Cryppys, Crisps: 14th-century Fritters?

Cryppys, often called crisps, are another type of fried honey-flavored treat from 14th-century England. Unlike crispels, crisps are considered fritters because they are made with batter instead of pastry dough. Many sweet fritters of the era contained fruits (especially apples) or other ingredients like almonds. This particular recipe is very basic, containing only flour, egg whites and honey.

The Recipe

The transcription below is from Ancient Cookery (Diversa Servicia), c. 1381, a Bodleian manuscript that was included in the second half of Samuel Pegge’s 1780 edition of the Forme of Cury.

xxvi. For to Make Cryppys

Nym flour and wytys of eyryn sugur other hony and sweyng togedere and mak a batour nym wyte grees and do yt in a posnet and cast the batur thereyn and stury to thou have many 2 and tak hem up and messe hem wyth the frutours and serve forthe.

Crisps. Take flour and whites of eggs, sugar or honey and mix together to make a batter. Take white grease (lard) and place in a posnet and cast the batter therein and stir it until you have many and take them up and plate them with the fritters and serve forth.

The Ingredients

I based my recipe on the redaction created by the popular cookery website Medieval Cuisine: See Cryppys. I quartered their recipe for practical reasons but I had to make some slight adjustments. The recipe below makes around 10 “fritters”.

1/4 c. flour
2 egg whites
1 tsp honey
1/4 c. water
lard

Rather than walk through each step in detail like I usually do, I’ve just written some brief directions to do it the way Medieval Cuisine suggests. See below for additional notes.

Combine egg whites, water and honey and whisk together. Add mixture to flour and mix to create the batter. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the lard (or oil) and fry over medium heat until golden brown. Flip to cook evenly. Drain on a paper towel and serve.

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You may need to add more flour to thicken the mixture. Medieval Cuisine’s measurements do not result in a thick batter. Mine was still on the runnier side like pancake batter, even after adding some flour. If you want something more traditionally fritter-like you’ll probably need batter that is closer to biscuit dough in thickness. I added additional honey after tasting a finished crisp because it needed it. Eat the crisps plain or top with honey or powdered sugar. I didn’t mind the crisps, though I definitely prefer crispels as my go-to medieval fried treat.

 

 

posnetAs for history, one term worth noting is posnet, as in “place in a posnet.” A posnet means “small pot,” referring to a type of early cast iron skillet with legs. Because all cooking was done directly over a fire (often in a hanging cauldron), it would have been necessary to put the pot right on the coals in order to melt the lard and fry the batter properly.


Some thoughts

There are a few things about this recipe that make me wonder…

  • Cast the batter therein and stir it until you have many” is a strange phrase for making a fritter. Crepes are made by spreading the batter around the pan. Or maybe this simply means drop in batter, stir and repeat until you have many fritters? It could also mean drizzle the batter around in the hot oil and stir it around until you have many swirls, much like you would a funnel cake. The latter possibility could support the “crisp” idea, especially since the word crisp at the time often meant curly rather than brittle. (Walker)
  • There is no leavening agent here and nothing to dip into the batter as directed in most other period fritter recipes. The final product turned out to resemble a little frilly pancake rather than a true crispy fritter, despite the use of the word “frutours” in the recipe. The distinction between fritters and pancakes can get a bit hazy.
  • There is another recipe in the Forme of Cury called Cryspes (crisps), which is very clearly a funnel cake. If cryppys are “crisps” then these are either supposed to be made the same way or a different chef used a similar name for an entirely different type of treat.
  • Could the title itself, Cryppys, actually mean crepes instead of “crisps?” There are no other crepe recipes in the Forme of Cury to easily disprove this theory. There was no standardized spelling in Middle English so people often wrote things out phonetically according to dialect. Seems to me that medieval foodies simply use the same commonly accepted translation without considering the possibility that it might be wrong.

 

There are some medieval recipes that are based entirely on guesswork combined with a lot of trial and error, even for the seasoned food historians I look to for guidance. This is definitely one of those recipes.  That said, I personally do not believe Medieval Cuisine’s redaction for cryppys is completely accurate. Next time I try this recipe I’ll try it a few different ways to compare:

  1. Spread a thin batter around (using measurements above) to make a sort of crepe.
  2. Drizzle the batter in a spiral into the hot oil to make something more like a crispy funnel cake. Not a fritter, but it would be “crisp.”
  3. For a crisp that is more fritter-like, increase the amount of flour and/or reduce the water to make a doughy batter.

Stay tuned for updates!


Sources and Suggested Reading

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