Eliza Acton’s 1845 Recipe for ‘Black Caps Par Excellence’

“Cut a dozen fine Norfolk biffins in two without paring them, scoop out the cores, and fill the cavities with thin strips of fresh lemond-rind and with candied orange peel. Cover the bottom of a flat shallow tin with a thick layer of fine pale brown sugar, press the two halves of each apple together, and place them closely in the tin ; pour half a bottle of raisin or of any other sweet wine over them, and be careful to moisten the tops of all ; sift white sugar thickly on them, and set the tin into a very hot oven at first, that the outsides of the apples may catch or become black ; then draw them to the mouth of the oven, and bake them gently till they are soft quite through : they will resemble a rich sweetmeat when done, and will remain good for many days. The Norfolk biffin answers for this dish far better than any other kind of apple, but the winter queening and some few firm sorts beside, can be used for it with fair success. These for variety may be cored without being divided, and filled with orange marmalade. The black caps served hot, as a second course dish, are excellent.

Norfolk biffins, 12 ; rinds fresh lemons, 1 to 2 ; candied orange rind, 2 to 3 ozs ; pale brown sugar ¾ lb. ; raisin or other wine, ½ bottle ; little sifted sugar : ¾ to 1 hour, or more.”

Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery in All Its Branches 1st Edition (1845)

‘Black Caps’ – baked apples with their tops scorched and then gently stewed in wine or syrup – is a very old dish indeed. Henry Howard’s version of the recipe, as published in the second edition of England’s Newest Way in All Sorts of Cookery, dates to 1708. In The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) Elizabeth Raffald suggested serving both Black Caps and Green Caps – the un-scorched version – with thick cream custard, which sounds like an excellent idea to me. Mary Smith re-visited it in The Complete House-keeper, and Professed Cook (1772), and no doubt there are a few dozen more examples in the orchard cookery archives, should you have a yearning to go looking for them.

Eliza Acton’s recipe from the first edition of Modern Cookery in All Its Branches (1845), which she dubs ‘Black Caps Par Excellence’, provides one of the most detailed descriptions of the method of cooking and ingredients involved in making this particular dish. The only modern adaptation required is to interpret the moving around of the dish in the oven as a requirement to turn down the temperature once the tops have blackened sufficiently.

I’ve been e-chatting with Suffolk-based cook and food historian Monica Askay recently, and she’s quite the fan of ‘Black Caps’. Do take a look at the Orchard Talk with Monica Askay article if you’re interested in finding out what she has to say about them, and seeing what the finished dish looks like when it comes out of the oven.

How about you? Have you made ‘Black Caps’ before? Do you like your Caps Black or Green? What’s your preferred method for baking apples? Do let me know, via the comments.

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