The Sweet-Makers: The Recipes

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The stuff that sweets are made of

Oh dear. It’s been nearly a year since my last post…. SIGH. It does say ‘occasional’ in the title though. In the meantime, The Greedy Queen was published, and I’ve done lots of book talks, and it’s all been lots of fun. (Insert obligatory BUY MY BOOK style comment here).

I also filmed a follow-up to Victorian Bakers in Jan-Mar 2017, which aired in July 2017 and which was about confectioners, though it ended up being called The Sweet-Makers which is sort of the same thing but not exactly due to the confusing and changing nature of what we call sweets now, vs in the 1930s and the 19th century and the 18th century, and what we call confectionery now, vs in the 1930s and – well, you get the general gist. Like Bakers, there were three episodes, with four professionals from the trade, but this time it was a slightly broader scope, for the episodes covered early modern confectionery, late Georgian confectionery and late Victorian to mid-20th century ditto. Again like Bakers, it also covered the social context of the core product, which meant sugar, so slavery, Britain’s involvement with, and reliance on, the slave trade and slave-produced products, and the way in which sugar slowly came to be perceived as a staple food for the British.

The series was made by Wall to Wall, for BBC 2, and will be on iPlayer (here – with clips in permanence) for a bit, and then not. It’s currently being repeated, I’m told, but it’s a sort of Watch Now Or Forever Regret It kind of a deal. The confectioners, who were all amazing, can be found across Britain making cakes and chocolates and boiled sweets, and if you get a chance to eat their wares, do jump at it.

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Left to Right: Paul A Young, Cynthia Stroud, Emma Dabiri (my fellow presenter), Andy Baxendale and Diana Short. And someone doing something lovely to the set.

Meanwhile, I’ve been dragged back to the computer to look guiltily at this neglected blog, and finally to write this post, because quite a few people have asked me for the recipes from the programme. (To directly answer a few queries: no, there won’t be a book of the programme, no, the recipes have sadly not been modernised anywhere for your delectation and pleasure, and no, there is no vegan alternative which anyone sane would want to eat for egg whites.). Because I am a firm believer in spreading the joy of historic food, and because no-one else will be doing it because it wasn’t really that kind of a programme, and because I am ever so altruistic, I am listing the recipes here, so you can play with them to your heart’s content. However, because I am also a firm believer in adventure, in research, in the joy of furkling out fun facts and because I am rather too busy to transcribe them all, I am merely listing where you can find the original texts, and you can, I am sure, take it from there….if in doubt, hasten back to the programme and have a look at what they did there. Or double check against something similar and modern etc.

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Paul, getting increasingly obsessed with comfits, to the benefit of us all

Episode 1:

Candied roses (the gonorrhoea cure), Comfits (the seeds in sugar), Candied Orange Peels, Preserved Oranges After the Portugal Fashion (the best thing I ate on the whole show), and Wafers (the scene with the stoves outdoors): all from Hugh Platt, Delightes for Ladies (1609)

Manus Christi (the boiled sweets), Sugarplate (the basic pastillage stuff used to make plates as well as the banqueting house): Thomas Dawson, Good Huswife’s Jewell (1596)

Quince Marmalade (yum): Gervase Markham, The English House-Wife (1631)

Medlar Tart (yes, I did say ‘open arse fruit’ on prime time TV): Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1665)

Marchepane (all the almonds): Hannah Woolley, The Queen-Like Closet (1670)

Candied Eryngo Roots (17th century Viagra): Anon, The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying (1656)

Drinking Chocolate (with chilli etc):  Colmenero de Ledesma, Chocolate: An Indian Drink (1652) (translated by Capt James Wadsworth)

 

Lady D.jpg
Marchepane, aka Lady Dorothy

Episode 2:

Parmesan Ice Cream (seriously amazing), Chocolate Sorbet, Lemon Water Ice (etc): Frederick Nutt, The Complete Confectioner (1790 + other editions)

Gilded Fish in Jelly, A Hen’s Next in Jelly, Calves’ Foot Jelly, Flummery (you can, of course, use gelatine instead of boiling calves’ feet – 1 sheet per 100ml of liquid): Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769 + later editions)

Bon-Bons (the small sugary boiled sweets), Pineapple Tablet (the twisty one), the final Pièce Montée (inspiration, rather than exact recipe): William Jarrin, The Italian Confectioner (1820 + later editions)

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The glorious Pièce Montée. Note the end of a telescope peaking out of the grotto at the back under the man-made hill. This IS the Age of Enlightenment, but in sugar.

Episode 3:

Nearly everything in this episode came from Skuse’s Complete Confectioner (1894 + other editions – but make sure you consult a pre-WW1 one), with additions from:

Sugar Drops, Acid Drops: Robert Wells, The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar’Boiler’s Assistant (1890)

Toffee (best without paraffin), Fondants, Chocolate Marzipans (mainly in the Fancy Boxes, these): Mrs M. E. Rattray, Sweetmeat-Making at Home (1904)

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Boiled sweets a -go-go

All of the books (OK, nearly all of them) are available through either GoogleBooks, archive.org or gutenberg.org, so you should be able to source the recipes fairly easily. Watch out for the editions though, and ensure you’ve got an English edition (some were translated into American), and of around the right date (later Raffalds and Skuses are quite different in some cases). To replicate the basic jelly mix, just use a base of sweetened white wine, brandy and a little lemon juice (no need for feet), and if you decide to work with hot sugar, do have a substantial burns kit on hand.

Have fun.

 

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Yet more Twelfth Cake

I’m back! I’ve been lecturing like a beast, living on oatcakes and cheese as I drive around the country in my increasingly crumb-filled car. It’s Christmas, again, which means time for my annual plea to bring back the Twelfth Cake.

Really. Seriously. What IS the point of Christmas Cake? I adore it, I could wallow in it and eat it every day (always with cheese), but for many people its sort of lost its place in the world… We make them (or buy them), save them ’til Christmas’, and…then what? Friends come over – we feed them mince pies. Pre-Christmas festivities – we don’t want to broach the cake. Christmas day – we’re too full to eat it. And after Christmas there’s a slow, increasingly guilty feeling as we fail to broach the bugger and feel we should perhaps wait for some undefined special occasion. And snacking is bad, and sugar is the devil etc etc. Sigh. There is, however, a solution! This year, get your cake, unwrap it (or before you ice it – this may be a tad too late), upend it, and stick a dried pea and a bean in each side.  Plonk it back on the plate and decorate as per usual. The kicker is that you then save it, to be eaten with lovely people and lots of booze on Twelfth Night (6th January) while you all have a have a proper party to send out the season. (Obviously I am assuming no-one reading this does anything terrible like ‘dry’ January, or, even worse, ‘Veganuary’. Please. January is a TERRIBLE month. You need bacon and wine.)

Srsly, argh.
Srsly, argh.

…Ok, realistically it may be that even the thought of Twelfth Night is making you feel a bit queasy, what with next year possibly lining up to be even worse, on a global politics/world meltdown scale than this year, and in fact you want to bury your head in the cake right now, and now come up for breath – but I still feel we need to address this cake situation. How about going some way toward it?  You could still to the bean and pea thing? Right? With a crown from a cracker or the finder of the bean, or a small token of your esteem. Makes cutting the cake way cooler….

This year, I am singing the praises of Twelfth Cake in public not once, but twice. First up is Victorian Bakers at Christmas (airs Christmas Day at 9.30pm and repeated Boxing Day), and next up is a special, 12th Night themed episode of The Kitchen Cabinet on January 7th at 10.30am, recorded at the Banqueting House in London. I am bound to be asked for the recipes, so here they are. Enjoy.

For Bakers, we were looking at an 1840s Christmas, when Twelfth Cake was really at its peak (see my previous post on the subject).The bakers were tasked with making cake for all, not just the fashionable bon ton who could afford the beautiful concoctions sometimes featured at heritage sites, but  the riff and the raff and everyone in between. Their cakes needed to be quick to make and decorate, and easy to sell – bright, fun, and funky. Inspired by the lurid descriptions of the time, the results were utterly joyous, and when the shop window was dressed it was so spot on that it made me very happy.

The shop.
The shop.

The cake recipe was from The Knight Family Cookbook, which is linked to Jane Austen through her brother, and was reprinted as a facsimile by Chawton House a few years ago.

To Make a Great Cake (a note in the margin reads ‘good cake’)

Take 5 quarts of fine flower, a pound of fine sugar beaten, half an ounce of mace, 3 nutmegs, a few cloves, a little cinnamon all well beaten, 8 pounds of currance, & a pound of raisons of the sun stoned and shred, mix all of these in the dry flower; then take 3 gills of cream, 3 pounds and a half of butter melted in it, almost a quart of new ale yeast, 20 eggs which beat with the yeast well together & strained in. Then put a jack of brandy [a jack is half a gill] into the cream & butter, so pour it to the rest blood warm, & mix it lightly with your hands. It must be about as stiff as a hasty pudding, so beat it with your hands a good while, & have ready half a pound of candied lemon & half a pound of citron cut into pieces. Then put your cake into your hoop with 3 or 4 papers at the bottom. If your hoop be half a yard over it will do – when you have put in some of your cake, show in some of the candied lemon and citron, then put in more of the cake, then the rest of the sucket, then the rest of the cake, then cut t over with a knife or it will crack, but don’t prick it at all. This cake is very subject to scorch, so when it colours lay a paper over it. It must stand in the oven full 2 hours, longer if it be thick when almost cold ice it.

I love the wording of this recipe, from the hoop half a yard across (we had to commission one), to the assumption that the cook knows the texture of a hasty pudding (thick batter). It speaks volumes that the writer assumes blood warm makes perfect sense – which it did to me, who spends half my life reading recipes like this, but it confused a couple of the bakers. And teh use of the term suckets for candied lemon and citron is a throwback to the 17th century and earlier, and, along with the use of yeast as the raising agent, hints at the longevity of this kind of recipe. Clearly if you decide to make it, scale it down.

For The Kitchen Cabinet, we were going all 17th century, in keeping with the glories of the Banqueting House venue (THAT CEILING!). Thus the recipe which I chose for the show was an earlier one (though the above would have been around then, easily). I also inserted tokens into the cake, whereas for Bakers, set 200 years later, we played with cut up Twelfth Night Character cards. The tokens were based on the list given in Bridget Henisch’s Cakes and Characters, where she quotes Henry Teonge, recounting a party at sea in 1676: ‘we had much mirth on board, for we had a Great Cake made, in which we put a bean for the king, a pea for the Queen, a clove for the knave, a forked stick for the cuckold, and a rag for the slut’. (Pepys records similar shenanigans, but he rigged it so that a friend of his under investigation for fraud got the clove…)

Rubens celebrating James I as an actual god. Because the 17th century has done it ALL before.
Rubens celebrating James I as an actual god. Because the 17th century has done it ALL before.

Again, the cake is yeast-risen, and packed with fruit and booze. Neither recipe contains much sugar; a reflection of the high cost of sugar before the late 18th century. Both benefit from a little while to rise, this more than the former. This one is somewhat bread-ier, and keeps less well (hence the ground almonds, which improve keeping qualities), but it is also slightly lighter, and was eaten by the audience before any of the panellists got a look-in. It’s from John Nott’s Cook’s Dictionary (1726).

To make an extraordinary Plum Cake

Take five pound of flour, two pound of butter, put the butter into the flour, five pound of currants, a large nutmeg, three quarters of an ounce of mace, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves, finely grated and beat; take three quarters of a pound of sugar, twelve eggs, leaving out three whites, put in a pint of ale yeast; then warm as much cream as will wet it, and pour some sack to your cream, and make it as thick as batter; then pownd three quarters of a pound of almonds, with sack and orange flower water, beat them but grossly; add a pound of candy’d citron, orange and lemon-peel, mix’d all together; put a little paste at the bottom of your hoop, and put it in.

Again, the language is revealing, though less old-fashioned than the manuscript recipe: tidied up, perhaps, for a modern reading audience. The paste at the bottom of the hoop is a nifty idea to stop the bottom burning, and doubles as a cake board when the thing is served. It’s a trick I’ve found in Victorian books as well, and it’s an easy way round having to cut bits of wood to shape or find silver platters upon which to serve your cake if you are trying to be vaguely in keeping with periods before foil-covered cardboard cake boards. Agnes Marshall even has a recipe specifically for cake bottom pastry.

Oh! And to prove I put my money where my mouth is, I have made all of my Christmas Cakes into Twelfth Cakes this year, peas and beans in every one. Some have, however, already been consumed…

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Yes, they were vaguely themed: this one is vaguely Tudor (and uses Tudor sugarplate)
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C18th gum plate.
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I made myself a Greedy Queen cake, AND?
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More sugarplate, different recipe, new moulds.
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From a book from 1904. STILL a TWELFTH CAKE, OK.
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The early C18th version. M insisted we try one to check they were edible and it was gone in minutes.

 

Happy Christmas!

 

The recipes, side by side, for scaling purposes.

Knight Family Cookbook

10 pints of flour, 1lb caster sugar, 1/2oz mace, 3 nutmegs, few cloves, bit cinnamon, 8lb currants, 1lb raisins, 12 fl oz cream, 3 1/2 lb butter, 2pt ale yeast (or fresh yeast mixed into a blend of weak beer and water), 10 medium eggs (or 20 pullets’ eggs), 2 fl oz brandy, 8oz candied lemon peel, 8 oz candied citron peel,

I tend to do an eighth for a standard 12 inch cake tin. Note the liquid measurement for a dry foodstuff in the flour.

Nott

5lb flour, 2lb butter, 5lb currants, 1 nutmeg, 3/4oz mace, 1/4oz cloves, 12oz sugar, 6 medium eggs (12 pullets), leaving out 2 whites (3 whites), 1pt ale yeast (or weak beer and water mixed with fresh yeast – or dried), glug of sherry or brandy, orange flower water, 12oz ground almonds, 1lb candied mixed peel.

I quarter this and it’s pretty ample.

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Old sheep are the best sheep

pie!
pie!

The Kitchen Cabinet is back! YAY. One of the things I most love about doing the show (and there are lots and lots of things to choose from) is the opportunity it gives me to cook things I probably wouldn’t get round to otherwise. (It’s sort of provocation and ‘I dare you’ more than opportunity, actually). For those unfamiliar with the programme (HOW? WHAT? WHY?), the format is a sort of Gardener’s Question Time on LSD, with a series of enthusiastic and up-for-it audiences asking questions to a panel of culinary experts which differs each week. In every episode we cover different topics, linked to the place where we are recording, what’s in season at the time the programme will air, and burning food questions of the day. The questions we answer are submitted by audience members on the night, so we have no idea what we will be responding to until about 2 minutes before we step on stage, but we do get a heads-up on the main subject areas. For me, that means a day or so of intensive research, to find interesting facts, recipes and to create a historical narrative which will act as context to the more immediate questions around how to cook it, build it, eat it or think about it. We also have invited guests from the area in which we record, who usually bring things we can eat (it goes without saying that we are all enthusiastic eaters).

The latest run started last Saturday (the 24th September), with a show from Derry (you can catch up via iPlayer Radio, by downloading the podcast, or by going to the show’s very own website, here). This Saturday we are coming at you from Windsor, and we are talking about Queen Victoria (clearly a fabulous topic upon which it is possibly to wax lyrical for about 5 days), Ragus sugar syrups and mutton. You’ll have to listen to the show to hear its glories, but I promised several audience members that I would post the two recipes I cooked, hence this post.

For those of you who are raising an eyebrow at the thought of mutton, DO NOT DARE. Mutton, in my view, is far superior to its fatty, flaccid offspring, lamb, and has both a better taste and texture. I am not alone in thinking this, and there is a website, fronted by Prince Charles, devoted to its charms. The 19th century definition was that it was meat from a sheep of over 3 years, and the meat of those of 6 years plus was deemed the best. Generally now, sheep meat is lamb until it about a year and a half old, and hogget until it is three ish, and mutton after that. Some butchers only admit to having hogget if you ask them, as they label it as lamb, for lamb sells better. Very few sell mutton and you generally have to order it, or buy it online. It seems silly to me that, since the 1960s, we’ve largely lost the habit of eating baby cow (though veal remains easier to obtain than mutton), but embraced the habit of eating baby sheep (yes, yes, not actual babies: both veal and lamb is usually a year old unless stated otherwise). Lamb is baby food, really, as sweet and tender and juicy as is veal, although it is not quite as different to mutton as veal is to beef. Lamb is delightful to cook with if you need a hefty amount of fat, and don’t mind a bit of insipidity. Lamb chops are delightful, and delicate, and lamb roast is like putting spring in your mouth. If you actually like the flavour of it though, and want something with a tad more texture and bit more life to it, mutton is where it’s at. It’s also, in my view, more versatile than lamb: you can very very slow cook it until it falls apart, you can flash fry the chops (and the kidneys are divine), you can stick it in pies and sausages, and stews and – well. you get the picture.

These recipes are both from books by Charles Elmé Francatelli, who was – briefly – Chief Cook to Queen Victoria before he departed after some murky business involving fisticuffs and the police (also, everyone who worked from him seemed to dislike him). One, The Modern Cook, was aimed at high end chefs working in large establishments, like him. The other, The Cook’s Guide, was more middling sort. Both are good, though the Modern Cook is tediously attached to garnishes of pureed veg and a zillion annoying cross-references. Still, that’s what sold in 1842…

Mutton Pies à la Windsor (Cook’s Guide): 1lb lean loin of mutton, finely minced with a knife; finely chopped mushrooms, parsley, a small amount of shallot, lots and lots of pepper and salt; a little gravy or thick stock. Mix everything together, and put it in small pies (a fairy cake tray is ideal). Pierce the top of each pie and bake for 45mn-1hr in an over at about 160-180. Apparently they are idea for ‘the sportsman’s bag of prog’. (I used a pastry from a Larousse of 1938 – 500g flour, 125g butter, 1 whole small egg, 15g salt).

Mutton cutlets with chestnut purée (Modern Cook): season the cutlets, egg them with a pastry brush dipped in the yolk, dip in breadcrumbs, then in melted butter, then in breadcrumbs again. Fry in very hot clarified butter. Serve with a chestnut purée made by simmering (previously cooked, peeled and probably in a tin chestnuts) in a bit of very good chicken or beef stock for 15-20mn, then adding a scant tsp of sugar, nutmeg and 1/2 pt of cream. Reduce this little lot on the stove and blitz or mash. Add a knob of butter just before serving.

Links…

The Kitchen Cabinet, Be in the Audience
Francatelli’s Modern Cook
Francatelli’s Cook’s Guide
Graig Farm Mutton (amazing)
The Smiling Sheep (wherein I have just obtained 10yo mutton and am very very excited)

The dinner detective

Gosh, I’m back! Soz, I’m working on a book, and it turns out to be even more work than a PhD. However, it also turns out to be the most fun I can possibly have, and, with only two months to go until I submit the manuscript, I am already having mild conniptions at the thought of being bookless in the autumn. However, it probably will mean more time to add to this occasional blog, and almost certainly many of those posts will be shamelessly self-promotional and you’ll all learn way more about Queen Victoria than you ever wanted to – and if you don’t, then BUY MY BOOK (getting into it already). (You can’t actually BUY MY BOOK yet anyway, but it should be out late spring next year, so you might be able to pre-order it at some stage). Trust me, I will be tweeting about it like a broken record.

In a sort of vaguely linked-to-the-book, but largely fortuitous scenario, I have been working with Historic Royal Palaces and the University of Reading on their soon-to-be-over (sorry – but it is re-running at the end of the year) FutureLearn MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – free and lovely educational courses on all manner of things, run through the Open University’s latest platform). It’s called A History of Royal Food and Feasting, and covers off the food (obvs) of some of the monarchs associated with the palaces run by HRP. My ‘bit’, apart from being generally helpful with recipes and such like, was the Victorian section, which I had great fun with, doing some writing, some videos, and wincing every time the video of me making a cake came on (I have dreadful hair in it). One of the more challenging moments was coming up with 5 minutes worth of material on Victoria’s 17th birthday dinner, which was held at Kensington Palace in 1836 during the first visit of Prince Albert to the UK (he was ill, and had to come home early from the ball which followed the dinner – Victoria was terribly sad, but still stayed out partying until 2.30am). The challenge, one which learners on the course have remarked upon, is that we know quite literally nothing about it.

It would be nice if the young princess had given us a menu or even a hint at the dishes for her birthday meal but, as is pretty characteristic, in her journal for the day she merely says, ‘at 7, we dined‘. The dinner wasn’t the focus of the evening anyway – that was the ball (and her presents, but still). The journals of Queen Victoria are, on the face of it, an amazing resource for anyone studying her and her reign, and indeed, they are – but the early ones were written with the audience of her mother in mind, and the later ones were edited to hell and back by her daughter Beatrice who took out many of the everyday things her mother talked about – names of servants, for example. They are selective, and do not always give the details that the avid researcher is looking for, as is exactly the case here. When using them, they do have to be read with other sources, and, when it comes to food, those sources are not always obvious. Not only that but, while you might assume that royal record-keeping was meticulous, things do get lost over the years, and records might be destroyed. For Victoria’s childhood, which includes this birthday dinner, the household wasn’t part of the main royal establishment, which means that both the keeping and the preservation of records were not subject to the same rigour as they were at, say, Windsor. When Victoria became Queen, her menus were carefully written into dining ledgers, which detail what she ate, and sometimes the quantities of meat in specific dishes. The run is not complete though, and doesn’t include all of the palaces, so even then it’s impossible to say what she ate throughout her whole life. The supply books for the palaces give a bit more detail, or rather, different detail, and sometimes the newspapers of the time feature an article or two with a tiny glimpse of the food. But it’s still hard to decipher exactly what was eaten on any given day, and that’s with good record-keeping. While there are accounts of some of the festivities at Kensington in newspapers, this one escaped comment, and the other records don’t exist for the 17th birthday meal, because all of the records of life at Kensington were destroyed by Victoria’s mother’s Comptroller (and general villain of the piece), John Conroy, and his successor, in an attempt to hide the rather blatant fraud he’d been practising on her for much of the time he occupied that position.

So where do we start? We know a little about the household in general: they had a French cook, probably a man called Chevassot, as a cook of that name started work in the Royal Household on the day of Victoria’s succession, and he almost certainly had male help, as well as female help, for there are references to male cooks as well as maids in the inventories drawn up after Victoria moved out. The kitchen in 1836 was reasonable, for the Duchess of Kent (Victoria’s mother) had managed, after years of wrangling, to have a new kitchen built in her apartments, replacing the old kitchen which was still that built by William III (it was converted into a chapel). Plans for this new kitchen exist in the Royal Collection, so we can see what was in it – probably – assuming it was built as planned. It included a roasting range, ovens, steam-heated hot closet and chafing stoves, among other fixtures. We can also make assumptions about dishes which would have been served based on a couple of inventories, including one of the Duke of Kent’s kitchen before his death in 1819, which lists jelly moulds, ice cream making equipment and various pans, dariole moulds etc, which help to build up a general idea of what could have been cooked. His crockery lists are included in the same volume. We know as well that the dinner would have been served à la Française, as that was the prevailing style at the time, and, as an aristocratic meal designed to show off to visitors, it almost certainly consisted of a first course of two types of soup, two fish, four entrees, possibly with a remove dish or two replacing the soup or fish before diners dug into the entrees, and then a second course of game, vegetables in a sauce, sweet puddings, fruit tarts and patisserie, ending with dessert of fresh fruit and ices.

We do not know, and never will know, what the menu was. But – to me- that’s part of the fun. One of the joys of the book has been teasing out information and weaving it together like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing to form a fairly good – but never entirely exact – picture of the whole. Gaps are good, gaps are interesting, gaps make the writer and the reader work together as one. Certainly the comments from learners on the HRP course have indicated that they are engaging with the material and the challenges of historical research, and that they are forming their own opinions based on the available evidence. OK, some people are citing wikipedia at each other (grrrr), but in general there’s a real spirit of curiosity as they get to grips with things which, let’s face it,  are unusual in the current media environment: experts, admitting they don’t know for sure, but showing solid evidence to enhance understanding for all. I suppose that some learners may have expected simple facts and figures, but history (and, indeed, life) doesn’t really work like that. Engaging with the process is at least as important as finding out the stuff (more, really, for the facts are largely irrelevant in many ways – though my advice is not to try and argue that in your first year of an undergraduate history course as it leads to nastiness). That said, stuff can be enlightening, and at the very least, every learner was encouraged to practice what the course preached, and cook and eat historic recipes as well.

The course will run again later in 2016: click here to register interest.

Press release here about THE BOOK, which was shortlisted for the Jane Grigson Trust Award earlier this year (amazing: was most chuffed).

I LOVE EUROVISION

It’s the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. If you are not hanging up the bunting and getting in the booze, then you are missing out, in my view. Especially at the moment, watching all the mud-slinging of the Brexit/Bremain stuff, I sort of despair. I adore Eurovision. Always have. To me, it’s a chance to celebrate all the good things about Europe – cultural diversity, shared experiences, and, above all, a sense of massive fun. In the UK, we tend to look toward America for our foreign music, and I still remember the shock and mild horror when I realised that French radio played a lot of French music – and Spanish, and German, and whatever was popular in the European club scene at the time. Eventually I came to enjoy it, and I still listen to as much French music as I do English, I suspect. I shan’t rehearse all the reasons why Eurovision is BRILLIANT here, (though I shall direct you to this radio show with by the Swedish Ambassador, which is very good), but suffice to say that, while the top-rated songs are generally genuinely good (not always- I’m looking at YOU very bad Polish butter-makers in 2014 – terrible, terrible technique), it’s the mixture of great – average – dire and sheer WTF which makes the whole evening such a joy.

I am head down writing chapters of A Greedy Queen like a demon at the moment, so I shall make the rest of this post pithy. Here’re my favourite songs, and, as the point of this blog is to muse in a historically meaningful way, some suggestions of what to cook to celebrate them in a suitably ye olde way:

Austria: OK, I LIKE THIS SONG. How about Kaiser-Schmarn, from Countess Morphy’s Recipes of All Nations? It’s a pancake on LSD – 1/2lb of flour, 1/2 pint of cream, sugar, eggs, raisins, salt and butter. I ate a modern version last year while on the Great Austria Trip and it was immense. Countess Morphy is also immense, as she’s a fake Countess, and wrote what is, in my view, one of the best cookery books of the 20th century. In an amazing departure from every academic norm ever, I refer you to the Wikipedia entry, which has been edited by a crack team based around the Oxford Food Symposium, and therefore is one of only about ten accurate food history articles on the web.

France: Inevitably. I am the only person I know who liked Twin Twin’s Moustache. For France we can delve into the 18th century, as high end cooking was all French influenced at that stage. I’d like to offer up wine chocolate, published in John Nutt’s Cook’s Dictionary of 1726. The French drank a lot of chocolate, and this one has booze in, which you tend to need about halfway through the first song. Anyway, take a pint of sherry, or a pint and a half of red port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or fine flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these as before. But, if your chocolate be with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar; and so in all. I use rice flour as the starch and it’s divine.

Belgium: She’s a sort of foil-clad Kylie. Fun. Go for Brussels Biscuits, which were Princess Victoria’s favourite snack when she was recovering from illness in 1835. Essentially they are a rusk made of brioche dough. Additive. If you seriously want to try them, ping me a comment and I can send the recipe. It’s going in the book…..

Australia: good on the Australians for taking it seriously enough to send a really good song, and being undecided enough to only send her with only half a dress. We’ll plump for an 1880s Beeton recipe, which I suspect no-one ever cooked: parrot pie. It’s the same as pigeon pie (steak, egg, bird), so clearly adapted for a hypothetical Antipodean audience (or possibly just friends and family at home) based on existing recipes, and decorated in the same way with feet sticking out of the lid except….feathers. Love it. It’s as flamboyant and unreal as the whole contest.

parrot pie beeton 88
Can also be made with parakeets.

I should probably admit that my actual menu for my own evening with friends is not exactly this. It’s entirely modern, unusually for me, and rather random. I’ve got recipes representing the UK (Kay Plunkett-Hogg’s Xinjang Lamb), Sweden (Swedes are involved in about half of the entries, so it’s kind of broad – Bronte Aurell’s Cinnamon Buns), France (Pierre Hermé’s excruciatingly complicated macarons),and Israel except also France (taboulé, which I learnt to cook in Paris). I have Austrian, Spanish and French wines though…and German, British and Belgian beers.

Music should be enjoyable, right? (NOT YOU, GEORGIA), and so should food. A winning combination. Here’s to Eurovision, 2016!

 

 

In praise of the pudding

Puddings have been in the news a bit recently. Apparently there’s a puddings only restaurant opening somewhere in London, and it’s hitting the zeitgeist. I was quite excited by this idea, and then I read this article, which gives more details, and shows that there is one fundamental problem. The restaurant only serves sweet dishes. What? What is this infantile bollocks, quoth I, enraged. This is not pudding!

Puddings are not sweets, or desserts. Desserts – in the modern world – can be puddings, as can sweets, but they can also be not-puddings. They can be cakes, or tarts, or patisserie, or ice cream, or jellies, or blancmanges, or trifles. Puddings are puddings, and, although I fear I might be a rather lonely voice in the wilderness, I think when we conflate the word pudding with sweet stuff after dinner, we lose something very vital in doing so. Puddings, you see, can be sort-of-tarts, and they can be a-bit-like-cake, and you can certainly get some stunning iced puddings which head down the ice cream route – oh and blancmanges started life as kind-of-puddings…but puddings are so, so much more. Most importantly, they don’t have to be sweet. Indeed, my favourite puddings aren’t sweet at all. Sausage roly poly pudding, steak and kidney pudding, chicken and ham pudding… I mean, treacle pudding and that 1890s chocolate pudding I really like are all very well, but nothing – really, nothing – can truly beat a good suet crust (especially when baked, in my view: all that crispy exterior and gooey interior and sense of wellbeing).

So what is a pudding? Well, it’s hard to define, it’s anything you want it to be, really. Puddings probably started life as sort-of-sausages, and the word may or may not be related to the French boudin. Haggis is pudding (sheep’s pluck pudding, an early modern favourite was cooked all over the place, and not just in Scotland where it would find its eventual apogee). Black pudding is pudding, as is white pudding (sometimes savoury, sometimes custard-based and sweet). Batter pudding, originally cooked under the roast on a spit, and, like haggis, eventually associated only with one region (Yorkshire), is pudding. Plum pudding, once eaten with the roast and now a sad reminder of more broad-minded attitudes to food in the past; that’s a pudding. And so is sticky toffee pudding, and sponge cake pudding, and toad-in-the-hole and pigeon-in-the-hole), and Eve’s pudding, and bread and butter pudding (try adding marmalade; oh my word), and dumplings, and rice pudding. Man alive! I hear you cry! What is a pudding? For me, it’s a feeling. And it’s very, very British. (The French, the leaders of cuisine from the 18th century onwards, don’t have a word for pudding. It’s le poudding – a bit like le five o clock, for afternoon tea).

Anyway, definitions are for the faint-hearted. I was recently asked to write the foreword for a brilliant book on puddings, by the photographer, writer, cook and blogger Regula Ysewijn (@missfoodwise on Twitter). It’s an absolutely gorgeous book – I hadn’t realised how fabulous it would be, old master-style photography and all, when I penned my minor contribution. If you are into puddings, it’s definitely worth a look. Regula’s book explains puddings from the point of view of a self-confessed Anglophile (she’s Belgian), and, to me, this outsider’s view of a British culinary staple brings a real richness to the text. We don’t celebrate our food heritage enough, still, in this country. Puddings are a joke: we have ‘pudding stomachs’ (we don’t. Stop it. Grow up), and people are ‘pudding-shaped’. What a shame. Puddings are fab. We should celebrate them, and love them, and treat them like as the endless source of delicious delight that they are.

In typically perverse form, having salivated all over my advance copy of Regula’s tome, I went away and cooked one of my own favourite puddings. It’s not in a published book, but in a handwritten manuscript from Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. It belonged to Jemima, Marchioness Grey (1723-1797), so the recipe probably dates to the mid-18th century. It took me a while to work it out, and there’s no doubt that the result could be called a lemon tart as much as pudding, but it was a pudding to Jemima, so it’s pudding to me.

This is the original recipe:

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Stunningly readable handwriting. Georgians win vs Victorians on that score nearly every time.

Take 2 lemmons, scrape ye inside clean out, boyle ye rinds til they be tender. When they are cold, beat the, to a pulp with 3/4lb of butter, then mix up with 10 yolks of eggs and 3/4lb loaf sugar, finely powdered. Beat them together half an hour. Butter the dish and paste it to set it in ye oven. Half an hour will bake it. You may make orange pudding the same way.

If you want to cook it, it’s both ridiculously easy and fiendishly difficult. For the lemons I use lemons I’ve previously juiced – and I sometimes use 3 if they are the very small ones you get in modern supermarkets. Also, eggs were smaller then, so use pullets’ or bantams’ eggs, or halve the amount stated here. The full amount of mixture will easily fill two standard sized flan tins, so scale accordingly. And yes, a food processor works just fine for the beating part.

 

Proper pastry. A faff, but its worth it.

 

Sparkle 100%
Eggs, eggs, eggs…

Through trial and error, I have worked out a method which works for me. You may well choose to do it differently, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I do. I make exceedingly excellent pastry (hand cut in the butter, full-on pâté brisée, all the care and attention in the world), as it deserves it (normally I use a food processor and it’s fine, but not exceedingly excellent); and I blind bake it for about forever. I also make a lid separately and bake that as well. (You can buy a cunning lattice lid cutter if you make it, or other cut-lid tarts, regularly. Or you can leave the lid off.) Once I’ve glooped the mixture into the pastry case, I cook it very slowly – 160 degrees for about 30-40mn until just cooked through. Any faster or hotter and it will crack and separate (mine invariably does this, except this once, but it’s is still bloody lovely, to be honest). It rises, soufflé-like, so I tend to stand a tray under it. Once done, I plonk the lid on immediately, so it fuses to it as it settles.

 

The final article

Warning: it is very lemony, especially when served chilled, or it should be. As my grandmother used to say, it’ll draw your arse up to your elbows, and that’s the point. There is no room for lemon with meringue in my world.

 

Potty about Pancakes

I like pancakes. I like their simplicity and their versatility. They are quick, cheap, and endlessly edible, as there really isn’t a limit as to what can be put with them. But we don’t tend to eat pancakes very often, and it’s sad. The association of pancakes with Shrove Tuesday (more usually known, let’s face it, as Pancake Day), is so overwhelming that, for many people, eating pancakes on another day would be as remarkable as eating turkey when it’s not Christmas. But pancakes are lovely! (And turkey is vile). The modern neglect of them in Britain is just weird. Bring back the pancake!

The Shrove Tuesday thing is understandable. Lots of countries have edible rituals associated with the day before the Lenten fast starts, and many of them centre around treat foods, such as waffles or buns and cakes. The usual explanation is that these foods use up the animal products which are in the house before 40 days of fast. Well, yes, except that an organised household would have run these things down anyway, and eggs last weeks, and Sundays were exempt from the animal product prohibition. Lent, if you were practising a medieval style fast, would have been fairly tedious, and it was long. Far longer than the Advent fast, the other biggie in the Catholic calendar at that point. (Though, to be fair, the diet of most people would have been fairly tedious anyway). I suspect the joyous eating of Pancake Day and Fat Tuesday and the like has more to do with a mental hair-letting-down in preparation for a lengthy bout of seriousness, but one which quickly became enshrined in medieval codes of conduct. There’s a fair amount of fun to be had beyond the pancakes themselves: pancake races started in some places by the 15th century, and that’s always a laugh. Most of the modern ones are exactly that, by the way – modern – but still amusing.

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Inter-livery pancake race outside the London Guildhall, 2015

Pancakes are a pretty good food to centre a party around, if you want that party to be open to everyone. They’ve become codified in British culture as a white flour-based batter, enriched with eggs, with milk as the liquid agent. But that’s a conception that really only took firm hold as the number of occasions upon which we ate them dwindled to that one day. You only have to glance across the channel at France to see how wrong-headed we are on this one. The Breton crêperie is an absolute institution, and a reliable standby for cheap, quick fodder, centred around a predictable menu. The Bretons were to France as the Irish were to Britain: viewed as a poverty-stricken, barely educated mass, perfect for supplying labour to factories and mills, and servants to the middle and upper classes. But where the Bretons went, their food came too, and that meant crêpes and their savoury equivalent, the galette. They were food for the poor, made of easy available cereal crops, ground to flour and mixed with any available liquid and and egg if possible. Galettes are normally made of buckwheat flour. But they remain a pancake, really, and pancakes can be made of anything.

The first pancakes were probably prehistoric. Because they can be made of anything, wherever people settled, they could grind something to a powder and add it to liquid. Tapioca, spelt, einkorn, rye…all these newly fashionable ancient grains work in an unleavened batter, to be cooked on a stone or, later, metal griddle. So too do ground cassava, potato, rice, chickpeas etc. Throughout the world, there are pancakes, and the vast majority do not conform to the British norm. And that’s even without widening the definition to include chemically leavened griddled products. Or fried dumplings. Or fritters. Many types, such as American style pancakes, only properly developed only after the mid-19th century and the popularisation of baking powers. The same goes for crumpets, pikelets, and drop scones (although some variants did exist, using yeast and demanding a proper prove).

Pancakes were a universal food, a fairly neutral base to which other ingredients could be added to make a meal – cheese, ham, potatoes were the most obvious savoury additions in most of Europe, while sugar, spice and preserves made for a sweet course. This latter set formed the basis for the upper class pancake, enabling the pancake to hold a fairly rare position in the culinary sphere. With very little tweaking of the basic foodstuff, it was able to be both poverty food and elite food at the same time.

The elite versions had been around forever – the Roman writings of Apicius contain a recipe for a pancake-like thing (the amounts are characteristically vague, so it could also be an omelette, custard, or cake), which uses pepper and honey. By the medieval period they were sufficiently common that writers referred to them with an assumption that the reader knew what they were. Indeed, the thin British form became a metaphor: flat as a pancake. 18th and 19th century cookery authors used them as a universal culinary marker, instructing that batters should be ‘of the consistency of pancake batter’, and that things should be ‘the thinness of a pancake’. Posh pancakes as they developed in the 17th and 18th centuries are delightful. The early ones used brandy, wine or ale as the liquid agent, frequently with sweet spices in the better as well. By the late 18th century, the ubiquitous cream tended to be used instead, though often with a generous glug of brandy or sweet wine as well. A typical recipe comes from Robert May in 1660:

Take three pints of cream, a quart of flour, five eggs, salt, three spoonfuls of ale, a race of ginger, cinnamon as much, strain these materials, then fry and serve them with fine sugar.

However, if you want a historic pancake recipe to really make your senses sing with joy, try this, from Frederick Nutt’s Imperial and Royal Cook (1809):

Pink coloured Pancakes: Boil beat-root till tender, and then beat it fine in a mortar; add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three or four of cream; sweeten it, and grate in half a nutmeg: add a glass of brandy: mix all well together, and fry your pancakes in butter: garnish them with green sweetmeats.

I am organising a crack team of live interpreters, who will be cooking and talking about Georgian food at Kew Palace over some of the Easter weekend. You can rest assured that they will be making that one. Pink pancakes!

Pancakes, therefore, can be anything, to anyone. If you plan to make them this Tuesday, and you see them as a novelty to be cooked once a year, you are doing yourself a disservice. Fillings, flours, liquids…stacks, rolls, wedges….the possibilities are endless. Oh and the Fear Of Tossing? Escoffier tosses. Others flip. Or turn. Or even make them so thin they don’t need cooking on the other side. Toss if you want to (there can be advantages, as it’s quick and if it works, the thing won’t stick, like particularly evil clingfilm, to itself). But don’t feel obliged. And if all else fails, the Austrians do a thing called Kaiserschmarren, which is pancakes chopped up or pulled apart, so that they look like good scrambled eggs, but taste like heaven. There is a solution to every cooking fail.

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Kaiserschmarren. Breakfast of Emperors.

NB: If you do try the above, remember that eggs were smaller then, and use 2/3 of the amounts – and as small as you can get.
Further reading:

Ken Albala (2008) Pancake: A Global History
Harold McGee (2010) Keys to Good Cooking
Darra Goldstein and Sidney Mintz (2015) The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets