|Two white gingerbread figures made from a mould carved during Shakespeare's lifetime - with a wooden trencher and two late Tudor eating knives for good measure.|
Those of us who attempt to recreate the food of the past, must deeply understand the culinary aesthetics of a particular period. I too have seen many attempts, particularly on television, where the creators look very pleased with themselves, but their creations are either heavily lumpen or resemble modern junior school art projects. We all need to up our game. Food ornamentation and presentation was closely related to the prevailing trends in the decorative arts. Of course, very few modern kitchens are equipped with these ancient examples of culinary material culture and not all dishes require their use. And of course, some of these objects are just too precious to use. But I have made it my vocation over a long lifetime to acquire a working collection, which now consists of thousands of objects from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century - enabling me to gain a much richer insight into this subject than I would get by just sitting in the British Library reading old recipes. Of course, once you own objects like this, you then have to learn to use them. And without much surviving instruction in the literature and with no living practitioners to show you how, it is often extremely difficult to master extinct skills.
|This eccentric pastry centrepiece of three ornamented 'dorten' also features candleholders. The Cupid embellishing its summit would have been made using a mould identical to this one.|
|A Hapsburg Krapffen-Dorten - 'doughnut cake', the precursor of baumkuchen, which was once much more like the gateau à la broche still baked in front of the fire in the France on conical spits like this one illustrated in Hagger.|
|I hope this is the only time you ever see a valuable copy of Hagger's book on a kitchen floor, but I wanted to show you the impressive scale and cut of my 'Spiss zu dem grossen Krapffen!|
Of course putting a collection together of this scope and quality - we are talking expensive antiques here - is a major investment. And then there is the problem of those that are just too fragile and precious to use - or dangerous - as in the case of early bronze and bell metal cooking pots and a few other utensils. Modern reproductions are the only answer here, but commissioning one-offs of these can be even more expensive than buying originals. Combined with my taste in expensive antiquarian recipe books this priority in my consumer behaviour is the reason why I have never owned a decent car!
|An embarrassment of riches. Two of my mid-sixteenth century bronze Italian pastry jaggers, as illustrated in Bartolomeo Scappi. Opera (Venezia: 1621). Perhaps my favourite kitchen utensils of all.|
|Every kitchen should have a set of these, also illustrated in Scappi.|