Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From the Pages of Jane Austen's Emma: Routs and Rout-Cakes

Rout-Cakes -
Hopefully, These are Good Enough for Mrs. Elton

Mrs. Elton was very shocked at the lack of sophistication displayed by her new neighbors  in Highbury and she particularly expressed her dismay at the “poor attempt at routcakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card-parties.”

Emma, Chapter 34

Fans of Jane Austen's Emma know that the character of Mrs. Elton is high maintenance, persnickety, and difficult to please, even at the best of times. So it is no shock that she found fault with the fare served at the card parties she attended at her new home as a married lady in Highbury. Oh well, dear hostesses of Highbury . . . better luck next time at pleasing Mrs. Elton.

What is a Rout?
  • The word rout is an English word that comes from the French word route, meaning company.
  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a rout is "fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries." 
  • The earliest reference to the word rout with this definition going back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator II. xii. 328: "She told me, that when the Number of Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout." 
    • Similarly, a 1771 reference confirms the relative smallness of a rout party: "She keeps a small rout at her own house, never exceeding ten or a dozen card-tables." 

What is a Rout-Cake?
  • A rout-cake is basically a rich small cake (cookie to Americans) served at the above-stated routs. 
  • The earliest reference to these cakes goes back to 1782 from an advertisement in the Morning Post on 5 November: "Fruits, Ices, Jellies, Rout-cakes, and all sorts of Confectionary, &c.” 
  • Rout-cakes are usually a drop biscuit (cookie) made with orange zest, orange-flower water or rose water, currants, and often spirits such as brandy.
  • The earliest published reference to the recipe goes back only to about 1824, but its existence is clearly earlier. 
Here is the 1824 recipe from Maria Rundell's, A New System of Domestic Cookery (London):

Rout-Cakes: Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 1 Pound Butter, Softened
  • 2 1/4 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Orange-Flower Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Rose-Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Sweet White wine
  • 2 Tablespoons Brandy
  • 6 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • One Pound Zante Currants
  1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then, add the remaining liquids.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and zante currants. 
  3. Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
  4. Divide the dough into four equal portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This is important because you will be able to roll the dough more easily when it's cold and it will prevent the cookies from spreading too much in the oven.
  5. While the dough is cooling, heat the oven to 375º and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 3/4 of an ounce in weight (about 1 1/2 teaspoons).
  7. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown.

  • Oxford English Dictionary

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ginger Infused Preserved Watermelon Rind in Fun Shapes

Watermelon Rind Preserves Cut in Fun Shapes

To Preserve Watermelon Rind

Boil the rind until soft & put it in a dish to cool, boil ¾ lb. of sugar for a first sirrup, while hot stir in fine ginger enough to flavour it, when both are cold put them in a pot and keep it tied until the rind absorb the sugar. then strain the sirrup & with it wash the ginger from the rind. ¾ lb. sugar boild & cooled, then put in the rind & tie it up tight.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About Watermelon
Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, is native to Africa and has a very long history of cultivation, as seen in wall paintings in ancient Egypt that date back to before 2000 BC. By the 10th -12th centuries AD, watermelons had spread to the Mediterranean and to India and China. However, the historic record shows no signs that the Ancient Greeks and Romans knew about watermelons until after the fall of the Roman Empire. In addition, because watermelons grow better in hot climates they did better in southern Europe than in the colder northern climates.

Watermelons reached the New World in 1613 when slave traders brought them first to Brazil and then to Massachusetts. Watermelon cultivation in the Americas really took off and over the years many new varieties have been produced. As a result, watermelons today can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Watermelons in 19th Century Maryland
Commercial watermelon sales are hard to track in the 19th century because advertisements for them in local papers and city directories are hard to find, suggesting they were locally grown and sold. However, because Morris includes this recipe in her journal, we do know that watermelons played a role in the diet of the 19th century white Baltimore elite. Furthermore, according to food historian, Michael Twitty, watermelons played a part in the diet of enslaved Afro-Marylanders, as well. He writes, "Just as in West and Central Africa, the women here cultivate small fenced in gardens around their homes, thatched much as they would have been back home. She sees corn, peppers, okra, watermelons, squashes, pumpkins, black eyed peas, muskmelons, eggplants, onions, and tomatoes growing--much as she would in any of the gardens she once kept in her home compound."

About Watermelon Rind Preserves
All watermelon rind can be preserved in sugar and/or vinegar; however, there is one variety, Citrullus lanatus var. citroides, or the Citron Watermelon, that is good for preserving the flesh as well as the rind. These melons are naturally bitter so they are not good for eating raw and are therefore always preserved. Interestingly, these melons are also considered the ancestor of the modern sweet watermelon. You can read more about them by clicking here.

About the Recipe
As has been typical with Mrs. Morris's recipes, this one is another example of an aide memoire, not an actual detailed recipe with step-by-step instructions. Morris assumed the recipe reader would have a certain level of knowledge and therefore she did not feel obliged to be too specific. As a result, I have had to look to other period recipes to get some more information.

Many 19th century recipes for preserved watermelon rind give directions to soak the rind in alum or lime to keep the rind crisp. Also, these recipes give directions to soak the rind with peach, grape, or vine leaves to impart a nice, green color to the rind. However, while watermelon rind preserves can be made green in this way they could also be dyed yellow with saffron or turmeric and lemon skins. Mrs. Morris's recipe does not specifically state that it should be dyed green with leaves, therefore I can assume she meant the rind to be yellow.

Additionally, many period watermelon rind preserve recipes give instructions to peel the outer skin off the rind and to cut the rind into either strips or pleasing shapes such as stars, diamonds, crescents, etc. Again, Morris left out this detail.

Here are two good period recipes to use as a guide to making Morris's version of preserved watermelon rind:

Favorite Dishes by Carrie Shuman (Chicago, 1893)

La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn (New Orleans, 1885)

Because I do not have access to peach, grape, or vine leaves and because Morris does not mention it in the recipe, I am skipping this step. Instead, I am going to make a yellow preserve by boiling the rind with lemon skins and saffron because I can certainly get those at any market. I will add ginger too because Morris does include that in her recipe.

additionally, I decided to cut the rind into some fun shapes to add to the visual appeal of the dish.

Preserved Watermelon Rind: Modern Recipe Redaction

  • 1 Large Watermelon
  • 2 Lemons, Seeded and Cut in Large Chunks 
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Saffron, Indian Saffron or Turmeric
  • 3  3/4 Pounds of Granulated Sugar (about 8 1/2 cups)
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
  1. Peel the outer green skin of the whole watermelon (it is easiest to do this before you cut into the melon). Discard the peel.
  2. Cut the watermelon into wide pieces. Cut out all of the red flesh. Some will remain on the rind, but get as much of it off as possible.
  3. Weigh your rind. You should have about 3 3/4 pounds of rind.
  4. Using cookie cutters, cut the rind into strips, starts, diamonds, flowers, crescents, etc. You will need to also use the edges from the cut-outs; you can just cut them up into small chunks.
  5. Place all of the rind, lemon chunks, and saffron (or other colorants) into a large stockpot and cover with water. Mix together. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the largest pieces of the rind are tender enough to be pierced with a sharp knife.
  6. About halfway through the simmering of the, place the sugar, ground ginger, and 3 3/4 cups water in a large stockpot. Mix together and bring to a boil over high heat. Stay near the syrup as it comes to a boil because it can easily start to boil over the edges of the pot. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, stir, and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until it starts to thicken slightly. 
  7. While the syrup is simmering, drain the water from the rind are remove the lemons and any lemon seeds that may have worked into the mix.
  8. Place the drained rind into the sugar syrup and simmer on medium-low for about 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rind looks translucent. You will know the rind is ready when the white spots that appear subsequently disappear. The cooking time for this will vary depending on the thickness of the rind.
  9. If you plan to use a water-bath canner, you can start sterilizing your jars while the rind is cooking in the syrup.
  10. Ladle the rind and syrup into the sterilized jars, seal, and process in a water-bath canner for the recommended amount of time for the jar size used.


  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University, 2014)
  • Twitty, Michael. Fighting Old Nep, The Foodways of Enslaved Afro-Marylanders 1634-1864 (2006).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sweet Pickled Plums: A Condiment for Duck and Game

Sweet Pickled Plums

To Pickle Damsons
To 5 lbs. ripe Damsons 2 ½ lbs. sugar 1 quart vinegar 2 oz. cloves—1 oz. cinnamon, ½ oz. mace—boil the sugar and all the spices in the vinegar, Pour it boiling hot on the fruit when cold, pour it off 6 times weigh your plum before you stone it—to be served with Ducks.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About Plums
Though until the early 20th century, most plums cultivated in North America by settlers were European species, there are native American varieties that were harvested by Native Americans. Popular native American plum species are:
  • Beach Plum (Prunus maritima), native to the coastal northeast.
  • Sierra Plum (P. subcordata), native to northern California and Oregon
  • P. Americana, native to the central states
These plums are generally small, tart, and have astringent skins. Therefore, they are not good for eating raw but are much more suited for making into preserves, sauces, and wines.

Up until the late 19th century, these popular European species of plums were cultivated in America:
  • Prunes
  • Greengages
  • Egg Plums
  • P. institia (this species includes damsons and bullaces)
Though these species were popular, they were never well-suited to American soil and conditions. Therefore, starting in 1885, Luther Burbank, a California-based planter, introduced many varieties of Asian plums from Japan into America and cross-bred them with Eurasian and native American varieties. He yielded hundreds of new varieties of juicy, flavorful, and plump plums. Nowadays, most commercially produced plums have much less flavor than their antecedents but are nice and firm, have a deep purple color, and look great on the shelves of supermarkets. 

About Damsons
Mrs. Morris's recipe calls specifically for damsons (Prunus institia) which are small oval plums. The species is native to Eastern Europe and West Asia. This earliest varieties were sour and therefore only good for making jam. 

Later cultivated varieties were suited for other uses. In Morris's time, it is possible that she would have had access to Farleigh and/or Bradley's King varieties. However, even these later varieties were known for their astringency and were still  best cooked with lots of sugar.  

Morris recommends serving her pickled damsons with duck, and I found another 19th century recipe for a Damson Sauce for Meats in Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery (New York, 1886), which is almost exactly like Morris's recipe. Likewise, this recipe states that it is meant to be served with game, birds, and venison. The combination of sweet and sour, with the addition of the sweet spices, really does make this a perfect condiment for these types of meats. 

In addition, I found many recipes in 19th century American cookbooks for damsons to be made into jam/preserves, pies, puddings, and even water ice.

Damson Plums
source: wikimediacommons

A Substitute for Damsons: The Italian Prune Plum
Unfortunately, I do not have access to any variety of damson plums, so I am using an alternative variety, the Italian Prune Plum, available in late summer and early fall. Prune plums are generally designed to be dried; however, these plums are also really good for making jam or for preserving in vinegar. They are also really very cute little egg-shaped gems. While these prune plums do not taste exactly like damsons, they do look like them and are versatile enough to be used in the same ways as damsons. It's not a perfect substitute but it works.

Italian Prune Plums
source: wikimediacommons

Pickled Plums: Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: 4 Quarts 

  • 5 Pounds Plums (damson or prune varieties)
  • 1 Quart (4 cups) Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 5 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Whole Cloves (or to taste as this is a lot of cloves!)
  • 1/3 Cup Ground Cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Mace
  1. You will need to can these plums using the hot water bath method. Start by sterilizing in boiling water canning jars of the size of  your choice equaling 4 quarts.
  2. While the canning jars are sterilizing, wash the plums, remove the pits, and cut them up into large chunks. Set aside.
  3. In a large pot, place the vinegar, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to the lowest setting possible and simmer for 5 minutes. Note: this mixture will bubble up a lot so make sure to use a very large pot.
  4. Place the chunks of plums into the hot, sterilized jars. Pour the pickling liquid (including the whole cloves) into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of head space.
  5. Process the jars in the hot water canner for the number of minutes appropriate to your jar size and altitude. 
  6. Mrs. Morris recommends pouring off the pickling liquid "6 times" before eating. Presumably, she meant to rinse the plums six times. I would recommend pouring off the pickle and then giving the pickled plums a good wash  before serving, if you want to follow her directions. You can always serve the plums with the liquid, if you prefer. 

  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2013)