THE MENU AN EIGHTEEN-CENTURY FOR 12 Potted Ham and Beef Potted Shrimps Whole Wheat Toast Mrs. Glasse's Yorkshire Christmas Pie Mushroom Sauce and Glazed Vegtables or Cumberland Sauce and Salad Sherry Syllabub
This Christmas I've planned a trip-- a culinary trip back into the 18th century. Plans began with a reading of the "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy," written in 1747 by Hannah Glasse and recently reissued in facsimile by Prospect Books.
Glasse was quite a woman. The natural daughter of a wealthy British landowner she eloped at age 16 with a penniless adventurer, had eight children, became dressmaker to the princess of Wales, went bankrupt and ended a celebrity. While fame came from a line ("first catch your hare") in her book, the intended verb was "case" (meaning "skin"), but a typesetter who thought he knew better changed it to "catch."
Glasse's Yorkshire Christmas pie is the centerpiece of this 18th-century menu. It is a tour de force, a surprise parcel of boned birds, each stuffed inside another to form a gigantic, multi-layered ball. This fantasy has tantalized cooks since the middle ages -- one recipe begins with a tiny becfigue (song bird) stuffed with an olive and ends, several birds later, with a peacock.
My recipe follows the same principle, with two cornish hens stuffed inside a duck, which is stuffed inside a turkey; seasonings are simply herbs and lemon peel. If you know how to bone a bird, the recipe is child's play (literally). If not, now is the time to learn, for boning really isn't difficult.
Start with the biggest bird, the turkey, and go on from there. Quantities are large, but leftovers are no problem, for the pie is just as good cold as hot. When hot, I'd recommend serving a mushroom sauce based on stock made from the bones of the birds, together with some glazed root vegetables. All would have been available in the England of Glasse (the mushrooms would have been pickled). When cold, a cumberland sauce of orange-and-red currant nicely complements the pie, with any salad you prefer.
Mainstays of the 18th-century kitchen were potted meats and fish. Potting is a method of preserving in which meats or fish, including a generous portion of fat, are slowly baked with seasoning and spices until they are soft enough to be crushed to a coarse pure'e. They can thus be packed in a crock to exclude all air. Once sealed with a layer of fat, potted meats can be kept a considerable time as the long cooking kills bacteria. They were favorites on sea voyages as a welcome supplement to the rigorous diet of salt meat and ship's biscuits.
Almost any meat or fish can be potted -- Glasse lists a dubious recipe "to save birds that begin to be bad" -- but a rich, full-flavored meat is best. Game, tongue, duck and salmon are all favorites. I find that country ham, such as Virginia ham, lends zest to a mild, meat-like beef. The following recipe is seasoned with allspice in classic English style.
Best of all are British potted shrimps, in my opinion one of the world's great treats. Peppery little gray shrimps from the English Channel are flavored with just a little spice, then encased in a layer of clarified butter for consumption with hot whole-wheat toast. On this side of the Atlantic, our large American shrimps, baked with nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne, make an equally delectable appetizer.
A chilled cousin of eggnog, syllabub is one of those desserts that will never die. It consists of cream whipped with wine, brandy, and lemon juice or fruit pure'e to make a frothy rich cream. The name probably comes from "sille," once a white wine from the Champagne region of France, and "bub" meaning of bubbling drink. In the following recipe I've suggested sherry, but sauternes or any sweet wine can be substituted.
Syllabub is another Glasse gem. Her recipe for "Fine Syllabub from the Cow" directs you to flavor wine with nutmeg, then "milk the milk into the liquor." As one who has actually milked a cow, it is not a cooking technique I would advise. TIMETABLE
Little last-minute work is involved in this menu, even if you choose to serve the pie hot. If you serve it cold, only whole-wheat toast needs to be made just before serving.
Up to three weeks ahead: Make potted ham and beef and store in refrigerator.
Up to one week ahead: Make potted shrimps and store in refrigerator.
Up to three days ahead: Bake pie and refrigerate.
Up to 24 hours ahead: Make mushroom sauce and keep in refrigerator.
Up to four hours before serving: Cook vegetables, drain, and keep at room temperature. Make syllabub and chill. Set the table.
One hour and fifteen minutes before serving: If serving pie hot, heat oven to 350 degrees; if serving cold, make salad.
One hour before serving: Put pie in oven to reheat.
Five minutes before serving: Make whole wheat toast. Reheat mushroom sauce, if using. Reheat vegetables in butter.
After serving main course: Sprinkle syllabub with spice. POTTED HAM AND BEEF (6-8 servings)
For this recipe the country ham may be raw or cooked. 1 1/2 pounds country ham, with plenty of fat 1 1/2 pounds round or chuck steak 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice 1 teaspoon pepper 1 1/2 cups water Optional luting paste (see below) Salt (optional) 1/3 cup clarified butter (see below) -- to seal
Cut ham and beef in 1-inch cubes, discarding sinew but keeping ham fat. Sprinkle allspice and pepper over meat, mix until coated and put meat in 1 1/2-quart casserole with water. The meat should fill the casserole completely.
If necessary make luting paste and insert it in gap between casserole and lid. Cook in a 300-degree oven 3 hours. Take casserole from the oven and let cool without removing lid so juices are retained.
Work meat mixture in a food processor or through the coarse blade of a grinder. NOTE: If using a processor do not pure'e meat finely or it will become sticky. Stir any leftover liquid into the ground meat and taste for seasoning. If the ham was salty, more salt may not be needed.
Pack meat tightly into a crock, excluding all air. Smooth the top and pour over a layer of melted clarified butter to seal. Potted meat keeps up to three weeks in the refrigerator if the seal is not broken.
TIP: Small crocks of potted meats make good Christmas gifts. POTTED SHRIMPS (6-8 servings)
A touch, but only a touch, of cayenne develops the flavor of many shellfish. 2 pounds cooked peeled shrimps 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon cayenne Salt and pepper 1 cup clarified butter (see below) -- to seal Optional luting paste (see below)
Coarsely chop the shrimp. In a bowl mix the shrimps with the nutmeg, cayenne and a little salt and pepper. Put the shrimps in a 1-quart casserole and pour over three quarters of the clarified butter, melted. The shrimps should fill the casserole completely.
If necessary, make luting paste and insert it in the gap between the casserole and lid. Cook in the oven at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Take casserole from the oven and let cool without removing lid so juices are retained.
When cool, taste shrimp mixture for seasoning. Pack it into a crock, excluding all air. Smooth the top and pour over the remaining clarified butter to seal. Potted shrimps keep up to one week in the refrigerator if the seal is not broken. CLARIFIED BUTTER
Using clarified butter improves the storage qualities of potted meats, for it is the whey, which is removed during clarification, that turns butter rancid.
To clarify butter, heat it gently until melted, then continue heating so it sputters vigorously, 1-2 minutes. Take from the heat and skim scum from the surface. Pour the clear butter into a bowl, leaving milky residue behind in the pan. Clarified butter can be kept in the refrigerator 3-4 weeks.
TIP: The whey or milk solids can be used to butter vegetables. LUTING PASTE
Luting paste is a flour and water mixture used to seal pans when there is a gap around the lid. To make it, mix 1/2 cup flour with 4-5 tablespoons water to make a soft paste. Do not stir too much or the paste will become elastic and shrink when cooked. On a floured board, roll the paste with your hands into a long rope and use to seal the pot. MRS. GLASSE'S YORKSHIRE CHRISTMAS PIE (12 servings)
This, believe it or not, is a simplified version of the 18th-century original, which called for five different birds, a hare, a woodcock, game and "what sort of wild fowl you can get." All were encased in a double-crust molded pie and, says Glasse, "These pies are often sent to London in a box as presents; therefore the walls must be well built." 6-7-pound turkey 1/2 cup melted butter for brushing birds 2 teaspoons dried thyme 2 teaspoons crushed bay leaf Grated zest of 3 lemons 1 tablespoon salt 2 teaspoons pepper 4-5-pound duck 2 1 -- 1 1/2-pound cornish hens 1 egg, beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt (for glaze) FOR ENGLISH PIE DOUGH: 4 cups flour 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup shortening or lard 1/2- 2/3 cup water 2 eggs
Bone all the birds (see below). Spread turkey, skin side down, on work surface and brush generously with butter. Mix thyme, bay leaf, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Sprinkle half over turkey. Spread duck, skin side down on top, brush generously with melted butter, and sprinkle with half of remaining seasonings. Lay cornish hens, skin side down, end-to-end, on top, brush with butter and sprinkle with remaining seasonings. Starting at a long edge, roll up turkey to form a cylinder with other birds inside. Transfer cylinder to a 3 1/2-quart, deep baking dish or large, shallow casserole seam side down, and pour over remaining melted butter.
To make pie dough: Sift flour and salt into a bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture forms large crumbs. Mix the 2 eggs with 1/2-cup water and stir into the flour mixture to form a soft dough. If necessary add more water. NOTE: Do not over-mix or the dough will be tough.
Roll out pastry dough and cover turkey, taking care not to stretch the dough. Seal to edge of casserole with water and trim. Brush pie with egg glaze. Roll trimmings and cut a long 1 1/2-inch strip. Put strip around edge of pie, taking care not to stretch the dough. Brush also with glaze and score with the back of a knife. Make two holes in pie to allow steam to escape and insert "chimney" of rolled foil to keep each open. Chill thoroughly.
Bake pie in 375-degree oven until pastry is set and browned, about 35-45 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees. Cover pie with foil, wrapping the edges and continue baking until a skewer inserted in center of pie for 1/2 minute is hot to the touch when withdrawn or a meat thermometer registers 170 degrees, about 2 1/4-2 3/4 hours.
The pie can be prepared up to three days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Serve it cold, or reheat it in a 350-degree oven until hot when tested with a skewer, about 1-1 1/4 hours.
TIP: Other fowl may be used, but be sure there is a difference of two pounds between each. TO BONE A BIRD
Cut off wing tip and middle section, leaving largest wing bone. With breast down, slit skin along backbone from neck to tail. Cut and scrape flesh and skin away from carcass, working evenly with short, sharp strokes of the knife. After each stroke, carefully ease flesh and skin away from carcass with fingers of your other hand.
Cut flesh from sabre-shaped bone near wing. Cut through joint and remove. When you reach ball and socket joints connecting wing and thigh bones to carcass, sever them; wing and thigh are thus separated from the carcass, but are still attached to the skin.
Using longer strokes of the knife, continue cutting breast meat away from bone until ridge of breastbone, where skin and bones meet, is reached. Turn bird around and repeat on other side. When skin and meat have been freed from carcass on both sides, they will remain attached to carcass only along the breast bone. Carefully cut along ridge of breastbone to separate skin and meat from carcass.
Hold end of leg bone in one hand. Cut through tendons and scrape meat from bone. Pull out bone, using knife to free it. Repeat with remaining leg and wing bones. MUSHROOM SAUCE (Makes 3 cups sauce to serve 12)
This is a version of Glasse's "Mushroom-Sauce for White Fowls boiled." Bones from all the birds (above) 1 onion, quartered 1 carrot, quartered Bouquet garni of 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf and 6 parsley stems 2 teaspoons peppercorns 2 quarts water 1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced Juice of 1/2 lemon Salt and pepper 6 tablespoons butter 6 tablespoons flour 1 cup whipping cream Butter (for rubbing surface of sauce)
To make stock: Break carcasses in 2-3 pieces with a heavy knife or cleaver. Put bones in a roasting pan and cook in a 500-degree oven until very brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer bones to a pot and add onion, carrot, bouquet garni, peppercorns and water. Simmer, skimming occasionally, 1 1/2-2 hours. Strain stock and boil to reduce by about half and measure 3 cups.
In a saucepan, put the mushrooms with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and a 1/4-inch layer of water. Press a piece of foil on top and cook mushrooms gently until tender, about 5 minutes.
In a saucepan melt the butter, add flour and cook until foaming. Whisk in stock and bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Stir in mushrooms and liquid, taste for seasoning and simmer until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 3-5 minutes. Stir in cream and reduce sauce again to the same consistency. Taste it for seasoning.
Rub the surface of the sauce with a lump of butter to prevent a skin forming, then cover it. It can be made up to 24 hours ahead and kept in the refrigerator. Reheat it on top of the stove just before serving. CUMBERLAND SAUCE (Makes 2 cups sauce for 12)
All recipes for this sauce include orange, red currant jelly and port, but after that the cook's imagination takes over. This is an agreeably spicy version. 2 oranges 2 lemons 2 shallots, finely chopped 2 cups red currant jelly 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1/2 cup port Pinch of ground ginger Salt and pepper
Thinly peel zest from orange and lemon, leaving all white pith. Cut zest in needle-like strips and blanch by boiling in water 2 minutes, then drain. Squeeze juice of the oranges and one lemon and reserve. Cook shallots in boiling water until soft, about 5 minutes, and drain.
In a saucepan, heat jelly with orange and lemon juice until melted. Stir in shallots, mustard, port and ginger and simmer 2-3 minutes. Take from heat, stir in citrus zests and taste for seasoning. The sauce can be made up to three days ahead and refrigerated. Serve it cold. GLAZED VEGETABLES (12 servings)
A winter standby that can be adapted for any root vegetable. 1 1/2 pound celery root Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 1/2 pounds carrots 1 1/2 pounds turnips 1/3 cup butter Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Peel celery root, cut it in half crosswise and divide each half in 12 wedges, trimming sharp corners with a knife. At once put celery root in a pan of salted water with the lemon juice. NOTE: Celery root discolors rapidly. Cover and simmer celery root until just tender, 10-15 minutes. Drain it.
Meanwhile peel carrots and cut them in large sticks, about the same size as the celery root. Cook them in a covered pan of salted water until tender, 8-12 minutes. Drain them.
Peel turnips, cut them in pieces about the same size as the celery root and round off sharp corners with a knife. Put turnips in a covered pan of salted water and simmer until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain them. All the vegetables can be cooked up to 8 hours ahead and kept at room temperature.
To finish: In a large saucepan melt the butter. Add vegetables with salt and pepper to taste and sugar and heat, tossing constantly, until very hot and shiny with butter. Add parsley, toss again, and taste for seasoning. SHERRY SYLLABUB (12 servings)
If you are attempting this dessert without an electric beater do it in two batches. 1 1/2 cups medium dry sherry 3/4 cup brandy 3/4 cup lemon juice 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 quart whipping cream Ground nutmeg or cinnamon (for sprinkling)
Mix sherry, brandy, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl and stir to partly dissolve the sugar. Set bowl over ice. Beat in cream and continue beating until mixture thickens enough to hold a soft shape for a few seconds when the beater is lifted, 4-5 minutes.
Spoon mixture into stemmed glasses and chill. Syllabub can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead and kept in the refrigerator. It will separate slightly, but this does not matter. Just before serving, sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.