A Plum Tart for Christmastide

 

img_5626It’s quite amazing, how regularly historical recipes will prove you wrong. So often I think that a recipe will just never work, and it’s so tempting to “fix” it by using modern techniques. Once again, however, this 17th century recipe for a Christmas plum tart shows what great results you can get by following the instructions as they are.

This recipe comes from Folger MS v.a.21, fol.146 and was posted on the Shakespeare’s World blog. If you aren’t aware of Shakespeare’s World, you should definitely check it out. It’s a crowd-sourced project which lets you help transcribe recipes and letters from the 16th and 17th centuries.  I think it’s a wonderful example of the digital humanities in action, and that they’ve had so much interest is really great news for future projects. My one beef is that the transcribed pages are not yet available to the public (although this is apparently in the works).

But back to the tart. Folger MS V.a.21 is an anonymous receipt book dated to about 1675, containing both medical and cooking recipes as was common in the 17th century.[1] Although the recipe is called ‘A receipte for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other plum’ it’s actually a recipe for preserving damsons or other types of plums, and then rough directions are appended for turning the preserves into a tart. The preserves would be lovely in any number of sweets. Don’t throw out the syrup either! It’s great for making mocktails with some soda water, or add some gin or vodka for a refreshing cocktail.

The Recipe

recipe

Plum Tart Recipe from Folger MS V.a.21, fol. 146. Licensed by Folger Shakespeare Library under CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Take 3 pound of damsons & a lof sugar a pint of water put that sugar & that water into a preserving skillett when it boyleth skimm it cleane Let it a cooling then slit the skin of the damsons put them into the Sirrop let them stand on the fire a stewing 2 howres together then take them vp & let them stand by till the next day then doe as before 2 howres till the last of [quarter of] an howre then let it boyle & when they are cold put them vp into gully pottes for that use this will keep till Christmastide masse when you use them to put them into the Tart made as thin as you can raise it because it must not be much baked put more Sugar into them when you bake them.[2]

I was quite surprised that the plums were put into the syrup whole and with their stones still in. It was tempting to remove the pits, but it’s actually much more efficient to just slit the skins and let them boil. After a while, the plums naturally break into halves and the pits can be cleanly lifted out. This method means that there is very little wastage of the fruit. If you were cooking with the smaller, more fiddly damsons then it would make even more sense.

low-quality

The instructions about how to make the tart are very brief, so I used the recipe for ‘Short and Crisp Crust for Tarts and Pyes’ from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby which is a basic hot water pastry.

SHORT AND CRISP CRUST FOR TARTS AND PYES

To half a peck of fine flower, take a pound and half of Butter, in this manner. Put your Butter with at least three quarts of cold water (it imports not how much or how little the water is) into a little kettle to melt, and boil gently: as soon as it is melted, scum off the Butter with a ladle, pouring it by ladlefuls (one a little after another, as you knead it with the flower) to some of the flower (which you take not all at once, that you may the better discern, how much Liquor is needful) and work it very well into Paste. When all your butter is kneaded, with as much of the flower, as serves to make paste of a fitting consistence, take of the water that the Butter was melted in, so much as to make the rest of the flower into Paste of due consistence; then joyn it to the Paste made with Butter, and work them both very well together, of this make your covers and coffins thin. If you are to make more paste for more Tarts or Pyes, the water that hath already served, will serve again better then fresh.[3]

It wasn’t clear to me if the tart was supposed to be self-supporting, or if it would have been in a tin. With hot water pastry you could probably make it self-supporting, but because I wanted the pastry to be as thin as possible that was going to be difficult. Robert May often refers to pies or tarts being cooked in patty-pans or dishes in The Accomplisht Cook (1671), so it seemed reasonable to use a pie tin.

pippin-tart

Design for the lid of a dish of pippins from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May (1671) [Public Domain].

I used the same pastry for the lid of the tart, and used a selection of small cutters to make a decorative top. For the style of decoration, I drew inspiration from Robert May’s ‘Dish of Pippins’.[4] If you want to see some truly beautiful tarts in this style, have a look at Ivan Day’s cut-laid tarts. He often does them in puff pastry and cooks them separately, which would make a lovely addition to this tart. However you want to do it, this tart makes a lovely addition to any Christmas table!

[1] Anonymous, “Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes.”

[2] Tobey, “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.”

[3] Macdonell, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, 216.

[4] May, The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery., 243–244.

 unbaked-pie

The Redaction

Christmas Plum Tart

 

For the plums:

900g Plums

300g Sugar

315ml Water
For the Pastry:

70g butter

300ml cold water

290g plain flour

Eggwash or milk

To make the preserves

  1. Place the sugar and water into a large saucepan and heat bring to the boil.
  2. Use the tip of a sharp knife to slit the skin of each plum vertically around the circumference, following the dent in the plum. Place the plums in the syrup, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. Allow the plums to cool, move them into a bowl with the syrup and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. The next day, return the plums to the saucepan and simmer for an hour and 45 minutes. Turn the heat up and boil for a final 15 minutes. Sterilise a jar and fill the warm jar with the hot plums.

 

To make the tart

  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Place the butter and the water into a saucepan over medium heat, until the butter is melted.
  2. Place the flour into a bowl and spoon in the melted butter from the top of the saucepan. Add enough of the water from beneath the butter to make a pliable pastry.
  3. On a floured board, roll out the pastry while still warm. Lightly grease a 24cm tart tin, and line it with pastry. Roll out the excess again, and cut a circle for the lid. Decorate the lid as desired with a sharp knife or biscuit cutters.
  4. Fill the tart base with the preserved plums. Lay the lid on top and brush the pastry with eggwash or milk. Bake for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or cold.

baked-pie

The Round-Up

The Recipe: A reciept for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other type of plum from Folger MS.V.a 21 Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes (original images available on the Folger website, transcription available on the Shakespeare’s World blog)

The Date: c. 1675

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 4 hours boiling plums, plus an hour for the tart and overnight resting

How successful was it?:  The filling is very sweet, and I was glad that I didn’t add any extra sugar to the tart. I was worried that the filling was too liquid but it ended up being fine and was delicious, particularly when served warm.

How accurate?: I didn’t use damsons and I didn’t add any extra sugar, it was already very sweet. I didn’t keep the preserves for very long, and I would be interested to see how they would last given that they aren’t sterilised in a hot water bath, as most modern preserves are. I’m not sure how accurate the use of the pie tin is, but it certainly worked well. It might be more accurate to use a shortcrust or puff pastry lid, and certainly the decoration was only roughly inspired by the May’s cookbook.

References

Anonymous. “Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes.” Manuscript, c 1675. MS V.a.21. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Macdonell, Anne, ed. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910.

May, Robert. The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1671.

Tobey, Elizabeth. “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.” Shakespeare’s World, December 24, 2015. https://blog.shakespearesworld.org/2015/12/24/a-christmas-damson-plum-tart-recipe/.

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Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!

Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

The Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge for this fortnight was to make a dish that still exists, even if it is in a very different form. For me this was a great opportunity to try out a recipe which has intrigued me for a while now, gingerbread! But before you think “Oh but I make gingerbread all the time”, let me assure you, you’ve never had gingerbread quite like 15th century gingerbread.

The history of gingerbread is extremely complicated and as far as I can tell there is no clear evolution. It probably developed from Roman honeycakes, but in different ways in different regions of Europe. In France gingerbread is called pain d’epices, literally spice bread, but it is really a spiced cake like parkin from Northern England. In Scandinavia there are pepper cookies, and in Switzerland biber are filled with marzipan. Perhaps the most familiar are the spiced biscuits which are still made in Germany and Poland. Called lebkuchen and pierniki (you can see Sabrina Welserin’s lebkuchen recipes from 1553 here) these biscuits were produced by official guilds from about the 13th century.

The biscuit type of gingerbread is often shaped using detailed moulds, such as this one which I saw Volkskunde (Folklore) Museum in Bruges, Belgium. This mould is unusual however because of its scale, it is at least a metre tall!

The biscuit type of gingerbread is often shaped using detailed moulds, such as this 20th century mould which I saw Volkskunde (Folklore) Museum in Bruges, Belgium. This mould is unusual however because of its scale, it is at least a metre tall! To see more gingerbread moulds, check out my Pinterest board.

In England you can now find both types of gingerbread, but the earliest recipes are for a kind of candy made with honey, breadcrumbs and spices. One of the most popular recipes among re-enactors is the recipe from a manuscript written around 1430[1]. It is made from warmed honey and fresh breadcrumbs, and flavoured with spices but no ginger! It’s hotly debated whether leaving out ginger was deliberate or a mistake by the scribe.

A similar 14th century recipe calls for ginger, long pepper, sanders and cloves[2] while later recipes, such as ‘To Make Culler’d Ginger Bread’ from Martha Washington’s cookbook (which probably dates to 1650 or even earlier), use even more spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, nutmeg, liquorice, sanders and aniseed[3]. These heavily spiced confections hark back to a medieval understanding of digestion. Based on Classical sources, doctors explained that cooking was the first step in digestion, and that the cooking process continued in the stomach. In order to discourage overcooking in the stomach it was important to eat things in the correct order, ideally following a series of steps:

  1. An aperitif to open the stomach and kick-start your digestion e.g. wine, fruit, nuts or spices candied in sugar or honey, fresh fruit and salad.
  2. Moderately warm and moist foods (according to the humours) which are easy to digest e.g. boiled and stewed foods, cereals, chicken and kid
  3. Foods that are difficult to digest e.g. cheese and other dairy products, venison, beef and pork.
  4. A digestif to close the stomach e.g. wine, nuts and candied spices (extra points if you can combine these in one recipe like hypocras, a spiced red wine)[4]

In this sense, serving gingerbread at the end of a meal showed your understanding of the latest medical advice, and that you were concerned for your guests’ welfare.

George Flegel, Still Life with Bread and Confectionary, 17th century, [Public Domain]  via Wikimedia Commons.  Here you can see comifts, spices which have been covered in layer after layer of sugar, wine and a moulded biscuit, perfect for rounding off the meal.

George Flegel, Still Life with Bread and Confectionary, 17th century, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.
Here you can see comifts, spices which have been covered in layer after layer of sugar, wine and a moulded biscuit, perfect for rounding off the meal.

It wasn’t until much later that baked gingerbreads came to England, maybe as late as the mid 1600s, but they quickly acquired magical connotations. Miriam Hospodar claims that gingerbread figures were “originally prepared by crones for lovesick women”[5], explaining that women infused the biscuits with ginger because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac and then gave the man-shaped biscuits to the lucky (or unlucky) lover, thereby enslaving his heart forever. Helen Ostovich has also studied the symbolism of gingerbread and witchcraft in Early Modern theatre. Gingerbread in human shapes had especially strong magical associations and Puritans in particular feared their potential for enchantments and their similarity to idols. It’s not a huge leap from the contemporary trials of witches accused of crumbling clay figures of their victims to worrying about similar magic being performed with gingerbread, a substance that was already dangerously tempting and seductive[6].

The Recipe

Gyngerbrede. – Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, and skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw there-on; take gratyd Brede, & straw there-on y-now; then make it square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-styked ther-on, on clowys. And if thou woult haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.[7]

The recipe is surprisingly straight forward, considering its age. It of course doesn’t give many quantities, but you can essentially spice it to taste. As to whether you should include ginger or not, I think that it’s a matter of personal preference, or you can do as I did and add ginger to half the recipe. I haven’t tried using sanders to colour the paste but it seems to be available online, or you can substitute it with a little food colouring.

I didn’t boil the honey very much at all, I think that the boiling and skimming was probably in order to get rid of any impurities and if you are working with honey that has already been processed then you don’t need to worry about it. Just bring the honey up to simmering point so that it’s nice and liquid in order to absorb the breadcrumbs.

 Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

The Redaction

 Gingerbread

1 cup of honey

A pinch of saffron

1/2 tsp pepper, finely ground

Approx. 270g of fresh breadcrumbs (remove the crusts slices of slightly stale bread and whizz the bread in a food processor for a couple of seconds at a time until you reach an even consistency, or rub pieces of bread between your fingertips to do it the old-fashioned way)

1 tsp cinnamon, finely ground

1/2 tsp ginger, finely ground

Cloves and bay leaves to decorate*

  1. Heat the honey in a saucepan until it is just simmering. Dissolve the saffron in a little hot water then stir it into the honey with the pepper and cinnamon. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until the mixture has become a coherent mass. The honey should dissolve the breadcrumbs to form a mouldable paste, if it seems too wet add more breadcrumbs.
  2. Use wet hands to spread the paste into a baking tin lined with greaseproof paper or mould into small shapes. Leave in a cool place for several hours to harden up slightly.
  3. Turn the paste out onto a board and cut into squares or diamonds. You can decorate them with bay leaves and whole cloves. Make sure you remind people to remove the decoration before eating.

* The original recipe calls for box leaves but I used bay leaves instead as box leaves are poisonous.

The Recipe: Gyngerbrede from Harleian MS 279 in Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks, edited by Thomas Austin (available here)

The Date: c. 1430

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins + cooling time.

How successful was it?:  It was very different from modern gingerbread, more like a sweet than a baked good. It was very sweet so you can’t eat too much at a time, but it was pleasantly flavoured by the spices and quite chewy.

How accurate?: It’s hard to tell how much of each spice to put into the mixture, but I was quite happy with the amounts that I used. Next time I would like to experiment using sanders to colour the mixture, and it would be interesting to see how different types of bread change the texture.

Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

[1] Thomas Austin, ed., Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 (London: Printed for the Early English Text Society by N Trubner & Co., 1888), pg 35.

[2] Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler, eds., “Goud Kokery,” in Cury on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (London, New York and Toronto: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985), No. 18, pg 154.

[3] Karen Hess, transcriber, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats (New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995), pg 345–346.

[4] Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 5th ed. (United Kingdom: The Boydell Press, 2005), pg 126–136.

[5] Miriam Hospodar, “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 4, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 85.

[6] Helen Ostovich, “Gingerbread Progeny in Bartholomew,” in Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, ed. Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich (England and USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014), pg 203–14.

[7] Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55, pg 35.

Austin, Thomas, ed. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55. London: Printed for the Early English Text Society by N Trubner & Co., 1888.

Hess, Karen, ed. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Hieatt, Constance B., and Sharon Butler, eds. “Goud Kokery.” In Cury on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century, 147–56. London, New York and Toronto: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

Hospodar, Miriam. “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 4, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 82–93.

Ostovich, Helen. “Gingerbread Progeny in Bartholomew.” In Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, edited by Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich, 203–14. England and USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014.

Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. 5th ed. United Kingdom: The Boydell Press, 2005.

In a Jelly

Lemon Jelly, recipe from 1748

This is just a quick extra post, following up on my promise for the In a Jam challenge to provide the recipe for Lemon Jelly which I made. I had a surplus of lemons and as I was researching marmalade recipes for the challenge a couple of weeks ago I came across several rather intriguing recipes for Lemon Jelly.

It’s a jelly in the American sense of the word, as in a spreadable preserve rather than a semi-solid, wobbly dessert. In preserving terms, the use of jelly instead of jam means that it is made from the juice of the fruit, rather than the pulp which makes jellies much smoother but less efficient than jams. Typically in a jelly the fruit is cooked to release the juices, then strained through muslin for several hours to separate the juice from the pulp. The juice is then re-cooked with sugar until it reaches the setting point before being poured into hot jars.

These recipes are quite unusual, however, because two of them contain egg-whites.[1] Beacause of the difficulty in interpreting the recipe which I used, and because I would like to try the other recipes first, I have not given a redaction, but if you would like to try making the jelly it should be easy enough to follow my steps with the quantities given.

The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book and Compleat Family Cook (4th ed. 1748 available as a PDF here) by Mrs. Sarah Harrison of Devonshire offers three recipes for Lemon Jelly (like the marmalade it is served in glasses as part of the dessert course).

 

The first recipe:

“TAKE five large Lemons and squeeze out the Juice, and beat the Whites of six Eggs very well; put to it twenty Spoonfuls of Spring Water, and ten Ounces of double-refin’d Sugar beat and sifted; mix all together, and strain it through a Jelly Bag, and set it over a gentle Fire, with a bit of Lemon-peel in it; stir it all the while, and skim it very clean; when it is as hot as you can bear your Finger in it, take it off, and take out the Peel, and pour your Jelly into Glasses.”[2]

 

The second recipe:

“TAKE three large Lemons, or four small ones, cut them in half, and take out all the Meat, and put it into a silver Pot; put as much Water as the Skin of your Lemons will hold into them, and let them stand three quarters of an Hour; then take the Whites of four Eggs, beat them very well, and let them stand till the Froth is fallen, strain your Lemons upon a Pound of double-refin’d refin’d[sic] Sugar broke into Lumps, let it stand till it is quite melted, then put in your Eggs well skimm’d being first strain’d through a thin Cotton Cloth; stir it till it will jelly, and take out your Peel before you put it in the Dish. You must see that your Lemons be free from Spots, or else your Jelly will not be white.”[3]

 

The third recipe:

“TAKE the best Lemons without Seeds, peel off the Rinds, and put the Meat in Quarters, having a Care of breaking the Skins; then take their Weight in double-refin’d Sugar, put your Sugar into a silver Bason [sic], and put it upon the Fire with as much Water as will wet it, and stir it till it comes to a clear Syrup; in the mean Time you must have your Lemon Quarters in another silver Dish upon the Fire, with as much Water as will keep them wet, and let them boil till they are tender; then put them into the Bason [sic] of Syrup, and set them on a soft Fire to heat, but not boil; as soon as ever they begin to simmer the least that can be, take them off, and shake them, and let them not be on the Fire again till they are pretty cold (for if they boyl they are spoil’d); and so continue setting them on and off till the Syrup will jelly; and then either put up the Jelly by itself in Glasses, and put the Quarters on a glass Sheet to dry, or on a Slieve [sic] in the Sun, or glass the Quarters and the Jelly all together, for they will do well both Ways.”[4]

Lemon Jelly, recipe from 1748

My Process

I used the second recipe which calls for three large or four small, spotless lemons. I cut them in half and spooned out all the pulp that I could. I placed the pulp into a saucepan, filled each half lemon with water and poured the water into the saucepan. I then left this to stand for 45 mins.

 

Whilst waiting for the pulp to be ready, I beat the whites of four eggs. This for me was the main problem with the recipe, it sounds like you beat the eggs to peaks and then allow them to drop, but does that even work? Or do you just beat it until slightly foamy? I beat it until I had foamy, very soft peaks on top, but after standing for a while there was also liquid underneath. On reflection I think it would be better to whisk it until it was a bubbly liquid, but maybe it is possible to allow it to drop by leaving more time.

 

Having beaten my eggs I strained the lemon pulp through muslin onto 450g of sugar with a piece of lemon peel (this is mentioned later in the recipe to be removed so I think it’s just missing the instruction to add it in). After gently stirring the mixture over a low heat until the sugar was dissolved I then added the egg whites by straining them through muslin into the saucepan. This is where it quickly became apparent that they were too well whipped. The liquid was easily incorporated into the jelly, as was some of the froth but most was not and had to be skimmed off the top of the jelly. I then cooked it until it reached setting point, removed the piece of lemon peel and poured it into dessert glasses.

 

Given what seemed to be an awful mistake, the jelly turned out remarkably well. It was one of the most delicious preserves I’ve ever eaten with a flavour similar to lemon-sorbet and the most delightful, effervescent texture. It felt light and bubbly on the tongue, an effect which I think must be because of the egg whites. It really was like Spring for the palate!

Lemon Jelly, recipe from 1748

 

Harrison, Sarah. The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book; And Compleat Family Cook. 4th ed. London: Printed for R. Ware, at the Bible and Sun on Ludgate-Hill, 1748.

 

[1] Warning: If you are in an ‘at risk’ group (babies, toddlers, pregnant women, elderly people or the immune-compromised) for raw egg please don’t try the recipes containing raw egg.

[2] Sarah Harrison, The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book; And Compleat Family Cook, 4th ed. (London: Printed for R. Ware, at the Bible and Sun on Ludgate-Hill, 1748), 148.

[3] Ibid., 148–149.

[4] Ibid., 149.

In a Jam

Marmalade Cropped more

After discussing the origins of the word marmalade several weeks ago (you can read the post here) the answer to this fortnight’s challenge “In a Jam” seemed obvious. You may remember that the original marmalade was actually a thick, quince paste which was imported from Portugal at the very end of the 15th century. Soon English confectioners and housewives were making their own version of the sweetmeat, using not only quinces but also apples, peaches, plums, damsons, pears and medlars.[1] Early recipes for orange marmalade hark back to these fruit pastes, Sir Hugh Platt’s book Delightes of Ladies published in 1602 has a recipe for ‘Marmelade of Lemmons or Orenges’ which is essentially a flavoured apple past while Gervase Markham in his book Country Contentments published in 1615 offers an orange marmalade which is strained into boxes, suggesting it was much thicker than what we would normally consider marmalade.

 

Sweetmeat Glass. 1750, Bohemian. Glass. via www.metmuseum.org

Sweetmeat Glass. 1750, Bohemian. Glass. via http://www.metmuseum.org

The earliest known recipe for marmalade in its modern form was written down by Rebecca Price in 1681, it was her mother’s recipe for a spoon-able jelly with shredded rind. Another early recipe is held by the Scottish Archives, it dates to 1683 and was probably written down by the Countess of Sutherland. You can see a copy of the recipe here, but be warned it is nearly illegible. In published recipe books the change didn’t occur until slightly later, in 1714 with the publication of Mary Kettilby’s A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts.

Sweetmeat Glass. ca. 1740, German. Glass. via www.metmuseum.org

Sweetmeat Glass. ca. 1740, German. Glass. via http://www.metmuseum.org

 

Jellied marmalades, as opposed to cut marmalades which were the thick pastes popular until the end of the 18th century, came in two basic types: beaten or pounded and transparent. The difference is to do with the treatment of the peel, in a pounded marmalade the peel was pounded together with the pulp giving a cloudy jelly while transparent jellies were a clear jelly containing chips or finely cut strips of peel. Both types were served with the dessert course, alongside a range of other sweetmeats including ice creams, jellies, biscuits, nuts, fresh fruit, flummeries, creams, syllabubs and cakes. Wet sweetmeats like marmalade were served in salvers and ornate sweetmeat dishes, such as those pictured.

 

The dishes were laid out in symmetrical patterns on the table, arranged around an ornate centrepiece or pyramid of sweets. Hannah Glasse’s advice for young ladies arranging the table is as follows:

“The above middle frame [the centerpiece] should be made either in three parts or five, all to join together, which may serve on different occasions; on which suppose gravel walks, hedges, and variety of different things, as a little Chinese temple for the middle, or any other pretty ornament; which ornaments are to be bought at the confectioners, and will serve year after year; the top, bottom, and sides are to be set out with such things as are to be got, or the season of the year will allow, as fruits, nuts of all kinds, creams, jellies, whip syllabubs, biscuits &c. &c. And as many plates as you please according to the size of the table. All this depends wholly on a little experience, and a good fancy to ornament in a pretty manner; you must have artificial flowers of all sorts, and some natural out of a garden in summer time do very intermixed.”[2]

A later edition of the same book shows exactly how the dishes should be laid out[3]:

 

A bill of fare for the dessert course from The Compleat Confectioner by Hannah Glasse, 1800.

A bill of fare for the dessert course from The Compleat Confectioner by Hannah Glasse and Maria Wilson, 1800.

 

The Recipe

 

Like many recipes books of the time, Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English House-keeper (1769) included recipes for both pounded and transparent marmalade. I used the recipe for Transparent Marmalade as follows:

 

“TAKE very pale Seville Oranges, cut them in Quarters, take out the Pulp, and put it into a Bason, pick the Skins and Seeds out, put the Peels in a little Salt and Water, let them stand all Night, then boil them in a good Quantity of Spring Water ‘till they are tender, then cut them in very thin Slices, and put them to the Pulp, to every Pound of Marmalade, put a Pound and a half of double refined Sugar beat fine, boil them together gently for twenty Minutes; if it is not clear and transparent, boil it five or six Minutes longer, keep stirring it gently all the Time, and take Care you do not break the Slices; when it is cold, put it into Jelly or Sweetmeat Glasses, tie them down with Brandy Papers over them.

They are pretty for a Desert of any Kind.”[4]

 

Although at first glance I thought that this recipe was quite similar to modern marmalade recipes, there were a couple of things that tripped me up. First was what to do with the pulp, I cut the oranges into quarters and then removed the peel from the flesh, however that left a lot of membrane on the flesh. I think there are probably two options for what you could do here, either do as I did and leave them more or less intact during the cooking process and then removing the membrane when the flesh has cooked down to a pulp. The other option would be to supreme the oranges which probably gives a slightly better result, but is a lot fiddlier.

The second question that I had to answer was what to do with the pith of the orange. Once again there are two basic options, leave it on because there are no specific instructions in the recipe, or after the peels have boiled you can use a spoon to scrape out the soft white pith. Basically the choice depends on how bitter you want your marmalade to be, with more pith making it more bitter, and on how exactly you want to follow the recipe. Since I’m not a huge fan of bitter marmalade, and because I thought it would make for a clearer jelly, I chose to remove the pith.

Transparent Marmalade

Transparent Marmalade in the foreground, and Lemon Jelly in the background. I’ll be posting a recipe for it soon!

 

Which brings us to the final, and probably most controversial issue. Seville oranges. To make this recipe properly you need Seville oranges. However, if you are like me and have a sudden compulsion to make marmalade with no Seville oranges to hand then don’t panic! Warning, I’m now going to say something that is worthy of excommunication in some circles, nonetheless I stand by the fact that you can make perfectly good marmalade with sweet oranges. It will be neither as intense nor as bitter as marmalade made from Seville oranges, but then in my book that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So if you can’t get Seville oranges/don’t want to, don’t be afraid to do as I did and use sweet oranges.

 

The Redaction

Mrs Raffald’s Transparent Marmalade

1 kg oranges

1 tsp salt

Sugar

 

  1. Quarter the oranges and pulling gently at one corner of the quarter, peel the skin from the flesh. If you would prefer to supreme the oranges see the link above but try to keep the peel in large pieces. Place the peels in a bowl with the salt and cover with cold water. Place the flesh in another bowl in the refrigerator, removing all the seeds that you can find, and leave both bowls overnight.
  2. The next day drain the peels, place them in a saucepan and cover them with fresh water. Bring to the boil and boil until a skewer will easily pass through the peels. Drain.
  3. Once the peels are slightly cooled take a spoon and scrape the white pith from the inside of the peels. Discard the pith then slice the peels into thin slivers, the thinner the better.
  4. Add the sliced peels to the pulp and weigh the mixture. Place the fruit in a saucepan and to every 450g of fruit add 680g of sugar. Bring to the boil and boil for 20 mins, mashing the fruit gently so that you can remove the membranes which can simply be lifted out and discarded.
  5. After 20 mins check the set of the marmalade by turning off the heat and placing half a teaspoonful on a cold saucer. If the marmalade separates into a jelly surrounded by a thinner liquid then it needs more time. You should be able to run your finger through the marmalade (but be careful it’s hot!), leaving a distinct channel with a wrinkled surface (if you’re not sure exactly how to test for a set there is a video link at the bottom of the page). If it is not setting then return it to the heat and cook for another 5 minutes before testing again. Continue until you reach setting point.
  6. Once you have reached setting point the marmalade can either be decanted into hot, sterilised jars to keep for several months, or into clean sweetmeat bowls if you want to serve it as a dessert.

 

IMG_0011

The Recipe: Transparent Marmalade from The Experienced English House-keeper by Elizabeth Raffald (available here)

The Date: 1769

How did you make it?: See above

Time to complete?: Probably about 1hr ½ active work, plus leaving it overnight.

Total cost: Maybe $3 for the oranges which I got on special and then the same for the sugar so $6 all up.

How successful was it?: Very tasty, just a hint of bitterness. One of my loyal taste-testers said it was the best marmalade she had ever had.

How accurate?: Well, I didn’t use Seville oranges, and I really need to look into what sugar was like at the time, but I’d say it was probably quite different. I had to make some decisions where the directions were unclear and it’s hard to tell how much that affected the authenticity but I’d say it was a decent approximation.

 

Marmalade Links

Learn how to supreme an orange here

Watch how to test for a set in jam here 

IMG_0017

[1] C. Anne Wilson, The Book of Marmalade (Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2010), 28–41.

[2] Hannah Glasse, The Compleat Confectioner (London: Printed and sold at Mrs. Ashburner’s China Shop, the Corner of Fleet Ditch; at Yewd’s Hat Warehous, near Somerset Hous; at Kirk’s Toyshop, in St Paul’s Church Yard; at Deard’s Toyshop, facing Arlington-Street, Piccadilly; By I. Pottinger, at the Royal Bible, in Pater-Noster Row; and by J Williams, opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, 1760), 255.

[3] Hannah Glasse and Maria Wilson, The Complete Confectioner: Or, Housekeeper’s Guide: To a Simple and Speedy Method of Understanding the Whole Art of Confectionary; the Various Ways of Preserving and Candying, Dry and Liquid, All Kinds of Fruit, Nuts, Flowers, Herbs, &c. … the Different Ways of Clarifying Sugar … Also the Art of Making Artificial Fruit … To Which Are Added Some Bills of Fare for Deserts for Private Families (J. W. Meyers, 1800), 232.

[4] Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English House-Keeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies, House-Keepers, Cooks, &c. : Wrote Purely from Practice and Dedicated to the Hon. Lady Elizabeth Warburton … : Consisting of Near 800 Original Receipts, Most of Which Never Appeared in Print … (J. Harrop, 1769), 201.

[1] Hannah Glasse and Maria Wilson, The Complete Confectioner: Or, Housekeeper’s Guide: To a Simple and Speedy Method of Understanding the Whole Art of Confectionary; the Various Ways of Preserving and Candying, Dry and Liquid, All Kinds of Fruit, Nuts, Flowers, Herbs, &c. … the Different Ways of Clarifying Sugar … Also the Art of Making Artificial Fruit … To Which Are Added Some Bills of Fare for Deserts for Private Families (J. W. Meyers, 1800), 232.

Bibliography

Glasse, Hannah. The Compleat Confectioner. London: Printed and sold at Mrs. Ashburner’s China Shop, the Corner of Fleet Ditch; at Yewd’s Hat Warehous, near Somerset Hous; at Kirk’s Toyshop, in St Paul’s Church Yard; at Deard’s Toyshop, facing Arlington-Street, Piccadilly; By I. Pottinger, at the Royal Bible, in Pater-Noster Row; and by J Williams, opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, 1760.

Glasse, Hannah, and Maria Wilson. The Complete Confectioner: Or, Housekeeper’s Guide: To a Simple and Speedy Method of Understanding the Whole Art of Confectionary; the Various Ways of Preserving and Candying, Dry and Liquid, All Kinds of Fruit, Nuts, Flowers, Herbs, &c. … the Different Ways of Clarifying Sugar … Also the Art of Making Artificial Fruit … To Which Are Added Some Bills of Fare for Deserts for Private Families. J. W. Meyers, 1800.

Raffald, Elizabeth. The Experienced English House-Keeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies, House-Keepers, Cooks, &c. : Wrote Purely from Practice and Dedicated to the Hon. Lady Elizabeth Warburton … : Consisting of Near 800 Original Receipts, Most of Which Never Appeared in Print … J. Harrop, 1769.

Wilson, C. Anne. The Book of Marmalade. Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2010.

To make Paste of Genua, as they doe beyond the Seas  

This fortnight, for the “Foreign Foods” challenge, I decided to face down a nemesis of mine, quince paste. You know those recipes that you just can’t get right? A couple of years ago I tried to make apricot paste but no matter how many hours I cooked it, it just never seemed the right consistency. I had a similar problem with quince jelly, which is supposed to turn a beautiful rosy colour during the cooking process, but stayed resolutely yellow for me. So, of course, I chose to combine the two failures and try my hand at quince paste.

A round of quince paste (set in a ramekin) served with cheese.

 

The ancestor of modern marmalade, people have been preserving quinces for a very long time. The Greeks and Romans packed them tightly into honey to make melomeli or cooked it down to a paste with honey and pepper, often recommending them as treatments for complaints of the stomach[1]. If you want to try a Roman version, here are two options offered by Palladius:

 

Of Cydonites – Having thrown away the external coat, you will cut the quince-apples into very narrow and thin pieces, and you will throw aside the core. You will then boil them with honey, until they are reduced to half the quantity, and you will sprinkle some small pepper over them when they are boiling. Another way: you will mix two sextarii of the juice of quince, one sextarius and a half of vinegar, and two sextarii of honey, and you will boil it until the mixture resembles the consistency of pure honey. You will then take care to mix it with two ounces of pepper and zinziber.[2] [Anne Wilson translates zinziber as ginger[3]]

 

Recipes from the 14th and 15th centuries continue to see quinces as beneficial for the stomach, and to use honey rather than sugar as the sweetener, although by the mid 1400’s some recipes for chardequince were offering the choice:

 

Chared coneys or chardwardon. Take a quarter of clarefied hony, iij. vnces of pouder peper, and putte bothe to-gidre; then toke 30 coynes & x wardones, and pare hem, and drawe oute þe corkes at eyther ende, and setℏ hem in goode wort til þey be soft. then bray hem in a morter; if they ben thik, putte a lituƚƚ wyne to hem, and drawe hem thorgℏ a streynour; And þen put þe hony and þat to-gidre, then sette al on the fire, and lete setℏ awhile til hit wex thikke, but sterre it weƚƚ with ij. sturrers for sitting to; And þen take it downe, and put þere-to a quarter of an vnce of pouder ginger, And so moche of galingale, And so moche of pouder Caneƚƚ, And lete it cole; then put hit in a box, And strawe pouder ginger and caneƚƚ there-on: And hit is comfortable for a mannys body, And namelyfore the Stomak. And if thou lust to make it white, leue the hony, And take so moch sugur, or take part of þe one and part of þe oþer/ Also in this forme thou may make chard wardon.[4]

The recipes, in keeping with general trends in medieval cooking, have also become much more heavily spiced. The one above contains wine, pepper, cinnamon, ginger and galangal. Similar pastes could be made of apples or pears such as Wardens. By the 16th century the quince paste, generally called cotignac, had become even thicker and could be spiced with musk. In the recipe below, from 1597, it was turned onto a table, carefully dried in the sun and covered in sugar.

 

            To make a condonack: Take quinces and pare them, take out the cores, and seethe them in fair water until they break, then strain them through a fine strainer, and for eight pound of the said strained quince, you must put in three pound sugar, and mingle it together in a vessel, and boil them on a fire always stirring it till it be sodden which you may perceive, for that it will no longer cleave to the vessel, but you may stay musk in powder, you may also add spice to it, as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, as much as you think meet, boiling the musk with a little vinegar, then with a broad slice of wood spread this confection upon a table, which must be strewed with sugar, and there make what proportion you will, and let it in the sun till it be dry, and when it hath stood a while turn it upside-down, making always a bed of sugar, both under and above, and turn them still, and dry them in the sun until they have gotten a crust. In like manner you may dress pears, peaches, damsons, and other fruits.[5]

 

Georg Flegel, Still-life with Parrot, c. 1630. Georg Flegel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The round box at the front of the painting contains a dark fruit paste.

Georg Flegel, Still-life with Parrot, c. 1630. Georg Flegel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The round box at the front of the painting contains a dark fruit paste, it could easily be quince.

At the same time however, Portuguese traders were bringing flattish wooden boxes of quince paste called marmelada to England where it was given as a gift or served during the banquet course among the nobility.[6] In the same cookbook as above, there is also a recipe ‘To make drie Marmelat of Peches’, followed by ‘To make the same of Quinces, or any other thing’. These recipes are even thicker than the cotignac recipes, and you know that they are done when your spoon stands up straight in the mixture. The sweetmeats were shaped and printed with fancy patterns, then strewn with sugar and kept by the fire to stay dry. To see amazing examples of shaped and printed pastes have a look at Ivan Day’s website here.

Later it became popular to serve red and white quince pastes together and there are recipes in Gervase Marhkam’s ‘Country Contentments, or The English Huswife’ (1615), Mr. Borella’s ‘The court and country confectioner’ (1770), and Hannah Glasse’s ‘The Complete Confectioner’ (1800).

 

The Recipe

I used a recipe from the fabulously named ‘A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen’ written by John Murrell and published in 1617.

To make Paste of Genua, as they doe beyond the seas

Boile faire yellow peare-quinces tender in their skinnes, and so let them stand untill the next day, till they be colde, then pare them, and scrape all the pulp from the coare, then take as much pulp of yellow Peaches as the pulp of Quinces doth weigh, and dry it upon a little chafing dish of coales, alwaies stirring it, then boile the weight of both these pulps in double refined Sugar, and so let it boile, always stirring it untill it come to a candie height, with as much Rose-water as will melt that Sugar, and put in your pulps always stirring it in the boiling, untill it come from the bottom of the Posnet then fashion it upon a pie plate, or a sheete of glasse, some like leaves, some like halfe fruits, and some you may print with moulds, set them into a warme Oven after the bread is drawne, or into a Stove the next day you may turne them and when the stuffe is through dry, you may box it, and keepe it for all the yeere, but before it be through dried before you lay it up in store.[7]

This recipe is somewhat unusual in that it combines the quinces with peaches. Although it’s not unusual to bulk out more expensive fruit pastes with apples or pears (such as Elizabeth Birkett’s recipe for Past of Apricocks available here), peaches weren’t a cheap fruit. Maybe it was a quirk of Genoese quince paste? Or simply a way of making an already expensive dish even more extravagant? Luckily for me, I was able to find them relatively cheaply so that they didn’t break the bank.

Osias Beert, Dishes with Oysters, Fruit and Wine c. 1620-25. Georg Flegel [Public domain], via NGA. This painting shows a lighter  fruit paste in the round box to the right of the image. It could be a different fruit like apricot, apple or pear or maybe a combination.

Osias Beert, Dishes with Oysters, Fruit and Wine c. 1620-25. Osias Beert[Public domain], via NGA. This painting shows a lighter fruit paste in the round box to the right of the image. It could be a different fruit like apricot, apple or pear or maybe a combination.

I cooked the quinces, skinned and cored them before mashing them into a pulp. I did the same to the peaches, peeling and coring them before cooking, and then mixed two together. I weighed the total amount of pulp, added the same weight of sugar and cooked it all for several hours. I have to admit that I didn’t read the instructions very well and that I should have made a syrup with the sugar and some rosewater before adding the pulp. About 3 hours of cooking later the mixture had thickened and turned a dark purpley-red colour. I spread most of it onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and put it in a very cool oven to dry. You can either cut up the slab to serve with cheese, or roll small cubes or shapes in sugar to eat as sweets. The mixture can also be poured into oiled ramekins (with straight sides) which can be kept and turned out into little rounds perfect for a cheese platter.

Quince Paste set in Ramekins

A round of quince paste which I set in an oiled ramekin, dried slowly in the oven as for the slabs of quince paste, and then covered with a jam cover. To turn out run a sharp knife around the edge of the ramekin and tip out. If the oil has solidified you can dip the ramekin in hot water for a couple of seconds to loosen it.

 

 

The Redaction

Genoese Quince Paste

 

750g quinces

750g peaches

Sugar (equal to the weight of fruit pulp)

Rosewater

 

1. Wash the quinces well and place in a large saucepan. Cover them in water and boil on high for 40 mins- 1hr or until very soft and well-cooked but not falling apart. Leave them submerged in water while they, this makes them much easier to peel.

2. Peel the peaches and remove the stones, then cut them into quarters. Boil with a couple of teaspoons of water until very soft. Mash them with a potato masher until smooth.

3. When the quinces are cool enough to handle gently remove the skins. Most of it will peel off easily, but in some areas you may need to scrape with a knife. Quarter the fruit and remove the cores. Mash the quinces and combine with the peach pulp.

4. Weigh the combined pulps and place in a saucepan with an equal amount of sugar. Add a little rosewater (the amount will depend on how strong you want it to taste, I added about 2 tablespoons) to help the sugar dissolve. Bring to the boil and cook over medium heat for about 3 hours or until a spoon drawn across the bottom of the pan leaves a clear path. Be careful not to let the bottom of the mixture burn.

5. Line a baking tray or slice pan with baking paper which comes up over the sides of the tray and grease with a little spray oil. Pour the mixture into the pan and cook in a cool oven, about 150˚C for 15 mins. Turn the oven off but leave the pans in for another 15 mins then repeat, cooking for 15 mins and cooling for 15 mins until the paste seems dry and not too sticky, about 1-2 hrs in total.

6. Let the paste cool then lift it out using the long sides of the baking paper. Cut into slabs to serve with cheese or small cubes which can be rolled in sugar.

 

Squares of Quince Paste (these were a little too big given the sweetness of the paste)

Squares of Quince Paste (these were a little too big given the sweetness of the paste)

The Recipe: To make Paste of Genua, as they do beyond the seas from ‘A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen’ by John Murrell (available at this website)

The Date: 1617

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 5-6 hrs

How successful was it?: It was very, very sweet but tasty with sharp cheese. I think that it was probably more accurate to serve in small bites, rolled in sugar but they were too sweet for my taste.

How accurate?: Unfortunately as I said, I didn’t read the instructions closely enough and so I didn’t cook the sugar and rose-water before adding the fruit pulp. This may have had an impact on the cooking time, and perhaps also the texture of the paste, but it was very tasty nonetheless. I was also really happy that it turned such a dark colour, especially given my previous problems with getting the quinces to change colour. One of the other problems I had with the recipe was exactly how to prepare the peaches e.g. whether to take very ripe peaches and mash them raw or whether to cook them first. In the end the peaches I had were far to firm to make a smooth pulp without being cooked, so the choice was made for me. Murrell may also have meant to cook them whole like the quinces, but it seemed easier to remove the skins and cores first because I could then mash them as they cooked.

 

Further reading:

C. Anne Wilson’s The Book of Marmalade, Prospect Books, 2010

A collection of historical quince recipes http://www.historicfood.com/Quinces Recipe.htm

Modern info about quinces (with an interesting reference to quince hair gel) https://food52.com/blog/5696-down-dirty-quince

 

 

[1] C. Anne Wilson, The Book of Marmalade (Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2010), 16.

[2] Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius and Thomas Owen, The Fourteen Books of Palladius Rutilius Taurus Æmilianus, on Agriculture (J. White, 1807), 296.

[3] Wilson, The Book of Marmalade, 140.

[4] Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 / Edited by Thomas Austin, 1999, http://name.umdl.umich.edu/CookBk.

[5] Thomas Dawson, The Second Part of the Good HUs-Wifes Jewell (London: Printed by E. Allde for Edward White, 1597), 46–47.

[6] Elizabeth Field, Marmalade: Sweet and Savory Spreads for a Sophisticated Taste (Running Press, 2012), 25.

[7] John Murrell, A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen (London: Printed for the widow Helme, 1617), B2.

 

Bibliography

Dawson, Thomas. The Second Part of the Good HUs-Wifes Jewell. London: Printed by E. Allde for Edward White, 1597.

Field, Elizabeth. Marmalade: Sweet and Savory Spreads for a Sophisticated Taste. Running Press, 2012.

Murrell, John. A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen. London: Printed for the widow Helme, 1617.

Palladius, Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus, and Thomas Owen. The Fourteen Books of Palladius Rutilius Taurus Æmilianus, on Agriculture. J. White, 1807.

Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 / Edited by Thomas Austin, 1999. http://name.umdl.umich.edu/CookBk.

Wilson, C. Anne. The Book of Marmalade. Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2010.

Not So Subtle

Having made my marchpane as the basis for my subtletie (you can read about the process here) the next step was to turn it into an elaborate confection representing my medieval re-enactment group The College of St Ursula. Our official symbol is a bear but we also have a strong connection with carrots, so I wanted to incorporate those two elements into my subtletie. A popular type of subtletie involved making an animal look like it was still alive, so as a twist on the iconic subtletie of a boar’s head eating an apple I decided to make a bear’s head with a carrot in its mouth.

 

The tradition of processing a boar’s head at Yuletide goes back centuries, and the classic image forms the basis of my subtletie. By St. J. Gilbert, Christmas Supplement to the Illustrated London News, 1855. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Process

First I had to make the sugar-paste, so I turned to this redaction of a sugar-paste recipe based on Thomas Dawson’s Good Hus-wiues Iewell. I used this recipe partially because it avoided the use of raw egg-white which makes a lot of people nervous, and since I didn’t know who would be eating it I thought it would be safer to just not use it. I also had a limited supply of gum tragacanth (known in period as gum dragon) which is what gives the icing its strength and, without time to order more if it went wrong, it seemed safest to start with a well-tested recipe. Unfortunately, disaster ensued. As I have since learned, the protein of the egg-whites is actually extremely important for strength, and without them the sugar-paste could not hold its shape. By morning the head had spread sideways, lost its shape and the surface had cracked. It was back to the drawing-board.

 

 

The first attempt at sugar-paste. The icing wasn't strong enough to hold it's shape and cracked horribly.

The first attempt at sugar-paste. The icing wasn’t strong enough to hold it’s shape and cracked horribly.

This time I found an article by Lady Deirdre O’Bardon[1] that referred to Barbara Wheaton’s redaction of a recipe by Alexis of Piedmont [2]. Wheaton’s redaction contained egg-whites and called for the mixture to be rested at several points which tallied with what I had read about improving the strength of the paste. I mixed it all together, using the rest of my gum tragacanth and, although it felt much softer than modern fondant, the combination of pre-soaking the gum and then resting overnight produced an excellent, malleable paste. The only thing that I was unhappy with were the lumps of gum which didn’t dissolve properly. This could probably have been avoided by whisking the liquids in more slowly or possibly even sieving the lumps out before adding the sugar.

 

The basic shape formed (I removed those eyes and did the texturing with sugar before adding them back again).

The basic shape formed (I removed those eyes and did the texturing with sugar before adding them back again).

The next morning I coloured about 2/3 of the paste brown, leaving the rest aside for the carrots and detailing. Forming a smooth ball of sugar-paste I rolled one end into a flattish cone to form the nose and indented the eye sockets with my thumbs. I then cut open the mouth and placed a pencil into his mouth to keep it open while it dried and pinched some of the extra icing to form the ears before leaving the bear to dry for 24 hrs.

 

I covered the bear in a dark coloured icing and sugar which I coloured brown.

I covered the bear in a dark coloured icing and sugar which I coloured brown.

Once the bear was dry to the touch I added some of the extra white sugar-paste to the backs of the bear’s ears, building it up until I found the shape and thickness which I wanted. To make the bear more realistic I slathered him all over (except for the eyes and the front of the ears) in a simple icing mix of icing sugar, water and brown food colouring before sprinkling with dyed sugar (place raw sugar in a zip-lock back with food colouring and shake until evenly coloured). After the icing had dried I added more white sugar paste to the inside of the ears and rolled balls of icing to make the eyes. With the remaining sugar paste coloured orange I formed little carrots, rolling small balls into cones and gently impressing the sides with a sharp knife. I then used a skewer to make a small hole in the top and inserted small strips of green glacé cherries as stalks. These were left to dry for several hours.

 

The carrots made out of the extra sugar-paste, with stalks of glacé cherry.

The carrots made out of the extra sugar-paste, with stalks of glacé cherry.

To put it all together, I used a little more simple icing mix to stick the bear head to the marchpane. I surrounded it with sprigs of rosemary and arranged the small carrots on top, placing one into his mouth too of course.

 

Mr. Bear in all his glory. Photo courtesy of Charlie Murray.

The Recipe

Alexis of Piemont’s 1595 recipe To make a paiste of Suger, whereof a manne maie make all maner of fruites, and other fine thinges with their forme, as Platters, Dishes, Glasses, Cupps, and such like thinges, wherewith you maie furnishe a table: and when you have doen, eate them up. A pleasant thing for them that sitte at the table.

 

“Take gumme Dragant as much as you will, and seepe it in rose water, untill it bee mollified. And for fouwer ounces of suger take of it the bigness of a beane, the iuice of Limons a Walnut shell full, and a little of the white of anne egge; but you must first take the gum, and beate it to much with a pestell, in a morter of white marble, or of brasse, untill it become like water, then putte to it the iuice, with the white of the Egge incorporated well together. This doen take fower unces of fine white suger well beaten to powder, and cast into the morter by little and little, untill all be tourned into the forme of past. Then take it out of the saied morter, and braie it upon the powder of Suger, as it were meale or flwre, untill all bee soft paiste, to the ende you maie torne it and fashion it, which way you wil. When you have brought your paiste to this forme, spreade it abroade with sinamon upon greate or small leaves, as you shall think it good, and so shall you forme, and make what things you will, as is aforesaid: with such fine knackes as maie serve a table, taking heede that there stande no hot thing nigh unto it. At the end of the banket, they maie eate all & breake the platters, dishes, cuppes, and all thinges: For this paiste is verie delicate and savourous. If you will make a thing of more finesse than this, make a tarte of Almndes, stamped with suger and rose water, of like sorte that Marchpaines, bee made of. This shale you laie betweene twoo pastes of such vesselles, or fruites or some other thing as you thinke good.”[3]

 

Although I primarily used recipe from Alexis of Piedmont, I noticed that in Hugh Platt’s recipe to make sugar-paste he encourages the addition of starch to the powdered sugar which helps it to pass through the sieve. This is essentially the same as modern icing sugar mixture, and means that the sieving becomes almost unnecessary.

 

My Redaction

 

Elizabethan Sugar-paste

 

Adapted from Savouring the Past by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton

 

2 tsp powdered gum tragacanth

2 tsp rosewater

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 egg whites

4 cups of sifted icing sugar mixture (contains cornstarch as an anti-caking agent)

Gel food colouring as desired

 

1. Mix the gum tragacanth with the rosewater to form a gum. Leave for at least two hours.

2. Slowly whisk the lemon juice and egg white into the gum, trying to make it as smooth as possible.

3. Mix in the sugar gradually until it forms a dough, kneading the sugar in once the dough becomes too stiff to stir.      Knead until all the sugar is incorporated and it is no longer sticky, adding extra sugar if necessary. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight.

4. Knead the food colouring into the paste, a few drops as a time. Shape into fruit, animals, plates etc as desired. For instructions on forming the bear, see above.

 

[1] Lady Deirdre O’Bardon, “Fun W Sugar Art,” Stefan’s Florilegium, February 15, 2011, http://www.florilegium.org/?http%3A//www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD-SWEETS/Fun-w-Sugar-art.html.

[2] Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 (Simon and Schuster, 2011), 246–247.

[3] Girolamo Ruscelli, The Secrets of the Reverent Maister Alexis of Piemont: Containing Excellent Remedies against Diverse Diseases, Wounds, and Other Accidents, with the Maner to Make Distillations, Parfumes, Confitures, Dying, Colours, Fusions, and Meltings … (London: P. Short for T. Wight, 1595), 61–62.

To Make a Marchpane

To kick off the Historical Food Fortnightly (read more about it here) the challenge was Literary Foods (basically to recreate a food mentioned in a work of literature based on historical documentation). For this challenge I wanted to kill two birds with one stone and make something that could be used both for the Historical Food Fortnightly and for the Rowany Baronial Changeover (a medieval re-enactment event that I was attending) which required each group within the barony to make a subtletie that represented them.

See the swan pie on the table to the left? That's a subtletie. David Teniers the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kitchen Scene by David Teniers the Younger, 1644. See the subtletie on the table to the left? David Teniers the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A subtletie or sotletie, according to the OED, is “an ornamental figure, scene, or other design, typically made of sugar, used as a table decoration or eaten between the courses of a meal.[1] The word is first attested in the 14th century in the Forme of Cury but elaborate confections and foods designed to look like something else (think pies covered in peacock skins with fire gushing from their beaks or hedgehogs made of meat) were fashionable well into the 17th century. Towards the end of the 16th century the fabulous savoury subtleties were becoming old-fashioned, but the tradition of moulding fabulous centrepieces from food continued in the form of marchpanes. At their most basic marchpanes were flat cakes made of almond paste and iced with sugar and rose-water, but they could also be formed into shapes and gilded with gold leaf. Fruit (those little marzipan fruits that you can buy around Christmas time are a direct descendant), nuts, plates to serve sweetmeats, and coats of arms were all popular, but the Queen’s Closet Opened of 1659 also offers a recipe to make “collops of bacon” out of marchpane.[2]

 

Detail from Leandro Bassano's Allegory of the Element Earth, c.1580. The marchpane in the centre of the table looks like it has been decorated with ragged comfits, small seeds coated in layers of sugar and used to aid digestion after dinner. Leandro Bassano [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Detail from Leandro Bassano’s Allegory of the Element Earth, c.1580. The marchpane in the centre of the table looks like it has been decorated with ragged comfits, small seeds coated in layers of sugar and used to aid digestion after dinner. Leandro Bassano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Luckily for me marchpanes pop up in quite a few literary works, including some translations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a little play called Romeo and Juliet. Peter, one of the Capulet’s servants, is busy decrying the lack of good help and trying to get everything cleared away for the ball so he says

“Away with the joint-stools, remove the court-cupboard,

look to the plate. Good thou, save me

a piece of marchpane, and, as thou lovest me, let

the porter let in Susan Grindstone and Nell.” (I.v.5-9)[3]

Given the pricey ingredients in a marchpane, fully iced, gilded with gold leaf and decorated with sugar paste, it’s no surprise that Peter wanted to be saved a bit. This really was conspicuous consumption: almonds imported from the Mediterranean, sugar from Latin America and gold leaf hammered out by hand. Even the process was expensive, because someone had to spend hours pounding the sugar (which came in a solid cone) and almonds into a fine powder.

 

The Recipe

 

To make the marchpane I Robert May’s recipe To Make Marchpane which says:

 

“Take two pounds of almonds blanch’t and beaten in a stone mortar,

till they begin to come to a fine paste, then take a pound of sifted

sugar, put it in the mortar with the almonds, and make it into a

perfect paste, putting to it now and then in the beating of it a

spoonful of rose-water, to keep it from oyling; when you have beat

it to a puff paste, drive it out as big as a charger, and set an

edge about it as you do upon a quodling tart, and a bottom of wafers

under it, thus bake it in an oven or baking pan; when you see it is

white, hard, and dry, take it out, and ice it with rose-water and

sugar being made as thick as butter for fritters, to spread it on

with a wing feather, and put it into the oven again; when you see it

rise high, then take it out and garnish it with some pretty conceits

made of the same stuff, slick long comfets upright on it, and so

serve it.”[4]

Since two pounds of almonds was far more than I needed, not to mention rather expensive, I used half that amount of ground almonds and mixed it with caster sugar, using a little rose water to get it all to come together. I chose to use caster sugar because it was what Sara Paston-Williams uses in her redaction of a marchpane recipe from 1690[5]  and I wanted to see how that would work, given that most modern marzipan recipes use icing sugar or a combination of the two. I’m still not entirely convinced that caster sugar was the right choice, it made the marchpane very grainy and more biscuity than modern marzipan but, given that it is formed into a cake, that is perhaps the texture that I should be looking for.

 

When I first read the recipe I wasn’t sure what it meant by “oyling” but it quickly became apparent. The oils from the almonds made the dough extremely oily and quite slimy to touch. I added more rose-water as suggested in the recipe but to be honest it didn’t seem to make much difference to the oiliness. Once the dough had come together I spread most of it into a roughly circular shape, about the size of a dinner plate. Although the recipe said to put an edge to it I found that the dough was so stiff it was very difficult to shape and, as it would be covered with icing and sugar-paste, it didn’t seem necessary, nor did I place it on a base of wafers because I wanted to keep it gluten free.

 

Detail of the marchpane carrots (the darker ones)

Detail of the marchpane carrots (the darker ones)

With the remaining dough I formed small carrots, coloured with orange gel colouring (which only made the oiliness worse). I baked the marchpane and carrots in a low oven for 15 minutes then left them in the cooling oven with the heat turned off for 15 minutes before repeating twice more (an idea taken from Sara Paston-William’s recipe again in order to simulate a cooling bread oven). I then made a basic icing from rose-water and icing sugar, spread it over the top of the marchpane and baked it for another 15 minutes.

 

My Redaction

 

An Iced Marchpane

 

450g ground almonds

226g caster sugar

Enough rose-water to make it come together

Gel food colouring

 

For glaze:

30g icing sugar

3-4 tsp rose-water

 

1. Heat the oven to 150˚C. Mix the ground almonds and caster sugar together well in a large bowl. Add rose-water a tablespoon at a time and knead together until the mixture forms a dough.

2. Place a sheet of baking paper on your bench top and place 3/4 of the dough in the middle. Roll or press the dough into a rough circle the size of a dinner plate not quite a centimeter thick. If desired, use your fingertips to pinch an edge around the marchpane.

3. Add a few drops of food colouring to the remaining dough and form into the desired shapes (fruit, vegetables, animals, flowers, hearts etc.)

4. Lift the baking paper onto a baking sheet and place the shapes around the marchpane, but if they are coloured don’t let them touch the marchpane. Bake for 15 minutes then turn the oven off but leave the marchpane in the oven while it cools for 15 minutes. Turn the oven on again and repeat, baking for 15 minutes then cooling for 15 minutes twice more. It should have paled in colour and be firm and dry.

5. Meanwhile, mix the icing sugar and 2 tsp of the rose-water to make a thick glaze. Continue to add rose-water until it is the consistency of pancake batter. Spread the glaze thinly onto the marchpane once if has finished cooking and bake for another 15 mins .

6. Once cool, attach the shapes with a little extra glaze.

 

My subtletie consisting of a sugar-paste bear head on a marchpane base surrounded by marchpane and sugar-paste carrots. Photo courtesy of Charlie Murray.

My subtletie consisting of a sugar-paste bear head on a marchpane base surrounded by marchpane and sugar-paste carrots. Photo courtesy of Charlie Murray.

 

Details of how I turned the marchpane into a subtletie (with a recipe for sugar-paste) available here!

 

Challenge: #1 Literary Foods

 

The Recipe: To make a Marchpane from The accomplisht cook, or, The art and mystery of cookery by Robert May (1685 edition available here)

 

The Date and Region: Recipe was published in 1660 in England which is a bit later than Romeo and Juliet which was first published in 1597, but the process is nearly identical, apart from the baking process, to the recipe for marchpane in The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin which was published in 1594 (text available here).

 

How did you make it? See above.

 

Time to complete?: About 45 mins mixing and moulding + an hours baking and cooling

 

How successful was it?: It was a totally different texture from modern marzipan which I wasn’t really expecting and the combination of oily and crumbly made it difficult to shape, but it tasted good and lasted for about a week.

 

How accurate?: I used pre-ground almonds and sugar which was a bit cheeky of me, but saved a lot of time. I’m still not sure whether the caster sugar was the right choice, and having seen the instructions in The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin which instruct the sugar to be ground to a powder I’m even less convinced. Baking it in a historical oven as the bricks cooled down would have been a lot less fiddly than turning the oven on and off every 15 mins but I can’t quite justify a proper 17th century oven right now. Using period food dyes would have been really interesting to try, but I didn’t have time to experiment and I needed to know that the end product would work so it was easier to use modern gel colours.

 

[1] Oxford English Dictionary, “‘Subtlety, N.’.,” n.d., http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/193191?redirectedFrom=subtletie.

[2] W M, The Queens Closet Opened. Incomparable Secrets in Physick, Chyrurgery, Preserving, Candying and Cookery. (London: printed for Nathaniel Brooke, 1655), 263, http://eebo.chadwyck.com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/search/full_rec?EeboId=7940359&ACTION=ByID&SOURCE=pgimages.cfg&ID=V40569&FILE=&SEARCHSCREEN=param%28SEARCHSCREEN%29&VID=40569&PAGENO=125&ZOOM=FIT&VIEWPORT=&CENTREPOS=&GOTOPAGENO=125&ZOOMLIST=FIT&ZOOMTEXTBOX=&SEARCHCONFIG=param%28SEARCHCONFIG%29&DISPLAY=param%28DISPLAY%29.

[3] William Shakespeare and Henry Norman Hudson, Plays of Shakespeare: Midsummer Night’s Dream. Much Ado about Nothing. King Henry VIII. Romeo and Juliet. Cymbeline. Coriolanus. Othello (Ginn brothers, 1873), 258–259.

[4] Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. (London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1660), 253.

[5] Sara Paston-Williams, The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating (Oxford: Past Times, 1996), 122.