A Curious Way to Make an Omelet

Kimberly Costa, Journeyman, Historic Foodways

This delicate sweetbread recipe has a curious method for making an omelet garnish.

Sweetbreads en Gordineere

From The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, 1788 edition

Take three sweetbreads and parboil them, take a stew-pan and lay layers of bacon or ham and veal, over that lay the sweetbreads on with the upper side downwards, put a layer of veal and bacon over them, a pint of veal broth, three or four blades of mace, stew them gently three quarters of an hour; take the sweetbreads out, strain off the gravy through a sieve, and skim off the fat; make an aumlet of yolks of eggs in the following manner: beat up four yolks of eggs, put two in a plate, and put them over a stew pan of water boiling over the fire, put another plate over it, and it will soon be done; put a little spinach juice into the other half, and serve it the same; cut it out in sprigs or what form you please, and put it over the sweetbreads in the dish, and keep them as hot as you can; put some butter rolled in flour to thicken the gravy, two yolks of eggs beat up in a gill of cream; put it over the fire and keep stirring it in one way till it is thick and smooth; put it under the sweetbreads and send them up. Garnish with lemon and beet root.

Historic Foodways staff has access to literally hundreds of cookery books, both printed and hand written, at our disposal to create the food which visitors view when visiting the kitchens. Sometimes staff members stick to their tried and true favors, sometimes they are on a specific set of recipes as is the case with our apprentices.  Sometimes you just want to try something new.  Hence the follow recipe caught my eye, not so much for the sweetbreads, which we use on a regular basis, but for the unusual way of creating the omelets, or amulets.

Omelets today are usually relegated to breakfast or brunch, never to make their way to the evening meal (unless one is having breakfast for dinner). In the 18th century this is not the case.  Though eggs can, and do, make their way onto breakfast tables, omelets and egg dishes are not just for breakfast; they are considered a side dish to the main meal, dinner.  Nor are they confined to just scrambled, fried, poached or omelets. They are served in a wide variety of ways. A great example of this can be found in The French Family Cook, by Francois Menon.  There are THIRTY THREE egg dishes, many with exotic names like Eggs `a la Bourgeoisie and Eggs en Surtout, to the simple To Dress Eggs with Water.  Unlike today, egg dishes are seasonal to a point.  Chickens like warmth and light, thus making spring and fall their most productive laying seasons. That does not mean they give up laying eggs during the other seasons, but there is a noticeable difference in quantity during the summer and winter months.

Most omelet, or amulet, recipes in the period are simple: beat up some eggs, put butter in a hot pan, add eggs, and cook till done, put on a plate, put filling on the top. Yes, the top. In the 18th century the filling was left on the outside so that guests could judge for themselves if they wished to partake.  So when I saw the recipe for Sweetbreads en Gordineere the treatment of the eggs caught my eye.

As per the recipe I first took four eggs and separated them into two mixing bowls. The whites were beaten until frothy in which spinach powder was added to make them green.  Next a large pot half filled with water was brought to a boil, on top of which was placed a lightly greased pewter plate.  The beaten egg yolks were pour onto the plate and covered with the lid from the pot.  Within four minutes the omelet was cooked and completely smooth.  The plate was washed, greased and placed back, onto which the white, now green, were places and the process repeated.  Both omelets were allowed to cool before cutting them into wedge shapes and placed about the rim of the dish. What is curious and delightful about this way of cooking the omelets is that there was no need to drag the solid egg into the center of the dish, to allow the liquid egg to reach the hot surface of the pan. By cooking it over a water bath and the addition of the cover, the eggs cooked through and were of a smooth, creamy consistency. I urge you to try it at home.












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