Anne here. Today the Word Wenches celebrate seven years of blogging — that's quite an achievement when you realize how many blogs have faded away in that time. To celebrate, we're having a little party — a dessert party, and each of us is sharing a delicious historical dessert.
Mary Jo kicks off with Ice Cream!
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” The words above come from a popular song of 1925, but chilled desserts that literally melt in your mouth have a much longer history. Flavoring snow with fruit and juices goes all the way back to the Persians, at least. Alexander the Great was said to be very fond of it, too. (The pics in this section are from Historic Food, used with permission.)
The Arabs seem to have been the first to use dairy products—milk, cream, or yoghurt—in their chilled desserts, and they came up with a form of industrial production. Flavorings could include rosewater, nuts, and dried fruits, and it was available in the major cities of the Arab world such as Cairo and Damascus.
There are lots of great stories of early frozen desserts, which seem to have been popular everywhere, with the key difficulty being the acquisition of snow or ice in order to make the treat. The Mughal emperors of India used relays of swift horse to bring snow from the Hindu Kush for their sorbets. It’s said that ice cream is one of the things Marco Polo brought back to Italy, presumably to follow up the pasta dinner he is also credited with.
I like this anecdote from Wikipedia: “Charles I of England was, it was reported, so impressed by the "frozen snow" that he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula secret, so that ice cream could be a royal prerogative. There is no historical evidence to support these legends,” Even if there is no evidence to support this, doesn’t it sound just like Charles the I and his divine right of kings nonsense, where the best stuff is saved for the very rich? But it’s true that for centuries, frozen desserts were the prerogative of the elite. George and Martha Washington famously served ice cream at Mount Vernon; his recipe began by saying to chop ice from Potomac and preserve it in an ice house until spring heralded the arrival of good cream and fruit. The dishes used to serve the ice cream were tiny, holding only an ounce or two. (more about this here )
The 19th century produced the democratization of ice cream, with insulated ice houses, commercial production, and the invention of small hand cranked ice cream makers. We’ve been scarfing down vast quantities of ice cream ever since, because it makes us happy!
What inspired me to contribute ice cream to the Word Wenches 7th Anniversary blog was a video about a genius young woman in Chicago who invented a method of making custom ice creams in 60 seconds by combining a base, adding your choice of flavorings, and then blasting it with liquid nitrogen. It was a grad school project for her. Being Chicago, which gets seriously cold, the iCream shop can also make warm pudding. I watched the video, and I want some of that Peanut Butter Oh My Gosh! ice cream. Now!
For our anniversary, I present a Victorian chocolate dessert from the queen’s kitchen: You will notice the cake calls for Dutch cocoa, which didn’t exist until 1828 when a Dutch chemist invented a hydraulic press to extract half the fat from chocolate liquid. By pulverizing the dry residue and adding alkaline salts (blech, ptui) to cut the bitterness, he revolutionized the chocolate industry, making chocolate cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer. (There’s a wonderful, more detailed history here.)
When Spain first brought back the cacao bean (Columbus stupidly declined to take it in trade), the Spanish considered it medicinal, and they hid the secret to making liquid chocolate for nearly a hundred years. With the decline of Spain’s power, the secret became known but it was still a drink designed for the wealthy through the 17th century--mixed with honey or sugar cane (a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down...). Cacao is Greek for food from the gods and even Casanova touted chocolate as an aphrodisiac. Science has proved that chocolate (not sugar!) can reduce hypertension. So I’m sharing chocolate for your health!
Mmmmm, chocolate.. .
And as for Nicola, can she really be offering us a pile of paper? For dessert?
My contribution to the Wenchly Anniversary Party is "A Quire of Paper." Sounds pretty inedible but it is actually a pile of paper-thin pancakes served with a delicious Madeira Sauce. The recipe for the pancakes is here and the sauce is here.
It was the ancient Greeks who are credited with inventing the pancake and I thank them for it! The first references to pancakes are in the works of a couple of 5th century poets and anyone who has tasted a pile of delicious pancakes with honey will surely agree that the flavour deserves every poetic description imaginable. The Greeks liked to eat them with sesame and cheese, apparently, and even with curdled milk. Each to their own!
The accompanying sauce is taken from a cook book written by Eliza Acton, an English poet and cook who in 1845 published Modern Cookery for Private Families, one of the first cookbooks in the UK that was aimed at the domestic user rather than professional cooks. (The pic on the right is from Lavender and Lovage, and is used with permission.)
Madeira sauce can be used with either sweet or savoury meals and is often served with roast meats. Madeira is a fortified wine originating from the islands of the same name. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was extremely popular as a drink and was in fact so popular in the US that it was the chosen drink to toast the Declaration of Independence. It seems the perfect choice to toast the Wenches' anniversary as well!
Still got room to fit in something else? Here's Cara/Andrea.
Given that we all love Regency, I can’t resist bringing Nesselrode Pudding (you can find a recipe here ) to the Wench Birthday Party. Among the many firsts of the era was the first celebrity chef—Antoine Careme, whose many delicious accomplishments included serving as the personal chef for Talleyrand, Tsar Alexander of Russia and the Prince Regent.
Tsar Alexander came to Paris with a retinue of officials and generals after Napoleon abdicated the throne. Seeking to sweeten Russia’s attitude toward conquered France, the ever-canny Talleyrand lent Careme to the Tsar, whose appetite for fine food and beautiful women was legendary. It was during this interlude that Careme created a rich confection of chestnut puree, candied fruits, raisins, Maraschino liqueur and creamy custard, which he named in honor of Count Karl Nesselrode, one of Alexander’s favorite diplomats, who served as head of Russia’s delegation to the Congress of Vienna. (The pic we've used, showing a slice of nesslerode pudding is from Historic Food, used with permission.)
Sounds yummy. Jo Beverley is here with another pudding — this time a hot one.
I decided to offer Spotted Dick, a pudding, because it usually amuses, and a party needs some laughter. However, my curiosity twitched, and I discovered that it is probably has more credence as a joke than as a reality. I found references to it only from the late 19th century, and not many of those. I got lost in research!
However, it's a suet pudding, and suet puddings are a central part of British cookery. Christmas pud, for example, is a suet recipe. If you're north American and want to try to make this dish you'll first have to find suet, and that can be tricky. If you have a butcher, ask there. He or she may not know what it is. It's is the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys. You can't substitute butter, lard, or shortening.
Suet puddings, sweet or savory, have to be steamed, which is also a bit tricky. That's why I'm not giving a recipe, but there are plenty on the web. Have a go!
Some describe it as a roly-poly stuffed with dried fruit, but in order to deserve the description, I think it has to be a sponge-type pudding spotted simply with currants. Like all the best puddings, it should be served with custard, but I'm not a purist there. If you can find Bird's custard powder, go with that. My secret there is to use less sugar than recommended and some extra vanilla essence -- the real stuff, not artificial. Enjoy! (Pic above: Spotted Dick and custard, London Wikimeet 2005 Photographer: User:Justinc)
Susan is naturally going all Scottish — hoots awa' lassie!
To celebrate our Wench anniversary party, I’m bringing something Scottish to the table! First, a dish of Cranachan--a layered dessert made from toasted oats, whipped cream and raspberries. Traditionally eaten at the celebratory feast when the harvest was done in late summer, it's now a Scottish dessert year round, so simple that it’s sometimes assembled right at the table from bowls of fresh ingredients. Start with raspberries drizzled in whisky or dark rum, top with whipped cream sweetened with heather honey and mixed toasted oats. Dollop and drizzle this into a glass dish, dip a spoon, and enjoy!
Next we'll nibble some bannocks—oats cut generously with salted butter and toasted on a griddle. Bannocks are a basic and ancient food in Scotland (easy to make while strolling the Highland hills watching the cattle or the sheep--those were often made with beef suet <author wrinkles nose>).
Bannocks aren't sweet, unlike traditional Scottish shortbread, which Queen Victoria enjoyed at Balmoral--chilled butter, flour and sugar in generous thirds crumbled together, shaped, flattened, cut out, pricked and baked. Bannocks give our palates a little rest from the sweetness of our dessert feast, and they're perfect with orange marmalade. Marmalade is an ancient treat--the Greeks and Romans made it from quinces (the Greek word for quince is marmelo) boiled in water and honey, left to set into a delicious concoction. A later tradition claims that Mary, Queen of Scots asked for marmalade while aboard ship sailing from France to Scotland. The seasick young queen called for “marmalade, pour Marie est malade!” This may be an apocryphal pun, but could have some truth to it, for quinces were said to soothe the stomach.
Mary would not have asked for orange marmalade, though. That recipe was invented in Scotland in 1797, when a Spanish ship was forced to dock in Dundee harbor to wait out a storm, while its cargo of small, bitter Seville oranges grew too ripe. James Keiller, a Dundee grocer, bought the crates at a bargain price and carted them home, where his wife Janet used them instead of quinces to make marmalade--chopping up the bitter oranges and boiling them in water with plenty of sugar. Dundee marmalade was so delicious that Janet's first batch sold out, and the family made the famous marmalade for generations.
Sherrie's dessert offering is a delicious blackberry cobbler. She says, “As in Regency times, when many cooks didn’t use ‘recipes’, my own cobbler recipe is in my head. I’ve never measured the ingredients." So here's a link to a blackberry cobbler recipe, and while we can't guarantee it's as good as Sherrie's, it still looks pretty yummy.
Joanna, being a wench who takes her research seriously, made and tested her recipe.
For our special Wenchday, I'm making syllabub. Because I love the sound of the word 'syllabub'. It's an 'origin unknown' word from the 16th century, so we're free to imagine how the term came about. They had a whole slew of milk-based drinks in Tudor times -- syllabubs, caudles and possets. They were still around in the Regency, but kinda lost popularity in the Nineteenth Century. About the only one we still drink is egg nog.
The recipe I made today calls for 1 cup whipping cream, 1/4 cup sweet white wine, 1/4 c sugar and the zest and peel of half a lemon. In one bowl, mix wine, sugar and lemon till the sugar mostly dissolves. In another bowl, beat the cream till it's almost thick. Add the lemon/wine mixture to the cream and beat a bit more. Serves six people because you don't want much of it. Refriges well for the next day.
The reviews from the syllabub tasting --
"Tastes like lemon meringue pie."
'Would be good on fresh fruit."
"Has a nice little bite at the end."
"I'd order it but not make it."
"The last bit with the raspberry was yummy."
and the ever popular, "Not as bad as I expected, actually."
Anne again, and though I should be probably offering some kind of tonic for upset stomachs after all that rich rood, I'm not. I'm adding one of my favorite desserts, which was a favorite in regency times as well — lemon tart.
It's basically a lemon custard baked in a pie shell, and though lemon tart is probably eternal, the quantity of eggs and the way of writing out the recipe has changed a good deal. Here's one from The Compleat Houfewife, Eliza Smith 1758 — I love it because of the f-shaped s's. This pic is of a modern lemon tart from here.
"Take three clear lemons and grate off the outfide rinds. Take the yolks of twelve eggs and fix whites, beat them very well, fqueeze in the juice of a lemon then put in three quarters of a pound of fine powdered fugar and three quarters of a pound frefh butter melted. Ftir all well together, put a fheet of pafte at the bottom and fift fugar on the top. Put into a brifk oven, three quarters of an hour will bake it."
To celebrate our seven years of blogging, we're giving away some prizes — three lucky winners will receive a copy of our wenchly anthology Mischief and Mistletoe, as well as a rare ARC (advance review copy) of Mary Jo Putney's latest book — Sometimes a Rogue, plus Cara Elliot's RITA finalist book, Too Dangerous to Desire and my RITA finalist, Bride By Mistake. There are no geographical restrictions on prizewinners, but we're aiming to spread the prizes wide, so let us know 1) what's your favorite dessert and 2) where you live.