The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, December 31, 2018

Historic Cooking: Fig Bread Pudding from 1907 and the history of Figgy Pudding.

Happy New Year!  "Time flies ..." and all that.  I have settled in to my new place -- a vintage Airstream trailer from 1967 -- but haven't got the oven up and working yet (it runs on propane and involves open flame every time you use it ...) so the only historic cooking I've done so far has been on the stovetop (also propane, involving open flame) and I haven't gotten many photos of the projects.  I am working on a Twelfth Night Cake for the coming week (I'll bake it in my mom's regular electric oven), so hopefully I'll get that written up and posted within the month.  One Historical Food Fortnightly challenge which I made this year, I also did last year but didn't get around to posting about it -- Figgy Pudding.  I decided to use a different recipe for figgy pudding, one that didn't take as long to boil as the one I usually use, so the research for that sent me down the rabbit hole of figgy pudding history.  I ultimately decided that I like the flavor of the Victorian recipe better than this one, but it was still an interesting recipe.

Just after Thanksgiving I made another figgy pudding for my Christmas caroling choir – the Lyric Theatre Victorian Carolers – as I have for the past several years, but this year I wanted to try a different recipe.   In researching other recipes, I followed one of the many "bunny trails" that I remembered from my previous research on the topic of figgy pudding: what is it and how old is it? 

Fig Bread Pudding.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Figgy pudding seems like such an old-fashioned treat, the kind that dates back to at least the 18th century, but my own investigation into period cookbooks has turned up surprisingly few recipes for it -- under the name "figgy pudding" -- that date before the Victorian era. In The Monthly Magazine: Devonshire and Cornwall Vocabulary from 1810, it defines "figs" as: "Figs, raisins. A "figgy pudding"; a pudding with raisins in it; a plumb pudding." Also, there is a somewhat sniffy (in my opinion) entry in The Oracle—A Weekly Journal of Response, Research, and Reference from December 1882, which states, in answer to the question "In Somersetshire the poor people call raisins figs and a plain pudding they speak of as a figgy pudding. Why is this?" that "It would be hopeless to seek a rational explanation of the error. We can only surmise that in the days when communication was less facile than at present, the rural population having little acquaintance with colonial produce, used figs as a convenient generic term for the dried fruits sold by grocers. ... We do not think the error is peculiar to the poor: it is rather characteristic of the rural population." Well, la di da!

The authors of most "history of figgy pudding" articles on the Internet seem to agree that figgy pudding, plum pudding, and Christmas pudding are all names for the exact same thing, that none of those dishes actually contain figs or plums, and that this somehow made sense to the people of the past because they were weird like that way back then.  However, that kind of explanation for "why people in the past did things a certain way" always makes me suspicious, because it so often turns out to be totally untrue!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Historic Cooking: Fourth of July Pudding from 1916.

Fourth of July Pudding.  Photo: Liz Raven.
The Redone Challenge: Today in History (June 29-July 12, 2014) Make a dish based on or inspired by a momentous occasion that took place on the day you made it. Get creative - you would be surprised by all the interesting things that happened every single day!

The Recipe:
A Fourth of July Luncheon. To be served buffet style or on the porch.  By Cora Farmer Perkins.

FOURTH OF JULY PUDDING: Pick over, wash and hull one quart box of strawberries.  Sprinkle with one cupful of granulated sugar, cover, and let stand two hours.  Mash, squeeze through a double thickness of cheesecloth, and add one cupful of cold water, and lemon juice to taste.  Turn mixture into a brick mold.  Beat one pint of heavy cream until stiff and add one-half cupful of powdered sugar, one-half tablespoonful of vanilla, a few grains of salt, and two thirds of a cupful of rolled dried macaroons.  Pour cream mixture over fruit mixture to overflow mold.  Cover with buttered paper (buttered side up) and adjust cover, when mixture should be forced down sides of mold.  Pack in rock salt and finely crushed ice, using equal parts, and let stand three hours.
            Remove to chilled serving dish, garnish with selected strawberries, and cut in slices for serving.
--from _Woman’s Home Companion_, July 1916. 

The Date/Year and Region: the United States, 1916. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Historic Cooking: Hannah Glasse's Rich Cake from 1774.

Hannah Glasse's Rich Cake from
The Art of Cookery, 1774.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Redone Challenge: #21: Party Foods (October 7 - October 20, 2016) If there’s a party, there has to be food! Pick a dish meant to be served to a crowd, or at a festive gathering, and show your work! 

At the school where I work, the 5th-grade classes spend a whole school day studying the Revolutionary War history of the United States, with a day of living history activities called Colonial Day.  The students rotate through a list of different activities ranging from candle dipping and writing with a quill and ink, to learning about the Boston Tea Party and enjoying a “party” at the “Governor’s Palace” in Williamsburg, VA.   The previous librarian used to assist with the Boston Tea Party activity, and I inherited that job when I took her place in the school library. My love for tea and history prepared me to coordinate the “party” part of the activity, as well as make the tea, and teach about tea and etiquette in the 18th century.
18th century Rich Cake/Great Cake, iced.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

While the students’ parents were supposed to sign up to bring the treats for the “tea party”, only a few promised to bring food (although several things turned up unannounced on the day of the event), so I decided to bake something so that there would be enough for every student to have at least one piece of cake or one cookie.  Although the parents had previously brought 20th-century treats like banana bread and scones with frosting on them, I wanted to increase the historical accuracy of the activity.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Historic Cooking: Californio-style Chocolate from ca. 1777.

A cup of Californio-style Chocolate.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Redone Challenge(s): Sweet Sips and Potent Potables April 5 - April 18, 2015, and History Detective (January 29 - February 11, 2016) 

Foodways from the Spanish and Mexican colonization period of California’s history is not a very widely-talked about subject.  The documents that contain the information about food during this period are largely still in 18th century/early 19th century Spanish, although some of them have begun to be translated into English and other languages in the past few years.  The available documents are also mostly from the very beginning of the Spanish colonial era (begun in mainland Mexico in the 16th century) or from the very end of the Mexican colonial era – or even afterward, in the later memories of the people who lived in California during that time.  Therefore, a fair amount of extrapolation is necessary to re-create foods that would have been familiar to the Californios – people of Hispanic descent who lived in California before the Gold Rush. 

Chocolate began as a bitter, spicy beverage among the Aztec elite.  They drank it for religious/ceremonial purposes as well as ordinary ones and incorporated many local flowers and spices in its manufacture.  They used cacao beans and pods as a form of currency and presented it as gifts to other rulers, including the Spanish conquistadors, when they first arrived. 

The Recipe: The recipe I ended up using is an amalgamation of multiple original recipes from the period.  The earliest Spanish recipe that I could find for chocolate was written by Antonio Colmenero, translated by Don Diego de Vades-forte in "A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate" which was published in London in 1640, in Spain before 1631.  It includes the original Aztec ingredients, as well as Spanish substitutions for some of the items that were unavailable in Spain, and instructions for preparing the cacao beans and spices so that they are ready to melt in hot water.  

“To every 100 Cacaos, you must put two cods of the long red Pepper, of which I have spoken before, and are called, in the Indian Tongue, Chilparlagua; and in stead of those of the Indies, you may take those of Spaine; which are broadest, and least hot. One handfull of Annis-seed Orejuelas, which are otherwise called Vinacaxlidos: and two of the flowers, called Mechasuehil, if the Belly be bound. But in stead of this, in Spaine, we put in sixe Roses of Alexandria beat to Powder: One Cod of Campeche, or Logwood: Two Drams of Cinamon, Almons, and Hasle-Nuts, of each one Dozen: Of white Sugar, halfe a pound: Of Achiote, enough to give it the colour. And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.”
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)