Mastabas, Pyramids and Gumdrops: Cocoa-nut Cakes from Gaskell’s North and South

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My blog has been sadly neglected over the past few months; my thesis, a family wedding, an unexpected trip overseas and just normal life craziness has been getting in the way. I’m afraid that it probably isn’t going to get much better this year, but as an apology here is my entry for the HFF Literary Foods challenge (which was only due a week ago).

 

One of my favourite books is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I like to describe it as Jane Austen with a social conscience; although it is ultimately a romance, the novel is bound up in concerns about class, industrialisation and poverty. Like many other Victorian novels (and indeed earlier English novels), food often isn’t discussed explicitly because it is not in good taste to talk about food too much in public [1]. That being said, there is a lot of food in North and South and the food, or lack thereof is a major device within the novel[2].

 

Luckily for me, there is one scene in particular which mentions an actual dish and it just happens to be one of my favourite sections of the novel in which Mr Thornton, mill-owner and love interest, comes to the Hales’ for tea.

“Behind the door was another table decked out for tea, with a white table-cloth, on which flourished the cocoa-nut cakes, and a basket piled with oranges and ruddy American apples, heaped on leaves.”[3]

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The Recipe

The cocoa-nut cakes which Dixon, the cook and special confidante of Mrs Hale, has made were made from eggs, sugar and grated coconut. Koivuvaara believes that these were made from eggs, sugar and grated coconut[4]. This lines up with the recipe provided in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It is also similar to that provided in Miss Leslie’s book, Seventy-five Receipts For Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828) which also contains spices. However, other recipes call only for egg whites e.g. Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (1870), Creole Cuisine (c. 1885) and Eliza Acton’s recipe for ‘Very Fine Cocoa-nut Macaroons’ in Modern Cookery for Private Families (1868). Robert Wells provides quite a different recipe in The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant (1890) including flour, chemical leaveners, butter and milk. I chose Mrs Beeton’s recipe, but perhaps it would have been more successful if only the egg whites had been used.

 

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Mrs Beeton’s recipe is as follows:

 

COCOA-NUT BISCUITS OR CAKES.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 oz. of sifted sugar, 3 eggs, 6 oz. of grated cocoa-nut.

Mode.—Whisk the eggs until they are very light; add the sugar gradually; then stir in the cocoa-nut. Roll a tablespoonful of the paste at a time in your hands in the form of a pyramid; place the pyramids on paper, put the paper on tins, and bake the biscuits in rather a cool oven until they are just coloured a light brown.

Time.—About 1/4 hour. Seasonable at any time.[5]

However, I’m sure that Dixon did a much better job than the melted, collapsing pyramids that I managed. My only solace is that I don’t seem to be alone in having difficulty with this recipe. SJ Alexander over at The Queen’s Scullery had a go at the same recipe a few years ago, and said “Shaping the coconut was not even remotely possible, and the eggs migrated out of the coconut haystacks to form custardy pools around the macaroons’s ankles, which turned crispy in the oven. When they came out, they tasted delicious, but fell apart the minute I tried to move them off their tray. The funny thing was that the recipe did not differ greatly from modern coconut macaroon recipes–I’m not sure what went wrong, exactly. Shelling and preparing fresh coconut was a fun experience, and it was noticeably different from preshredded coconut from the store.”[6]

 

Mine seemed to hold up a bit better than hers, and I think that’s because I used store-bought desiccated coconut. Desiccated coconut was first produced in 1880 in Sri Lanka, before then it had to be produced at home.[7] Eliza Acton describes how it’s done:

“Rasp a fresh cocoa-nut, spread it on a dish or tin and let it dry gradually for a couple of days, if it can be done conveniently …”[8] Whilst making your own desiccated coconut would certainly be an interesting thing to try, it wasn’t something I had time to do, and other than perhaps giving some insight into the coarseness of the coconut required, I’m not sure that it would make all that much difference.

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The first batch which melted into one big mass

Using the quantities given, I could roughly shape the mixture, but they were more mastaba than pyramid. What I found was that with a bit of extra coconut, I could shape the mixture into pyramids, but when my first batch went into the oven (at 150ºC), they slumped joined together. I had better luck with the last couple, to which I added even more coconut and cooked at a higher temperature (180ºC). This batch also had far fewer on the tray, and so they had room to spread out without touching each other. I’m still not sure though that they are quite the shape that Mrs Beeton was suggesting. They went into the oven as pyramids, and came out as large gumdrops.

 

[1] McWilliams, “‘A Vulgar Care’: Talking about Food in Eighteenth-Century Anglo-American Novels”; Moss, Spilling the Beans.

[2] see Koivuvaara, “Hunger, Consumption, and Identity in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Novels.”

[3] Gaskell, North and South, 90.

[4] Koivuvaara, “Hunger, Consumption, and Identity in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Novels,” 136.

[5] Recipe 1740 Beeton, Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

[6] Alexander, “Doing Bad Things to Innocent Cucumbers.”

[7] Santich, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage, 201.

[8] Acton, Modern Cookery, for Private Families, 545.

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The second batch, they held together but I’m still not sure they could really be called pyramids. 

The Redaction

Cocoa-nut Cakes

290g sugar

2 large eggs

170g desiccated coconut, plus enough to make into a mouldable paste (about 5 tbsp more)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the eggs until pale and frothy. Gradually whisk in the sugar to make a thick, silky batter. Stir in the coconut. Try to shape a dessert-spoonful into a pyramid. If the mixture is too soft, add more coconut, until they will hold the shape nicely.
  3. Place the pyramids on the baking tray, leaving lots of room between them. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden.

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Cocoa-nut Biscuits or Cakes from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (available at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10136/pg10136-images.html).

The Date: 1861

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins.

How successful was it?: The first batch melted into one shapeless mass, and while they tasted great (like coconut ice but crunchier) the fell apart when you lifted them. The second batch held their shape much better, thanks to extra coconut and you could even lift them up.

How accurate?: I wonder if including the egg yolk was a mistake, because a lot of the other recipes just use the egg white beaten to stiff peaks. I think that would help hold the shape better. I didn’t grate and dry my own coconut, but I do think that the coconut should be dried and not used fresh. At the same time, I don’t know exactly what texture of coconut should be used, mine was quite fine and maybe it should have been coarser.

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Bibliography

Acton, Eliza. Modern Cookery, for Private Families: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, in a Series of Carefully Tested Receipts, in Which the Principles of Baron Liebig and Other Eminent Writers Have Been as Much as Possible Applied and Explained. London: Longman, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1868.

Alexander, SJ. “Doing Bad Things to Innocent Cucumbers.” The Queen’s Scullery, January 28, 2010. http://thequeenscullery.com/2010/01/28/doing-bad-things-to-innocent-cucumbers/.

Beeton, Isabella, ed. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. London: S.O Beeton, 1861.

Cunningham Croly, Jane. Jennie June’s American Cookery Book. New York: The American News Co., 1870.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. London: Penguin Books, 1994.

Hearn, Lafcadio. La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, from Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for Its Cuisine. New Orleans: F.F. Hansell & Bro. Ltd., 1885.

Koivuvaara, Pirjo. “Hunger, Consumption, and Identity in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Novels.” University of Tampere, 2012. http://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/66893/978-951-44-8780-4.pdf.

Leslie, Eliza. Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1828.

McWilliams, Mark. “‘A Vulgar Care’: Talking about Food in Eighteenth-Century Anglo-American Novels.” In Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2009, edited by Richard Hosking, 227–36. Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2010.

Moss, Sarah. Spilling the Beans: Eating, Cooking, Reading and Writing in British Women’s Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Santich, Barbara. Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage. South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2012.

Wells, Richard. The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant. London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1890.

 

 

 

 

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Parkin: Attempt No. 2

Parkin, recipe from 1926

Having struggled with the last parkin recipe that I tried, but with most of a jar of treacle still to use up I have had another go. Parkin No. 2 was more successful, in that it was at least edible, but still a far cry from the pictures of soft, moist, cake-y parkin that accompany modern recipes.

What is interesting is the way that parkin has evolved in the nearly 100 years between the recipe from 1830 (the earliest one that has been found so far, and very similar to the one from 1867 that I made last week) and this recipe from 1926.

“Parkin. Half a pound of fine oatmeal, half a pound of flour, 6oz. of butter or dripping, quarter of a pound of brown sugar, half a pound of treacle, half an ounce of ground ginger, the grated rind of a lemon, a quarter of a teaspoonful of powdered cloves, one teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, one teaspoonful of alt. Mix together the oatmeal, flour, salt, ginger, cloves, lemon rind and soda. Melt the treacle, butter, and sugar together in a saucepan until thoroughly dissolved. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and into this pour the hot liquid. Beat the whole together well. Turn the mixture into a shallow baking tin, and bake in a slow oven for one hour.”[1]

By Spider.Dog (http://www.flickr.com/photos/spiderdog/2484274442/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Spider.Dog [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. See the lovely, soft, cake-like texture of modern parkin? 

The mixture is now a bit more like a cake, with the addition of flour and bicarbonate of soda, and it is less bitter thanks to the brown sugar. The shift towards a sweeter, less bitter, product would continue. A quick look at recipes for parkin in Australian newspapers shows that golden syrup was suggested as an alternative to treacle from 1912. In the mid-1920s it was common to combine treacle and golden syrup and by the 1940s many recipes just use golden syrup. Of course, many people would object that it isn’t really parkin if it doesn’t use treacle!

The flavouring has also changed, with less of the fiery ginger and no caraway, but a little clove and lemon instead. For me, it was this change in the flavour profile that really made the difference, even though the texture still left something to be desired.

The process however remains much the same. The butter, treacle (and sugar) are melted together and added to the dried ingredients before being pressed into a tin and baked at a low heat (although there are exceptions, see for example this recipe in which the fat is rubbed into the dry ingredients).

If you’ve ever made Anzac biscuits this might sound familiar, and as The Colonial Gastronomer brought up in the comments on the last post, it has been suggested that parkin was the origin for Anzacs. Culinary historian Allison Reynolds makes a brief mention of the connection in this radio interview. The real difference that strikes me is the process of adding the raising agent which, in Anzac biscuits, is normally added to the hot liquids. Does anyone know of any parkin recipes which do that too?

[1] “PARKIN.,” Examiner, April 6, 1926.

Parkin, recipe from 1926

The Redaction

115g oatmeal

115g flour

8g ginger

A sprinkle of clove

1/2 lemon rind

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

120g treacle

85g butter

60g brown sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Grease a loaf tin.
  2. Mix the oatmeal, flour, ginger, clove, lemon rind, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Create a well in the centre.
  3. Gently heat the treacle, butter and brown sugar in a saucepan until melted and well combined. Pour the liquid into the well in the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Press the mixture into the base of the greased loaf tin and bake for an hour or until firm and lightly browned.

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Parkin from The Examiner (available here)

The Date: 1926

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 1 hr 30 mins

How successful was it?: It tasted much better than the previous recipe but was very dry and hard. It still had a bit of a tendency to crumble. The hardness may be typical though, this recipe suggests that freshly baked parkin is always too hard to eat but that it softens over time. Mine is about 24 hours old, so maybe it will improve yet.

How accurate?: The oatmeal wasn’t really fine enough which may be why it is crumbling.

Bibliography

“PARKIN.” Examiner. April 6, 1926. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91626220.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November; Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Even though some of the things I make for this blog are more than a little strange, it’s rare that something is so disgusting as to be totally inedible. Still, there are always exceptions, and this 1867 recipe for Yorkshire Parkin was definitely one of them.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning though. I’m moving out of my place in a few weeks and so I’m trying to use up the ingredients in my pantry. This includes a large jar of treacle, and so when I saw The Old Foodie’s post on tharf-cake for Guy Fawkes Night (5th of November) I saw an opportunity.

Of course, the traditional food for Guy Fawkes Night is parkin, a dense gingerbread made with oats and treacle. The Old Foodie has covered parkin extensively and I’ll direct you to her page for the history.

But the recipe from 1830 that she provides has to be left for 24 hours, and I was in one of those must cook right now moods. Waiting 24 hours wasn’t an option. Luckily there was a similar recipe in The Young Englishwoman.[1]

Capture

Both recipes are quite different from modern recipes in that they don’t contain flour. I was a bit skeptical of that from the beginning, and the huge amount of ginger also seemed suspicious, but then the mixture smelled amazing so who was I to argue?

I melted the butter with the treacle and heated it until the mixture was viscous enough to pour easily, then added that to the oatmeal, ginger and 1 tsp of caraway seeds (I halved the overall recipe, but no quantity was given for the caraways so I just guessed). Once all the ingredients were moist I pressed the mixture into a buttered tin and cooked at 160 for 30 minutes and then let it cool.

Parkin, recipe from 1867

Although the warm parkin filled the house with a delightful, Christmas-y scent, the mixture was too dry to cut without crumbling. The taste was disappointing too. The treacle is bitter, the ginger chest-clearingly fiery and the caraways take it from simply disgusting to truly vile*.

In short, this is not a recipe that I recommend trying yourself. But I’m not giving up on parkin altogether, just waiting until I have my tastebuds back!

*In fairness, my house-mates didn’t hate it quite as vehemently as I did.

Parkin, recipe from 1867

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Yorkshire Parkin from The Young Englishwoman (available here)

The Date: 1867

How did you make it?: See above.

Time to complete?: About 50 minutes.

How successful was it?: Awful.

How accurate?: Actually I think it was pretty accurate, notwithstanding the usual comments about using a modern oven etc.

Bibliography

Young Englishwoman: A Volume of Pure Literature, New Fashions, and Pretty Needlework Designs. Ward, Lock and Tyler, 1867.

[1] Young Englishwoman, 53.

All Jumbled Up

Savoury Jumbles with Seeds

Photography by Sophia Harris.

 

If you’ve ever flicked through a historical cookbook you may have stumbled across a recipe for jumbles (also spelt jumbals, iombils, jambals and any other way you can imagine), a popular type of biscuit from the 16th century onwards. When I first heard about jumbles I, like many other people I think, was under the impression that they were called jumbles because they were a jumble of ingredients, but in fact the name refers to their shape.

 

In 16th century England gimmell rings (from the Latin gemellus for twin) were popular symbols of love and friendship and often exchanged as wedding rings. The rings were made of two or more intersecting bands which could be separated to form two separate rings, worn by each party during the betrothal period and then re-joined during the wedding.[1] Many of these rings exist in museum collections, and they are also celebrated in the literature of the day. I particularly like Robert Herrick’s poem The Jimmall Ring Or True-Love Knot:

 

“Thou sent’st to me a true love-knot, but I
Returned a ring of jimmals to imply
Thy love had one knot, mine a triple tie.”[2]

 

Jumbles then are biscuits made in the shape of these rings, and their twisted and entwined shapes are easily recognisable in many 16th and 17th century paintings, only recently has their shape changed to a flat or mounded biscuit. What is less sure is what exactly they should be made of. In fact, there is a huge amount of variation over the centuries.

 

Still life with Venetian Glass, a romer and a candle by Clara Peeters, 1607. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Still life with Venetian Glass, a romer and a candle by Clara Peeters, 1607. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Early jumble recipes, such as those from Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswife’s Jewell from 1597 are biscuits flavoured with aniseed and rosewater and formed into knots before being boiled and baked.[3] Martha Washington’s Cookbook which, according to Karen Hess, probably dates from the second half of the 17th century contains a similar recipe which is even more heavily spiced (with carraway, aniseed, rosewater, musk and ambergris) but is not boiled.[4] However, it also has recipes for jumbles made from marzipan and baked fruit paste, as well as one for Lemon Jumbles which Hess notes is more like a meringue. Published in 1741 Elizabeth Moxon’s book English Housewifery Exemplified also offer both biscuit and fruit paste versions (from apricots, or she gives the option of making Barberry Cakes in the form of jumbles).[5]

 

Jumbles held on well into the 19th century, although the flavouring had become more familiar with cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon amongst the most popular additions. The shapes were also probably less complex, being formed into little rings or simply rolled out and baked thin. Whilst Elizabeth Lea’s book Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (1859) offered a selection of recipes (Rich Jumbles, Common Jumbles, Molasses Jumbles, Jumbles for Delicate Persons, Cup Jumbles and Jackson Jumbles)[6], other sources had pared their recipes back to the bare minimum. A recipe from 1860 runs “Jumbles. Half a pound of sugar. Half a pound of butter. Half a pound of flour. Flavour with cinnamon.”[7] In Australia references to honey jumbles appear in newspapers around the turn of the 20th century, often referring to American recipes or producers. A version of these is still produced by Arnott’s today, but these soft, gingerbready biscuits bear little resemblance to any other type of jumbles in either their shape or ingredients. For an example of this type of recipe see here.

Sweet Jumbles, recipe from 1623

Photography by Sophia Harris.

 

The Recipes

 

I used two different recipes for jumbles, one is for a savoury more bread-like type of jumbles, pleasantly flavoured with aniseed and boiled before baking (like a modern bagel or pretzel).

 

“To Make Jambals : Take a pint of fine wheat flour, the yolks of three or four new laid eggs, three or four spoonfuls of sweet cream, a few anniseeds, and some cold butter, make it into paste, and roul it into long rouls, as big as a little arrow, make them into divers knots, then boil them in fair water like simnels; bake them, and being baked, box them and keep them in a stove. Thus you may use them, and keep them all the year.”[8]

 

I had a bit of difficulty shaping these because of the texture of the dough, and I think that they could probably use some salt, or at the least salted butter, to give them a little more flavour. The lack of salt in the recipe does confuse me a bit, given that May suggests you can keep them for a whole year. Possibly the salt was assumed in the recipe? The second recipe that I used was for a slightly chewy biscuit, also flavoured with aniseed. These were really good and I would definitely recommend the recipe.

 

“To make Iumbals. To make the best Iumbals, take the whites of three egges and beate them well, and take of the viell; then take a little milke and a pound of fine wheat flower and sugar together finely sifted, and a few Aniseeds well rubd and dried; and then make what formes you please ; & bake them in a soft ouen vpon white Papers.”[9]

 

The Redactions

 

To Make Jambals (the savoury bread type)

 

250g flour

2 tsp aniseeds, ground to a powder in a mortar and pestle

60g salted butter

4 egg yolks

4 tbsp cream

 

  1. Place the flour and aniseed in a bowl and mix together. Rub in the butter until it is like breadcrumbs then stir in the egg yolks and cream until combined. If necessary add a little egg white to soften the mixture.
  2. Take walnut sized pieces of dough and roll into sausages the thickness of a pencil. The dough gets air pockets in the middle which makes it difficult to roll but by applying downward pressure with your palms as you roll you can form sausages. Fold the sausage in half and twist the ends together or form into other shapes as desired.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Bring a wide saucepan of water to rolling boil and carefully place the jumbles into the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Allow them to boil in the liquid for 1 minute then scoop them out and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Savoury Jumbles

Photography by Sophia Harris.

To Make Jumbals (the sweet biscuit type)

 

3 egg whites

6 tbsp milk

225g plain flour

225 wholemeal flour

450g sugar

3 tsp aniseeds, ground to a powder in a mortar and pestle

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Beat the egg whites until fluffy then stir in the milk, flour, sugar and aniseeds until they form a dough.
  2. On a floured board shape pieces of dough into knots, hearts, letters etc. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook in the oven for 20 minutes or until lightly golden.
Sweet Jumbles

Photography by Sophia Harris.

 

 

The Round-up

The Recipe: Jambals from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May (available here)

The Date:1685

How did you make it?

Time to complete?: About an hr.

How successful was it?: More successful that I was expecting, at first I was really struggling to get the dough to stick together but by applying downwards pressure with my palms as I rolled, and adding a little egg white, I was able to get it to work. The larger twists fell apart a big during boiling, but the smaller ones stayed together really well. The flavour was quite subtle, and considering how long they are supposed to stay good, I was surprised at the lack of salt. Very different from the other jumbles, savoury rather than sweet but quite tasty.

How accurate?:  Not too bad I think, although I don’t know how long I should have boiled it for, I just guessed that. I’d also like to know how long they do keep, and what it means to box them and keep them in a stove.

 

The Recipe: Jumbals from Country Contentements by Gervase Markham (available here)

The Date:1623

How did you make it?

Time to complete?: About an hr.

How successful was it?: Very successful, gave a light slightly chewy biscuit lightly flavoured with aniseed.

How accurate?: I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to “take of the viell” so I just whipped the egg whites until fluffy. It seemed to work well.

 

[1] The British Museum, “Fede Ring/gimmel-Ring,” The British Museum Collection Online, accessed February 9, 2015, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=79510&partId=1.

[2] Robert Herrick, The Hesperides & Noble Numbers, ed. Alfred Pollard, vol. 1 (London and New York: Lawrence & Bullen, Ltd., 1898), 217.

[3] Thomas Dawson, The Second Part of the Good Hus-Wifes Jewell (London: Printed by E. Allde for Edward White, 1597), 19.

[4] Karen Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, Reprint edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 348–351.

[5] Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifry Exemplified (Leeds: Printed by J. Lister, and sole by J. Swale, J. Ogle, and S. Howgate, at Leeds; J. Lord at Wakefield; and the author at Pontefract., 1741), 139 & 175.

[6] Elizabeth E. Lea, Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1859), 118–119.

[7] Luther Tucker and Son and J.J Thomas, eds., The Country Gentleman, vol. 15 (Albany: Luther Tucker, 1860), 383.

[8] Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. (London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1660), 275.

[9] Gervase Markham, Countrey Contentments, or the English Huswife: Containing the Inward and Outward Vertues Which out to Be in a Compleate Woman (London: Printed for R. Jackson, 1623), 114.

 

Bibliography

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

Herrick, Robert. The Hesperides & Noble Numbers. Edited by Alfred Pollard. Vol. 1. London and New York: Lawrence & Bullen, Ltd., 1898.

Hess, Karen. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. Reprint edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Lea, Elizabeth E. Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers. Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1859.

Markham, Gervase. Countrey Contentments, or the English Huswife: Containing the Inward and Outward Vertues Which out to Be in a Compleate Woman. London: Printed for R. Jackson, 1623.

May, Robert. The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1660.

Moxon, Elizabeth. English Housewifry Exemplified. Leeds: Printed by J. Lister, and sole by J. Swale, J. Ogle, and S. Howgate, at Leeds; J. Lord at Wakefield; and the author at Pontefract., 1741.

The British Museum. “Fede Ring/gimmel-Ring.” The British Museum Collection Online. Accessed February 9, 2015. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=79510&partId=1.

Tucker and Son, Luther, and J.J Thomas, eds. The Country Gentleman. Vol. 15. Albany: Luther Tucker, 1860.

Funereal Feasting

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Here we are again, still playing catch-up with the Historical Food Fortnightly challenges I’m afraid, but as of next fortnight we should be back on schedule. For the ‘Sacred or Profane’ challenge I picked a topic which I’ve been curious about for a while now. For those of you who are seeing these for the first time, welcome to the weird, wacky and downright morbid world of funeral foods.

In Victorian times death was a big deal, maybe not on quite the same scale as an Egyptian pyramid, but certainly expensive enough to ruin a family and the focus of a complex web of symbolism which dictated the families clothing and behaviour for months, if not years, after the death. One of the most curious of these practices was the use of special biscuits in order to invite people to the funeral or to give out as a keepsake to guests. Although the use of biscuits at funerals seems to have been quite widespread in Northern England and parts of America, the form and usage varied based on the region and the social class of the deceased.

Essentially there were two types of biscuit, one was a Savoy or Naples biscuit (like a modern sponge finger or ladyfinger) and the second type was a kind of shortbread (The Great British Bake Off has a great video about these biscuits which you can watch here). The shortbread biscuits could be flavoured with caraway seeds and were often stamped with a mould, like the one below.

Funeral Biscuit Mould

This 17th century stone mould from Yorkshire was owned by Thomas Beckwith and was used to mark funeral biscuits. From Sylvanius Urban, ed., The Gentleman’s Magazine (London, England) (London: Printed by Nichols and Son, at Cicero’s Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1802), fig. 2.

Depending on how the biscuits were to be given out they could be bundled into parcels of between 2 and 6 biscuits, wrapped in a paper printed with a poem or verse and sealed with black wax. A correspondent of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ in 1802 describes a time when “The paper in which these biscuits were sealed was printed on one side with a coffin, cross-bones, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glasses etc.”[1] You can see an example of one of these wrappers on the Pitt Rivers Museum website here.

There were a number of different ways to distribute the biscuits:

  1. Prior to the funeral a woman could be sent around ‘bidding’ friends and family to attend the funeral, and handing out wrapped packets of biscuits.
  2. The biscuits could be served during the wake or just before the last viewing of the body.
  3. A basket of wrapped parcels of biscuits could be left on a table for people to take home with them.
  4. Packets of wrapped biscuits could be sent to the homes of family and friends who were unable to attend.
  5. Packets of wrapped biscuits could be send to the homes of people who attended as a keepsake.[2]

Cropped 3

An alternative was a funeral cake, which could either be small individual spiced cakes, or a larger (8-11 inches in diameter), round cake made of “flour, water, yeast, currants, and some kind of spice”[3]. Joseph Hunter makes an interesting distinction between when cake was served rather than biscuits:

“When cakes such as these are presented to the persons invited to attend the funeral it is understood to intimate that it is a pay-burying, i.e. that each person is expected to contribute something, usually a shilling, towards the expense. When it is not a pay-burying a Naples biscuit is the arvel-bread : and after funerals of people of a better condition, two Naples biscuits are usually sent to the friends of the deceased, with gloves, hat-band or scarf, or all of these.”[4]

Another use for funeral biscuits is documented in the village of Cherry Burton. Apparently in this Yorkshire village it was considered necessary to place the bee-hive in mourning, and so it was draped in black fabric with a propitiatory offering of funeral biscuit soaked in wine left for the bees.[5] There was a strong link between wine and the biscuits for humans too, and nearly all of the sources which I can find mentions the two together, even amongst teetotallers[6].

Even though this picture is quite a bit earlier than the other sources we've been looking at, I think its very interesting to see the girl serving wine on the left (and the text mentions that those present will drink several glasses before and after the funeral) and the girl on the right who has a plate of food. Could it be biscuits?                                                                                                                          Funeral Scene from The ceremonies and religious customs of the known world by Bernard Picart, 1737. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images [CC BY 4.0]Bernard Picart, 1737. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images http://wellcomeimages.org  CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Even though this picture is quite a bit earlier than the other sources we’ve been looking at, I think its very interesting to see the girl serving wine on the left (and the text mentions that those present will drink several glasses before and after the funeral) and the girl on the right who has a plate of food. Could it be biscuits?   Funeral Scene from The ceremonies and religious customs of the known world by Bernard Picart, 1737. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images [CC BY 4.0]

The Recipes

In spite of all this information about eating funeral biscuits, there are very few extant recipes for either funeral biscuits or cakes. W.S. Steveley has recipes for ‘Funeral Buns’ and ‘Funeral Biscuits’[7] (available here pg. 16-17) but there are so few instructions and the quantities are so large that I wasn’t keen to try either of them. His buns, however, do shed some light on the type of cakes that would have been served. The most important features, which also show up in the descriptions above, is the inclusion of currants and spices (often cinnamon and/or caraway seeds).

There is also a 19th century recipe for Dutch doot cookjes (death cookies) from America which calls for 50lb of flour and makes some 300 cookies the size of saucers![8] But they don’t fit the mould for either of the two types of biscuits that I had read about. So instead I turned to the trusty Mrs. Beeton for my recipes.

SAVOY BISCUITS OR CAKES. 1748. INGREDIENTS.—4 eggs, 6 oz. of pounded sugar, the rind of 1 lemon, 6 oz. of flour. Mode.—Break the eggs into a basin, separating the whites from the yolks; beat the yolks well, mix with them the pounded sugar and grated lemon-rind, and beat these ingredients together for 1/4 hour. Then dredge in the flour gradually, and when the whites of the eggs have been whisked to a solid froth, stir them to the flour, &c.; beat the mixture well for another 5 minutes, then draw it along in strips upon thick cartridge paper to the proper size of the biscuit, and bake them in rather a hot oven; but let them be carefully watched, as they are soon done, and a few seconds over the proper time will scorch and spoil them. These biscuits, or ladies’-fingers, as they are called, are used for making Charlotte russes, and for a variety of fancy sweet dishes. Time.—5 to 8 minutes, in a quick oven. Average cost, 1s. 8d. per lb., or 1/2d. each.[9]

Funeral Biscuit Darken

My Savoy biscuits didn’t turn out very well, they were very flat, so I haven’t provided a redaction for them although the recipe written quite clearly if you want to give it a try. The plain cake was also very dense, but I think that is probably inevitable with only 1tsp of baking powder. It is however rather tasty and wasn’t overpowered by the caraway as I had expected.

A NICE PLAIN CAKE. 1766. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of flour, 1 teaspoonful of Borwick’s baking-powder, 1/4 lb. of good dripping, 1 teacupful of moist sugar, 3 eggs, 1 breakfast-cupful of milk, 1 oz. of caraway seeds, 1/2 lb. of currants. Mode.—Put the flour and baking-powder into a basin; stir those together; then rub in the dripping, add the sugar, caraway seeds, and currants; whisk the eggs with the milk, and beat all together very thoroughly until the ingredients are well mixed. Butter a tin, put in the cake, and bake it from 11/2 to 2 hours. Let the dripping be quite clean before using: to insure this, it is a good plan to clarify it. Beef dripping is better than any other for cakes, &c., as mutton dripping frequently has a very unpleasant flavour, which would be imparted to the preparation. Time.—1-1/2 to 2 hours. Average cost, 1s. Seasonable at any time.[10]

The Redaction

A Nice Plain Cake

545g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

113g beef dripping at room temperature

170g sugar

28g caraway seeds

225g currants

3 eggs

Approx. 300ml milk

  1. Heat the oven to 170°C and butter a 9” springform cake tin.
  2. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Rub in the dripping with your fingertips until it is evenly distributed. Stir in the sugar, seeds and currants.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and 250ml milk then stir it into the dry ingredients. Add a little more milk, as necessary, until all the ingredients are wet and the mixture can be stirred.
  4. Bake the cake for about an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. It may be a good idea to place a tray under the cake to catch the dripping if it seeps out of the springform tin.

Funeral Cake

The Recipe: Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (available here)

The Date: 1861

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: The cake took about 1hr 35, the biscuits took about 40 mins.

How successful was it?:  The biscuits just didn’t rise at all, but they tasted ok. The cake was very, very dense and didn’t last very well over a number of days but it had a nice flavour and the currants were quite juicy. The only other thing is that the dripping gives off a rather meaty smell while cooking!

How accurate?: I think the cake recipe was probably the type of thing that women could make at home for a funeral, especially if you had to mass produce it in a hurry. The biscuits however seem a bit too fiddly for that, and certainly there were lots of specialists you could buy them from so that seems more likely to me. In terms of accuracy, I did beat the biscuits by hand! But maybe that was the problem.

[1] Sylvanius Urban, ed., The Gentleman’s Magazine (London, England) (London: Printed by Nichols and Son, at Cicero’s Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1802), 105.

[2] Peter Brears, “Arvals, Wakes and Month’s Minds: Food for Funerals,” in Food and the Rites of Passage, ed. Laura Mason (Devon: Prospect Books, 2002), 103–105.

[3] Jonathan Boucher, Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Edited by Joseph Hunter. – London, Black, Young & Young 1833-, ed. Joseph Hunter (London: Black, Young & Young, 1833), sec. Arvel–bread.

[4] Ibid.

[5] George Oliver, The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley, with Historical Sketches of the Abbeys of Watton and Meaux [&c.]., 1829, 499.

[6] T. W. Thompson, “Arval or Avril Bread,” Folklore 29, no. 1 (March 30, 1918): 85.

[7] W. S. Steveley, The New Whole Art of Confectionary: Sugar Boiling, Iceing, Candying, Jelly Making, &c. Which Will Be Found Very Beneficial to Ladies, Confectioners, Housekeepers, &c., Particularly to Such as Have Not a Perfect Knowledge of That Art (Sutton & Son, 1828), 16–17.

[8] Peter G. Rose, Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch (The History Press, 2009), 69–70.

[9] Isabella Beeton, ed., Beeton’s Book of Household Management (London: S.O Beeton, 1861), pt. 1748.

[10] Ibid., pt. 1766.

Bibliography

Beeton, Isabella, ed. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. London: S.O Beeton, 1861.

Boucher, Jonathan. Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Edited by Joseph Hunter. – London, Black, Young & Young 1833-. Edited by Joseph Hunter. London: Black, Young & Young, 1833.

Brears, Peter. “Arvals, Wakes and Month’s Minds: Food for Funerals.” In Food and the Rites of Passage, edited by Laura Mason, 87–114. Devon: Prospect Books, 2002.

Oliver, George. The History and Antiquities of the Town and Minster of Beverley, with Historical Sketches of the Abbeys of Watton and Meaux [&c.]., 1829.

Rose, Peter G. Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch. The History Press, 2009.

Steveley, W. S. The New Whole Art of Confectionary: Sugar Boiling, Iceing, Candying, Jelly Making, &c. Which Will Be Found Very Beneficial to Ladies, Confectioners, Housekeepers, &c., Particularly to Such as Have Not a Perfect Knowledge of That Art. Sutton & Son, 1828.

Thompson, T. W. “Arval or Avril Bread.” Folklore 29, no. 1 (March 30, 1918): 84–86.

Urban, Sylvanius, ed. The Gentleman’s Magazine (London, England). London: Printed by Nichols and Son, at Cicero’s Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet-Street, 1802.

Let Them Eat Cake!

 

Portrait of 12 yr old Marie Antoinette by Martin van Meytens c. 1767-1768 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of 12 yr old Marie Antoinette by Martin van Meytens c. 1767-1768 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This week (the 16th of October) marks the 221st anniversary of Marie Antoinette’s execution at the hands of the revolutionaries. Although she probably never said it, she is arguably most famous for the phrase “Let them eat cake!” so in honour of Madame Deficit this Historical Food Fortnightly challenge is dedicated to cakes of all types.

Of course, just to confuse everyone, the cakes that I made for this challenge would now be considered biscuits. They come from a recipe book called The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Knight Opened. A courtier, diplomat and intellectual who dabbled in privateering, Digby was also a keen collector of recipes (particularly alcoholic beverages. Who needs 100 different ways to make metheglin?). Many of  his recipes reflect his travels across Europe and his noble, even royal, connections. The recipes were compiled and published posthumously in 1669, giving the public a glimpse into the life of the nobility. The word closet in the title refers to a small, private study and by opening Sir Kenelm Digby’s closet for public consumption the compiler (possibly Digby’s steward Hartman) was offering exclusive access to his life.

Portrait of Sir K. Digby from the Wellcome Library London. Line engraving by  R.V. Verst after Anthony Van Dyke. [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Sir K. Digby
from the Wellcome Library London. Line engraving by R.V. Verst after Anthony Van Dyke. [CC-BY-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Recipe

 

Take three pound of very fine flower well dryed by the fire, and put to it a pound and half of loaf Sugar sifted in a very fine sieve and dryed; Three pounds of Currants well washed and dryed in a cloth and set by the fire; When your flower is well mixed with the Sugar and Currants, you must put in it a pound and half of unmelted butter, ten spoonfuls of Cream, with the yolks of three new-laid Eggs beat with it, one Nutmeg; and if you please, three spoonfuls of Sack. When you have wrought your paste well, you must put it in a cloth, and set it in a dish before the fire, till it be through warm. Then make them up in little Cakes, and prick them full of holes; you must bake them in a quick oven unclosed. Afterwards ice them over with Sugar. The Cakes should be about the bigness of a hand-breadth and thin: of the cise of the Sugar Cakes sold at Barnet.[1]

 

Digby’s recipe raises several interesting conundrums for anyone trying to recreate his recipe. First up, drying the flour in front of the fire. This is a very popular recipe amongst re-enactors but some people have said that they found them too dry and/or too dense. One of the interesting consequences of this has been discussion of the very first instruction in Digby’s recipe “Take three pound of very fine flower well dryed by the fire”[2]. Stone ground flour contains the germ of the wheat and even bolting or sifting cannot remove all of the wheat germ. The germ is oily and leaves the flour with a higher moisture content and a shorter shelf life than modern roller milled flour.[3] Whilst I think that drying the flour before the fire was more likely a way of reducing the moisture content, it’s certainly true that a low protein flour (like cake or pastry flour) is both a) closer to the soft flours grown in the 17th century and b) makes lighter biscuits. I used Lighthouse Cake Flour which is low in protein and, in Australia, available in the supermarket.

 

The next question is which type of currants Digby was using. I had never really thought about this question before, simply assuming that the dried currants I bought in the supermarket were dried black-currants. In fact, I couldn’t be more wrong. To read about the difference between Ribes and Zante currants I recommend reading this article by the guys over at Savoring the Past (an amazing blog on recreating 18th century food). Essentially the difference is that Ribes currants are blackcurrants (sometimes dried) while Zante currants are a type of dried grape which, at the time, was imported from the Greek islands of Zante and Cephalonia[4].

Ribes currants. By Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ribes currants. By Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although I think it is entirely possible that Digby was using Ribes currants, I think that it is more likely he was using Zante currants. He uses both types in his recipes, although distinguishing which is meant is quite difficult. Where he specifies red or black currants I think we can be sure that these are Ribes currants. Similarly, when he adds both currants and ‘raisins of the sun’ it seems more likely that they are both dried fruit. In the other cases, it is a matter of analysing the ingredients and methods to find the most likely. In this case, the fact that we need to mix unmelted butter into the dry ingredients suggests that the butter is rubbed in, a process that would burst fresh currants and turn the mixture an unsightly grey colour. This means that it must be dried currants, but which type?

 

Although Ribes currants would have been local and available, imported Zante currants were extremely popular. At the end of the 16th century they were the most profitable product that the Levant Company was importing and some 2300 tons were being brought in annually.[5] Demand was so great that the Venetian traders increased the taxes exponentially, leading to an English ban on imports between 1642 and 1644.[6] Clearly Zante currants were readily available, and also had a sort of luxury cachet, but I think for me the piece of evidence that makes it most likely that Digby used Zante currants is the instruction “Three pounds of currants well washed and dryed in a cloth”[7]. It seems to fit exactly with the process described in the article mentioned above, which explains that currants were dried in the sun, pressed into barrels with oiled feet and subjected to lots of other indignities which necessitated a good wash before use. I suppose it would depend on the individual case but if you were using local, home dried currants there seems to be less reason to specify washing and drying, it would instead be a matter of common sense. Based on all of that, I used dried Zante currants in the recipe.

 

The final challenge: how big was a sugar cake sold at Barnet? Presumably this refers to the market at Chipping Barnet (now part of greater London but formerly in Hertfordshire) which was established in 1588. However, I am not aware of any sources which describe the sugar cakes from the fair so we are left with the other instructions: a hands-breadth across and thin. I rolled out the dough thinly and used a cookie cutter about the same size as my palm.

 

Excellent Small Cakes. Photo courtesy of Sophia Harris.

Photography by Sophia Harris.

The Redaction

 Excellent Small Cakes

 

I have reduced this recipe to a third of its original size but it still make a lot of biscuits. They are so delicious that the quantity shouldn’t be a problem, but you can always halve it again if you are worried, just use the whole egg and reduce the other liquids.

 

450g flour (low-protein or cake flour if you can get it)

226g sugar

450g currants

226g butter, cold

3 tbsp cream

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 of a nutmeg, grated

1 tbsp sherry or sweet wine

 

  1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Mix together the flour, sugar and currants. Cut the butter into 1cm cubes and rub them into the dry ingredients until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the egg, cream, nutmeg and sherry. Add a little more cream if necessary to form a smooth dough.
  3. Roll out on a floured board until 3/4cm thick and cut circles from the dough using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass.
  4. Bake on baking trays lined with baking paper for 25 mins or until golden brown.

 

The Recipe: Excellent Small Cakes from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (available here)

The Date: 1669

How did you make it?

Time to complete?: About an hour and a half.

Total cost: About $8, of which half was spent on currants and a quarter on the cake flour. I already had sherry and cream.

How successful was it?: Very successful, I was worried that they would be too dense because I had read on other blogs that they were hard and inedible, hence the low protein cake flour. However, I found that they were delicious and not too heavy at all. This is possibly due to keeping the original proportions whereas many of the other versions I have seen changed them quite a bit.

How accurate?: I used modern versions of all the ingredients and modern cooking techniques, but I did keep the original proportions of ingredients. It’s hard to tell what the original cakes would have looked like, so that’s a bit ambiguous.

 

Photography by Sophia Harris.

Photography by Sophia Harris.

[1] The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened (London: Printed by E.C. for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain., 1669), 221.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alan Scott and Daniel Wing, The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens (Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999), 29–31.

[4] Kevin Carter, “Currant Challenges,” Savoring the Past, July 21, 2014, http://savoringthepast.net/2014/07/21/currant-challenges/.

[5] Alfred C. Wood, A History of the Levant Company, New edition edition (Abingdon: Routledge, 1964), 24.

[6] Ibid., 69.

[7] The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, 221.

 

Bibliography

Carter, Kevin. “Currant Challenges.” Savoring the Past, July 21, 2014. http://savoringthepast.net/2014/07/21/currant-challenges/

Scott, Alan, and Daniel Wing. The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens. Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999.

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened. London: Printed by E.C. for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain., 1669.

Wood, Alfred C. A History of the Levant Company. New edition edition. Abingdon: Routledge, 1964.