Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How Mistress Longe Makes Snow, 1610

Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Susan reporting:

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

Thanks to Michael Robinson for suggesting Mistress Longe's book to us.


Amy Burrow said...

Sounds delish! Do you think this is think this is the same as Floating Islands?

Gail said...

I love the "pretty big birch in rod"! Do you have a more detailed description of this? I would love to have one for my 18th century reenacting kit if they were still used then. We have a small plantation which can supply most raw materials not sent over from home (Germany & England).

Gail in CNY

Anonymous said...

What is sack?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Amy, I think this may be a distant egg-based cousin to floating islands, which -- I think! -- are more like baked meringues in custard-like sauce.

Gail, I haven't ever seen a photograph or example of these, only descriptions. To me, a "split willow stick whisk" or "birch and rod" sounds like either twigs bound together, or a thicker branch split -- both willow and birch being known for their flexibility. I do know that the development of the wire whisk in the late 18th-early 19th c. permitted cooks to beat whites until stiff, which apparently they couldn't do before - so I'm guessing that the birch whisks had their limits.

Anonymous, sack is the collective term for various light dry strong white wine from Spain and Canary Islands (including sherry.) I'm not sure if wine people still refer to sack or if it's considered archaic now - anyone wiser than I, please feel free to speak up! :)

Lady Burgley said...

I would be curious to hear from anyone who has actually tried this. A cup of sugar to two eggs is a LOT of sugar, and the acidity of the wine and lemon would definitely make the mixture separate ("settle") if not openly curdle the cream. In most recipes this wouldn't be desirable at all, but it is, as you note, an excellent example of changing tastes at the table. Imagine serving raw eggs and curdled cream to your guests today!

Anonymous said...

With the exception of egg whites, this receipt is quite similar to the many 18th century recipes for Syllabub. My particular favorite comes from Eliza Smith:
Take a Quart and half a Pint of Cream, a Pint of Rhenish, half a Pint of Sack, three Lemons, and near a Pound of double-refin'd Sugar; beat and sift the Sugar and put it to your Cream; grate off the yellow Rind of your three Lemons and put that in; squeeze the Juice of the three Lemons into your Wine, and put that to your Cream, then beat all together and with a Whisk just half an Hour; then take it up all together with a Spoon, and fill your Glasses; it will keep good nine or ten Days, and is best three or four Days old; these are call'd The everlasting Syllabubs.
Rhenish refers to a Rhine wine - Riesling works well.
I believe a dry sherry is the closest we can come today to 'sack'.
Birch whisks can be purchased here:

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Many thanks for the input, Lady Burgley & Anonymous! Not only do you supply more info, but provide a website for purchasing the whisks in question.

No wonder Loretta and I love our wise readers. :)

Karen said...

Here's some earlier recipes for "snow":

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