|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 it is the only one we have ever seen.
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.
Johann Christoph Volckamer, Nürnbergische Hesperides. Nuremburg: 1708-14. (A digitised version of the 1728 edition).
|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.
|Sixteenth or early seventeenth century sweetmeat fork.Photo © Museum of London|
|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 describe 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 doubtful that this is actually 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 by the Nuremburg merchant Johann Volckamer published 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 twelve 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.
|Twelve varieties of citron are described in 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 Ferrari, a Jesuit priest from Sienna, who published a monograph on citrus fruits in Rome in 1646. Ferrari based his self-styled tale on similar legends from antiquity, like that of Apollo and Daphne, or of Adonis and Myrrha as told by Ovid, in which nymphs are transformed into trees. In his book Hesperides sive de malorum aureorum cultura et usu. (Rome 1646), Ferrari illustrated the metamorphosis of a nymph called Harmonillus into a citron tree. I have reproduced a detail from his engraving above. Harmonillus's feet are rooting to the ground while her fingertips are turning into branches bearing citron fruit. The citrons growing out of her 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 nowadays 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 contemporary chefs, who have probably been attracted by its outlandish appearance. However, the common citron has just as good a flavour.
|A selection of citrus fruit, including ripe yellow common citrons and a finger citron.|
|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 more or less use this technique described by Lady Anne Fanshawe for preserving citrons. It works very well with other citrus fruit. Photo © Wellcome Library.|