Tagged ‘biscuit’

french Biskets

October 12th, 2013 by KM Wall

To continue with biskets…..no less an authority then the late Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food states that biscuit  means  different things to  different people, in the past as well as the present,  from the UK/USA what means biscuit now (the one to dunk in your tea, the other to put under your gravy) and then the whole sea bisket/ship’s biscuit/hardtack sidebar…..and of course, there’s MORE

The Oxford Companion to Food - the update paperback version is called the Penguin Companion to Food - if you're serious about food history, you need one of these nearby.

The Oxford Companion to Food – the updated paperback version is called the Penguin Companion to Food – if you’re serious about food history, you need one of these nearby.And there are beets on this cover….you know how much beets mean to me….

Back to England, back to some 17th century recipes……

I’ve found only one bisket recipe that’s named English bisket. More common are French bisket recipes , and also those for bisket bread, bisket bread which is sometimes also called French bisket. But not always.

But of course.

French Bakers banner

Probably loaves of bread on these peels, but it’s the right shape so it could be French biscuit.


To make French Biskets.

Take two pounds of fine flower, being baked in an Ouen, take eight ounces of Suger baten and cersed, Coliander-seed, sweet Fennell-seede, and Caraway-seede, of these, each an ounce, worke all these up into a lythe paste with eight new layd egges and a little Rose-water, then roule it vp in a faire cloath like a pudding, as big as your Legge, and put it vp close and tye it fast at both ends, that no water get in, then put it into a Kettle of boyling water, letting it boyle two houres stirring it now and then that it burne not too, then take it vp and cut it in thicknesse of an ordinary trencher in round pieces, then lay it vpon a wyar lattice and sette it in a warme Ouen, and when it is drye that you may beat to a powder, then take a pound of double refined Sugar, and boyle it to a Candie height with as much Rose-water as will desolve it, then take your foresaid dry bisket and dip it in your hot Sugar, & lay it vpon your wyars againe, and set it in a warme ouen three or foure houres after the bread is drawn out, and within an houre turn it and when it is dry it will bee like candied all over, so box it and it will keepe all the yeare.

- 1621.John Murrell. A Delightful daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewoman. Falconwood Press: 1990. p. 4.  

All that seedy goodness makes this seem an awful lot like English bisket, as well the insistence for new layd eggs and beaten  – I mean – baten  – and cersed sugar. Cersed is sifted.

The other Elizabeth Sieve Portrait - I'm assuming this isn't to show us her domestic side....but these are the sorts of sieves that you'd sift the beaten sugar through, the finest sieves being made of silk cloth, the courser one of horsehair.

The Elizabeth Sieve Portrait – I’m assuming this isn’t to show us her domestic side….but these are the sorts of sieves that you’d sift the beaten sugar through, the finest sieves being made of silk cloth, the courser ones of horsehair. This is most definitely NOT horsehair.

The tying up the batter in a cloth and boiling it in a kettle – shaped like a leg, which make me think of roly poly puddings, or at least the one in The Thornbirds, which is boiled in mother’s cotton stocking….

Novel and min-series...great food....

Novel and min-series…great food….

But I digress….

The two step boiled and then baked technique puts this French bisket in the same catagory as  some of the jumbles, simmels  and cracknels.  Pretzels also fall into this catagory.

An ordinary trencher....

An ordinary trencher….cut the pieces about this thick

The George Gower Elizabeth Sieve portrait

The George Gower Elizabeth Sieve portrait





English Bisket

October 11th, 2013 by KM Wall

All good things start at home, so let’s take a look at the international biskets of 17th century England, by looking at the one that is called


btw, ‘BISKET” is by far and by large the most common spelling of the biscuit in the 17th century. In England. Results may vary by country.



To make English Bisket.

Take eight new layd egges, taking away the whites of foure of them, beate the eight yoalks and the other foure whites in a faire bowle the fourth parte of an houre, then take a pound of fine flower being dryed in an earthen pot closed covered : then take eight ounces of hard sugar beaten fine, and beat them into your egges with the end of a rowling pin, and beat it so very hard for the space of an houre, but by no meanes let it stand still, always beating it, then haue an Ouen as hot as for manchet ready cleane, hauing some saucers of flate plates, or little tine Coffins buttered over with a feather as thinne as you can strike it over, then put into yoru forsaid paste Coliander-seed, sweet Fennel seede, and Caroway seed, of each the fourth part of an ounce, when you have beaten these into your paste, put it into your saucers, and set them presently into the Ouen, and when you see it rise vp and look white, you may take down your lid, and in a quarter of an houre they will be made, then box it vp and keep it all the yeare.

1621. John Murrell. The Delightful daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen. Falconwood Press: 1990. p. 3.

A whole lot of beating going on - these need to be light and frothy. If only they had a Kitchen-Aid.

A whole lot of beating going on – these need to be light and frothy. If only they had a Kitchen-Aid.

Coriander seed - we call the leafy part cilantro or even Chinese parsley

Coriander seed – we call the leafy part cilantro or even Chinese parsley



Fennel seed - all together this is going to have a very liquorice taste

Fennel seed – all together this is going to have a very liquorice taste


Our old friend caraway, up close,. You might remember him as Kimmel....

Our old friend caraway, up close. You might remember him as Kimmel….

Bisket International

October 10th, 2013 by KM Wall

I’ve been spending Saturdays on Mayflower II, so I’ve been spending time talking about – and thinking about – sea biscuit….

Seabiscuit winning at Santa Anita, 1940

Seabiscuit winning at Santa Anita, 1940

No, no THAT Seabiscuit, but the hard-tacky biscuit also known as ship’s biscuit (although not to our 1620-ish selves)

Oldest ship biscuit in Kronborg museum

Oldest ship biscuit in  a Kronborg museum

What’s interesting about biscuit…..well, there’s more then ONE thing interesting about the topic of BISCUIT - is that the one that is eaten at sea is generally called only Bisket, with no qualifiers, in the early modern period, which is a huge difference from later, while every other sort of biscuit has a descriptor, even if it’s not very descriptive.

John Murrell, for instance, has recipes for

English Bisket

French Biskets

To make Italian Bisket

To make Naples Bisket

A short time out, for even Wikipedia feels a need to describe the difference between American biscuit and English biscuits.

Biscuits - American V. British

Biscuits – American V. British


In case you missed the distinction….

American Biscuit

American Biscuit

Garibaldi biscuit, which is a British biscuit, despite it's Italian sounding name

Garibaldi biscuit, which is a British biscuit, despite it’s Italian sounding name

and then there’s

Biscotti, or modern day Italian biscuits

Biscotti, or modern day Italian biscuits

American Beaten biscuits

American Beaten biscuits, which are rather like….


Hardtack. Not to be confused with….


Dog biscuits.In France, Charles Estienne wrote in 1598: "Take no notice of bran bread,... it is better to leave it for the hunting, or shepherd, or watch dogs."

Dog biscuits. In France, Charles Estienne wrote in 1598: “Take no notice of bran bread,… it is better to leave it for the hunting, or shepherd, or watch dogs.”


Confused yet?

But Wait! There’s More!

I really wish I had a set of  amazing Ginsu knives as a bonus for every reader……you’ve earned them!

Tomorrow – recipes and comparisons. Only the early modern bisket (which spellchecker keeps wanting to correct as ‘brisket’ . Or ‘basket’. Like they’re interchangeable. The same spellchecker  that keeps letting me write English as Englsih …..)

Biscuit rose de Reims...how much like French bisket are these???

Biscuit rose de Reims…how much like French bisket are these???



Biscuits and gravy - the modern (and American) version of sops.....

Biscuits and gravy – the modern (and American) version of sops…..


September 22nd, 2013 by KM Wall

Ever since I asked a group if they knew how to make toast – and they all did – and then I asked if they had learned to make toast from a recipe – and none had – I felt I had made my point of how people learned to cook without cookbooks. Great example.
And then I started finding recipes for toast.
LOTS of toast recipes.

Which doesn’t even include the places where toast shows up as an ingredient – sometimes sops, sometimes sippets, sometimes toast….

A Marrow Toast

Mince colde parboiled Veale, and Suit very fine, and sweet Hearbes each by themselves, and then mingle them together with Sugar, Nutmeg, Sinamon, Rosewater, grated bread, the yolkes of two or three new layd Egges: open the minst meat, and cover it with the marrow. Then put your toast into a Pipkin with the uppermost of some strong broth: let it boyle with large Mace, a Fagot of sweer hearbs, scum them passing cleane, and let them boyle almost drye. Then take Potato-rootes boyld, or Chestnuts, Skirrootes, or Almonds, boyld in white Wine, and for want of Wine you may take Vergis and Sugar.

1615. John Murrell. A New Booke of Cookerie. Falconwood Press: 1989. p. 19.


marrow bones on toast - not quite the 17th century version

Marrow bones on toast – not quite the 17th century version of Marrow Toasts- it’s the centers of the bones that can be taken out and used in the recipe, that’s the marrow


Marrow the vegetable, which is a member of he squash family - also known as a pompion

Marrow the vegetable, which is a member of he squash family – also known as a pompion


Pipkins from Hamberg

Pipkins from Hamberg

Biscuit, butter, cheese and pudding….

March 15th, 2013 by KM Wall

Friday the 16 (of March 1620/21) a fair warm day towards; …….

there presented himself a savage, which caused alarm, he came very boldly came all alone and along the houses straight to the rendezvous, where we intercepted him, not suffering him to go in, as undoubtedly he would, out of his boldness, he saluted us in English, and bade us welcome, for he learned some broken English  amongst the Englishmen that came to fish at Mohegan and knew name most of the captains, commanders, and masters, that usually come,……

he asked some beer, but we gave him strong water,and biscuit, and butter, and cheese, and pudding, and a piece of mallard, all which he like well, and had been acquainted with such amongst the English;….

Mourt’s Relation, p. 480-1, Johnson ed.

Pieter de Hooch - The Empty Glass - no beer, time to get the strong water. This seems to be setting a oh-so-wrong precedent ...





Floris Gerritsz. van Schooten Still Life with Glass, Cheese, Butter and Cake. There are little rusks, too, ever so biscuit like.



Pieter de Hooch - A Woman Preparing Bread and Butter for a Boy - There are surprisingly few images of biscuit (OK, not so surprising) in genre paintings. I think this lump might be what the English sometimes call a 'rock' of butter, but that's only my tentative opinion.


spilt porridge detail from Pieter Bruegal's The Topsy Turvy World - a hasty pudding, as it weredetail of spilt porridge from Pieter Brughal’s Topsy Turvy World. A Hasty pudding of sorts

Pieter de Hooch - Woman Plucking a Duck



Weevily Biscuits

January 30th, 2013 by KM Wall

The Oldest (self-proclaimed) ship's biscuit IN THE WORLD

while we’re on the topic of moulding bread, etc., a slight side trip into the wild and wacky world of





The biscuit pictured above, is said to date from 1852 and is displayed prominently at the maritime museum in Kronborg castle, Elsinore, Denmark. It claims to be the oldest bikkie in the world….notice there are NO weevils.

Pensicola Wentworth hardtack - 1862

This is Army ration, not ship ration. Although the label proudly bears the nick-name ‘worm castles’, there are no weevils here, either.

Army and Navy hardtack

The holes in the Army hardtack are from ‘docking’, which is part of the baking process. I haven’t made a lifelong study of the matter, but is seems the biggest difference between the Army and the Navy in matters biscuit is shape.

And the Navy gets the gravy while the Army gets the beans, beans, beans, beans.

GH Bent Company, Milton MA - maker of biscuit for centuries

First date reference to assorted aliases according to the OED:

1330 – biscuit

14…- hardbread

1598 – ship bread

1680 – sea biscuit

1788 – pilot bread

1799 – ships biscuit

1830 – sea bread

1836 – hardtack

Several times ‘outsiders’ to the museum have asked Foodways to provide weevily biscuit for Mayflower scenes they’d like to do. We don’t do weevils.

Of all the complaints that are recorded in the Plymouth Primary Sources, weevils is the biscuit just doesn’t make the list.

And there’s plenty on the list (i.e., drinking water instead of beer, celebrating Christmas Day, etc)  – so why not the weevils?

In fact it seems rather more a cliche, the sort of thing you find in movies more then history books. So I googled ‘weevily biscuits’.


The Age of Sail had a lovely post on weevily biscuits, as well as one on the lesser of two weevils…

Quoting  them:
‘…one of the standard vignette’s in virtually any novel set in the British navy during the Age of Sail is the rapping of a ship’s biscuit on the table to draw the weevils out before eating.
Janet MacDonald, in Feeding Nelson’s Navy, notes that this may have been self-inflicted wound. She relies on a primary source for this, Captain Basil Hall experiences during the War of 1812 as recounted in Fragments of Voyages and Travels, volume 1. :

“I remember once, when sailing in the Pacific Ocean, about a couple of hundred leagues to the south of the coast of Peru, falling in with a ship, and buying some American biscuit which had been more than a year from home. It was enclosed in a new wine puncheon, which was, of course, perfectly air-tight. When we opened it, the biscuit smelled as fresh and new as if it had been taken from the oven only the day before. Even its flavour and crispness were preserved so entire, that I thought we should never have done cranching it.”

I never dreamed there’d come a day I would again quote the word ‘cranching’. Such is the life of a Foodways Culinarian.

Richard I supplied biscuit for his Crusaders - but were they round or square?? Inquiring minds want to know!


Ecclesiastes 11:1 (Geneva text)

Cast thy bread upon the  waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Colonial Militia Marches on …

November 11th, 2012 by KM Wall

Willem de Poorter - Armour

Thursday, the 16th of November….1620
Cape Cod.
“…but we marched through boughs and bushes, and under hills and valleys, which tour our very armor in pieces, and yet could meet with none of them [Native people] , nor in their houses, nor find any fresh water, which we greatly desired, and stood in need of, for we brought neither beer nor water with us, and our victuals was only biscuit and Holland cheese, and a little bottle of aquavitae, so we were sore athirst,….”
1622. Mourt’s Relation, Johnson ed, pp. 451-2.

Under the conduct of Captain Myles Standish, sixteen men, every man with his his musket, sword and corslet, set out to explore Cape Cod on the 15th of November. They saw some Native people, and marched after them. The Native people ran away – really, the only sensible course of action while being chased in the woods by sixteen armed and armored men.

The next day the English militia continues, marching, as it were, up the hill and down the hill. Obviously Captain Standish seems to have forgotten that an army – or in this case, a militia, marches on it’s stomach. Really, Captain, my Captain – cheese and crackers? and a little bottle of aqua-vitae?

Fortunately, the soon find water… and they keep mentioned fat geese, and deer tracks, and all the possibilities of the country.


Bartholomeus van der Helst - Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of Munster

Except perhaps for the drum and a few sashes of office, the militia in Plimoth Colony probably never looked this prosperous.







October 4th, 2012 by KM Wall

female mallard


male mallard







March 16 Friday 1620/21
“…he [Samoset] asked some beer, but we gave him strong water and biscuit, and butter, and cheese, and pudding, and a piece of mallard, all of which he liked well, and had been acquainted with such amongst the English.”
- Mourts, Applewood ed. p. 5.

There are many kinds of ducks. Mallard is one of the first mentioned in the Plymouth sources, and one that’s pretty common – think of Make Way for Ducklings.

female mallard and ducklings

Ducks Unlimited has a great site to identify -with pictures and sound- many of  the various sorts of ducks that John Josslyn mentions (there’s also hunting information on this site, but you can stay with the identification section) at Duck Identification

“There be four sorts of Ducks, a black Duck, a brown Duck like our wild Ducks, a grey Duck, and a great black and white Duck, these frequent Rivers and Ponds; but of Ducks there be many more sorts, as Hounds, old Wives, Murres, Doies,Shell-Drakes,Shoulers or Shoflers, Widgeons, Simps, Teal, Blew wing’d and green wing’d, Divers or Didapers, or Dipchicks,Fenduck, Duckers or Moorhens, Coots, Pochards, a water-fowl like a Duck, Plungeons, a kind of water –fowl with a long reddish Bill, Puets, Plovers, Smethes, Wilmotes, a kind of a Teal, Godwits, Humilities, Knotes, Red-Shankes, Wobbles, Loones, Gulls, White Gulls, or Sea-Cobbs, Caudemandies, Herons, grey Bitterns, Ox-eyes, Birds called Oxen and Keen, Petterels, Kings fishers, which breed in the spring in holes in the Sea-banks, being unapt to propagate in Summer, by reason of the driness of their bodies, which becomes more moist when their pores are closed by the cold. Most of these Fowls and Birds are eatable.”

- 1674 John Jossyln, Two Voyages to New-England, p. 72. Lindholdt ed.

And, of course, a recipe.

From Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History from Pilgrim to Pumpkin Pie. Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and Plimoth Plantation. Clarkson Potter: New York.2005. pp. 96-7.:

To Boil A wilde Duck.

Trusse and parboyle it, and then halfe roast it, then carve it and save the gravey: take store of Onyons Parsley, sliced Ginger, and Pepper: put the gravie into a Pipkin with washt currins, large Mace, Barberryes, a quart of Claret Wine: let all boyle well together, scumme it cleane, put in Butter and Sugar.

- John Murrell, The Newe Booke of Cookery, 1615

For the Duck:

1 4 to 5 pound duck

2 ½ teaspoons salts

10 black peppercorns

1 medium onion, quartered

Handful of parsley leaves and stalks

3 medium onions, halved vertically, then thinly sliced

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the Sauce:

2 cups red wine

⅓   cup parsley leaves, minced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

¼  cup dried currants or roughly chopped raisins

2-4 blades of whole mace or ½ teaspoon ground

¼ cup cranberries, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

4 Tablespoons (½ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces


Rinse the duck inside and out and rinse any giblets included. Place the duck and giblets (except the liver, which can be reserved for another use) in a pot large enough to accommodate them, along with 2 teaspoons of the salt, the peppercorns, the onion quarters, and parsley leaves and stalks.  Cover with cold water and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth comes to a very low simmer.  Skim off the forth, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Arrange the sliced onions in a 13×9-inch roasting pan. Carefully remove the duck from the broth and reserve the broth. Season the duck inside and out with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the ground pepper and then place it on top of the onions. Roast the duck for 25 minutes, then place it on a carving board and cover loosely with foil.


Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Strain 1 cup of the reserved broth and place in a saucepan along with the onions from the roasting pan, the wine, parsley, ginger, currants, and mace. Boil over medium-high heat until the mixture is reduced by two thirds and attains a syrupy consistency.


When the duck has rested for at least 10 minutes, carve it into serving pieces.  Place the meat on a heated serving platter and cover loosely with foil.


Add any juices given off during carving to the sauce and stir in the cranberries and sugar. Simmer for another 30 seconds, then remove from the heat.  Swirl in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is silky.  Serve the duck immediately, accompanied by the sauce.


Serves 4-6


NOTE: Simmer the leftover defatted duck broth until it is reduced to one quarter; this makes a very useful stock.  Store in the freezer until needed



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