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Buttered Beere

Adapted from ‘The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin’ (1588)

3 pint (16.9 oz) Bottles of real Ale
0.5 tsp ground Cloves
0.5 tsp ground Cinnamon
0.25 tsp ground Ginger
5 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Brown Sugar (Demerara)
12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

Add ale and spices to a saucepan
Bring to a boil, then immediately turn to lowest setting
Beat together eggs and sugar until light and creamy
Remove ale from heat, whisk in egg mixture, returning to low heat
Whisk constantly over low until mixture begins to thicken slightly (about 5 minutes)
Remove from heat and whisk in butter quickly until a nice foam forms
Serve warm

Notes: If you’re concerned about the alcohol level, here are some notes:  We used Fuller’s London Pride, which is 4.7% ABV.  Before adding the egg mixture, letting the beer simmer longer (20 minutes or so) should boil off all the alcohol, if that’s what you’re after.  Use your discretion.

* * *

Here’s what we’re not going to be making today:

Ginger Ale and Butterscotch Syrup
Cream Soda and Butterscotch Syrup
Cream Soda and Butterscotch Schnapps
Root Beer, Honey, and Butter
Milk and Butterscotch Chips
Milk, Brown Sugar, Vanilla, and Butter
Milk, Sugar, Marshmallows, and Butter
Vanilla Ice Cream, Butter, Sugar, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Apple Cider

Yes, all of those are Harry Potter-inspired recipes for Butterbeer (Rowling’s spelling), and I do have to hand it to the last one – without the ice cream, it’s pretty close.  Nope, today is the real deal, the first written recipe for Tudor Buttered Beere.  This one comes from 1588’s “The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin”, Thomas Dawson’s follow-up to his 1585 “The Good Huswifes Jewell” (although my favorite title from Dawson is his 1597 “The Booke of Carving and Sewing”).

Much like in the late 19th century, when Jerry Thomas published the first bartender’s guide, the late 16th century was something of a boom for cookbooks.  The British Library tells us that not only was it the first time such books began to be published with regularity, it was the first time that they were specifically targeted at women.  Obtaining a volume such as “The Good Huswife” was reserved for the privileged and moneyed classes.  And this makes sense if you look at the history.

Much of the 16th century was spent with the powers in Europe, particularly the Portuguese and Spanish, exploring parts east and west.  Just before the century had dawned, Columbus had accidentally bumped into what would become the Americas.  Vasco da Gama was paving the way for Portuguese spice routes to Southeast Asia.  Cortés was conquering the Aztecs.  By the turn of the 17th Century, Spain was basking in a golden age and the Dutch were busy founding the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to unseat the Portuguese.

In England, it was the height of the Elizabethan Age.  Sure, the Spanish were causing trouble, but Frances Drake was handling that.  No, what was really exciting was all the new culture springing up.  Spices were flowing in from the far reaches of the globe, theater was being embraced by the public – the first big hit was Christopher Marlowe’s 1587 “Tamburlaine the Great”, and Shakespeare’s work would officially appear on the scene just three years later.  Good times, indeed.

But not everything was rosy.    See, this pesky little thing called the Bubonic Plague kept popping up to say hello.  True, the main plague occurred some three hundred years earlier, but it seems like England was never able to completely shake it.  Throughout the 16th century, the plague would reappear in one English city or another (the real monster epidemic came in 1665), so those who could – namely, those who could also afford cookbooks – would simply pack up and head to their country estates when merited.  And if the servant class was dying off, all the better reason to learn how to cook.

I’m suspecting that part of the appeal of Dawson’s books was also for Earl ”A” to see what Duke “B” was cooking.  Indeed, Dawson gathered his recipes from several noblemen and noblewomen, which explains why we’re provided with instructions on ‘How to keep Lard after my Lord Ferries way.’  But where Dawson and his contemporaries truly succeeded was in providing useful measurements.  Let’s take a look at one of his recipes – say one for Buttered Beere:

Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloves beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.

Spelling aside, I bet you could not only read that, you could replicate most of the recipe.  And that’s exactly how the recipe was written 422 years ago.  It’s quite fascinating.  Of course, not everything translates, specifically that ‘dish’ of butter – but without that little ambiguity, you wouldn’t be reading this post today.

In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed this post from someone else – not the content of the post, mind you, but the “Hey, It’s Real Butterbeer!” part of it.  I did (politely) ask permission.  The original Buttered Beere post that caught my eye was run a few months ago over at The Island of Dr. Gateau, one of our favorite “Destinations”.  Jess, the author behind the site, is pursuing her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience – but she also likes to cook and bake, specifically anything red velvet.  Each of her posts has a recipe and a neuroscience lesson, and I simply can’t say enough great things about what she posts.  The Dr. Gateau site is just mad brilliant.

When Jess posted her Buttered Beere (also from the “Good Huswife”), I immediately made a batch and decided that it would be among our Christmas posts.  There was just one problem, Jess was a little uncertain as to the modern translation of some of the measurements, specifically that ‘dish’ of butter.  Fortunately, I live with another mad brilliant woman – one with the right connections.  No sooner had I asked the question, than Lesley dashed off a query to Professor Ken Albala, Food Historian at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Ken’s written several books with titles like “Eating Right in the Renaissance”, “Food in Early Modern Europe”, and “Cooking in Europe 1250-1650” (and too many more to count), so if anyone would know how much butter constituted a ‘dish’, Ken would.  And indeed he did – sort of.

According to Albala, a ‘dish’ of butter was, in 1588… a dish of butter.  Take a 10-inch plate and see how many tablespoons of butter fit on it.  Albala figured about 12.  Given the supermodel-shaped (tall and skinny) Trader Joe’s butter we had on hand, I could have easily fit 20.  It was about this time that I first discovered Historical Foods and their interpretation of the “Good Huswife” recipe.  Doing the math, the 120g of butter they call for equates to about 9 tablespoons – a far cry from my 20.  One thing struck me about the Historical Foods recipe, however – they really didn’t seem to like the resulting Buttered Beere.  Throughout the recipe are caveats (“…we have other authentic and historic Butterbeer recipes for you to try as well”), and cautions (“…it certainly would not be enjoyed by all.”)  Plus, they recommend cutting their version with an equal part of milk.  If milk would help the taste, then certainly more butter also would.  I decided that the magic number must be somewhere between Historical Foods’ 9 tablespoons and my 20.  I took the professor’s advice and went with 12.

How does it taste?  Delicious, but there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.  Historical Foods mentions a “lingering, lasting taste on the tongue, drying the mouth, (it is almost unpleasant at first)”.  Yup, that’s there, but not so much as to put one off.  There’s also the fact that the drink itself tastes like Ale + Indian chai + unsweetened pumpkin pie filling – strange, yes, but it works.  Also, it doesn’t produce an enormous head, nor is it particularly thick – as long as you end up with something that looks like slightly thick, slightly foamy milked tea, you’re good.  Caveats aside, it really is quite tasty – certainly a new experience of something that tastes very old.

So, there you have it – as Dr. Gateau herself wrote, “Real, no-foolin’ butterbeer.”  Is it the beverage you scamper down to The Hog’s Head for?  Probably not.  But, if on some blustery eve, you happen to find yourself partaking in “The Winter’s Tale”, it might be just the thing.    As Will Shakespeare himself said of Buttered Beere, “O! she’s warm.  If this be magic, let it be an art.  Lawful as eating.”

Or, was that Harry Potter?

Counterpoint: Here, as a sort of counterpoint, is an article from the New York Times which complains about drinking in the Harry Potter movies.   As my own counterpoint to the above, here’s a list of dirty jokes in Shakespeare’s plays.  Pick your poison.