Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - Papyns - Custard

Papyns and Bread
Many of the sites I visited while researching a history of baby pap indicated that pap was "an unwholesome mixture of bread and milk", unfortunately that is not the case for the custardy dish that was interpreted from   "Two fifteenth-century cookery-books. Harleian ms. 279 (ab. 1430), & Harl. ms. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole ms. 1429, Laud ms. 553, & Douce ms. 55" Thomas Austin for "Papyns".  This dish created a very soft custard that reminded my taste testers and I of the cream of wheat or malted meal cereal that we would eat for breakfast while growing up--without any lumps.  The recipe that I worked with that most closely resembled the pap described was Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - Creme Boylede - Boiled Custard which starts out by soaking bread in milk or cream and heating it until warm. 

In the absence of breast milk and prior to the invention of feeding bottles or formula for children, a wet nurse was preferred. The use of a woman to feed another woman's child has a very long history. It's origins can be traced at least to 2000 BC, but it may go back further.  Genesis 35:8 references a wet nurse "But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth." Moses was fed by a wet nurse upon discovery by the Pharaoh's daughter.

Between 300 BC and 400AD, well to do Romans would hire wet nurses (nutrix). Contracts written during this time provided details such as the service duration, supplies for clothing or lamp oil, and payment for the service. The physician Soranas of Ephesus (98 AD to 117 AD) wrote a treatise for assessing the quality of breast milk and prescribed a regimen for the wet nurse.  Galen of Pergamus  (130 AD to 200 AD) offered advice on how to soothe nursing infants, and Oribasius (325 AD to 403 AD) recommended physical activities such as weaving in order to strengthen the flow of milk.

Noble women of the middle ages would often choose not to breastfeed.  Wet nurses to wealthier families were esteemed and enjoyed rewards for their services. For example, Adelina, was rewarded with land for her services by King Riger of Sicily to his son Henry.  Children were often breast fed until they were between 18 months and two years of age, at which point they would be weaned.  However, during the later periods the time for nursing was shortened to three to four months, at which point children would be weaned to animal milk (cow, sheep or goat) and solid foods.  Consequently, the mortality rate of children at this time was quite high.

 In the middle ages, animal milk was not as wholesome as it is today. Before pasteurization and inoculation of dairy producing animals against disease, the milk of an animal could pass diseases such as tuberculosis, diptheria, typhoid fever or cow pox to the consumer.  In a raw state, milk can become contaminated through contact with the animal hide, udder, the teats or even cross contaminated with fecal matter, the equipment or the people who handle it.

Writers of the middle ages also cautioned against consuming animal milk because it was thought to cause "bestial behavior"--anyone with a toddler may think they were on to something! I know there were a few times during epic tantrums I would have. Aside from the shared belief that consuming animal milk would cause the child to exhibit animal like behavior, and the fact that the milk itself was questionable as to its wholesomeness  being dependent upon the health of the animal it came from, the other issue with milk was the lack of refrigeration.  Milk spoils rapidly when not kept cool, so fresh milk was not as available in certain locations because of the distance it needed to travel from the source to the consumer.  Just because it has spoiled doesn't mean it is not eatable

When milk or a wet nurse were not available, a mixture of broth, water, milk, grain, flour or bread, sweetened with honey or diluted wine would be fed to infants through a small horn with  a hole drilled into it, or via a rag soaked in the liquid.  This same pap was also fed to the elderly who were unable to chew any longer.  When given to older children, or in addition to breast milk, papyns provided additional nutrituion.  On its own, it may have caused more difficulties because it would have been harder to digest and did not provide the same value human milk did.

xx. Papyns.—Take fayre Mylke an Flowre, an drawe it þorw a straynoure, an set it ouer þe fyre, an let it boyle a-whyle; þan take it owt an let it kele; þan take ȝolkys of eyroun y-draw þorwe a straynour, an caste þer-to; þan take sugre a gode quantyte, and caste þer-to, an a lytil salt, an sette it on þe fyre tyl it be sum-what þikke, but let it nowt boyle fullyche, an stere it wyl, an putte it on a dysshe alle a-brode, and serue forth rennyng.

20. Papyns - Take fair milk and flour, an draw through a strainer, an set it over the fire, an let it boil awhile: than take it out an let it cool: then take yolks of eggs drawn through a strainer and caste thereto; than take sugar a good quantity, an cast there-to, an a little salt an set it on the fire till it be somewhat thick, but let it not boil fully, an stir it well, an put it on a dish all broad, and serve forth running. 

Interpreted Recipe                                                                       Serves 1 as a main 2-3 as a side

3/4 C. whole milk
1/4 C. cream
2 Tbsp. flour
1 egg (or 2 egg yolks)
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp. sugar or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 Tsp. salt or to taste

Make slurry of the flour and milk by adding the flour to 1/2 cup of the milk and shaking it up in a small lidded jar until it becomes a smooth paste. Strain this mixture into a small pot, and then add the remainder of the milk.  It is important to strain the slurry as some of the flour may have clumped and this will affect the texture of your final product.  DO NOT skip this step.  

Heat the milk and the flour until it begins to thicken and then set aside to cool to room temperature.  Or, as an alternative you can temper your eggs before adding them to the milk mixture.  What you don't want to do is just toss the eggs into the hot liquid or vice versa--you will end up with curdled and partially cooked eggs...yuck! 

Return the mixture to the pan and add salt and sugar to taste.  I preferred mine sweeter so added 2 tbsp. of sugar; a couple of my taste testers did not like it as sweet and said they would have preferred less.  Use your best judgment. Once the papyn's has been returned to the pot you must babysit it.  Do not let it boil, and constantly stir it until it reaches the desired thickness.  I made mine the consistency of a medium cream sauce.  You may want to strain it a second time when serving it on the off chance you have curdled your dish.  

This is a very fussy dish that requires almost near constant supervision.  That being said, it is a very delicious dish when finished.  The end result is a dish that is surprisingly "cereal" like in its taste, velvety smooth and quite delicious when bread is dipped into it.  I would happily serve this to a group of individuals for a small dinner, luncheon, camping (powdered eggs, powdered milk, flour, sugar, salt and water) or myself when I'm craving a comfort food.  I do NOT recommend that you consider this for very large groups.  It took approximately 10 minutes to throw together, but it needs to be served hot, and it requires a lot of babysitting.  If you have the time and a dedicated staff member who is familiar with cooking custards or making ice cream bases, I'd say go for it. 

Similar Recipes:

Thomas Awkbarow's Recipes (MS Harley 5401) (England, 15th century)

Papyns. Recipe clene cow mylk, & take þe flour of rice or of whete & draw þe flour with sum of þe mylk, & colour it with saferon & let it boyle, & do a lityll honyþerto; þan tak water & well it in a frying panne; þan cast in brokyn egges & fry þam hard in þe water, & lay .iij. in a dysh & þe colourd mylk þeron, & serof it forth.