Friday, 19 December 2014

Merry Christmas - This Year's Twelfth Cake


I have not posted much on this blog for a long time. I have had a busy and rather difficult year. I just wanted to wish all my followers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. So here are a couple of cheerful images of some seasonal dishes I have made recently. The twelfth cake above is currently part of a lovely dining room display at Fairfax House in York called The Keeping of Christmas. It also features in a short video showing me decorating it in a new BBC series called Home Comforts, which airs in the New Year. 

Photo: Dave Willis
I have roasted four geese so far since November. This one was for an article I wrote for the Christmas edition of BBC Countryfile Magazine. This is how we roasted potatoes in the eighteenth century, in the radiant heat beneath the rotating goose. The best ever.

Sucket and See

A selection of 'wet suckets' - citrus fruits preserved in syrup. Clockwise from top left - green orange, lemon, bitter orange and citron succade on a wooden trencher with a Tudor fruit knife (ca.1560) and a sucket fork (ca.1680-1700). The sucket fork is  made of the copper alloy latten and would originally have been tinned to make it safe to use. In its uncleaned condition it would not be usable and is just posing here to look nice. 
A short while ago a friend gave me a gift of the late seventeenth century sucket fork illustrated above, now a much treasured addition to my small collection of early eating knives and flatware. I already own a silver sucket fork, a fairly high status object, but my new one is made of latten, a lowly utilitarian alloy of copper. It may once have been owned by a diner who was refined enough to indulge in expensive luxury foods, but not rich enough to afford tableware made of precious metal. Or perhaps it came from a tavern or ordinary. The fork end was designed for spearing sticky suckets, (preserved citrus peels), while the small spoon was used for supping up the unctuous and flavoursome syrup in which they were stored. Amazingly, double ended spoon/forks similar to this were in use in England well before the Norman Conquest. An Anglo-Saxon horde of silver excavated at Sevington in Wiltshire, now in the British Museum, includes a pair of spoons with fork blades at the handle ends. These have been dated to the 9th century from some coins of the period contained in the same horde. Sucket forks were probably the first forks to be used in England, though what purpose these early Anglo-Saxon examples served remains a mystery, as sugar was unknown in Britain at this time.*

My other sucket fork, this time made of silver. Provincial English, probably by Joseph Hicks of Exeter ca.1770.
Half a millennium later, Henry VIII possessed a similar object. The jewel house inventory of his goods includes, 'Item one spone wt sucket forke at thende and gilt poz one oz iii quarters'. A sucket fork is also mentioned in Edward VI’s estate household silver inventory of 1549. These royal examples, gilded and no doubt highly embellished, were a world away from my humble latten example, which at some time has been tinned over to prevent the copper alloy from tainting the food. Traces of the tinning remain here and there, but most has worn off. My friend bought it in a job lot at a sale, with sadly no indication of its provenance, though we both suspect it may be a metal detector find. The veneer of verdigris on its surface certainly indicates that it could have been buried underground for a long time. Individual silver sucket forks are pretty scarce, full sets are much rarer, but ones made of a cheap metal like latten seem to be the rarest of all. In fact mine is the only one we both have ever seen.
Pair of silver sucket forks by Elizabeth Tookey, London 1675-1700. Photo © Manchester City Galleries
Late seventeenth provincial English sucket spoon and fork. Photo ©  M. Ford Creech Antiques.
Despite much earlier archival records most of the sucket forks that have survived date from the middle of the seventeenth century onwards. They were still being made in the late eighteenth century. Similar implements were also produced on the continent, particularly in the Netherlands. There are also a few colonial Dutch and English examples made in North America in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, like the one below I saw at Yale last year.

Silver sucket fork ca.1680–90 made by Jesse Kip (1660 - 1722) in New York City. The long handle is engraved with the name of the owner - Maria van Rensselaer (1673-1713. The Rensselaer family were a prominent New Amsterdam colonial family with a large estate near Albany. Photo © Yale University Art Gallery.
Sucket forks, sometimes also referred to as sucket spoons, should not be confused with sweetmeat forks, which do not have a spoon at the opposite end. These are also frequently mentioned in medieval and renaissance inventories, with a number of English examples surviving from as early as the fourteenth century. A nice sixteenth or early seventeenth example excavated from the site of the Rose Theatre can be seen in the Museum of London. It may have been mislaid by a theatre goer at the time of Shakespeare.

Sixteenth or early seventeenth century sweetmeat fork.Photo © Museum of London
Sweetmeat forks were among the first British forks to be included in sets of flatware. The two late seventeenth century trefid examples in my collection illustrated below have become separated from their matching knives and spoons, but would have been part of a dessert set that graced a banquet table during the reign of James II. 

Pair of English  trefid sweetmeat forks, silver gilt. Unascribed ca.1685. 
Sucket forks obviously derived their name from the suckets which they were used to spear. 'Sucket', 'soket', or  'suckitte' is a corruption of  French succade, generally meaning a fruit, root or citrus rind preserved in sugar syrup. More specifically, the word was often used to described a preserve made from the peel of the cedro or citron  (Citrus medica L.). In a glossary of definitions of imported goods published by the customs officer James Smyth in The Practice of the Customs. (London: 1821), we are told, 'The peel of Citron preserved in sugar, and all other moist sweetmeats not particularly enumerated in the table of duties, are denominated Succades.'  I heard a discussion the other day about citron on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Kitchen Cabinet, in which it was stated that citron was the first citrus fruit to come to Britain. I am not sure that this is true, but would love to hear the evidence that it is based on.

Most etymologists assume the word succade is derived from the Latin succidus - 'juice', or from French sucre - sugar. There is however, a suspicion (though no real proof). that it evolved from the Hebrew סוכות - sukkot or sukoth. Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, is an ancient Jewish religious rite at which citrons are displayed with willow branches, myrtle and palm fronds in a temporary booth known as a סוכה (sukkah). Specially selected citrons, known as etrog are still used in the ceremony. Citrons are a genetically capricious fruit with numerous morphological variations. To be kosher the citrons used at Sukkot, must have certain fixed characteristics, which distinguishes them from normal everyday citrons.. One of these required features can clearly be seen in an engraving in a book on citrus fruits published by the Nuremburg merchant Johann Volckamer in 1714. In his caption Volckamer refers to this particular variety by its Italian name - cedro col pigolo -  the pigolo being the small persistent style at the flower end of the fruit, which in Hebrew is called the pit am. Citrons that have a good pit am are sold for very large sums of money as they are considered to be the purest form of the fruit. In his text, Volckamer gives his native German name for this variety -  Juden Citronatapfel - the Jewish citron.

The etrog, Juden-citronapfel, or cedro col pigolo. From Johann Christoph Volkamer, Nürenbergische Hesperides. (Nuremburg 1728 edition).
Volckamer's book is one of the most beautiful botanical works from the baroque period. Unfortunately, its wonderful engraved plates are very attractive to print collectors, so many copies have been broken up by dealers who sell the plates on for large sums of money. I am lucky enough to possess a complete copy in its uncoloured state. The author lists and illustrates eleven different varieties of citron, or cedri as they were called in the Italian peninsula. These fruits have dry inedible pulp and no juice, but are usually thick skinned, which makes them ideal for preserving as succade. Some grow to a very large size and monstrous, often deformed varieties were much admired by Italian noblemen who grew these fashionable expressions of horticultural mannerism in extensive citrus gardens.

From Johann Christoph Volkamer, Nürenbergische Hesperides. (Nuremburg 1728 edition().
Cedro ordinario - the common citron. From Johann Christoph Volkamer, Nürenbergische Hesperides. (Nuremburg 1728 edition(). 
The common citron in its unripe, green state. This single specimen weighted 2.7 kilos.
Some renaissance scholars and poets liked to think that oranges, lemons and citrons all grew in the famed Garden of the Hesperides. Many were of the opinion that the orange was the most likely candidate for the mythical golden apple of the Hesperides, which endowed those who ate it with immortality. However, oranges were unknown in antiquity. Volckamer actually structured his book with chapter headings based on the names of the three nymphs of the Hesperides who tended the Garden - Aegle, Aerethusa and Hesperethusa. He places Aegle in charge of citrons, Aerethusa in charge of lemons while Hesperethusa looks after the oranges. At the beginning of each chapter is an engraving showing each nymph in her part of the garden. That reproduced below shows Aegle, who   is holding a large common  citron in her left hand.

From Johann Christoph Volkamer, Nürenbergische Hesperides. (Nuremburg: 1728 edition). 
Harmonillus transformed into a citron tree, a plate from G.B. Ferrari, Hesperides sive de malorum aureorum cultura et usu. Rome 1646 Engraving Cornelis Bloemart after Andrea Sacchi. The original drawing for this image is in the Louvre.
As well as featuring in Judaic religious rites this fruit, now of very little economic significance, also played a role in classical mythology, or at least in versions of the myths as imagined by renaissance scholars. The most striking of these  'myths' about the citron was invented by Giovanni Battista Ferrarii, a Jesuit priest from Sienna, who  published a monograph on citrus fruits in Rome in 1646. Ferrarii based his self-styled tale on similar legends from antiquity, like that of Apollo and Daphne as told by Ovid, in which a nymph is transformed into a tree. In his book Hesperides sive de malorum aureorum cultura et usu. (Rome 1646), Ferrari illustrated the metamorphosis of a young man called Hamomillus into a citron tree. I have reproduced a detail from his engraving above. Hamomillus's feet are rooting to the ground while his fingertips are turning into branches bearing citron fruit. The citrons growing out of his hands are quite unlike the common citron illustrated above. They are multi-lobed and possess finger-like lobes. Varieties of citron which had this aberrant hand-like form were common in seventeenth century Europe. Ferrari refers to this kind as malum citreum multiforme - the multiform citron, while his German disciple Volkamer called the variety cedro a ditella - the finger citron. Here are their illustrations of these monstrous varieties.

 G.B. Ferrari, Hesperides sive de malorum aureorum cultura et usu. Rome 1646  caption
From Johann Christoph Volkamer, Nürenbergische Hesperides. (Nuremburg 1728 edition).
This very old variety still survives and is usually called the Buddha's Hand Citron. It is widely grown in the Far East and is frequently used as an offering in Buddhist Temples. But it is also cultivated in the US and Italy, where it has been known for at least four hundred years. In China, Vietnam and Japan, it is not used much in the kitchen. Its flavour and scent are not really different to the common citron, but it is becoming fashionable among chefs these days, who have probably been attracted by its outlandish appearance. 


I have found Buddha's Hand citrons in Wholefoods in the US, though I purchased these two in a market near Hanoi in Vietnam. 
Like other varieties of citron, finger citrons have no juicy flesh or pips.
Buddha's Hand citrons frequently feature in Chinese art. This jade carving dates from the seventeenth century.
Buddha's hand citrons on an altar in a temple in Vietnam.
I preserve citrons and other relatives, like the bitter orange and pomelo rinds here by first poaching the rinds in boiling water until they are soft. I then poach them briefly in a thin sugar syrup for just five minutes. I leave them to steep in this syrup for twenty four hours, then remove the fruit from the syrup, which I boil for five minutes. The thickened syrup is poured over the fruit and the whole process repeated for twelve days altogether. I leave the fruit in the thick syrup. It is much more succulant and flavoursome than any commercial candied fruit.
I more or less use this technique described by Lady Anne Fanshawe for preserving citrons. It works very well with other citrus fruit.
Whole preserved citrons were an important decorative feature of the baroque dessert course. This silver citron display stand is one of a number illustrated in Joseph Gilliers, The Cannemeliste français. (Nancy: 1751). If objects like this were actually made, none appear to have survived.
Johann Christoph Volckamer,  Nürnbergische Hesperides. Nuremburg: 1708-14. (A digitised version of the 1728 edition).

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Victorian Altar to Curry and Other Events


A high Victorian table at Hutton-in-the-Forest (Photo: Cressida Vane)
I have been so busy over the past few months, that I have had no time at all to post on this blog. I have really missed it. So very briefly, here are some of the things I have been doing lately. As well as catching up with various writing commitments, much of my summer has been taken up with filming what seems like innumerable food history features for popular BBC programmes, such as the Great British Bake Off, James Martin's Home Comforts and others. However, the real highlight of the year was working with my Korean friend Wook-Jung Lee on another episode of his remarkable series A Food Odyssey. This time we looked at curry in Victorian England and the images here are of a 1890s table I recreated for the programme. Various Anglo-Indian curries and some English savoury dishes are served around a dessert set out on a surtout de table. You might spot a Twelfth Cake in the middle of the table, which I made for another production, but just for fun recycled it here as a striking centrepiece. It took me two days to make and decorate, so I thought I would get a bit of extra mileage out of it. 


A Victorian Moorghabee or Fowl Pullow made from a recipe in Dr. R. Ridell. Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book. (Madras: 1850).
Among the many Indian dishes were a few choice English ones.
The cake also turned up at a lecture/demonstration I gave on the last day of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow for Scotland Can Make It! To celebrate the Games, ceramic artist Katy West was commissioned to design a Common Wealth jelly mould, made using a clay body provided by Highland Stoneware of Lochinvar and inspired by the Art Deco interior of the celebrated Glasgow restaurant and cocktail bar Rogano. I was invited to put Katy's creation into context at a jelly tasting, which involved an illustrated lecture on the history of moulded foods, a marathon jelly un-moulding session followed by a tasting session at which the eighteen historic jellies I created, rapidly disappeared into the highly enthusiastic audience. 
Photo: Eoin Carey.
A marbree jelly made in Katy West's mould. Photo: Eoin Carey.
Photo: Eoin Carey.
If you missed this event, you may be interested in a few others I am involved in over the next few weeks. On 28th August, I am presenting a lecture in Prague at a conference called La Festa Sontuosa. The event is being held on the 300th anniversity of an entertainment given at his palazzo in Rome on 28th August 1714 by Johanna Wenzel, Count of Gallas, to celebrate the birthday of the Empress Elisabetta Cristina. The conference is being held in the count's Prague residence, the extraordinary baroque Clam Gallas Palace. The most important feature of this event will be the modern world premiere of Sacrificio a Venere, a lost and recently rediscovered serenade composed by Giovanni Battista Bononcini in 1714 especially for the occasion. My lecture Trionfi di Tavola examines the extravagant emblematic table centrepieces created for occasions of this kind.

At the count's entertainment five tables covered in ices, jellies and confectionery regaled the guests after Bononcini's performance. The centrepiece was an artificial tree hung with one hundred and fifty moulded ice cream fruits. A few years ago at the Oxford Food Symposium, my friend Robin Weir demonstrated the logistics of creating an ambitious caprice of this nature on a hot summer's day. Rostislav Muller, one of the organisers of the Prague conference has created a 3-D model of the Gallas table. A reconstruction of the table will feature in the performance later this month.

A detail of he gran rifresco at Count Gallas's party in Rome on 28th August 2014 at which Bononcini's Sacrificio di Venere was first performed. Photo; courtesy of Getty Research Institute.
3D reconstruction (detail) of  the trionfo da tavola designed on the occasion of the celabration of the birthday of Empress Elisabetta Cristina. Copyright Rostislav Maria Muller.
Many different ices, jellies and other items of confectionery featured at Count Gallas's entertainment. This is my own interpretation of a dish described on the table (note the Italian is in its eighteenth century form - 'una piramide di gelo d'agresta con odore di gelsomino e con agresta intiera siroppata dentro' - verjuice jelly scented with jasmine, with verjuice grapes in syrup inside  - delicious!    Photo: Eoin Carey.
If you cannot make it to Prague, perhaps you can catch up with me on September 6th at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas where I will be giving a lecture at a one day symposium 'The English Country House - Then and Now'. My talk is entitled From Banquet to Ball Supper – Dining and Entertaining in the British Country House 1600-1914.

Nearer to home, I am giving a lecture on early Georgian dining at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London on 17th September entitled Regal Ragouts: courtly dining and cookery in early Georgian Britain

Perhaps I will see some of you at these events. I hope you can make it.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Ryce Puddings in Scoured Guts


Rice puddings boiled in skins made from Gervase Markham's 1615 recipe (see below)
When I was a child, I frequently heard the popular idiom, 'he could n't knock the skin off a rice pudding' - usually being applied to someone who had behaved in a cowardly way. The skin referred to, was of course that delicious, caramelised, not-quite-burnt crust that forms on a British oven baked rice pudding. Many of us, including me, are of the opinion that this nutmeg-scented membrane is the choicest bit of this once ubiquitous and homely pud. But in the far distant past the skin of a rice pudding had a more literal meaning. During Shakespeare's lifetime, rice puddings were usually made in lengths of intestine, what we would now call sausage skins - they were literally cooked in skins. So the earliest recipes for rice pudding indicate that it was originally one of the vast genus of true boiled puddings made in animal guts that were popular and widespread during the early modern period and beyond.  Some of its first cousins, like mealy puddings, white puddings and black puddings still survive to this day. The recipe in black letter below is for a rice pudding of this kind published a year before Shakespeare died, in which a mixture of boiled rice and other ingredients is stuffed into 'scoured guts' before they are parboiled.

From John Murrell, A Newe Booke of Cookery. (London: 1615).
Murrell's recipe stands out as it calls for barberries, as well as the more usual currants included in puddings of this kind. Nowadays barberries, the fruits of the British native Berberis vulgaris L. are hardly used at all in British cookery, but were immensely popular at this time for their pleasant acidic flavour and stunning red colour. They were frequently used as a striking garnish and were the basis of a number of sweetmeats and preserves. Another important role they enjoyed was to add acidity as well as colour to forcemeats, pie fillings and in this case - puddings.  
The bright red fruits of Berberis vulgaris L.

Early pudding makers used little funnels to fill the lengths of intestine, a procedure that is beautifully and amusingly illustrated in the seventeenth century engraving below. Although one can get good at it with practice, this is a slow and laborious process. An improvement came with the introduction of pudding forcers, a kind of syringe which the length of gut could be stretched over. But even these were hard to use, though considerably faster than the funnels.
How a pudding funnel was used at this period - slow work!
A long length of gut was massaged over the neck of the pudding funnel.
The pudding mixture was then pushed through the funnel into the gut with a finger
A pudding forcer made an easier job of this messy and slow business.
A rare contemporary engraved portrait of Gervase Markham, equestrian, playwright and author of  books on countless subjects. Like Murrell, Markham published a recipe for Rice puddings in skins in 1615 in his celebrated recipe collection, The English Housewife (London: 1615). Here it is below.
Gervase Markham's recipe for rice puddings, published the same year as Murrell's. By 'farms' is meant 'forms, a common term for guts.
I made both Murrell's and Markham's rice puddings a few days ago for a dinner celebrating the 450th anniversity of Shakespeare's birthday. Variant recipes for rice puddings continued to be published in the later seventeenth century, that below coming from Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook (London: 1660), with a specific direction to tie the ends of the guts together, making a ring shaped pudding. This incarnation is flavoured generously with a quarter of a pint of rose-water!
From Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook (London: 1660)
Another of May's rice pudding recipes instructs us to boil a very similar preparation in a bag or napkin. However, as an afterthought, he explains that when you make rice puddings in guts, you should toast them before the fire 'in a silver dish or tosting pan'. This makes much more sense of Murrell's 1615 recipe, who instructs us to parboil the puddings, indicating that there was a second cooking process to follow. Toasting or broiling them afterwards cooks the puddings so they end up looking like grilled sausages. 
From Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook (London: 1660)
Robert May's marrow puddings of rice and grated bread simmer for about quarter and hour. Like all skin puddings, the forms must not be tightly filled as the contents will swell and burst the skins. They must also be pricked to release any air before they are very gently poached in the simmering, not boiling, water.
Before the puddings are toasted in front of the fire, I find that hanging them up to dry out for a day really improves them.
A toasted rice pudding
Rice puddings like this survived into the eighteenth century, as witness this recipe from the Yorkshire cookery author Elizabeth Moxon. 
Rice puddings boiled in skins from Elizabeth Moxon (Leeds: 1749). Elizabeth tells us to 'cree' the rice in milk. This interesting word is from the French crever, to burst or split. To cree rice or frumenty was to boil it until it burst and came to a soft mash. However, it could also mean to crush, mill or kibble. The wheat or barley used for making frumenty was 'creed' or crushed in a 'creeing trough'.