Today I’m trying a recipe from a book published in 1777 titled:
The Young Ladies’ Guide in the Art of Cookery, Being a Collection of useful Receipts, Published for the Convenience of the Ladies committed to Her Care, by Elizabeth Marshal
That’s quite a title, eh?
The recipe is called “Rice Apples”. I first encountered it in a post on Duke University’s The Devil’s Tale. Will it be edible? It will likely be more to my taste than the rather disturbing one entitled herring pudding.
I’m fascinated by vintage and historical recipes in general. They can tell us a lot about life during the time they were written.
This recipe, for example, is simple but much more vague than a modern recipe. Was there an assumption that the cook would be experienced enough to be able to wing it? Were there standardized methods for measurements that would have been available to the average person?
I followed this recipe as closely as I could, which did involve me buying a bottle of sherry. A tragedy, that. I had to drink quite a lot of it, since the recipe only calls for… well it doesn’t actually specify but I used about a quarter cup. That left enough for me to thoroughly enjoy (or at least not care that I was) standing over a hot stove stirring boiling milk.
Here is the recipe as written (weird wording and all), followed by the recipe as I made it:
- Boil a quarter of a pound of rice in three pints of water a quarter of an hour
- Strain off the water, and put to the rice, one pint of milk, one pint of cream, a stick of cinnamon, and lemon skin.
- Let them boil, and sweeten to your taste.
- Beat four eggs, leaving out two whites, put them to the rice, and let it stand on a slow fire a little. Then keep stirring till cool.
- Pare and cut the core out of your apples, and put them in a dish well buttered, and strewed over with grated bread and sugar.
- So fill them with the above mixture, and cover them over with it. .
- Strew it over with bread crumbs and sugar, and bake it a fine brown.
- Melt butter with sack [a sort of sherry] and sugar, and cover them before they go to table.
I rearranged the ingredients and instructions in a way that made more sense to me. And before I go any further, I want to give a humongous shout-out to my friend Jenni, of Jenni Field’s Pastry Chef Online. She was such a help when I was trying to figure out how to convert my notes and experiments into a coherent recipe. I also learned the basics of making a custard from this fabulous, funny and immensely helpful post about how she turned an Effing Bread Fail into something wonderful. Go see what she’s up to!
On to the madness of my methods.
Pare and cut the core out of your apples, and put them in a dish well buttered, and strewed over with grated bread and sugar: This is the first time apples are mentioned in this recipe and there is absolutely no indication of how many to use. I experimented some and found that 6 small apples in an 8″x8″ made for a very full custard with just the tops of the apples peeking out. I tried it with 9 small apples in a 9″x13″ pan, which allowed the custard to reach about halfway up the apples. I preferred the lots-o-custard version, so that’s how I wrote out the recipe.
I used a handy dandy little corer to core the apples, which made the whole miserable peeling/coring business much, much easier to bear.
As for “strewed over with grated bread and sugar”, well, that took some experimentation too. I found that a cup of breadcrumbs, half on the bottom of the dish and half on top, was a very nice amount. I used my little mini processor to grind up the bread. Two slices of the Trader Joe’s White made a little over a cup of breadcrumbs.
Boil a quarter of a pound of rice in three pints of water a quarter of an hour: A 1/4 pound of rice is only about half a cup. Cooked, that’s about 1 cup. That’s the amount I used the first time I made this recipe, but one cup of rice in a whole quart of half & half just wasn’t very rice-y so I upped the amount and was much happier with the result.
The instructions for boiling the rice are different from what you may be used to. The instructions on the back of rice bags in the U.S. tell you to use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice, and to cook it until all of the water is absorbed. That’s not what we’re doing here. We’re boiling the rice until it’s tender, then draining it – the way we do pasta. Because of this, the amount of water you use to boil the rice doesn’t need to be exact. It should be around 4-5 times the amount of rice. So 1 cup of rice in 4 or 5 cups of water is fine.
Strain off the water, and put to the rice, one pint of milk, one pint of cream, a stick of cinnamon, and lemon skin: The recipe calls for 1 pint of milk and 1 pint of cream, which works out nicely for a trip to a modern dairy case. Just get a quart of half & half.
I wasn’t sure what exactly they meant by “lemon skin”. Could it have referred to candied lemon peel? I guessed it meant lemon zest. And if you don’t have any sticks of cinnamon around, about 1/2 a teaspoon ground will work just fine.
Let them boil, and sweeten to your taste: Ahhhh, the very tricky “sweeten to taste”! For this recipe I only used about 1/4 cup of sugar in the milk mixture. It made it plenty sweet for me, and in the late 1700’s people did not consume sugar in the vast quantities we do now. I doubt the author expected the result to be candy-sweet.
Beat four eggs, leaving out two whites, put them to the rice, and let it stand on a slow fire a little. Then keep stirring till cool: Since I was making this like a custard, I changed the instructions here to better fit a custard. Tempering the eggs before adding them to the rice mixture is very important. Otherwise you’ll just end up with scrambled eggs in milk. [gag]
…and bake it a fine brown: Oh that’s helpful. Bake it in what? At what temperature? For how long? I found that an 8″x8″ pan at 350°F for about an hour worked best.
Melt butter with sack and sugar, and cover them before they go to table: The sack! I used a cream sherry (cream doesn’t mean it has cream in it, but it indicates that it’s a sweet – not dry – sherry) from Trader Joe’s. It was under $5. The butter is a nice addition but I didn’t want any additional sugar so I left it out when I was making it just for myself. The sherry alone, warmed would be nice and it’s perfectly good with no sauce at all. The first time I made it I forgot to buy the sherry, so we all ate it without and it was delicious.
- 1 cup (2-3 slices) fresh bread crumbs
- 2 T sugar
- 1 cup rice
- 1 quart half and half
- 1 stick cinnamon OR ½ teaspoon ground cinammon
- The zest of one lemon
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 4-6 apples
- ¼ cup sherry or other sweet, fortified wine (the “sack”)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grate (or process in a food processor) 2 to 3 slices of fresh or slightly stale bread to make 1 cup of bread crumbs and mix with 2 tablespoons of the sugar.
- Evenly distribute half of the bread crumb mixture across the bottom of a well-greased 8”x8” baking dish.
- Peel and core 6 small or 4 larger apples. Place them in the baking dish.
- In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice and boil for 15 minutes, then strain and return rice to pot.
- Add the half & half, cinnamon, lemon zest, and ¼ cup sugar.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
- Temper the egg mixture by adding a few tablespoons of the hot rice to the egg mixture while stirring constantly, then add the egg mixture to the pot of rice while stirring.
- Stir frequently until the mixture has cooled somewhat.
- Fill the apples with the rice mixture and pour the remainder over and around the apples.
- Top with the remaining bread crumb mixture and bake at 350 for an hour, or until golden brown.
- In a small pot, stir together butter, sugar, and sherry until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Pour evenly over the apples and serve immediately.
It’s really good! After I got over the odd spellings and instructions, I realized that it’s just a rice custard poured over apples and baked. I’ve made it several times now and it’s been good each time. I served it when my mom and mother-in-law were over and everyone loved it. The only negative reaction I’ve encountered so far was when one of the Littles asked for a bite of mine and I’d forgotten that I’d poured the sherry mixture over it. The sherry is only warmed, and the alcohol is not cooked off at all. Poor R got a distressed look on his face and said, “yech!” LOL
Have you ever tried an old recipe like this? Would you be willing to try something really outlandish like herring pudding?