I hope you’ve spent the last few months cozying up in your hobbit hole, because depending on how seriously you’ve taken stay-at-home orders you're about to enter what is either Round Three, Round Two, or a continuation of the endless Round One of quarantine. Another month of work-from-home/home-is-work is a fitting end to what has been one of the most uncomfortable years in recent memory, which is why I’ve grown increasingly desperate for what comforts I can find.
And on the topic of comforts, may I suggest that you direct your attention to the excellent Max Miller, host of the YouTube series Tasting History. Each week he plucks a semi-obscure recipe from the distant past and recreates it, along with bouncy storytelling about the people and ingredients of yore.
“I’ve got a seventeenth-century pumpkin pie coming up!” Max excitedly announced when I reached him by phone. “It’s an early version of pumpkin pie, it’s called ‘pumpion’ because they hadn’t added the K yet, it’s so early.”
Yes. Yes yes yes, this is exactly the wholesome face-stuffing content we need right now. Feed us, Max.
“I just finished, after several mishaps, a Victorian Christmas pudding,” he goes on. Puddings never quite caught on in the United States, Max explains, in part because “Christmas kind of lost favor with the Puritans. It was outlawed for a while, and it never really took off until Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.”
Speaking with Max is a lot like watching his videos: You’re carried along on a rolling tide of his enthusiasm for history and delicious food. It’s a perfect distraction from the stress of modern times, whether curled up in a blanket watching him or stuck at home attempting to follow along with him in the kitchen.
With holidays coming up, he recommends making your home smell seasonal with gingerbread, and of course eggnog. “I know a lot of people pooh-pooh eggnog,” he says—who are these heartless people???—“but if you’ve ever had homemade eggnog it tastes nothing like what you get at the store. I’m probably going to do a livestream with a recipe from George Washington.”
My own experiments with historical cookery include one of Max’s favorites, a weird boozy whipped cream concoction called syllabub. I made the mistake of not sufficiently reducing and wound up with a punchbowl-sized vat of the stuff, but now’s a good time to whip some up and drop it on a warm pie or gingerbread cake, Max says.
Longing for company in lockdown? Perhaps find a food-minded friend and do a little long-distance co-cooking together via video call. For a project like that, Max recommends something easy and quick, like butter beer—not just a Harry Potter thing, it’s an actual drink that provides a warm cozy buzz and an ample supply of much-needed calories to keep you warm throughout the coming hibernation.
Another recommendation: “Yuanxiao, the sticky rice balls that are filled with nuts. And also payasam, one of my favorite things I’ve made so far. So easy, and so doable over a Skype call.”
Max’s Tasting History channel began as a way to keep his idle hands occupied at the start of quarantine, but now it’s grown into a little food-media empire that can keep you busy as well. While I probably wouldn’t recommend making the barley-cheese-wine kykeon, the sweet historical custards and buttery raston breads are precisely the kind of quarantine company worth keeping right now.
“As you're making your holiday feasts this year,” Max says, “take a few minutes while you're in the line at the store to look up a little history about what you're making, whether it's roast goose, or stuffing, or the history of cranberries. Everything we eat has a wonderful history behind it if you look.”