January 1, 2008

Ye Olde Christmas

I love history. I also, as you know, love food. So I’m sure that you don’t find it that outrageous that I love food history and historical recipes. In keeping with the entire Christmas and New Years season, which will officially leave us on January 6th as the Day of the Epiphany or Three King’s Day, I’ve been wanting to post some old fashioned Christmas recipes that perhaps will inspire us next season!

In this vein, I went on a quest for an antique typeface, not really expecting much of a result, but my ideal would be to post some of these old gems in a typeface that would have been used in the 1700’s when some of these recipes were first put into print in English. One of my favorite cookbooks is “The Williamsburg Art of Cookery” compiled by Helen Bullock in 1938 and based on a book that had been printed in Williamsburg, VA in 1742. I started looking at it for information on what period typeface they used, and found out that it is printed in the Caslon typeface, which is, indeed, an eighteenth century typeface.

Enter the very excellent work of Mr. David Manthey, whom I’ve never met, but is my hero of the hour. He created a free for personal-use font, based on Caslon, that can be used on the computer. Not only that, but a button that can be installed in Word to take your typing into the 18th century- or undo it. It’s beautiful! His work can be found at his page entitled 18th Century Ligatures and Fonts. Thank you David!

This recipe first appeared in “Mrs. Bradley’s British Housewife” published in London, England in 1756. Apparently, from the narration, it was an ancient recipe at that time, and sort of old-fashioned. I find this concoction absolutely fascinating- ah, though not enough to actually try it. I think some mincemeat recipes might have originated along these lines. I’ve always imagined mincemeat pie to be a sort of throwback to medieval cookery, considering the spices used. But anyway, please, please, please, if some historical fanatic, er, intrepid soul makes this recipe please let me know! Take pictures! Tell the tale! Onward Mrs. Bradley!

It's come to my attention that not every browser can read the recipe in the Caslon typeface automatically. However, you can add the font to your computer from the html version of David Manthey's 18th Century Ligatures and Fonts page, click here. If you don't want to do that, I've added a scan so you can at least see what it looks like. :)

Plumb Porridge

This is a famous old EngliÈ diÈ, and though at preÇent diÇuÇed in London, yet as there are many Families in the Country who Ìill keep up the CuÌom of HoÇpitality, and admit this among the Entertainments of the SeaÇon, we Èall not leave the Cook at a LoÇs how to make it.

ChuÇe a Äne and ÅeÈy Leg of Beef with the Shin, crack the Bone in Several Places, and put it into a clean Copper with eight Gallons of Water: Let there be a moderate Fire; add nothing to the Meat and Water, but let them boil together till the Meat is ready to fall from the Bones, and the Broth is very Ìrong; then Ìrain it out, preËing the Meat hard to get out the laÌ of the Gravy.

Wipe the Copper, and pour in the Broth.

Cut oÁ the Tops and the Bottoms of Half a Dozen Penny-loaves, Êice them, and put them into a Pot with as much of the Broth out of the Copper as will cover them; let them Ìand half an hour to Çoak, and then Çet them over the Fire to boil.

When the bread is thoroughly Çoft pour the Whole into the Copper to the ReÌ.

Let this boil up a quarter of an Hour.

While this is doing waÈ and pick Äve Pounds of Currants, put them in, and make it boil up again.

While the Currants are boiling in the Broth, Ìone Éx Pounds of RaiÉns, and a Pound and half of Prunes, put theÇe in, and let them boil till they are plumped up and perfeÀly tender.

Then put in ten Blades of Mace, a Dozen and a half of Cloves, and half an Ounce of Nutmegs, all bruiÇed together in a Mortar.

When the Spices have boiled up two or three Times take away the Fire, and let the Whole cool: When it is Ço cool that it can be taÌed put in three Pounds of double-reÄned Sugar powdered, Çome Basket Salt, and a Quart of Sack.

Stir it all about, and then taÌe it. The Salt is the nice Article; take Care that it be neither briny nor inÉpid; when it is rightly ÇeaÇoned put in a Quart of red Port Wine, and Çqueeze in three Lemons.

Stir all up very well together, and taÌe it once again to Çee if it be rightly ÇeaÇoned: The Palate muÌ judge this; if there want more Wine, more Sugar, or more Lemon Juice, add theÇe till it is right; if it be too Èarp a little Sugar takes that oÁ, and if too Çweet the Juice of Lemon is a Remedy for that: When it is thus well Çuited to the Palate, ladle it out into earthen Pans, and Çet it by: A proper Quantity is to be heated occaÉonally, and Çent up to Table.

The French laugh outrageouÊy at this old EngliÈ diÈ, and to be Çure it is an odd Medley: It puts one in Mind of thoÇe famous Medicines of Antiquity, the Mithridate and Venice Treacle, into which the Inventors Ìrove to put every Thing that was good, without conÇulting how the Çeveral Things would agree with one another; there are, however, yet many good old EngliÈ Palates which are well aÁeÀed to the cordial Broth.

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