‘Please pass the hedgehog pudding’: holiday recipes from Yale’s collections

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Food images abound in Yale's collections as well. "Still Life of Bread, Butter, and Cheese" by William Smith, ca. 1754 is in the Yale Center for British Art's Paul Mellon Collection.

Cooks in kitchens across the nation this week will frantically consult Google with search terms like “easy side dishes,” or “how to roast a turkey,” or “last-minute catering.”

Fortunately, there is no shortage of websites, magazines, and cookbooks offering advice on planning and executing the perfect holiday meal. Yale’s collections also contain rich and varied resources to help even the most inexperienced cooks treat their guests to a unique, if not delicious, Thanksgiving dinner.

For instance, the Yale Babylonian Collection provides an opportunity to take dinner guests on trip through time to the very cradle of civilization. The collection boasts the world’s oldest known cookbooks: three Akkadian clay tablets that date to about 1750 B.C. and contain recipes for meat and vegetarian dishes, including an assortment of stews. The cuneiform writing presents an obstacle, but modern interpretations are available online.

Those hosting a literary crowd might consider Edith Wharton’s pudding recipe or this salad dressing from poet Marianne Moore. Both reside in the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.    

A recipe book from 1750s England in the Beinecke’s Osborn Collection offers 502 recipes in 14 categories, including “creams and cheeses,” “wet sweet meats,” “puddings and pyes,” and “possetts and sillibubs.”  (A posset is a hot beverage of milk curdled with wine or ale. A syllabub is a sweet dish made with cream.)  

The recipes are written in an 18th-century hand that might require a paleography course to decipher, though certain recipes, such as hedgehog pudding (which, ironically, doesn’t have “hedgehog” as one of its ingredients), might be best left illegible.

Fortunately, the Osborn Collection contains a mid-18th century cookbook that is printed and therefore much easier to read. “The Family Magazine: In Two Parts” is a kind of 1740s English version of Martha Stewart’s Living. It features a wide assortment of recipes as well advice for grocery shopping, planning a menu, and properly setting a table.

Readers are instructed on how to choose a turkey: “A turkey cock, if young, has a smooth blackish leg, and a short spur; but if old, a sharp spur and a red leg …” They also learn how to ensure the turkey is tender: “About an hour before you design to kill them, pour down the throat of each a spoonful of vinegar, and let them run about in the room or yard …” And, of course, there are instructions for carving the bird: “Raise up the leg fairly, and open the joint with the point of your knife, but take not off the leg …”

A recipe for hedgehog pudding from a 1750s recipe book in the Osborn Collection of English literary and historical manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Tired of turkey? The Family Magazine offers several interesting alternatives, such as pigeon pears, boiled rabbit with onions, broiled eel, and oyster pie.

For teetotalers, the magazine provides an array of recipes for non-alcoholic cordials because, as the authors warn, “’tis certain that all spirituous liquors do great mischief to the human body.” Walnut water and cinnamon water are listed as fine alternatives to brandies, cognac, and dessert wines.

For those who enjoy wine with dinner, there is an entire section on making wines in varieties that the local liquor store probably does not stock, such as raisin wine, English malmsey, and “a wine like claret.”

If guests happen to overindulge on raisin wine and pigeon pears, the second part of A Family Magazine provides remedies for indigestion and other ailments.

While there are no specific recipes for roasting a turkey, the recipes here provide some 1740s British alternatives to the traditional American Thanksgiving.

Bon appétit!

William Hogarth’s “A Midnight Conversation” shows the truth of the assertion by A Family Magazine that “Tis certain that all spirituous liquers do great mischief to the human body.” The painting is part of the Yale Center for British Art’s Paul Mellon Collection..

Turkeys with oysters

Truss them to boil, lard one, the other plain; half-roast them; and stew them in good gravy and broth; season with salt, nutmeg, and pepper; and when they are tender, make a ragout with sweetbreads, mushrooms, thick butter, and gravy, with orange juice, and lay over. 

Pigeon pears (turkey alternative)

Take your pigeons, bone them all but one leg, and put into through the side out at the vent; cut off the toes, and fill them with forced meat, made of the heart and liver; cover them with a tender forced meat: First, wash them with the batter of eggs, and shape them like pears; then wash them over, and roll them in scalded chopped spinach; cover them with thin slices of bacon, and put them in bladders; boil them an hour and a half, then take them out of the bladders, and lay them before the fire to crisp; then make for them a ragout.

Sauce for any land fowl

Strain a little of the pulp of boiled prunes into the blood of the fowl; put to it a little cinnamon and ginger finely beaten; boil it with the gravy and a little sugar, to an indifferent thickness, and serve it up with the fowl. 

A recipe for hedgehog pudding from a 1750s recipe book in the Osborn Collection of English literary and historical manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Preserved cherries (cranberry sauce alternative)

Pick the cherries, and take out the stones; put to every pound of cherries, a quarter of a pint of the juice of white currants, (first passed through a jelly bag) and the weight of both liquor and cherries of doubly refined sugar; sift the sugar and sprinkle it as you put them into the preserving pan, which you must boil and scum (skim), till the cherries look clear; then put them into glasses.  

Almond cake

Take a pound of almonds, blanch and beat them exceeding fine, with a little rose of orange-flower-water; then beat three eggs, but only two whites, and put to them a pound of sugar sifted; put in your almonds, and beat all together very well; butter sheets of white paper, and lay the cakes in several forms as you please, and bake them in a cool oven.

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Mike Cummings: michael.cummings@yale.edu, 203-432-9548