This semester, our Dynamic Traditions in Literature class at the University of Texas, Arlington is examining the use of, importance of, and writing about Food. To this end, one of our group projects is to transcribe a 18th century recipe from a Folger manuscript known as Cookbook Wa87 and to then attempt to make it. Kicking things off, our group decided to make the above recipe for raspberry preserves, found on page 16. Here’s the transcription, as best we could read it:
Take a pound and Quarter off loaf sugar finely beaten
and putt itt in a skellett wetting itt with 2 or 3 spoonfuls of
water, lett itt be as thick as you can stir itt then boil
itt to sugar again then putt in 6 spoonfulls off rasberies that
have been boild and straind then sett itt on the ffire and let
the sugar melt with that liquor, then putt in a pound
off great rasberries and lett em stand warming in the li
quor may rise all ofver them after they have boild softly
and the sugar be meltet boile em with a quick ffire
which will be in less than a quarter off an hour and which
is when the seeds boile owt into the liquor if you boile em
too much they will be hard pour em into a bason till cold
and putt em into glasses a pound off sugar is Enough
for this quantity
On the whole, this recipe is actually pretty simple – there are only three ingredients, and it’s not very complicated. That said, we were a bit surprised to see that the first ingredient listed was not raspberries, but sugar. In fact, the recipe calls for more sugar than raspberries! We had to do a little bit of research and digging to see why exactly this might have been the case.
The recipe calls for “loaf sugar,” which we had never heard of before. We looked it up, and it turns out that this was common in the days before sugar cubes and then granulated sugar were more easily manufactured and made available. Loaf sugar is made by taking refined sugar (where the molasses has been extracted), boiling it, and then pouring it into molds that look similar to cones. There the sugar would settle, and whatever syrup and other substances still remained would drain out of the bottom of the cone molds. Besides taste, obviously, it should be noted that the whiteness of the sugar was important, as well as the shape of the cone when it was pulled from the mold. Today, you can still buy sugar loaves from some stores or online, though this is no longer a popular way to utilize sugar and we decided to forgo this step in our version.
Of course, if we can’t rely on sugar to be what we expected, we knew we had to look into the raspberries as well. Though we usually think of raspberries as red, there are actually many different kinds: red, blue, purple/black, and even yellow. Found in mythology, and dating many centuries ago, both the fruit and its leaves have had different purposes over the years. Our recipe does not specify which type of raspberry, but a little research finds that the two most common types in the world are the American and European red raspberries, each native to their respective continent. Considering that we are working from an English manuscript, they most likely used European red raspberries. That said, we used whatever we could find in the store, which were probably American red raspberries, though it’s hard to determine what the taste difference is now, or even how different it may have been back then. And incidentally, if you wanted to make these yourself but try one of the other varieties, there are some flavors to note: red raspberries are the most common and have a sweeter feel to them, though they vary in tartness depending on the variety you choose; purple/black raspberries are hollow and rich in flavor; yellow raspberries are even sweeter than red and have no tartness to them.
When cooking, we scaled down the proportions a little, and used only one pound of sugar and ¾ of a pound of red raspberries. Some of the recipe’s measurements were antiquated and vague, such “6 spoonfuls off raspberries,” which does not specify the size or type of spoon to use. We decided to use a regular-sized dinner spoon. The first thing we did was fill a pot with water and bring it up to a boil.
Next we used our spoon to put in 6 spoonfuls of the raspberries. We waited until the raspberries started to simmer and we put another pot next to the previous one and put into it one pound of sugar along with 3 spoonfuls of tap water.
We stirred the mixture as the raspberries came to a boil. Then we added 6 spoonfuls of the liquefied raspberries to the sugar mixture and allowed the sugar to come to a nice boil. When the sugar mixture was of a thick consistency, we added the raspberries that were in the boiling water into the sugar, stirring as we mixed the two.
We then added the remaining raspberries, at the same level of heat. We let the mixture boil, gently stirring so as not to disrupt the shape of the raspberries. However, as they warmed up, the raspberries began to crumble apart. Maintaining the heat for approximately 15 minutes liquefied the remaining raspberries.
Here is a video of the cooking
Finally, we moved the mixture into a 9”x7” cooling dish for about two hours. At this time, the preserves were ready to serve. However, the origin of this recipe is not just to make a tasty jam to serve up immediately – recipes like these were made at a time when fresh fruit was truly seasonal, and you couldn’t just pop down to the grocery store to get canned whatever. In fact, it’s all in the name – these recipes were made to preserve the fruit – to stretch it out further than using it fresh and to save the fruit to use later. That way, people had a much better chance of having these fruits and flavors when they were not in season, or even just keeping them from spoiling for a longer period of time. All things being equal though, we didn’t have the patience to wait that long. To taste our final product, each group member had a piece of toast the preserves and they were delicious.
-Arely Rivera, Hannah Monger, Jason Amaloo, Shyla Hatch, and Zack Delaney, Dynamic Traditions in Literature: Food, University of Texas at Arlington, taught by Dr. Amy Tigner.