I often make a distinction when trying out new recipes between, process and the recipe as written. The process is how things go together. Recipe as written is everything from what ingredients am I using, how long it takes to cook , to how it tastes in the long run.
29. To make jelly of Straw-berries, Mulberries, Raspberries, or any such tender fruit. Take your berries, and grind them in an Alabaster mortar, with four ounces of sugar and a quarter pint of fair water, and as much Rosewater: and so boil it in a possinet with a little piece of isinglass, and so let it run through a fine cloth into your boxes, and so you may keep it all the year. -Hugh Plat
When I am first working on process, I use the materials that are cheaper to use and replace if things go wrong. I work with modern ingredients. These are easy to find at my local grocery store. For the above recipe I got everything, fruit included for about $10. The goal is to produce something that sounds like the recipe I am working on. I want to see how all the ingredients behave and play off each other. I take short cuts. Fruits and sugar go into the food processor. I want to work out how long “boil it” is.
Part 2 is recipe as written. Once I understand the process of what I’m suppose to be making, I switch over to the ingredients as they are written in the recipe. I use the expensive and harder to acquire ingredients: 2x sugar, distilled rosewater, distilled water, and shredded isinglass. I beat the fruit and sugars in a mortar, with a pestle*. I create the recipe exactly as it is written. I do make a modern exception at the end, by jarring the end product for food safety. The ingredients are specialty items. I get my sugar from one of the only people who still cures loaves in the US (they supply the living history museums). Total cost of ingredients is about $25.
There is a part 3. If I have enough of the quality ingredients I will do a side by side comparison with modern ingredients and period ingredients, using the exact same proceeding methods. 2 batches of raspberry jelly: 2 sets of identically labeled ingredients + 1 recipe = 2 completely different flavor profiles. The only difference between the 2 batches is the sugar and the rose water. Batch 1 was made with the loaf sugar and rosewater that I purchased from my Grocer. Batch 2 was modern sugar and modern rosewater. Both were thickened with shredded isinglass. The difference was remarkable.
There is a noticeable difference when substituting ingredients in the recreation of 16th century recipes. If you offer something to a person via a blind taste test, they don’t know what is different, just that something isn’t the same. Sometimes that difference is slight. Sometimes it is extreme. They cant tell you which is period and which is modern, but they can tell you which they prefer.
In the case of the raspberry jelly, the difference was a lack of modern sweetness. The 2x sugar has to be cooked on a long slow boil. This gives the fruit time to intensify in flavor. In the end, the profile was more complex and less cloyingly sweet. Most people preferred the depth of flavor found in the 2x sugar batch. The rosewater also made a difference. Modern rose waters often have essential oils added back to them, so they are very ROSE, which permeates through out the product. The distilled rosewater is milder, but still rose. This difference was also noticed in the end product.
The important take away here? Ingredients matter. They are important to the process and the overall flavor of the end product. I reserve the pricy ingredients for A&S projects when the science of “what did they do” is my end goal.
The rest of the time, I use what I can get from my local store. Frugality allows me to play with a lot more processes. If I am cooking a feast, I have to pick and choose where you will employ the expensive ingredients. Personally, I indulge on spices and better cuts of meat, rather than sugar.
* There is a difference between processing fruit in a food processor and processing fruit in a mortar. Fruit ends up in the same state of mush, but looks so very different. It cooks differently also. I’ll take photos next time.
Plat, Hugh. “The Arte Of Preserving Conserving, Candying.” Delights for Ladies: To Adorne Their Persons, Tables, Closets, and Distillatories with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes, and Waters. Reade, Practise, and Censure. London: Humfrey Lownes, 1609