While today's home cooks can turn to the Food Network or dozens of foodie sites on the internet for inspiration, cooks in the days before published cookbooks created their own books of recipes. These were written out carefully by hand, and often added to by successive owners. They became treasured heirlooms passed from mother to daughter, reflecting not only one family's favorite dishes, but also evolving tastes over the generations as different ingredients became more available and fashions in dining changed.
This recipe for "Snow" comes from Mistress Sarah Longe's Recipe Book, composed around 1610 and now in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library. (Click here for more about Mrs. Longe's book.) Mistress Longe was not a professional cook, but a middle-class Elizabethan housewife who took the time to carefully write out her favorite recipes.
Snow, or snow cream, was a favorite dessert on Tudor tables, and remained popular well into the 19th c. According to one of our favorite books on historical cooking, Martha Washington's Book of Cookery, "Snow cream is the English version of cremets d'Anjou...It seems likely that the Plantagenets brought the sweet to England."
While Mistress Longe's italic penmanship is beautifully elegant, it can be a bit hard to follow. We've taken the liberty of transcribing the recipe below. Most modern cooks will make sense of it, except, perhaps, the "pretty big birch in rod." This was an early version of today's wire whisk: a bundle of flexible twigs (here birch, though more often willow), tied together and used to beat air into egg whites.
To Make Snow Take a pint of thicke sweete Creame, and halfe a pint of Sack, and halfe a pound of Sugar, and the white of two Eggs well beaten, and a pretty deale of limon, and mingle all this together, and put it into a pretty big earthin Pan, or Bason, and take a pretty big birch in rod, and beate it till the froth doth rise, and then take it with a stirre, and put it into the thing you would have it goe in, it should bee a glasse Sillibubbe pot, if you have it, if not, a white creame dish will serve: you should let it stand a pretty while before you eate it because it should settle with a little kind of drinke at the bottome, like a Sillibubbe.
Above: "To Make Snow", page from Sarah Longe, Her Receipt Booke, 1610
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.