Saturday 17 December 2011

Lady Rachel Fane's Syllabub

Glass collector Tim Udall holding an eighteenth century spouted syllabub glass.
Earlier this year I contributed an essay to an exhibition catalogue of English dessert glass published by Delomosne and Sons, Britain's leading dealer in antique glass. The wonderful assemblage of glass described in the catalogue was put together over a lifetime of avid collecting and outstanding research by Mr Tim Udall. All items were for sale at the exhibition and most found buyers very quickly. I was delighted to offer a new home to an eighteenth century spouted syllabub glass and a spectacular dessert tree or glass epergne. An online version of the fully illustrated catalogue is available at Delomosne's website and I have inserted a link to it at the end of this posting. You can also order a copy of the catalogue from the site. Please take a look at it - the quality of this collection is outstanding. Mr Udall's own excellent essays on dessert glass, written for the Journal of the Glass Circle in the early 1980s, set the standard for scholarship in this fascinating area of material culture and I am indebted to him for many insights and leads in my own research on syllabub and jelly glasses.

The photograph above shows Mr Udall holding a glass spout pot very similar to the one I bought from his collection. These glasses have a superficial resemblance to a teapot, but the spout was used for sucking, not pouring - rather like a kind of proto-drinking straw. Early modern period syllabubs had two layers - a stratum of foam or curd on top and a pool of strong alcoholic liquid nestling below. The froth was eaten with a spoon and the pungent liquor sucked through that delicate spout. Surviving examples of these fragile vessels are rare and references to them in early recipes books even rarer. However, they do get a brief mention by the seventeenth century gallant and alchemist Sir Kenelm Digby in a recipe in his collection The Closet etc. (London: 1670). The recipe  is attributed by Digby to Rachel Fane, Countess of Middlesex, who “makes syllabubs for little glasses with spouts.” Lady Middlesex instructs us “to put into each glass a sprig of Rosemary a little bruised.” During the course of the eighteenth century syllabub glasses started to lose their spouts and the dish was more usually served in pan top glasses like that illustrated below. The function of the pan top was to support the foam, which was spooned over the wine or whey in the lower part of the glass. 

Left.  An eighteenth century pan top whipt syllabub glass containing a whip syllabub. The pan top supports the frothy syllabub very effectively above the sweet wine below. Right. An earlier spouted glass containing a syllabub made from the recipe by Lady Middlesex. 

Lady Rachel Fane, Dowager Countess of Bath and Countess of Middlesex (1603-1680).
Engraving by Pierre Lombart (after Van Dyck) c.1660.
Lady Middlesex was an attractive, highly educated woman, who wrote some remarkably sophisticated masques while still in her teens. She was also the author of a manuscript collection of recipes, including one for a dish called 'pets', an early form of meringue. Rachel's first husband, Sir Henry Bourchier, the Earl of Bath, died in 1654 and she married Lionel Cranfield, the third Earl of Middlesex six months later in 1655. This second marriage was a disaster, as Cranfield turned out to be a monster. According to Lady Rachel Newport he sold all of Rachel's books as well as her silver and household stuff and spent the money on 'rioting and play'.  Not surprisingly the couple separated shortly after the wedding. Below is Rachel's syllabub recipe as quoted by Digby. I always enjoy putting a face to a recipe. 

There is a particularly fine miniature of Rachel by David des Granges in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge - see it at this link.

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