Watch our historic foodways staff cook this recipe, then try it at home
In the 18th century, the words “dining” and “entertainment” were interchangeable. Individual dishes were referred to as entertainments. The visual appeal of asparagus spears “growing” out of the dinner roll might have been the catalyst for a lighthearted conversation that further enhanced the dining experience.
Take three French Rolls, take out all the crumb, by first cutting a piece of the top-crust off; be careful that the crust fits again the same place. Fry the rolls brown in fresh butter; then take a pint of cream, the yolks of six eggs beat fine, a little salt and nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow fire till it begins to be thick. Have ready a hundred of small grass boiled; then save tops enough to stick the rolls with, the rest cut small and put into the cream, fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top crust, to stick the grass in; then lay on the piece of crust, and stick the grass in, that it may look as if it were growing. It makes a pretty side dish at a second course.
— Glasse, Hannah. “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy”
- 3 French or Kaiser rolls, about 4″ in diameter and about 3″ high.
- ½ pint heavy cream
- 3 egg yolks
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 15 medium thick stalks of asparagus
- butter for brushing
- Make a small bread bowl. Lay the rolls flat on your work surface and measure up from the bottom about two inches and slice off the top. Using a paring knife, remove the crumb by carving out a cavity in the base of the roll. Leave about ¾ inch thickness of bread on the sides and bottom.
- Take the paring knife and carve five little holes in the lid of each roll. Lightly brush butter over the surface of the rolls and lids. Gently fry the bread pieces to dry and crisp them. Set them aside when done.
- Take the asparagus and cut off the bottom two inches of white stalk.
- Boil the asparagus in water for 3 ½ minutes minimum, 4 minutes maximum. Remove from water immediately. When cool to the touch, cut off the top three inches of the cooked asparagus heads and set them aside. Finely chop the remaining stalks.
- Whip your egg yolks well with the salt and nutmeg and add to your cream. Cook cream mixture over low to medium heat until it thickens without curdling. Add your chopped stalks to the cream mixture and give it another thirty seconds of heat and then remove from the burner.
- Fill the base of the rolls with the sauce mixture. Take the tops of the asparagus and stick them into the holes of the lids to make them look like they are growing from mounds of earth in the garden. Place the tops on the bases and serve.