Week 6 - Double Trouble: Moonshine & Cats' Tongues

It’s Week 6 of the Great Colonial Cook Off and time for the annual Double Trouble Challenge. Woot! Woot! As Cook Off veterans know, this is the week where we challenge you to make two 17th century dishes for the chance to win not one, not two, but three prizes -  one for each dish and a chance at a third for anyone who cooks both.

The Double Trouble Challenge - Moonshine & Cat's Tongues

The Double Trouble Challenge - Moonshine & Cat's Tongues

Before we get to the recipes, let’s be clear that this week’s dishes do not involve any illegal distillation of alcohol or bizarre butchery. Moonshine is actually a super refreshing lemon jelly, while cat’s tongues are a classic biscuit. Both these recipes should be fairly simple to execute. Then again, we thought the Burnt Creame would be a breeze and you all know how that turned out!

Recipe No. 1 - Moonshine

For many of us, jelly equals Jell-o .... food for toddlers or folks with enlarged tonsils or no teeth. Not exactly haute cuisine! But in the 17th century, sweet jellies were the height of “fou fou food”. During formal dinners, jellies were served as part of the last or “banquet” course and were often used to create a kind of grand food finale. Cooks in royal and noble households amazed diners with dishes of fish swimming in ponds of jelly, or birds flying in jelly skies. For less ambitious cooks, 17th century cookbook author Robert May suggested:

...cast[ing] it into what mould you please; as for example these: Scollop shells, Cockle shells, Egg shells, half Lemon, or Lemon-peel, Wilks, or Winkle shells, Muscle shells, or moulded out of a butter-squirt.

Today, most of us use powdered gelatin (or agar if you’re a vegetarian) to jelly our jellies. But back in the day, boiled calf’s feet, hartshorn (shavings of the soft velvet antlers of young male deer) and isinglass (dried, ground air bladders - or “sounds” - of fish) were used to firm sweet jellies. Isinglass was considered the best as it produced the clearest jelly and left no aftertaste.

This week’s first recipe is based on Robert May’s recipe for Hartshorn Jelly, first published in 1660. It goes like this:

Take half a pound of harts-horn, boil it in fair spring water leisurely, close covered, and in a well glazed pipkin that will contain a gallon, boil it till a spoonful will stand stiff being cold, then strain it through a fine thick canvas or fine boultering, and put it again into another lesser pipkin, with the juyce of eight or nine good large lemons, a pound and half of double refined sugar, and boil it again a little while, then put it in a gally pot, or small glasses, or cast it into moulds, or any fashions of the other jellies.

It’s similar to a recipe for Moonshine that appears in Sara Paston-Williams’ 1983 National Trust Book of Traditional Puddings. She claims the dish was popular with 17th and 18th century cooks, although we’re still trying to track down a period recipe of that name. Paston-Williams’ recipe also deviates from May’s in the use of powdered gelatin instead of hartshorn .... a good thing for those of us without ready access to vast amounts of deer antler!

Note: Isinglass is still used today as a clarifying agent in brewing and beer making. Unfortunately, it contains additives and preservatives that destroy its jelly-making properties. BUT Mike at Me Buddy’s Brew Shop in Bay Roberts went out of his way to find us a supply of the pure stuff (Thanks Mike!). We interested to see how isinglass jelly turns out. Stay tuned to the Colony’s Facebook page for results.


  • 4 oz (125 grams) white sugar
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 cups (500 ml) cold water
  • Juice of 2 lemons, strained
  • 1/2 oz (12 grams) powdered gelatin (or agar if you’re a vegetarian)
  • Pinch of saffron (optional, for colouring)

Step 1

Put sugar, lemon rind, saffron (if using) and water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to allow lemon rind to infuse. Remove from heat and cool. Strain.

Step 2
Put lemon juice into a heatproof measuring cup and sprinkle gelatin powder over the juice. Place the cup in a pan of water and gently heat until the gelatin has dissolved.

Step 3
Strain dissolved gelatin through a warmed fine mesh sieve into the cooled lemon syrup. Stir well to make sure gelatin and lemon syrup are mixed thoroughly. Leave to cool again.

Step 4
When just beginning to set, whisk the jelly until it turns white and foamy (note: whisking creates a white stripe around the bottom of your set jelly. We’re thinking the more you whisk, the wider you’re stripe will be)

Step 5
Pour into a wetted jelly mould or bowl and refrigerate until set.

Step 6
To serve, put the jelly mould into a basin of warm water until a little of the jelly around the edge has melted and then turn it out onto a plate (10 seconds or less)

Quick tip.... When you unmould directly onto a plate, the jelly will stick to the surface wherever it lands. To prevent this, wet the plate before turning out the jelly. This allows you to re-position the jelly to the plate's centre.


Recipe No. 2 - Cat’s Tongues

Paston-Williams suggests serving your Moonshine with Cat’s Tongue’s. Various internet sources claim these biscuits first appeared in the 17th century. So far, we’ve been unable to verify that with a period recipe. However, the ingredients and techniques would certainly have been available to 17th century cooks.


  • 2 oz (50 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 oz (50 grams) caster sugar
  • Flavoring (For our test batch, we used the zest of one lemon and a teaspoon of very finely chopped lemon thyme, but feel free to experiment. Lemon or orange zest, rose water, orange flower water, and/or cinnamon would all be 17th century appropriate. Vanilla is an obvious modern choice)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 oz (50 grams) plain flour, sifted

Step 1

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Step 2

Cream the butter, sugar and flavoring(s) together until light and fluffy. Lori and Krista will be doing this by hand with a wooden spoon, but feel free to speed this step up with an electric handheld or stand mixer (we won’t judge!)

Step 3

Gradually beat in the unbeaten egg white one spoonful at a time

Step 4

Gently fold the sifted flour into the mixture until combined

Step 5

Spoon batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip. Pipe 4 inch lengths of batter onto your parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave at least 1 1/2 inches between each biscuit to allow room for them to spread while baking.

Step 6

Bake near the top of your oven until barely golden and tinged with brown around the edges. The exact time will vary greatly with the heat of your oven ... anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes. Watch them closely. They’ll go from lovely and golden to charred black in an instant. Voice of experience here!

Step 7

For a flat biscuit, cool on the baking tray for a few minutes to harden, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Or, for a curled “tongue”, quickly (and carefully) drape the still warm biscuit over a rolling pin and leave to harden. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight tin to keep crisp .... or eat them all right away!

For curled tongues, quickly (and carefully) drape the still warm biscuit over a rolling pin and leave to harden. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For curled tongues, quickly (and carefully) drape the still warm biscuit over a rolling pin and leave to harden. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Remember, post a photo of your moonshine and/or cat’s tongues on the Colony of Avalon’s Fcebook page for a chance to win our weekly and grand prizes. For the Moonshine, we’ll be giving away a copy of Jelly with Bompas and Parr: A Glorious History with Spectacular Recipes. (Trust us, it will change the way you think about jelly!). Up for grabs for the cat’s tongues is a Primo digital kitchen scale. And for those who cook both? Wait for it .... you’re very own reproduction 17th century, 100% linen dog’s ear apron. Sure to become a Cook Off collector’s item!

Deadline is midnight, Tuesday, August 7, 2018. Good luck and happy cooking!

Jane SeversComment