You know what topic we don’t discuss enough on this food blog? Birthing! Or rather pregnancy, birth, and the whole getting-the-baby out process.
You might be surprised to learn that the history of birth and midwifery is one of my interests (maybe not too surprised since my undergrad was in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies—so your reaction may have been a slightly raised eyebrow rather than a jaw to the floor). I once wrote a 60 page paper of how every edition change of Our Bodies, Ourselves dealt with the topic of birth (the assignment was for 15-20 pages… I’m sure the professor, also known as The Tenured Radical, was happy to receive such a long paper).
Maybe you’ve never really thought much about why such a large percentage of women give birth in hospitals, overseen by doctors, in North America these days. I’m not going to get into much detail as many scholars have already written wonderful books on the topic. Wertz and Wertz offer a broad history of childbirth in America with their book Lying-in: A History of Childbirth in America, and Jacques Gélis considers the process in Early Modern Europe with his History of Childbirth. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote A Midwife's Tale exploring the life and times of an 18th-century midwife on the East Coast. Monica H. Green's "Gendering the history of women's healthcare", Gender & History, 20, 3 (November 2008): 487-518 is also a fascinating take on birth and midwifery. Midwifery Today offers an easy to read timeline of major changes just in the United States. What you do need to know is that throughout the 19th century, in North America and in Europe, most women were giving birth at home. This means that while enduring hour upon hour of labor as well as recuperating from giving birth, they were also eating at home.
Before you ask yourself, 'Where are you going with this, Alex?', let me clarify that this isn’t a post on how Artusi recommended preparing the placenta. (In case you didn’t know, the placenta is totally edible. For recipes on how to prepare placentas, see here ... my favorite suggestion is to “dehydrate like beef jerky”--yum!) What Artusi provides a recipe for is "after birth cookies", and not "afterbirth cookies".
Throughout his text, Artusti includes correspondence from readers of his book. In one example, he recalls:
“A lady from Conegliano writes to me to express her surprise at not finding in my book the "pinza del Epifania" (Epiphany Sweetbread) and— don't laugh—"biscottini puerperali" (Cookies for Birthing Mothers), two items which according to her are of some importance” (654).He thinks that it is unreasonable to include her recipe for sweetbread as it should be left to those in the climate of Conegliano. However he does decide to, “as the lady demands", include "Biscuits for Birthing Mothers," as
"she considers [them] nourishing and delicate, just the thing for restoring the strength of women who have grown weak bringing a baby into the world.”
The recipe is quite simple.
8 egg yolks
150 grams (about 5-1/4 ounces) of confectioners' sugar—so about 1.25 cups
40 grams (about 1-1/3 ounces) of powdered cocoa—a little more than .25 cups
40 grams (about 1-1/3 ounces) of butter—3 tablespoons
a dash of vanilla sugar (but I just threw a little vanilla extract into the bowl)
Artusi instructs readers to:
“Place these ingredients in a bowl, and then stir with a wooden spoon for more than fifteen minutes. Then distribute the mixture equally into four paper boxes, each 8 centimeters long (about 3-1/4 inches) and 6 centimeters (about 2-2/5 inches) wide. Place these in a covered copper baking pan with very little heat above and below, so that the mixture solidifies without forming a crust, because you are supposed to eat this sweet with a spoon” (654).
Instead, I put the mixture in cupcake liners inside my muffin tin (they work similarly to paper boxes and I didn’t have to spend hours constructing them). Then I covered the tin with a cake pan to try to emulate his recommendation of a covered copper baking pan.
As for baking, I had to play around with the temperature. I began at 200 F for 45 minutes but the recipe barely solidified so then I amped my oven to 350 F for 10 minutes and they were perfect! I wanted to experiment with putting some of the mixture in at 350 degrees to begin with for about 12 minutes, but I tripped, dropped the tin, and spilled the batter inside the oven.
These “cookies” are delicious, although I agree with Artusi that “the name "cookies" is quite inappropriate.” They are rather the moistest, tastiest brownies you will ever have.
This is definitely a recipe worth repeating -- whether or not you have just given birth. If you have just given birth, however, hopefully your friends will make these for you!
(post by Alex)