The English Housewife

Gervais Markham

edited by Michael R. Best

 

It’s a nifty book. While quite modern for my own purposes, it’s a solid bridge to understanding historic mindset for the modern person.

Containing all kinds of guides and instructions for the typical housewife, advice ranging from how to cure internal bleeding to how to dye cloth, it also has a section on cooking. The whole book is geared towards the Rennaisance equivalent of a ranch or farmstead.

 

Many seasonings and flavors considered old fashioned at the time are here, though there are some hints of dietary changes.

The recipe I worked with from this book is “Another of Liver” page 72-73.

It asks the cook to “boil a liver til it be hard as a stone,” and then to grate it on a bread-grater.

This wasn’t a shocking idea at the time, grated, cooked liver was used as a thickener in several recipes I have run into.

After the liver is cooked, cooled, cleaned and grated, it’s to be mixed with the thickest, best cream you can get, 6 egg yolks, bread crumbs, seasonings, suet, dried fruit, and “a good store of sugar.”

 

all of the ingredients in a container to be mixed and placed in a "form"

cooled, grated, and being mixed

After being put into “forms”, it’s to be boiled. I used cheesecloth and a string, and suspended it on a makeshift support to keep it off the bottom of the pot. In doing some more reading, it seems that flouring the cheesecloth would have been wise as well.

I boiled it like a Christmas pudding, and when set, followed the next set of directions.

 

a cheesecloth bag in a pot of boiling water, resting on chopsticks

makeshift forms

The recipe calls for the pudding to be boiled as “before showed”, which called for checking recipes number 32 and 33 on the previous pages.

These both called for the now-boiled pudding to be removed from the forms, and to be toasted before a fire.

Not having a spit, I toasted the pudding in a pan with a butane flame.

 

a freeform craggy mass, toasted to varying shades of brown.

after toasting

 

I like liver, but this one was challenging. It is just too sweet and too greasy to be enjoyable either as a sliced protein or a spread pate.

I ate some, but… not much of it.

The texture is  very fine, and the basic seasonings are lovely, but the huge quantity of fruit, sugar, and fat take this to a place that is we call “dessert.”

 

I have made a “to my taste” version in the past, which is more of a tarte. I use no suet, lots less sugar, and more pepper.

When made in a bain-marie in tartlets, or in small tart-shells, baked, it can come across as more of a pate variant, there is always some in the house.

 

Ratings;

+ clear window into the historic palate

- commonly unpopular main ingredient.

- Very rich, very sweet.

- very fiddly, labor intensive.

- can be adapted into something modernly palatable, but then it’s modern, and

not very helpful in sharing the historic perspective.


I would very definitely make this for a small group of 12-20, as part of a larger menu.

It is interesting, it is evocative, and it is informative.