Tuesday 31 January 2017

The Jonah Mould - Or Size Matters

Visitors to my kitchen frequently remark on the large number of antique jelly moulds scattered around the room. I usually explain that just a few of them were actually used for turning out jellies and even some of those had other uses. For instance, on the kitchen dresser in the photo above there are moulds for making puddings, ice compotes, nougat compotes, nougat cornucopias, chocolate peacocks, raised pies, sugar baskets, cakes and ice cream bombes. There are also some jelly moulds, but they are in a minority.  "All that glitters is not gold" and all that is shiny copper is not necessarily a jelly mould.

This advertisement for culinary moulds produced by the Paris firm Trottier in the 1860s testifies to the remarkable variety of moulds available for kitchen and confectionery use at this period.
It is actually a size thing. Nineteenth century copper moulds for jelly are rarely over five inches high. The highest they were ever made was six and a half inches and that was pushing it a bit. This is for a very simple reason. Any taller than this and the jelly will split and collapse, especially if of a light set.  Moulds higher than this were designed for making other dishes, such as cakes, boiled puddings etc. Of course it is possible to make taller jellies, but an inordinate amount of gelling agent has to be used, making them rubbery and unpleasant to eat. More stable jellies could be made in the taller moulds when fruit (or even profiteroles) were enclosed in the gel. These additions strengthened the jelly by creating what I guess could be called an edible, internal armature. Most moulds over five and a half inches were probably designed for this particular purpose.

This late nineteenth century advertisement clearly illustrates the range of mould heights for jelly moulds. Those in the six and a half inch high category were probably designed for being filled with fruit to make the finished jelly more stable.
One specialist six-inch tall mould for making a jelly with a fruit macedoine core came provided with a separate internal liner in the form of a dome. This created a cavity within a cortex of transparent jelly, which would be filled with a macedoine of fruit. A jelly made in the outer mould alone is terribly unstable. It usually splits and dramatically collapses within a few seconds. Some taller moulds were designed to hold other specialist liners, such as the taller versions of the Belgrave, Alexandria and Brunswick Star.  When set, these all had internal blancmange 'armatures' which gave them a degree of stability and helped them hold together.
A lesson in size - the small four inch tall mould on the right is a typical size for a jelly mould. The second mould from the right (nine inches high) is not a jelly mould, but a cake mould used for turning out Savoy or Baba cakes. The two six inch high moulds on the left are both macedoine moulds with an inner liner to create a cavity, which can be filled with fruit.
Perhaps the most spectacular of all Victorian jellies. The Macededoine Jelly in the foreground was made with one of the moulds illustrated in the previous photograph. While the Belgrave Jelly behind it was made with the mould below. These internal structures lent a stability to the jelly.
Mould and liner for the mysterious Belgrave Jelly illustrated above.
The famous Alexandria Cross mould as illustrated in the Marshall advertisement above was made in three sizes - six and a half inches, four and a half inches and three inches. The mould on its side with liner inside is the tall six and a half inch version. At this marginal height it takes a great deal of skill to make it with a decent light jelly set so that it is edible and holds together on the plate. The little three inch Alexandria Cross is extremely rare.
Some of the taller moulds were designed with other purposes in mind - not just for jellies. For instance, some savoury dishes, like the pain de gibier in the image below, were strong enough to be de-moulded without collapsing, as they were based on a firm and quite solid purée of meat held together with isinglass. Because of their solid consistency dishes of this kind were more difficult to get out of the mould than a much more pliant jelly, but a skilled cook of the nineteenth century would have had few problems doing this.  

A recreation of a Waterloo banquet from 1839, which I produced for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo at Apsley House in 2015. The magnificent Portuguese service is in the middle of the table. My food is on serving dishes gifted to the Duke of Wellington by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. The pain de gibier à la gelée made from a Câreme recipe on the far left, sits on an ornamental wax socle and is garnished with hatalet skewers of truffles and turned mushrooms. 
All this goes to show that nineteenth century moulds were designed for a complex and flexible cuisine, which has been mainly forgotten. Modern chefs are not taught how to use what is now considered to be obsolete equipment. The English TV production company Wall to Wall, who specialise in living history programmes, recently featured a very large copper mould in two different programmes, with predictably disastrous results. In one of the programmes, The Victorian Bakers at Christmas, which I have already mentioned in a previous article, the mould was used to boil a plum pudding. I could tell when I watched the mould being filled with pudding mixture that this was just not going to work. Not because the mould was too large in this case, but it was not thoroughly greased and the mixture was too slack. I took some screen shots to show you what happened.

This very large and quite spectacular castle mould has a wired rim and a hanging ring, so I am sure it is French. It was probably designed for turning out a pain de gibier à la gelée or similar savoury dish. Its design is too fussy for a Savoy Cake or Baba, though with care it could be used for those. In this case it is being used to boil an English plum pudding - possible, but risky,
The pudding refuses to come out in one piece. It is likely that the top of the pudding either burnt to the mould, or the mould was just not greased thoroughly. Victorian cooks would have chosen a simpler mould.
The rest of the pudding remains in the mould - embarrassing
The very same mould turned up a few weeks later in Wall to Wall's BBC production Further Back in Time for Dinner presented by Giles Coren and the excellent food historian Polly Russell from the British Library. Debbie, the hard-pressed chef who made a valiant job of cooking food for the family was provided with the same totally inappropriate mould for turning out a jelly. Again in the screen shots below you can see the result - a predictable failure and not the fault of the cook. If the chef had been given a sensible-sized mould designed for jelly, I am sure she would have produced an attractive dish. But I guess these failures are perceived by the producers as making better television. I personally think it is misguided and unfair to the cook.  Perhaps we will see the 'Jonah mould' again soon - I gather Wall to Wall are making a programme on the history of confectionery - third time lucky!

Oh no! It is that same Jonah mould again - you can gauge its huge size - being used in another Wall to Wall production for BBC- Back in Time for Dinner. This time to turn out a jelly. Not wise!
The jelly fails because of the totally inappropriate choice of mould.

Thursday 19 January 2017

The Edible Monument - Detroit Institute of Arts

In 2015 I was commissioned by the Getty Research Institute to produce a replica of a sugar table centrepiece designed by the eighteenth century French cook and confectioner Menon. The designs first appeared in Menon's illustrated manual on confectionery La Science de Maitre d'Hotel Confiseur (Paris: 1749). My large scale pastillage version was displayed in the seminal exhibition The Edible Monument curated by my friend and colleague Marcia Reed, chief curator at the Research Institute. Marcia's stunning illustrated book The Edible Monument should be on the bookshelves of every food historian. I first displayed a version of this at Fairfax House in York in 1998 at the exhibition The Pleasures of the Table, so it has been around the houses - York, LA and now Detroit. The original piece is still used for the Christmas dining room display at Fairfax House.

If you were unable to get to York, or did not see the exhibition in Los Angeles, The Edible Monument is currently on show at the fabulous Detroit Institute of Arts (see details at the end of this post). But for those of you who cannot get to the DIA, here is a short video about my contribution to the show.

The original Fairfax House setting of the Menon centrepiece
I am in Detroit in early February and will be presenting a number of events at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial and at the DIA itself. 

Timetable of Edible Monument Events

Friday, February 3, 2017. Cuisine d’Art - GROSSE POINTE FARMS, MICHIGAN - The War Memorial invites guests to travel back in time and dine like 18th century nobility during its unique experiential event, Cuisine d’Art. Attendees will enjoy a memorable evening in The War Memorial’s lakefront ballroom, experiencing edible high-art, period drinks, and special talks by food historian Ivan Day and DIA curator Alan Phipps Darr. Plus extraordinary period-inspired food by Frank Turner, Executive Chef at the War Memorial. For full details visit the War Memorial website or ring 313.881.7511. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017, 10:30 a.m.–noon. Two part seminar and demonstration
I am afraid the this is a private event only open to to members of the DIA’s auxiliary group, the Visiting Committee for European Sculpture & Decorative Arts (VCESDA). If you are a VCESDA member here is a link for more details of the event - Ivan Day Sugar Sculpture Event. If you are not a member, you can see what I will be making below. Details of how you can become a VCESDA can be found on this page of the DIA website.

Part 1: Using a set of original 18th-century wooden moulds and equipment, I will demonstrate how to make the sugar figure of Neptune below.

Part 2: Using original moulds and equipment I will demonstrate how to make the Renaissance style sugar tazza below in the style of Giulio Romano, the Renaissance painter, architect and protégé of Raphael.

Saturday, February 4, 2017, 2 p.m.

Lecture: Eating the Edifice

This is my main event. I will outline the evolution of sugar sculpture and other forms of table art from the Renaissance to the 18th century. Beginning with gilded sugar coins distributed at fifteenth century Italian wedding feasts and continuing on to papal displays of sugar trionfi, I will introduce the materials, equipment and methods used by past masters of such edible ephemera.

DIA Marvin and Betty Danto Lecture Hall—5200 Woodward Avenue—Detroit, MI 48202. 
Sponsored by the Visiting Committee for European Sculpture & Decorative Arts. 
Enter through the John R entrance. Free with museum admission. For further 
information, call 313.833.1720 or visit the DIA website

The original design that inspired the sugar paste centrepiece

Sunday, February 5, 2017, 12-4 p.m.
Artist Demonstration: Ivan Day and the Edible Monument

Using traditional tools and techniques to create a white gingerbread sculpture. Everyone is invited to take a close look into this unique art form and a limited number of participants will be able to create their own small sculpture to take home as supplies last. This program is in conjunction with the special exhibition The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals on display through April 16, 2017. This is a family event, free with museum admission. For further information, call 313.833.1720.  
Gingerbread figures made from a seventeenth century mould. The fine lady in the middle is made from red gingerbread, the two other figures from white gingerbread. Both these early gingerbread were popular at the time of Shakespeare.
A mould to make three gingerbreads where the usual dominant role of humans over animals is reversed.
Children might like to have a go at making this cute gingerbread squirrel

The Edible Monument Exhibition: The Art of Food for Festivals - through Sun 16th April 2017
The Edible Monument includes about 140 prints, rare books and serving manuals from the Getty Research Institute collection and private collections. The artworks illustrate in lush detail the delectable monuments and sculptures made of food that were an integral part of street festivals as well as court and civic banquets in Europe in the 16th to 19th centuries. The exhibition has been organized by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Public celebrations and street parades featured large-scale edible creations made of breads, cheeses and meats. At court festivals, banquet settings and dessert buffets featured elaborate table monuments made of sugar, flowers and fruit. These edible sculptures didn’t last long, but images of towering garden sculptures and lavish table pieces designed for Italian and French courts have survived in illustrated books and prints, many of which are featured in the exhibition.

The exhibition includes a monumental sugar sculpture based on an 18th-century print. “Palace of Circe” by sculptor and culinary historian Ivan Day is set on an 8-foot table and features sugar paste sculpted into a classical temple with sugar statues and sugar-sand gardens. The figures were meant to impart the consequences of gluttony with a story about the ancient Greek hero Ulysses. When he landed on the island of Aeaea, his men were so greedy that the sorceress Circe turned them into pigs. 

By the mid-17th century cookbooks and guides to the new skills and professions of carving and pastry-making were published. Copied and plagiarized, they became models that spread throughout European court culture. Examples of such books are included in the exhibition, such as one by Bartolomeo Scappi, the “private cook” to Pope Pius V; Joseph Gilliers, the dessert chef to King Augustus of Poland; and Juan de la Mata, court chef to the Spanish kings Philip V and Ferdinand VI.

Bitter/Sweet: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate - through Sunday March 5 2017

This is another wonderful exhibition at the DIA.

From social revolutions that changed the way we drink our morning blends, to design revolutions that changed the objects that we drink from, step back in time to when gathering over a cup of your favorite hot beverage caused a stir that upended the world.

Bitter/Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate is the first exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts to engage all five senses. In addition to seeing art, you can touch, hear, smell and even taste coffee- and tea-related beverages.

Another unmissable event is a lecture entitled The Edible Monument by Dr. Alan Phipps Darr, Senior Curator of the European Art Department at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The lecture is free, open to the public, and is sponsored by the Friends of the Grosse Pointe Public Library. It will be held on February 7, 2017 at 7 p.m. at the Grosse Pointe Public Library Ewald Branch, 15175 E Jefferson, Grosse Pointe Park, MI 48230.

Detroit Institute of Arts Website

Sunday 15 January 2017

Silent Culinary Witnesses

Behind the sugar moulded torso of Neptune and his trident is an almond cake, decorated with ornamental bands of snow sugar and surmounted by a dragant figure of Neptune. The illustration is in Conrad Hagger, Neues Saltzburgisches Koch-Buch (Augsburg; 1719). The sugarwork, (just two components of the complete sculpture) was pressed from a fruitwood mould from the same period (see last illustration below). 
Trying to recreate food from the past is fraught with all sorts of problems. I remember my friend and colleague Peter Brears once telling me that he had frequently been served truly diabolical reincarnations of medieval food by historical re-enactors with loads of enthusiasm, but little knowledge or skill. He explained that one of the reasons he wrote his extraordinary book Cooking and Dining in Medieval England was to give a bit of help and direction to enthusiasts who enjoyed cooking within this culinary genre. As a museum curator who spent a long career dealing with objects, Peter like me, has always been an advocate of utilising period kitchen equipment in the recreation of old dishes. Some refer collectively to these redundant utensils as 'kitchenalia', a term I absolutely hate. I prefer to regard these objects as the silent culinary witnesses of our past food culture. Understanding how to use them can truly bring an ancient dish screaming and shouting into the modern world - a rebirthing experience that can be revelatory. Witness Mr and Mrs Early Stuart Gingerbread below.
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.
So I would like to say a little more about my methodology when it comes to recreating historical dishes. For instance, how on earth would one go about preparing the baroque almond cake surmounted by a sugar figure of Neptune at the top of this post? Or for that matter, the other early eighteenth century Hapsburg dishes (all from Conrad Hagger) illustrated below? The bakery is easy enough - just follow the recipes. But what about the rather tricky ornaments? One could attempt to model them from gum paste. But it would be far better to employ the equipment the bakers of the period used - skilfully carved wooden boards, which allowed you to knock out an impressive three dimensional figure of Neptune, Cupid or some other sugar deity. I have the basic skills to freely model figures like these, but if I did, they would be entirely twenty-first century creations, unavoidably watermarked with the zeitgeist of this moment in time. No matter how much of an effort I make to give them a period 'feel', they will only exist in the realm of pastiche. But use a mould carved by a master of this period and the chances of creating something authentic are much higher.

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.

The wooden board on the right, dating from the first half of the eighteenth century, allows the construction of a figure of Neptune from different body parts. His legs and trident are on the other side of the mould. The boil on Neptune's buttock was created by a burrowing furniture beetle, probably back in the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa.The mould on the left, dating from the seventeenth century or earlier, was designed to enable the creation of a dolphin. I will be using both of these moulds in a demonstration workshop on baroque sugar sculpture at the Detroit Institute of the Arts in early February. 
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.
All the Scappi knives in the woodcut above in my kitchen. There are surviving kitchen knives from the medieval and early modern periods, but none are useable. The only answer is to commission quality reproductions. Of course knives like this do not make any difference to the appearance or authenticity of a dish. But what a wonderful insight into renaissance kitchen knife craft you get when you eventually master using them.
Gingerbread again. Eating knives are important to me too. They say so much about the culture of dining. This is an original English scale-tanged gudgeon-handled eating knife from c.1400. An everyday knife for an ordinary person, but very attractive. The rich with their gold, amber and ivory did not have a monopoly on beauty. Gudgeon is the root of the boxwood tree and was cheap. It sets off this medieval gingerbread perfectly. The brick red colour is from the sanders powder in the recipe. Sanders is also made from the wood of a tree. The decorations are box leaves attached to the gingerbread with cloves.
Back to the King of the Ocean and googly-eyed friends. Components of a nautically themed baroque sugar sculpture on my work-tablewhich I will construct in a workshop at the DIA in Detroit in early February. I have to carry these fragile components in my cabin baggage. Have piece montée, will travel! I will post a photograph of the finished article.

Sunday 8 January 2017

It is not too late to wish you all a Merry Christmas

A Twelfth Cake as not seen on TV!
Recently I have watched a lot on British television (and heard even more on the radio) about Twelfth Night, the so-called last day of Christmas. But according to the liturgical calendar, the ecclesiastical season of Christmas doesn't actually end until Candlemas, the 2nd of February, a celebratory period of not twelve, but forty days. So with this in mind, and the fact that it is the 8th of January today, I guess it is still not too late for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and apologise for my lack of communication this past year. That's my excuse anyway!

One old food custom here in the English Lake District which marked out this forty-day season was to eat 'sweet pie' for Christmas morning breakfast. This Cumberland variant on the mince pie contained mutton as well as dried fruit, spices and sugar and was the first flesh meal after the vigil of Christmas Eve, originally a day of abstinence from meat. Even during my lifetime, there were local farming families who saved a small piece of the Christmas breakfast pie in the larder to be consumed forty days later on Candlemas Day. A reclusive old Georgian shepherd called Richard Nicholson, who lived on a windswept mountain called Black Combe in the parish of Whitbeck, used to kill a sheep every year to make his sweet pies. In his History of Cumberland, the antiquarian William Hutchinson (1794) gives a long account of this eccentric man and his superstitious beliefs, which includes this passage,

Wilkinson and his neighbours were so superstitious that they believed that the oxen and other animals in the byres and stalls all genuflected on Christmas Eve when the clock struck twelve!

Detail of a Twelfth Cake mould signed by James Gunter.
Anyway, back to the British television programme I hinted at earlier, which featured Twelfth Day celebrations. It was a fun Christmas edition of a production called The Victorian Bakers. It, like the original three-part version screened last year, was full of interesting facts about professional bakers in the nineteenth century. But for me it held one terrible disappointment - the quality of the food that the bakers produced. If you watched the programme, please do not believe that what you saw was really anything like the food of the nineteenth century. I sometimes had to hold my hands over my eyes and frequently wanted to roll my sleeves up to show them how to do it properly. However. this was not the fault of the bakers themselves, who were all modern professionals with incredible contemporary skills. I guess the TV company wanted them to 'bring the period back to life' through discovering the difficulties and making lots of mistakes on the way. The whole thing reminded me a bit of a food history series from a number of years ago called Supersizers. I was the "historical advisor" to that series, but the producers rarely took my advice. And although the series was highly entertaining, the food cooked by modern culinary professionals was absolutely awful, with an emphasis on offal, cods head and other dishes chosen for their shock value. As is the wont of these 'living history' productions, the Victorian Bakers also featured lashings of tripe, tongue etc. to shock our modern squeamish sensibilities (yawn!). But what was missing were the incredible skills (now mainly lost) that Victorian bakers and confectioners possessed. I prefer to celebrate those.  

However, I have a confession to make. The makers of the programme did ask me to teach the bakers to decorate some twelfth cakes, but the scene we eventually filmed was not used in the final cut. I was asked to make and decorate a twelfth cake to show them the skill level, but also to teach two of the bakers to decorate one themselves. We had a great day and I think they learnt quite a lot. But what made the session very special was that I let them have a go at using some of my precious confectioner's moulds to make their cake really true to period. In fact we used moulds carved by the greatest twelfth cake decorator of all, the London based Italian confectioner William Jarrin, which was I suppose a bit like letting a modern art student use Rembrandt's actual paintbrushes. As you can see, the king and queen mould above came from the celebrated confectionery shop belonging to the Gunter family, for whom Jarrin worked as an ornament maker for a few years after the battle of Waterloo, In later life, Jarrin was paid by Lord Mansfield to travel from London to Scone Palace in Scotland to decorate a special shortbread for a visit of Queen Victoria. That always seems a bit bizarre to me - an Italian confectioner going to Scotland to decorate a shortbread! For me, it is an incredible privilege to own and to be able to use moulds carved by this nineteenth century master. I wish the BBC had also appreciated this.

Anyway, to return to the Victorian Bakers. I was commissioned by the production company to make the cake at the top of this page with its neo-gothic gum-paste decorations, while the two bakers had a go at ornamenting the one below, using some of Jarrin's moulds. Harpreet Baura-Singh, who makes high-class contemporary cakes for a living, particularly took to the challenging task of pressing gum paste from these extraordinary moulds. Both cakes were iced with a base of pink cochineal icing as per the instructions of a number of the early authorities. The other baker, John Foster confessed that he would rather have spent his time with me making some traditional pies. Some of the other bakers did have a go at making a pie on the programme - a gargantuan Yorkshire Christmas Pie, very loosely based on a recipe in Francatelli. But the less I say about how it turned out, the better - though I suspect Mr Francatelli may be rotating rapidly in his grave. And I am not going to say too much either about the gingerbreads and moulded Christmas pudding, which would have worked much better if the bakers had been taught to use the kit properly. Anyway, this is what the twelfth cakes looked like, because sadly they did not make it to the final edit.

Twelfth cake ornamented by Harpreet Baura-Singh and John Foster, with a little help from William Jarrin and Ivan Day

A much more satisfying pre-Christmas project was a feature I worked on on the subject of English Christmas traditions for the popular Japanese magazine RSVP. This was written by Kirstie Sobue with some stunning photos of the dishes by her husband Hideyuki. The article was eighteen pages long and profusely illustrated. Here is a selection of the dishes below, which as you can see did include another twelfth cake specially made for the feature.Another memorable and fun moment at the tailend of my year was feeding Edward Stourton a bowl of plum potage for the Radio 4 programme Sunday, which was broadcast on Christmas morning. When Edward saw the dark brown mess before him, he did not look impressed, but after tasting it declared that it was delicious. I have put one of Hideyuki's photos of the potage at the end of this post. I hope you all enjoy the twenty-five remaining days of Christmas. I will actually be in Detroit on Candlemas Day to give a couple of workshops and a public lecture at the wonderful exhibition The Edible Monument, so if any of you are there and are feeling hungry, I will share a piece of my forty-day-old sweet pie with you, that is if immigration allow me to bring it into the US. Merry Christmas! 
My kitchen at Christmas. Photo - Hideyuki Sobue
Another twelfth cake, this time for the Japanese magazine RSVP. Note the crowns on cushions. Photo - Hideyuki Sobue
This lucky slice contained the bean, so he who gets the bean gets the crown.

One of the oldest of all British Christmas traditions - plum pottage. Photo - Hideyuki Sobue