The celebration now known as Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, one of the four Druid “Bonfire” festivals. Celebrated on November 1, midway between the Autumn and Winter Solstices, some scholars believe that it marked the end of the old year and start of the new. Samhain (pronounced sów-en) was not a god to be worshipped, but rather a term meaning “The End of Summer”. It was at this time that the harvest was brought in, preparations for winter completed, debts were settled and the dead buried before the coming winter. In the highly superstitious Celtic culture, it was also believed that at this time when “a new year was being stitched to the old” the veil between the present world and the next was especially thin, allowing the spirits of the departed, both good and evil to roam.
Because of this belief, October 31 became a highly superstitious night. Some used the opportunity to entreat the dead for guidance in the coming year. Others carried on traditions involving the revelation of one’s sweetheart or good fortune for the coming year. Towards the close of the evening priests and townsfolk, dressed as spirits would parade through the village in order to lead the wandering ghosts back to their resting places. Far from being a burning Hell, the Celtic “underworld” was a place of light and feasting, much more akin to the Christian ideal of Heaven.
As it was also the close of the year, the bonfire, kindled by the priests served an extra purpose. Each villager would let their hearth fire die out that night to be lit afresh by embers from the bonfire, symbolizing a new year and hope for prosperity. During the night of spooks and ghosts, homes would be lit by rustic lanterns carved from turnips (known early on as neeps) beets and rutabagas. Pumpkins would be used later, as they were brought to Europe from the New World in the 17th century. These flickering lights were set out in hopes of welcoming home friendly souls and chasing away the evil spirits who wandered that night.
Continue reading Jane-O-Lantern: Picture Your Pumpkin Two Ways
The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 30, 1808
By Jane Austen’s day, oranges were no longer a novelty, though they were certainly an expensive delight. Orange Marmalade, also known as Dundee Marmalade, was developed in Scotland and so popular that, by 1797, James Keiller and his mother Janet opened a factory to produce “Dundee Marmalade”,a preserve distinguished by thick chunks of bitter Seville orange rind. The business prospered, and remains a signature marmalade producer today. Martha Lloyd’s household book contains a recipe for “Scotch Marmalade” and the Austen’s were known to bottle their own Orange Wine.
There are no reports of sweet oranges occurring in the wild. In general, it is believed that sweet orange trees have originated in Southeast Asia, northeastern India or southern Chinaand that they were first cultivated in China around 2500 BC.
Continue reading Orange Cream
The word “pomander” originates from the French “pomme d’ambre.” A common interpretation of this phrase is “apple of ambergris,” referring to the wax substance used as a base in pomander recipes. Others take the phrase to mean “apple of amber” or “golden apple,” as in the fragrant citrus fruits exchanged during holidays for good luck. The pomander became popular during the Middle Ages when the black death and other ailments ran rampant. Sanitation during the era was lamentably lacking. The streets and even some homes were strewn with filth, bodily fluids and the discarded remnants of past meals. People thought that the cause of their problems lay in the resulting stench lingering about the city. The belief went that the pleasant scent of a pomander could repel the disease in the air. Several recipes for pomanders survive from the era. To the base of ambergris, musk, civet, rose water, and other perfumes and spices were added. The mix would then be inserted into the pomander’s container. A pomander could be worn around the neck or waist. Many women attached them to their girdle. Queen Elizabeth I holding gilded pomander attached to her waist. (luminarium.org) Both men and women wore pomanders, most of whom hailed from the elite classes of society. Queen Elizabeth I is frequently depicted wearing one, as are other nobles and notables of the day. People took great pride in their pomanders. Simple pomanders were made of wood, while the most stunning examples were worked in silver or (more…)
Georgian Cheesecake: What came before? Our journey yesterday went off exceedingly well; nothing occurred to alarm or delay us… At Devizes we had comfortable rooms and a good dinner, to which we sat down about five; amongst other things we had asparagus and a lobster, which made me wish for you, and some cheesecakes, on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the town of Devizes to them for a long time. Jane to Cassandra 13, Queen’s Square, Friday (May 17) 1799 An ancient form of cheesecake may have been a popular dish in ancient Greece even prior to Romans’ adoption of it with the conquest of Greece. The earliest attested mention of a cheesecake is by the Greek physician Aegimus, who wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes (πλακουντοποιικόν σύγγραμμα—plakountopoiikon suggramma). Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura includes recipes for two cakes for religious uses: libum and placenta. Of the two, placenta is most like most modern cheesecakes, having a crust that is separately prepared and baked. It is important to note that though these early forms are called cheese cakes, they differed greatly in taste and consistency from the cheesecake that we know today. To Make Almond Cheesecakes Take 1/2 lb. of blanch’d almonds pounded small with a spoonful of orange flower water, a lb of double refined sugar, 10 yokes of eggs well beat. Add the peels of two oranges or lemons (which must be boiled very tender). Then beat in (more…)
Ratafia Biscuits or Cakes were an easy, popular cookie that used whipped egg whites for leavening and that baked up very light. They were a type of Macaroon and derived their name from the flavoring used in them. The word Ratafia means a cordial or liqueur, but remains of uncertain origin. Eventually, it came to denote almost any alcoholic and aromatic ‘water’. Flavorings varied widely, from the original ratafia of Morello cherry kernels to such herbs as Angelica. Some ratafias were distilled, others were made by infusion of spices, herbs and fruits in brandy or eau de vie. Since the Regency predated scheduled afternoon tea, these biscuits were often served during the dessert course of a dinner to offset other sweets. The Georgian favorite, Syllabub, was commonly accompanied by Ratafia Cakes or Macaroons and the recipe maven of the 18th C., Hannah Glasse, suggests that they be used in place of cake in Trifle. Ratafia Cakes Take 8 fl oz: apricot kernels, if they cannot be had bitter Almonds will do as well, blanch them & beat them very fine with a little Orange flower water, mix them with the whites of three eggs well beaten & sifted, work all together and it will be like a paste, then lay it in little round bits on tin plates flour’d, set them in an oven that is not very hot & they will puff up & be soon baked. Martha Lloyd’s Household Book Ratafia Cakes 340g (12oz)/ 1 ½ Cup Caster (more…)
Such was the information of the first five minutes; the second unfolded thus much in detail — that they had driven directly to the York Hotel, ate some soup, and bespoke an early dinner, walked down to the pump-room, tasted the water, and laid out some shillings in purses and spars; thence adjoined to eat ice at a pastry-cook’s, and hurrying back to the hotel, swallowed their dinner in haste, to prevent being in the dark; and then had a delightful drive back, only the moon was not up, and it rained a little, and Mr Morland’s horse was so tired he could hardly get it along. Northanger Abbey When we read in a novel about Jane Austen’s characters going somewhere to “Eat Ices” it’s easy to imagine that they are feasting on some kind of shaved ice and syrup treat, much like a sno-cone. In reality, “the quality was very high and the astonishing variety of flavours available in a Georgian confectionery shop would easily compete with that offered today in a modern Italian gelateria”, relates Ivan Day, Historicfood.com chef. “While ice cream, or Ices, as they were called, had been known in England since the 1670’s, they were an exclusive dish that appeared only on the king’s table. The earliest printed recipe appeared in Mrs. Eale’s Receipts, a little work on confectionery published in London in 1718. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that ices become more widely available from confectioners’ shops set (more…)
The border under the terrace wall is clearing away to receive currants and gooseberry bushes, and a spot is found very proper for raspberries. Jane Austen to Cassandra February 8, 1807 The word Shrub comes from the Arabic word sharab, which literally means “to drink” (it’s also the same word which gave us syrup and sherbert). The first mention of this word in the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1747 and its meaning (beyond that of the “woody plant or bush”) is “any of various acidulated beverages made from the juice of fruit, sugar, and other ingredients, often including alcohol.” Both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic (using vinegar) versions of these drinks are refreshing on a hot summer day. Commonly made in an orange, lemon or berry flavor and bottled, they would last all season long in a time before refrigeration. The presence of the brandy or vinegar added a bit of a bite to this non-carbonated, early soft drink and helped to prevent it from spoiling in the warm weather. The following recipe is for an alcoholic, citrus Shrub, while Martha Lloyd’s recipe for Raspberry Vinegar could be adapted instead for a refreshing berry drink suitable for all ages. Citrus Shrub “Take two quarts of brandy, put it into a large bottle, and put into it the juice of five lemons, and the peels of two, and half a nutmeg; then stop it up and let it stand three days, after which add to it three pints of white wine; (more…)