The moment I got this assignment I knew I wanted to reconstruct a historical recipe: I love cooking so historical reconstruction is a particular interest of mine. I decided to reconstruct the recipe for “Blanch Creame” from folio 13 verso of manuscript Va429. I chose this recipe because it seemed a relatively simple recipe that would be easy to follow and I had, perhaps naively, assumed that it would be easy to assume what the result would be.
To make things easy I used my transcription of the recipe finished in class.
“To make a blanch Creame
Season a pinte of the thickest Creame with
Rose water and Suger set it to boile then take the
whites of 10 Eggs doe away the treads beat them with
a little could creame then stirr them into your
creame when it boiles upp and stirr it continually
untill it comes to curd then take it up and passd –
it through a haird sive beat it with a spoone
till it be could and then dish it”
I then did some research on what kind of dish I should be aiming for: I knew it would be a sweet dish since it involved cream, sugar, and rosewater but I wanted to be sure in terms of consistency and ingredients. My searches for “blanch creame” did not turn up anything so I instead focused on “blanch” on the OED. I assumed it would refer to the cooking process but instead this was the definition:
“blanch, adj. Obsolete exc. Historical.
1. White, pale. Chiefly in specific uses, as blanch fever, blanch powder, blanch sauce. Obsolete.
1475 Liber Cocorum (Sloane) (1862) 28 (heading) Blaunche sawce for capons.
1584 T. Cogan Hauen of Health cxxvi. 110 A verie good blanch powder, to strow upon rosted apples.”
From this I learnt that the ‘blanch’ referred more to the colour of the sauce than the cooking process and I was able to make my first important decision. I would usually use unrefined brown sugar to cook with to maintain historical accuracy but I chose to use a white sugar so as to preserve the colouring it was named after. I then did some research as to what a “creame” could be, starting with Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell’s blog “Cooking In The Archives”. Cooking In The Archives became an invaluable source for me throughout this recipe reconstruction, from the research stages to the cooking.
I looked for any “cream” recipes on the blog and found two recipes that came in the most useful: “Rashberry Cream” and “Snow Cream”. Snow Cream involved large amounts of cream flavoured with rosewater, and the Rashberry Cream involved boiling cream with sugar and eggs until thickened. Neither were exactly what I was looking for, but they helped me to decide on rudimentary measurements for my recipe. I had intended to reduce the volume of the recipe like Marissa usually does but I ended up making the full 1 pint of cream, 10 egg whites recipe.
(“Cooking In The Archives”, Rare Cooking, https://rarecooking.com/2016/10/05/to-make-rashberry-cream/, https://rarecooking.com/2016/07/08/snow-cream/, accessed 17 November 2019)
Here is my reconstructed recipe for “Blanch Creame”.
1 Pint Cream
10 egg whites
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp rose water
1: Combine cream, sugar and rose water in saucepan. Set on a medium-low heat to boil.
2. Separate egg whites and yolks, removing the “threads” from the whites
3. Beat eggs with a little leftover cream
4. Pour in eggs to boiling cream and mix quickly until thick
5. Pour into basin and mix until cooled
6. If not happy with taste or consistency, put in pastry case and bake into a more appealing tart.
As you can see, something happened at the cooking stage of the creame. The biggest problem with reconstructing historical recipes is that so much of the recipe is presumed knowledge: what constituted “seasoning” the cream and what was a “curd”? As I was unsure how the recipe would taste after cooking I added 4 tbsp extra sugar and about 5 tsp of rosewater as I cooked. I boiled and stirred the mix until it thickened to a point where I did not think it would thicken anymore – , was that a curd? A quick look at a Lemon Curd recipe advised far slower cooking than my recipe but I was using many more eggs so I stuck to my keeping it on high heat after boiling. I tried to pass the mix through a sieve but it was far too thick; I gave up and left it lumpy.
Beating it as it cooled didn’t seem to have any effect on the texture so I popped into the fridge and let it set overnight. The next day the cream had thickened into a custard texture that tasted very sweet and also strongly of rosewater. People did enjoy it, surprisingly enough, and here are a few of their comments:
M said that it “tasted weird and was not very good by itself. The texture was like a cheesecake filling and very sweet”.
D said that the texture was “the weirdest” but he liked the light flavour.
S said that he thought it would be “good with strawberries” and reminded him of a filling for cake or French pastries.
This focus on it as a filling led to a moment of inspiration, and with a trip to Tesco a pastry shell was procured and the rest of the filling put in it. 20 minutes in the oven and what came out was a floral custard-y tart that was completely finished over three days. So, a success in the end.
Writing this up has helped me come to a few conclusions if I ever wanted to make this recipe again: first, I added far too much sugar and rosewater. Second, I should have cooked it slower especially when adding the eggs. Third, I should have the effort to put it through the sieve a little at a time and beat it afterwards. Finally, I think serving it with fruit would have been a nice accompaniment.
It was both fun and frustrating to make a recipe that I had no outside help on: I couldn’t google other recipes to double check or ask anyone else, and I had no pictures or outside information to know what I was aiming for. In the end it was a fun experiment and I hope to make more historical recipes soon.