The Art and Mystery of Cookery
Joseph Lyman Homestead 1740
Bill of Fayre
To Boil Prawns
The complete house-keeper, and professed cook, Mary Smith 1772
Sallets Simple and Plain
Acetaria, a Discourse os Sallets, John Evelyn 1699
The English Hus-wife, Gervase Markham 1615
Roast Fillet of Beef
The Accomplisht Cook, London, Robert May 1660
Morels a~la Cream
The Compleat Englifh Cook, Robert Smith 1725
To Boyle Rice
The Closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt., opened 1669
The Receipt Book of Mrs. Ann Blencowe 1694
The Joseph Lyman house is a charming colonial of “two over two” construction with an ell that holds the early kitchen and a large stone fireplace with a bake oven. I was privileged to help the owners make an evening meal, using recipes from the 17th and 18th Century, just as they would have during the time Joseph and his wife lived there in the 1740s. As we prepared each dish,we used many tools and techniques that are more than two and three centuries old.
We began the day with firing up the bake oven in which we would bake the bread. There would be four of us working around a central table in the early kitchen and we divided up the receipts. Barbara and Bob, the owners of the home, mix the beer and yeast into the flour while the fire heats up in the bake oven. They are using Gervase Markham’s 1615 receipt for manchets.
Barbara starts right in kneading the dough for the manchets and sets it by the fire to rise. first rising takes about 45 minutes.
With such an extensive menu, many ingredients were needed and we assembled them on the table. My husband Allan sat down to read the receipts the men would be using.
When the bricks in the bake oven were hot, the embers were shoveled out and used to start our main fire and get our trivet ready to boil some water for the shrimp. Over the trivet went a pan with water, salt and lemons to boil the shrimp for our first course.
The dough is given its last knead, and divided in three, ready for the bake oven while the tenderloin comes to room temperature.
Robert Mays receipt for Roast Fillet of Beef is stuffed with spinach, herbs, garlic and oranges. Allan and Bob waste no time chopping up the stuffing for the tenderloin and cutting strips of lard to porcupine the beef. I test the bake oven by throwing a handful of cornmeal onto the oven floor to check the temperature. The corn meal turned a slight golden brown so we were ready to add the manchets.
In goes the bread, one on the floor and two in a pan on a trivet, we did this as an experiment to see if they would cook differently one way or the other. The door was put on to keep in the heat.
With the stuffing made, Allan made a slice in the beef and filled it with the spinach and herb mixture and then trussed it up. Bob used the larding pin to place the lard all over the outside to insure moist and brown tenderloin. The beef starts to resemble a porcupine.
From start to finish the manchets takes about 2 ½ hours. Using a long-handled peel, they are brought forth from the bake oven that is situated in the back wall of the fireplace. To test their doneness we rapped on the top with our knuckles and heard the hollow thud which meant they were ready. The manchet that was baked on the floor had a richer color on the bottom; however it had the same texture as the others.
The shrimp was taken out, peeled and cooled. Now the pot was free to make our rice; this receipt and the boiled prawns are one of the few simple receipts I’ve found in the 17th and 18thCentury cookery books.
It was time to sit a spell and wait for the fire to be ready to cook our beef and sauces. We had our first course of boiled shrimp that was cooked with lemon and a bit of salt, they had a subtle background taste of the lemon and having a bit of the raw parsley contributed to its excellent taste.
It was time to broach the beef in the tin oven. Finding the holes in the broach was a puzzle at first, however, leaving it to an engineer to do a bit of measuring with the skewers, it was soon fastened. The meat, set before the fire in the tin oven, intrigued Barbara so, she had a peek.
Bob made a simple sauce of butter and onions to baste the roast. When the roast was done, the gravy saved in the bottom of the tin oven was added to the simple sauce, along with a good store of parsley, a few sweet herbs chopped small, the yolk of an egg, salt and pepper, and the peel of an orange. These were boiled together, with a spoonful of strong broth to make fine gravy for our beef.
Next came the Morels a- la Cream. Having no morels we substituted crimini mushrooms. These were sautéed in a pan sitting on a trivet over the coals and when soft, Barbara added the spices, herbs, a little broth and some thick cream. I started our batter for our dessert, the apple fritters.
While Barbara and I worked at the table, the men discussed the construction of the fireplace and checked on the beef. It was a very cold and windy day outside, however, we were toasty warm by the fire. Every once and a while a puff of wind would send the smoke into the room. The men determined that the four pound roast was done, it took about 45 minutes. They carefully took it off the broach and on to a pewter platter.
Barbara made a simple salad to go with our meal and, with the table set and the food ready, we sat in front of the warm fire to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
The beef was cooked to perfection, rare to medium rare and carved. The stuffing was mild with a slight acidic taste. Even the word outstanding can’t come close to describing the beef and the sauce. The Morels a-la Cream mingled with the rice on the plate and gave it a creaminess that was delicious. The lightness of the simple salad and the fresh baked bread, with its wonderful aroma, added another layer to our taste buds and our sense of smell.
Together we had prepared a wonderful meal using 17thand 18th Century receipts. As we consumed the reward for our hard work, we discussed the tools and utensils we used and the management of the fire in the hearth and bake oven. We marveled at how everything came together and just how long it took to do so. We were sure that our ancestors didn’t cook like this every day.
Then on to enjoy our final receipt of the day the Apple Fritters for dessert. I picked this receipt from Pepys At Table, in his diary he writes on 1661 February 26th Shrove Tuesday.
‘I left my wife in bed, being indisposed by reason of ceux=la – and I to Mrs. Turner’s who I find busy with The [Theophila] and Joyce making of things ready for Fritters. . . . Back to Mrs. Turners, where several friends, all strangers to me but Mr. Armiger, din’d. Very merry, and the best fritters that I ever eat in my life.’
The authors Divers and Johnson write that ”Fritters or ‘fritours’ in early English cooking usually refer to pancakes — the traditional Shrove Tuesday dish – but by Pepys’s time the word was also acquiring its more modern sense of a batter coating for a fruit or savory morsel of some kind.”
And that is just what we had, a very savory morsel to cap off a fun day of hearth cooking.
We all enjoyed this journey and we each learned something about the different combinations of herbs and spices used in the receipts. It was wonderful to see Bob, Barbara, and Allan each take a receipt and turn it into something so tasty and memorable.
My next journey will bring me to the Jefferds’ Tavern at the Museum of Old York in Maine. A wonderful dinner has been planned and I will be cooking at the hearth once more.