1814 Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Sunday, December 27, 2009
1814 Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Friday, December 25, 2009
I’ve been making persimmon pudding since I found it in the Martha Stewart Christmas book 20 years ago, but the history of persimmon cooking in America goes way back. The American persimmon, ‘Diospyros virginiana,' was found growing in Virginia by the early American Captain John Smith in 1609, who described the tree and the persimmon fruit in great detail and as tasting like an apricot. William Bartram, the famous early American botanist encountered the native American persimmon trees, ‘Diospyros virginiana,' as documented in his book, Travels, of 1773. The native American persimmon was also brought to the attention of early American Presidents and plant collectors, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Native Americans mixed the pulp with corn meal to bake bread. They dried the fruit like we do with grapes and plums. Colonists used the pulp to make bread, puddings, pies, and preserves. Persimmon beer and brandy were served at gatherings.
This pudding is made the old fashioned way as one would an English pudding. It is steamed and served in this case with an addictive sour lemon sauce but it can be served with a hard sauce or applesauce or crème anglaise. I’ve made a few changes from Martha’s recipe, a little less sugar and more lemon. Please be advised… use ripe persimmons… buy them a week in advance if they are hard. Unripe persimmons are loaded with tannin and have a puckerish nature. When ripe, the flesh is luscious and sexy. The skin crinkles a little when you press it. Although you can make the pudding with less than ripe fruit… the result will not be as good.
3 large very ripe persimmons
1/3 c sugar
4 ½ T vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 ¾ c flour
¼ c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Oil a 3-quart pudding mold. Peel the persimmons and puree the flesh, removing any seeds. You should have 2 cups of puree.
Beat together the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until fluffy, then add the persimmon. Sift the flour baking soda salt and cinnamon. Blend with persimmon mixture and pour into mold. Cover with parchment paper tightly with rubber band or string then cover with foil
Put on a rack in a large pot with boiling water ½ way up the mold. Bring water to a boil and then simmer for 2 ½ hours. Pudding should spring back when touched. Let cool one hour and then unmold. Serve with sour lemon sauce.
Sour Lemon Sauce
½ c sugar
1 ¼ T cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 ¼ c hot water
3 ½ T unsalted butter
8 T lemon juice
3 tsp lemon rind
Combine sugar and cornstarch and salt. Add hot water and cook over low flame 3-5 minutes until thick. Add the rest and cool Do not refrigerate or it will become like aspic.
WARNING: This sauce is so good you could drink it… leave some for the pudding!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Although Wassailing today is synonymous with Christmas and 12th Night, its origin is in Anglo-Saxon pagan ritual that has seen many variations in its history. From the Middle Ages onward, peasants have solicited charitable spirit from their feudal lords with the Wassail. It was not begging. This distinction explains the lyric in the song "Here We Come A-Wassailing". The Wassailers inform the lord of the house that:
"We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door but we are friendly neighbors whom you have seen before."
Wassailing ceremonies took place at a number of different times throughout the year including Christmas, January 6th (Twelfth Night) and Shrove Tuesday.
An old rhyme goes: “Wassaile the trees, that they may beare / You many a Plum and many a Peare: / For more or lesse fruits they will bring, / As you do give them Wassailing.”
The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit. The wassail was poured at the roots of a tree or soaked pieces of toast that were hung in the branches for the robins that represented good spirits. A gun was sometimes fired to scare away the bad spirits (after a few too many turns at the Wassail Bowl?).Wassail was traditionally served in bowls that were generally made in the shape of goblets. The Worshipful Company of Grocers made a very elaborate one in the seventeenth century, decorated with silver.
Traditional Wassail bowls were made of lignum vitae in the 17th c, a wood that was virtually indestructible and extremely tolerant of alcohol. Fortunately, many beautiful examples remain.
There are surviving examples of "puzzle wassail bowls", with many spouts. As you attempt to drink from one of the spouts, you are drenched from another spout. The drink was either punch, mulled wine or spicy ale and the custom shows the playfulness of the celebration.
As for the drink itself, Robert Herrick, (1591-1674) said:
“Next crowne the bowle full
Adde sugar, nutmeg and ginger
With a store of ale too
And this ye must doe
To make a Wassaile a swinger.”
I’ve combined the best of 2 centuries and come up with this traditional wassail drink that you can serve however you wish… a punch bowl or footed wine bucket/wassail bowl or pitcher would work splendidly
Wassail of the 17th-18th Century
1 lb of apples, cored and cooked at 375º for 1 hour in a foil covered baking dish. Remove peel when cool and mash... they should look fluffy like “lambs wool” when you are finished.
1-2 c light brown sugar (this should be to your taste and that of your ale)
6 bottles of ale (a double bock is a good choice)
1 c sherry
2 tsps ginger
1/8 t cloves
6 beaten eggs, optional
Toasted Bread slices, optional
Dissolve sugar in 1 bottle of the ale over low flame. Add spices and stir. Add rest of ale and sherry and remove from heat and let sit for several hours, covered. Warm and add the apple “wool”. You can add the eggs at this point if you would care to and beat it into a froth. Garnish with thin baked apple slices and the toasted bread if you wish.
Royal Lamb's Wool "Boil three pints of ale; - beat six eggs, the whites and yolks together; set both to the fire in a pewter pot; add roasted apples, sugar, beaten nutmegs, cloves and ginger; and, being well brewed, drink it while hot."-Royal Household of 1633
Place a pound of sugar in a large bowl and pour on a bottle of hot ale (A good hand crafted brown ale). Stir well. Grate about 1/2 of a nutmeg into this. Add 1 cup of sherry and five more bottles of ale. Let stand for several hours, then top off with several lemon slices (roasted apple slices are perhaps more traditional) and two slices of toasted bread (the bread is traditionally white- better to absorb than the heavier breads?. -served by Sir Watkin Wynne to the faculty of Jesus College, Oxford University, in 1732:
If you want to change it over from an ale drink to a wine, there is also this alternative:
A recipe from The Book of Days, an 1863 history
2,4,or 6 bottles of port, sherry or Madeira
12 egg yolks, 1 teacupful of water
6 egg whites 1/12 lbs sugar for 4 bottles of wine
12 roasted apples
For each bottle of wine used, take the following whole spices 10 grains mace (1), 46(3) grains cloves, 37(2.5) grains cardamon seeds 28(2) grains cinnamon 12(1) grains nutmeg 48(3) grains ginger 49(3) grains coriander. (I include the numbers in parenthesis to give a sense of proportion… figure a pinch is the closest to a grain… which is .00208 oz.)
Simmer the spices with the water and add to the wines with the sugar, warm and wish yolks and whites of eggs and pour some of the warm wine into the container… when you have a froth, add the roasted apples and serve it.
A very elaborate wassail set. This example includes not only the bowl and five of the six original cups, but a stand for them. The bowl has a cover with an integral container for spices on top in the form of a smaller bowl. Exhibition of Drinking Vessels Held at Vintner's Hall, London, 1933.
The Rare Wine Company has generously given me some spectacular Madeira to work with. During the next few weeks I'll be sharing some amazing Madeira-enhanced recipes... this is going to be fun! Stay tuned!