October 8, 2010

The Evolution of Shortbread: Shortbread Recipes from the 1700s- 1900s.

 Everybody loves shortbread!
Shortbread is a yummy, plain, butter cookie, but it wasn't always so. Many modern recipes only use three ingredients: flour, butter and sugar. But historically, shortbread used to include dried fruits, nuts and even caraway seeds!

Shortbread can be served with tea or coffee and are the basis for a lot of modern-day treats such as Girl Scout Cookies."Petticoat Tails" were a shortbread treat, popularly served with tea in the 1850s. Petticoat tails are made by making a round shortbread in a tin, cutting out a hole in the center, and cutting the remaining shortbread into triangles.

I have made modernized instructions for this recipe at the bottom of this post. It mentions using a "mutchkin" of barm. A mutchkin is 1/4 an English pint. Barm is the froth from the top of beer. It is used in the recipe as a leavening agent. Today shortbread is made without any leavening. I was going to wait until I made some of these recipes before I wrote this post but other people might save me the work and make some of these for me. :D

I tried to find a way to put the modern recipe on here. This isn't very clear but it's the best I could do. If you would like a cleaner copy, I will gladly e-mail it to you in PDF or as a Word Document. It's neat to see how the ingredients were slowly whittled down through the years. I am very excited to make some period shortbread, when I do, I will make sure to include photos and a critique.


  1. This is very interesting! I love making shortbread! I'll let you know if I try some of these out!

  2. Very interesting! Where do get all your historical document/books from? I want to order this neat one: http://www.figis.com/gifts/offer.asp?offerID=113397

  3. Sarah Lynn, I am an antique book fiend so some of them are mine, the rest are from google and from libraries. I am lucky to currently be at a University with a rare book collection. However; even if you don't go to a certain school, a lot of times you can make an appointment and see some of their rare books anyway.

  4. Sarah, The thing about the Great Depression is that some of those people are still alive! Many of the ladies may still have their mother's cookbooks or will remember meals that they used to cook and they will love you for asking. It really is good to get these now before they pass away, a lot of recipe collections are picked through for the core family recipes and the others are frequently thrown out.

    I'm excited when people save bits of history that would otherwise have been destroyed. Plus, it makes things like holidays more interesting--you'll have something to talk about with the older members of the family.

  5. Very interesting! I really love looking at them, as I am a fanatic about history. I have a very very small collection of older books. And the depression recipe book looks really neat, I can't wait until it arrives. :)

  6. Hmm, I'm trying to imagine what these would taste like with caraway seeds. . .

  7. Sophia, I'm not sure. Modernly, we only really put caraway in rye bread. It's strange to think of the flavor with other things.


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