goes a great way.”[4]

Longevity was another important factor.  One of Mrs. Knight’s 1740 recipes for ketchup was entitled “to make catchup to keep 20 years.”  This effect was apparently achieved by using “strong stale bear [beer]…the stronger and staler the bear [beer] the better.”[5]

"To make White Catchup." Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.
“To make White Catchup.” Detail from Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Flavor, spice, and shelf-life were clearly important to early modern British ketchup-makers as they attempted to replicate the soy and fish sauces that had come to them via acts of travel, conquest, and colonization.  But just as these Britons worked to use and enjoy Chinese and/or Malay sauces, they simultaneously adapted them, changing the recipes to suit their own tastes, needs, expectations, and palates.

Recent works by scholars of early America and the Atlantic world have traced how white Europeans appropriated, gleaned, bought, and stole knowledge and knowledge-systems from indigenous Americans and enslaved people of African descent in acts of colonization; two Recipes Project posts by Claire Gherini describe these acts via cures for poison. These frameworks can be exceptionally useful for anyone analyzing culinary adaptations made by British recipe authors.  Jane Staveley explained to her friends and family members that, if “you wish” her “white Catchup” could be “thicken’d with flour and butter,” using a technique that was “the same as if you were melting butter.” In her aim to produce a sauce that, she believed, was a good accompaniment “for [the] Turkey Fowls & Veal” that often appeared on British tables, she worked to turn southeast Asian ketchup (in its place of origin a thin, salty, vinegary sauce) into British ketchup (now a dense, creamy sauce). These instructions, for making ketchup into something it wasn’t – thick, not thin; buttery, not astringent; white, not brown – were an admittedly minute act of colonization, but they were a symbolic one nonetheless.[6] 

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Anglo-Americans began to incorporate tomatoes into their ketchup, making antecedents of the thick, red paste that we slather on fries, burgers, and hotdogs today.  But as we have seen, as early as the seventeenth century, early modern British women were colonizing condiments in the pages of their manuscript recipe books.


[1] “Ketchup, n.,” OED Online, March 2019, Oxford University Press, accessed April 10, 2019, http://www.oed.com.proxy.wm.edu/view/Entry/103080?rskey=SEQwHQ&result=2&isAdvanced=false.

[2] Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[3] Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[4] Anon., Cookbook, c. 1720, W.b.653, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[5] Mrs. Knight, Mrs. Knight’s receipt book, c. 1740, W.b.79, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[6] Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library. For some recent studies of the ways that European scientists and natural philosophers (both amateur and traditionally-trained) appropriated, stole, managed, and bought information from indigenous Americans and African-descended people, many of whom were enslaved, see Christopher Parsons, “The Natural History of Colonial Science: Joseph-François Lafitau’s Discovery of Ginseng and Its Afterlives,” William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 1 (January 2016); Kathleen S. Murphy, “Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and the British Slave Trade,” William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 (October 2013), 637-670; Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, Daniela Bleichmar, Paula De Vos, Kristin Huffine, and Kevin Sheehan, eds. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew, Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York: Routledge, 2008).

British Beef, French Style: Robert May’s Braised Brisket

By Marissa Nicosia

This recipe was developed by Marissa Nicosia for the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition, First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas (on view Jan 19–Mar 31, 2019), produced in association with Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute. You can learn more about the series of recipes that Marissa updated on her site Cooking in the Archives and read a version of this post on the Folger’s Shakespeare and Beyond blog. Marissa gives special thanks to Amanda Herbert and Heather Wolfe for their help.

And if you are near D.C., you should check out the First Chefs exhibition (co-curated by RP editor, Amanda Herbert) before it closes on March 31!


Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved.

The British are known for their beef. Although poultry, lamb, pork, game, fish, and shellfish abound in British cookery books from the early modern period, beef stands out. Beef is also a perennial refrain in Shakespeare’s works: The Duke of Orleans mocks King Henry’s army’s distress in the middle of Henry V by saying they are “out of beef”; Shylock ponders the difference between a pound of human flesh and that of “muttons, beefs, or goats”; Prince Hal addresses Falstaff with the moniker “sweet beef”; and in Twelfth Night louche English suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek proclaims, “I am a great eater of beef” (Henry V III.vii.155; Merchant of Venice I.iii.172; 1 Henry IV III.iii.188; Twelfth Night I.iii.82). Both as sustenance and cultural signifier, cooking and eating beef was associated with British identity in the Renaissance.


First opening of May’s book. Credit: Folger Shakespeare Library, LUNA.

Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook was first published in 1660 and went through multiple reprint editions in subsequent years. On the title page he promises recipes “for the Dressing of all Sorts of FLESH” and in the pages of this cookbook he certainly delivers. Under the engraved portrait of the chef, a few verses promise that May will provide “in one face / all hospitalitie” of the nation and his recipes will inspire “tables” groaning with “Natures plentie.” For British chefs this certainly meant how to prepare tempting beef dishes.

Recipe in May’s The Accomplisht Cook. Credit: Folger Shakespeare Library, LUNA (p. 115 and p. 116)

My brisket recipe updates May’s recipe “To stew a Rump, or the fat end of a Brisket of Beef in the French Fashion” for use in a twenty-first-century kitchen. The following text is from the 1685 edition, but the recipe is also in the first edition from 1660 (I3v-I4r).

To stew a Rump, or the fat end of a Brisket of Beef in the French Fashion

Take a rump of beef, boil it & scum it clean, in a stewing pan or broad mouthed pipkin, cover it close, & let it stew an hour; then put to it some whole pepper, cloves, mace, and salt, scorch the meat with your knife to let out the gravy, then put in some claret-wine, and half a dozen of slic’t onions; having boiled, an hour after put in some capers, or a handful of broom-buds, and half a dozen of cabbidge-lettice being first parboil’d in fair water, and quartered, two or three spoonfuls of wine vinegar, as much verjuyce, and let it stew till it be tender; then serve it on sippets of French bread, and dish it on those sippets; blow the fat clean off the broth, scum it, and stick it with fryed bread. (K2r-K2v)

In the French Fashion

You may be asking why I’ve turned to a recipe with the descriptor “in the French Fashion” after talking about the British and their beef. Importing wine from France was a long British tradition. May’s recipe specifically calls for “claret-wine” or French Bordeaux especially made for export to the European market. As Paul Lukacs explains in Inventing Wine, in the fourteenth century British demand for claret was so high that the British imported eighty percent of Bordeaux’s exports. Desire for French claret was “so strong that the Bordeaux wine fleet sailed twice a year—first in the fall, when the ships were filled with as much of the new harvest’s wine as they could carry, and then again in the spring when they transported what was left.” Anglo-French relations had quite a few high and low points between the fourteenth century and the seventeenth century when May was writing. Nevertheless, French claret was a mainstay of British drinking and eating culture.

Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved.
Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved.
The Cooking Team. Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved

Moreover, stewing or braising beef in wine was an effective way to transform tough cuts like “rump” or “brisket” into tender stews. In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat explains the science behind these slow braises. Put simply: the acidic compounds of wine and the low-slow heat tenderize the tough muscle by breaking down its collagen proteins. The addition of acidic capers, wine vinegar, verjuice, and cabbage later in May’s recipe amplifies the potency of the cooking medium. As chef Fergus Henderson shows in his Nose to Tail Eating, it is a very British thing to make use of the whole animal and to use the most effective cooking techniques to render each cut into a delicious dish. A British “Accomplisht Cook,” like May, must make do with the ingredients and methods available to him even if they are, in many ways, French.

Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved.
Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved.
Credit: Teresa Wood. All rights reserved.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds brisket
  • 2 cups sliced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon mace
  • 1 bottle red wine (750 ml; ideally, French claret or Bordeaux)
  • 4 cups sliced cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1⁄2 baguette or other bread

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Pat the brisket dry and then place it in a large pot fitted with a cover. Add onions, salt, black peppercorns, whole cloves, and mace. Pour in wine, cover, and place in the oven for 1 hour. After the brisket has cooked for 1 hour, carefully flip it over. After it has cooked for 1 1⁄2 hours, add cabbage, vinegar, and capers. Check it at the 2 1⁄2 hour mark. It should be tender when poked with a fork. If not, give it more time. If the cabbage is crowded, rearrange as necessary for even cooking. To serve, cut your bread into cubes and arrange them on a platter. Remove the brisket and set it on a cutting board to rest. Remove the cabbage and onions and place them on top of the bread. Reduce remaining cooking liquid for ten minutes until it thickens. Slice the brisket thinly, and place on top of the cabbage, onions, and bread. Pour the reduced sauce over the whole dish. Serve immediately.

Notes

This satisfying dish will serve four to six people. The cubes of bread that May calls “sippets” are a common ingredient in meat dishes from this period. They efficiently and deliciously soak up the rich, flavorful sauce.


Learn More

Albala, Ken. Food in Early Modern Europe. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003, especially pages 164–184.

Appelbaum, Robert. Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture and Food among the Early Moderns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Wall, Wendy. Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, especially pages 35-38.