#253 Payn Pur-Dew (1420)

I haven’t done a historical recipe for a while, so I thought that my first recipe in this new country should be an old English one. It comes from the French pain perdu, which means lost bread, in other words smothered bread. It’s a French recipe but it obviously goes very far back in English history as this recipe proves. It’s from 1420 and is transcribed straight from the source, although Griggers doesn’t say what the source is! To put this into historical context, Henry V is the King of England and so he will have indulged himself on these in banquets; indeed, the inclusion of sugar in the recipe made it very regal. In the fifteenth century, honey would have been used as a sweetener. Eventually this dessert morphed into Poor Knight’s of Windsor – of which there are two recipes in English Food and I will try and do them soon so we can compare and contrast. Anyways, here is the recipe:

Take fair yolks of eggs, and separate them from the white, and drawn them through a strainer, and take salt [a pinch] and cast thereto; then take fair bread, and cut in round slices; then take fair butter that is clarified, or else fresh grease, and put in a pot, and make hot; then take and wet well the slices in the yolks, and put them in a pan, and so fry them up; but be ware of them cleaving to the pan; and when it is fried, lay them on a dish, and lay plenty of sugar thereon, and then serve forth.

I used clarified butter – not sure what is meant by grease, I suppose the author meant lard or dripping. It is important to clarify the butter, otherwise it and the bread will burn. The word fair in the recipe means fresh; so the quality of ingredients was important in medieval times just as nowadays. Griggers suggests using brioche should you have it. I didn’t.

FYI: Payn per-dew is also called French toast sometimes, but in the north of England I know it as ‘eggy bread’ and it is not just the yolks but the whole egg plus some milk is used. Slices are fried in a little oil and eaten with a scraping of tomato sauce or brown sauce and is certainly not a pudding!

#253 Payn Pur-Dew (1420). A simple and historical recipe that is a wee bit bland by our modern tastes. I think that in the 1420s it would have been an exciting dish, but I prefer it made with the whole egg and some milk to make it less rich and serve as a savoury rather than a sweet. It might have been better with syrup or honey on it instead; something with a bit of heady flavour. So, all-in-all it was okay, but not amazing. 4/10.

#177 Hollandaise Sauce

The fishmonger in the Arndale Centre in Manchester was selling sea bass for £1.50 each! What a bargain. I know that they’ve probably been dredged up by one of those massive trawler nets and by buying them I’ve surely helped seal the fate of several marine species, but ignorance is bliss so I won’t try to find out.

To go with the sea bass, I had samphire (see previous entry) and also made some hollandaise sauce. Not technically English, of course, but we’ve used it for so long in our cuisine it seems English – more English than, say mayonnaise anyway – and it is one of my favourite sauces. The trouble is, me and hollandaise has a chequered past; it’s a tricky sauce that is either amazing and delicious, or splits and is awful and goes in the bin. My success rate is around 50%. Griggers’ recipe is slightly different to the classic way of making it as it doesn’t use melted butter, but uses cubes of butter added gradually instead? Is this a foolproof recipe? We shall see…

FYI: hollandaise sauce first appeared as simply melted butter in eighteenth century France, but soon became the complex emulsion of butter and egg yolks we know and love and was added to the list of mother sauces of French cuisine by Escoffier in the early twentieth century (the others being béchamel, veloute, espangole and allemande).

This is the Griggers method (you can multiply up or down depending upon how much you need to make):

Begin by boiling down 3 tablespoons each of water and white wine vinegar and 10 crushed white peppercorns until just a tablespoon remains. Strain it into a bowl and allow to cool. Bring a pan of water to a simmer and place the bowl over it. Beat in three large egg yolks and beat in 6 ounces of unsalted butter bit by bit using a wire whisk. Do not over heat, or the eggs cook and the sauce splits. Season with salt and lemon juice.

#177 Hollandaise Sauce – 9/10. Well that was easy! This may be the fool-proof method I have been after (either that or it was a fluke). The sauce is beautifully rich, with a piquant tang of lemon and vinegar that cut through it so well that you easily drink a pit of the stuff. My only gripe is that this method doesn’t seem to make a very thick sauce, but that is being very nit-picky.

#93 Mayonnaise

I want to clock up some Grigson recipes so that the 100th is something exciting before Christmas with a hare, otherwise it’ll be something boring like Welsh rarebit or something. The first of these is mayonnaise. Surprised it’s in there, really; I know we all use it, but it’s not English. Who am I to judge? Apparently, in 1861 Mrs Beeton, took it as read that mayonnaise was well established here. Funnily enough, I’ve never actually made my own mayonnaise and only ever bought it from the supermarket and wasn’t sure what to expect. If you haven’t, have a go – it’s dead easy. I don’t know what the fuss is about getting the yolks and oil to emulsify and not split; just don’t rush it, and you’ll be fine…

Beat 3 egg yolks with a whisk along with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (English is way too strong for this) and a dash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar. When they start to thicken slowly add ½ pint of groundnut or olive oil (I actually used both at a ratio of about 4:1). Add the oil drop by drop as you whisk at first. If you’re wrist begins to ache take a little rest. You can be braver with the oil as you get to the half way mark. When all is added, season with salt and pepper and extra lemon or vinegar if needed. Easy!

FYI: No-one is really sure of the origin of the name – there are two theories; first, says Larousse Gastronomique, is that it is a popular corruption of moyeunaise, derived from the very old French word moyeu, which means yolk of egg. Or it came from mayennaise after Charles de Lorraine, duke of Mayenne, famous for taking the time to eat his chicken with cold sauce before being defeated in the Battle of Arques. What a trouper. I prefer the second story.

#93 Mayonnaise – 6/10. Not disappointed as such, but unprepared, I think the right word might be. Home-made mayonnaise is absolutely nothing like shop-bought. They are incomparable. This mayonnaise was rich and slightly bitter in flavour and not good when I dipped my finger in to check for seasoning. However, when I tried it out on my favourite sandwich – mature Cheddar, picked beetroot and mayonnaise, I changed my mind and thought it was very good. I just think I’m too used to the bland old Hellman’s to be a convert…Is that wrong?