I worried that this week’s recipe would be a flop.
However, the second installment of Alex Cooks Historical Recipes for Current Breakfast Favorites (see my earlier post on Traill’s Oatmeal Pancakes: http://historicalcookingproject.blogspot.ca/2013/12/traills-oatmeal-pancakes.html) actually tasted quite delectable, so I wouldn’t call it an utter failure. Although I came up against some big challenges, thankfully, I ultimately prevailed.
First there was the issue of translation. I don’t mean the issue of translating the text from French to English, which did present problems of its own. The writing was hard to read, the “s” looked like an "f," and I was unfamiliar with some of the 17th century words.
Rather, I was more concerned with “translating,” otherwise known as “converting,” one form of measurement to another.
For example, I had never heard of a “quatron” before—yet I needed three times that amount of flour for the recipe. The internet, of course, came to the rescue and after one search I found a digitized copy of a Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words (https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=MxwtAAAAYAAJ&rdid=book-MxwtAAAAYAAJ&rdot=1) that informed me that a “quatron” is a “quatern.” One more Google search later and I learned that a “quatern” is one-quarter of a pint. I had to pull out the old calculator to try to figure out exactly how much flour, sugar, and melted butter I really needed.
Then I had to convert these figures to either litres or cups in order to make the recipe accessible for me with my Canadian measuring systems. As a result, I ended up with figures like .403 L of sugar.
Of course, I wasn’t exactly positive about the figures I had calculated. To begin, the archaic dictionary focused on 14th century terms. Furthermore, French measurement in the 1650s wasn’t yet standardized. In fact, prior to 1795 there was no unified system of measurement. According to Wikipedia, Charlemagne and successive kings had tried to impose a unified system of measurement but were unsuccessful. Although the “names and relationships of many units of measure were adopted from Roman units of measure and many more were added – it has been estimated that there were seven or eight hundred different names for the various units of measure. In addition, the quantity associated with each unit of measure differed from town to town and even from trade to trade to such an extent that the lieue (league) could vary from 3.268 km in Beauce and 5.849 km in Provence. It has been estimated that, on the eve of the Revolution, a quarter of a million different units of measure were in use in France.” Most pertinent to this recipe however is that not only did a single unit name have multiple measurements, but also there were many similar names. For example, the livre was 403 g (as opposed to 489 g), the livre du roi was about 453.6 g. For more on the history of France’s measurements see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Units_of_measurement_in_France
Okay, great... I had done all of this math, yet I wasn’t really sure if my measurements were correct at all. Now do you understand why I was afraid of failure?
Next I realized, after cracking the 8 eggs that the recipe called for that I didn’t have 405 grams of butter. Not all hope was lost. I decided to halve the recipe and use 4 of the cracked eggs for a breakfast scramble.
Knowing that even if I failed at the waffles, I had eggs and cheese to look forward to, I was able to get to work making the batter.
As trying to use .403 L of flour would be ridiculous, especially as apparently the historical measurements could have meant almost any size of unit, I rounded the numbers to the following:
¼ L of sugar
¼ liter of melted butter (around 200 grams of butter or a large butter stick)
slightly less than a ¼ litre of flour
First crack the eggs into a large bowl, then add the melted butter and then the sugar. Stir together.
Slowly add in the flour while stirring. The batter will have a nice thick consistency.
Pretty simple, right? I was feeling good and thought I was home free.
Then-- Oh no! I realized I don’t own a waffle iron. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of my lack of waffle iron when I decided to make this recipe, translated the text, made the conversions, and bought the supplies.
Maybe I could fake it, I thought? I even wondered if there were waffle irons in 1655.
Well, it turns out that the waffle iron was invented in the 14th century and didn’t look too different from today’s models. However in the 17th century, the waffle irons were attached to tongs with wooden handles and were held over an open flame or were set on a stove and did not have a power cord like those found in most modern kitchens.
The modern day equivalent of the 17th century style would look close to (image courtesy of amazon.com):
I searched the web hoping to find a way out of my predicament-- some cunning cooks used panini presses, others a grilling pan. Sadly, I have none of those tools.
I do have a pan.
So I ended up cooking the “waffles” like mini omelets, scooping ½ cup of batter onto a well-buttered pan, on a stove top set to Maximum heat.
I was really worried. First off, though the batter had a nice consistency that looked somewhat like the kinds of batter you see at “make your own waffle stations at fancy brunches,” the ratio of ingredients was very different.
The most popular modern recipe of waffles on allrecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/waffles-i/), has the ratio of cups of flour to eggs as almost equal and there is no butter. This 1654 recipe has more butter than flour, many eggs, and lots of sugar. Surprisingly, despite the differences, the older recipe worked well.
Thank goodness this waffle/pancake hybrid tastes fantastic- it was so sweet and heavy. I actually took a picture of the first one in case all of the others were failures.
However the batter allowed for an amazingly textured sugary breakfast delight. The sugar in the batter actually caramelizes on the outside of the waffle while it is cooking. My pan flipping technique was amateur so not all of my waffle/pancake hybrids were exactly pretty… but they tasted good.
It would be great if someone with a real waffle iron could use the ingredients I listed and created their own. If anyone does this, would you please post about your experience in the comments?
(post by Alex Ketchum)