Thursday, August 27, 2015

Vermicelli Pudding, Reviving a Delicious 18th Century Recipe

"Vermicelly Pudding" from Eliza Smith's 1739 Recipe

This recipe, also known as a noodle kugel, can be found in several 18th century British cookery books. This particular recipe comes from the 1739 edition of Eliza Smith's, The Compleat Housewife (London). I like this version of vermicelli pudding because of the inclusion of fragrant lemon peel and orange flower water.

Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, 1739

On a side note, the first cookery book published in America was an edited version of this cookbook published in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1742 by William Parks. This recipe for "Vermicelli Pudding" was excluded from this publication, one of the editorial decisions made by Parks to eliminate recipes he thought might involve ingredients that would not be accessible to Americans. Other British cookbooks imported into America in the 18th century do include this type of recipe, therefore it was likely known. 

Modern Recipe Adaptation 
1 Quart Whole Milk
5 Ounces of Vermicelli Noodles (or any extra fine spaghetti noodles)
1 Teaspoon Ground Mace or Ground Nutmeg
Rind of One Lemon, Grated
1 Teaspoon Orange Flower Water, Optional
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
8 Ounces (2 Sticks) Butter, Cut in 1 Tablespoon Chunks
4 Whole Large Eggs plus 2 Large Egg Whites
Pinch of Salt
Pastry for  Bottom of Pie Dish, Optional

1. Place the milk in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the vermicelli, stir, and reduce heat to low. Cook until the vermicelli is just tender, but not overly soft, about 8 minutes. Stir frequently. Remove from the heat. Do NOT drain the milk.

2. Add the spice, lemon, orange flower water, sugar, and butter to the vermicelli/milk mixture. Stir until the sugar and butter are melted and dissolved.

3. Allow the mixture to cool to just warm, not hot. This is important because if the mixture is too hot the eggs will cook when you add them to it.

4. While mixture is cooling, whisk together the eggs and egg whites. You can also go ahead and heat the oven to 350º F at this time.

5. Add the eggs to the warm (not hot) mixture and mix thoroughly. Then salt to taste (about a pinch).

6. Pour into a pie dish lined with pie pastry dough or pour into a greased casserole dish or deep-dish pie dish. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to collect any spills or overages that may occur during cooking.

7. Bake at 350º for about 60 minutes, or until cooked through and set.

8. Allow to cool before serving.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Grasmere Gingerbread: An English Lakes District Delight

Grasmere Gingerbread
William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and now gingerbread are all things to be associated with England's beautiful Lakes District. In Church Cottage in the small lakeside village of Grasmere, located in the county of Cumbria, is nestled a tiny shop selling a delectable gingerbread described as, "neither a biscuit nor a cake, but somewhere in between . . . ." I recently had the pleasure of stumbling across this shop while on holiday in England. The line to buy the gingerbread stretched down the block as only a handful of people at one time could fit into the tiny shop! Being the historic foodie that I am, I was immediately drawn to the hubbub and had to buy myself a portion of these carbohydrate gems. And, of course, I was determined to learn the history of this recipe, as well.

Historically, gingerbreads in England reach back to the fourteenth century when they were simply pastes made of breadcrumbs, honey, ginger, and sometimes red sandalwood (sanders) for coloring
[for more information click here to see my historic gingerbread post]. Over the centuries, ingredients such as wheat flour, oats, molasses, and other spices were added to the basic gingerbread paste recipe to make more modern forms gingerbread. By the 16th and 17th centuries, two ports near Grasmere on the northeast coast of England, Whitehaven and Milnthorpe, were influential in bringing spices, unrefined sugars, and rum to the region. Such ingredients were adopted by the local people and were used to make adaptations of classic recipes; consequently, gingerbread was one of these old world recipes adapted with the new imports. 
The village of Grasmere is one of several British locations such as Ashbourne, Ormskirk, and Edinburgh, known for making their own specific types of gingerbreads. 

The gingerbread recipe associated with Grasmere today was developed in 1854 by Sarah Nelson, a Grasmere woman. Nelson based her gingerbread on recipes from the county of Lancashire; therefore, Nelson cannot be credited with inventing this style of gingerbread even though Nelson's is trade marked and the popular one currently associated with Grasmere. 

So, what makes this gingerbread so special? It is known for its unique texture which is a cross between a biscuit and a cake. It also has an oatmeal base which gives it a unique flavor and mouth-feel.

Legend has it that Nelson placed her handwritten recipe in a bank vault for safe-keeping. Of course, nowadays there are several recipes available that claim to mimic this type of gingerbread. Click Here to connect to a version of a recipe for Grasmere Gingerbread developed by the English Kitchen blog. Good luck and enjoy!

If you would like to sample this gingerbread without doing any baking or making the trek to the Lakes District, you can order by clicking here to be connected with the shop's website. They do offer international sales. Please note, I am not being compensated for recommending this site.