#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.

#329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs


John Evelyn was a very influential diarist who left quite a legacy. He was from a well-to-do family in South-East London, but being the second son, had no rights to the estate (unless his brother died without having a son himself). So, to make up for this he decided to become a scholar and travelled France and Italy in search of knowledge during the tumultuous time of the English Civil War. He wrote several books, witnessed the Great Fire of London, and was friends with Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. He lived during the reigns of Charles II, James II and William III and Mary II. He was talented landscaper, designing the gardens at Sayes Court, London. He became quite chummy with Charles II and was a founding member of the Royal Society. One of his books, called Sylvia, or a discourse of Forest Trees declared the tragedy befalling the country’s trees that were being felled for fuel to the glass factories. The book was responsible for the planting of millions of trees – quite the modern conservationist!

During his later years, he planned to write an encyclopaedia of horticulture, but only got as far as the first chapter. This chapter was published as a book in its own right in 1699, titled Aceteria and it is from this book that this recipe comes:
An Herb-Tart is made thus: Boil fresh Cream or Milk, with a little grated Bread or Naples-Biscuit (which is better) to thicken it; a pretty Quantity of Chervile, Spinach, Beete (or what other Herb you please) being first par-boil’d and chop’d. Then add Macaron, or Almonds beaten to a Paste, a littlesweet Butter, the Yolk of five Eggs, three of the Whites rejected. To these some add Corinths plump’d in Milk, or boil’d therein, Sugar, Spice at Discretion, and stirring it all together over the Fire, bake it in the Tart-Pan.
These sorts of sweet vegetable-based tarts were commonly eaten as a pudding during wintertime when there was no fresh fruit to be had. I had heard of carrots being used in this way, but not spinach! So, with an air of dubiousness I followed the updated version that Jane Grigson provides which surprisingly only contains spinach…
Begin by cooking 2 pounds of spinach in a pan with a little water and salt. Cover the giant pile with a lid and simmer until it collapses – about 5 minutes.
From this…
…to this!
Let it cool before draining and squeezing out any liquid, and then chop it.
Mix an ounce of breadcrumbs with ½ pint of single cream in a pan and slowly bring it to the boil. Meanwhile soak 2 ounces of currants or raisins in some warm milk. Into the cream, stir the spinach along with 1 or 2 ounces of macaroon crumbs (for a recipe see here), 2 ounces of butter, 2 whole eggs and two egg yolks, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar and the raisins and milk. Stir the green slurry over a low heat until everything is well-incorporated. Add more sugar or macaroon crumbs and grate in some nutmeg to taste.
Line a 9 to 10 inch tart tin with some puff pastry and pour in the spinach mixture. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 220⁰C (425⁰F) until the pastry has begun the brown, and then turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰F) bake until the filling is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.
This should be eaten hot or warm with some cream for pudding.
#329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs. Well this was certainly a strange one and I haven’t made up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. There was no attempt at masking the flavor of the spinach, but it did marry surprisingly well with the fruit and other sweet things as well as the nutmeg. Even though everyone ate it quite happily we weren’t sure if it was a dessert, and after my fourth slice, I still wasn’t sure! I think it could be very successfully reproduced as an amuse-bouche or hors d’oeuvre though. An interesting winter-warmer, though maybe not for a pudding course. 7/10.

#304 Water-Souchy

“And lo, Jesus said,
‘Hurry up lads, I am champing at the bit here.'”

There have been plenty of recipes in English Food that have seemed so unappealing on paper, but have turned out good. This one certainly didn’t sound good – a fish stew made from freshwater fish, a few basic vegetables and water. I think it’s the name that did it for me I think – I imagined a thin, watery, muddy-tasting soup. However, every recipe must be cooked and freshwater fish is a bit of a speciality in America, seeing as most of it is far away from the oceans. It would have been a tricky one to do in England without spending a fortune getting a variety of freshwater fish from the fishmonger, or going out and fishing for the buggers yourself. Here, you can just go to the supermarket and choose from a range.

So, water-souchy is a very rustic fish stew made from whatever the angler in the family brought home after a session in his or her waders in an idyllic stream in rural England. Obviously, I am not in England anymore, so I wanted the fish to reflect what I might have caught here on the Mississippi River if I could be arsed to fish there. I had a look in Seafood City, an Asian supermarket on Olive Boulevard in St Louis and bought myself some good fresh carp and catfish. Five pounds of fish are required, and cost me the princely sum of $7.50. Pretty good, I reckon, seeing as I’m rather poor at the moment.

Water-souchy became popular in the seventeenth century and remains so, at least in fishing circles. The word comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and has been described as the bouillabaisse of the Northern Latitudes. According to certain George Augustus Sala, writing in 1895 in Thorough Good Cook, ‘You rarely get it good, save at Greenwich. Why I cannot say‘. Well, it may be to do with the freshness of the fish, says Griggers, the quality of your water-souchy will be diminished if your fish is not perfectly fresh.

To make this simple stew, start off with five pounds of very fresh scaled and cleaned freshwater fish and cut them up into big chunks – no need to bone or fillet, for it is the bones that produce the stock and flavour the dish. Jane suggests perch or a mixture of fish such as perch, carp, eel &c. In a large saucepan, spread three ounces of butter over the base and cover that with the vegetables and herbs: two cleaned and chopped leeks, two chopped celery sticks, two tablespoons of chopped parsley and a bouquet garni. My bouquet garni was made up of a bay leaf, some parsley stalks, three fronds of dill and a crushed garlic clove all tied up in a bunch.

Season these well with salt and pepper and then place the chunks of fish on top. Season those too. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for about twenty minutes until the fish is cooked.

Serve in bowls, sprinkled with some croutons of bread fried in butter. I used stale sourdough bread for this, and they were very good, even if I do say so myself. ‘One eats water souchy with spoon and fork’, according to Mr Robert Pierpoint, writing in 1908. It’s the only way you can eat it really.

#304 Water-Souchy. Well as per usual the bad sounding recipe turns out to not be a dud at all. The stew was well-flavoured with the vegetables, herbs and the fish itself. It is really important to choose a pungent and tart herb like dill for something very simple like this I think as it livens things up no end. The fish was very moist, but the thing we all found a little off-putting was the bones. We are too used to eating neat steaks and filleted pieces of fish, I think; so the best way to improve this recipe, we decided, would be to fillet the fish and use the bones, and herbs to make a stock first, drain it, and then cook the vegetables and fish in the clear broth. Indeed, Eliza Acton suggests the same method in Modern cookery, in all its branches (1845). A good stew scoring 6/10 from me, but I think it could easily upped with some minor changes.

#291 Burnt Cream or Crème Brulée

Often considered a French dessert, Crème Brulée was thought to have come out if the kitchens of Trinity College, Cambridge via the sister of a librarian there, others think from an Undergraduate from Aberdeenshire in the 1860s. When the student graduated, so did the pudding and it became a favourite of the college. This is all nonsense because a recipe can be found in The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld which was published in 1769 (I have a facsimile of it). Grigson gives three recipes for it – the first, from the librarian who called it a Crème Brulée, the second and third – both dating earlier – called it Burnt Cream. Jane Grigson got a bee in her bonnet about whether the dessert had French or English origins. Where did Raffauld get her recipe from? It is a question that cannot answered, it seems, as the two nations’ cuisines are overlapped and interwoven so much since the Norman conquest of 1066. She did find a sixteenth century English manuscript with a recipe for burnt cream though, which was written around the time that Charles II came back to England after returning from exile in France.

I did this pudding whilst I was in England to go after the roast pork. I’d been wanting to do it for a while, as it is a pud I really enjoy, but mainly I just wanted to get the blowtorch out and melt the sugar. I’d never done it and it has always looked such a satisfying thing to do. None of the receipts ask for a blowtorch, but rather a very hot grill or ‘salamander’, as overhead grills were called in days of yore.

There are three recipes given by Jane, I went with the first, which was also her favourite, from a 1909 book called The Ocklye Cookery Book by Eleanor L. Jenkinson:

Place the yolks of six eggs in a bowl and bring a pint of double cream to the boil and let it boil for a full half-minute. Quickly whisk the hot cream into the eggs and return the mixture to the pan. Cook on the very low heat until the cream thickens somewhat – it should coat the back of your wooden spoon. I then sweetened it with a little sugar and added some extra flavor with some orange-flower water (lifted from Raffauld’s recipe). Don’t cook for too long or on too high a heat, as the eggs will scramble. If you think the eggs have scrambled, pass the whole lot through a sieve. Pour the custard into a shallow dish and let it chill in the fridge for as long as possible – overnight, if possible. If not possible (as it wasn’t for me), place it in the freezer as soon as it has cooled down to set. To burn the cream, scatter it with a thin, even layer of caster sugar and pop it under a very hot grill until it turn to a lovely melted caramel. Or use a blowtorch. Put it back in the fridge to harden.

For the sake of completion, here are the other two recipes:

From Domestic Cookery by a lady (Maria Rundell), 1848

Boil a pint of cream with a stick of cinnamon, and some lemon peel; take it off the fire, and pour it very slowly into the yolks of four eggs, stirring until half cold; sweeten, and take out the spice, etc.; pour it into the dish; when cold, strew white powdered sugar over, and brown it with a salamander.

From The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld, 1769

Boil a pint of cream with sugar, and a little lemon peel shred fine, then beat the yolks of six and whites of four eggs separately; when your cream is cooled, put in your eggs, with a spoonful of orange-flower water, and one of fine flour, set it over the fire, keep stirring it till it is thick, put it into a dish; when it is cold sift a quarter of a pound of sugar all over, hold a hot salamander over it till it is very brown, and looks like a glass plate put over your cream.

#291 Burnt Cream or Crème Brulée. ‘The best of all English puddings‘ says Griggers. Well I’m not sure of that, but it was pretty good. The cream tasted very light due to the heady perfume of the orange-flower water and the crackling caramel was satisfying to smash and delicious to eat. It wasn’t quite as thick as I expected to be. We all dug in with spoons, not bothering with bowls. I expect several of us now have herpes. Overall, a pretty good recipe – I think I will try it again with the lemon and cinnamon flavourings from the 1848 recipe. 6.5/10

#269 Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub

I made this syllabub to end to the little meal Hugh and I cooked for Maartin and Ninja. I’d had a feeling no one had tried one before as they have gone out of fashion rather. I’d only had one in my life before.
Syllabubs were very popular up until recently. Originally they were simply a mixture of ales or cider mixed with milk or cream, which was probably like a boozy curds-and-whey. The more solid, whipped and ever-lasting syllabubs first appeared in the seventeenth century, according to Griggers, although both were kinds were obviously eaten because recipes for both appear in the Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld from 1769 (I have recently got hold of a copy of it).
The recipe in English Food, is from a pamphlet called Syllabubs and Fruit Fools, written by the great Elizabeth David, but I thought I’d give this one from Elizabeth Raffauld too, you know, for those of you who want to keep it real. And have your own cow….
“To make a Syllabub under the cow
Put a bottle of strong beer and a pint of cider into a punch bowl, grate in a small nutmeg and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk as much milk from the cow as will make a strong froth and the ale look clear. Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.
Brilliant. Sounds awful.
Anyway, here the recipe from Ms David:
This serves four to six. Bear in mind that you have to start this one the day before you want to serve it.
To a small bowl, add 4 fluid ounces of white wine or sherry (I went with wine, as sherry seemed a bit too rich), 2 tablespoons of brandy and the pared rind and juice of a lemon. Cover the bowl and let the flavours infuse together overnight. Strain everything into a large bowl and dissolve into the liquor two ounces of caster sugar. Next slowly mix in half a pint of double cream and grate in some nutmeg. Whisk the syllabub until it almost reaches the stiff peak stage so it is still a little floppy. Don’t over-whip it. There’s nothing worse than over-whipped cream; it goes all weird and cloying. You have been warned. Spoon onto glasses or ramekins and cover with foil or cling film. Leave them somewhere cool. Sir Kenelm Digby in 1669 recommends ‘[a] tiny sprig of rosemary or a little twist of lemon peel’, so I pared some thin pieces of lemon peel and let those stand in sugar overnight too as a traditional garnish. I served them with those little caramelised biscuits you get with coffee, I forget their name.
#269 Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub. Quite a boozy affair, this dessert, and I have never really got used to alcoholic puds, we just do eat them these days. However, as far as those kinds of desserts go, this was a good one, and nothing like the awfulness that was the Whim-Wham. The lemon and the fact it was a whipped dessert made it feel lighter than it was. Hugh ended up scoffing loads of them and made himself sick. Oh dear. I can’t scoff, cos I did exactly the same with the Whim-Wham. 6/10.

#257 Cinnamon Toast

Sorry for the lax attitude towards the blog everyone, but I have an excuse! I have now moved into my apartment in Midtown Houston, and I have been getting it filled with furniture. Unfortunately I have no table and chairs yet, so I can’t really get people round for dinner parties just yet. Plus I have pretty basic kitchen equipment at the minute – though everyone at work has been brilliant giving me kitchen stuff, so hopefully all will be up and running as normal pretty soon.



There are still several easy recipes to do in the meantime and this one couldn’t be simpler and is another recipe from Robert May (see this post). Cinnamon toast has been a staple sweet snack in England for a good few hundred years and the recipe hasn’t really changed much, and makes a very good substitute for cinnamon Danish pastry, should you get a midnight craving, as they are actually very similar – especially if May’s method is used because it uses a paste of sugar, cinnamon and claret.

I managed to get a bottle of Texan claret from the most amazing off-license (liquor store) called Spec’s, which is apparently the largest one in the whole of the United States and I actually got lost in the red wine section! It deserves an entry to itself. It is just a good job I don’t have alcoholic tendencies. Anyways, for those of you who know nothing about wine (this includes me, by the way), claret is usually red wine made in the Bordeaux region of France, so technically there’s no such thing as Texan Claret. Funnily enough, the Frenchies don’t recognise claret as a term itself; it’s a very British term used generally from May’s time to describe deep red wines such as Bordeaux and before that in medieval times for spiced wines, such as hippocras. As an aside, there is no recipe for hippocras or even mulled wine in English Food, so I shall try and hunt one out for the blog closer to Christmas.

Anyway, enough of my blabbering, here’s the old recipe that is not simply buttered toast sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar like these days:


Begin by making the topping by simply making a paste from sugar and cinnamon in the proportions of one tablespoon of sugar to one teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Use the claret to make a nice spreadable paste. Butter some slices of toast, lay them on a baking sheet and spread the paste over them. Warm through briefly in a hot oven for about 5 minutes and serve it forth!

#257 Cinnamon Toast. Forever an English Classic that is much improved by going back to the original way of doing things, although I can’t imagine people going out and buying claret just for the recipe (myself excluded, natch). However, I’m sure if you ever have any red wine knocking around you can use it to make this very simple and delectable sweetmeat. The important thing is to make a paste – it melds together and forms a slight crust, so if you have no wine, use anything else, even water or milk would do, I reckon. I ate four slices, what a pig. 7/10.

#256 Buttered Squashes

An old-fashioned recipe this one and it comes from a book called The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mystery of Cooking by Robert May. It was published in 1660. To put this in context, King Charles II was on the throne after the country had briefly been de-royalled by the big old puritan misery-guts Oliver Cromwell.

Robert May himself was from a family of chefs, but obviously wanted to tell the common man how to cook; at least via rich home owners. In those days, you see, the lady of the house would have presented the head cook/chef with such a book to use. Assuming they could read. Read more about him and his book here.

Anyways, this is a very good recipe to do in the autumn because a large variety of squashes are available. This recipe can be used with ‘gourds, pompions, cucumbers and musk melons’, i.e. any soft or hard squash. The squashes are first baked in the oven at 190⁰C until tender; the length of time will depend upon the size of the squash. If the skin is very thick, it would be better to simmer it, says Griggers. I used some quite small squashes and decided to bake them.

Meanwhile prepare the stuffing for the squashes. You need to chop some onion and apples in the ratio of 1:2. The original recipe suggests using Cox’s Orange Pippins. These are not available so I used Granny Smith apples as they are quite tart. Place them in a casserole dish along with a decent knob (or knobs) of butter. Cover and bake in the oven alongside the squashes.

When the squashes are done, cut in half and scoop out the seeds and keep warm while you deal with the filling. Mash the apples and onions together and season with sugar, salt and black pepper. Fill the squash halves generously and return the whole thing to the oven for a short time to give it time to dry out a little. Serve with hot buttered toast.

#256 Buttered Squashes. I must admit I have been putting off many of the recipes in the Vegetables chapter because they seem too much of a faff to make and don’t necessarily look that tasty. This was one of them, but how wrong I was. The squashes were tender and slightly earthy in flavour which stood up very well against the sweet-sharp onion and apple filling. A big surprise that was a great supper dish, but would make a very nice first course or a good addition to some roast pork I reckon. 7/10