Monday, 29 April 2019

Mushroom ketchup: not as expensive as you think

This post is all about my attempt at one of the signature flavours of the 18th century: mushroom ketchup.  Mushroom ketchup was to the 18th century what garum was to the Romans, an all purpose flavouring agent used in a wide variety of dishes, and in fact the taste is not unlike fish sauce.  It's a salty, savoury, umami flavour.

Due to the popularity of mushroom ketchup, historical recipes tended to assume you were making the stuff in industrial quantities, which is prohibitively expensive for most of us today.  But do you, as a modern cook, actually need an industrial sized bucket of mushroom ketchup?  In this post I'm going to make a smaller, affordable quantity of this ketchup using about 500 grams of mushrooms.  If you do need a large quantity of it, here is an awesome cheat recipe made with mushroom bouillon.

Recipes for mushroom ketchup varied, but they all followed the same basic pattern.  You salted your mushrooms and left them to sit for a while so the salt could draw out the mushroom liquor, then you squeezed all the liquor into a pot, boiled it with spices, and strained it again into bottles.  Some cooks added wine or ale, but this was apparently optional, and the spices involved varied.

Here is a recipe from Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery.

And here is John Farley's version from The London Art of Cookery.  The similarity in titles, by the way, was probably not accidental.  Farley seems to have "borrowed" a lot from Hannah Glasse, who herself plagiarized earlier authors.

At least one recipe requires the salted mushrooms to be placed in a low oven for 24 hours, but I don't care to leave the oven on for a full 24 hours with no one to watch it while I sleep and go to work and besides, not all recipes included this step, so I just put my casserole dish full of mushrooms next to the hot water cylinder.  Note that I have chopped my mushrooms to make them easier to squeeze.

Here is what I ended up with.  At this point the mushrooms have been sitting for a full 24 hours and have released an amount of juice which, frankly, surprised me because I had expected some liquid to be visible, but as you can see there's none.  They smelled good though, so there's that.

Maybe this is why John Farley says to leave the salted mushrooms for four days, and maybe Hannah Glasse didn't say to heat the mushrooms because her audience already knew that.  But my mushrooms weren't looking good.  Hmmm.  What if I zapped them in the microwave?  Microwaving things makes them soggy, right?

Now we're getting somewhere!  In this picture they've been microwaved for five minutes.

I microwaved my salted mushrooms for one minute at a time on medium power, about fifteen minutes in total.  I took them out to check their progress after each minute and kept going until there was a lot of liquid in the dish and the mushroom pieces were soft.

It seems you do need to heat the mushrooms in order to extract their liquor, but you can totally cheat and use a microwave.

Here's my modernized version of Hannah's mushroom ketchup recipe.  For around 200 mls of ketchup you will need:

500 grams mushrooms
About 2 tablespoons of table salt (it doesn't need to be exact)
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Clean your mushrooms, remove the stalks, and chop them.  Layer them in a pan with the salt sprinkled over them and leave them somewhere warm until they're soft and sitting in a nice pool of mushroom liquor or, y'know, help them along in the microwave.

Squeeze all the mushroom liquor into a saucepan using a cloth.  This will take a lot of squeezing, and you will be able to extract a lot more liquor than you think.  Don't throw the squeezed mushrooms away, you can dry them completely and use them for cooking.

Add the spices to your saucepan and simmer it, covered, for 15 minutes, then cool it and strain it into a bottle.  The ketchup will be watery, and that's okay.  It's a concentrated flavouring not a sticky condiment.  You add small quantities of it to boost the flavour of stews and gravies.

If you have a whole kilo of mushrooms (try the farmers' market), it's worth doubling this recipe because it is labour intensive and trust me, you will find plenty of uses for mushroom ketchup.  It's delicious.  There's a reason people in the 18th century were nuts about this stuff.  It tastes, obviously, of mushrooms, but with wonderful aromatic citrus and gingery top notes from the spices.  10/10, this stuff deserves to make a comeback.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Beef stewed savorily

Beef stewed savorily, from John Farley's The London Art of Cookery.  Just look at that cross section!

This is another John Farley recipe.  It's a kind of pot roast, made with beef sirloin which has been stuffed with forcemeat, rolled up, and braised in a stew pan.

The recipe.  I used fish sauce instead of anchovy liquor, because I didn't have any.  I didn't have oysters either, but they're optional anyway.

I used rump steak for this recipe, because the cut of meat now known as rump in the UK and Australasia is roughly equivalent to what 18th century Londoners called the sirloin.  We know this because Mr Farley included a helpful diagram.  He also included a forcemeat recipe, which I made ahead of time and refrigerated.  It only takes about half an hour to make and I can assure you it's time well spent.

That's why the lighting is different in this photo - it was taken the night before.

This is the forcemeat.  It's made from minced meat and bacon cooked with mushrooms, shallots etc. and whizzed in the blender pounded in a mortar until smooth.  It's supposed to be made with veal, but I used a 1:1 mixture of beef and pork.  It tastes amazing and is unquestionably the best part of the entire dish.

Beef stewed savorily is not a difficult recipe to make.  Here you can see my piece of rump steak with forcemeat spread all over it.  All it needs now is to be rolled up like a Yule log made from meat and secured with string.

Two Yule logs, technically, because the rump steak came in two pieces.

I was apprehensive about the stewing part because this is the first time I've ever stewed meat.   I braise meat all the time in the oven and I know this is pretty much the same thing, but when I was a kid stew was one of the things mum made that I absolutely hated, and as a result I've never cooked it.  So I was a little worried the stewing process would ruin this very promising rolled roast.  But Mr Farley didn't let me down.  After consulting the Google academy of culinary skills, I seared the meat well on all sides, and stewed it on a low temperature for two hours.  It came out delicious and very tender, although the beef part was a little bland.  I had suspected this might happen, so while the beef was stewing I made French olive sauce with some of the cooking liquid.

Meat does tend to lose its flavour when boiled, and in the 18th century meat was often boiled, which is most likely why The London Art of Cookery contains an entire section on mouth-watering sauces for all occasions.

The recipe doesn't specify what sauce was intended to be served with beef stewed savorily; presumably this was not something Mr Farley thought he should have to spell out for his readers.  French olive sauce was a great choice, but any rich, savoury sauce or gravy would work well.

The Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge: Savoury.

The Receipt/Recipe: "Beef stewed savorily" from John Farley's The London Art of Cookery.  Technically, however, this is a three-for-one package of savoury recipes since in order to make it I first had to make Hannah Glasse's mushroom catchup (blog post forthcoming) and John Farley's forcemeat recipe.

The Date/Year and Region: 18th century London.

How Did You Make it: As per the recipe, I stuffed a piece of beef with forcemeat, rolled it up, and stewed it.

Time to Complete: All up, just over two hours, but two of those hours were cooking time.  The forcemeat took another half hour.

Total Cost: Including the mushroom ketchup and the forcemeat, the total cost came to around NZ$30 (currently roughly equivalent to US$20).  It's not a cheap recipe.  But on the other hand, I have plenty of forcemeat and ketchup left over for future recipes, and some good stock for sauces.

How Successful Was It?  Very.  This is something I'd happily serve to guests, and as long as you've made your forcemeat ahead of time it has potential to be a dish that looks impressive without requiring a lot of effort.  You do, however, need to serve it with a good sauce or gravy, and you do need to take the time to make the forcemeat stuffing.  Don't be tempted to cheat and use sausage meat, you'll regret it.

How Accurate Is It? I used modern kitchen equipment and made a couple of ingredient substitutions, but for the most part I followed the original recipe and I believe my beef stewed savorily probably turned out the way John Farley intended.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

My new favourite sauce

I recently got an ebook version of The London Art of Cookery by John Farley, first published in 1783, which is available free on Google Books or at  There are some good-looking recipes in this book and I'm excited to try them.  So when I braised some beef on the weekend and didn't want to waste the braising liquid, I made French Olive Sauce from page 149.  This is a very simple sauce recipe.  All you need to do is simmer olives in stock, and season with salt, cayenne pepper and lemon.

Although this is an 18th century recipe, it has what I think of as a very modern taste: strong and salty with rich umami overtones.  It goes well with beef and vegetables, and I strongly recommend it.

Like many recipes from this time period there are no ingredient quantities listed.  This is because you don't need exact quantities.  If you did, Farley would tell you, as he does with many of his other recipes.  With this one the quantities involved depend on how much sauce you want and how much of the ingredients you have available.  I used about a cup of stock and maybe half a cup of finely chopped olives.

The recipe doesn't specify whether to chop the olives, but I recommend chopping them finely so they'll mix through the sauce.  The recipe doesn't specify how long to stew the sauce either, but mine simmered on a medium low heat for about an hour.  Depending on your stock, you may not need to add any salt, so be sure to taste the sauce before you season it.  If it doesn't thicken up as much as you'd like, a sprinkle of cornflour will solve that problem.  The recipe specifies veal stock, but I used beef stock and you could probably use any kind of stock, including vegetable stock if you wanted to make a vegan version.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Marmalade cheese cake: a 1914 pie recipe

Today's historical recipe comes to us courtesy of the Edmonds' "Sure to Rise" Cookery Book, 1914 edition.  It looked easy, required few ingredients, and I like marmalade, so I tried it.  Why it's called a cheese cake when there is no cheese in the ingredients list is unclear to me, but never mind.  Let's dive in.


  • 2 tablespoonfuls marmalade
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ozs. butter
Melt the butter, beat the eggs, and add to marmalade. Line patty pans with puff paste (see recipe page 18), pour in the mixture, and bake in a quick oven.

I made one large pie instead of several small ones, and chose not to use the puff paste recipe on page 18 for several reasons.  Firstly, because I am unapologetically lazy when it comes to pastry.  Secondly, because the supermarket's ready-made puff pastry is much better than anything I’d be able to make, and thirdly, because if you do navigate to page 18 and check out that recipe, you’ll see it has baking powder in it.  Understandable in a book produced as a marketing tool to sell Edmonds' brand baking powder, but that’s not how you make puff pastry and I am suspicious.

Made with store-bought pastry, the "cheese cake" looked pretty good.  Sadly, looks can be deceiving.  I was hoping for something with a custard-like filling here, but what I got instead was a kind of marmalade quiche.  It doesn't taste bad, but it isn't amazing either.  If you like quiche and want to try a sweet one, this might be something you'll enjoy, but in all honesty I can't recommend it.  It's edible and it isn't horrible or anything, but I wouldn't serve it to guests.  Perhaps I was disappointed because our tastes in food have changed over the past 100 years, or because we expect more out of our desserts these days, or maybe this just wasn't a top tier recipe by 1914 standards.  I suspect all of the above.

If you're a fan of car-crash cookery, be sure to check out the "Sure to Rise" recipe for "tomato and macaroni", a weird parody of lasagne which consists of tomato, macaroni, and onion (and nothing else) layered in a casserole dish and baked.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Modern medieval

Happy New Year!   I hope you had a wonderful break over the holidays.

One of the things I did on my holidays was to take a look at medieval tailoring using the garments from Herjolfsnes described in Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns, and finds such as the Moselund tunic.  The main purpose of this exercise was to explore how medieval sleeves were constructed.  And then I tested the fit of my sleeve pattern by making a modern shirt, because why not?

I love how it's possible to make such a modern-looking garment with an 800 year old pattern.

Overall, I really like Medieval Garments Reconstructed, and I think it works well as an introduction to medieval tailoring.  It has patterns for a number of different garments and a detailed discussion of how they were constructed.  The patterns are easy to use and a great way to get a feel for medieval clothing construction.

By the end of the 11th century (probably earlier, considering some of the 10th century finds from Hedeby) the basic principles of medieval European tailoring were already well established.  Construction was based around rectangular lengths of fabric, with triangular gores for skirt shaping.  Sleeve heads had shallower curves and followed the shape of the arm more accurately than is usual in modern sewing patterns.

Where pattern pieces were cut on the bias, such as for skirt gores, they were usually sewn to a piece cut on the grain.  Even shoulder seams were made this way.  The back piece was cut straight across, parallel to the fabric weft, while the front piece sloped down towards the arm like a modern shoulder seam.  This may have been done to create stronger seams which were less likely to stretch out of shape.

The yellow lines in this photo show the seams on my shirt.  The red line shows where a sleeve gusset would go if my pattern had one.  Many, but not all, of the Herjolfsnes garments had sleeve gussets, which meant the sleeve could be cut from a narrower piece of fabric.

Unlike modern patterns, where the sleeve seam is usually placed underneath the arm, the seam on a medieval sleeve was located at the back of the arm.  This allowed medieval tailors to make sleeves which closely followed the shape of the arm without constricting the wearer's movement.

Despite all these differences between medieval and modern patterns, my experimentation resulted in a very modern-looking T-shirt, and all it really took to achieve this result was to use an obviously modern fabric.  Even if I had made it up as a dress with a long, gored skirt like the Herjolfsnes examples, it still wouldn't look obviously medieval.  I think the lesson here is that in some ways the fashion aesthetic of the Middle Ages was similar to our current 21st century aesthetic.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Regency exoticism: millinery edition

Having made a Regency-era net dress, and having a small amount of silk left over, it seemed like a good idea to complete the outfit by making a turban with ostrich feathers.

It consists of a cap made from a circle of fabric gathered onto a band, with a strip of fabric wound around it and tacked in place to make it resemble a turban.  And ostrich feathers.  I found the optimal number of ostrich feathers was two.  One wasn't quite enough, and three looked more showgirl than Regency.

Here's a full length shot with the rest of the outfit.

Technically this is an imitation turban, not a real one, because it's actually made by draping a rectangular silk panel around a cap.  Some Regency-era turbans were made by winding a long piece of fabric around the head, more like a real turban, but there were also hats that imitated turbans and this project represents my best guess as to how such faux-turbans were constructed.  It's not the most educated guess I've ever made, because sometimes you just want a hat, not a trip down the research rabbit hole, but it replicates the look of Regency turbans as seen in paintings and fashion illustrations.

Fashion plate, date missing (late 1790รข€™s?)
Here, for example, is a turban hat from around the end of the 1790s.

And here is a portrait of Countess Franziska von Weissenwolff, also from around 1800.

HSM details

The challenge:  Fabric manipulation.  This is a Regency-era turban hat made by draping and pleating a long strip of cloth around a fabric cap.

Material: Around .4 of a meter of silk.

Pattern: N/A

Year:  Late 1790s to early 1800s.

Notions:  Two ostrich feathers.

How historically accurate is it?  Probably no more than 50-60%.  Turban hats like this did exist, but really I just made it up as I went along.

Hours to complete:  4-ish.

First worn: Last weekend.

Total cost: $28. 

Monday, 23 July 2018

Opus reticulum

Today I'm taking a short break from my usual focus on the ancient world, to present a Regency era dress inspired by the ancient world.

This dress consists of cotton net, which I made using the same technique as fishing net, over a foundation of cotton voile, trimmed with blue silk.  It needs a petticoat underneath, but I haven't made one yet so for now you will have to use your imagination.  When the petticoat is finished I'll take some more photos.  

This is the first time I've done Regency.  It's not a period I typically pay much attention to, but I am a sucker for classicism.  Enter the Dreamstress with her copy of An Agreeable Tyrant, in which we find this fascinating Regency homage to ancient Egypt:

Image from the DAR museum.

My version isn't an exact copy of the DAR original for reasons I'll talk about later on in this post.

Back view showing how the net skirt is gathered onto the edge of the bodice.
This is not how it's done on the DAR dress, but there is at least one extant net
dress that does have its skirt attached this way.

Like the original, mine is a standard Regency round gown, with a lining that closes separately from the outer fabric.  It closes with pins, which is an appropriate period way to fasten a round gown and totally not something I did because I'm lazy.

Fishnet overdresses were a fad between about 1798 and 1802, and were presumably inspired by the western world's discovery of Egyptology at this time, thanks to Napoleon's Egyptian campaign.  Note that although the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, the Westcar Papyrus wouldn't be translated until 1890, so Regency fashion designers had not actually read the Story of the Green Jewel.  Nor, of course, did they know about the tunic covered with beaded net found in Tutankhamun's tomb.  But Egyptian art sometimes shows net dresses, so people knew about the concept.

Fashion plates of the time show these Egyptian-inspired dresses could be made with or without a train, and with white or coloured net.  I like blue, and blue is very Egyptian, so mine is indigo blue over white cotton lined in white linen.  Making a trained version was just not feasible due to the amount of time it would take to make the net, which meant I had to alter the sleeves as well.  This is because the absence of a train is unusual for the 1790s and suggests my dress should be dated slightly later than the DAR original, so I've made the sleeves in a style which works for that slightly later date.  I've therefore copied the net detailing from the DAR dress's sleeves, but attached it to the short, straight sleeve shape typical of the very early 1800s.

It seems likely that these dresses were usually finished with ribbon, but I used strips of silk due to the difficulty and cost of acquiring appropriate silk ribbon.  I stand by that choice on the basis that it's historically plausible, and I would not have been happy to use polyester ribbon.  Even good quality poly ribbon still looks like poly ribbon, and it doesn't behave the same way as silk.

The pattern I used is a late 1790s overdress from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion.  I adapted it a little bit to better resemble the dress in An Agreeable Tyrant, and to size it up a couple of inches, but overall I found the pattern worked pretty well as-is.  It's easy to work with and I highly recommend it.  However, I did have trouble with the sleeves.  This is to be expected.  Due to better childhood nutrition people today have more muscle mass in our arms and shoulders than our ancestors did, so original patterns will often need sleeve alterations (thanks to the Dreamstress for that information).

If you're fitting a Regency dress and, like me, don't know what you're doing, here's a link I found very helpful: Diary of a Mantua Maker's guide to fitting Regency gowns.

HSM details

The Challenge:  Sleeves.  The net overlay on these sleeves shows an interesting mix of Egyptian and Greek influence, and their construction is characteristic of early 1800s sleeves.  The pattern itself is as simple as a sleeve can be, but the overall effect is highly decorative thanks to the use of classically-inspired drapery.

Material: Half a meter of cotton voile, plus about one and a half square meters of cotton net and half a meter of blue silk for trimming.

Pattern: Late 1790s half robe shown on page 45 of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion.

Year:  1800.

Notions:  Around 540 meters of cotton yarn to make the net.

How historically accurate is it?  Perhaps 60-70%.  I made an effort to research appropriate construction methods and fabrics, but this is my first Regency project and there are undoubtedly lots of things I don't know and could have done better.

Hours to complete:  No idea, and frankly I don't want to know.  Suffice it to say I've been working on this thing off and on since Christmas.

First worn: For fitting purposes.

Total cost: $40.