Friday, 22 January 2016

Shrewsbury Cakes (17th century)

Shrewsbury Cakes (17th century)

I have occasionally made a delicious Elizabethan style biscuit, known as Shrewsbury Cakes, and the most recent reason for this recipe is an interview by Paul Shuttleworth of BBC Radio Shropshire.
Shrewsbury Cakes
Shrewsbury Cakes
In Elizabethan times, ‘Banqueting’ was somewhat removed from the modern concept of a ‘Banquet’. Delete the stacking chairs, balloons and round tables, and insert sugar, opulence, sugar and more sugar.
Not this...
Not this…
...but this! (Ivan Day's recreation of a Shakespearean Banquet at the Minneapolis Institute of Art)
…but this! Ivan Day’s recreation of a Shakespearean Banquet at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
As part of these banquets ‘fine cakes’ were served alongside hippocras, sweetmeats and other sweet delicacies. One of these ‘fine cake’ recipes is now known as Shrewsbury or Shropshire Cake, and they were already associated with the town of Shrewsbury by 1596. In that year there was a shortage of grain, and so a ban on the making of ‘fine cakes’ was imposed in Shrewsbury.
In 1602, Lord Herbert of Cherbury wrote to his guardian, Sir George More with a pack of ‘bread’ or ‘cake’ particular to Shrewsbury:
“Lest you think this country ruder than it is, I have sent you some bread, which I am sure will be dainty, howsoever it be not pleasinge; it is a kind of cake which our country people use and made in no place in England but in Shrewsbury; if you vouchsafe to taste them, you will enworthy the country and sender. Measure not my love in substance of it, which is brittle, but the form of it, which is circular”.
The description of those cakes being both ‘brittle’ and ‘circular’, suggests that they are similar to the round shortbreads of later recipes.
Possibly the earliest recorded recipe for Fine Cakes dates to 1617, from John Murrell’s A Daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, and is a little more cake-like with the use of yeast.
Murrell's 1617 Fine Cakes
John Murrell’s recipe for Fine Sugar Cake, from the 1617 ‘A Daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen’.
The full and proper title for this book is:
‘A daily exercise for ladies and gentlewomen : whereby they may learne and practise the whole art of making pastes, preserues, marmalades, conserues, tartstuffes, gellies, breads, sucket-candies, cordiall waters, conceits in sugar-workes of seuerall kindes : as also to dry lemonds, orenges, or other fruits : newly set forth according to the now approued receipts vsed both by honourable and worshipfull personages / by Iohn Murrel, professor thereof’!
Peter Brears records an excellent and useful recipe from the mid 17th century for Madame Susan Avery’s Shropshire Cakes in his ‘Traditional Food in Shropshire‘:
TO MAKE A SHROPSHIRE CAKE
Take two pound of dryed flour after it has been searced fine, one pound of good sugar dried and searced, also a little beaten sinamon, or some nottmegg greeted and steeped in rose water; so streene two eggs, white and all, not beaten to it, as much melted butter as will work it to a paste; so mold it and roule it into longe roules, and cutt off as much at a time as will make a cake, two ounces is enough for one cake: then roule it in a ball between your hands: so flat it on a little white paper cut for a cake, and with your hand beat it as big as a cheese trencher and a little thicker than a paste board: then prick them with a comb not too deep in squares like diamon and prick every cake in every diamon to the bottom; so bake them in an oven not too hot: when they rise up white let them soake a little, then draw. If the sugar be dry enough you need not dry but searce it; you must brake in your eggs after you have wroat in some of your butter into your flower: prick and mark them when they are cold: this quantity will make a dozen and two or three, which is enough for my own at a time, take off the papers when they are cold.
This recipe is particularly useful as it clearly describes the quantities of ingredients, method of making and what the resulting cake should look like. This is the sort of information that we expect of a modern recipe, but is usually missing in historic recipes. The cheese trenchers described are about 5 inches in diameter, so we have a good idea of the finished product.
Shrewsbury Cakes in the making.
My making of Peter Brears’ recipe is as follows:
  • 1 lb    (450g)          Plain flour
  • 8 oz   (225 g)         Butter
  • 8 oz   (225 g)         Caster sugar
  • ½ tsp    (2.5 ml)     Cinnamon
  • 1 medium               Egg
  • 1 tsp     (5 ml)        Rosewater
  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, and rub in the butter.
  2. Work in the egg and rosewater with a round bladed knife.
  3. Knead lightly to form a stiff dough.
  4. Divide the dough into 16 equal balls, and pat out into 5” (13cm) rounds.
  5. Decorate with a comb to form diamond shapes.
  6. Bake at 180°C (350 °F) for 10-15 minutes.
Making Shrewsbury Cakes. The cakes are patted out and then patterned with a comb.
The purpose behind the patterning is probably functional. The diamond pattern produced with a (clean!) comb allows the large cakes to be broken up into more lady-like pieces to be eaten. You can not imagine an aristocratic Jacobite lady trying to wedge a 5 inch wide cake into her mouth! The prick mark in the middle of each diamond allows the heat to evenly enter the whole cake at once allowing even and quick cooking.
These are high status foods, and so are as white as possible. They use highly processed white flour, and expensive white sugar. When cooking, the cakes want to be cooked, but removed before any browning appears on the edges.
These ‘cakes’ or biscuits are delicious and are delicately flavoured with rosewater. I would caution anyone using rosewater as it seems that most supermarkets have changed the main supplier of rosewater to one that is much stronger. I now water my rosewater down to roughly half or a third of the original strength. Rosewater is delicious when subtle, but quite unpleasant when it assaults your taste-buds when too strong!

A Tart of the Ananas (1736)

A Tart of the Ananas (1736)

When we were at the Ludlow Food Festival earlier this year, I was asked by Paul Shuttleworth of BBC Radio Shropshire if I would mind coming on their Sunday morning cookery programme at some stage. Without thinking much about it and needing to fend off the crowds of customers, I said yes quickly and took Paul’s card. We then made a date for me to go in on Sunday 2nd November, having managed to find a weekend that was surprisingly clear of events, as this is a rather hectic time of year for us at the moment.
food-festival-ludlow-2014-068
The Copper Pot at the Ludlow Food festival, from the Moel Faban Suppers food blog.
A few days ago the email arrived giving me all the details I needed to do the show, including the explanation that they have a ‘virtual fridge’ with a pineapple that ‘needs using up’, and could I come up with ideas of what to do with it…
My first reaction was that I should look rather blank when I am asked this ‘on air’, and say “what’s a fridge?”. The first commercial fridges didn’t exist until the 1850s (rather late for me). Perhaps they assumed that I was a rather wealthy gentleman (owning half a county or two) and had an icehouse? The term “refrigeratory” had been used when referring to the cooling of foods and drink as early as the 17th century, so this must be what they are talking about!
Then I panicked at the word ‘pineapple’! My immediate reaction was that they didn’t have pineapples in the 18th century, or if they did, they were only for the immensely wealthy. You hear tales of them being grown in expensive hot houses, and then just sitting in the dinning room as a centrepiece until they rot away. They were exhibition pieces, with greater value on display than being eaten. They were even rented out by the day so that they could be displayed and not eaten. What would I be able to say?
The thing that I love about my job is that I often get to disappear off on research tangents. I needed to learn more about when pineapples appeared on the dining table and how they were eaten. Thankfully I was slightly wrong, and I was able to come up with a recipe from 1736.
Christopher Columbus at Hispanola, 1492
Christopher Columbus at Hispanola, 1492. ©State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.
The first European encounter with the pineapple was, probably inevitably, Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the ‘New World’ on the 4th November 1793 (perhaps the 4th November should be Pineapple Day?). They discovered the fruit in the deserted houses of the Tupinambá people, who had fled in fear of these strange foreigners.
“They also saw calabashes and some fruit that looked like green pine cones but were much larger; these were filled with solid pulp, like a melon, but were much sweeter in taste and smell. They grow on plants that resemble lilies or aloes…”
As with so many things (including chocolate) the Spanish weren’t so keen on sharing with the English. Well… we were at war with them fairly frequently!
The Pyne frute, 1585-93
The Pyne Frute, John White, c.1585-93. © The British Museum.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the English began to get up close and personal with the pineapple. Bearing in mind that initially pineapples had to be shipped over to Europe from South America. If one were picked green and unripe, it was probably rotten by the time it arrived in Europe.
In 1640, John Parkinson – Botanist to Charles I – described the pineapple as being:
Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme… being so sweete in smell… tasting… as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together.”
This comment partly explains the name ‘pineapple’, as what we now know as ‘pine-cones’ were also known as ‘pine apples’, being the fruit or ‘apple’ of the pine tree. The pineapple was thought to look a bit like a pine-cone. ‘Pine apples’ have become ‘pine-cones’, and the exotic fruit has become the ‘pineapple’ (clear?). Also the flavour being described as being like wine, rosewater and sugar immediately ranks the pineapple as being very high status and desirable. This surgery exoticness pushed the pineapple above the other exotic imports, such as the potato and tomato.
John Parkinson was describing a fruit that still hadn’t seen the shores of England, and it wasn’t until 1675 that the very first pineapple was reputedly cultivated on English soil (or is that ‘in’ English soil?). This new fruit was apparently presented to King Charles II by his gardener, John Rose, although some are dubious that it really was grown in England at that early date.
Charles II Presented with a Pineapple. c.1675-80. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Charles II Presented with a Pineapple. c.1675-80. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
(Detail) Charles II Presented with a Pineapple. c.1675-80. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
(Detail) Charles II Presented with a Pineapple. c.1675-80. ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Pineapples began to be grown commercially in the 1720s, and so this exotic fruit, once the reserve of the seriously wealthy, began to filter down to the aspiringly wealthy. Richard Bradley produces what is probably the earliest published English recipe in 1736, and like buses, two recipes come along in the same book: one for a tart, and one for a marmalade. The full title of his book is ‘The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director, in the Management of a House, and the Delights and Profits of a Farm‘. Pithy lot, those 18th century writers!
To Make a Tart of the Ananas, from Richard Bradley's 1736 'The Country Housewife and Lady's Director'.
To Make a Tart of the Ananas, from Richard Bradley’s 1736 ‘The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director’.
To make a Tart of the Ananas, or Pine-Apple. From Barbadoes.
Take a Pine-Apple, and twist off its Crown: then pare it free from the Knots, and cut it in Slices about half an Inch thick; then stew it with a little Canary wine, or Madera Wine, and some Sugar, till it is thoroughly hot, and it will distribute its Flavour to the Wine much better than any thing we can add to it. When it is as one would have it, take it from the Fire; and when it is cool, put it into a sweet Paste, with its Liquor, and bake it gently a little while, and when it comes from the Oven, pour Cream over it (if you have it) and serve it either hot or cold.
The ingredients required are simply: a pineapple, some Canary Wine or Madera, sugar, and some sweet pastry.
Ingredients for the Tart of the Ananas
Ingredients for the Tart of the Ananas.
Canary Wine was one of the commonly available wines of the 18th century, which was also known as Sack, imported from Spain and the Canaries. It is described as being a dry amber wine, occasionally sweetened with honey or sugar. In the 17th century John Evelyn writes about ‘sacke or other strong wine’, suggesting that Sack was fortified, similar to sherry. A sherry is the accepted substitute for historic recipes, and in this case I used a delicious medium dry Oloroso Sherry, which is probably one of the closest flavours to the original Sacks and Canary Wines.
The recipe states that the pineapple should basically be stripped of its outer skin, and cut into half-inch slices. It doesn’t mention whether the core is cut out, but I opted to do this. The core is edible and in fact, holds a lot of the goodness, but is tough and gritty. I also further cut the slices into smaller chunks as I was making several smaller tarts. It would be interesting to try leaving the slices whole next time.
The pastry case being cut out using a 'suitable' bowl and knife!
The pastry case being cut out using a ‘suitable’ bowl and knife!
The sweet pastry was then made up into a tart case. Tin baking containers did begin to be used during the 18th century, but 1736 is a little early for these, so a free standing pie case is more genuine. This needs to be raised by hand and carefully blind-baked to hold its shape. I tied some paper around the tart as a collar to hold the shape (brown paper was a valuable tool of the 18th century kitchen).
Tart of Ananas 5
The raised pastry case.
The pineapple chunks were then stewed in a good slug of the sherry, with about 6 tablespoons of sugar, until they are “thoroughly hot”. I probably used too much sherry, so I still have a glass of the leftover syrup to be used (or drunk).
Tart of the Ananas, with the stewed pineapple.
Tart of the Ananas, with the stewed pineapple.
The cooled stewed chunks were then put into the cooled pastry case, and a little of the syrup poured over, and then the tart was returned to the oven to bake for about 15 minutes.
Cream poured over the hot tart.
Cream poured over the hot tart.
On bringing out the tart, Bradley suggests that you can “pour cream over it, and serve it either hot or cold”. This suggests that you can add the cream to the tart whilst it is hot, and then allow it to cool. I tried this and the cream soaks into the tart, and hardens slightly, producing a delicious result!
Tart of the Ananas, served with a glass of Canary Wine.
Tart of the Ananas, served with a glass of Canary Wine.
The resulting tart is delicious with the sweetness of the exotic pineapple slightly off-set by the dryness of the sherry. No flavours are overpowering, and all-in-all it is a big success. Well done Mr Bradley, Sir!
For those of you who want to go on with the pineapple story… here is the Marmalade of Ananas recipe:
Marmalade of Pine-Apples, or Ananas (1736).
Marmalade of Pine-Apples, or Ananas (1736).