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  • Brigitte Webster

To bake Mallard: The Good Huswife’s Jewell Book one – 1596, page 14Thomas Dawson

Original recipe

To bake a Mallard.TAke thrée or foure Onions and stampe them in a morter then strain them with a saucer ful of vergite, then take your mal∣lard and put him into the iuyce of the saide Onions and season him with pepper and salt, cloues and mace then put your mal∣lard into the coffin with the saide iuyce of the onions and a good quantitie of Winter sauorie, a litle time, and persely chopped small and swéete Butter, so close it vp and bake it.

Modernised recipe:

INGREDIENTS (Measurements adapted by myself to modern requirements - usually for 3-4 people)

4 duck breasts

3-4 small onions, extremely finely chopped or blended with a food blender

circa 50ml verjuice (crab apple vinegar) or white wine vinegar

Pepper, salt, (ground) cloves and (ground) mace - to your taste.

One lot of pre-made short pastry, home-made or bought

1 tsp fresh chopped herbs: winter savory, thyme, parsley

a few knobs of unsalted butter

For the coffin pastry (if you want to make it yourself)

450g plain flour

250ml boiling hot water

75g butter

Instead of ordinary black pepper you could try out long pepper.

If you don't have access to fresh herbs, use dried or frozen ones.

In summer, use summer savory instead of winter savory.

Use cloves sparingly as they have a numbing effect on your mouth!

The 'coffin' is generally referring to a disposable pastry vessel which was used only for the cooking of the meat, retaining the natural juices, but in early Tudor times, was not necessarily eaten as part of the dish. Sometimes, it was given to the poor or the dogs to eat at the end of dinner. The early 'coffins' were very hard and made from flour and boiling hot water only. By the mid sixteenth century the coffin pastry had improved (butter) in quality and was beginning to be enjoyed as a part of the dish.

INSTRUCTIONS: (modern interpretation)

  1. Prepare the coffin pastry by melting the butter in the water and then combining the water with the flour into a dough or roll out flat the bought one ready for use.

  2. Strain the finely chopped up onions through a fine sieve or cheese muslin and mix that onion juice with the verjuice.

  3. Season the duck breasts with salt, pepper, mace and cloves and then put them into the onion-verjuice mixture and if possible, leave them to absorb the flavour (fridge) while you prepare the 'coffin'

  4. Make the coffin pastry by melting the butter in boiling hot water and mix with the flour into a dough. Roll out flat or form a 'vessel' to bake the duck in.

In the original recipe, it does not specify, whether this coffin should be baked 'blind' (without the filling) first but most recipes of that period work like that. It also does not tell you, whether you make a pastry case big enough to hold a whole duck, or whether you chop up the meat first. It is up to your interpretation on what you make of it. I chose to wrap my breasts in the pastry and being small and thin, both were baked together. The alternative would have been to blind-bake the coffin case and then add the meat (and bake again).

  1. I rolled out my dough flat and divided it into 4 sections. Place a duck breast on each one. Add the herbs and a knob of butter and then close each one up.

Alternatively, if you have chosen to make a pastry cooking vessel, pre-bake (blind bake) it first and chop up the meat into smaller bits and add them into your pre-baked pastry.

  1. Add herbs and a knob of butter. Close pastry with a pastry lid.

  2. Bake your pastry in the oven at medium heat for about 30 mins. Bake ten more minutes at higher temperature until pastry turns golden brown.


Mallard or duck recipes appear to be mostly of the 'baked' variety which in Tudor terms means, cooked in a pastry case.

Duck recipes also seem to gain in popularity only towards the end of the century and used to be rather frowned upon earlier due to the duck's habit of eating 'disgusting' snails, frogs and other 'dirty' stuff.

The photo shows my version of this recipe and I decorated the meat with dried, home grown cornflowers and crystallised violet petals. Decorating food with flowers was a very common way to make food look more appetising but make sure the flowers are free from insects, chemicals or other dirt and a safe to eat!

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