Cara/Andrea here, The holiday season always get me in the mood for firing up the oven. I especially enjoy baking at this time of year, but am always on the lookout for new recipes to share with family and friends. You know—cookies, chocolate confections, fruit studded cakes, or . . . um . . . hedgehog pudding.
Yes, hedgehog pudding. (from a c. 1750 English cookbook)
Before you start turning green around the gills, allow me to elaborate. (I assure you it’s NOT what you think!) I happened to see a special blog on historical holiday cooking on the Yale Library website and I just had to delve in for a bite. (Clearly, they know how to get a reader’s attention with their headlines—and though the ingredients aren't listed, the blurb promises that it does not contain hedgehog.) So, as we head into the season where we all tend to eat and drink to excess, let’s whet the appetite with a few of their wonderfully arcane cookbooks.
Yale’s Babylonian Collection owns three of the world’s oldest known cookbooks. The Akkadian clay tablets, which feature recipes for meat, vegetables and stews, date back to 1750 B.C. No translation is provided for the cuneiform text, so we’ll move on to a manuscript 18th century English cookbook (you can download a PDF of the original here) which features not only the aforesaid hedgehog pudding, but calves’ foot pudding, wet sweet meats and possetts and sillibubs.
Another 18th century offering is The Family Magazine—In Two Parts, which apparently was the Georgian equivalent of Martha Stewart’s Living. If you are looking for an alternative to the Christmas goose or turkey, perhaps you would like to consider its recipe for Pigeon Pears:
Take your pigeons, bone them all but one leg, and put into through the side out at the vent; cut off the toes, and fill them with forced meat, made of the heart and liver; cover them with a tender forced meat: First, wash them with the batter of eggs, and shape them like pears; then wash them over, and roll them in scalded chopped spinach; cover them with thin slices of bacon, and put them in bladders; boil them an hour and a half, then take them out of the bladders, and lay them before the fire to crisp; then make for them a ragout.
The second half of the cookbook is filled with recipes for non-alcoholic beverages, like walnut water and cinnamon water, because, as the authors warn, “Tis certain that all spirituous liquers do great mischief to the human body." Also in abundance at the back of the book are cures for indigestion—not surprising after one reads through the first half meals.
Jumping to the early 20th century, I’ll end this little peek at food history on a literary note. I'm including a copy of Edith Wharton's favorite Christmas pudding. All of authors might want to make it, hoping to ingest a little artistic inspiration along with the sultanas and almonds!
Speaking of cookbooks, I grew up with a battered copy of Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking, which my mother received from her mother as a wedding gift! The pages for chocolate brownies, egg nog and pumpkin pie are well-spattered from years of use. I have still have it, though a more modern version is now used in the kitchen while the original one is lovingly preserved on my keeper bookshelf.
Do you have a favorite go-to cookbook to use during the holidays? A favorite type of food to prepare? A favorite recipe or traditional family treat? Mine is hasselnuss stengeli, a cookie recipe from my Swiss grandmother that is basically a hazelnut shortbread, glazed with lemon and confectioner’s sugar. Please share! (In the meantime I’m sneaking off to the kitchen.)