#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding / Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430)

Here’s a recipe that I’ve been dying to do since I first picked up Jane Grigson’s tome and, at Christmastime, I finally got the chance to cook it (yes, I am THAT behind on writing my posts!).

The main problem, you see, is getting hold of the neck of a turkey, goose or capon. It’s not the neck muscle that’s needed; that would be easy! All I’d have to do is rummage inside the giblets bag and pull the neck out. This recipe requires the neck skin – all of it, from the base of the neck, right up to the beak. In other words, I needed a fowl with its head still on.

The trouble is, it is very tricky to get one. I have three very good butchers close to me and none of them could get me a turkey with its head on! These birds are plucked and gutted mechanically these days, and the butcher doesn’t have to do a thing when he receives them.

To get a bird with its head on, you have to know a farmer or keep them yourself. Luckily for me Dalesbread Finest Meats, who attend Chorlton Market with me (3rd Saturday of the month!), farm and sell their own meat, including turkey and geese. No problem, they say.

This recipe comes from an early Fifteenth Century manuscript, jazzily called Harleian MS.279. Here’s the original recipe:

Poddyng of Capoun necke.—Take Percely, gysour, & þe leuer of þe herte, & perboyle in fayre water; þan choppe hem smal, & put raw ȝolkys of Eyroun .ij. or .iij. þer-to, & choppe for-with. Take Maces & Clowes, & put þer-to, & Safroun, & a lytil pouder Pepir, & Salt; & fille hym vppe & sew hym, & lay him a-long on þe capon Bakke, & prycke hym þer-on, and roste hym, & serue forth.

Essentially, it’s the skin of the neck wrapped around some spiced offal to produce some kind of hybrid between a sausage and a meatloaf.

This is Jane’s somewhat modified version of that recipe.

First job on the list is to get the neck skin removed from the bird. To do this, get yourself a pair of good, sharp scissors. Three incisions is all you need to make, and the first is around the base of the neck, as low as you can without exposing the breast. Next, cut around the neck end, close to the beak. Lastly, cut straight up the length of the neck, so that you can remove the skin in one piece.

This sounds easy. It is not.

Okay, now for the filling. Get yourself a good-sized mixing bowl and break up 8 ounces of sausagemeat and mix into it a good tablespoon of finely chopped parsley and a couple of egg yolks. Season with salt, pepper, mace and cloves. If you like add a pinch of saffron that has first been soaked in a tablespoon of hot water.

Lay the neck skin flat on a work surface and spread half of the mixture over it. Cut the liver of your bird into three pieces and arrange these in a line going down the centre then spread the remainder of the filling over the top of that. Pull the edges of the neck skin around, wrapping the filling up, turning it over and tucking it in. Pop it into a loaf tin.

This sounds easy. It is not.

I could not get the skin to wrap around the sausagemeat, nowhere near in fact. I tried my best, but it ended up essentially a meat loaf with some skin draped over it.

Bake at 180⁰C for 45 minutes. Cool and leave in the fridge so that the flavours can permeate. Slice and eat like a pâté.

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding / Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430). This was both a disaster and a success at the same time. There was far too much filling for the neck, so as the ‘pudding’ baked the skin shrank, leaving a wrinkled line of neck flap. However, the filling was absolutely delicious! The liver was good and creamy and those mediaeval spices complemented the meaty, rich filling. All pâtés should have cloves and mace added to them, I reckon. Even though the neck ended up being completely superfluous, it’s still a high scorer. 7/10

This terrible photo doesn’t show it at it’s best!

#347 Sawce Noyre for Roast Capon

This recipe for black sauce was popular all over Europe in the Middle Ages with many variations and alternative names like sauce infernal. They all use fried and ground livers as a base. In England it was served up with roast meat; capon in this case was used as were various game birds. Other countries used other additional flurries such as Parma ham, dried ceps, onions or garlic and spread it on toast or bread.

A banquet in the Middle Ages – this is a French picture
though at the time French and English food was very similar

The recipe comes from a manuscript with the rather clinical name Ashmole MS. 1430, dating unsurprisingly from 1430. To put the year in context, Henry VI of the House of Lancaster is on the Throne; the political bubblings are beginning that led eventually to the War of the Roses around 20 years later. The original hand-scribed pages are kept in the British Museum, but the manuscript did appear in print along with some other 15th century cook books in the late 19th century.

Henry VI, the Child King

Jane doesn’t give the original recipe that she bases hers on, but I did find it online. It is written in Middle English and takes a little deciphering:

Black sauce for capouns y-rostyde.—Take þe Lyuer of̘ capouns, and roste hit wel; take anyse, and grynde parysgingere, and canel, and a litil cruste of̘ brede, and grynde hit̘ weƚƚ aƚƚ to-gedre; tempre hit up wiþ verious, and þe grece of the capon, þanne boile it̘ and serue forþe.

I translate it as:

Take the livers of capons, and roast them well; take aniseed, ground ginger, and cinnamon, and a little crust of bread, and grind it well all together; temper it up with verjuice and the fat of the capon, then boil and serve forth.

Going back even further in time to the very first known practical cook book – Forme of Cury – written around 1390 contains a recipe for mallard in black sauce.

I made it to go with roast chicken rather than roast capon and it is best made whilst it is resting so you can skim off the fat from the roasting tin and use it to fry the livers.

Pass a beady eye over a pound of chicken livers, making sure that there are no big gristly bits or little green bile ducts left on them. Heat some chicken fat in a frying pan and add the chicken livers. Make sure that the heat is really high so that the livers brown nicely whilst keeping the insides moist and pink. This should take about 4 minutes in all – though it might be worth poking one of the biggest livers with a slenderly-pointed knife to check that the liver is not still raw. Medium rare is good, but anything less than that could be risky, there are several cases every year of Campylobacter brought about by eating undercooked chicken livers.

While the livers are frying, demolish a slice of bread, crusts removed, in a food processor; or if you want to keep it old school you can grate it.  Tip in the livers and whizz again – old-schoolers can pass them through a sieve or mincer. Season with the spices: I went with a quarter teaspoon each of ground aniseed (you could also use star anise), ginger and cinnamon. Don’t forget the salt and pepper. Give it a final spin in the food processor.  The sauce will be very thick indeed – it should be a spreadable consistency and not in the least pourable. It looked like a big scoop of liver ice cream – except that it was hot! Strange.

Reheat the sauce and add some cider vinegar or lemon juice to taste (or verjuice like in the original recipe – you can buy it online). If it is really thick, let it down with a little water.

#347 Sawce Noyre for Roast Capon. This was a strange one indeed – it was made up of pure liver and was therefore very rich, though when eaten with a big piece of relatively bland chicken it did balance out better. The best way to eat it, it turned out, was to spread it on some bread as those in mainland Europe did. I liked the spice combination a lot, especially the aniseed; I may use it in chicken liver pâté. Aside from that though, I think this one’s left in the history books! 4/10.

#339 Hindle Wakes

Where do I start with this one?

Hindle Wakes is a cold chicken dish for buffets and the like and has a long history. It is essentially a chicken stuffed with a prune mixture, simmered in a stock made of vinegar and water, cooled and smothered with a lemon sauce. Other variations include simmering in lemon juice stock and roasting the stuffed bird as a hot dish, which sounds much nicer.

The origin of the dish is obscure; some think it originally came over to England – Lancashire to be precise – from Flemish weaver immigrants in the 1330s. Others (including Jane) think it is a typical English medieval recipe; it being heavy on the herbs and dried fruit is suggestive, but I cannot find anything similar in my old facsimiles. I suppose it will remain a mystery.
Did the Flemish bring Hindle Wakes to North-East England?

The name Hindle Wakes is equally strange. Several modern cook books say that it comes from the name of the Lancashire town of Hindle Wakes. This all sounds good until you check an atlas and find there is no such place as Hindle Wakes in Britain, never mind Lancashire. A friend of Jane Grigson’s reckons that the name is a bastardisation of Hen de la Wake. “No etymologist would support a folk explanation of this kind”, says Jane.

I find no mention of the phrase Hindle Wakes in literature searches until the late 1910s where there is suddenly a glut of them because in 1912 a playwright called Stanley Houghton wrote a play entitled Hindle Wakes which was set in the imaginary Lancashire town Hindle where wakes would occur at certain times of the year. A wake in this context means the lookouts people would set up the night before a large church festival at their parish, presumably to catch thieves. How it got attached to this strange dish I do not know.
It’s still going strong…

Anyway, on with the rather long recipe…

For the stuffing:

Soak one pound of unstoned prunes in water or tea overnight. The next day remove the stones from the prunes, setting the neatest third aside for later. Now you need to crack the prune stones to get to the almond-scented kernels. I have found the best way to do this is to place around a dozen stones in a freezer bag, squeeze the air out, seal it and then crack the stones sharply with a hammer. This stops the sticky stones and precious kernels from pinging around the kitchen. Chop the kernels and the rest of the prunes and put in a bowl along with: 8 ounces of slightly stale breadcrumbs; four ounces of chopped fresh beef suet; and half a teaspoon each of finely chopped sage, parsley, marjoram and thyme. Mix them well with your hand and season withsalt, pepper, a tablespoon of brown sugar and one or two tablespoons of malt vinegar. Mix again.

Stuff a five to six pound roasting or boiling chicken (you could also use a capon) both inside the body cavity and the neck. Using cocktail sticks, close the two ends of the bird. I found that I could only fit in around half of the stuffing so I rolled the remainder into balls and froze them for future dinners.

To cook the fowl:

Put the bird in a good-sized stock pot that will fit it reasonably closely and add the following ingredients: 2 level tablespoons of salt, a stick of celery, one large unpeeled onion studded with three cloves, a bay leaf, four parsley springs, four thyme sprigs, six tablespoons malt vinegar and a tablespoon of soft dark brown sugar. Add around 6 pints of water – you can leave an inch or so of chicken above the water if it’s a roaster; you’ll need to cover completely if a boiler.

Bring slowly to a boil, skimming any scum that may rise to the top. Cover the pot and simmer the chicken very gently for between 1 ½ and 3 ½ hours “according to its antiquity”. Mine was done after 1 ½ hours. It is very important you cook the chicken on a very low simmer indeed; scalding might be a better word to describe the water, you should only see the barest of gulps and bubbles.

When cooked, remove from the stock and allow to cool, covered with a layer of foil. You’ll need the stock for the sauce, so don’t chuck it away…

For the sauce:

In a small saucepan, mix together five fluid ounces of double (heavy) cream, the juice and grated zest of a lemonand a seasoning of white pepper. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for five minutes or so. In another saucepan, make a roux by melting ½ ounce of butterand when it had finished sizzling stir in a healthy tablespoon of flour. Cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in five fluid ounces of milkand half a pint of the stock. Simmer for twenty minutes until the sauce is very thick (I couldn’t get the sauce to go thick even after thirty minutes). Season with more salt and white pepper if needed, then cool covered to stop a skin from forming.

To arrange the dish:

Place the fully-cooled chicken on “a wire rack over some greaseproof paper. Reheat the sauce slightly – it will be solid when cold – so that you can spread it right over the chicken smoothly and evenly. Use a palette knife…” says Grigson. This was impossible for me with the rather runny sauce, so I just put the chicken straight on the serving plate and used a knife to spread the sauce over the chicken. Next, surround the chicken with around eight ounces of thinly sliced ham. Cut a lemon into halves and cut into thin slices. Arrange the slices around the chicken along with the reserved prunes. Finally, a couple of herbs: take a large bunch of parsley and stick it in both ends of the chicken, then scatter with some chive stalks.

#339 Hindle Wakes. What a monster I created! It looked like a cross between something from Fannie Cradock’s 1970s repertoire and the centrepiece to a medieval feast. I have to say, once sliced up it didn’t look too bad. The chicken was cooked to a turn – I think the vinegar in the stock help to tenderise it – and it went wonderfully well with the lemon sauce and prunes that were dotted around the bird. The cold stuffing was rather stodgy though. Mid-way through the recipe for this “superb buffet dish”, Jane does mention that she makes a stuffing from just prunes, kernels and herbs, as the traditional stuffing is too heavy. I felt like it was eating a dish that should have been hot but had cooled down. It’s a tricky one to grade due to the mix of sublime and ridiculous. I’ll sit on the fence with a 5/10.

#335 Boiled Capon with Sugar Peas

It is always interesting to try a new food, and this 1660 recipe from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May contains two.

The first is a capon, which is a castrated cockerel. Castration causes the capon to grow fat and large and to develop a different flavour to chicken. There are two ways to castrate, or caponise your cock: the first is to remove the testicles surgically, the other is to do it hormonally using oestrogen implants. You don’t them around very often these days, but a good butcher should be able to order you one. I got mine from Straub’s – there was one just sat there in the freezer section, bold as you like. If you want to caponise your own cockerel, click here for instructions!

The second new foodstuff is verjuice which is certainly not something you see much these days. Verjuice is made of the juice of either sour apples or sour grapes and was used as an acidulater; lemons were very pricey then, but there was no problem growing sour grapes and apples in Britain! It was particularly popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. I found the verjuice another of my favourites St Louis haunts, Global Foods Market, but I see you can also buy it online.

This recipe asks for the capon to be gently simmered just like the turkey with celery sauce I made last November. It is served with a bread sauce that is seasoned with the verjuice and some oyster liquor, though no oysters are actually used in the recipes themselves. I was hoping I could buy some liquor in jars just as you see clam liquor in the supermarkets. I am sure clam juice would be a good substitution, but as I am cooking the recipes as given, I must use oyster. (It turned out well in the end, as it gave me the perfect excuse to make some angels on horseback – look here for my recipe.)
Also served are some crunchy sippets, made from bread, and sugar peas in a buttery sauce. I was quite surprised that sugar peas were even around in the 17th century, I’ve always considered them a recent addition to our grocer’s shops and allotments.

There are 4 elements to this recipe are not particularly complicated, but they do require a little thought…

The Capon
Place a capon, breast down, in a large stockpot with its giblets.
Add water to just about cover the bird and add the stock herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley and fennel; then add 2 or 3 blades of mace and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer exceedingly gently until cooked – my 7 pound capon took about 1 ½ hours – the best way to tell it’s done is to spear the thickest part of the thigh and look for pink juices just you would do for a roast turkey or chicken. Remove the capon to a plate, cover it with foil and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. On no account throw away the delicious fennel-scented stock. Freeze it in batches and use as needed for soups, &c.

The Bread Sauce
Start getting the sauce ready around 30 minutes before you think the capon will be ready.  Peel two onions and simmer them, covered, in water until they are tender and then blitz them in a processor or blender, or if you want to be old-school, pass them through a sieve or a mouli-legumes. Stir into the onions around four ounces of fresh breadcrumbs and a few ladlespoons of the capon stock so that you have a nice sauce. Use some oyster liquor and verjuice as well as some salt and pepper to season the sauce.

The Sippets
Sippets are fingers or triangles of bread either fried or baked and were very commonly served under meats to soak up the delicious juices. I made fingers with thickly sliced bread and baked them in a 180C (350F) oven until crisp and crunchy, around 20 minutes. These can be done in advance and warmed through in the oven if you like.

The Sugar Peas
The sugar peas – ‘cods’ – can be prepared whilst the capon is resting. When the cods be but young, string them and pick off the husks. Take 2 or 3 handfuls and but with ½ sweet butter, ¼ pint of water [this equalled 4 fluid ounces back in the day, rather than 5 as it does today in the UK], gross [black] pepper, salt, mace and oil. I used olive oil. Heat all the ingredients aside from the pods in a saucepan, add the pods, cover and stew until tender but with a little bite left in them.
Next, thicken the sauce with 3 or 4 egg yolks that have been beaten with 6 tablespoons of dry sherry (this is one of Jane’s substitutions, the original recipe used sack, a type of sweet ale).

Joint the capon and serve it on the sippets with the peas and their sauce poured over. Serve the bread sauce in a separate bowl or jug.

#335 Boiled Capon with Sugar Peas. After the success of the boiled turkey, I was looking forward to trying this new meat. I was a little disappointed; the meat wasn’t particularly flavourful and it was a little tough. That cockerel must have been doing a lot of strutting around, even without its testicles. As I ate my leftovers over next day or two, I did notice that the flavour of the meat did develop more – it was very turkey-like.  The bread sauce and the peas were very nice however. I think if the capon was swapped for a chicken or turkey, this would be really good. 5.5/10.

#225 Cockie-Leekie

And my lords and lieges, let us all to dinner, for the cockie-leekie is a-cooling.”

Sir Walter Scott, to his dinner guests

Cockie-Leekie, or Cock-a-Leekie, is a very Scottish dish, or so I thought. Apparently it turns up in several versions in Scottish and Welsh cook books and a rather complicated recipe in an English cook book where it is called Hindle Wakes. It appears in English food, but I haven’t done it yet.

So it is not necessarily exclusively Scottish. It is also not a soup. It’s a good, hearty and simple dish: beef, chicken, leeks and prunes all stewed together. All you need is some slow cooking time. Have a go and make it for a lazy Sunday dinner as I did. It serves at least 6 people:

Start off by placing a two-pound slice of stewing steak in the bottom of a deep stockpot. Cover with water and bring it to a boil slowly, skimming off any scum as it rises to the top. Simmer for an hour and hten season well with salt and pepper. Meanwhile trim three pounds of leeks and tie half of them in a bundle. When the hour is up place them in the pot. Simmer for a further half an hour before adding a whole chicken or capon and sit it on top of the beef (you can use a boiling fowl; if so, add it when you add the leeks). The cockie-leekie now needs to simmer gently for an hour and a half. Twenty minutes before it is ready remove the bundle of leeks and add a pound of prunes. Now slice the remaining leeks up and add those in the final five minutes. Easy.


To serve it, place some beef and a piece of chicken in large bowl and cover with the thick, dark and rich stock. A meal in itself, though I did some boiled new potatoes too.

#225 Cockie-Leekie. Really good food, especially for this time of year when all is miserable and wet outside. This is home-cooking at its simplest and finest. The stock produce from the beef and prunes was lovely and rich, but did not detract from the subtly-flavoured chicken. Really good one this one. 7.5/10.