Friday, January 21, 2011

Elegant Ornaments for a Grand Entertainment 1811
Ivan Day

I have been exploring historic cookery books again. The London Art of Cookery, 1811, by John Farley 'formerly Principal Cook at the London Tavern' which I have discussed previously, has a fascinating section towards its end.

Chapter IX is titled 'Elegant Ornaments for a Grand Entertainment'. It offers six dishes which, while they might be edible, would be--in the hands of a kitchen artiste--quite spectacular. I cannot imagine the hours required to produce these masterpieces. Their ingredients sent me to Google and I have still not tracked some of the items down.

The first dish, 'Floating Island', is still known today in a different form. In Regency times, it was prepared in "a deep glass, set on a china dish". Cream, sugar, lemon and sack were combined and 'milled' until they separated into thin cream and thick froth. The thin cream was poured into the 'glass' and on it was floated thin layers of French roll (?) alternated with layers of jelly. Finally the froth was piled 'on the top as high as possible'.
"The rim of the dish may be ornamented with figures, fruit, or sweetmeats."
The second item was, I think, never intended to be eaten. It is a 'Chinese Temple or Obelisk' and required a set of tins in 'the form of a temple'. These were filled with a sort of pastry or 'paste'--sugar, butter, flour, water and an egg--rolled thin. The parts were baked in a slow oven and then cooled. They were joined together with a mix of strong isinglass and water 'as the forms of the tin moulds will direct.'
"If cut neatly, and the paste is rolled very thin, it will be a beautiful corner for a large table."
'Desert Island', listed next, involves building a small diorama in a deep china dish. An island is formed of 'paste' and coloured. The addition of small figures is suggested, eringo root (preserved root of the sea holly--a popular confection for years) for trees and pillars, gravel walks made of 'shot comfits'. "Roll out some paste, and cut it open like Chinese rails" reads one sentence. Chinese rails? I can't find anything about them anywhere.

The suggestion titled 'Moonshine' sounds quite charming. It requires use of a very large dish, and tin moulds in the shapes of a half-moon and several sizes of stars. The tins are placed in the dish basically as place holders and blanc-mange is poured around them to fill the dish. When the blanc-mange sets up the tins are removed, and clear calf's feet jelly fills the 'vacancies'.
"Colour the blanc-mange with cochineal and chocolate, to make it look like the sky, and the moon and stars will then shine the brighter."
'A Dish of Snow' involves boiling apples until soft and then forcing the pulp through a sieve. This pulp is mixed with egg whites and sugar, and beaten to a 'strong froth…till they are like a stiff snow'. This is heaped up in a china dish 'as high as possible'.
"Set round it green knots of paste in imitation of Chinese rails, and stick a sprig of myrtle in the middle of the dish."
The last ornament for the table is 'Artificial Fruit'. These confections are made in tin moulds with actual 'stalks of the fruit with the stones to them." A calf's foot jelly is used for the form, sweetened and coloured 'like the fruit intended to imitate'. A bloom is added by dusting on 'powder-blue'. I am not familiar with powder-blue--a chemical of some sort, perhaps? The paragraph offers a last comment:
"An ingenious person may make great improvement on these artificial fruits; but it requires great nicety and long practice to perfect them in it."
I suppose nowadays we have delicacies to equal these elegant trifles, but we have ovens with precision heating and all kinds of electric equipment with which to prepare them. To make such masterpieces without the apparatus we possess must incite admiration. In fact, the mind boggles.

As a last note, the author suggests other recipes: "the hedge-hog, the hen and chickens in jelly, the Solomon's temple, and the eggs and bacon, etc. in flummery, already given, may, with propriety, be classed among the elegant ornaments for a grand entertainment."

Next week, Regency author Amy Corwin will be here discussing Regency Roses. Join us for a guest blog that will surely drive away the January blues...

Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and has been writing for the last ten years and managing a career as an enterprise systems administrator in the computer industry. She writes Regencies/historicals, mysteries, and paranormals.

Amy’s books include the Regency romance, SMUGGLED ROSE; three Regency romantic mysteries, I BID ONE AMERICAN, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, and THE NECKLACE; and her first paranormal, VAMPIRE PROTECTOR.

'Til next time,



Kristine said...

Victoria and I often marvel at how much was done with "jelly" and all the varied moulds for same the well stocked kitchen contained. Now we just use a packet of Jello and, mostly, put it in a plain glass bowl. Of course, we don't have a pack of pastry cooks on staff, but still . . .

Linore Rose Burkard said...

Lovely post, Lesley-Anne. Thanks for sharing.
(And hello in 2011) : )

Historical Romance to Warm the Soul

Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating post, Lesley-Anne!

I am SO tempted to try some of these. And now I have another cookbook to search for in order to add it to my collection.

I manage a bakery for Walmart and we have done quite a bit of experimenting when it comes to cake design. Can't wait to tell the girls about these recipes!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Happy New Year, Linore! Thanks for stopping by...

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You're quite right, Kristine, the cooks of the 1800s were very clever with jelly. After watching my mother try to unmould jello from forms in the 1960s, I can't imagine how the early chefs did it!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Louisa, the London Art of Cookery is available on line from Google Books--a free download. You can read the recipes in full there. Please let me know if you replicate any of them :)

Ivan Day said...

Hi Lesley-Anne,

You have borrowed an image of a Regency table which I recreated for my exhibition Eat Drink and be Merry and which you must have sourced from my website. it is the one at the top of this post. I would be very grateful if you could acknowledge its source www.historicfood,com and give a photo credit to me Ivan Day. As to John Farley's Elegant ornaments, the hack writer who compiled Farley's book (he did not write it himself) stole these recipes from Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (Manchester: 1769). I have made all of them including the one with the eryngo root fencing.

best regards


Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Hi Ivan,

Thanks for getting in touch. We corresponded years ago when I asked if I could use some of your pictures on my website. They are there, on my Food and Dining page with full attribution. I am so sorry I didn't credit your photo here on my blog. I've corrected that now. Thank you for your wonderful work with food!