On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Good Friday), in some parts of England, small cakes are handed out by the vicar to his congregation as they leave church. The cakes are called pax cakes (from the Latin for ‘peace’, pax). The custom goes back to at least the 16th century, when cakes and ale were given out during morning service and eaten and drunk in the church, to promote neighbourliness and good feeling at Easter.
Palm Sunday also has the nick name ‘Fig Sunday’ because Christ had wanted to eat some when travelling to Jerusalem. Figs were once traditionally eaten on this day.
In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates a delicate chewit – a meat and fruit pie enjoyed in the 16th century.
Sam writes: Britain loves pies, and recipes for them can be found in cookbooks going back centuries. This month I’ve chosen a 16th-century pie called a chewit that mixes sweet and savoury flavours – a combination that was popular in the Tudor era. Recipes from that time often refer to coffins – robust pastry designed more to contain the filling than to be eaten. My version, including measurements, is based on a 16th-century recipe.
Although similar to a syllabub, posset is much richer because it is more like a custard than a cream. Possets were served in ceramic posset pots, which looked a bit like a teapot with two handles. They were usually very decorative and extremely expensive to buy. This dish is therefore one of a high standard. Posset was originally more of a drink than a pudding and was often given to people in rich households when they were feeling unwell.
The recipe is from:The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, commonly known as The Closet Opened, an English cookery book first printed in 1669. It is supposedly based upon the writings of Sir Kenelm Digby, being as the title page states “published by his son’s consent”.
The book gives recipes for traditional English dishes such as meat pies, pasties and syllabub, but also reflects on Digby’s travels around Europe, with recipes such as “Pan Cotto, as the Cardinals use in Rome”. The book echoes an earlier age with some hundred recipes for brewing mead and metheglin.