Some Modest Desserts

by Rachel Hertzberg, Bryn Mawr Student and Wyck’s Summer 2018 Collections Intern

In the previous blog post, we looked at some ways that beef, pork, and veal were prepared in the early 19th century.  Now we will move on to dessert, examining a few of the baked goods and confections from Jane Bowne Haines’s recipe book (or “receipt book,” as it was called at the time).  Many of her recipes can be traced back to traditional treats from the British Isles.  Not overly sugary or fancy, these simple desserts reflect Jane’s modest sensibilities.

Whipped Syllabub

Although the origins of the word “syllabub” are obscure, we know it refers to a British sweet made of frothed milk.  Before wire whisks were popular, bakers beat air into their batters with tools such as porcupine quills or bundles of twigs. Jane’s version of syllabub seems to be a sort of sweetened and flavored whipped cream, perfect to conclude a summer meal.

historic recipe for syllabub

A pint of cream sweetened with loaf sugar, ½ a pint of wine, the juice of a lemon, the white of one egg. Whip it with quills and as the froth rises put it in your glasses.

Almond Cream

This almond cream is reduced over heat, rather than whipped, to form a custard-like consistency.  The term “loaf sugar” in Jane’s recipes is just another name for white granulated sugar.

almond cream historic recipe1 quart of cream sweetened agreeably with loaf sugar.  Then take 1 lb of blanched almonds, pound them in a mortar of marble with a few drops of rose water.  Stir them into the cream, put it over the fire stirring it till it thickens. Then strain it through a sieve.

Soft Gingerbread

Jane also included a recipe for “crisp gingerbread” in her collection; both the crisp version and this soft cakey version are flavored with ginger root and molasses.  As usual, we have only the sparsest of directions.  The reader is left to her own devices to determine the proper baking dish, temperature, and cooking time.

gingerbread recipeA pint bowl of sugar, the same quantity of butter, of molasses, of milk, 4 eggs, a teaspoon full of pearl ash [salt], a cup of ginger, a few cloves, and flour sufficient to make it stiff as pound cake.

Raised Plumb Cake

Plum (or plumb) cake was an earlier name for what we now call fruitcake, a British favorite which appears everywhere from novels like “A Christmas Carol” to nursery rhymes like “Little Jack Horner.”  In previous centuries, “plum” was a catch-all word for any kind of dried fruit. In this recipe, the dried currants are not related to the fresh fruit by the same name, but rather were a particular variety of raisins, made from tiny black grapes.

Raised Plumb CakeBeat 1 lb of butter and 1 ½ of sugar together.  Then add 3 lb of soft raised bread [flour], 6 eggs, a glass of brandy. 1 lb of raisins, the same of currants, and nutmeg and cloves to your taste.

Dough Nuts

Because Jane doesn’t specify how to shape these doughnuts, we don’t know if she would have fried them as spheres or formed them into rings.  We do know that the iconic ring-shaped doughnuts were developed in the mid-1800s; according to legend, it was a sea captain who first decided to punch holes in doughnuts in order to speed up the cooking time.

doughnuts historic recipe Take 8 lb of flour, 1 ½ of sugar, 1 lb of butter, 3 ½ pints of milk, ginger, orange peel or cinnamon, a large tea cup full of yeast. Warm the milk to mix them and keep them near the fire to rise.