Sunday 15 January 2012

Salads to reach round the world

A Grand Salad for Winter
Minimalism and simplicity were not features of high status life in the seventeenth century. Intricate aesthetic and allegorical schemes dominated the fine and applied arts of the period. A baroque ceiling painting in a church in Rome - or nearer to home - a Purcell anthem, or a Grinling Gibbon's overmantel, are all survivals of an age when complex, florid forms were much to the taste of both Church and nobility. Even in fields like medicine, there was a tendency towards complexity. A remedy might have many ingredients in the hope that one may actually be effective. The astrologer and physician Nicholas Culpeper, commenting on a popular 'antidote to plague and pestilence', which was made up of hundreds of different ingredients said "I am very loath to leave out this medicine, which if it were stretched out, and cut in thongs, would reach round the world.'

The ingredients of early modern English grand salads were arranged either  in concentric circles as in the first illustration, or radially as here. 

So it was with food. The more princely cookery books of the period are packed with recipes for complex olios, bisques and other dishes, packed to the brim with a bewildering variety of meats and game birds. Elaborate and highly decorative salads with many ingredients were also fashionable. In this country these were known as Grand Sallets and some recipes have such an abundance of ingredients that they too, when "cut in thongs, would reach round the world". These colourful arrangements were among the most decorative dishes that ever graced the English table. Take the recipe below from 1709  -

From T. Hall, The Queen's Royal Cookery (London: 1709)
Unlike a modern salad this is more like an arrangement of pickles and was designed specifically for winter. As well as pickled garden stuff, such as the French beans and asparagus (sparrow-grass), there are some seafoods - anchovies, pickled oysters and scallops. The sallet also contains two exotics - mango and bamboo. These had been available in England for some time through the East India trade and were imported in pickled and preserved form. Both were served to James II at his coronation feast in 1685. Most eighteenth century cookery books teach us various ways of counterfeiting them. The fake mangos were made from melons or cucumbers and the bamboo with elder shoots. The real articles must have been rare and expensive. Flowers were also pickled in the summer months to make very decorative salads for winter.

A half pound of butter clapped down on the plate and covered with red cabbage, white cabbage and parsley
Many recipes for grand sallets feature a 'standard', a decorative feature like the sprig of bay laurel described here. Others, such as the one illustrated at the top of the page are embellished with a sprig of rosemary, in this case flicked over with whipped egg white to represent snow and therefore suitable for a winter table. The twig was usually stuck into a half lemon or other fruit, or into a mound of disguised butter.

T. Hall's grand sallet with its whole pickled mango. The small red berries garnishing the rim are pickled barberries

The finished sallet with its plume of bay laurel
Complex salads were also a favourite dish on the baroque table in Spain and Italy, where they were known as royal salads. My favourite insalata reale is from Naples. It appears in Antonio Latini's Lo Scalo Moderna (Napoli: 1692 and 1694). The recipe is below. Like English winter salads, this heroic concoction contains a lot of preserved items such as olives, capers, botarga, anchovies etc. One of the more unusual of these is tarantello, salted tuna belly, a very important ingredient in Italian renaissance cuisine. It is very, very difficult to get hold of these days, but I make my own. If you like anchovies, you will love tarantello

Tarantello (below) and botarga (above)

Insalata reale

Take endive, or wild chicory, mince it finely and put it to one side, until you have prepared a large basin, at the bottom of which are eight, or ten biscottini, friselle, or taralli, soaked in water, and vinegar, with a little white salt; put the said chopped endive on top, intermix with other salad stuff, albeit minced finely, make the body of the said salad on top at your discretion, intermix with radishes cut into pieces lengthways, filling in the gaps in the said basin with the ingredients listed below, all arranged in order. Pinenuts four ounces; stoned olives six ounce; capers four ounce; one pomegranate; white and black grapes ten ounces; twelve anchovies; tarantello (salted belly of tuna) four ounces; botargo three ounces; comfits six ounces; preserved citron and preserved pumpkin twelve ounces; four hard boiled eggs; whole pistachios four ounces; four ounces of raisins; other black olives six ounces. Caviar, four ounces; minced flesh of white fish, six ounces; little radishes, salt, oil, and vinegar to taste, garnish the plate with slices of citrons, and citron flowers round about in order, take heed not to add salt or seasonings, until it goes to the table, and is about to be eaten.

From Antonio Latini. Lo Scalo Moderna (Napoli: 1692 and 1694). My translation.

Latini's salad is constructed over a bed of biscuit soaked in vinegar. I have used his option of taralli.

This salad can be made at most times of year as it contains items that would be kept in most larders

The finished salad with its 28 ingredients including sugar comfits

The Leeds symposium on History and Traditions on 21st April this year is on the subject of vegetables. I am reading a paper on salads, so expect to see much more on the subject on this blog. I will leave you with a close up of T. Hall's Grand Salad of 1709. Yummy - especially those pickled scallops and oysters!

Saturday 14 January 2012

John Parkinson's Orange Sprig Sallet

Carved preserved oranges
Here is a very simple, but effective thing. Seville oranges are in the shops here in England, which makes it marmalade making time. In a month's time, the International Marmalade Festival takes place here in Cumbria at Dalemain House just up the road from me. I make marmalade, and am one of the judges at the festival, but I also use a very large number of Seville oranges to make preserved and candied orange peels like those above. I need a lot of these for my courses. Seville oranges contain enormous numbers of pips. When making marmalade, I usually boil these in a little cloth bag to get extra pectin into the mix. However, when preparing preserved peel, I end up with a lot of pips which are surplus to requirements. So what I do is to plant them in the garden and in flowerpots - not to end up with a forest of orange trees in about twenty years, but to produce a small amount of tiny citrus flavoured sprigs later in the year, which are delicious chopped and sprinkled on top of a salad.

Seville oranges are notorious for the sheer abundance of their pips
A flowerpot sown with Seville orange pips ready to be covered with compost
The same flowerpot a few months later
I found this idea in John Parkinson's wonderful book on gardening, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (London: 1629). Parkinson was 'herbarist' to James I and had a physic garden in Long Acre in Covent Garden. This is what he says,

 "The kernels or seeds beeing cast into the ground in the spring time, will quickly grow up, (but will not abide the winter with us, to bee kept for growing trees) and when they are of a finger length high, being pluckt up, and put among sallets, will give them a marvellous fine aromatic or spicy taste, very acceptable." 

Yesterday, I rescued about two hundred of these 'kernels' and 'cast' them in a number of flower pots. When they are ready, I will tell you what I do with them.

John Parkinson. Woodcut from Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris  (London: 1629)
Parkinson names his orange as the Mala Arantia,  equivalent to our bitter Seville orange Citrus X aurantium. At this time he did not know of the existence of the sweet orange, which became known as the Portugal, or China orange after it was introduced into Europe by the Portuguese. As the marmalade season advances, there will be much more on this blog on matters citrus.

Mala arantia from John Parkinson, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris  (London: 1629)

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Thursday 12 January 2012

Bohemian Baroque

A Hapsburg period pie from 1719 I made from a Hagger design a few years ago

How would you like to wine and dine in true eighteenth century Hapsburg style in a magnificent palace in Prague? Well in 2113 I am joining forces with my two friends Rostislav and Zlatuše Müller, who are responsible for reviving the remarkable Prague Carnevale, or Masopust. Though outlawed during the communist regime, this ancient lenten festival has grown since its revival seven years ago into a major cultural event. Of particular note is the Crystal Ball, a baroque inspired extravaganza held in the beautiful Clam-Gallas Palace in the historic centre of the city. Featuring period music, choreography and authentic food, it is an opportunity for all who attend to dress in sumptuous Hapsburg outfits. This is an extraordinary event, held in extraordinary surroundings. If you come, you will be following in the footsteps of Casanova and Mozart, who were both enthusiastic carnevale participants. 

Prima donna in the ballroom of the Clam-Gallas Palace
My role is to organise the food for the Crystal Ball. I intend to create a ball supper of authentic Hapsburg dishes served in true baroque style. My theme for 2013 is to celebrate the wonderful cuisine of Conrad Hagger, whose lavishly illustrated Neues Saltzburgisches Koch-Buch published in Augsburg in 1719 is the text book for all interested in baroque food. Born in 1666, Hagger started his career in St. Gallen and then served as a campaign cook under the Earl of Latour in the Balkans. He saw further action as a military cook in other occupations in Austria, Germany and Italy. He ended his career as cook to Johann Ernst von Thun und Hohenstein, prince archbishop of Salzburg, who he served for 27 years.  Many of Hagger's dishes are surprisingly simple and suited to modern taste, but others, particularly his pastry work, are very technically challenging. I have been a proud owner of a magnificent copy of Hagger's book for many years and have attempted some of the remarkable dishes illustrated in this bible of baroque cookery. To be invited to recreate and lay out his extravagant dishes in an authentic table display in this major European baroque palace is a real honour. I am very excited by the prospect. 

With its 305 engravings, Hagger's massive tome is the most
valuable resource we have on the appearance of Baroque food

The Clam-Gallas Palace, the venue for the Crystal Ball, as it was in the eighteenth century
This cook is probably Hagger himself, in the act of preparing an ornate pasty

You will dine under this ceiling painting 

One of Hagger's sumptuous cakes

While you dine, you will be entertained by some of the most talented artists in Bohemia

A Hagger tart design

This remarkable hairpiece was designed and constructed by Rostislav Muller

The food matches the lavishness of the wigs. One of Hagger's remarkable pies

In future years we will be holding baroque dining events in other Bohemian locations, including this painted ballroom at the Troja Palace, designed purely for the summer divertimenti of Emperor Leopold I. Even the stables at Troja have painted ceilings!

I will be posting much more information about these events on future blogs as well as on my website. Meanwhile, it is not too late to order tickets for this year's Crystal Ball, which is being held at the Clam Gallas Palace on February 18th. Go to the official Prague Carnevale website.
This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Spongata - An Italian Minced Pie in Georgian London

A slice of spongata made from Jarrin's 1820 recipe
Every Christmas for the past 25 years, I have made spongata from a recipe published in 1820 by one of my favourite cookery authors, the Italian confectioner Giuliamo Jarrin. This delicious peppery honey cake is still made at Christmas in villages and towns throughout Emilia Romagna, Jarrin's native region. Indeed, just about every family have their own recipe, as do the professional pastry shops. All keep their own specific methods and ingredients as proudly guarded secrets. This interesting celebration cake is sometimes compared to the English mince pie, though in reality it is much more closely related to the better known Italian confections panpepato and panforte. Though unlike these celebrated cakes, spongata has a thin coating of crisp pastry.

Jarrin was born in the town of Colorno near Parma in 1784. After working in Paris for a while during the reign of Napoleon, he came to London in 1817, where he lived for the rest of his life, running various confectionery establishments in the West End until his death in 1848. He even anglicised his name to William. Jarrin's book The Italian Confectioner, which he wrote in English, was first published in London in 1820. It is by far the most important work on confectionery published in Europe at this period and offers a wonderful insight into the techniques and processes used by the professionals. Sadly, it is hardly known in Italy. Though I don't suppose many contemporary cooks and chefs in England are aware of this seminal work on dessert foods either. Unfortunately there is no modern printed edition of Jarrin's book, but the good news is that the third edition of 1827 is now available on Google books (link at end of this posting). 

Giuliamo Alexis Jarrin from the third edition of The Italian Confectioner 1827. There is another portrait of Jarrin as a younger man on this blog in a posting about cupcakes.
To my knowledge, there are no recipes for spongata in any of the works on cookery and confectionery printed in Italy during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Jarrin actually gives us two. As far as I know they are the earliest printed recipes for this regional cake, predating any published in Italy. It is ironic that they were issued in London in English. Both of Jarrin's recipes can be found at the end of this post. Do try at least the first one, as it is easy to make and very good. The second is a bit more tricky.

There are a number of theories concerning the origin of spongata. Some suggest that the cake is a survival from Roman times and offer a rather tenuous argument that it is similar to one described in Petronius's Satyricon, written in the 1st century AD. Cakes are mentioned in the celebrated passage describing Trimalchio's extravagant feast, but not in enough detail to make a positive identification as spongata precursors. Certainly, all the ingredients spongate contain - honey, breadcrumbs, pinenuts, walnuts, currants, pepper, cinnamon and cloves - were all familiar in the Roman kitchen, but there does not seem to be any actual evidence that the Romans made these cakes. Others believe that the cake is Jewish in origin. Whatever the truth, it is certainly pretty ancient. It first gets mentioned in a letter dating from 1454 to Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan.* As you would expect, there are many other stories about this iconic and delicious cake, but like many other food legends they are very difficult to verify from historic sources. 

However, as an historian who enjoys replicating period dishes, what interests me much more than trying to figure out the origin of spongata from the scant historical record, is to understand a little more about its appearance and how it was made. Happily, help is at hand in the evidence provided by the marvellous etching reproduced below, a small detail from a board game published in Bologna in 1691.

A spongata vendor from a board game published in Bologna in 1691.
In his recipe Jarrin tells us to prick the finished cake all over with 'the point of a knife'. Most modern day spongate made in Emilia Romagna are still pricked all over in this way, usually with a skewer. However, what strikes me about the late seventeenth century spongate being sold by the long nosed gentleman above, is that they are marked criss-cross fashion with holes in the centre of the individual diamond shaped lozenges. This is a very familiar pattern to me, because an identical one was once called for in pricking or  'docking' Shrewsbury Cakes in seventeenth century England. This effect was achieved by marking the cakes with the teeth of a comb and then making a small hole in each lozenge, as in the photo below. 

17th century English Shrewsbury Cakes were marked with a comb

In his manuscript cookery book, the diarist and courtier John Evelyn gives a recipe To make Shrewsbery cakes, in which he instructs us to 'pricke them with the great teeth of a comb that is new and kept for that use'. A similar pattern was used to mark another Shrewsbury speciality, the simnel cakes made for mid-lent Sunday and illustrated (as below) by Robert Chambers in The Book of Days (London: 1862). The probable origin of these markings, at least with the Shrewsbury cakes was to enable the cakes to be broken into smaller pieces without having to cut them. I suspect that the markings on the spongate in the 1691 Bologna etching were for the same purpose.

A recreated Shrewsbury simnel
So in recreating my spongata cakes, I now mark them with a comb as in the picture below. After baking, I dust them with icing sugar, which is still common practice thoughout Emilia Romagna. 

A spongata marked with a comb and skewer

One traditional spongata made in Corniglio, a small town about 40 km northwest of Parma, is printed with a geometric design with a wooden mould as well as being pricked or docked - see below. Interestingly in Jarrin's second spongata recipe, he tells us that 'You may have wooden moulds, representing different subjects, into which you may put your paste, and fill the moulds as above, covering them with a wafer paper.'    

Spongata di Corniglio - the website where I borrowed this image has another showing a baker printing  a spongata on top of a wafer paper just as Jarrin describes.

Jarrin's recipe for spongata from The Italian Confectioner. (London: 1820).
Jarrin's second recipe for spongata or Italian Christmas cake.

G. BERNARDINI, La spongata: dolce tipico di localita del territorio parmense. Origini storiche, le tipiche località di produzione, le ricette, Parma, Tecnografica, 1995.  Accademia Italiana della cucina, Delegazione di Parma.

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