Armada Portrait (1588), Gower
A few weeks ago, I discovered that the first thing Elizabeth the First ate after her fleet defeated the Spanish Armada (against all odds in the "mini-ice age" Fall of 1588) was a goose, and to celebrate that miracle on the following Christmas, she fed the Royal Navy goose in thanks (as well she should since late payment’s starvation and illness took many more than the battle had) and encouraged the rest of her subjects to eat it as well in honor of the battle (I wrote about goose HERE).
That got me to thinking about the way Christmas was celebrated before Christmas trees and many of the traditions we take for granted today. What I found out was fun and came mostly from a book by W.F. Dawson from 1902 entitled Christmas, Its Origins and Associations. It’s a good free read online for the holiday season.
In it I found out about the Yule log and the tradition of keeping it burning through the whole of the holiday season (quite a feat!) and saving a last bit of it for the next year’s Yule fire for luck.
So now is come our joyful'st feast,
Let every man be jolly.
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine,
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
George Wither (1588-1667)
I read that before the Christmas tree was introduced in the 19th century, holly and ivy were the decorations of choice (as they were some of the only things still green at that time of year).
I read in the Food Timeline that Elizabeth 1st invented the gingerbread man and had likenesses of guests made up as cookies and given to them (although it was quite different from our ginger bread cookies, being made with crumbs –– not flour, sugar, honey, ginger and cloves and colored with ‘saunders’ which is sandalwood!).
All that I read reminded me why I love Elizabeth the 1st … she was quite a dame. To rally the troops before the Armada struck it was good queen Bess who said:
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms – I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
It made me remember her magnificent “Golden Speech”, given November 20, 1601 as an early Christmas present to her subjects, in which she tells her people of her devotion to THEM and her honor to lead them (she uses the “royal we” and “our” for our "I" and "me" and my at the beginning when speaking as monarch):
from the Golden Speech
“… I do assure you there is no prince that loves his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love. There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love. For I do esteem it more than any treasure or riches; for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count invaluable. And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes me that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people….
To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. For myself I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a King or royal authority of a Queen as delighted that God hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory and to defend his kingdom as I said from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression. There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.”
And lead them she did, thinking of rich and poor in her kingdom during the Christmas season.
Christmas is my name, far have I gone,
Have I gone, have I gone, have I gone, without regard,
Whereas great men by flocks there be flown,
There be flown, there be flown, there be flown, to London-ward;
Where they in pomp and pleasure do waste
That which Christmas was wonted to feast, Welladay!
Houses where music was wont for to ring
Nothing but bats and owlets do sing.
Welladay! Welladay! Welladay! where should I stay?
When fashion dictated that the lords and ladies of Norfolk and Suffolk should come to London to lavishly celebrate the holiday –– spending all their money and not providing holiday cheer for the poor (who relied on their Christmas beneficence for what little generous provisioning they were to see in a year), Elizabeth thought this was wrong and did something about it. She enjoined the lords and ladies “to repair to their counties, and there to keep hospitality amongst their neighbors” before Christmas, not after all their money was spent, and to do the celebrating and spending at home.
Christmas spirit returned to the land:
'Who feasts the poor, a true reward shall find,
Or helps the old, the feeble, lame, and blind.'"
"All you that to feasting and mirth are inclined,
Come, here is good news for to pleasure your mind;
Old Christmas is come for to keep open house,
He scorns to be guilty of starving a mouse;
Then come, boys, and welcome, for diet the chief,
Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minc'd pies, and roast beef."
It is from this spirit of cheer and generosity that an old standard flows
Good husband and housewife, now chiefly be glad,
Things handsome to have, as they ought to be had.
They both do provide, against Christmas do come,
To welcome their neighbors, good cheer to have some.
Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall,
Brawn, pudding, and souse, and good mustard withal.
Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best,
Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well drest,
Cheese, apples and nuts, and good carols to hear,
As then in the country is counted good cheer.
What cost to good husband, is any of this?
Good household provision only it is:
Of other the like, I do leave out a many,
That costeth the husband never a penny.
A Hundred Points of Good Husbandry 1557
Thomas Tusser (1515-80)
The food sounds delicious –– and not too far removed from our own holiday menus, even if a little heavy in the meat department. From looking at Tusser’s poem and menus from the 15th century onward, I felt compelled to do some kind of “Braun” for a holiday dish. Braun (or brawne or brawn) at that time meant mostly boar, sometimes pig but essentially meat, The word, according to Wiktionary, comes from the old French braon meaning slice of meat, fleshy part, buttock or from the Frankish brādon from Brādo meaning roast meat, ham which is related to the German braten, meaning roast.
Braun was much mentioned on holiday tables and for celebrations like the Bishop’s funeral feast in 1424. I endeavored to find a recipe to my liking and settled on an Elizabethan recipe from The Good Housewife’s Jewel, 1596 by Richard Dawson (written for a middle class household). The brawne recipe involved a whole boar, wrapped in hemp cloth, boiled with willow and given a long ‘souse’ in ale, salt and water –– that was too much. Right above it was a ‘pigge’ recipe that caught my eye –– that was the one for me. Some of my best recipes come from detours, and this was a good one.
I decided to have a little fun and encase it in brioche since I had lovely boar tenderloins from D’Artagnan (and not a giant hunk of meat) and Elizabethans were always putting meat in crusts so it’s not far from the spirit of the times (brioche is famously stuffed with garlic sausage in the classic version of the dish). The spicing is actually quite modern and not as extreme as many recipes of the period… perhaps because the book wasn’t for a royal household where expensive spices were de rigueur. I finished it with a take on Lumbard mustard from Forme of Cury, a 1390 cookbook.
And since it’s the holidays and the season for sharing, I also will give you a new favorite. Chestnut Armagnac ice cream on little “prophitroles” (puffs) with a blackberry sauce ––even those little puffs have a history, mentioned in Brandt’s Ship of Fools in 1494 above.
I tossed in caramel “flakes” to get you in the mood for a great holiday (one cup of sugar, slowly melted and drizzled on a silpat). This dessert is brilliant because you can make everything days ahead and then put them together when you want them…. Just warm up the puffs and you are good to go!
To sowse a pigge
Take White Wine and a little sweete broth, and halfe a score Nutmegs cut in quarters, then take Rosemarye, Bayes, Time, and sweet Margerum, and let them boyle altogether, skimme them very clean, and when they be boyled, put them into an earthen pan and the sirrope also, and when you serue them, a quarter in a dish, and the Bayes, and nutmegs on the top.
Braun (boar or pork tenderloin)
2 Boar tenderloins from D'Artagnan (or pork)
1 t salt
1 T pepper
1 T lard or olive oil
2 c chicken stock
1 c white wine
a few cloves
3 bay leaves
handful of fresh marjoram, rosemary and thyme
1 cracked nutmeg
Rub the meat with salt and pepper. Sauté the meat in the fat till browned. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over a low flame for an hour. Remove and cool. Refrigerate for a few days.
Remove from the liquid and dry to use with the brioche. Reduce the liquid till thickened to serve with the meat.
Braun en Brioche (recipe from The Good Housewife’s Jewel, brioche based on a NYT Recipe)
1/4 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 package dry yeast
1 1/2 sticks sweet butter
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 egg yolk
boar (you can get it HERE from D”Artagnan) or pork tenderloin, 2 or 3 pieces around 7” or 5” long depending on diameter
1 egg, beaten, for coating dough
Combine sugar and warm milk in small dish and slowly stir in yeast. Mash yeast well if it forms lumps. Set mixture aside in warm place for 5 minutes; it should foam.
In food processor or mixer combine flour, salt and butter, blending well. Add eggs, 2 at a time, incorporating well before adding next 2. Add yoke and process until dough is elastic and smooth; it should pull away from beater in one piece. Some processors will not have enough power to finish job; if so remove and knead by hand on lightly floured surface.
Place dough in greased bowl, cover with damp cloth and let rise in warm place (80 to 90 degrees) for 2 hours or until it doubles in bulk. Punch down and knead for several minutes in bowl and form ball about size of softball.
If dough is difficult to work with, place in freezer for 5 minutes.
If you are not using right away, dough can be stored, covered, in refrigerator for day… that’s what I did.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut dough ball in half and roll out each half into roughly 10-by-5-inch rectangles (If your tenderloin is slender, you may want to make 3 of these so the bread to meat ratio is less- the pictures show the 2 style with good deal of bread). Coat both dough ball and sausage with beaten egg, then sprinkle flour over dough to form ''glue'' that will hold sausage in place.
Lay tenderloins on dough rectangles and bring up sides of dough to seal them, forming seams on top. Seal edges. Place rolls on buttered sheets of aluminum foil. Wrap foil around rolls same way dough was sealed, forming seam on top. They should be wrapped loosely to allow for expansion.
Place rolls on baking sheet, seam side down, and let them rise for 1/2 hour (I did it for and hour for refrigerated dough). Bake 35 minutes, rotating about every 12 minutes so sausage doesn't sink to one side. After 35 minutes, open foil, wash rolls with beaten egg mixture again and cook 10 minutes more or until golden. Let them cool somewhat before slicing and serving.
Serve with mustard sauce and spoon the reduced liquid left over from cooking the meat on the meat or on the side. I think this is best served fresh from the oven but reheats well in the microwave in slices. Brioche can dry out quickly so take care how you store it. I popped one in the freezer to use on Christmas, and will see how that works when I reheat the whole thing!
YIELD 4 to 6 servings
Lumbard Mustard from Forme of Cury
Take mustard seed and wasishe it & drye it in a n ovene, grynde it drye, Farse it thurgh a farse. Clarifyie hony with wyne & vynegur & stere it wl togedrer and make it thikke ynoz. & whan ou wilt spend erof make it thynne with wyne.
¼ c mustard seed, toasted VERY gently for a few moments and then crushed in a mortar
2 T honey
2 T vinegar
2 T wine
½ c water
Cook the mustard with the honey, vinegar and wine VERY gently until the mixture becomes softened… you may want to add more water. Add salt to taste.
****My mustard wasn’t fresh… so check yours. I wasn’t happy with the result. I have made mustard before from my own home-grown seeds and it was great (even if the process of sorting the seeds was hellish), so advice? If you taste the seeds and they don’t taste sharp and bright like mustard… use the simple version.
Simple Version of Lombard Mustard
½ cup grainy mustard
1 T white wine
2 t vinegar (only if it needs it)
1 T honey
Combine and you’re done.
Chestnut Armagnac Ice Cream (makes around 3 cups)—enough to fill 8-12 puffs
1 c chestnuts, cooked and shelled (D'Artagnan has lovely chestnuts, already roasted and ready to go)
½ c sugar 3 T water
1 c cream
1 c milk
4 egg yolks
1 T sugar
1 t vanilla
3 T Armagnac
Melt the sugar and water with the chestnuts and cook till the sugar caramelizes a little.
Pour in the cream and blend. Puree the chestnuts with the cream and syrup.
Pour through a sieve and rub and press to get out all the chestnut puree, toss what’s left (or nibble on it… very tasty). Add the milk to this.
Beat the yolks and the 1 T sugar till golden. Combine with the chestnut mixture and heat to 170º slowly till it thickens slightly… never ever let it boil. Remove from the heat and strain. Add the vanilla and Armagnac and chill. Put in Ice cream machine and process.
This is where I sing the praises of Simac. After years of struggling with put-in-the-freezer ice cream makers, I got a 20-odd year old Simac Italian Ice Cream Maker. They are classics and often go for hundreds… even though they are vintage. They work like a dream… big as a Mini-Cooper and weigh nearly as much. I got lucky and got one for a song on EBAY. Ice cream in 20 minutes… chilling to finished product. It’s my favorite thing this year. Needless to say, I have been making a lot of ice
** If you want to make the ice cream in a hurry, only do the first step, using only 1/4 c of sugar in the caramel with the chestnuts if you do. You can buy a pint of premium vanilla ice cream and let it soften enough to stir it. Then you can puree the chestnuts with the syrup and and the armagnac and add that to the purchased ice cream, skipping all of the making-of-the-ice-cream-base steps. Then refreeze the ice cream.
I often make lemon ice cream this way... just squeeze the juice of a lemon or 2 into the vanilla and refreeze. Incredibly refreshing and takes no time at all.
Pate a Choux, basic recipe from Michael Ruhlmann (this makes 12 or so…)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup flour
1/8 t salt
1/2 cup eggs (2 large eggs)
1. Bring the water and butter to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour and stir rapidly. The flour will absorb the water quickly and a dough will form and pull away from the sides. Keep stirring to continue cooking the flour and cook off some of the water, another minute or two… it will stick to the side of the pan… this is ok. Transfer the paste to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I found the whisk attachment worked better) or to a bowl if you're using a hand mixer and begin mixing to cool the dough a little. (If you want to mix the eggs directly into the dough in the pot, let it cool slightly, 4 or 5 minutes, or cool off the pan itself by running cold water over its base if you will be mixing the eggs in that pot. You don’t want to cook the eggs too quickly.)
2. Add the eggs one at a time mixing rapidly until each is combined into the paste. The paste will go from shiny to furry, slippery to sticky as the egg is incorporated. The pâte a choux can be cooked immediately at this point or refrigerated for up to a day until ready to use.
Spoon or pipe it onto a baking sheet (see above, remember to press the peaks down with a moistened finger, they can burn) and bake in a hot oven (425 for 10 minutes, 350 for another half hour or so –– do check, if you are going to freeze and reheat you don’t want them too brown to begin with). Poke each one with a knife to let out steam and allow to cool on a rack. They freeze beautifully and reheat easily in a toaster oven or oven so you can make quick ice cream sandwiches with the leftovers whenever you want. I put them in the toaster oven and hit toast M and they are perfect, straight from the freezer. I would think an oven at 350º for 5-10 minutes would work as well
2 pints blackberries
¼ c maple syrup
1 T sugar
1 t lemon juice
pinch of allspice
2 T St. Germain Liqueur or cassis (optional)
Cook the berries with the maple syrup and sugar and lemon and allspice till berries are softened.
Remove from heat and put through a food mill or rub through a strainer to get rid of the seeds but get as much of the fruit as possible. Reduce if not thick enough and toss in the liqueur.
Put a tablespoon or 2 of the blackberry sauce on a plate. Put a good size scoop of ice cream in the puff and set on the plate… you can use a little cream and make a design on the blackberry sauce. Add the caramel ‘flake’ if you would like.