Babbitt, food, Het,, Lucey, new books, silliness

Het Babbitt’s Good Frumenty – Her Receipt Shar’d




She’d see to it there was frumenty for breakfast tomorrow – a good creamy one, stiff with plums and flecked with spices – just as if both Thankful and Lucifer had been her own boys, in need of good feeding. There was always enough that she could set another place at table for her own baby nephew.” – A Wilderness of Sin

 Het is not entirely comfortable with this. She sees to the meals, and her dear Hollie eats what’s set in front of him, being an obliging sort of husband. (And one who knows what’s good for him – HB) To go around setting out her recipe for frumenty, which is a thing that everyone knows how to cook, surely – well, it’s like setting out a recipe for water, dear. No one will be interested in my frumenty. Don’t be silly.

It’s all about the wheat, you see. If you don’t soak it properly and cook it long and slow you could stand for days and it would be none the tenderer. What you must do, is get the proper, husked wheat. Pearled wheat, they call it, in some places. (Sorry, dear? Yes, barley will do as well, if you must, and if there really is no good wheat to be had.)

What you must do is wash it well in fair water, to clean all the dust and husks, and then set it to boil for five minutes of the clock, and then – and only then – can you take the pot down and stand it in a bake-oven or in the hearth overnight. At Fox Barton we cree the wheat on baking-day, and set it to stand in the oven while it cools for a full day. (Failing that, boil the hell out of it for ten minutes or so, clap a lid on the pot, leave it overnight. That’s the rough way. – HB)

Now, my dear Hollie would eat it exactly as it comes, with all the wheat grains burst and soft, though he does like it with milk and honey, the dear man. It sets like a jelly, and Lucifer says it does look most like frog’s spawn, to which I did say, well, dear, I did not see you refuse your third helping of frog’s spawn.

If you would have it the festive way – and I am told they have served it in Yorkshire this way since the Flood, with cheese and gingerbread, on Christmas Eve – then you must add a good measure of cream, and not milk. If I have all the boys to home I will put a quart of cream to the pot and stir it in well, with a good amount of honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and one or two eggs. Some wealthy folk with nothing better to spend their money on will add raisins of Corinth, too, though they are too, too dear in this part of Essex, and dearer yet since Master Cromwell stopped their trade. 

It is a wonderfully nourishing breakfast, you know, served plain, and the girls love it. And so good for the sick, being easy to digest and to prepare, and very tempting to the tender stomach. In parts of Suffolk, not to say tthe parts of Yorkshire where my dear husband saw service in the late wars, they say it has been prepared and eaten so since the days of old. 

Why don’t you give it a try?

Meet Het Babbitt (and Hollie, and the girls, and Luce, and all the assorted household impedimenta of a 17th century Essex household) in the Uncivil Wars books, and, most recently, in the anthology “Steel and Lace”
All profits from the book go to Great Ormond Street Hospital!

food, Het,, ponderations, present, silliness, women

Mistress Het’s Physick Garden Created – #1

I’ve always wanted a 17th century garden.

We live in an old granite cottage, in a sheltered dip where the Cornish gales blow overhead. We have a long front garden, and a small enclosed back yard.
There are certain things in our current garden which are givens –
– an apple tree, coming now to the end of its useful fruiting life, but rather lovely.
– two Williams pear trees, planted to mark William’s birth five years ago.
– an olive bush
– two sheds, somewhat non-negotiable, full of Living History kit
– a small and somewhat barren vegetable patch; the space can be re-used, but the raised bed itself is a fixture
– a very elderly rosemary bush
– three old-fashioned scented roses
– a flourishing bay tree
– naturalised wallflowers and primroses

The gardens of period town houses were generally modest and of a functional nature, based on medieval patterns, to provide plants of medicinal, culinary and household uses. Illustrations of town gardens from this period frequently show the garden adjacent to the house and enclosed by walls, hedging, fencing and/or painted rails. A wide variety of herbs, vegetables (known as pot herbs) and flowers were grown, probably in geometrical, raised beds surrounded by gravel. Small fruit trees, sometimes trained as espaliers on the sunny walls, and arbours covered with vines were common features.

I have prostrate rosemary and boxes of herbs at my front gate (in need of some overhaul) as well as a large rosemary bush at the front door to keep the witches away. I have bronze (Florentine) fennel, feverfew, lovage, savory, lemon thyme, sops-in-wine, houseleek….I also have three cats and a small boy who likes to dig holes.

So, then, the first challenge is to populate my shady corner by the shed, currently inhabited by some straggly “architectural” plants and a patch of wet and well-trodden soil. The idea is to build a raised bed by the shed and then put a narrow gravel path in front of it and behind the shed.

Suitable period plants for shade – their properties are taken from Culpeper (I do like his habit of calling cultvated plants “tame”…):

Sweet Woodruff

Virtues. The Woodruffe is accounted nourishing and restorative, and good for weakly consumptive people; it opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and is said to be a provocative to venery.

Angelica –

Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun in Leo; let it be gathered when he is there, the Moon applying to his good aspect; let it be gathered either in his hour, or in the hour of Jupiter; let Sol be angular: observe the like in gathering the herbs of other planets, and you may happen to do wonders. In all epidemical diseases caused by Saturn, that is as good a preservative as grows; it resists poison, by defending and comforting the heart, blood, and spirits; it doth the like against the plague and all epidemical diseases, if the root be taken in powder to the weight of half a drachm at a time, with some good treacle in carduus water, and the party thereupon laid to sweat in his bed; if treacle be not to be had, take it alone in carduus or angelica-water. The stalks or roots candied and eaten fasting, are good preservatives in time of infection: and at other times to warm and comfort a cold stomach. The root also steeped in vinegar, and a little of that vinegar taken sometimes fasting, and the root smelled unto, is good for the same purpose. A water distilled from the root simply, as steeped in wine, and distilled in a glass, is much more effectual than the water of the leaves; and this water, drank two or three spoonfuls at a time, eases all pains and torments coming of cold and wind, so that the body be not bound; and taken with some of the root in powder, at the beginning, helps the pleurisy, as also all other diseases of the lungs and breast, as coughs, phthisic, and shortness of breath; and a syrup of the stalks do the like. It helps pains of the cholic, the stranguary and stoppage of the urine, procures womens’ courses, and expels the afterbirth: opens the stoppings of the liver and spleen, and briefly eases and discusses all windiness and inward swellings. The decoction drank before the fit of an ague, that the patient may sweat before the fit comes, will, in two or three times taking, rid it quite away: it helps digestion, and is a remedy for a surfeit. The juice, or the water, being dropped into the eyes or ears, helps dimness of sight and deafness; the juice put into the hollow teeth, eases their pains. The root in powder, made up into a plaister with a little pitch, and laid on the biting of mad dogs, or any other venomous creature, does wonderfully help. The juice or the water dropped, or tents wet therein, and put into filthy dead ulcers, or the powder of the root (in want of either) does cleanse and cause them to heal quickly, by covering the naked bones with flesh; the distilled water applied to places pained with the gout, or sciatica, gives a great deal of ease.
The root is used in many of our shop compositions as in the plague water, &c. and the dried leaves are a principal ingredient in the ladies red powder, famous for the cure of fevers.

Lemon Balm

Government and virtues. It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar (as you shall be taught at the latter end of this book) be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey, according as the disease is, as you shall be taught at the latter end of my book. – The Arabian physicians have extolled the virtues thereof to the skies; although the Greeks thought it not worth mentioning. Seraphio saith, it causes the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings and swoonings, especially of such who are overtaken in sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind, arising from melancholy or black choler: which Avichen also confirmeth. It is very good to help digestion, and open obstructions of the brain, and hath so much purging quality in it (saith Avichen) as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries, although it cannot do so in other parts of the body. – Dioscorides saith, That the leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drank, and the leaves externally applied, is a remedy against the stings of a scorpion, and the bitings of mad dogs; and commendeth the decoction thereof for women to bathe or sit in to procure their courses; it is good to wash aching teeth therewith, and profitable for those that have the bloody flux. The leaves also, with a little nitre taken in drink, are good against the surfeit of mushrooms, helps the griping pains of the belly; and being made into an electuary, it is good for them that cannot fetch their breath: Used with salt, it takes away wens, kernels, or hard swelling in the flesh or throat: it cleanseth foul sores, and eases pains of the gout. It is good for the liver and spleen. A tansy, or caudle made with eggs, and juice thereof while it is young, putting to it some sugar and rosewater, is good for a woman in child-bed, when the after-birth is not properly voided; and for their faintings upon or in their sore travail. The herb bruised and boiled in a little wine and oil, and laid warm on a boil, will ripen it, and break it.  

Sweet Cecily
Government and virtues. The garden chervil being eaten, doth moderately warm the stomach, and is a certain remedy (saith Tragus) to dissolve congealed or clotted blood in the body, or that which is clotted by bruises, falls, &c. The juice or distilled water thereof being drank, and the bruised leaves laid to the place, being taken either in meat or drink, it is good to help to provoke urine, or expel the stone in the kidneys, to send down women’s courses, and to help the pleurisy and pricking of the sides.
The wild chervil bruised and applied, dissolveth swellings in any part, or the marks of congealed blood by bruises or blows in a little space. 

Fennel –  
Government and virtues. One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz . to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that are bit with serpents, or have eat poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed, and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines, to help shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs. It assists also to bring down the courses, and to cleanse the parts after delivery. The roots are of most use in physic drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour in the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat. The distilled water of the whole herb, or the condensate juice dissolved, but especially the natural juice, that in some counties issues out of its own accord, dropped into the eyes cleans them from mists and films that hinder the sight. The sweet fennel is much weaker in physical uses than the common fennel. The wild fennel is stronger and hotter than the tame, and therefore most powerful against the stone, but not so effectual to encrease milk, because of its dryness.

The left side of the bed gets full sun almost all day, but it’s still quite damp down there. My fennel is presently in a small trough and is feeling a bit sorry for itself, so the opportunity to get out and stretch its roots somewhat will be welcome! But if I put the tall, feathery plants to the back of the bed – fennel and angelica and cecily – that’s a fairly architectural display in its own right. And for a truly seventeenth-century look, it’s important that the plants are as elegantly arranged as possible in order of height, unlike our modern fashion for a brave disorder.

So…. the planning begins, and I will keep posting updates.

Cromwell, food,, Mrs Cromwell, ponderations

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Except They Are In Oliver Cromwell’s House)

In my wanderings throughout the internet I came across this splendid gem on a website called “The Foods of England”. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if it were true?

“There is a curious story that roast veal in Orange Sauce was Oliver Cromwell’s favourite dish, and that when no oranges were available, his wife Elizabeth used beans instead, saying something along the lines of “You should have thought about orange sauce before you declared war on Spain.” This tale is told at Cromwell’s House in Ely, in ‘Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine’ by William Carew Hazlitt (1902) and may originate in a spurious little cookbook titled ‘The Court and Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly Called Joan Cromwel, the Wife of the late Usurper, Truly Described and Represented’ published in 1664.

This cookbook was originally written by triumphant Royalists with a perverse sense of humour, intended to show Elizabeth Cromwell up as a frumpy provincial housewife, more fitted to life on a backwater country estate than at Whitehall – and just as a by the by, this was published in 1664, and she died in 1665, so I hope she thought it was as funny as I did. I love the idea of the Lord Protector of England’s foreign policy being dictated by what his wife wanted on the table, though. And oranges, believe it or not, are quite popular in 17th century cooking, although normally with capon or fowl rather than veal. Perhaps Mrs Cromwell didn’t like chicken?

The Good Huswife’s Jewll for the Kitchen (1594) suggests that Mrs Cromwell should… “take red wine, Synamon, Sugar, Ginger, the grauie of the Capon, or a little sweet butter: slice an Orenge thin, boyle it in the stuffe, when your Orenges be tender, lay them vpon your sops, mince some of the rynde and caste on the sops, and so serue them.”

To boil a capon with oranges, after Mistress Duffield’s way, ...“take a Capon and boyle it with Veale, or with a mary bone, or what your fancie is. Then take a good quantitie of that broth, and put it in an earthen pot by it selfe, and put thereto a good handfull of Corrans, and as manie Prunes, and a few whole Maces, and some Marie, and put to this broth a good quantitie of white wine or of Claret, and so let them seeth softly together: Then take your Orenges, and with a knife scrape of all the filthinesse of the outside of them. Then cut them in the middest, and wring out the ioyse of three or foure of them, put the ioyse into your broth with the rest of your stuffe, then slice your Orenges thinne, and haue vpon the fire readie a skellet of faire seething water, and put your sliced Orenges into the water, & when that water is bitter, haue more readie, and so change them still as long as you can finde the great bitternesse in the water, which will be sixe or seven times, or more, if you find need: then take them from the water, and let that runne cleane from them: then put close Orenges into your potte with your broth, and so let them stew together till your Capon be readie. Then make your sops with this broth, and cast on a litle Sinamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and vpon this lay your Capon, and some of your Orenges vpon it, and some of your Marie, and towarde the end of the boylin”

There’s also a thickened version of Mistress Duffield’s recipe in the same recipe book, using egg yolks to thicken the sauce into a sort of Christmassy custard. I’m happy to say that Robert May in “The Accomplish’t Cook” gave a much plainer and simpler recipe: “Take slices of white-bread and boil them in fair water with two whole onions, some gravy, half a grated nutmeg, and a little salt; strain them together through a strainer, and boil it up as thick as water grewel; then add to it the yolks of two eggs dissolved with the juyce of two oranges.”

On the other hand, there’s mutton with lemons.
When your Mutton is halfe boyled, take it vp, cut it in small peeces: put it into a pipkin, and couer it close, and put thereto the best of the broth, as much as shall couer your Mutton, your Lemmons being sliced verie thin, and quartered, and Corrans, put in pepper grose beaten, and so let them boyle together, and when they be well boyled, season it with a litle Uergious, sugar, pepper grose beaten, and a little sanders, so lay it in fine dishes vpon sops. Jt will make three messe for the table.
This version sounds a little less – festive, sorry Oliver – but in the early 17th century (and earlier) sanders, ie sandalwood, was used for colouring rather than flavouring. It’s red, but I’d be inclined to replace with a little saffron, just to give it that slightly aromatic, musky taste.  

So – apologies to the Lord Protector, but I’m with Elizabeth on this one. A much better use of oranges can be found:
TAke your orenges, and lay them in water a day and a night, then seeth them in faire water and hony, and let them seeth till they be soft: then let them soak in the sirrop a day and a night: then take them forth and cut them small, and then make your tart and season your Apples with Sugar, Synamon and Ginger, and put in a peece of butter, and lay a course of Apples, and betweene the same course of apples, a course of Orenges, and so course by course, and season your Orenges as you seasoned your Apples, with somewhat more sugar, then lay on the lid and put it in the ouen, and when it is almost baked, take Rosewater and Sugar, and boyle them together till it be somwhat thick, then take out the Tart, and take a feather and spread the rosewater and Sugar on the lid, and set it into the Ouen againe, and let the sugar harden on the lid, and let it not burne.

And failing that, you can always use them to make marmalade – after all, everyone in the 17th century knows of the aphrodisiac properties of marmalade, don’t they?

Babbitt, cheese, drinks, Fairfax, food, history,

Mistress Babbitt’s Closet Unlock’d – random recipes from the series

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!