Monday 31 October 2011

Pickled Radish Pods and the Archduchess of Austria

Silver tureen and stand. Ignaz Joseph Würth. 1779-1782. Photo: Metropolitan Museum
In 2009 I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on a table installation for a wonderful exhibition of Du Paquier porcelain. One day I was asked a question about a mysterious silver tureen by a colleague, decorative arts curator Wolfram Koeppe. This wonderful tureen, pictured above, was made by Ignaz Joseph Würth for Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen (1738-1822) and his consort, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria (1742-1798), daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. It has a lid heavily ornamented with a finial in the form of a plant with small pods looking rather like peas, but the leaves are not those of a member of the pea family. Dr. Koeppe wanted to know its identity. I recognised the plant immediately as the rat tailed radish (Raphanus sativus), a form of radish cultivated not only for its roots, but for its delicious pods, which are marvellous eaten fresh, or pickled. They were once a common vegetable grown all over Europe and are making a bit of a comeback. A good variety to grow is München Bier. I have cultivated various types in my garden for over thirty years. I like them fresh, but pickled they are excellent with cold meats and fish.

Another mystery about this object was its gilt lining, which can be seen clearly in the photo below. The probable explanation for this, was that this small tureen was actually designed for serving pickled radish pods. The vinegar in the pickle would chemically attack silver, but not neutral gold, so the Archduchess's pickled radish pods would be untainted! This a nice example of how food history studies can inform decorative arts scholars about the forgotten purpose of an item of table equipage. 

Detail of the tureen, showing the radish pods and the gilt lining. Photo: Metropolitan Museum

Rat tailed radish pods in the Food History Jottings garden
Below is a recipe from John Farley's The London Art of Cookery. London: 1789. 6th edition). The same recipe occurs in many other cookery books of this period. Of course this is an English recipe, and I would be very interested to learn from any readers of this post of any eighteenth century Austrian recipes they might know for pickling this vegetable.

Farley's recipe, or in truth, a recipe pinched from another author.

The young radish pods soaking in salt water

The finished radish pods in their pickle of vinegar. Note the long pepper and horseradish added for flavour

The tureen belongs to the so-called Second Sachsen-Teschen Service, which comprised more than 350 items. Dr Koeppe curated the wonderful exhibition about the service Vienna Circa 1780: An Imperial Silver Service Rediscovered at the Met in 2010. 

Learn more  about the Second Sachsen-Teschen Service

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Tuesday 25 October 2011

Solomon's Temple in Flummery - a Culinary Mobile

A footman at Harewood House struggles with two misbehaving Solomon's Temple flummeries
A number of English cookery books published in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century offer a recipe for making a 'Solomon's Temple in Flummery', a dish that would be very difficult to replicate today, unless you happened to own an original mould from the period. These are extremely rare, so it is unlikely that there will be a major revival of the dish. The earliest recipe was published by the Manchester confectioner Elizabeth Raffald in 1769, though of course the dish required a specialist mould so would have been the invention of a potter rather than a cook. Earlier this year my friend Tony Barton cast me a fake one in silicone rubber for the exhibition I curated on Mrs Raffald, which is currently running at Rienzi at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, which I have discussed in an earlier posting. Despite being cast from rubber, it made a lovely feature on the table and was garnished with small dianthus flowers, candied raspberries and pippin knots or jumballs.

This large salt glazed stoneware mould made in Staffordshire between 1730-50 is the prototype of the Solomon's Temple mould. Mrs Raffald describes 'steps' in her recipe, so this is the kind of mould she almost certainly used. Later creamware Solomon's Temple moulds are somewhat simplified, like that illustrated below. Courtesy Winterthur.

A Wedgewood creamware Solomon's Temple mould from the 1780s. 
Tinned steel versions of Solomon's Temple moulds survived into the early twentieth century

Mrs Raffald's husband John was a gardener and seedsman, who organised horticultural competitions at an inn which the couple ran together in Salford. The evidence points to the fact that he was fond of growing pinks and carnations. This is why I decided to use the pinks as a garnish. His brother grew fruit in a market garden, which he sold from a stall in the market near the Exchange in Manchester. This is why I used candied raspberries to surround the flummery. Mrs Raffald instructs us to use rock candy sweetmeats. Candied fruit or peel is what was usually meant by 'sweetmeats'. The term 'rock candy' indicates that the sweetmeats had a sugar crystal or candy coating. 

A late Victorian confectioner called Robert Wells also included a recipe in his book Ornamental Confectionery (London: 1898). Wells garnishes his Solomon's Temple in Blancmange, as he calls it, 'with jumballs, apple paste and rock candies'. This is why I garnished the Houston fake rubber Solomon's Temple with pippin knots, or jumballs, as well as the rock candy raspberries. Here it is on the table surrounded by beautiful eighteenth century silver and porcelain.

However, this static rubber fake cannot give a true impression of what this eccentric dish really looks like and more importantly how it behaves. Because it is made of flummery, which is a kind of opaque milk jelly, the central obelisk wobbles and cavorts in a most entertaining manner, while the four little cones shake, rattle and roll in a very naughty way. Below is a video of a Solomon's Temple I made a few days ago from real flummery to show you what I mean.  I apologise for the quality of the video, which was made on my mobile phone. Next time I make a Solomon's Temple I will post a better video for you.  

Recipe from W. A. Henderson, The Housekeeper's Instructor. (London: 1805. 12th edition).
In a cookery book supposedly written by the London Tavern cook John Farley, the Solomon's Temple mould is described as having steps. The recipe above by William Henderson is identical to Farley's. However, both are derived from Raffald's original 1769 recipe, which they have misquoted. She says, 'Then fill the top of the Temple to the steps', by which she probably means the base of the structure, that is the part coloured brown with chocolate. Farley and Henderson both say 'red flummery for the steps'. Of course Farley never really wrote The London Art of Cookery, so he probably never made a Solomon's Temple. The typesetter made a mistake, which was copied by Henderson. Oh! The never-ending joys of cookery bookery!

A real Solomon's Temple in flummery this time. The base is flavoured with chocolate dissolved in coffee; the central obelisk  is coloured with cochineal. Only the little cones are the original white flummery colour. This was made using a reproduction Solomon's Temple mould I commissioned from genius ceramic artist Morgen Hall
Some Solomon's Temple Moulds have miniature melons and cherries (jewel fruits) which were cast on the chocolate or coffee base in different colours, as in this example moulded from a 1790s creamware mould in my collection

Solomon's Temple moulds were made in other forms. A design with a large central cupola and four smaller surrounding domes became known as a Kosiki mould in the later nineteenth century. Here is a Solomon's Temple in flummery made from one of these.

If you want to find out more about period jellies and flummeries, visit this page on my website.
See if you can spot our fake Solomon's Temple on the table displayed in the Mrs Raffald exhibition in Houston. Why not go to Rienzi at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and see it for yourself. Though I must warn you, it does not wobble like a real one.
This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Jellies and Gemstones

I would not be telling the truth if I said that the photograph above was of an antique cameo or gemstone. It is in fact an edible jelly in the form of Cupid made from a late eighteenth century English ceramic jelly mould. Amazing isn't it? John Flaxman in jelly, or dare I say it - Luca della Robbia à la gelatina!

It was one of a number of moulded foods that I made for an event at Middlethorpe Hall near York on the 2nd October. This was the third food history/lecture demonstration for the York Civic Trust that I have presented at Middlethorpe, a wonderful Queen Anne house, now run by the National Trust as an hotel. On previous occasions I have held sessions on historical chocolate (2009) and Georgian ice creams (2010). This year I looked at  English jellies and flummeries from the middle of the eighteenth century to about the time of the Battle of Waterloo.

The dish illustrated in the photo at the top is made with strawberry jelly topped with white flummery (blancmange). First of all some cold, but still liquid flummery, is very carefully brushed into the part of the mould modelled as Cupid and allowed to set. Then the rest of the mould is filled with the fruit jelly to create a transparent red plinth for the cupid to sit on. The mould used to make this extraordinary dish was made at the manufactory of Josiah Wedgewood in the 1790s. The finished effect is not dissimilar to that which Wedgewood achieved with his celebrated jasperware ceramics, though in this case the art work is completely edible! In the last decades of the eighteenth century, Wedgewood issued a number of creamware jelly moulds based on gemstone designs dating from antiquity, like that of the lion playing a lyre in the photograph below.

These moulds were almost certainly designed to create cameo-like jellies and blancmanges in high bass-relief, some with quite extraordinary sculptural detail. Here is another Wedgewood jelly from the Georgian period I made at the Middlethorpe event - this time in the form of an agricranion

One of the most popular of Wedgewood's flummery moulds turns out this wonderful pineapple. The design was imitated by just about every other ceramic and copper mould manufacturer for the next hundred and thirty years.

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