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Max Miller Of ‘Tasting History’ Talks YouTube Cooking, Food History, And How To Make Real Butterbeer

Tasting History host and creator Max Miller credits The Great British Bake Off for his success.

“A lot of the historic things that they cooked on that show in the first few seasons were medieval or renaissance,” he says. “So that just stirred me in that direction. It was only after a few episodes of my show when I started to branch out from that time period.”

Miller started his channel when COVID-19 lockdowns forced him into a work furlough from his day job in sales distribution at Walt Disney Studios. Over the past nine months, his following has exploded, garnering nearly half a million followers — many just as passionate about ancient foods and how to make them as Miller himself. He’s gone deep on ancient Aztec Tamales, Roman Parthian chicken, and even pancake recipes from the 1600s.

“I didn’t really start the channel expecting it to be a thing,” he says. “I started it to be something to keep me busy… I figured I would talk about what I enjoy and what I know and that’s history, specifically food history.”

With the quarantine dragging on, we reached out to Miller to talk about where he plans to take his channel next and tapped him for his legit Tudor Butter Beere recipe — so you can live out your Harry Potter cosplay fantasies as god intended: drunk and in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

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Before we dive into the Butter Beere, what other colonial historical periods interest you and what’s getting you excited in the food world right now?

I really enjoy the Victorian era. I think it’s a really great transition to modern cooking. When you see the recipes it’s like “Oh I can recognize this as something that I’m eating today, but it’s just something different enough where it’s like “Oh, that’s a weird ingredient — canned squid jelly?”

They were big fans of anything made of gelatin.

Another time period, it’s more of a culture I’m fascinated with, is Chinese cooking. It’s so foreign to me. I’ve never cooked it until very very recently. Not only are the ingredients different, but the cooking methods are different… Everything about it is very interesting, seeing the tidal shifts in how it was done. When the Mongols came in, cuisine completely changed, and then when Western cooking came in and introduced chilis, again, it completely changed. But you can’t imagine Szechuan cooking today without chili peppers.

The throughline for Chinese history is so long and we know so much about it, relatively unbroken. It’s a nice thing to look at because it’s so big and has changed so much.

What type of food do you enjoy cooking yourself when you’re not on a historical quest? I imagine you’re not living on a diet of Medieval snacks.

Definitely! My diet does not consist of just medieval recipes! It’s nice when I find a dish that is so good that I can incorporate it into my daily cooking, like the Parthian chicken. But I’m much more simple when it comes to my daily cooking. Really simple, like sandwiches, hamburgers, pasta, it’s not as exciting as one might hope. I

It’s definitely not like Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen, for sure!

What’s the most challenging cuisine to approach?

Medieval cooking is rather daunting, I’m becoming more comfortable with it, but there are so many different aspects of it that take a lot of research. From the quantities that they’re talking about to the methods that they just leave out. You sort of have to guess or look at other recipes from the era to get context clues.

It’s also very very easy to assume you know what they’re talking about, and you don’t. When you look at a very ancient recipe, you can assume you know nothing about it, so you research every aspect of every word in the recipe. Whereas with medieval you see the word “marrow” and you assume you know what it means, but it might not actually be that way, because the word “marrow” in the 14th century could refer to different things.

It’s easy to stumble over things that you’re not expecting simply because you get a little cocky. You know what a pint is, but a pint in the 16th century is different than a British pint today.

Where are you planning on taking the channel in the future?

I’m hoping to get to do more mini-series within the series. I want to do an entire series of the foods they ate on the Titanic and an entire series of what specific groups of people in medieval Europe were eating. I just did an episode on peasant food, I want to do what monks would eat, and what knights would eat.

More throughlines in multiple episodes is what I’m looking forward to next.

When the pandemic is over do you plan on visiting a specific country for cooking inspiration?

Absolutely! That is my goal. The two places I’d like to go to most are Scotland and Japan. Japan because they treat food as an art form over there, so learning even just one bit of that would be amazing. And Japanese history is so fascinating.

Scotland because I really want to make haggis the way that haggis should be made, but it’s hard to find some of the ingredients outside of Scotland. Sheeps lung isn’t even legal in the United States, so you can’t make it here. I’d also love to talk to people who are making the food as their traditional food, not just historic recipes, but the food in Transylvania today, look into what they’re making today where it comes from. Those kinds of things.

Riker Brothers

Personally, why do you think it’s important to keep the history of recipes alive?

I think that history, in general, is so important to have because as they say history repeats itself. If we don’t learn the mistakes of the past we’re doomed to repeat them. We’re probably doomed to repeat them regardless! But while I won’t say that the foods were necessarily mistakes, it’s interesting to see how the food comes full circle, and ingredients that we haven’t really used in several hundred years crop up again and then we say “oh what a fantastic new ingredient that we just found” and then you look back and you see the Romans have been using that ingredient and it’s not new at all, we just forgot about it.

It helps you appreciate the work that goes into food. Not just the cooking, but the planting and the growing and the shipping, all of it, it’s such an important part of our lives that we often take for granted. To be able to see that history, see that work that went into developing these foods, is so important so that we don’t take it for granted today.

HOW TO MAKE 400-YEAR-OLD BUTTERED BEERE

Max Miller

Ingredients

  • 3 Pints (1500ml/48oz) of good quality British Ale
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 lb (225g) demerara or brown sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 stick (113g) unsalted butter

ORIGINAL RECIPE – “The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin” c.1594 (or 1588) Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloues beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.

Modern Method:

  • Take five room temperature yolks and beat them with the demerara or brown sugar until light and frothy. Set aside.
  • Pour the ale into a saucepan. Try to not create too much foam. Stir in the spices.
  • Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer for two minutes. For a non-alcoholic drink, leave at medium heat and boil for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the egg and sugar mixture. Then return the pot to low heat until the liquid starts to thicken. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add in the diced butter and stir until melted.
  • Froth the buttered beer with a hand whisk and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow buttered beer to cool to a warm-but-drinkable temperature.
  • Whisk again and serve warm. *This can be served cold by chilling the beer, then mixing it with cold milk (1 part beer/1 part milk)
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