Mint Cordial

Homemade cordials, usually a mixture of distilled liquor and fruit or other flavors, were popular in America from the 17th through the 19th centuries. They were used both for medicinal purposes and to drink simply for pleasure. While in the later 19th century commercially-made cordials became popular for use in cocktails, earlier cordials like this 1828 recipe would have been served on their own as after-dinner digestives.

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Cherry Batter Pudding

“When we had done, he brought me a pudding, and having set it before me, seemed to ruminate, and to become absent in his mind for some moments.

‘How’s the pie?’ he said, rousing himself.

‘It’s a pudding,’ I made answer.

‘Pudding!’ he exclaimed. ‘Why, bless me, so it is! What?’ looking at it nearer. ‘You don’t mean to say it’s a batter-pudding!’

‘Yes, it is indeed.’

‘Why, a batter-pudding,’ he said, taking up a table-spoon, ‘is my favourite pudding! Ain’t that lucky? Come on, little ‘un, and let’s see who’ll get most.’”

-Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850.

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Boiled Rhubarb Pudding

One of my favorite things about Isabella Beeton’s 1861 cookbook, The Book of Household Management, is that she lists practical information about the cost, time to make, serving size, and season for each recipe. Knowing the season was especially important; although some fruits and vegetables could be grown in greenhouses all year, others were only available for short windows of time. Even today, that’s still the case with rhubarb, which in my area at least only appears for a few brief weeks in late spring. To make this recipe, I started haunting my grocery stores and local farmers’ markets at the start of April, checking constantly for the first sign of rhubarb’s bright red stalks. Somehow, the excitement of finally finding it after weeks of waiting feels much more gratifying than if I had been able to get it all year round.

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A Hedgehog

Last year, I made an 18th-century recipe for a hedgehog, a popular dessert in which an almond paste was formed into the shape of a hedgehog and stuck with almond slices to resemble spines. The idea of the hedgehog-shaped dessert survived into the 19th century, but later recipes started using a cake as the base of the hedgehog instead. This recipe, from Addison Ashburn’s 1807 cookbook The Family Director, calls for either a sponge cake or a French roll as the hedgehog base. The base is then soaked in wine and brandy and surrounded by custard, making this version just as decadent as its 18th-century predecessors.

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Hot Cross Buns

The English custom of eating spiced buns on Good Friday dates back to at least Tudor times, when a London law forbade the sale of spiced buns except on Good Friday, Christmas, and at burials. The first known mention of the name “hot cross buns” comes from a rhyme in the 1733 book Poor Robin’s Almanack: “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns.” Although on modern hot cross buns the cross is usually piped on with pastry, in most recipes before the 20th century the cross is cut or stamped into the buns. This 1896 recipe from Fannie Merritt Farmer is an exception to both traditions; in her version, the cross is piped on with icing.

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A Cheshire Sandwich

“A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart…it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at.” – from Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, 1814.

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Miss Bremer’s Pudding

This recipe comes from Eliza Acton’s 1845 book Modern Cookery In All Its Branches, my favorite historic cookbook of all time – so far I have made more recipes from this cookbook than any other. In addition to her clear instructions and the fact that she actually lists measurable quantities for each ingredient, I also love Eliza Acton’s cookbook for its literary references. Acton was a published poet as well as a cookbook author, and seems to have been interested in contemporary literature. Some of her recipes, such as Ruth Pinch’s Beef-Steak Pudding, are named after specific characters; others relate more generally to the profession of writing, such as The Author’s Christmas Pudding. This recipe, Miss Bremer’s Pudding, is most likely named after the Swedish author Fredrika Bremer, whose works were popular in England at the time.

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