Elizabeth Moxon, on Making ‘Plumb Porridge’

Take two shanks of beef, and ten quarts of water, let it boil over a slow fire till it be tender, and when the broth is strong, strain it out, wipe the pot and put in the broth again, slice in two penny loaves thin, cutting off the top and bottom, put some of the liquor to it, cover it up and let it stand for a quarter of an hour, so put it into the pot again, and let it boil a quarter of an hour, then put in four pounds of currans, and let them boil a little ; then put in two pounds of raisins, and two pounds of prunes, let them boil till they swell ; then put in a quarter of an ounce of mace, a few cloves beat fine, mix it with a little water, and put it into your pot ; also a pound of sugar, a little salt, a quart or better of claret, and the juice of two or three lemons or verjuice ; thicken it with sagoo instead of bread ; so put it in earthen pots, and keep it for use.”

Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifry, 9th edtn. (1764)

UK-grown plums are in season at the moment, so I’ve been buying quite a lot of them and have been looking for new and interesting ways to cook with them. Plums are one of my very favourite foodstuffs, and porridge is another, so Elizabeth Moxon’s recipe seemed, at first glance, to be an ideal option. On closer examination though… I’m not so sure.

I mean, it’s porridge, but not as we know it. Instead of rolled or jumbo oats blended and simmered with milk or maybe even cream, we have… beef stock. Thickened with two small loaves of bread. And then – bearing in mind that Elizabeth Moxon clearly assumed her audience would want to make industrial-scale quantities of this stuff, maybe to feed an entire household, including the staff – six pounds (2.72 kilos) of dried fruit: curran[t]s, raisins and prunes. Unless ‘prunes’ refers to fresh plums, which is a possibility. But dried seems more likely.

The beefy-bready-fruity mixture is then spiced with cloves (I’m not keen on cloves) and mace (not as nice a flavour as nutmeg if you ask me), sugar, salt and a quart (two pints, roughly a litre) of claret, as well as either lemon juice or verjuice. The whole lot is then thickened with sagoo (a.k.a. sago, sagu) and then stored in earthen pots “for use”. Quite possibly as some sort of adhesive…

You may have spotted that I’m a little dubious about this one, so it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be rushing out for beef shin so I can give it a go . But, if you’re braver than me, can work the proportions down to a manageable size and decide to make a batch of authentic ‘plumb porridge’, then I would love to hear about your results. Please do leave a comment below, or email me with your notes and photos.

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