I recently spent a fun evening helping out with a historic cooking workshop at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum, where we made queen cakes, little currant-filled treats that were popular in England and America in the 18th and 19th centuries. These cakes may have been named for Queen Mary, who reigned in Great Britain from 1689 to 1694, or her sister Anne (1702–1714). The earliest known recipe for them was in a book called Court Cookery (1725) by Robert Smith:
Take a Pound of dry’d Flower, a Pound of refin’d Sugar sifted, and a Pound of Currans wash’d, pick’d, and rubb’d clean, and a Pound of Butter wash’d very well, and rub it into the Flower and Sugar, with a little beaten Mace, and a little Orange-Flower Water; beat ten Eggs, but half the Whites, work it all well together with your Hands, and put in the Currans; sift over it double-refin’d Sugar, and put them immediately into a gentle Oven to bake.
I’ve been craving comfort food lately, what with all the bad news these days, so I delved into Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1837) in search of a nice old pudding. As I’ve written before, Eliza Leslie was such an elegant writer, her cookbooks are worth reading for her fine prose as well as her recipes.
I was drawn to “A Bread and Butter Pudding,” a simple dish that calls for layers of buttered slices of bread topped with currants and brown sugar, with an egg and milk sauce poured on top. This pudding is British in origin, with published recipes dating to the early 18th century. It seems most closely related to an older pudding from Devon, England, called “white-pot,” which contained dates as well as raisins.
John Campbell Loudoun’s apple pudding recipe first caught my eye because it was written in verse. A rarity today, rhyming recipes were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when they were supposedly used by housewives to help them remember recipes. Loudoun’s poem, attributed to him by Kristie Lynn and Robert Pelton, authors of The Early American Cookbook, is much older, dating back to the 18th century:
If you would have a good pudding, observe what you’re taught: —
Take two pennyworth (six) of eggs, when twelve for the groat (fourpence):
And of the same fruit that Eve had once chosen,
Well pared and well chopped, at least half-a-dozen;
Six ounces of bread, let your maid eat the crust,
The crumbs must be grated as small as the dust;
Six ounces of currants from the stones you must sort,
Lest they brake out your teeth, and spoil all your sport;
Five ounces of sugar won’t make it too sweet;
Some salt and some nutmeg will make it compleat,
Three hours let it boyle, without hurry or flutter,
And then serve it up without sugar or butter.