This a (rather rushed) attempt at a scaled down version of the following recipe from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened, a 17th century book of receipts released by a servant after the death of the titular courtier. Sir Kenelm Digby also had a pretty interesting life, aside from his tastes in food (including, if you can believe it, being a privateer and inventing the modern wine bottle), but this is a food blog, so if you want all that, you’ll have to go read his wikipedia entry or something 😉
And now, the recipe:
TO STEW A RUMP OF BEEF
Take a rump of Beef, break all the bones; season it with Pepper and Salt to your liking; Take three or four Nutmegs, and a quantity of Mace, beat them grossly; Then take a bunch of very good sweet herbs, and one good Onion cut in quarters, or Garlike, as you like it. Put in half a pint of White-wine Vinegar, and one pint of good Claret, one handful of Sugar; and a piece or two of beef Suet or Butter: shred some Cabbage under and over, and scrape in a pound of good old Cheese. Put all these into an earthen pot, and let it stand in an oven with brown-bread four or five hours; but let the pot be covered close with paste.
It sounds… odd. But I went for it, making a few modifications for scale and out of haste because I had to put something into the pot right away and I didn’t have fresh herbs or claret on hand. I also didn’t think it was necessary to seal the vessel with pastry since I have a modern casserole dish with a nice tight fitting lid. And some further modifications and confessions after the recipe…
I was worried about the flavors here, with parmesan and wine vinegar and sugar and nutmeg and whatnot. It sounded decidedly odd, but it was actually a nice combination, especially on the cabbage. Kind of like a mild vinegar coleslaw, but hot?
That still sounds weird. But anyway, it tastes pretty good. It’s not much for presentation though. Really, this has to be one of the ugliest finished dishes I’ve ever seen when in the pan. Separated out into cabbage and meat on a plate it looks slightly better, but I wouldn’t cook it if you’re trying to impress visually.
Now, recipe confession time. I originally thought I could get away with cooking this just an hour and a half because I’d cut my meat smaller. That was a bad idea; it was tough as old boots. So I put the rest back in the oven for another couple hours to see how it would turn out, and after a couple more hours, the beef was much more tender. But then the cabbage was mush. So if/when I make this again, I will cook it for 3-4 hours, but add the cabbage about an hour from the end. It’s not exactly 100% faithful to the old recipe, but I think it’s an improvement to modern tastes to have just a little bit of crunch left in the cabbage.