This week the bakers in the tent will be tackling mousses and French desserts of some description (we know they like to be cryptic about the technical, the site gives nothing away!) Desserts in the medieval and early modern periods were often elaborate, decorated and colourful making them a centerpiece for the table. Sugar was expensive, costing on average 1-3 shillings per pound in the 14th century, whereas a skilled workman only earned around 2 shillings a week. Imagine spending half your weeks wages on a bag of sugar! At that price, being able to serve your guests sweet desserts and confectionery was a sign of wealth and decadence.
Marchpane (‘The Accomplisht Cook’, 1660)
A lot like marzipan, marchpane was an almond paste used to decorate cakes and tarts, and even to construct edible decorative figures for the table such as buildings. It could be coloured or decorated with gold leave for added impact. They enjoyed trick food, such as Eyroun in Lentyn, marchpane eggs served in real eggshells, and ‘Mock-entrails’, spiced and battered fruits strung together along with sausages (combining sweet and savoury was common) to look like innards. Sounds, erm…interesting.
Take two pound of almonds blanched and beaten in a stone mortar, till they begin to come to a fine paste, then take a pound of sifted sugar put it in the mortar with the almonds, and make it into a perfect paste, putting to it now and then in the beating of it a spoonfull of rose-water to keep it from oyling; when you have beaten it to a puff-paste, drive it out as big as a charger, and set an edge about it as you do a quodling tart, and the bottom of wafers under it, thus bake it in an oven or baking-pan; when you see it white, and hard, and dry, take it out, and ice it with rosewater and suger, being made as thick as butter for fritters, so spread it on with a wing feather, and put it into the oven again; when you see it rise high, then take it out and garnish it with come pretty conceits made of the same stuff. (Via godecookery.com)
Perys in Composte (‘Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks: Harleian MS.279’, 15th century)
‘Composte’ means not the stuff you use in the garden, but compote, meaning fruit in a sugar syrup. This one uses pears in wine and spices.
Take Wyne an Canel, & a gret dele of Whyte Sugre, an set it on þe fyre & hete it hote, but let it nowt boyle, an draw it þorwe a straynoure; þan take fayre Datys, an pyke owt þe stonys, an leche hem alle þinne, an caste þer-to; þanne take Wardonys, an pare hem and sethe hem, an leche hem alle þinne, & caste þer-to in-to þe Syryppe; þanne take a lytil Sawnderys, and caste þer-to, an sette it on þe fyre; an yif þow hast charde quynce, caste þer-to in þe boyling, an loke þat it stonde wyl with Sugre, an wyl lyid wyth Canel, an caste Salt þer-to, an let it boyle; an þan caste yt on a treen vessel, & lat it kele, and serue forth.
Take wine and cinnamon, and a great deal of white sugar, and set it on the fire and heat it hot, but let it not boil, and draw it through a strainer; then take fair dates, pick out the stones, and slice them all thin and cast thereto, then take pears, peel them and boil them, and slice them all thin, and cast thereto into the syrup, then take a little sandalwood and cast thereto, and if you have any quinces, cast thereto in the boiling syrup, and look that it stand well with sugar, well laden with cinnamon, cast salt thereto and let it boil, and then cast it on a wooden dish, let it cool, and serve.