The three most popular recipes from Before ‘Farm to Table’

With the Folger’s four-year Before ‘Farm to Table’ project drawing to a close, we’re revisiting three of the most popular early modern recipes adapted by the project team and shared on the Shakespeare & Beyond blog.

Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, the inaugural project of the Mellon initiative in collaborative research, used the pervasiveness of food in everyday life as a window into early modern culture. Recipes played a central role in this exploration of food-related topics, given that the Folger is home to the world’s largest collection of early modern English manuscript recipe books.

A new website, launched July 27, documents the multi-faceted work of Before ‘Farm to Table’, which included research, lectures, exhibitions, and theater collaborations at the Folger.

Enjoy the recipes shared below and read more blog posts from the Before ‘Farm to Table’ team.

Finished hot chocolate. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Finished hot chocolate. Photo by Teresa Wood.

A pirate botanist’s hot chocolate

Our most popular recipe was for William Hughes’s hot chocolate. Marissa Nicosia adapted this early modern recipe for the 2019 Folger exhibition First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas:

When pirate botanist William Hughes wrote about his adventures with plants in the Americas, he devoted an entire section of his book The American Physitian (1672) to “The Cacao Nut Tree,” which he distinguished from all other American plants. Hughes paid particular attention to the properties and the preparation of chocolate. In the opening of the section “Of the making of Chocolate into Drink,” he calls the beverage “the American Nectar.”

Read more about chocolate in the early modern world and try the hot chocolate recipe.

Cogs Biscuits
Savory Cogs Biscuits. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

Biscuits flavored with saffron and caraway seeds

Before ‘Farm to Table’ fellows Jack Bouchard and Elisa Tersigni adapted this savory biscuit recipe for Thanksgiving:

This year for Thanksgiving, we’ve found something else; something that’s fluffy and sweet and savory and firm and spiced all at the same time, a kind of ur-biscuit. Around 1672, Constance Hall recorded in her recipe book a dish called Cogs Biskett, a dish she presumably cooked for her family. Her book is now part of the Folger collection’s strong holding of handwritten recipe books, and this biscuit recipe deserves a revival as the best bread to accompany your turkey this year.

How to explain the origin of the name, Cogs Biscuits? Well, it makes a good conversation piece around the dinner table.

What is the “cog” in Cogs Biscuits? Frankly, we don’t know. The recipe is something of an oddity, an isolated example in the Folger’s extensive recipe collection that bears little resemblance to the other biscuit recipes we’ve found. The word “cog” might refer to a bucket used in milking a cow, or to a measure of alcohol (equivalent to a dram), or to a kind of ship. But our best guess is that “cog” is Scottish dialect for a small wooden drinking cup, in which the biscuits could have been baked, technically making them “cupcakes.” Essentially, these might have been early modern savory cupcakes!

What are you waiting for? Get the biscuit recipe.

spooning out the stuffing from inside the roasted turkey
Early modern stuffing. Photo Credit: Bee Two Sweet

Early modern stuffing (oysters optional)

Thanksgiving was a very popular time for recipes, unsurprisingly, and therefore the Before ‘Farm to Table’ team decided to recreate an early modern stuffing recipe:

This holiday season, we invite you to stuff your turkey with a stuffing recipe we found in an early modern cookbook from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection. This anonymous manuscript cookbook actually has two turkey and two stuffing recipes: one of the turkey and stuffing recipes is made with oysters, and one without. Oysters and turkey might sound like a bizarre mix today, but these recipes probably most closely reflect the foods available at the original Thanksgiving meals, which likely contained both shellfish and wild turkey—two of the most commonly consumed foods in the Americas. Here, we’ve opted for the oyster-less recipe, which is the kind that has been adopted into modern kitchens.

As our readers noted, oyster stuffing (or dressing) for Thanksgiving is actually traditional in various parts of America, from the Gulf Coast to New England. So for adventurous cooks, here’s the transcription of the early modern stuffing recipe with oysters. Note that it includes anchovy too!

Stuffing for a boyled Turky

half suet & half bread crumbs a few stewed oysters chopt, & a little anchovy, Lemonpeel
Mace, Nutmeg, a little salt mixt up with raw Eggs, you may make balls for Eggs boyled
hard take the yolks of them & roll it up in force meat fry them & then open & lay
them amongst the garnish ~

Read all about the history of stuffing and get step-by-step instructions for the oyster-less version.