I’m currently doing some work on the use of food on the early modern stage. My whole project is in fact about early modern consumption and performance, but this first chapter is specifically focussed on the actual presence of foodstuffs on the stage. I’ve been thinking about the practicalities of eating on stage – would real foods be used and eaten? Well, that remains to be seen, it’s early days in my research, but it did make me wonder if candied fruits might have been used on stage in place of fresh ones, as they would last longer. I’ve recently discovered that at least one study has touched on this – Banquets Set Forth by Chris Meads (2001, Manchester University Press) has a chapter on the stage presentation of foods, and Meads quotes entries from the Court of Revels accounts showing that some preserved foods were indeed purchased, presumably for use performance.
So, I thought that a nice little side project would be experimenting with candied fruit recipes. I’ll be using two recipes from A true gentlewomans delight Wherein is contained all manner of cookery: together with preserving, conserving, drying and candying by Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent. The first, slightly more complicated recipe is entitled “To Candy Apricocks”, although since I couldn’t get apricots in November I’ll be using plums (the recipe suggests these as an alternative). The second recipe is “To candie Peares, Plums, or Apricocks, that shall look as clear as Amber.” I love the simile there! Since I’ll be using plums for the other recipe, I’ll be using pears.
Anyway, it’s not really the fruit that’s important here, it’s the idea of candying. Let’s delve a little deeper into the literary background of candy and candying.
First to the OED, as usual, for a few fascinating facts:
Candy as a verb is defined as “To preserve (fruits, etc.) by boiling with sugar, which crystallizes and forms a crust; to coat or incrust with sugar”. The OED gives the etymology as a straightforward borrowing from the French candir and the Italian candire, both having the same meaning as the English word. It also lists the earliest appearance of “candy” as a verb as Thomas Elyot’s 1541 diet regimen Castel of Health. Elyot refers to “Gynger condite, the whiche we do call grene gynger, specyallye candyd with sugar” as a remedy for excess phlegm (“fleume”).
There are earlier appearances of candy as a noun, however, a quick rummage around on EEBO reveals a mention of “a dramme of suger-candy” in an anonymous 1526 medicine book called Treasure of Pore Men, and the OED lists a reference as early as 1475.
As can be seen from Elyot and from the Treasure of Pore Men, candy is one of that vast number of foodstuffs that was often considered medicinal. These days, we still use some sweets for certain medicinal purposes – think of Fisherman’s Friends, or Strepsils (my personal favourite).
But what of candy in literature? A pair of turn-of-the-16th-century examples, both suggesting a link between food, speech and language, are Jonson’s “I would thou hadst some Sugar Candyed, to Sweeten thy Mouth” (The Fountain of Self-Love or Cynthia’s Revels, 1601) and Shakespeare’s “Let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp” (Hamlet). Both of these quotes raise some interesting points about the dual function mouth, drawing a parallel between the mouth/tongue as a literal consumer of food, and as a transmitter of speech. On another level it is interesting to consider whether either or both of these writers are asking us to consider that the function of candying is to create something artificial. The “candied tongue” is flattering the “absurd pomp”, a phrase which in itself suggests artifice. Indeed, to return to the name of the recipe in question, the plums, apricots and pears are to be candied so that they resemble something else (see the marchpane entry for more discussion of artifice in food).
The negative connotations are not present in Aphra Behn’s (much later) preface to The Dutch Lover (1673), which addresses the “Good, sweet, honey, sugar, candied Reader” – ignoring the association with falseness and placing candy on a par with the more “natural” honey, and focussing purely on the positive aspects, the sweetness. And, to close the post, here are the opening lines from Thomas Carew’s The Spring (1640), blending kitchen confections with natural imagery:
Now that the winter’s gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robes, and now no more the frost
Candies the grasse, or castes an ycie cream:
Vpon the silver Lake, or Chrystall streame:
And speaking of “ycie cream”, I’ve discovered a recipe for “snow” which I think is a must for December, more on that in a few weeks, no doubt.
I’ll be having a go at candying the fruits soon, then I’ll post the outcome.