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“take A Handful Of Bugloffe…”
The Puritans were far from puritanical about their food. With them, cooking was a high art
October 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 6
Josselyn tells us that fruit trees “prosper abundantly,” and adds, “Syder is very plentiful in the Countrey, ordinarily sold for Ten shillings a Hogshead. At the Tap-houses in Boston I have had an Ale-quart spic’d and sweetened with Sugar for a groat [fourpence], but I shall insert a more delicate mixture of it. Take of Maligoraisins, stamp them and put milk to them, and put them in an Hippocras bag [a cloth strainer] and let it drain out of itself, put a quantity of this with a spoonful or two of Syrup of CloveGilliflowers into every bottle, when you bottle your Syder and your Planter will have a Liquor that exceeds … the Nectar of the Countrey.”
And what is a clove gillyflower? Josselyn explained carefully. Clove gillyflowers (pronounced jillyflowers, “July” being a corruption of “July”) were used to make a cordial and flavoring. They “thrive exceedingly in New England,” Josselyn said, “and are very large, the Collibuy or humming bird is much pleased with them. Our English dames make a syrup of them without fire, they steep them in Wine till it be of a deep colour, and then they put to it spirit of Vitriol, it will keep as long as the other.”
Josselyn also hailed the New England blueberry, or “billberry.” He finds that “they are very good to allay the burning heat of Feavers and hot Agues, either in Syrup or Conserve. … The Indians dry them in the Sun and sell them to the English by the Bushel], who make use of them instead of Currence [currants], putting of them into Puddens, both boyled and baked, and into Water Gruel.” The settlers “usually eat of them put into a bason, with Milk and sweetened a little more with Sugar and Spice, or for cold Stomachs, in Sack.”
Of richer concoctions made from fruits, Josselyn refers to the “Quinces, Cherries, Damsons,” which “set the dames a work. Marmalad and preserved Damsons is to be met with in every house.”
Salad greens, or “sallets,” would appear to have been a fairly regular accompaniment of seventeenth-century meals. We find reference to “OyIe of olives” in supplies sent or brought or requested. Many of the plants grown or collected in the wilds were for salads. Everyone appears to have been aware of the need for green stuffs in the diet—although allusions to the pots or waters in which “sallets” were cooked lead us to assume that a “sallet” was not necessarily a salad as we know it today.
Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy was known to the New England colonists, and in this book, Burton attacks salads as “windy and not fit therefore to be eaten of all men raw, though qualified with oyl, but in broths, or otherwise.” Some, Burton says, “are of opinion that all raw herbs and sallets breed melancholy blood, except bugloss [a plant in the borage family] and lettice.”
When the senior John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote from “this strange lande, where we have mett many troubles and adversities,” to his “lovinge and dutiful sonne” John, Junior, in England, in March of 1631, he advised him, “Bring no provision with you … but meale and pease, and some otemeale and Sugar, fruit, figges and pepper, and good store of saltpeeter, and Conserve of redd roses. …” (And then, in spite of his advice of “no provision,” he goes on to recommend such little extras as calves’ skins, shoes, stockings, hats, sheepskins with the wool dyed red, woolen clothes of “sad” colors, millstones, shoemakers’ supplies, wine vinegar, pitch, suet or tallow, chalk, chalkline, compasses, linen, and birdlime.)
While conserve of red roses may sound charmingly frivolous to us today, it was one of the necessities for a rough and long voyage in a very small ship. Sir Kenelm Digby had a recipe for it, given to him by a Doctor Bacon, who had it from “a Roman Apothecary” (showing that it was a medicine, festive though it sounds).
Briefly, Dr. Bacon, or the Roman apothecary, clarified twelve pounds of the best sugar with whites of eggs and spring water, which, after boiling and skimming, came to about nine pounds of clarified sugar. Boiling this to a syrup, about half way in the process he began to beat his rose leaves in a mortar, “the rose leaves,” by which he means the petals, having been carefully picked and the “nails,” or places where they join the bloom, cut off beforehand. The juice of two lemons squeezed over them while they were beaten brought out their color. If the roses were allowed to stand after the beating they turned black, so they were put quickly into what was by now, hopefully, a “high Syrup.” After stirring them and letting them boil gently, skimming the while, for about a quarter of an hour, a drop upon a plate was supposed to show at this point that the syrup was “of due consistence.” Then it was all put into pots which were left open for ten or twelve days to get their tops candied and so naturally sealed. Paper covers were tied over them for good measure. “Dr. Bacon useth to make a pleasant Julep of this Conserve of Roses by putting a good spoonful of it into a large drinking glass or cup, upon which squeeze the juice of a Limon, and clip in unto it a little of the yellow rinds of the Limon; work these well together with the back of a spoon, putting water in little and little, til you have filled up the glass with Spring-water; so drink it. He sometimes passeth it through an Hypocras bag and then it is a beautiful and pleasant Liquor. … The whole,” Sir Kenelm observes, is “very tender and smoothing and easie to digest in the stomack without clogging it. …”