The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Playing catch-up with the Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #17 -- Tea caudle.

Chinese teapot.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
 The Challenge: #17 -- Revolutionary Food. The theme is revolution, and it’s all about ch-ch-ch-changes. Food can be inspired by revolution, can showcase a revolutionary technique, or come from a revolutionary time. Give us your best documented interpretation of revolution.

Of course, being a tea drinker and tea blogger, I am interested in the history of tea, and I'm very aware of the part tea played in English and American history.  Although tea was advertised as early as 1658, it was officially introduced to England in 1662, as part of the dowry of the new Queen of England, Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II.  A Portuguese princess, Catherine also brought to England trading rights at all of Portugal's trading posts around the world, including the ones where tea could be purchased.  Tea became extremely popular at court almost immediately, and spread to the aristocracy within the first few years.  Within twenty years, the upper middle classes were also familiar with it, and drinking it enough to provoke articles and dire warnings against it in newspapers and the increasingly popular domestic manuals and recipe books, aimed at the aristocracy and the upper-middle classes, as well as their servants.  By 1750 tea was being called "unwholesome" or even "of a poisonous nature", and said to cause "distempers, tremors, palseys, vapours, fits" and other nerve damage, when "drank to excess;" people were encouraged to put "cream, &c." in their tea to counteract the "corroding" nature of the lime and alum used to make loaf sugar (when people sweetened their tea), or to use lavender oil, nettle flowers, or quicksilver-water, in making their tea, to "prevent the rise of vapours"!  But how was the tea made?  

There is some suggestion in the earliest books, that people were drinking tea, or perhaps ordering it ready-made, along with the other fashionably new drinks, coffee and chocolate, in tea and coffee houses, more often than making it at home, since the recipe books from those first 20 years don't contain any recipes for making tea.  The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in 1660 that he sent for a cup of "tee, a China drink" one day when at home, but it's not clear where he got the tea, whether it was made in his own kitchen, or brought from a tea house.  These tea and coffee houses became wildly popular, rivaling taverns in their customer numbers, but more fashionable than taverns because they sold the exotic, expensive, imports, so they were patronized by the aristocracy and upper middle classes, as well as anyone else who could afford the price of a cup of tea or coffee, including women, in many cases. 

Because the tea, coffee and chocolate didn't intoxicate people like alcoholic drinks, which were also extremely popular during the period, they allowed their consumers to keep their minds and thoughts straight, facilitating the discussion of the news of the day, from politics, science and exploration, religion, and various other topics.  With the mix of patrons entering and participating in discussions, ideas, as well as the taste for tea, spread rapidly, and tea houses in England (and the North American colonies, whose residents copied everything English) rightly earned their reputation as breeding-grounds for new ideas and rebellion of various kinds. 

Rumor has it that when tea first came to England, people boiled the leaves in water, and then ate the leaves with butter and salt, not knowing how to prepare them.  That would have made for an unpleasant side dish, but I haven't been able to find any period mention of the practice, so for me, that story remains in the realm of myth.  It seems logical that the Portuguese, who encountered tea before the English, would have learned how to prepare it from their Asian trading partners, and that information would have traveled to England with Catherine of Braganza, who was said to have asked for a cup of tea immediately upon arriving in England (she was offered a glass of ale instead).  The Chinese method of brewing tea is the same one used to brew loose tea leaves today.

Tea was imported into the American colonies very soon after being made available in England. This would have been exclusively loose-leaf Chinese tea, both green and black varieties, some of which are still available today; the teas probably taste smoother and better balanced than they would have in the 17th century, in modern times being blended from tea from different plantations, rather than the tea in a chest being all from the same plantation.  The tea would have been drunk out of Chinese porcelain tea cups, originally, and by the time of the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party, was made and consumed in porcelain and silver teapots and cups – the cups still without handles, in the Chinese style – made in England or Holland as often as in China. 

The Recipe: One of the oldest English recipes for making tea, this comes from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby,Kt., Opened, 1677.

Tea with Eggs.
Ingredients for Tea with Eggs. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Jesuit that came from China, Anno 1664, told Mr. Waller, that there they use sometimes in this manner. To near a pint of the infusion, take two yolks of new laid eggs, and beat them very well with as much fine Sugar as is sufficient for this quantity of liquor; when they are very well incorporated, pour your Tea upon the Eggs and Sugar, and stir them well together.  So drink it hot.  This is when you come home from attending business abroad, and are very hungry, and yet have not conveniency to eat presently a competent meal.  This presently discusseth and satisfieth all rawness and indigence of the stomach, flieth suddenly over the whole body, and into the veins, and strengtheneth exceedingly, and preserves one a good while from necessity of eating.  Mr. Waller findeth all those effects of it thus.
                In these parts he saith, we let the hot water remain too long soaking upon the tea, which makes it extract into it self the earthy parts of the herb.  The water is to remain upon it no longer then whiles you can say the Miserere Psalm very leisurely.  Then pour upon it the Sugar, or Sugar and Eggs.  Thus you have only the spiritual parts of the Tea, which is more active, penetrative, and friendly to nature.  You may for this regard take a little more of the herb; about one dram of Tea will serve for a pint of water; which makes three ordinary draughts. – from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby, Kt., Opened, 1677.

The Date/Year and Region:
England, 17th century.

How Did You Make It:
I purchased some Congou tea from Deborah Peterson's Pantry, now Dobbins & Martin, an 18th century reenactor's supplier.  The recipe calls for about 1 dram of Tea per pint of water.  A pint is 2 cups, and a dram is 60 grains in weight, or 1/8 oz., or about ¾ tsp.  This is weaker than I tend to make my tea (about 1 tsp. per cup of water).  I also tend to drink my tea unsweetened, or very lightly sweetened; however, looking at lots of 17th and 18th century recipes showed that people liked their food (and drink) very highly sweetened, so I used 4 teaspoons of sugar to sweeten the pint of tea, which is more than I would add, in general, but probably much less than would have been usual in the period.  With those conversions made, I made the tea, boiling the water, then measuring the tea into the teapot and pouring 2 cups of boiling water on it.  I timed myself reading the Miserere (Psalm 51) from the Book of Common Prayer, 1666:

"Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and stablish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar."

It took me just over 2 minutes to read aloud, at a normal pace; reading it "very leisurely" would have taken maybe 3 minutes.  While the tea steeped, I separated 2 eggs, and beat the yolks with the sugar in a cereal bowl, then poured the hot tea into the bowl, stirring the eggs and sugar with my fork so that they wouldn't curdle.  If I'd had a third hand I would have been able to hold a wire strainer over the bowl and poured the tea through that, but instead I poured the tea slowly, and a few tea leaves still got into the pot. 

Time to Complete:
Less than 5 minutes (not including time for the water to boil).

Total Cost:
Everything was from my pantry, but it would have cost me about $2.75 for a half-dozen eggs, at least $2 for a half-pound of sugar, and the Congou cost me $4 for 2 ounces.

Tea with Eggs.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
How Successful Was It?:
Hmmm.  The tea wasn't hot enough, by the time it hit the eggs, to cook them, which is what I expected it to do; this was probably caused by my forgetting to warm the teapot with hot water, first, as well as not thinking to warm the bowl with hot water, either, so that between the cold teapot and the cold bowl, and being poured slowly into the bowl to keep the tea leaves in the pot, the tea was more warm than hot once it hit the eggs.  The mixture got frothy, instantly, and became almost like a bowl of tea with milk and sugar, but eggy instead of milk-y.  I like tea with milk and sugar, but the egg (more properly, the knowledge that the egg was still partially raw) made it more Interesting than Pleasant.  Actually, more like * Innnnteresting * ... The tea caudle (which is what similar recipes were called in later cookbooks) was much sweeter than I like to take my tea, even when I do add sugar, and the tea flavor was stronger than I had expected it to be.  I thought it wasn't exactly disgusting, but it wasn't exactly tasty either, but perhaps it would have been better if the tea had been hot enough to cook the eggs and make it more like a tea-flavored custard, which would have been delicious.  I tried to heat the mixture up a bit more, slowly, in the microwave, but I only succeeded in making some of the egg curdle at the bottom of the bowl, so I ended up throwing it out.  I would say that this recipe has potential to be a comforting drink, but not as I made it!  I'd definitely warm the teapot and the bowl first, and this is actually a period part of the process; a letter from Baron Herbert to his servant in 1672 instructs: "the little cups must be held over the steam before the liquid be put in."

How Accurate Is It?: 
This recipe was as accurately done as I could do it!  I, of course, used an electic kettle to boil the water, and used commercially-prepared granulated sugar, instead of powdering loaf sugar in a mortar, and boiling the water over a kitchen fire. I don't have 18th century original or reproduction tea ware to infuse and serve my tea in, so I used modern things, but I'd say it's at least 90% accurate.

"Tea in the UnitedKingdom" on Wikipedia (general information) 
UK Tea & Infusions Association: "Catherine of Braganza" 

Smith, W. J., ed., Herbert Correspondence, University of Wales (1963), pp. 204-5, no. 353, John Read to Richard Herbert of Oakly Park, Ludlow, 29 June 1672. 

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)