Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Rennaissance English Dinner Menu

First course: Pottage of Gourds and Spinach Tart

Second course: Meat Pears and Fried Beans

Dessert: Eggs in Moonshine

To Drink: Sweetened almond milk and Hypocrace

The pottage, tart, and beans are forgiving in their timing. The meat pears can be prepped in advance, but need to be cooked just before serving. The eggs are probably the most fussy dish, but to a modern palate it's still best to serve them last. The idea of a dessert course per se is more modern, but it's not out of place for the last course to be something small and sweet.

To Make Hypocrace

From The Good Housewife's JEWEL, Thomas Dawson, England, 1597:

Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised, grains galingall, and cloves, not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.

My Redaction:

1.5 liters cheap Pinot Grigio
1.7 cups/.75 lbs sugar
Five cloves
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/4 tsp powdered galangal or ginger
2 little cinnamon sticks

Put sugar into a pitcher. Add a little bit of wine and stir to form a paste, then gradually add the rest of the wine, stirring continuously so that the sugar is fully dissolved. Toss in spices, breaking up a bit if you wish.

Refrigerate for 12-24 hours, then strain out spices and serve.


This is a quite sweet, lightly spiced drink. You can easily adjust the proportions to your taste.

To Make Eggs in Moonshine

From A Proper new booke of Cookery, England, 1545:

Take a disshe of rose water and a dissh full of suger and set them vpon a chafyngdisshe & let them boyle / than take the yelkes of eight or nyne egges new layde and put them thereto euery one from other / and so let them harden a litel / and so after this maner serue them foarth and cast a lytell Sinamon and Suger vpon them.

My Redaction:

12 egg yolks1/2 cup rosewater
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Bring a syrup of the sugar, water, and rosewater to a bare simmer in a wide pan. Very gently transfer each yolk into the syrup, keeping them apart from each other. Make multiple batches if necessary. When the yolks start to firm a little and whiten on the underside, gently lift them out into custard dishes, spoon a bit of the syrup onto each, and serve warm with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top.

Serves 10, or perhaps 12 if you break fewer yolks than I do.


They're a little weird, but (almost) all of my test eaters enjoyed them quite a bit. The crucial thing is the texture of the yolks, which should still be a bit soft, but not at all runny.

To Make Pears of Meat

From The Good Housewife's JEWEL, Thomas Dawson, England, 1597:

Take a piece of a leg of mutton of veal raw, being mixed with a little sheep's suet, and half a manchet grated fine, taking four raw egg yolks and al. Then take a little thyme, and parsley chopped small, a few gooseberries or barberries, or green grapes being whole. Put all these together, being seasoned with salt, saffron and cloves, beaten and wrought altogether. Then make rolls or balls like to a pear, and when you have so done, talk the stalk of the sage, and put it into the ends of your pears or balls. Then take the fresh broth of beef, mutton, or veal, being put in to an earthen pot, putting the pears or balls in the same broth with salt, cloves, mace, and saffron. When you be ready to serve him, put two or three yolks of eggs into the broth. Let them boil no more.

My Redaction:

3.5 lbs lamb leg
2 cup freshly crumbed bread
7 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbs fresh thyme, minced

About 20 stalks of sage
2 eggs beaten
10 big green grapes, chopped small
1 qt beef broth

2 generous pinches saffron
1.5 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp powdered clove

Trim large solid fat and connective tissue from the lamb, cut into cubes and process on medium setting of a meat grinder. Hand mix the lamb with the breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, eggs, grapes, salt, one pinch saffron, and 1/2 tsp cloves. Form balls of about 2.5", or .25 lbs, or of a size that you'll make about 18 of them. Pinch each ball at the top and flatten a bit at the bottom so that they are pear shaped. Stick a short stalk of sage into the top of each pear.

Bring beef broth to boil in a pot, with remaining cloves, nutmeg, and a pinch of saffron. Salt the broth if it is unsalted. Place batches of pears carefully into the broth with a spoon and cooked covered for 5-6 minutes, or until browned and holding together when lightly pressed. If the broth does not come all the way up the pears, you can splash some of the boiling broth onto the upper parts of the pears to help them brown better.

Remove pears to a tray and serve immediately.


Dawson's original title for this recipe is the somewhat misleading "To make pears to be boiled in meat", but they are actually a pleasing subtlety or illusion food. I left a leaf of sage on each stalk, which I find visually appealing, but the thinner leafy parts of the stalk are a little more prone to wilting in the steam of the broth, so you might achieve a better effect with a thicker part of the stalk.

Green grapes have a nice mild flavor here, but are a bit watery to be ideal; I did not have any gooseberries or barberries when making this, but if you have some kind of small tart berry it would likely be better. For a non-period version cranberries would be a good flavor contrast.

To Cook Gourds in Pottage

From Forme of CuryEngland, 14th century:

Take young Gowrdes; pare hem and kerue hem on pecys. Cast hem in gode broth, and do þerto a gode pertye of oynouns mynced. Take pork soden; grynde it and alye it þerwith and wiþ yolkes of ayren. Do þerto safroun and salt, and messe it forth with powdour douce.

My Redaction:

6 pints of butternut squash, peeled, cleaned, and cut into 1/2"-1" cubes
12 oz pork loin
1 qt. beef stock
2 small onions, minced
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp salt
1 pinch saffron

Bring beef stock to a boil in a pot, add pork and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, turning as necessary to achieve even cooking. Remove pork from stock and add squash, onions, and egg yolks. Add the saffron and half the salt and bring to a strong simmer.

When the pork has cooled enough to work with, process it on the coarsest setting of a meat grinder, or mince with a knife. Add it back to the simmering squash.

When the pottage has simmered for about 90 minutes, or when the chunks of squash have started to break down and the broth is thick, check the salting and add more to taste. Serve with cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled on each bowl.

Serves 8.


The sweet spices take this from a mundane dish to an engaging one. I have tried it without them, but it is much better with.

The choice of what gourd to use in medieval recipes is always imprecise; I have opted for a gourd that has the right flavor and texture for the dish.

To Fry Beans in the English Way

From A Proper new booke of CookeryEngland, 1545:

Take your Beanes and boyle them and put them into a fryenge pan with a disshe of butter & one or two onyons and so let them fry tyll they be browne all together / than cast a lytell salt upon them / & than serue them forth.

My Redaction:

4 14 oz. cans butter beans, drained
3 medium onions, diced
6 tbs butter

3/4 tsp salt, or to taste

Put a large frying pan on medium high heat. Sautée onions in butter until softened and not yet browned. Mix in beans and reduce heat to medium. Fry for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally but letting the beans and onions brown generously. Salt to taste.

Serves 10.


A simple tasty dish. The beans develop an almost bready consistency.

What type of bean to use is ambiguous; some other redactors use fava beans, but their distinctive flavor is not so clearly a part of Tudor English cuisine. Butter beans are new world, but seem like a reasonable proxy for whatever innocuous beans the English used.

To make a Tarte of Spinage

From A Proper new booke of Cookery, England, 1545:

Take spynage and parboyle it tender, then take it vp and wringe out the water cleane and chopp it very small and set it vppon the fyer with swete butter in a frying pan and ceason it and set it in a platter to coole, than fyll vp your Tarte and so bake it.

My Redaction:

1 9" pie crust
2 lbs spinach
6 tbs butter

1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a pot. Working in batches that fit your pot, parboil the spinach for about 30 seconds per batch, then place in a strainer. When all the spinach is boiled, press out as much of the water as you can, then let it drain for 20 minutes or so. Chop the drained spinach moderately fine, then fry in the butter on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the spinach has dried further and is beginning to brown a little. Remove from heat and add the spices to taste.

Meanwhile, bake the empty pie crust for 10 minutes at 300 degrees to protect it from moisture. Put the spinach into the crust and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.


This is an unusual recipe in that the main ingredient is actually cooked three different ways before it's done. It's a somewhat laborious way to turn a large amount of spinach into a small tart, but the dish is improved by each cooking step.

It might be slightly truer to the original to wrap the spinach in cheesecloth and wring in out after the parboiling, but if you have time to let it sit and drain I don't believe it will make much of a difference - the water will cook out in the frying anyway.

Any standard pie crust will work; I use a Joy of Cooking recipe.