Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Block Gingerbread

Recreating a Nineteenth Century Dundee Gingerbread

Halfpenny (above) and penny (below) wooden gingerbread blocks formerly belonging to Dundee baker John Scrymgeour (1827-1891). Scrymgeour, who founded his bakery in Nethergate in 1861 after seeking his fortune in Australia, was a prominent Dundee citizen with many civic responsibilities, including that of trustee to Dundee harbour. Cape Scrymgeour at the North-East point of Andersson Island in the Antarctic was named in his honour. Curiously, Mr Scrymgeour was born in the town of Kirremuir, chiefly famous for a local form of gingerbread.
Most British recipe books from the late fourteenth century onwards usually contain a recipe or two for gingerbread. Throughout its long and complex history this ancient baked good has gone through many transformations. Medieval and early modern versions were very different to the soft spongy cakes, tray bakes and anthropomorphic children's biscuits that are usually sold under the name in contemporary Britain. From time to time on this blog I will look at aspects of gingerbread's remarkable evolution, focussing particularly on some of the high points in its development before it became degraded into the currant-eyed homunculus of the modern bakery aisle. If surviving moulds are anything to go by, most gingerbread men in the past were far more sartorially elegant than the naked Mr Men of today. And there were plenty of well-dressed gingerbread women too. Just look at King William and Queen Mary further down this page. But what I want to touch upon in this brief posting is a type of commercial gingerbread which was once commonly sold in just about every street corner baker's shop, but which seems to have died out in the years leading up to World War I. Known as block gingerbread, this ubiquitous mainstay of the baker's trade was a dark treacle-flavoured variant on the theme, which was usually printed with a patriotic design, most often a royal crown or the royal coat of arms.

Surviving moulds for block gingerbread sometimes have the name of the baker carved on them, as in the two examples above, which are in my own collection. These moulds have a fascinating history. They are inscribed with the name J. Scrymgeour. This was John Scrymgeour (1827-1891), a prominent Dundee baker active in the second half of the nineteenth century. Scrymgeour's old friend Thomas Robertson captained the ship Active, which with three others went on an exploratory whaling expedition from Dundee to the Antarctic in 1892-3. Robertson named Cape Scrymgeour on Andersson Island in the recently deceased baker's honour. Perhaps its red granite cliffs reminded him of his old friend's gingerbread! On the same voyage Robertson also discovered and named Dundee Island and the Antarctic Firth of Forth.

Cape Scrymgeour, courtesy of Google Earth.This lonely, desolate headland at the east tip of Andersson Island in Antarctica was named in honour of  the Dundee baker who formerly owned my two gingerbread blocks.
Scrymgeour's two moulds were designed for making two different sizes which were sold at different prices. Like many of these moulds they are carved in a primitive style, the supporters on either side of the highly stylised royal arms looking rather like cartoon animals. This was probably intentional on the part of Mr Scrymgeour, as the principal devourers of cheap block gingerbread were children.

A halfpenny block gingerbread made with the smaller mould above
By the time Mr Scrymgeour was selling his wares to the hungry juveniles of Dundee, the tradition of moulding gingerbread into patriotic designs was already a well established practice. Sometimes they were formed into a likeness of the reigning monarch and his queen. As well as the fine examples below of William III and Mary, there is a similar mould from the 1830s in the Stranger's Hall collection in Norwich which depicts William IV on one side and Queen Adelaide on the other.  

The mould (see below) from which these large gingerbreads were pressed has King William III (reigned 1689-1702) on one side and his wife Queen Mary II (reigned 1689-94) on the other. It was carved in the late seventeenth century. Photo Michel Finlay

Photo Michael Finlay
A Georgian block gingerbread mould with the coat of arms of Great Britain. These moulds are very difficult to date, but the fourth quarter on the shield contains elements which show the Hanoverian royal descent, so it dates from between 1714 and 1800. The arms of Great Britain was superseded by the arms of the United Kingdom in 1801. It is difficult to be more precise.
The gingerbreads made in these moulds were chiefly produced and sold by professional bakers and confectioners, who kept very quiet about their recipes and methods. There were countless gingerbread recipes in both manuscript and printed sources, but these were of a domestic nature and aimed at housewives. It was not until the nineteenth century that professionals started sharing their secrets in print. One of the first bakers to write extensively on the subject was George Read, who issued The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker's Assistant as the second part of his book The Confectioner's and Pastry Cook's Guide (London: nd. c.1834).  The intended readers were members of the trade, particularly bakers' apprentices. As a result the gingerbread recipes it contains are quite different from those found in domestic cookery books. Quantities are much larger and processes more complicated. Read tells us about the practice of preparing treacle for gingerbread by getting it to slowly react with various aerating chemicals, such as alum and potash. In one recipe he tells us to add 2 lbs of alum and 4 lbs of American potash to 112 lbs of treacle, though he indicates that this large scale recipe was for use by the gingerbread wholesalers. He tells us that flour was added to this aereated treacle  to make a sponge, which he calls 'light dough'. This was left to mature and then added to the other gingerbread ingredients when required.

My copy of Read's 1855 3rd edition

Frederick Vine, another professional baker active at the end of the nineteenth century also produced a series of small books aimed at the trade. In one, Saleable Shop Goods (London: 1898), he devotes a chapter to the production of gingerbread. Like Read, he discusses many types and gives some very useful information specifically on block gingerbread. He explains how to prepare the treacle with the  rising agents and how to make it up into a sponge with flour. He tells us, 

'The longer this dough stands the better will be the resultant gingerbread. In the old days it was always a rule to put away the gingerbread sponges early in the spring, and then it would be in prime condition for use about September; but at the present time it would, most probably be deemed ripe in from one to three months. At any rate, give it as long as you possibly can, remembering always the longer the better'.

Gingerbread leavened with chemicals such as pearlash (potassium carbonate - this was Read's American potash) were being made in late eighteenth century America, but do not seem to have been produced in Britain until the 1820s. Amelia Simmons, American Cookery (Hartford: 1798), adds pearlash to what was a fairly standard treacle gingerbread mix to get a lighter result. Pearlash and other alkaline leavening agents such as ammonium bicarbonate and sodium bicarbonate were probably used in Britain in the early nineteenth century, but do not appear in the cookery books until the 1820s and 30s when a few recipes are included in manuscript collections. However, the process of maturing the treacle for a long period to make a sponge, seems to have only been undertaken by professionals. In England, some domestic recipes call for the addition of gooseberry vinegar to react with the alkaline leavening agent and create carbon dioxide bubbles in the dough. The professionals realised that treacle itself is a mildly acidic material which also reacts with soda, Its highly viscous nature also allows the tiny bubbles of this gas to be trapped, especially when it is combined with some flour.

A recipe for Rich Gingerbread from the manuscript receipt book of Mrs Morton c.1835 (my collection). The recipe calls for 'sal ammoniac' (ammonium carbonate) as a leavening agent. There is some evidence to suggest that rich gingerbreads made with treacle had been around since the Restoration of Charles II. Though yeast does feature in some recipes, early forms of gingerbread were normally made without any form of leaven. The use of these raising agents changed the nature of gingerbread from a flat biscuit-like confection into the lighter cake-like forms with which we are familiar today.
Professional gingerbread bakers purchased their treacle in large barrels. Nineteenth century home bakers bought theirs from the local grocery store. Before treacle was retailed in cans it was sold as a loose liquid. The purchaser arrived at the shop with a purpose-made ceramic treacle jar like that illustrated above. They had a screwtop lid, probably for keeping flies and wasps at bay.  This transfer-printed example is in my own collection - it is unmarked.
Gingerbread block. From Frederick Vine, Saleable Shop Goods (London: 1898)
From Frederick Vine, Saleable Shop Goods (London: 1898)
Vine also gives some useful details on how to mould gingerbread and provides the illustrations reproduced here. He tells us that,
Blocks (Fig. 104) for gingerbread can be purchased from any of the confectioners' machinists
advertising in these pages. Usually two impressions are cut into one block, the halfpenny on one side and the penny on the other. In some places it is usual to have your name down the centre, but of course, in that case, it will be necessary to have the blocks specially cut for the purpose'.

Mr Scrymgeour up in Dundee obviously went to this trouble, but had two different sized blocks carved rather than one 'with the halfpenny on the one side and penny on the other'. Wooden blocks were carved in larger sizes for making more expensive gingerbreads. Vine gives a number of recipes for these more pricey block gingerbreads, including some richer options, which contain candied orange and citron peel. We made Mr Scrymgeour's halfpenny block gingerbread on my moulded foods course last week (illustrated at the top of this post) by using this recipe from Saleable Shop Goods,
Gingerbread block. From Frederick Vine, Saleable Shop Goods (London: 1898)

Rich Block Gingerbread.
8 lbs. flour.
1 1/2 lbs. butter.
1 1/2 lbs. raw sugar.
2 lbs. mixed peel.
2 ozs. ground ginger,
1 oz. ground mixed spice.

Weigh the flour on to the board, and rub the fat into it; make a bay; lay the peel round, cut fine; put the sugar and spice into it, and wet up with worked treacle (No. 209) (of course before the flour is added) into a tight dough; let it lie a short time. Then take your 6d. or 1s. block; dust them out with flour; scale off the dough into 1lb. pieces; mould them up round; flatten out to the size of the shilling block, and press it well upon it, keeping the dough perfectly square with the edges of the block; then take off, and place on to thick high-edge tins. Tins that we used for this purpose were about 1/8 in. in thickness, and would hold twelve 1s. cakes, four across and three down; dock well with a fork; fix an upset firmly along the bottom, or foot of the tin ; wash over, and bake in a cool oven. When cooked, glaze over with Bun Wash (No. 190), while hot, then cut out and sell at 1s. or 6d. per square, as the case may be. Sixpenny cakes are made in exactly the same way, but, of course, are only half the size. Whole blanched almonds, cherries, sultanas, preserved fruits, and ginger can be added in the place of the peel as required ; but if you add these you will have to weigh the lumps smaller to recompense you for it, especially if you use cherries, almonds, or the more expensive preserved fruits.

The inclusion of finely chopped candied or preserved citrus peels in gingerbread recipes was an old tradition dating back to the seventeenth century. A very early recipe for a treacle gingerbread was included in William Salmon The Family Dictionary (London: 1710). Salmon claims this gingerbread was served to Charles II.

Orange peel and ginger are a great combination and both harmonise well with the strong caramel flavour of treacle. Orange gingerbread was particularly favoured in the eighteenth century and is frequently advertised on confectioners' and gingerbread bakers' trade cards.

Block gingerbread was once made all over Britain, but even when Vine was writing in the 1890s it was getting scarcer. He assumed it was because of the decrease in the frequency of fairs. By the time of the Great War it had disappeared just about everywhere, though an unusual variety of it still survives in a much modified form in the seaside town of Whitby in Yorkshire. What made Whitby block gingerbread unusual is that instead of being formed into printed flat sheets as described by Vine, it was made up into thick loaves. When these came out of the oven they were very hard. They were formerly put into damp rooms for some time to soften. The kind now made in Whitby commercially is not printed, though it is still a loaf with a rather dense texture. The wonderful Whitby Museum has a number of local Block Gingerbread moulds in its collection, which in addition to the royal coats of arms feature the town arms of three ammonites on a shield. Bothams of Whitby, an old local firm, make a modern form of the delicacy, though it is far removed from the block gingerbread of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

More Edible Artistry

The images on this page are of food produced by attendees on my two most recent courses, with a little help from me! I do try to convey to my students that standards of food and presentation in the past were frequently very high and that one of the best ways to understand this is to work with original equipment in order to replicate dishes that convey the staggering beauty of much of our ancestors' food. Appearance was everything! 

But taste was pretty important too - look at this delicious nineteenth century pie, garnished with truffles and crayfish in the image above - and marbled with truffles, pigeon, capon breast and turkey when cut through. We had it for our lunch on my moulded foods course last Sunday - it tasted as good as it looked. I made eight pies like this last week - all different - for a BBC drama production set in the early nineteenth century. They were all spiked with silver hatelet skewers and ornamented like the one above. You might get a glimpse of them when the programme goes out at Christmas, but more on that later on.

A jelly in the form of a Prince of Wales Feathers made with a rosewater flavoured blancmange above and a raspberry jelly below.

My current obsession - Mrs Elizabeth Raffald's 'Solomon's Temple in Flummery' made in a 1790s Staffordshire mould. The first one we turned out on the course failed because I was not concentrating when I turned it out. But we made another the next day - the one depicted above - and that came out perfectly, looking like some beautiful alien being from another planet with its garniture of fresh flowers.

We used these tiny profiteroles filled with apricot preserve to make a delicious profiterole pudding, a moulded custard very lightly set with gelatine and flavoured with kirsch and muscatel raisins poached in syrup. The recipe we used was from Jules Gouffés The Royal Cookery Book (London: 1871). Rather like a cold luxury bread and butter pudding, we made it in a tall and quite spectacular stepped mould. There are over fifty profiteroles embedded in the soft rich custard. Because they give strength to what would be a weak towering structure if they were not present, the profiteroles allow the jelled cream to be a very light one, giving it a nice soft mouth feel.   

Photo by Ran Akaike
The finished profiterole pudding was delicious. It was served at dinner with two other moulded dishes made on the course; an iced cabinet pudding and a raspberry jelly surmounted by a blancmange portrait of Queen Victoria. Here they all are after a marathon unmoulding session in my kitchen. The iced cabinet pudding is in the centre. It is embellished with maidenhair fern fronds and surrounded by garnish ices made of muscadine water ice, a delicious lemon sorbet flavoured with elderflowers.

Photo by Vicky Shearman
On my moulded food course last weekend, one of the students brought along a lovely wooden sugar mould for pressing out  a small grapevine design in gum paste she had recently bought on ebay. But she was unsure how to use it. Just for fun I taught her to use it to construct a Wedgewood style Jasperware plate entirely out of sugar. With the use of a few other moulds belonging to me, we made the components to make it into an impressive edible taza.

Photo by Ran Akaike

Some of my students collect antique moulds and want to learn how to use them. Though few would be able to make this Alexandra Cross jelly. Although surviving outer moulds in this design are not uncommon, the internal liner required to make one with the Danish Flag running through it is extremely rare. So it was a great experience for them to make this crazy Victorian set piece dish, which they had all heard of, but never seen. For those of you who might like to have a go at making food of this quality, I will be publishing my 2014 course schedule on my website and on this blog in September.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Lattice Top Tarts and Their Precursors

John Thacker's 1758 Marrow Pudding or Poudin de Mouëlle formée with its ornate cut cover
A few days ago a researcher working on a TV bakery programme rang to say that she wanted 'to pick my brains' about 'the history of latticework tarts', as surprisingly Google and Wikipedia had not furnished any revelations on the subject. Funnily enough I had just filmed a short feature for a rival baking programme on puff pastry, in which I made the elaborate decorated lid for the baked pudding pictured above. So the subject was topical. Dishes like the good old woven pastry 'criss-cross' jam tart of modern England and the crostata of Italy have a venerable and surprisingly sophisticated history. Like other 'fossil' food practices, the contemporary survivals of this tradition are simplified and degraded when compared to those depicted in paintings and early book illustrations. In fact many made in the past were much more ambitious than those I have seen coming out of the ovens of modern bakers. 

The great heyday of this kind of pastry trellis work lasted from the second half of the sixteenth century to the first half of the eighteenth. The practice almost certainly had its origins in a burgeoning fashion for knotted strapwork ornament inaugurated by Mannerist architects such as Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554). Interlacing decorations like those published by Serlio found their best known expression in architectural detailing and garden design, but food ornamentation was strongly influenced by the same zeitgeist. The curious knotted biscuits or sweetmeats known as jumbals emerge at this period and elaborate tarts and pies in kaleidoscopic knot-garden form start to adorn the tables of the wealthy. Edible strap work was all the rage.

A plate of sixteenth century sweetmeats I made for Francis Drake's house at Buckland Abbey about fifteen years ago. The knotted biscuits are jumbals. All were copied from Netherlandish paintings of the  period.
Another expression of strapwork on the English table were designs painted on banqueting trenchers in the second half of the sixteenth century. Sometimes as here, these were made out of sugar paste and painted with edible colours. I made these sugar copies of some Tudor beechwood originals for a table display I created for Chatsworth House about eight years ago. 
Although tarts with intricate strapwork lids appear from time to time in Netherlandish still life paintings like that of Clara Peeters below, it was not until the 1660s that designs for these tarts were published in recipe collections. 

A table setting by the Antwerp artist Clara Peeters (1594 – c. 1657) , including a pastry with a cut design, c. 1611, oil on panel. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Nothing to do with lattice work pastry, but note how Clara has painted the spit roast birds with their livers tucked under their pinions.
When they did appear (with one major exception) they were exclusively to be found in English cookery texts. The designs below for Florendines are from Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook of 1660. Florendines were shallow pies filled with various kinds of meat or fish. May was not quite the first European cook to offer us designs for pastry ornamentation of this kind, as another Englishman, Joseph Cooper had included a few crude woodcuts of pie shapes in his The Art of Cookery Refin'd and Augmented (London: 1654). But May was the first to publish a wide variety of designs for different pastry types. Although they are quite crude, his woodcuts give us an insight into the extraordinary lengths that pastry cooks went to in high status houses in baroque England.

Other than a handful of English cookery books from the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, no other European printed texts contain designs like those of Robert May. Apart that is, from one notable exception from Austria, Conrad Hagger's Neues Saltzburgisches Kochbuch (Augsburg: 1719). This magisterial collection of recipes occupies a full horizontal five inches of my bookshelf and is one of the most important books I own. I often marvel at my good fortune, as I was lucky enough to buy a copy of this rare work in Liechtenstein for $50 in the 1970s! No other cookery text allows us such a detailed insight into the pastry techniques of the baroque Hofkoch than Hagger's work. Its 305 full plate engravings provide a bewildering variety of designs for pies, pasties, marchpanes and torts. Here are some of his variations on the lattice work tart.

Lattice work pastry designs from Conrad Hagger, Neues Saltzburgisches Kochbuch (Augsburg: 1719)
Hagger's designs are very similar to those in May's book, but offer us far more detail. They indicate that the culinary expectations of his master Franz Anton von Harrach (1665-1727), the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg from 1709-1727, must have been very demanding. However, food in the Archbishop's palace appears to have been somewhat conservative and old fashioned. Elements of of the new French cookery style are present in Hagger's book, but many of his pie designs hark back to the previous century. He was an old man when he wrote his book and was probably documenting the cookery style of his heyday. Ecclesiastical households were much more conservative than princely ones and appeared to favour the old style of cookery. This is also apparent in the work of the English ecclesiastical cook John Thacker, who worked for the dean and chapter of Durham Cathedral between 1739 and 1758. Thacker's book The Art of Cookery (Newcastle upon Tyne:1758) was the last of the baroque recipe collections to contain illustrations of pastry work. Here is his design for a cover for a marrow pudding.

Covers like this were usually made out of puff pastry and baked separately from the tart or pudding they adorned. Here is my interpretation of Thacker's design sitting on a sheet of paper on a baking tray and ready for the oven.

Thacker's cut lid baked and dusted with icing sugar 
Thacker gives no instructions for doing this, but I could not resist dusting the pudding with powdered sugar and then removing the lid. What a lovely effect!
Nearly a century earlier Robert May had published directions and diagrams for making cut lids of this kind. The shapes between the pastry 'slips' were designed to be filled with coloured preserves and fruit pastes, making some of them the most colourful baked goods in the history of English food. 

Robert May's designs for cut laid tarts taken from my rather poor 1685 edition

I made the cut laid tarts above, based on May's designs  for my exhibition Supper with Shakespeare at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts in 2012. Towards the end of Shakespeare's life, Gervase Markham in The English Housewife (London: 1615) describes similar tarts, though unlike May, he does not offer any illustrations. These edible stained glass windows were the mothers of all jammy dodgers!
A strap work tart sits in front of a sugar paste banqueting house at the MIA exhibition 
Cut pastry continued to be popular well into the eighteenth century. One kind that emerged was the 'crocant', a technically difficult genre which involved placing a sheet of a specialised crocant paste (sometimes called 'crackling crust') over a domed mould and then cutting it by hand with decorative designs in the form of leaves, birds, animals etc. They were  baked on the domed moulds. When finished, crocants were often iced and then placed over plates of colourful sweetmeats. We have a hazy idea of what these ephemeral creations looked like, because no specific designs have survived, though ceramic manufactories such as Wedgewood and Royal Copenhagen produced pierced lids for vessels which may have been influenced by these edible cut covers. However, we can be sure that standards were incredibly high and there were quite a lot of professional bakers and confectioners who were prepared for a fee to instruct ladies in the tricky art of cutting designs like this in pastry. We get a rare glimpse of a crocant in a tiny detail on a trade card for the London confectioner John Betterley who traded from 437 Oxford Street in the late eighteenth century. I am lucky enough to own a copy, so here is a scan of Betterley's crocant cover.

Many of the professional London pastry cooks, including Betterley, offered instruction in 'cutting paste'

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Frederick Nutt's Millefruit Biscuits

Frederick Nutt's Millefruit Biscuits on a small English bobbin stemmed salver from the 1760s. The raised edge around the top of the salver is perfect for stopping small sweetmeats from slipping, making it very easy to construct miniature pyramids.  
From the seventeenth century onwards English cookery and confectionery texts abound with recipes for a family of biscuits which contain no flour. The ingredients are held together with a simple mixture of powdered sugar and egg white. Base ingredients include everything from dried jasmine flowers, slivered almonds to slices of candied peel. One variant, known as bane bread or bean bread, consists of little piles of flaked almonds held together with an orange or rosewater icing and baked with a generous scattering of caraway comfits. These biscuits were usually baked on wafer paper. They blister a little while cooking and sometimes spread out a little beyond their brittle bounds, but they crisp-up once cold and hold their crispness for weeks. They remind me very much of the Italian bruti et buoni to which I am sure they are closely related. The London confectioner Frederick Nutt, one time apprentice to the great Domenico Negri gives a number of recipes for this type of biscuit, which may have originated from the Italian peninsula. For instance, one, in his Complete Confectioner of 1789 called 'almond faggots' is very close to modern Umbrian bruti et buoni. These delicate crunchy biscuits have a feather-light texture and are redolent of orange flowers. They were probably eaten with sweet dessert wines.

However, Nutt's most interesting recipe in this genre is for a biscuit consisting of little morsels of citrus peel, which he calls millefruit biscuits. As well as the finely chopped preserved peel of oranges and lemons, they also contain angelica, slivered sweet almonds and bitter almonds, all held together with egg white and orange flower water icing. I have put Nutt's original recipe below. Try it. These unusual, delicate biscuits are easy and quick to make.

Nutt's book, first published in the year of the French Revolution was in its first few editions issued anonymously, the author being named at first as 'A Person'. Although Nutt's marvellous book is forgotten  now, in its day it proved to be a best seller and went into a number of editions. Its easy to follow recipes have a professional ring about them. It certainly affords a remarkable glimpse into the sophistication of late Georgian dessert food. Nutt also gives us recipes for both Millefruit Ice Cream and Millefruit Water Ice. Just like his biscuits, these two frozen dessert dishes are spotted with little dots of cochineal at the end of the freezing process to create a kind of marbled effect. I have made both and they are excellent. I will devote a post to them at some time. But in the meantime, here is the process to make his delightful Millefruit Biscuits.

Angelica is often used as a decoration, but here is an essential element in this biscuit. I use apricot kernels instead of bitter almonds.

The nuts, peels and angelica are mixed together with the icing

A teaspoon full is dropped onto paper - I use rice paper - and are spotted with cochineal with a small paint brush
They bake to a fine light brown and crisp up once they are cool
The finished biscuits. They are wonderfully crisp and have a perfumed, archaic citrus peel flavour
If you live in Britain watch Ivan make Frederick Nutt's 1789 Spice Biscuits on a BBC video. Not available outside the UK. Sorry.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks

Charles Elmé Francatelli's German Tourte of Apricots is a wonderful tart from the early reign of Queen Victoria
Those of you who follow this blog are probably aware that I love food that looks good. And the kind of good looks that I love are those that express the extraordinary skill and attention to detail that cooks in the past lavished on their art. Their sense of food aesthetics was very different to ours. I am sure they would have been completely puzzled by the abstract smears, dustings, drizzles, foams and stacks of contemporary plated-up restaurant food. I hope this blog is a healthy antidote to such matters.

But I also love food that tastes good and am always on the look out for special recipes that would be suitable to serve to guests who attend my various period cookery courses. Many of those who have come have waxed lyrical about some apricot dishes that I serve when I can get hold of decent fruit. I thought I would share those recipes with you.

Charles Elmé Francatelli in the 1840s
The first one is a lovely apricot tart which is in Charles Elmé Francatelli's book The Cook's Guide (London: 1855). Francatelli was born in Clarkenwell, the Italian district of London to Italian parents who worked as domestic servants. In the early 1840s he served briefly as Queen Victoria's chef de cuisine at Buckingham Palace, but was not happy with the sanitary arrangements in the palace kitchen and left! I like to think that this recipe, seemingly of German origin, might have been a court favourite in the Duchy of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha. We will never know, but perhaps Francatelli prepared it for Prince Albert. Here is the recipe, but beware I do not go in for contemporary redactions. If you really want to learn about food in the past, just do as you are told. The old recipes that follow are perfectly clear.

Half the apricots are dusted with lemon rind and sugar and baked on a sheet of pastry. The other half are cooked into a jam-like preserve with their blanched kernels, which is spread in between and over them.
The baked tourte is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar before being served
Brilliant with vanilla or apricot ice cream
My next two recipes are from a hundred years earlier. They are both from a lovely little cookery book first published in Pontefract in Yorkshire by Mrs Elizabeth Moxon in 1741. Her English Housewifery Exemplified is a real antidote to the complex recipes of the male cooks of this period. And quite rightly it went on to become one of the best selling books of the eighteenth century. It contains a number of regional Yorkshire recipes, including some very old fashioned gingerbreads. The two recipes I have chosen are sweet ones, the first, 'Apricock Jumballs' is a very artistic and delightful item of confectionery, while the second is a wonderful cream pudding.

I cook the apricot paste and sugar together in a preserving pan until they form a thick paste like pate de fruit
In The New World of English Words (London: 1678) Edward Phillips defines the name for this confection thus, 'Jumbals, a sort of Sugared past, wreathed into knots'. These knotted delicacies were usually made with a kind of biscuit or marchpane dough and were baked. They probably emerged from the craze in the 1570s for knotted strap work. Jumbals were made all over Europe. In France they were called gimblette, in Italy gemelli. They almost certainly derive their name from the Italian verb gemáre - 'to divide asunder'.* These confections were responsible for the term 'to jumble up'. Jumbals were made by professional early modern period confectioners to a very high level of complexity and are frequently depicted in Netherlandish paintings. 

A bowl of sweetmeats including candied peel, rolled wafers and some impressive jumbles. A detail from Jan Breughel the Elder, An Allegory of Taste. 1618. Prado Madrid.
The more basic apricot jumbles below were made on my Sugarwork and Confectionery Course and are in the form of true lovers knots. Similar jumbals or knots were made with pippin (apple paste). They have a really concentrated flavour of fruit.

Elizabeth Moxon's Apricock Jumballs
The last dish is a lovely cream custard covered with confited apricots. I have given you a whole double page spread, as you need to refer to both Moxon's instructions to make Apricock Custard and her Apricock Pudding in order to make sense of the recipe. Note her recipe 'To make Jumballs another way', which is a baked biscuit version, but like a lot of later jumbles, not jumbled up at all, but like a flat biscuit. 

I make the custard as Mrs Moxon instructs, but frequently bake it in a dish in a bain marie in a cool oven until it just sets. I then put the cooked apricots on top. The combination of the rich cream and the half candied apricots is superb. Do try it.

Moxon's Apricock Custard
*John Florio, Queene Anne's Newe Worlde of Words. (London: 1611).