It’s mid September, which means series 7 of everyone’s favourite baking competition is in full swing. Already on it’s fourth episode, (where does the time go?) this week the bakers will tackle, for the first time, batter. Now, the ‘history bit’ of the Bake Off, in which presenters Mel and Sue explore the background of one of the recipes featured, has received mixed reviews on social media in the past, with some people passing it off as boring and using the time to go and replenish their mug of tea. But for me, and lots of others, it gives a nice little snippet of daily life in the past. What people did all day, including what they ate, has always interested me, so each week I’m going a share a historical recipe (or recipes) in keeping with the current Bake Off theme (and don’t worry, I’ll backtrack and post some for the previous 3 weeks too.)
This week begins with pancakes and fruit fritters. Much like today, pancakes were mainly eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent when Christians began their fast, to use up the eggs and milk. The fruit fritters, with their lightly spiced batter, were more likely to be found on the table in noble households.
Blaunche escrepes (white crepes/pancakes, 13th century)
Blaunche escrepes. E une autre viaunde, ke ad a noun blaunche escrepes. Pernez fleur demeyne e blaunc de l’oef, e festes bature, ne mye trop espesse, e metez du [vin]; pus pernez une esquele e festes un pertuz parmy; e puys pernez bure, ou oile, ou gresse; e puys metez vos quartres deis dedenez la bature pur hastir; e puys pernez cel bature e metez de dunz une esquele, e festes culer parmy cel pertuz dedenz la gresse; e puys festes une escrepe, e puys une autre, e metez vostre dei denz le pertuz de l’esquele; e puys jettez sucre desus les crespes, e dressez celes escrespes od les poumes de oranges.
Here is another dish, which is called white pancakes. Take best white flour and egg white and make batter, not too thick, and put in some wine; then take a bowl and make a hole in it; and then take butter, or oil, or grease; then put your four fingers in the batter to stir it; take the batter and put it in the bowl and pour it through the hole into the (hot) grease; make one pancake and then another, putting your finger in the opening of the bowl; then sprinkle the pancakes with sugar, and serve with the “oranges.”
– Hieatt, Constance B. and Robin F. Jones. “Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections Edited from British Library Manuscripts Additional 32085 and Royal 12.C.xii.” Speculum vol. 61, issue 4 (Oct. 1986): 859-882.
Pinch of salt
Butter or oil
Beat the egg whites until fluffy; beat in enough flour to make a slightly thick batter. Beat in enough wine to thin the batter to a medium consistency, the same as for modern pancake batter. Add a pinch of salt. In a large skillet or pan, heat the oil or butter.
The medieval recipe has the batter being dropped into the hot oil by use of an improvised funnel, a bowl with a hole in the bottom, the flow controlled by the fingers. You may feel free to use whatever method of making pancakes that you’re familiar or comfortable with: ladling from a bowl, pouring from a pitcher, using a modern pancake batter dispenser, etc. Make as many pancakes as your batter will allow, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Turn the pancake to cook both sides, being careful that, like modern crepes, they stay as white as possible. When done, sprinkle with sugar and serve with Poume d’oranges. (Via godecookery.com)
Fruturs (Hot battered fruit fritters, 14th century)
For to make fruturs. Nym flowre and eyryn and grynd peper and safroun and mak therto a batour and par aplyn and kyt hem to brode penys and kest hem theryn and fry hem in the batour wyth fresch grees and serve it forthe.
– ‘The Forme of Cury’, 1390, B.L manuscripts
To make fritters. Take flour and eggs and ground pepper and saffron and make thereto a batter. Peel apples and cut them into broad pieces and cast them therein, and fry them in the batter with fresh grease and serve it forth. (Some recipes also added ale/beer to the batter mixture)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup beer
1 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
Oil (for frying)
Peel, core, and slice apples. Mix flour, egg, beer and sugar to make a thick batter. Coat apple slices and deep fry in oil until golden. Serve. (Modern version via medievalcookery.com)