Among the many treasures in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s cookbook collection, is a selection of culinary and medicinal recipes started by Mary Baumfylde in 1626.
Reading through the ‘many hands hands’ (f.ir) that noted down recipes over a period of more than one hundred years, I was struck by the length of time needed to preserve and cook some of these recipes. Orange marmalade (f.33r), for instance, took three days to make, and biscuits (a recipe for which appears 3 times over the course of the recipe book) required the cook to beat the mixture for over an hour!
Here’s the later of the three biscuit recipes:
‘To Make bisket
Take the yelks of 5 eggs & the whites of 2 beat them a quarter of an hour & in the beating putt 10 spoonfuls of Rose water then strew in a pound of dubble refine suger finely beaten and sifted after the suger is in beat it an hour then take a pound of flower well dried shake it in still beating it one way then strow in your seeds caraway or coriander or both if you please. drop them in to butterd pans and bake them’.
To investigate, I decided to recreate the biscuits, once lightly beating the mixture, and once – trying to be as authentic as possible – faithfully beating the mixture for a full hour by hand! The result was a much fluffier biscuit, which was less chewy. Since the recipe does not use leaven, this level of physical effort was necessary to produce the most delicious biscuits and cakes. Carrying out this experiment – a little taster of what it was like to bake in the seventeenth and eighteenth century – left me with a much greater appreciation for the labour and time spent in the early modern kitchen.
If you’d like to try them – don’t worry you can use an electric mixer! – here’s the modern version, which is halved in size from the original:
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 egg white
- 5 tsp rose water
- 220g sugar
- 220g flour
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp coriander
- Grease pans and pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees c
- Beat 3 egg yolks and 1 egg white in a bowl
- Add in the rose water
- Beat in the sugar
- Slowly add in the sifted flour
- Mix in caraway seeds and coriander
- Space out about 12 lumps of cookie dough and bake for 15 -20 minutes