I’m a history buff. I’ve read books on Elizabeth I, Catherine De’ Medici, and Russia’s Catherine the Great, and willingly dig into books about the Middle Ages. More recently, the 1700’s and 1800’s have captured my attention. I’m endlessly fascinated by the environment people grew up in, how it molded them, and how they impacted events in ways that we still feel.
I’m now reading Ron Chernow’s tomb, Grant, on Ulysses S. Grant. I’m learning a lot about the Civil War – or at least one side of it; and how a man like Grant improbably became a war-time hero and President against all odds. You might know Chernow’s name from his previous book, Hamilton, that the hugely popular Broadway play is based on. His exhaustive research and descriptive prose sweeps you into the times of his subjects.
My friend Laura Kumin, of the Mother Would Know food blog, builds on the Hamilton craze with her new fascinating cookbook based on the food culture and recipes of that era. The first half of her book sets the stage for eating in Hamilton’s time. It begins with a synopsis of Hamilton’s life, and continues with descriptions of typical kitchens, cooking equipment, methods (cooking in the hearth was unsurprisingly tricky). Hamilton didn’t record his meals that we’re aware of, but certain dinners were memorialized by others in attendance. For example, the dinner Thomas Jefferson had for Hamilton and James Madison, which is included in Laura’s book.
The second half of the book is dedicated to recipes. Each recipe shares a copy of the original recipe, and an adaptation of it using ingredients and measurements more familiar to us today. For example, mutton, very popular in the 1700’s, was swapped out for lamb. A pottle of strawberries was thankfully drilled down to a more precise 16 ounces.
I chose the Lemon Syllabub, an elegant dessert drink that looks like it took a lot more trouble than it did. Mine was a little different because I used a new-fangled appliance (a hand mixer) not available in the 1700’s to whip up the cream. This resulted in a foamier top that was easiest eaten with a spoon for the first few bites. I then stirred it a bit, and it became a drink.
It’s fun to read the original version from the 1700’s. Instead of a hand mixer, one used a Chocolate Mill to create the froth. The instructions call for “taking it off the Mill with a Spoon as it rifes, to prevent the Mill from making it too heavy, and strain it through a Hair Sieve”. I was unclear on the specifics of rifing, and haven’t seen any Hair Sieves at Williams-Sonoma in like, ever, but am very curious about them now.
I quickly realized that the letter “f” is sometimes an “s”. So Poffet Glaffes is probably Posset Glasses. I was out of both Posset Glasses and Poffet Glaffes, so I substituted old-fashioned champagne glasses.
All in all, I’m relieved Laura performed diligent legwork to translate the recipes into current language and measurements, but I might look up the original cookbook for the syllabub. The next recipe, which was cut off, was for “Making a Syllabub under the Cow”. My journalistic curiosity wants to know more about that, even though I don’t have a cow.
Other recipes I’d like to make from the cookbook include the Toaster Oven English Rabbit, which does not require killing a rabbit, Scalloped Oysters, and Chocolate Puffs. The Chocolate Puffs involve “ftrewing fugar on fome writing-paper, and dropping them on about the fize of a fix-pence, and baking in a very flow oven.” Again, thanks to Laura, you won’t have to figure out the size (fize) of the drops, nor the temperature of the (flow) oven. She dials it all in for us, and uses handy parchment instead of writing paper.
So here’s how to get the cookbook, which I heartily recommend! Just click on the below link, and order it for your foodie friends for Christmas! (Disclosure: I’m an Amazon Affiliate and will make a few pennies from your click(s) which helps support this blog.)
Both my husband and I LOVED these syllabubs and I will be making again for my next party! I bet you do too.
- 1 lemon cut in half, with rind grated from half and juice from one or both halves for a total of 1/4 cup juice
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup white wine I used a Reisling to make it sweeter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Rub the grated lemon rind into the sugar with your fingers until they are well-combined. Mix the rind, sugar, lemon juice, and the wine.
- Add the cream and whisk the mixture until it froths. Gently pour it into two glasses. Let them stand on a counter for about 2 hours, then refrigerate until serving. As the glasses sit, the froth will rise, leaving the lemony wine on the bottom of the glasses.