The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #18 Descriptive Food -- Tuff-Taffity Cream from 1670.

Ingredients for Tuff-Taffity Cream.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: # 18 -- Descriptive Food We all know those recipes that come attached to interesting and imaginative names - slumps, crumbles, buckles, trifles, flummery. Pick a historic recipe that has a descriptive title.

There were so many interesting-sounding recipes that I considered for this challenge, but I decided on Tuff-Taffity Cream because I wanted to know why it had that name!  Other descriptive recipe titles are a bit more clear, but this one ... I have read about a fabric called "taffety" – which became our modern "taffeta" – but I don't know what period taffety was like, and why a custard would be called by that name.  And the "tuff" part?  Modern taffeta is a stiff, glossy fabric that is used to make women's formal gowns, but it's also lightweight and can be luxurious, and I thought that might be the clue to the relationship between the fabric and this recipe. 

The Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities defines "tuftaffeta" (also spelled "tufted tafata") as a silk taffeta (a fabric which has a smooth finish), that has a pile or nap arranged in tufts, to create a decorated pattern: "creating a pile and then cutting some of it only so as to form a pattern was very popular in the sixteenth century and early seventeenth, but largely died out thereafter as different ways of finishing became available.  ... Tuftaffetas were normally made of silk and were therefore valued highly, but some were made of half-linen." So, "tuff-taffity" is really "tufted taffeta", which is a decorative silk fabric.  I guessed that the custard called "tuff-taffity cream" must have a silken, "tufted" texture, then.  I don't know that I've ever eaten a food with a "tufted" texture! 

Food historian Ivan Day contributed his opinion on the subject on his blog, Historic Food: "Quince marmalade or sliced quinces were added to apple pies and taffety tarts to improve their flavour. The taffety tart filling ... also contains preserved orange.Taffety tarts borrowed their name from the textile material called taffety, but why this was the case is not understood. A more elaborate taffety called tuff-taffety was popular for making hats in the Tudor period. Hannah Wooley, the seventeenth century writer on domestic matters gives a recipe for a tuff-taffity cream, which is a smooth frothy cream garnished with red current jelly." So there you have it!  Maybe "tufted" is the same as "frothy"?  Let's find out.

Whipping the egg whites and rosewater.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Recipe: 
To make Tuff-Taffity Cream.
Take a quart of thick Cream, the whites of eight Eggs beaten to a Froth with Rosewater, then take of the Froth and put it into the Cream, and boil it, and always stir it, then put in the Yolks of eight Eggs well beaten, and stir them in off the Fire, and then on the Fire a little while, then season it with Sugar, and poure [sic] it out, and when it is cold, lay on it Jelly of Currans or Rasberries, or what you please.
-- from The Queen-Like Closet, by Hannah Wooley, 1670.

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

How Did You Make It: 
I made a quarter recipe, but otherwise I made it almost exactly the way the recipe stated. 
1 cup heavy cream
2 whole eggs, separated
1 tsp. rosewater
2 tsp. sugar
tart, red jelly (I used strawberry-orange jam)

Cooking the egg whites, rosewater, and cream.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Beat the egg whites until they're completely foamy (with no liquid at the bottom of the bowl) with the rose water.  This will take about 5 minutes. Beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl.  Pour the cream into a saucepan, gently stir in the the whipped egg whites, and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides of the saucepan; this will take around 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks until completely mixed with the whites and cream, and then return to the fire, stirring the mixture constantly over medium heat, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil again.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar.  Pour through a wire strainer if desired, to remove clumps of egg.  Pour into a serving dish and let cool, then garnish it with currant or raspberry jelly, or other fruit jam or garnishes.

Time to Complete:
30 minutes.

Total Cost:
Everything was already in my pantry, so it didn't cost me anything extra, but if I'd had to buy everything separately it would have been $2 for a half-dozen eggs, $2 for a half-pint of cream, at least $6 for the bottle of rose water, another few dollars for a pound of sugar, and a few more for a jar of jam: around $15 in total for two small or one generous serving of custard. 

How Successful Was It?:
Stir in the beaten egg yolks, return to the heat.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
I thought it was tasty, but you have to like egg custards and the flavor of rosewater if you want to try this recipe, because that's essentially what it is.  It was very egg-y and very rose-y in flavor.  It had a light texture, retaining some of the frothy, foamy-ness of the whipped egg whites, even after all that stirring and cooking, but at the same time I could taste the richness of the cream.  It might have been even more frothy if I had whipped the egg whites to stiff peaks, and then put in the rosewater, instead of the way I did it, but it was still tasty.  I think it would be good eaten with fresh raspberries or strawberries, or sliced peaches, as a summer dessert, because it's very light.  I used 2 heaping teaspoons of sugar to sweeten it, and I would have liked it a little less sweet, but that might just be my own taste. 

How Accurate Is It?: 
Tuff-taffity Cream with Strawberry Jam.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Well, I don't know if I assembled it correctly!  I beat the egg whites with the rosewater, because that seemed to be what the recipe was asking me to do, but maybe there was a comma missing; maybe the first part was supposed to read " Take a quart of thick Cream, the whites of eight Eggs beaten to a Froth [add comma here] with Rosewater, then take of the Froth and put it into the Cream"?  I think Mrs. Wooley might have meant that the egg whites were supposed to be beaten to stiff peaks before being stirred into the cream; although I beat the egg whites and rosewater constantly for 15 minutes, and they got very frothy and foamy, I could see that they weren't going to get any stiffer.  It was probably because of the rosewater in them.  If I make this again, I think I'll whip the egg whites to stiff peaks (if I have the arm strength!) first, and then stir in the rosewater, to see if it makes any difference in the finished product.  I didn't have any currant or raspberry jelly, so I used a spoonful of my friend's homemade strawberry-orange jam instead.  I forgot, until after I had started eating the custard, that I should have allowed it to cool before putting the jam on it, because it sank to the bottom of the bowl instead of sitting on the top. Despite my mistakes, and (of course) using my modern stove, egg beater, etc. I would say this interpretation is at least 75% accurate. 

The Queen-Like Closet by Hannah Wooley 
Historic Food blog by Ivan Day 

"Tufftaffeta", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities,1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007. British History Online 


Steph said...

I LOVE egg custard and would LOVE this! :-)

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Then you should try it, Steph! I will say that I was surprised how light and frothy the texture was, since I'm such a wimp that I can never whip egg whites or cream to stiff peaks by hand. I was (and still am) sure that the eggs were supposed to be more whipped. I whipped mine for 15 minutes but they didn't get any frothier after that first 5 minutes, so you can save yourself some work when you make this!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere that rose water made following 17th/18th century instructions is not as strong as today's commercially available rosewater. Perhaps using period rosewater would remove some of the strong "rosey" taste that you mention.

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Actually, chuckhudson52, I was thinking about that when I made this recipe! I don't have a distilling set-up, but I did make some rosewater by infusion last year, from the rosebush in front of my house, because I know that it's not sprayed with chemicals, and it's really red and fragrant. I haven't used the rosewater for anything yet, and I thought about it for this recipe: I smelled it, though, and it didn't have a particularly rosy smell, so I thought it would be flavorless. Maybe I need to make more tuff-taffity cream and use my homemade rosewater!

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)