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Shrove Tuesday special – Pancakes: Part 1

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It’s Shrove Tuesday, so that means pancakes! Actually, I eat pancakes fairly frequently, not just on pancake day. I usually go for savoury ones with some kind of spinach based filling, but I’ve been known to make breakfast pancakes sometimes (usually the small puffy ones made with self-raising flour). When I was growing up we seemed to eat pancakes with sugar and lemon (or better yet, jam or golden syrup) almost every week. It was the most certainly popular standby pudding in our house, better even than freezer treats like Vienetta and Arctic roll. I used to particularly enjoy trying to flip them over by tossing the pan – although I’m sure quite a few ended up on the floor or stuck to the ceiling!

My mum showed me how to make pancakes when I was quite young and I’ve always done it by “feel” – not measuring or weighing anything, just mixing up eggs, milk and flour until it looks right, adding more of each ingredient as necessary. I’ve discovered on my food adventures so far that this seems to be how most Early Modern cooks worked as well, it’s fairly rare to find actual measurements. Most of the measurements that do exist seem to rely on prior cooking knowledge – a lump of butter should be “the size of a walnut”, artichokes should be pared “as you would an apple”. The pancake recipe I’ll be using specifies 20 eggs (I’ve scaled it down!) but gives no guidance for any of the other ingredients, only saying that the batter should not be too thin.

Shrove Tuesday, or course, marks the beginning of Lent, or rather the last day before Lent begins. I’m sure many people are familiar with the concept of eating up “luxury” foods before the fast began. Thinking about fasting reminded me of a tract by Henry Mason from 1626 called The epicures fast: or: A short discourse discouering the licenciousness of the Romane Church in her religious fasts. I think it is very interesting that fasting, as opposed to feasting, was considered licentious by some. Mason’s main bone of contention with fasting seems to be that it is an easy way out of major sins that should not be committed in the first place. There a shade of deviousness in the faster – he sins safe in the knowledge that a simple fast will cure him.  A devout Christian would not try to achieve absolution in such an easy way: “those who heare Christ say, and consider what he meaneth, when he saith, Striue to enter in at the strait gate; cannot thinke to buy heauen at so easie a rate, nor to make satisfaction for their sins with so sleight a penance”. Despite Mason’s concerns, fasting was commonplace and in fact mandated during Lent, periodically proclamations entitled “By the King” (or “By the Queen” during Elizabeth’s reign, of course) would be issued explaining the restrictions, particularly targeting inn-keepers, butchers, and other proprietors. Once such proclamation from 1625 is entitled “A Proclamation for restraint of killing, dressing, and eating of Flesh in Lent, or on Fish daies, appointed by the Law, to be hereafter strictly obserued by all sorts of people”, and also warns fishmongers against profiting excessively by charging over the odds for their fish during fasting times.

I’ve noticed that quite a few of the plays I’ve been studying were first performed on Shrove Tuesday,  such as Thomas Carew’s Coelum Britanicum, published in 1634, and subtitled “A masque at White-Hall in the Banquetting-House, on Shrove-Tuesday night, the 18. of February, 1633”. Maybe they had pancakes at the banquet? It seems that plays and masques were part of the Shrove-Tuesday celebrations, and were presumably avoided or maybe forbidden during Lent. An anonymous broadside ballad called Lent from 1661 presents Lent and Shrovetide as anthropomorphic figures, with Lent coming to conquer Shrovetide, who represents feasting and overindulgence:

Thou puff paunch’d Monster (Shrovetyde) thou art he
That wer’t ordain’d the latter end to be
Of forty five weekes gluttony, now past
Which I in seaven weekes come to cleanse at last:
Your feasting I will turn to fasting dyet
Your Cookes shall have some leasure to be quiet,
Your Masques, Pomps, Playes, and all your vaine expence
I’le change to sorrow, and to penitence,
I will reforme you, and I hither came
To keep flesh from you, your proud flesh to tame:

It’s interesting that “Masques, Pomps, Playes” are to be changed to sorrow by Lent, clearly they represent joyfulness, abandon, even carnivalesque.

So, let’s celebrate with Shrovetyde before Lent triumphs over him, and make pancakes! The recipe shall be following shortly.


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Candied Fruits: Part 1

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.