A few weeks ago, my friend Abigail and I went to Plimoth Plantation, the living history village that recreates life in the Plymouth Settlement. It’s very cool, and lots of fun. In addition to the settlement from the Mayflower pilgrims (with both first person interpreters who portray actual people who lived in the village and modern interpreters as well) there is a Wampanoag settlement where members of the Wampanoag tribe (as well as other Native tribes in the region) make food and other items. They have plans to make a summer house in the next month, and plant crops.
There is also a craft barn when you can see all manner of 17th century crafts (both European and Native) in progress, including pottery, baking, weaving, beekeeping. If you are in the Boston area, I HIGHLY suggest you take a day and visit. They have worked very hard to present an accurate and balanced view of this particular period in American history, and also you can chase chickens.
But we are here to talk about the food.
In the re-created houses, there are cooking hearths, and Abigail’s favorite game is to find someone who is cooking, ask them what they’re making, and see if she knows what cookbook they’re using. Her preferred period of study is the Elizabethan era, and she has a encyclopedic knowledge of 16th and 17th cookbooks, especially from England. This time, a woman was boiling some eggs, and said that she would take the yolks, and mix them up with some bread crumbs and spices and re-stuff the eggs. Abigail said, “Ah, Dawson.” And so it was!
It’s “farced eggs” from a 1595 book by Thomas Dawson, The Good Huswife’s Jewell.
Essentially, it’s deviled eggs, Elizabethan style.
To Farce Eggs: Take 8 eggs and boile them hard. Peel off shells, cut every egg in the middle: then take out yolks. Make your farcing stuff as you do, for flesh saving only you must put butter into it instead of suet and that a little so done, fill your eggs where yolks were and then bind them and seethe them a little. And so serve them to the table.
This is even more opaque than most, because you have to know what “make your farcing stuff, as you do” means. Happily, Dawson has a suggestion for that:
To Farce All Things: Take a good handful of thyme, hyssop, and three or four yolks of eggs, hard roasted, and chop them with herbs, small. Then take white bread, grated, and raw eggs with sweet butter, a few small raisins or barberries, seasoning it with pepper, cloves, mace, cinnamon and ginger, working it altogether as a paste. Then may you stuff with it what you will.
As we see with most Medieval and Renaissance european cookery, you have the “Sweet” spices like cinnamon and ginger and cloves in something we think should be savory. Honestly, the weirdness in there (for me) is the thyme, but hey.
Boil the eggs (I use Martha Stewart’s method, after a hilarious experience in which I did a science trying to figure out the best way to boil an egg, which involved making a HUGE mess in my mother’s kitchen, plus four cookbooks, and three dozen eggs), peel the eggs, put the yolk in a bowl.
I had thyme, and hyssop isn’t as easy to get as trotting down to the grocery store. I’m also out of cinnamon (I made too many snickerdoodles this winter) and don’t have mace on hand either. So… we work with what we have in the spice cabinet (I have too many blends that aren’t quite right for this.
Weirdly, Penzeys doesn’t carry “standard Elizabethan warm spice mixture” in stock.)
The bread is actually from Plimoth’s oven– it’s Thirded Bread, which is made with rye, cornmeal, and wheat, and it’s also known by considerably more racist names (Ma Ingalls and Mother Wilder made it in the Little House books). You can buy bread made from colonial era recipes in a colonial style over at Plimoth, so it seemed appropriate to use some in this recipe.
For the four yolks, I had two tablespoons of breadcrumbs, a couple dashes of thyme, one egg, and a quarter teaspoon or so of the cloves, ginger, and pepper. I used a small handful of raisins, and a pat of butter.
Mix all the stuff up, and stuff the eggs as normal, and then you boil them again (“to seeth” means “boil rapidly”).
I suspect that “and then bind them” means “put them back together like whole eggs” but I didn’t want to do that because I was taking these to a party, and asking people to try a whole egg full of unfamiliar things is a lot to ask.
So in traditional deviled eggs, the yolks are mixed with mayo and other stuff. Mayo wasn’t invented until the 18th or 19th century (accounts vary) but what the mayo does is act as a binder. In this recipe, the binder is the raw egg and bread crumbs put into the stuffing mixture. However, eating raw egg is rarely pleasant and often unhealthy, which is why you need to boil the eggs a bit before serving them. I boiled them for about…. five minutes? Until the stuffing was reasonably firm to the touch.
I found the taste to be unexpected but quite good!
One person who I know tried them had a lot of experience with historical cookery tried it, and his review was “Yep, that sure tastes Elizabethan!” and another who does not have a lot of experience with medieval cookery thought “weird but good!” They did all get eaten!
They would be good for a party, and hey, there’s fruit in them, so they’re healthy, right?
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