Saturday, August 6, 2022

Merryell Williams' Book of Recipes (Peniarth MS 513D) - Onion Pottage

Merryell Williams' Book of Recipes
Peniarth MS 513D

This is a volume of cooking and medicinal recipes which were collected by Merryell Williams of the Ystumcolwyn Estate, Montgomeryshire, towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The manuscript is in English. Within its covers we are given a glimpse of the types of meals created in the kitchens of mid Wales' nobility during this period.

Images of the original manuscript are freely available on the National Library of Wales website.

I have done my best to provide an accurate, but readable transcription. Common abbreviations have been expanded, letters like thorn and yogh have been replaced with their modern equivalents, and some minor punctuation has been added.

Copyright © 2022 by Daniel Myers,

[6] Onion Pottage.  Take a good store of sliced onions & fry them, then have ready a Pickin [pipkin] of Boyling Liquor over the fire. When the Liquor boyles put in the fryed Onions, butter & all, with peper and sault being to-all strewed together. Serve it on sops of french bread. [added later: or pine mollett]

This short recipe would be indistinguishable from the dozens of other recipes for cooked onions if it weren't for the instruction to fry the onions before boiling them. No doubt this is to give the onions (and the subsequent soup) some color.  ... Now that I think about it, this could be a precursor recipe for French Onion Soup.

There is a single, very similar English recipe in The Good Housewife's Jewell that is a close match for Williams':

A sop of Onions. Take and slice your Onions, & put them in a frying panne with a dish or two of sweete butter, and frie them together, then take a litle faire water and put into it salt and peper, and so frie them together a little more, then boile them in a lyttle Earthen pot, putting to it a lyttle water and sweet butter, &c. You may vse Spinnage in like maner.  [The Second part of the good Hus-wiues Iewell (England, 1597)]

In spite of the small number of examples, this recipe dies seem to have survived the tests of time, as the following recipe from the 1920s shows:

Onion Soup. Wipe, peel, and slice five small onions; put in a frying pan and cook in enough butter to prevent burning (stirring constantly) until soft. To six cups stock, add onions and salt to taste. Cut stale bread in one-third-inch slices and remove crusts. Toast on both sides. Place in tureen, sprinkle with three tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, and pour soup over bread just before sending to table. [The Boston School Cook Book, (Boston, 1924)]

As for the little note at the end of the recipe, I haven't the slightest idea what "Pine Mollet" is.
... I think I might make this soup later this week ...

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