Sunday 24 November 2013

2014 - Some Interesting Food History Conferences and Lectures

Twenty-Eighth Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions

Saturday 17th May 2014


Kitchen Technology in England from 1600 to the Second World War 

A Selection of Early Modern Period Pastry Jaggers. Photo: Michael Finlay

Convenor - Ivan Day


Cooking with Charcoal and Steam in the English Kitchen - Peter Brears

The Blacksmith's Tale – Wrought Iron & Steel in the Kitchen - Giles Cowley

The Evolution of the English Weight Driven Spitjack - Tony Weston 

Cooking by Gas in the English Kitchen - David J. Eveleigh

Pastry Jaggers - their development from the late sixteenth to the late nineteenth century - Michael Finlay

Friends Meeting House, Friargate, York. YO1 9RL 

This, the twenty-eighth Leeds Symposium, focuses on technological advances both large and small in the English kitchen. 

There is a much grander three day symposium which will examine a similar subject area in New York City in April, but with a much more international and predominantly US focus. This is the 2014 Roger Smith Conference, which is this year entitled,

From Flint Knives to Cloned Meat: - Our Ambiguous Love, Hate, and Fear of Food Technologies

April 3-5 2014 Roger Smith Hotel

I am in New York on 2nd April to give a lecture to the Culinary Historians of New York, but will sadly miss the Roger Smith conference as I have to fly to Ohio State University the next day to give a lecture at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies on 4th April. Maybe I will get a chance to meet some of you at one of these two venues.

My 2014 Cookery Courses

Learn to make a Yorkshire Christmas Pie on my A Taste of Christmas Past Course
Below is the course diary for the period cookery courses I am offering in 2014. Click on the individual links to read more about each course on my website. If you would like to book a course there is a link to the booking form at the end of this post. All 2014 courses are £310 per person. Please book soon as places are limited and they quickly fill up.

Use original confectioners moulds like this to create a remarkable sugar paste neo-gothic church from the time of Lord Byron on my new Advanced Sugarwork and Confectionery Course
Forget about the Great British Bake-off. Try something more demanding than the 'Great Cupcake Challenge' 
Learn how to make Tudor and Stuart confectionery as it really was made, with original equipment
Learn how to make extraordinary period jellies and ices on my Moulded Foods Course - Bompas and Parr did
My clients come from all over the world. This is Philipp from Vienna, a regular attendant who has just finished off 'jagging' the crinkumcranks on the rim of Daniel Welstead's eighteenth century apple pie

Most of my courses cover the vast, unfathomable depths of British period cookery, but I also have a working interest in the early modern Italian kitchen. This is a loin of veal roasted in an original sixteenth century cradle spit and cooked according to a recipe from Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). The joint is spiked with sage, drenched in malvasia wine, sapa and agresto and roasted over ember-roast onions, prunes, rose vinegar and more malvasia. Amazingly delicious!
Maestro Martino's ravioli in tempo di carne, being cut with an original Italian Renaissance pastry wheel. Try this out on my Italian Renaissance Cookery Course

Saturday 23 November 2013

Towards A True Twelfth Cake

A group of sugar cavalry officers parade round the Prince of Wales Feathers on top of a Regency period twelfth cake
It seems ages since I had enough spare time to post on this blog. Since we are approaching Christmas I thought I would touch on a somewhat seasonal theme. On some of my recent courses I have been teaching my students how to make and decorate twelfth cakes and include some illustrations of their efforts here.

Some dishes are frequently mentioned in literary and historical records well before any recipes for them appear in the cookery books. A striking example of this is the twelfth or wassail cake, once commonly consumed on the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January. Formerly these cakes were made throughout Christendom, with numerous references to them in most European languages. From the Renaissance onwards, there are many tantalising descriptions of them in English sources, but a specific recipe does not appear in a printed cookery book until 1803 (John Mollard, The Art of Cookery). 

Although they are first described in the sixteenth century, twelfth cakes were particularly popular in this country between 1750 and 1850, when they were often decorated with sugar or wax figures and other spectacular ornaments. During the Christmas holiday period, city confectioners would dress their windows with these cakes to show off that year's prize creations. Standards of decoration were very high, a fact that should not be too surprising as this was of course Georgian Britain, the age of the Adam Brothers, Thomas Chippendale and Josiah Wedgewood, who all set very high levels of accomplishment in the decorative arts. There are plenty of illustrations of twelfth cakes in contemporary books, newspapers, confectioner's trade cards and the cover designs on packs of twelfth day cards, so we have a pretty good idea of what they looked like. They were embellished according to the prevailing aesthetic trends of the period. Some were embellished with one or two crowns, though this was optional and designs varied enormously depending on the caprice of the confectioner.
A twelfth cake with crown from Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, (London: 1869)
Anyone wanting to replicate a twelfth cake nowadays would probably assume that they were ornamented with royal icing applied with a piping bag. But in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century when this cake was at its apogée, piping had not yet been introduced into England and another, entirely different mode of decoration was used.This was a technique which employed a material called gum paste, made with a mixture of gum tragacanth and powdered sugar blended into a porcelain-like paste with a little water. Gum paste ornaments were pressed out of very finely carved wooden moulds and stuck onto the cake with royal icing, gum water or isinglass.The moulds, sometimes called 'boards' or 'cards' were often carved by the confectioners themselves. Frequently the standard of carving was that of a virtuoso. Although they were used for all sorts of purposes, such as the construction of sugar pieces montées and other table decorations, many of these moulds were carved with motifs specifically intended for ornamenting twelfth cakes. I own two that were intended for making sugar crowns and one other which allowed a confectioner to construct a three-dimensional Prince of Wales Feathers complete with crown.

An eighteenth century boxwood mould which allows a three dimensional crown to be made up out of various components
Two sugar paste crowns made from the mould above in the process of being gilded
A twelfth cake made by students on my Confectionery and Sugarwork Course
An early nineteenth century gum paste mould for making a crown
These two feathers are on the back of the mould indicating that it was used for making the Prince of Wales feathers
Two feathers pressed from the mould. To create the curled effect, the feathers are stuck back to back, wired and furled round a small confectioner's rolling pin
This is a close-up of a very finely carved Prince of Wales Feathers motif on a card mould from the late eighteenth century. It was used as a repeating relief motif in the top of the cake below
Dominated by the Prince of Wales feathers, this twelfth cake has been ornamented with motifs pressed in gum paste from late eighteenth and early nineteenth century confectioner's moulds. The crown is surrounded with the national flowers of England, Scotland and Ireland and small relief Prince of Wales feathers.

An eighteenth century card mould used to create the swags and drops around the cake. It also provided  the flowers of England, Ireland and Scotland for the top of the cake 
Difficult to see in this photograph, but the saddle covers on these horses are marked with GR. They probably date from the early 1820s. Attached back to back gum paste pressings of the two motifs were designed to be combined to make a three dimensional cavalry officer. Like most of these three dimensional features a stiff wire was run up one of the legs so the horse and rider could be attached securely to the cake.

A detail from an early nineteenth century confectioner's trade card showing a twelfth cake surmounted by figures
There are some other posts on twelfth cakes on this blog which you might enjoy reading -
A Forked Stick for the Cookold

This Year's Twelfth Cake

An article Ivan wrote for BBC Countryfile Magazine on Christmas food traditions