Books were still pretty rare in Restoration England, certainly by comparison to today. There were a few recipe books around, but mostly knowledge of ingredients and how to prepare them would have been passed on by word of mouth.

In 1660, a man called Robert May wrote "The Accomplisht Cook", however, which went through several editions. He was already over 70 when he first published it, and had died by the time the third, fourth and fifth editions came out, which makes me wonder who wrote all the extra material included, and how Robert May gave his approval, as claimed on the front page! 

The book opens with a long and obsequious dedication to several noblemen, none of whom had probably ever done a thing in the kitchen. Even the section on carving  would apply more to the lady of the house than the master. I love the idea of one of these lords cooking recipes from the book, though - long ringlets, pointy silk shoes, pinny ...

"The Accomplisht Cook" included a recipe for umble pie, which Joe is given to eat in The Demon in the Embers. Joe thinks he has misheard, because we sometimes talk about someone 'eating humble pie' when they have to make a grovelling apology. In fact, 'umble pie' and 'humble pie' are probably unrelated. We might think of the 'umbles' of an animal (its heart, liver, lungs and kidneys) as being eaten by the poor and humble. But in Restoration times, the umbles were considered by many to be the best bit! Have a look at the recipe and see if you fancy it. 

Robert May's recipe


Lay minced beef-suet in the bottom of the pie, or slices of interlarded bacon, and the umbles cut as big as small dice, with some bacon cut in the same form, and seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, fill your pyes with it, and slices of bacon and butter, close it up and bake it, and liquor it with claret, butter, and stripped tyme.

Modern explanation


1. Put minced suet at the bottom of a pie dish, or slices of bacon interleaved with slivers of fat (lard probably, though butter would do).

2. Dice the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys of the deer(!) and add it with diced bacon to the dish.

3. Season with nutmeg, pepper and salt.

(A quick aside here: in Elizabethan times, nutmeg was thought to ward off plague, so the price rocketed. I have a suspicion it would still have been pretty expensive in Restoration England).

4. Add slices of bacon and butter to the top of the pie, close it up - with pastry, I presume, though it doesn't actually say - and bake in the oven.

5. To serve, make a sauce with claret, butter and thyme leaves. 

"Still-life with Turkey Pie" by Pieter Claesz - notice the oysters in the foreground. These were commonly eaten in the 17th century. 

Here's a recipe that sounds a bit tastier than the umble pie, even if it is a bit short on sugar, and a bit heavy on ale! You might choose to scale down the quantities, too, if you don't want to make the world's biggest cake. I can only imagine that the act of simply making a cake was so lengthy and difficult, Robert May felt you might as well make a vast one. 

Robert May's recipe


To make an extraordinary good Cake.

Take half a bushel of the best flour you can get very finely searsed, and lay it upon a large Pastry board, make a hole in the midst thereof, and put to it three pound of the best butter you can get; with fourteen pound of currans finely picked and rubbed, three quarts of good new thick cream warm’d, two pound of fine sugar beaten, three pints of good new ale, barm or yeast, four ounces of cinamon fine beaten and searsed, also an ounce of beaten ginger, two ounces of nutmegs fine beaten and searsed; put in all these materials together, and work them up into an indifferent stiff paste, keep it warm till the oven be hot, then make it up and bake it, being baked an hour and a half ice it, then take four pound of double refined sugar, beat it, and searse it, and put it in a deep clean scowred skillet the quantity of a gallon, boil it to a candy height with a little rose-water, then draw the cake, run it all over, and set it into the oven, till it be candied.

A giant cupcake from Boca Raton in Florida. A forklift truck is always an option...

Modern explanation


1. Take 7.5kg of flour, and sieve it finely. Heap it  on a large pastry board and make a well in the middle. (If my children were doing this, I'd tell them to put the flour in a very large bowl, not on a board - I can't see how it wouldn't go everywhere on a board!)

2. Into the well put 1.4kg of butter and 6.4kg of currants.

3. Gently warm 3.4 litres of thick, fresh cream and add it to the butter and currants. (This is the point at which it would really start to go everywhere.)

4. Add 0.9kg caster sugar, 1.7 litres of ale (even messier!), and some barm (the foam or scum off the top of ale) or yeast. Robert May's recipe doesn't say how much yeast, but if you want this much flour to rise, it's going to be quite a lot, I'd have thought.

5. Add 115g ground cinnamon, 30g ground ginger, and 60g ground nutmeg.

6. Mix all these ingredients into a fairly stiff paste (I'm guessing that's what he means by 'indifferent stiff') and keep warm until the oven is hot.

7. Shape it into a cake (maybe try and find an enormous cake tin), and bake it for an hour and a half in a hot oven. With a cake this large, and no given oven temperature, you'll need to check it now and then with a knife, to see if the middle of the cake is cooked.

8. For the icing, take 1.8kg icing sugar, sieve it, put it in a pan and boil it with some rose-water (or perhaps just water, for simplicity).

9. Drizzle the icing over the cake, and put the cake back into the oven until it's candied (by which I think it means, the icing is set). 

10. Take a picture of yourself standing with your giant cake and send it to me to put up on this website! I shall be very impressed if you make this. It would be a worthy accompaniment to the roast boar on the Roman recipe page!

"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."

Cormac McCarthy

Last updated 22 February 2021  © Julia Edwards

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