Sir Hugh Plat’s Manuscript: An English Bread circa 1560

Manusript recipe by TT in Sir Hugh Plat's manusript book

This is one of the earliest bread recipes known to be written in English and this is its first publication. Continue reading

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Candied Angelica

Like many recipes published prior to the stricter copyright laws of the twentieth century this recipe for candied angelica is found in many cookbooks. I include two version here, one from 1717 and one from 1788. They are identical but for one detail. The later recipe leaves off the option of drying the angelica before the fire. The only suggestion is drying in the oven. This offers us a hint both of a use of the fireplace to dry herbs and candied fruits but also offers a rough date for when cookbook authors no longer assumed that a fireplace was available for cooking. At least in England, by the late 1780s, the age of the range had arrived.

Angelica candied.

Gather your Angelica in April, cut in lengths, and boil it in water till it becomes tender. Having put it on a sieve to drain, peel it, and dry it in a clean cloth, and to every pound of stalks take a pound of double-refined sugar finely pounded Put your stalks into an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over them. Cover them close, and let them stand two days. Then put it into a preserving-pan, and boil it till it is clear. Then put it into a cullender to drain, strew it pretty thick over with fine powder sugar, lay it on plates, and dry it in a cool oven, or before the fire. The accomplished housekeeper, and universal cook by T Williams, printed for J. Scatcherd, London 1717

Angelica candied.

TAKE it in April, cut it in lengths, and boil it in water till it is tender, then put it on a sieve to drain, then peel it and dry it in a clean cloth, and to every pound of stalks take a pound of doublerefined sugar finely pounded, put your stalks into an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over them; cover them close, and let them stand for two days ; then put it into a preserving-pan, and boil it till it is clear ; then put it into a cullender to drain, strew it pretty thick over with fine powder sugar, lay it on plates, and dry it in a cool oven. The English art of cookery, according to the present practice: being a complete guide to all housekeepers, on a plan entirely new; consisting of thirty-eight chapters, by Richard Briggs. Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1788

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A Georgian Tandoor Oven

A Tandoor oven from Tiblisi, Georgia

This photograph, taken by Reaktion Books publisher Michael Leaman in Tiblisi, Georgia, very clearly shows that the top of the oven is angled so that breads stuck to its side will receive direct radiant heat from the embers or fire at the bottom of the oven. If you build a tandoor oven I would use this photograph as a model.

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Peruvian Watia Oven made with Spaded Soil

The impromptu Peruvian oven that is is built in the Peruvian highlands to bake potatoes can easily be adapted to bake bread. While the Peruvian watia dome is heated and then collapsed onto the potatoes, one can use the form to bake bread the usual way.

The Peruvian potato oven is constructed in situ with sod or weedy soil. If your soil has a high clay content then using clumps of soil that are already bound with roots is more or less equivalent to building a cob or adobe oven. I don’t know how big a dome one can build out of sod but if one doesn’t have a weedy field to dig up I imagine the following experiment: seed a prepared bed of clayey soil large enough to construct the dome of an oven that is three feet (1 meter) in diameter with grass and when the grass is well established shovel clumps to build an oven as illustrated below. Continue reading

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Omar

This story was told me by Donald “Babu” Zakayo, of Wamba, Kenya in the mid to late 1990s along with several other stories, a few of which I offer here. The edited transcription is mine.

OMAR WAS NOT crazy before. When he was eighteen he was a little bit crazy, but the Muslim took care of him and he was normal again.

This man was selling. This man was a business man. He had to sell his brother’s shop. For so many years he had been selling shop without coming out of the shop.

When he was around thirty years the brother said, “It’s too difficult to stay with this old man without a wife. Lets marry him a wife.” Continue reading

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The Two Sons

This story was told me by Donald “Babu” Zakayo, of Wamba, Kenya in the late 1990s along with several other stories, a few of which I offer here. The edited transcription is mine.

THE OLD MAN was very very old. He had two sons. Only. He was not rich. He was poor.
Yes, he was very poor.

That old man told his two sons, “Now I am about to die. What do you think I owe you now?” Continue reading

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Stories from Wamba, Kenya

Babu in his bedroom

Babu’s stories center on the life in the Samburu district of Northern Kenya. They are about the villagers of Wamba, and about the Samburu who live in the countryside with their cattle — their goats, cows, sheep, and camels. I first recorded stories by Babu, the owner along with his mother, Rose, of the now defunct Quick Service Hotel in Wamba, Kenya, in 1995. I asked Babu to tell me about a few of the characters I had seen wandering around town. We sat under a tree on the edge of town and he told me the stories of “Omar,” “Goat Woman,” and “Two Sons.” Over the years I have recorded over sixty stories by Babu, a few of which are included here. Continue reading

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Bread in Italy circa 1894

I was searching Google Books for information on military bread ovens in the 19th century, a process my girlfriend refers to as “wooden cowing,” and came across this sketch regarding bread in Italy circa 1894. It was written by Olive May Eager, a minor American writer who lived in Italy and seems to have supported herself, at least in part, by selling short pieces on Italian culture to American magazines. The piece I include here was published in the May 1894 issue of the journal, The Roller Mill. She published in a  wide array of magazines including, for example, the children’s magazine, Saint Nicolas,and the Journal of Hygiene and Herald of Health,where she has an excellent essay on the chestnut cuisine of the Apennine. Continue reading

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A Simple Military Clay Oven circa 1895

Armies march on their stomachs. Historically, this often meant that armies marched with their bakeries. Military field manuals are a source of information in simple impromptu oven construction. The simplest oven is the item 496: An oven may be excavated in a clay bank (Fig. 6) and used at once. Few of us have sloped clay banks in our yards that can be dug into for an oven, but this suggests the possibility of ovens as a technical possibility long before there were even mud earth structures. But a more practical oven is the first of the two ovens described in item 495. It is an oven built by slathering clay over a barrel. This is so similar to the Sunset Magazine’s oven built over a cardboard trash barrel that I would not be surprised if a military oven were not the inspiration for Sunset’s instructions. Continue reading

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Building a Mud Oven with Soil/Concrete

The ovens demonstrated here are based on designs from the Jewish Moroccan community in Israel. They were built at the Jewish Moroccan Museum and Archive for Living Culture at Moshav Sedot Micah, a village in the center of Israel.  There is a profound way in which these ovens are traditional constructions. The ovens are built on the ground, but with the ground elevated so that one doesn’t have to sit on the ground to operate the oven. The same effect could be achieved by excavating a place to stand or sit in front of the oven which was a common system for military ovens in field kitchens.

The oven is built over a pile of manure and straw is used to separate the manure layer from the mud. The mud is made up of sand, soil, and a little concrete, so this is a concrete/earth construction material similar to the material called for the  Sunset Magazine’s Adobe oven (which is three parts soil and 1 part portland cement). The use of a small amount of portland cement greatly simplifies the mixing of the mud as it virtually eliminates the need for any skill in preparing the soil (clay) mix.

These ovens are not insulated. That are designed for making breads with a fire going in the oven which is also why the door opening is much larger than in a conventional European domed oven.

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