The Truth about Old Recipes

Are you interested in cooking historical food, just like your distant ancestors would have eaten---if they were lucky--or just like the Kings and Queens of history would have enjoyed? If the language of some of those old cookbook manuscripts scares you, you are not alone. On of the biggest reasons folks give for doing half-a-job of medieval food research is the language. After all, first you have to find reprints or microfiche of those original manuscripts, and then, when it's finally in your hands, you can't read it! The truth about historical cooking is that it is, in general, very similar to modern cooking. In fact, sometimes it is far superior! Through the process of Trial and Error, it is even possible to get what appears to be the most objectionable combination of ingredients to work well together. So if you find yourself gagging at the thought of Strawberries with Pepper, or Custard made with Marrow, or Chicken made with Prunes, perhaps what you really need is a recipe you can really sink your teeth into. I have tried to supply a few of those recipes here.

To Make Apple Moyse

    This recipe is, essentially, Rennaisance Applesauce. My children found it to
    be so good that they requested seconds, thirds, and the leftovers in their 
    lunch boxes the next day. The original is from The Good Huswife's Jewel,
    T Dawson, 1596, originally printed by Edward White.
    Roste your apples, and when they be rosted, pill them and straind them
     into a dish, and pare a dozen of apples and cut them into a chafer, 
    and put in a little white wine and a little butter, and let them boile 
    till they be as soft as Pap, and stirre them a little, and straine them 
    to some wardens rosted and pilled, and put in Suger, Synamon and Ginger, 
    and make Diamonds of Paste, and lay them in the Sunne, then scrape a 
    little Suger uppon them in the dish.
    Reading this into modern English:
    Bake three apples and three pears in the oven, in a pan covered with 
    foil, at 375 degrees, about 1 hour. A little water in the dish will speed 
    things up (not part of the original). Meanwhile, peel six apples, core
    them, and thinly slice them. Put them in a large pot with 1/2 cup butter, 
    melted, and 1/2 cup of white wine. Cook over medium heat. Stir them 
    occaisionally, since the slices can break apart while cooking. 
    When very soft, remove from heat.
    Bake a 1-crust recipe of pie dough, cut into diamonds, in the oven with the
    aplles and pears, until just done. Sprinkle with sugar as they come out of
    the oven. Allow to cool. 
    When the baked apples/pears are done, peel and core them, and mash them up.
    Add them to the apple/butter/wine mixture, and combine well. Do not be 
    alarmed if this mixture browns somewhat. This is normal and to be expected.
    To serve: Spoon the warm apple mixture into a serving dish. Garnish with the
    pastry diamonds. Be sure each guest gets a piece of the pastry, as it 
    greatly enhances the texture of the apple moyse.

Two Chicken Recipes from The Good Huwife's Jewel (Dawson, 1596)

    To Boile a Capon
    Put the Capon into the poudre beef pot, and when you think it 
    almost tender, take a little potte and put there-in halfe 
    water and halfe wine, marie, currants, dates, whole mace, 
    vergice, pepper, & a little time.
    {In essence, you are boiling or braising a chicken until nearly done 
    in a nice  container that can go right to the table.
    If you wish, use beef stock to braise in the  bottom of 
    the pot (it is unclear in the original).Then pour 
    over about 1 cup wine and 1 cup water. Add a few 
    pieces of beef marrow from a marrow bone--parboiled or not, 
    according to your tastes, substituting butter or 
    lard if marrow makes you squeemish. Add approximately
     a cup of zante currants, 3-4 dates, dices or sliced, 
    a blade or two of mace, "vergice" [sour grape juice, 
    substitute lemon juice if necessary), pepper, and about 
    1 tsp  or more of fresh chopped thyme leaves. Continue braising
    until the chicken tests done, and then serve hot}
    To Boile a Capon with Orenges
    Take Orenges or lemmons pilled, and cutte them the long way,
    and if you can keepe your cloves whole and put them into your
    best broth of Mutton or Capon with prunes or currants and 
    three or fowre dates, and when these have beene well sodden,
    put whole pepper great mace, a good piece of sugar, some rose 
    water, and eyther while* or claret Wine, and let al these 
    seeth together a while, & so serve it upon soppes with your capon.
    *This word appears just above the word while in the ms. 
    I believe it is meant to be "white" rather than "while".
    {This recipe sounds delicious! What I would do is this:
    Parboil a skinned chicken. When nearly done, drain, reserving 1 
    cup of the broth. Take 4 juice oranges and remove the outer 
    peel and membrane. Slice the fruit along the section lines, 
    and discard seeds. Into the chicken pot, put the pranges, 
    1 cup of the  chicken stock, 5-6 whole cloves, 
    1 cup currants or cut up dates, pitted, 6 peppercorns, 1 blade of 
    mace, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup rose water, and perhaps 1/4-1/2 cup 
    white wine or claret (claret for choice). Allow to simmer to meld 
    the flavors, and  when partially reduced, discard the whole spices.
    Serve like this: On a large deep platter, put pieces of day-old 
    bread, dried and toasted quite crisp,and pour the chicken and sauce 
    over the entire  platter. Serve immediately. If holding the dish, 
    keep the "sopps" until just ready to serve, and surround the dish 
    with them at the edge just before serving.}