Orange Omelets: “for ruffians and brazen harlots”

Photo by Vincent van Dam.

Photo by Vincent van Dam.

Those who know me know well that I love citrus flavors. Particularly citrus desserts. Lemon cake with raspberry filling. Lemon curd. The elusive “Gold-n-Sno Cake.” So when browsing late 19th century magazines, the phrase “Orange Omelet” leapt out at me. I had to try it. Oranges, sugar, and eggs — sounds lovely. When do we eat?

You can still find sweet orange omelets here and there, but they are decidedly old-fashioned. None of my modern cookbooks contain one, but they are frequently found in classic late 19th/early 20th century cookbooks such as Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, The Settlement Cook Book, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book.

The orange omelet, however, goes back a lot further than that — at least to the 1430s, when Johannes Bockenheim, cook to Pope Martin V, published this recipe in his cookbook:

How to make an orange omelette

Take eggs and break them, with oranges, as many as you like; squeeze their juice and add to it the eggs with sugar; then take olive oil or fat, and heat it in the pan and add the eggs. This was for ruffians and brazen harlots. (“Et erit pro ruffianis et lecceatrichus.”)

Ruffians and brazen harlots? Well, call me a brazen harlot, then.

Bockenheim’s recipe is not terribly different from those that followed about 100 years ago.

Good Housekeeping, February 1898:

An American Omelet.
Make an omelet of four eggs, the yolks and whites beaten separately, four tablespoonfuls of sugar, a pinch of salt, grated rind of one orange and three tablespoonfuls of orange juice, fry. The instant the omelet is cooked, spread the sliced oranges on it and fold or roll the omelet. Serve very hot.

Parisian Orange Omelet.
Take the whites and the yolks of four eggs beaten separately, very thoroughly. To the yolks add three tablespoonfuls of sugar, not more than a pinch of baking powder, two tablespoonfuls of flour, four of milk, one tablespoonful of orange juice. Pour into a heated saucepan, then the whites, fry rapidly, fold, serve very hot with raspberry jam. A delightful luncheon dish.

Good Housekeeping, March 1898:

Orange Omelet.
Four eggs, five tablespoonfuls of sugar, a little salt, two oranges, two tablespoonfuls of butter. Grate the rind of one orange on one tablespoonful of sugar. Pare and cut the orange in thin slices and sprinkle with two tablespoonfuls of sugar. Beat the whites of the eggs stiff, add the sugar and orange rind, salt, beaten yolks, and two tablespoonfuls of orange juice. Put butter in a hot omelet pan and pour in the mixture. When it begins to thicken well, spread over the sliced oranges (no juice). Fold omelet from the side of the pan over the sliced oranges, turn on a hot dish; put in the oven two minutes, and serve immediately.

Then, about 20 years later in The Way to a Man’s Heart: The Settlement Cook Book (about which I will be posting more soon):

Orange Omelet.
Rind of 1/3 orange,
1 egg,
1 tablespoon orange juice,
2 tablespoons powdered sugar.
Beat the yolk of the egg and add the orange rind and juice. Add the sugar. Fold in the beaten white and turn on heated buttered pan and cook until set. Serve with powdered sugar.

I tried the last recipe yesterday — it’s simple, and serves one, which is nice when I’m experimenting. Watch this space tomorrow for the results.

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