Due to the Coronavirus, the talk scheduled for 31st March, ‘Sweet Slices of History’ by Marjory Szurko, was cancelled. However, Marjory kindly sent me details of a 14th-century recipe she was going to talk about (and bring us samples to taste)! She also sent me the text of her talk relating to this recipe, which is reproduced below. The recipe for Payn Ragoun, also included below, is in Middle English.
Sweet Slices of History, by Marjory Szurko
The first 14th-century recipe I attempted to make was payn ragoun, a honey and pine-nut sweet from the manuscript ‘Forme of Cury’ which means ‘Method of cooking’.
On reading it over, I saw that it involved heating sugar and honey together, but the only instructions relating to temperature were ‘… with esy fyre, and kepe it wel fro brynning …’ I took ‘esy fyre’ to mean ‘on a low heat’, so that I could keep the sugar and honey mixture from burning in the pan.
The next part of the recipe resembled instructions that my mother had given me when I was a young girl learning to make toffee. The words were: ‘And whan it hath yboiled a while, take vp a drope þerof wiþ þy fyngur and do it in a litel water, and loke if it hong togydre …’ While I was reading this, it dawned on me that it was the ‘soft ball’ test for boiled sugar, in which you drop a small quantity of the mixture into cold water to see if it is ready (if you don’t have a sugar thermometer!). This gave me confidence that I was working along the right lines and that I might be able to understand the instructions more easily than I had thought at first. One of the things I learned from this first experiment was that modern recipes have their roots in these old recipes of the past.
The 14th-century recipe from ‘The Forme of Cury’
PAYN RAGOUN (Pine nut sweetmeats)
Take hony and sugur cipre and clarifie it togydre, and boile it with esy fyre, and kepe it wel fro brennyng. And whan it hath yboiled a while, take vp a drope þerof wiþ þy fyngur and do it in a litel water, and loke if it hong togydre; and take it fro the fyre and do þerto pynes the thriddendele & powdour gyngeuer, and stere it togyder til it bigynne to thik, and cast, and cast it on a wete table; lesh it and serue it forth with fryed mete, on flesh dayes or on fisshe dayes.
The ingredients in modern English!
2 cups fine white sugar
3 tablespoons clear honey
125 ml/4 fl oz/½ cup water
3/4 cup pine nut kernels, chopped small or ground
1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
Marjory Szurko, Sweet slices of history: baking & cakes. 2018.
Editors’ note: If you try out the recipe for Payn Ragoun, we’d love to hear about the results. Please send us your feedback by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org