You may, should you, in some moment of insanity choose to follow the fortunes of Babbitt’s troop of horse, be moved to curiosity about some of the food mentioned.
Being somewhat fascinated by what food people ate in many periods, I do actually try out Mistress Babbitt’s menus on my simple menfolk. We are great admirers of ember tart – please note, however, that ember tart is strictly speaking a medieval cheese flan, dating back to the 14th century. Although such recipes didn’t change much. However, the other thing to remember about the Babbitt household is that Rosie himself is a Lancashire boy – lovely, creamy, crumbly cheese – married to an Essex girl and living in rural Essex – salty, tangy sheep’s cheese, as like as not. I have something of a partiality for “new” cheese, a bit like the man himself who will go a long way for a bit of new cheese: that is, the softer, crumblier stuff before all the whey’s been squeezed out and it’s matured. If you come across real crumbly Lancashire cheese, not the pre-packaged supermarket stuff, leap upon it with both hands.
All that being by the by, and a matter for another post, but on a cold, wintry night like this it’s tempting to imagine our 17th century family settled at home for the night around the fire, working at bits of mending that don’t require too much elegance – worn-through stockings, torn shirts, missing buttons. Worn harness, the stitching on reins or stirrup leathers fraying. Catching up on the day’s events, what’s happening in the world. Who said what to whom in town, who thrives, who struggles, who’s sleeping with whom and more importantly – will they get found out.
Buttered ale is Het Babbitt’s drink of choice for such evenings.
It is as it says on the tin – buttered, sweetened, spiced beer. Get the wrong beer, anything too bitter or dark, and it is truly vile.
To make Buttered Beere. Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloves beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.
(The Good Housewife’s Jewell, T. Dawson, 1596)
Failing that –
3 pints of real ale, but be careful which you choose 🙂
5 egg yolks
1/2 lb demerara sugar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
Bring to the point of boiling, and then add butter. If you taste it before you add the butter, you may find you want less – to offset the richness of the egg yolks – or more, if it’s bitter.
Drink warm, and raise a toast to Black Tom Fairfax and his lads, who on this day in 1644 were probably well in need of a few, having only the day previously fought in the battle of Nantwich in fairly sodden and wretched conditions!