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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
“Excellent White Metheglin” was concocted by a Mr. Pierce, who first boiled three hogsheads of the best water and then added four handfuls of sweetbrier leaves, the same of eyebright, two of rosemary, the same of sweet marjoram, and one of “broadthyme.” After a quarter of an hour’s boiling he strained out the herbs and let the water cool to blood-warm when he “put the honey to it,” about one part to four of water, and mixed it all well for at least an hour. To learn whether it was a strong enough mixture, that is to say, if it would bear up an egg so that “a Groat’s-breadth, or rather but a threepence, of the Eggshel must swim above the Liquor,” Mr. Pierce made a test with a whole dozen eggs to “make a medium of their several emergings.” The egg test passed, the concoction went back into the “Copper” to boil again and be skimmed. “Turn up an hour Glass and let it boil well a good hour.” Just at the end of the boiling, a pound of ginger was added, and the whole was allowed to cool. Then came the operation of pouring it from a height into a “pottle of New-ale-barm,” and when all the liquor was in and uniformly mixed with the barm, or yeast broth, it began to “work.” After more skimming it was put into two hogsheads to work further, and finally sealed. Three weeks after broaching, “which is best not done till a year be over after making,” Mr. Pierce flavored it with cinnamon and cloves, although he sometimes left out the cloves. In either case, “this Metheglin is a great Balsom and strengthener of the Viscera and is excellent in colds and consumptions.”
When in 1630 John Winthrop arrived in Salem Harbor he was feasted by John Endecott, the acting governor of the Salem colony, and was given “a good venison pasty and good beer.”
For the pasty, again Sir Kenelm provides a recipe, this one attributed to an unidentified authority, “My Lady of Newport.” “Line the dish with a thin crust of good pure paste but make it pretty thick upward toward the brim, that it may be there Pudding crust. Lay then the venison in a round piece upon the Paste in the dish that must not fill it up to touch the Pudding but lie at ease; put over the cover and let it over-reach upon the brim with some carved Pasty work to grace it, which must go up with a border like a lace growing a little way upwards upon the cover, which is a little arched up and hath a little hole in the top to pour into it unto the meat the strong wellseasoned broth that is made of the broken bones, and remaining lean flesh of the venison. Put a little pure Butter or Beef-suet to the Venison before you put the cover on unless it be exceeding fat. This must bake five or six hours or more as an ordinary Pasty. An hour or an hour and a half before you take it out to serve it up, open the Oven and draw out the dish far enough to pour in at the little hole of the cover the strong decoction of the broken bones and flesh. Then set it in again, to make an end of his baking and soaking.”
The beer served to Winthrop by Endecott must have been as like to the beer of Old England as possible, made with malt and yeast brought from the homeland. The hops could have been native, as we have read how early voyagers up Maine rivers rejoiced at the quantity of hop vines covering the banks on either side. Malt we know John Winthrop had brought with him, and we may presume that Mr. Endecott had done so also. And although “beer” was made of almost anything handy in New England, malt was preferred. Before it was grown in America, one of Winthrop’s young fellow voyagers wrote a desperate letter to his father asking for a hogshead of malt, as they were in such straits as to be drinking nothing but water.
Of yeast, we have no direct accounts. It would seem to have been one of their essential commodities, a special concern of every housewife. But of what they did to keep it “alive” on shipboard or to make it always new and fresh after they landed, there is no record.
Josselyn tells us that in Maine beer was made of molasses, which would seem to have put it rather on the rum side, and chips of sassafras root, a little wormwood, water, and bran. He does not mention yeast; perhaps the sugar in the molasses furnished the fermentation. In any case, the colonists were always concocting drinks of most unlikely materials, doubtless because the water was considered dangerous.
Back home in England, water was thought to be most unwholesome unless it came from very special sources. When a sixteenth-century doctor wrote that moats should be kept moving for the health of the household, he was not necessarily referring to moats around great castles but to those dug for drainage and convenience about many wellplanned small English houses. Burton, in the Anatomy of Melancholy , cautions against using the water from these moats even for cooking and denies that, as some have said, it makes the best beer, although he concedes it may certainly make the strongest. So we can understand the lyric celebration by Captain John Smith of the springs that bubbled up all over the New England countryside. Another contemporary recommended the waters of New England as being better than bad beer, though of course not to be preferred to good beer. Says he, “those that drinks it [water] be as healthful, fresh and lustie, as they that drink beere.”