Sweet and Savory Sops

Sweet and Savory Sops, from The Inn at the Crossroads

A few months ago, in my quest to find more campfire-capable recipes for my repertoire, I flipped through one of my favorite medieval cookery books, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi. I don’t even have the words right now to tell you how much I love this book. In fact, it probably deserves its own post, so let’s leave it for now, and get back to the recipe.

“Sops” make a frequent appearance in medieval cookbooks. The word comes from sopp, the Old English word for “bread soaked in liquid”, and that’s pretty much what it continued to be for many hundreds of years. It’s a cognate of “soup”, and is likely where we got the term “supper”, as well as the phrase “sopping wet”. A “milksop” was a weakling, someone who could only take bread soaked in a little milk. The same goes for the synonym, “milquetoast”.

Ok. Etymology lesson over. FOOD.

While the concept of sops is a simple one, the execution can be anything but. Most sops recipes tended to have a base of either almond milk, wine, or a meaty broth, depending on the Lenten season. Scappi has a lot of recipes for sops, some savory and some sweet. He calls for dried legumes, mushrooms, fruits, capon meat, cheese, and (disturbingly specific) trout entrails.

I’ve spared you the latter, and gone instead for both a savory and a sweet version.

For the savory version, I used leftover roast chicken, scraps of cheddar, and meaty broth from the same bird. One thing I love about the sops is how adaptable they are. If I’d had any, mushrooms would have been a delicious addition to the savory sops. The fruity and sweet version has a wine base, and is not dissimilar in concept to the recipe for Arya’s Tarts in the cookbook. Stewed fruits provide the substance, while honey and spices jazz it up.

Where in Westeros?

This dish would be as widespread in that world as it was in our own.

On The Wall and in parts of the North, it would be a way to salvage stale bread and cobble together a small meal out of whatever they had. Further south, in more prosperous regions, the different elements would likely include finer breads and more varied and expensive ingredients, such as quail, fresh fruit, and so on.

In either case, it’s a very easy party food with an authentic feel, and great as a serve-as-they-come dish for when you are expecting multiple rounds of guests.

Sweet & Savory Sops Recipes

Cook’s Note: As Sops are more of a concept than a hard reality, these recipes are just a starting point. Absolutely experiment and be sure to share your final favorites!

Ingredients for Sweet Sops :

  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • pinch each cinnamon, ginger, and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried diced fruit, such as figs, prunes, dates, currants, etc.
  • 2 slices toasted bread

Combine all ingredients in a shallow saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the consistency has thickened, and the fruit has soaked up some of the liquid. Serve over toast.

Ingredients for Savory Sops:

  • 1 Tbs. salted butter
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • 1-2 cups meat broth, depending on desired consistency
  • 1 cup shredded chicken meat
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • dash of ground mustard
  • 2 slices toasted bread

Melt the butter in a shallow saucepan, then gradually add the flour and mix until you have a smooth paste. Cook this for a few minutes, then pour in the broth, while stirring. Add the remaining ingredients, cook for a few minutes until the flavors have melded and it’s hot through, then serve over toast.

 

Syllabub

 

Syllabubs- a delightful historical dessert/drink of sweetened spiced wine, topped with whipped cream.

 Thoughts:

I had my doubts about this one, but once again, our culinary ancestors were onto something. There are countless recipes for syllabubs throughout historical cookbooks, at least back into the 16th century. They also seem to come in two basic versions- in the first, a cow was milked directly into a jug of cider or wine, and the mixture was whipped together. The layers would gradually separate as the cream rose to the top. I’m not nearly enough of a science type to be able to explain what that effect was, but it involved various acidic reactions. In the other version, the cream was whipped separately, then placed on top of the drink.

Bizarrely enough, I don’t have a cow handy, so I opted for the second version. I gingerly place a dollop of slightly sweetened cream over a lightly sweetened and spiced white wine. With a wince of trepidation, I spooned up a bit of the oddball delicacy.

And was delightfully surprised. The combined spoonful of wine and cream produces a sort of sherbet-effect, both sweet and silky. Because the white wine is really quite sweet, it’s great as a dessert in small quantities. The flavors all compliment one another, spice and herb and citrus nicely balanced. All in all, a unique and interesting historical recipe!

Syllabub Recipe

Ingredients for Wine:

  • 3 quarts white wine, such as pinot grigio or a light chard
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 peppercorns, cracked
  • 2-3 lemon slices
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh marjoram or rosemary
 Ingredients for Topping:
  • 1 pint of Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 cup fine sugar
  • dash of vanilla
 Mix together the ingredients for the wine, and shake or stir until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to sit for at least 4 hours, then strain into a clean bottle. Chill before serving.
While the wine chills, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until it forms stiff peaks. Spread the whipped cream into a strainer over a bowl- this will let any excess liquid drain off the cream, making better topping for the syllabub.
To serve, pour a small amount of the sweetened wine into a decorative glass, then carefully place a few dollops of whipped cream on top.

Indian Pudding

Indian Pudding, from The Inn at the Crossroads

 Thoughts:

During the colonial period in America, many early cookbooks made references to “indian” dishes, or “indian meal”. This simply meant dishes that included cornmeal, which was a primary staple food for many native tribes, and a somewhat novel ingredient to the European colonists.

Indian Pudding was essentially the New England counterpart to traditional English steamed puddings. The original puddings called for ingredients such as ground almonds, heavy cream, sugar, rosewater, and so on. The colonial pudding is more modest, making use of what ingredients were more readily available, such as cornmeal and molasses.

The consistency of this pudding, drawn from a 1796 recipe, is more firm than many modern versions of the same dish. I actually like this firmness, as it provides a nice counterpart to the lighter, softer whipped cream. The flavor is very similar to a gingerbread, and I would not have been able to guess that cornmeal was the primary dry ingredient. It’s rich, filling, and flavorful, and can be kept for days- a serious boon around holidays…

Indian Pudding Recipe

Ingredient:

  • 3 pints scalded milk
  • 1 pint meal
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar or molasses
  • 1 tsp. each ground cinnamon and ginger
  • heavy cream (optional)

Combine the butter with the warm milk, stirring until it has melted in. Allow to cool, then mix with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. If you have one, pour this mixture into a pudding mold, and place the lid on. If you don’t have a pudding mold, you can use a bowl just large enough to hold the batter. Place a lid of aluminium foil on top. Set the pudding mold into a water bath that comes most of the way up the sides. Bake for two hours at 25oF. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

If you are making this for a holiday, go ahead and make it the day before. Refrigerate, then either allow to come to room temperature, or gently reheat before serving. Scoop into bowls, and pour a little cream over top, or serve with a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream. It’s also tasty with vanilla ice cream on the side.

 

 

Acorn Cakes

Acorn Cakes 2

Thoughts:

Now, don’t get too excited by the term “cake”, because these are much more like flapjacks, johnnycakes, or pancakes that  a proper fluffy birthday cake sort of a treat. They’re based on a recipe from 1786 for “Indian Slapjack”, from the book, “American Cookery”, one of the earliest American recipe collections.

I tried a couple techniques with this until I determined that, like many things, they were best fried. Ideally, the slightly nutty flavor of the acorns is there, provided that the de-tannining process didn’t strip too much of it out. Even my very finely ground corn meal retained a little crunch and texture, and the eggs held everything together.

As with many breakfast items, it’s all about what you put on it. Honey, maple syrup, and fruit jellies all go beautifully with these little flapjacks, but you could certainly improvise, as well.

Where in Westeros?

Anywhere with oak trees, potentially. I suspect, though, from the amount of labor that goes into processing acorns, that only those without many other options would go through the trouble. It seems just the sort of thing the Liddles, Norreys, or Flints might make around the heart in their wild northern homes.

Acorn Cake Recipe

Cook’s note: I liked the ratio of 2/3 acorn meal to 1/3 corn meal. For info on how to process acorns into flour, check out my previous post on the topic.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint meal, mixed acorn meal and corn, ground fine
  • 4 spoons whole meal flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • warm water, enough to mix
  • 1/4 cup suet, lard, or butter

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, then gradually begin adding water until you have a mixture the consistency of pancake batter, that can be dropped into a hot pan in spoonfuls.

Melt a little of the fat in a skillet or frying pan over medium-low heat. Drop a couple of spoonfuls into the hot pan, allowing them enough room to spread out. Let the cakes cook for at least 30 seconds, then peek underneath to see if they are done. When the first side is lightly browned, flip the cakes and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. Remove to a plate, and repeat with the remaining batter.

The cakes are best eaten fresh from the pan, but can be gently reheated the next day, as well.

 

Wheat Sheaf Breadsticks

So some of you might remember that I posted this photo on FB with some obscure hints about holiday cooking:Wheat Sheaf Breadsticks label

Well, here is the big reveal:

They’re breadsticks in the shape of wheat sheafs!

How fun is this? That photo above was just the practice run, and I decided that I wanted to get something with a little more definition. This batch is from the recipe posted below:

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I was looking for a fun way to do bread for my Thanksgiving soup course (before I decided to go Colonial, anyway), and this creative idea struck me. I’m usually a fan of soft breadsticks, but when they can look like this, I’ll make an exception for the crunchy kind.

They’re small, light, and depending on your choice of topping, savory and difficult to stop eating. They are great as a festive touch to a feast table, sides to the appetizer cheese course, poking out of a cornucopia, or artfully placed atop soup bowls.

Bonus: Because they’re crunchy, these breadsticks can be made several days ahead of time, shaving off just a little bit of the crazy preparation from a big holiday.

Wheat Sheaf Breadsticks

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole meal flour
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbs. cold water
  • heaping 1/3 cup sesame, poppy, or other seeds
  • 1 Tbs. seasoned salt mixture

In a medium bowl, combine the warm water, honey, salt and yeast, and allow to sit for a few minutes, until frothy. Add the olive oil, then gradually add in the flour until you have a nice, supple, workable dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn out the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes, until the dough bounces back when poked. Divide in half, cover with a clean tea towel, and allow to rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Take one half of the dough and press or roll it out into a 9″x12″ rectangle. Brush with the beaten egg, and sprinkle evenly with half of the seeds and seasoned salt. Press the top lightly to push the seeds in a little. Use a sharp knife (a pizza cutter is better) to cut the dough into strips 1/2″ wide.

Taking each end of a strip in each of your hands, twist until the topping side is spiraled all around in a pretty manner. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat with the rest. To make the decorative tops, snip around the end of the dough strip with a sharp pair of kitchen shears, overlapping your snips. It’s totally fine if they’re not perfect- just call it “rustic!”

Preheat the oven to 425F. Allow the twists to rise for about 30 minutes, then bake for about 12 minutes, until they are just slightly tipped with brown.

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