17th Century Sausage

As the extraordinary warm spring weather turned to typical spring, with  rainy cool days to follow, I thought of sausages.

Many years ago when I was living in Connecticut, the “Culinary Historians of Connecticut” got together to make sausages. I made “Fine Sausage” from Directions for Cookery; Albin Weber made “Hungarian ‘Yard’ Sausage;” Sandy Oliver made  ”Creole Chaurice Sausages.” Warner Lord made” To Make a Common Sausage,” from The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy; Margot made “Oxford Sausage” and another Sandy made a family receipt that came from Portugal by the Roman Legions and on to Brazil and the British colonies in 1756.    

I looked through all my cookery books, and found that most sausage with casings use the same meat, pork or pork and beef combinations. They also call for similar seasonings or state that you can use this or that. I decided to make the 17th Century Portuguese Pork Sausage. I read through the receipt one more time, and as many early cooks did, I altered it a bit to suit my taste. I bought a pork butt just a little over four pounds; it had a lot of sinew and very little fat so I picked up some salt pork fat. Who doesn’t love pork fat in things? I also picked up a few fresh lemons. 

The pork butt needed to be trimmed of the sinew, and both my husband and I worked cutting it all out. We chopped the pork and the salt pork fat into little pieces. 

From my freezer, in the basement, I took a bag of hog casings and pulled out three. More than I’ll need however, should I tear one I’ll have a spare. This freezer has many weird things in it, and anyone looking for something should beware of what they might defrost.

As you can see on the plate, my four-pound pork butt ended up being about 2 ¾ pounds, a lot of waste. Now it was time to make sure I had all my spices and herbs ready. The sage and thyme I needed was growing in my herb garden, so when the rain let up, I quickly picked it and washed it off. I used the mortar and pestle to crush peppercorns and fennel seed to a powder, chopped my sage, thyme and garlic and graded the lemon peels. I had cayenne pepper, salt and cardamom seed that I would also add.

 The pork and fat was chopped and mixed in the bowl then I added the spices and herbs. We used a ratio of two to one pork to fat. This I mixed first with a wooden spoon then my hand, to make sure that everything was distributed evenly.

Each of the casings needed to be rinsed out several times. The best way to put the casing onto the sausage press is to fill them with water and push them on until you get to the end, while letting the water drain out. Works best over the sink.

With everything mixed, and the casings on the press, it was time to make sausages.

Allan pushed the meat into the casings, and it started coming out. I helped by gently pulling on the sausage until the casing was full. We used one entire casing and just a small amount of one other. We ended up with a nice plate full, and I would guess that the sausage will feed about four or five people. 

I saved out the small single sausage and took the larger piece and froze it for when we have guests. With a nice fire made in the fireplace, I cooked the small sausage to have with a glass of fine wine before the fire, just to take the dampness out of us while we waited for the chicken and potato dish to warm. The sausage was wonderful, with just a hint of the lemon peel. I don’t think anyone could buy better sausage; it is well worth making your own.

For our dinner, we reheating leftover baked chicken and potatoes in the bake kettle and cooked our stand-by green beans with some carrots. We turned the bake kettle several times to warm the chicken, and when it was ready we plated it.

I hope you will try and make sausages; it is easy, and you can use your own seasoning, so it will be just as you like it.


Corned Beef

Rooted in Old English, the term “corned” refers to a small hard granular of something, for this purpose it is the salt that is use to cure the beef. The term “corned beef” dates to 1621. The curing of beef has been around for centuries. It was the Irish who corned beef in the 17th and 18th Century for English consumption and trade. It came in several grades, small beef, cargo beef and best mess beef. The best corned beef landed on the tables of the noblemen in England and their Colonies, and cargo beef being non-perishable in nature was easily transported on Navy ships. Cargo beef also came in different grades; the best was given to the men on board, and the worse traded to the sugar islands to feed the slaves. The last grade was small beef and it was shipped to France.

We all know that on St. Patrick’s Day, we consume corned beef to help celebrate with the Irish. However, the Irish never did eat corned beef until they came to the colonies. Cattle in Ireland were owned by the English, and were too expensive for the Irish to purchase, and salt was equally expensive. It was not until the arrival of the Irish in New England and Canada, where beef was plentiful and salt inexpensive, that they began to corn and consume beef.

Thanks to my husband and Matthew Mees, I decided to try my hand at making corned beef. My husband has always wanted to try this and Matt gave me a jar of saltpeter. Now after reading the label I found it was for the use of Farm and Industry. Hum I wonder if this is ok to use. A little research and I was right, his saltpeter was not to be consumed by humans. Well if I can’t use this, I will need to find out what type of saltpeter is safe for human consumption, so off to the computer to do more research.

After a lengthy search I found good old Morton Salt Company. They make what is known as “pink salt.” This is a combination of salt and potassium nitrate that is ok for human consumption and is called Morton Tenderquick. Now the reason you use saltpeter is to tenderize the meat and to turn it into the appetizing red color.

Well, there are many directions online to make your own corned beef however; I have not found one in an early receipt book, at least not ones I have available to me. Perhaps it is because the English cookbook authors didn’t make corned beef; it came from Ireland. A mystery!

After looking at many receipts on the web I made up my own list of ingredients for brine and hope the technique will transform a tough piece of beef brisket into a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy.

The basic brining recipe is salt, water, and spices, sounds easy enough. So I take out salt, black pepper, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, bay leaves, brown sugar, nutmeg, garlic, kosher salt and Morton’s Tenderquick and put it on the cutting board. I find a large pot to boil all the spices and salt, and then I add the tenderquick and 2 cups of water. This I brought to a boil, and then added 2 cups of ice and stuck it in the snow to cool down.

I’m sure the Irish had large wooden barrels filled with brine and brisket or tongues and sent them on their merry way to England in the cool hole of a ship. Well, I don’t have a wooden barrel or a ship. I do not even have a crock large enough to put the meat and brining liquid in, so I improvise. I use a roasting bag and a large casserole dish.

By now the brine is cooled off and I put the meat in the bag and pour over the liquid and tie the bag tight. I placed it into the refrigerator where it sat for almost two weeks. The brisket was turned over in the bag every day to insure that both sides were brining the same.

It took a week before the gray looking piece of brisket started to turn somewhat pink. However, after nine days it was getting red. O, boy this might work, I have the red meat I’m looking for; now is it tender, and will it taste good.

The day of reckoning! Out comes the corned beef, and as you can see it looks nice and red. It was first washed to remove all the little spices and the salt. Then in to a large pot went the corn beef with water, a carrot, onions and some celery. It was brought to a boil then turned down to a medium simmer. I’m guessing about 3 ½ hours. I’ll check it from time to time to add water if needed and make sure I don’t overcook it. During the last 30 minutes of cooking I add potatoes, carrots and cabbage. This will be a true American Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage meal.

As you can see by the picture the brine did not go all the way to the center, even after two weeks of soaking. However, the meat was tender and very tasty. If I was going to change anything, it would be less cloves and ginger. Their taste was a bit overwhelming, however, in the background. I will make this again as it was far superior to what you can buy at the grocery store.



Bisquite du Roy

Last weekend was a busy one; I spent two days at the Minute Man National Park. Saturday was a workshop on 18th Century shifts and Sunday was a two-hour lecture on Tavern libations and songs. At all the Hive events, everyone brings something to have with coffee at the meet and greet portion of the day. I decided it was time to go back to Pepys at the Table and pick out a receipt. I found an entry marked  March 18th, 1664, it looked simple enough to make and it was just a few days off from March 10th.

“So to my brother’s, and to the church and with the grave maker chose a place for my brother to lie in, just under my mother’s pew. But to see how a man’s tombes are at the mercy of such a fellow, that for 6d he would (as his own words were) “I will justle them together but I will make room for him” – speaking of the fullness of the middle Isle where he was to lie

…. At noon my wife, though in pain, comes; but I being forced to go home, she went back with me — where I dressed myself and so did Besse; and so to my brother’s again — whither though invited as the custom is at about 1 or 2 a-clock, they came not till 4 or 5. But at last, one after another they came — many-more than I bid; and my reckoning that I bid 120, but I believe there was nearer 150. Their service was six biscuits apiece and what they pleased of burnt claret — my Cosen Joyce Norton kept the wine and cakes above – and did give them out to them that served, who had white gloves given them.”

It was the custom, in England to provide biscuits for the mourners to take away, people attending the house during the period immediately following the death and funeral. This persisted into the Victorian era. I looked through several of my cookery books and found in Robert May’s, The accomplisht cook, 1685, a receipt for Bisquite du Roy, that I thought would be similar to the biscuits served at Pepys’s brother’s funeral, and something I could take along to the Hive.

After I read the receipt from May, I figured out how to make a smaller amount of biscuits. So I first assembled all my ingredients, and brought out my collection of little tins. It is a rather simple receipt, eggs, sugar, flour, rose water, and coriander seeds.

The important thing here is to whip the batter for a long time, so you incorporate air to help it rise, as it has no leavening.

On the hearth, I have my iron kettle warming, and when the batter was poured into the tins I was ready to put coals under the kettle. In went the biscuits, and the top placed on, and covered with coals.

After 10 minutes, I turned the kettle half-way around, and after five more minutes I took a peak and was glad I did as the biscuits were ready to take out.

With the biscuits packed in the car, off I drove to the workshop, and received may compliments on my biscuits.

Girls, Geese, and Onions:

ALHFAM New England Regional Conference
Hosted by Coggeshall Farm Museum
Bristol, Rhode Island

“Hail Bristol, happiest village, hail!
What rich produce is thine; 
Girls, geese, and onions thou canst boast,
O, Triad most divine!”  DeWolfs

And so the poem goes and our conference has a theme. Some workshops were on hat and rope mat making, women and men’s early clothing, local food as history, and sauce for the goose. It is the goose that brought me to Coggeshall Farm’s tenant farmhouse.

The workshop I attended was “Sauce for the Goose: Sauce Madam,” this receipt has a medieval precedent that remained current for several hundred years. The receipt includes a farce, and a sauce for a goose. Our instructors were Kathleen Wall and Carolyn Bither, from Plymouth Plantation. The class was just two hours long, so the two geese were boiled the day before to remove most of the fat, and to be partially cooked. With all the ingredients at hand we made two different farces, one from Forme of Cury, a 14th Century receipt by the master-cooks of King Richard II. Our next receipt is from the book, A Noble Boke Off Cookry for A Prynce Houssolde, 1468.

The first farce mix has an interesting ingredient galingale, which is a rhizome with a hot, ginger- peppery flavor. You will not find this in the local supermarket, so we used dried ginger grated. Next in went the garlic, parsley, pears, bread crumbs, cinnamon, lots of sage, salt and pepper and pecans.1-copy

For our second goose the farce was made with some of the leftover farce from the first bird, to which we added  more sage, more cranberries, salt and vinegar. We substituted cranberries for the barberries, and ingredients the English would have used.

We had a group of eight participants; while the girls were busy, I took the scraps from the farce out to feed the chickens and turkeys. There was one dominant turkey who stood his ground before me as I did my best to spread the feast before them. He seems to be missing a feather or two.

All farced, the geese were trusst up so the wings and legs would not flap about as it was roasting on the spit. We used kitchen twine for the trussing; this holds up better than linen or hemp twine. Don’t want to lose these birds. Being supermarket birds they had a gaping hole and very little skin at the bottom end, I sewed up the last goose to hold in the farce.

Kathleen brought two large cob-irons and two spits. Both geese were skewered and placed on the cob-iron. Underneath was a huge heavy dripping pan. Whether or not this was the real use of this cast ion pan we’re not sure, yet it worked for our purpose of catching the dripping goose fat. Now it was time to take turns turning the geese. There was a person on each side to watch that the geese were cooked evenly. Now this brought me to an interesting realization.

We had a strong fire and we were in a house that had no heat, and in a room that had three windows and a hall opening to the front door. So as I sat there keeping watch over the geese, the left side of my body was extremely warm and the right extremely cold. We so often read about how water froze on the table overnight in the old house of the 17th and 18th Centuries.  Well, I can now say I have lived this. When I gave up my seat to let someone else get warm I was so cold standing in that room that it took me hours to fully recover (more realizations to come).

To keep the blood flowing and keep somewhat warm, I walked about the room and took note of what I saw. Hanging in the corner was a wonderful vignette of colorful onions.4copy

Several slabs of pork from various parts, hung by leather strings placed on a nail in the wall. A large cod had been split and salted to keep dry by the fire. How appropriate these items are for a farm house on the sea.

Tucked in another corner were more pork drying and an apple press waiting for the fall apples and cider making. This brings me to an interesting story that Kathleen told us about pears. Sometime in 1630, John Endicott of Danvers, MA, planted the first pear trees in the colonies. Endicott was a leading Massachusetts colonial magistrate and Puritan elder.  There is still one tree that stands there and flowers in the spring and bears fruit after all these years.

The small room in the tenant house was now getting that wonderful scent of roasted goose. We test the inner part of the legs, to check for doneness and deem them ready for the table. After removing the skewers and placing them on a plate, we let them rest before cutting into them. That was difficult, as we were all eager to pull them apart and eat our reward for a job well done.

After they rested, Kathleen wasted no time in carving up the birds, it is now 5:00 and other ALHFAMers are showing up for the evening’s reception. The twine is cut; the farce removed; and the bird carved and placed on plates ready to serve. There was no time to complete the sauce that would have been mixed with the farce.  However, the farce could stand on its own.

In the other room, where Matt Brenckle was teaching hat making, more logs were put on the fire. The staff at Coggeshall Farm had placed a wonderful selection of local cheese and wine on the table. It took some doing, but we did finally place a dish of carved goose on the table also.

The reception began and the day came to a close.

In parting, I took a picture of one of the staff who was regaling the participants with stories of the King of the Roost, his favorite rooster. And still sitting on the hearth, trying to warm up, was the leftover second farce, yet to no avail the pipkin without coals underneath, was not going to heat up. It sat there because we did not want to pull out coals to put under the pipkin, as it would be to close too those who were turning the geese. So even after 1 ½ hours of sitting near a very hot fire it was stone cold, much like the rest of us.

We thank Coggeshall Farms, and all the speakers, who so kindly gave their time to present workshops and provide us with a conference we will all long remember.

Thank you everyone,


Strong Broth with a Pottage of Peas

Our New Hampshire weather has been unseasonably warm; however, we do get a few below normal days now and then. This week is one of them, so soup comes to mind. Looking through all the cookbooks, I came up with a Pottage of Peas that closely resembles what we might make today with the exception of the mint leaves.

I have chosen two receipts from

 The Complete Practical Cook, by Charles Carter, 1730.

 To make a Stock of Strong Broth of Flesh & Pottage of Pease, with Flesh.

 The first receipt calls for a Leg of Beef, a Knuckle of Veal, and a Neck of Mutton and Bacon. I have chosen the bacon for this stock, as it will go nicely with the pottage of peas. Karen Hess writes that bacon was a haunch of pork or simply pork as a hank end of ham. In a more lavish household, butter would have been used instead of the bacon/ham but this is a rustic soup that would be found on the more common tables, so I am using pork hocks and, for the meat, a smoked ham.

My ingredients for the broth are parsley, celery, onions, carrots and thyme along with salt and pepper which goes into a pot with the ham hocks. Water is added to cover. After I brought it to a boil, it was simmered for 4 hours to release all the goodness from the bone. With our cool nights, I put the soup on the porch and let it cool down overnight. In the morning I brought it in. The broth had a thick layer of fat on top, so I scummed it well; this is the base of my pottage.

After the broth was scummed, I added the peas and simmered them. This took about 1 ½ hours to get them to a very soft consistency. During this time, I boiled the smoked ham so I would have the meat for the pottage. I pureed the peas, however, not too much, as I want my pottage to be rustic.

In a small fry pan, I browned until tender, leeks, onions, parsley and celery, and carrots; last I put in the chopped spinach.

The marrow from the hambones made the pottage peas thick, and I added a bit of water to make it the consistency of soup. I cut up the ham and chicken into small pieces and put it in a bowl and placed the fried vegetables in another. While reading Pottage Peas receipts, I found that they often put a whole chicken in the middle of the soup, as well as many other types of meat. Having leftover chicken, I thought to give it a try.

With the addition of a manchet and a small container of sherry placed on the cutting board. Our rustic meal, on a cold night, was at hand.

Each bowl received a portion of the pottage, and then ham and chicken put in the middle, and topped with the fried vegetables and a spoon of sherry.

The vegetables were a terrific addition to the traditional, plain pea soup and the manchet, with the tang of the beer and yeast, gave it an inviting taste, such a simple meal, however, so delightful.

One component, the mint, did not make the dish; I simply did not have any. I saved some soup, and went off a few days later and bought mint, and boiled it in leftover ham hock jelly. I added this to the Pottage and was pleasantly surprise at the freshness of taste. I may add mint the nest I make pottage and not tell anyone.

In Martha Washington’s Book of Cookery, Karen Hess tells us that the English have been fond of mint in cooking since medieval times. In John Gerard’s book, The Herbal, he writes that, “It will not suffer milke to curdle in the stomacke.” Well, neither will sherry!

Hope you enjoyed the journey into peasant food, wholesome and delicious.