Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and travelling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. New England chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and Campbell’s tomato…are all variations on the same theme.

Soups were easily digested and were prescribed for invalids since ancient times. The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Restoratifs (wheron the word “restaurant” comes) were the first items served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris. Broth [Pot-au-feu], bouillion, and consomme entered here. Classic French cuisine generated many of the soups we know today.

Advancements in science enabled soups to take many forms…portable, canned, dehydrated, microwave-ready. “Pocket soup” was carried by colonial travellers, as it could easily be reconstituted with a little hot water. Canned and dehydrated soups were available in the 19th century. These supplied the military, covered wagon trains, cowboy chuck wagons, and the home pantry. Advances in science also permitted the adjustment of nutrients to fit specific dietary needs (low salt, high fiber, etc.).

“Cereals, roasted to make them digestible and then ground and moistened or diluted with water to make a paste, either thick or thin, did not become gruel or porridge until people had the idea and means of cooking them. They may initially have been cooked by hot stones in receptacles of natural substances, and then in utensils which could go straight over the fire. Soup, in fact, derives from sop or sup, meaning the sliced of bread on which broth was poured. Until bread was invented, the only kind of thick soup was a concoction of grains, or of plants and meat cooked in a pot. Gruel or porridge was thus a basic food, a staple from of nourishment, and long held that place in Western countries, for in practice bread was a luxury eaten only in towns. A thick porridge of some kind is still the staple food of many peoples, and it is not always made of cereals, but may consist of other starch foods: legumes, chestnuts or root vegetables.”
Food in History, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, translated by Anthea Bell [Barnes & Noble Books:New York] 1992 (p. 177)

“Soup…This category included liquid foods for invalids, such as beaten egg, barley and emmer gruel…and the water from boiling pulses, vegetables or other foods…soups or purees made from vegetables or fruits…broth made with meal of legumes or cereals with added animal fat…and soup in the usual modern English sense, based on meat and vetetables…Medicinal spices and herbs might be added to these various soups, especially if they were intended for invalids as part of a prescribed diet.”
Food in the Ancient World from A to Z, Andrew Dalby [Routledge:London] 2003 (p. 307)

“Soups. General Observations. The culinary preparations included in this section are of fairly recent origin in their present form, dating from only the early part of the 19th century. Soups of the old classical kitchen were in fact complete dishes in themselves and contained, apart from the liquid content and its vegetable garnish, a wide variety of meat, poultry, game and fish. It is only the liquid part of these classical dishes which has retained the name of soup. Examples of old style of soup which still survive are the Flemish Hochepot, the Spanish Oilles and the French Petite Marmite…On this point as on many others, culinary art owes much to Careme….”
The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, A. Escoffier, first translation of Le Guide Culinaire [1903] by H.L. Cracknell and R.J. Kaufmann [John Wiley & Sons:New York] 1979 (p. 65)
[NOTE: Escoffier’s notes regarding soup classification and serving are also contained in this book.]


American Buffet

American buffet
Buffet-style entertaining caught on in America during the Great Depression. At home it required little or no maid service and enabled the hostess to present a splendid table. Restaurants studied this trend and capitalized on it. The Prix fixe dining option was not a new concept. Neither was all-you-can-eat. Colonial taverns, grand passenger ships, college dining halls and Victorian eating clubs were founded on these principles.

What made Depression-era buffet different was that it presented the perfect human fueling option in a time of need. Buffets, in this scenario, were all about quantity. This gave restauranteurs the wiggle-room they needed to make a profit. Diners enjoying the challenge of piling high their plates, even when they could return as many times as they liked, were especially welcome. The epitome of the grand American buffet was perfected in Las Vegas. Today’s American Brunch is often served “buffet style.”

Buffet was a popular American party option in the 1930s:
“Buffet service is one of the simplest and most delightful ways of entertaining large groups. For formal occasions, such as wedding breakfasts, formal teas and receptions it is most usual. But it is equally charming for the informal Sunday breakfast or supper, holiday breakfasts, indoor picnics and church socials. The general procedure for formal and informal buffet service is the same–the elaborateness of decoration, the types of foods, the kinds of linen, and the presence or absence of servants mark the distinction between formality and informality. The buffet table should be as much of a “picture” as possible. A handsome cloth of damask, lace or embroidery, or runners of lace or linen are suitable. The floral centerpiece should be truly beautiful and flanked by tall candles in holders of silver, glass or porcelain. A candelabra may be chosen as the center decoration, with flowers on either side. Candles are not used, however, before four in the afternoon. The coffee or tea tray and the punch service are placed at opposite ends of the table. Plates filled with sandwiches, cakes, little cookies, salted nuts, and if the menu is elaborate, with salads, or other foods, are arranged down the sides of the table, with the silver and china needed in their service, laid close by. If the silver is placed in rows, the effect is graceful. Piles of plates and of small folded napkins should be conveninetly near. Everything should be balanaced to create an artistic and orderly effect. If guests are numerous, the punch may be served from a separate table. At a formal affair, waitresses preside at the buffet table and serve the guests. They also collect the used dishes. If a frozen dessert is provided, it is served from the table, or individually from the pantry. A frappe or soft ice is usually placed in a bowl. It is served in cups or glasses, placed on doily-covered plates, and a teaspoon is placed on the plate. Moulds of ice cream are sliced and served on plates; forks are laid on the side of the plates. The guests stand or sit at a buffet meal, as convenient–special tables are not provided. The informal buffet table may be gay with colored linen and simple flowers. The table is set as for formal buffet service with this exception: decorations and foods are less elaborate, and guests serve themselves informally, or are served by the hostess or members of the party.”
When You Entertain: What to do, and how, Ida Baily Allen [Coca Cola Company:Atlanta GA] 1932 (p. 27-8)


Belgian Waffles

Belgian waffles
Remember the Belgian waffles served at the New York World’s Fair, 1964-1965? Thick, chewy, hot and delicious. Who knew? Waffles could be the perfect dessert!

“The one food delicacy sure to survive the closing, this weekend, of the New York World’s Fair is the Belgian waffle. It is due to join the international roster of staple snacks, along with hot dogs, pizza pies, and ice cream. First the Brussels Fair in 1958, then the Seattle Fair, and two years running of the New Yor Fair have managed to launch this tasty confection in fair fashion. Literally millions of visitors to New York have enjoyed that delectable aroma of waffles crisping to a golden brown in hot ovens. As their defense mechanisms toppled and they chirped, ‘I’ll have one,’ an attendant would decorate that 3 1/2 X 7-inch slab of golden goodness with ribbons of whipped ream pushed through a pastry gun, then splash it generously with squishy strawberries, and hand it over…Most people ate them off a waxed napkin. Those who wanted to be daintier cut them up with a fork…Is the Belgian waffle from Belgium? Of course. That country has been famous for its waffles for generations. Belgians make them at home and serve them with whipped cream or butter, and sometimes with fresh fruit. They like them for afternoon tea or dessert. Waffles have thrived for years as a delicacy at Belgian seaside resorts. The original Belgian waffle, to be commercialized at international fairs is called by the copyrighted name of ‘Bel-Gem Waffle.’ It is made here by B.F.E. Company, Inc., an American offshoot of a Belgian wafflemaking outfit which dates back to 1818. More than 3,000,000 Bel-Gem waffles will have been sold at 99 cents each by this company’s seven concessions by the time the New York World’s Fair closes Oct. 17. The president of this company is hoping not only to sell its World’s Fair wafflemaking equipment but franchises for making them to dealers across the country…This original Belgian waffle has been joined at the fair by many reasonable facsimiles–including Belgium Waffles, Belgische Wafels, and Brussels Waffles. They are fluffy, more than an inch deep, and made over gas heat, which is said to be the most dependable and constant. Once the fair is closed forever, don’t be surprised to see Belgian waffles turning up out your way. Five young businessmen in Chicago, inspired by the World’s Fair success of the Belgian waffle, have already formed a company called Belgian Queen, Inc. The designed their own wafflemaking machine and are having it manufactured here. They had a food company work out their own waffle-mix formula and even their own whipped topping mix. They are now making Belgian Queen waffles available at 75 cents and 80 cents in department stores, amusement parks, motels, state fair, drive-ins, resorts, etc. Being adventurous fellows, they are also experimenting with many kinds of topping, including fresh peaches, berries of all kinds, coconut, pineapple, and chocolate-mocha.”
—“Meet Manhattan: Fans Stick to Belgian Waffles,” Marilyn Hoffman, Christian Science Monitor, October 12, 1865 (p. 8)
[NOTE: Additional NYC World’s Fair Fare here.

Recipes over time:

“To Fry Waffles

For each pound [one English pound, or 454 grams] of Wheat-flour take a pint [about a half a litre] of sweet Milk, a little tin bow, of melted Butted with 3 or 4 Eggs, a spoonful of Yeast well stirred together.”
De Verstandige Kock (The Sensible Cook) [Netherlands, 1683?], Translated and Edited by Peter G. Rose [Syracuse University Press:Syracuse] 1989 (p. 76)[1849]

Put two pints of rich milk into separate pans. Cut up and melt in one of them a quarter of a pound of butter, warming it slightly; then, when it is melted, stir it about, and set it away to cool. Beat eight eggs till very light, and mix them gradually into the other pan of milk, alternately with half a pound of flour. The mix it by degrees the milk that has the butter in it. Lastly, stir in a large table-spoonfull of strong fresh yeast. Cover the pan and set it near the fire to rise. When the batter is quite light, heat your waffle-iron, by putting it among the coals of a clear bright fire; grease the inside with butter tied in a rag, and then put in some batter. Shut the iron closely, and when the waffle is done on one side, turn the iron on the other. Take the cake out by slipping a knife underneath; and then heat and grease the iron for another waffle. Send them to table quite hot, four or six on a plage; having buttered them and strewed over each a mixture of powdered cinnamon, and white sugar. Or you may send the sugar and cinnamon in a little glass bowl.”
Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, Miss Leslie [Philadelphia, 1849]. (p. 359)

“Wheat Waffles

One quart of flour, and a teaspoonful of salt. One quart of milk, with a tablespoonful of melted butter in it, and mixed with the flour gradually, so as not to have lumps. Three tablespoonfuls of distillery yeast. When raised, two well-beaten eggs. Bake in waffle-irons well oiled with lard each time they are used. Lay one side on coals, and in about two minutes turn the other side to the coals.

“Mrs. B.’s Waffles
One quart of flour, and a teaspoonful of salt. One qurt of sour milk, with two tablespoonfulls of butter melted in it. Five well-beated eggs. A Teaspoonful for more of saleratus [precursor of baking soda], enough to sweeten the milk. Baked in waffle irons. Some like one tea-cup full of sugar added.”
Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, Catharine E. Beecher [New York, 1858] (p. 96)

“Libby’s Hot Waffles

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine, or salad oil
Directions for assembly follow. From the same book “Packaged frozen waffles are delicious.”
Good Housekeeping Cook Book, Dorothy B. Marsh, editor [1962] (pps. 336-337)

“Gaufres de Bruxelles (Brussels Waffles)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 eggs
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
5 tab;espoons melted butter
Mix flour, egg yolks, sugar, salt, vanilla, milk and butter. Whip egg whites quite firm. Gradually incorporate into paste, mix well. Cook in slightly buttered waffle iron. As soon as waffles are done coat with additional powdered sugar. Serve warm. Makes 10-12.”
The Art of Belgian Cooking, Sarah Miles Watts with Rene Colau [Doubleday & Company:Garden City NY] 1971 (p. 183)


Soup or Stew?

Soup or stew?
What is the difference between soup and stew? On the most basic level there is no absolute difference. Like ancient pottage, both soup and stew descend from economical, easy, healthy, forgiving, and locally sourced family feeds. Throughout time, these two interrelated menu items converge and diverge. Modern American cultural context does, however, separate soup from stew quite simply. The test is not in the ingredients or method, but which course it is served. Soup is starter/accompaniment; stew is main course.

Soup, in some contexts, variously became regarded as haute cuisine (consomme, vichyssoise), healthful restoratifs (18th century French Restaurants & Jewish grandmother chicken soup), and economical family fare (commercial vegetable beef, tomato). Soup can be served as first course (classic menu), lunch (paired with sandwich or salad) and dessert (fruit soup). It can be served hot (most) or cold (gazpacho, cucumber). Either way, the stock reigns supreme.

Stew is generally appreciated in larger chunks as main course, always served warm. Slow cooking renders tough cuts of meat delicious. The fact “stew” was a verb before it was a noun means much. Deliberate slow cooking with minimal moisture produces amazing results. Stew is generally regarded as community feed ( Brunswick Stew, Kentucky Burgoo & Booya) or family fare; not eligible for haute cuisine.

The best way to compare definitions of two terms is take them from the same source. It is interesting to note Escoffier does not attempt to define the differences. If you’re examining the differences within a specific culture/cuisine/period context, compare soup and stew recipes offered in cookbooks serving your target period. Menus confirm meal placement.

[1952] The Master Dictionary of Food & Cookery, Henry Smith [Philosophical Library:New York]
“Soup as a food consists of water in which meat, fish, poultry, game, vegetables or even fruits are stewed, to extract all the food value with the least possible loss of vitamins and flavour. Cereals and thickening agents are sometimes added to give body.”—(p. 225)

“Stew…is nothing more or less than simmering foods in the smallest possible quantity of liquid. The meat, poultry or game and liquid are served together as a ‘stew,’…Stewing has many advantages from the nutritive and economic standpoints.”—(p. 230)

[2001] The New Food Lover’s Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst [Barrons Eduational Series:New York] , 3rd edition
“Soup. Theoretically, a soup can be made in any combination or vegetables, meat or fish cooked in a liquid. it may be thick (like Gumbo), thin (such as a Consomme), smooth (like a Bisque) or chunky (Chowder or Bouillabaisse). Though most soups are hot, some like Vichyssoise and Fruit Soups are served cold…The can be served as a first course or as a meal, in which case they’re usually accompanied by a sandwich or salad.”—(p. 581)

“Stew. Any dish that is prepared by stewing. The term is most often applied to dishes that combine meat, vegetables and a thick soup-like broth resulting from a combination of the stewing liquid and the natural juices of the food being processed.”—(p. 596)

[2003] Encyclopedia of Food Culture, Solomon H. Katz, editor-in-Chief [Thomson Gale:New York] Volume 3
“Soup. A soup is a broth that is infused with flavor. It may be think and crystal clear like a consomme, voluptuously smooth and creamy like a creamed soup, or so chunky with meat, fish, grains, and/or vegetables it is just this side of stew. A soup may be the first of several courses, intended just to whet the appetite; it may be one of many dishes served at the same time; or it may be a hearty meal in a bowl. The bottom line is that in order to be soup, it must be enough of a liquid preparation that eventually one gets around to sipping it, or eating it with a spoon.”—(p. 297)

“Stew. A stew had been described as an assortment of foods cooked in liquid within a container with a lid. Stews are usually made from several ingredients and may be named for the most important of these, for example, beef stew; for its point of origin, for its point of origin, as in Irish stew; or for the pot in which it is cooked, as in Rumanian ghivexi, named for the Turkish guvec, an earthenware pot in which the stew is cooked. The word “stew” is said to have come from the old French word estuir, meaning to enclose.”…Stews are commonly regarded as ‘comfort’ foods, everyday dishes served to family or close friends in an intimate setting, rather than as fare in more public settings or at special occasions.”—(p. 341-342)


Cats Head Biscuits!!

Cathead biscuits
Huge as a cat’s head, served up hot with with Sawmill Gravy. An Appalchian down-home favorite!

“There, in the Blackstone kitchen, Berry’s grand chefs, Vernie and Floyd Nabors, turned out Sunday morning biscuits that melted in one’s mouth. Particularly if you opened one up and added fresh butter along with the generous portion of the Berry-made apple butter…One of my classmates put it for me in hushed tones: “What you see there, Joe, is what we call the Cathead Bsicuit, the gift of an all-knowing and benevolent God.” Mountain people, he explained, were particularly partial to the giant-size biscuits, which were destined by the Almighty to go with milk-enhanced sawmill gravy, another mountain favorite…Indeed the “cathead”–an Applachian phenomenon–was the precursor to the even larger size biscuits offered today by chains such as Hardee’s and Mrs. Winner’s. The big difference between regular-size buttermilk biscuits and the catheads was that with most “cats,” the cook pinched off handfuls of dough rather than rolling it out and using a biscuit cutter…

Bryson City Cathead Biscuits
2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons lard
1 cup buttermilk.
Sift and mix dry ingredients then blend with lard. Add buttermilk. For each biscuit, pinch off a portion of dough about the shape of a large egg and pat out with your hands. Bake in 350 degree F. oven in wood stove about 10 minutes. In a modern electric or gas oven, bake at 475 to 500 degrees.”
Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine, Joseph E. Dabney [Cumberland House:Nashville TN] 1999 (p. 114-5)


Baking Soda

Baking soda & powder
According to the food historians, baking soda [bicarbonate of soda] dates back to ancient civilization. It was not until the mid-19th century, however, that it was regularly used by English and American cooks. The most comprehensive discussion of the history of this topic may be found in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David [Penguin:Middlesex England] 1977. Your librarian can help you find a copy.

“Bicarbonate of soda: NaHCO3, has been used in cookery for so long that, despite its chemical label it has largely escaped the growing opposition to chemical’ additives. It is an alkali which reacts with acid by effervescing–producing carbon dioxide. It is therefore a leavening agent in baking, if used in conjunction with, say, tartaric acid…The alkaline properties of bicarbonate of soda can also be used to soften the skins of beans and other pulses. And a pinch added to the cooking water makes cabbage and other green vegetables greener, but its effect on the pigment chlorophyl. However, it also induces limpness (by breaking down hemicelluloses) and the loss of vitamins B1 and C; and in the practice, which dates back to classical Rome and used to be recommended in Britain and N. America, has largely died out.”
The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] (p.73)

The history of modern baking powder begins in the late 18th century:
“Pearl ash–This was a popular name for potassium carbonate, a refined form of potash, in turn an alkaline substance obtained by leaching ashes of wood or other plants (pot ashes). The use of wood ash in meat curing is ancient. And lye, the leaching water, has long been used from cleansing and making of soap. But the use of these alkaline substances as leavening appears to be American in origin. Study of Indian lore is frustrating because of early contamination, but it does seem that Indians employed ash as seasoning becasue of its salt content, and as a foaming agent in their breads. With corn meal, even using purer forms, the effect is largely a change in texture; with wheat flour, the leavening is specatular and virtually instantaneous, particularly when sparked by the acidity of sour milk, for example. This usage is first recorded, it seems, in 1796 by Amelia Simmons in a recipe for gingerbread; molasses supplies the requisite acidity. But the practice clearly was widespread and already of long standing as shown by a recipe for Handy-cake or Bread in Essays and Notes on Husbandry and Rural Affairs by J. B. Bordley (1801): “The good people of Long Island call this pot-ash or handy-cake;…wheat flour 2 lbs; sugar 1/2 lb, have added to them a tea spoonful of salt of tartar heaped, or any other form of pot or pearl ash.”…Gradually, saleratus and other baking sodas replaced pearl ash…Eventually, acid and alkali were combined in one baking powder’.”
The Virginia House-Wife, Mary Randolph, with historical notes and commentaries by Karen Hess [University of South Carolina Press:Columbia] 1984 (p.281-282/notes from Ms. Hess)

“The alkaline component of baking powder is usually Bicarbonate of Soda, also known as baking soda. The first type, invented in the USA in 1790 was pearl ash’, potassium carbonate prepared from wood ash. This provided only the alkali; the acid had come from some other ingredients, for example sour mlk. Pearl ash reacted with fats in the food, forming soap which gave an unpleasant taste. Soon it was replaced by bicarbonate of soda, which still reacts in this was but to a much smaller extent. An American name used for either of these alkali-only agents was saleratus.

True baking powder, containing both bicarbonate of soda and an acid, was introduced around 1850. The acid was cream of tartar or tartaric acid, both of which conveniently form crystals. This was mixed with a little starch to take up moisture and so keep the other components dry, so that they did not react prematurely. A disadvantage of this mixture was that is sprang into rapid action as soon as it was wetted, so that the dough had to mixed quickly and put straight into the oven before the reaction stopped.

Modern baking powder still uses these substances, but some of the cream of tartar (or tartaric acid) is replaced with a slower acting substance such as acid sodium pyrophosphate. This hardly reacts at all at room temperature, but speeds up when heated, so that bread and cakes rise well in the oven.”
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] (p. 50)



Sugarplums belong to the comfit family, a confection traditionally composed of tiny sugar-coated seeds. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word sugarplum thusly: “A small round or oval sweetmeat, made of boiled sugared and variously flavoured and coloured; a comfit.” The earliest mention of this particular food is 1668. The term also has another meaning “Something very pleasing or agreeable; esp. when given as a sop or bribe,” which dates to 1608.

“Sugarplums were an early form of boiled sweet. Not acutally made from plums…they were nevertheless roughly the size and shape of plums, and often had little wire stalks’ for suspending them from. They came in an assortment of colours and flavours, and frequently, like comfits, had an aniseed, caraway seed, etc. at their centre. The term was in vogue from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, but is now remembered largely thanks to the Sugarplum Fairy, a character in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet (1892.)”
An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 329)

Visions of sugarplums/Sharon Cohen…history and instructions for making them.

What are comfits?
“Comfit, an archaic English word for an item of confectionery consisting of a seed, or nut coated in several layers of sugar…In England these small, hard sugar sweets were often made with caraway seeds, known for sweetening the breath (hence kissing confits). Up to a dozen coats of syrup were needed before the seeds were satisfactorily encrusted. Comfits were eaten a sweets, and also used in other sweet dishes; for example seed cake was made with caraway comfits rather than loose caraway seeds as in the 19th century. Confectioners as early as the 17th century recognized by varying the proportions of sugar in the syrup they could change the final texture, making pearled comfits or crisp and ragged comfits. The word comfit remained in use in English up until the 20th century: Alice, of Alice in Wonderland, has a box of comfits in her pocket.”
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 208)

Why call them comfits?
“The latin word conficere was used to describe the act of puttng together, making up or compounding their potions. From that were derived the English terms to confect and confection. Another one, comfit, came from the Latin in a more roundabout fashion, for its immediate root was the French confit. Used at first for fruits preserved in sugar, comfit soon defined sugar-covered spices (pills in other words)…By the end of the fifteenth century, confection had acquired the meaning of a sweetmeat. In the early seventeeth century, the terms comfit-maker and confectioner both described people who made sweets.”
Sugarplums and Sherbet: The prehistory of sweets, Laura Mason [Prospect Books:Devon] 2004 (p. 25)
[NOTE: The word confit, decending from the same root, applies to a savory potted fowl.]

Early manufacturing processs
“Comfit making demanded both leisure and special equipment; a ladle, a slice, a basin to heat the sugar suspended from cords over another bowl containing hot coals, and yet another basin in which the seeds, fruits or spices were treated. Molten sugar was ladled over them, and after each application they had to be dried and cooled. Several coats of sugar were needed. Caraways will be fair at twelve coats; and even crisp and ragged comfits, for which the sugar was boiled to a greater height, required eight to ten coats. Fortunately there were professional confectioners in the larger towns. So the gentle woman unequaled to the task of creating her own banqueting fare could purchase it herself, or commission kinsfolk or friends to bring back sweetmeats when they travelled on business.”
Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1991(p. 312)

Italian confetti
“Confetti (comfits in English) are nuts or seeds or spices with a coating of hard sugar. The best known in Italy today are probably the sugared almonds which are sent to relatives to celebrate weddings and similar joyful life events. The little circles of coloured paper tossed over the bride at weddings are a substitute for the ancient custom of scattering seeds and ritual breads, symbols of fertility and renewal, which predate Christian ceremonies. The combination of seeds and sugar was quite potent, and apart from their symbolic value, confetti were made and used by apothecaries as both medicine and gtreats; they were offered at the end of lavish banquets, as exquisite morels and soothing digestives, and brought in to offer visitors coming to pay the ritual congratulatory visit to women after childbirth. In Florence in 1471, Ser Girolamo di Ser Diovanni di Ser Taddeo de Colle, a comfortably off notary, paid a large sum of money for confetti (also known as treggea or manuscristi) as his wife Catereina went into labour…The sweetmeats brought by guests would have included confetti… The making of confetti was slow and laborous, the seeds or nuts to be coated were put into a sugar syrup at the manuscristi stage…and swirled and tossed in a concave metal tray suspended over a low heat…confetti went through this treatment over and over again, eacy layer of sugar had to dry out completely before the next coating, and many coatings were needed.”
Oxford Comnpanion to Italia Food, Gillian Riley [Oxford University Press:New YOrk] 2007 (p. 138)

“The production of comfits and confections in Sicily probably kept pace with the production of sugar itself. This was greatly diminished during the turbulent decades following the extinction of the Norman dynasty, reduced perhaps to small plantations scaled to local consumption. Nonetheless, knowledge and techniques survived, ready to accompany the extroadinar expansion in sugar production that began at the end of the fourteenth century, and to satisfy the requirements of the newly established royal court. Comfits always appeared among the gifts that the city of Palermo presejted to royal amassadors and other VIPs. In 1417 the wife of a viceroy received a tribute of almond, anise, and coriander comfits….”
Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simeti [Ecco Press:Hopewell NJ] 1989 (p. 224)


Candy Cane!

The origin of the candy cane is an interesting study of food lore and legend. It is easy to find information on this topic in books and on the Internet. The most popular story is the one about the German choirmaster who handed these out to his young singers in 1670 to keep them quite during a long church service. There is also controversy as to the origin of the shape. Does it represent a shepherd’s crook? Or the letter “J” for Jesus? Bear in mind, most of these stories are undocumented.

How to make candy canes? This is from a professional text:

“Candy canes for Christmas
Run out a batch of any flavor stick candy, usually peppermint and lemon are the best sellers, spin these sticks any size you wish and in cutting these cut off at angles. Now have your helper roll them so as to keep them round an when they begin to get cold crook the angle, then set them to one side to harden. Your helper’s rolling them until they become cold keeps them from getting flat on one side which affects the sale of them greatly. It is best when spinning these out to make one end of the stick smaller than the other, then place the crook on the large end and have the small end ofr the end of the cane. Candy canes can be made in any flavor or color, or any size desired.”
Rigby’s Reliable Candy Teacher, W.O. Rigby, Nineteenth edition [1919?] (p. 213)

Christmas Cookies

cookieChristmas cookies

Cakes of all shapes and sizes (including smaller items such as cookies) have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes. Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. Dutch New Year’s cookies were also sometimes molded into fancy shapes. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas. Sugar cookie type recipes descended from English traditions. Did you know Animal crackers began as edible ornaments?

“By the 1500s, Christmas cookies had caught on all over Europe. German families baked up pans of Lebkuchen and buttery Spritz cookies. Papparkakor (spicy ginger and black-pepper delights) were favorites in Sweden; the Norwegians made krumkake (thin lemon and cardamom-scented wafers). The earliest Christmas cookies in America came ashore with the Dutch in the early 1600s.”
—“America’s Best Holiday Cookies,” McCall’s [magazine], December 1994 (p. 85)

The flood of cheap imported wares form Germany between 1871 and 1906 when the import laws were changed, inundated our Christmas markets with cooking utensils like…cookie cutters…Unlike homemade counterparts, or local tinsmith’s wares, these tools depicted highly stylized images, often frawn from secular themes or…with subjects designed specifically to hang on the Christmas tree. Likewise, recipes appeared in popular cookbooks to better match the demands of such utensils…In a sense, with the advent of inexpensive tin cutters, new emphasis was placed on shape, where in the past, many homemade cookies simply had been square or round. Bells, Christmas trees, camels, crimped wares (cutters with zigzag edges), lilies, Sant Clauses, turkeys, all of these elaborate shapes tended to deemphasize texture and flavor.”
The Christmas Cook: Three Centuries of American Yuletide Sweets, William Woys Weaver [Harper Perennial:New York] 1990 (p. 106)


Bring us some Figgie Pudding!!

Christmas pudding (aka plum pudding)
Christmas pudding dates back to Medieval times. Traditionally made on Stir up Sunday, this special dessert contains charms symbolizing good luck for the New Year. Hard sauce was introduced in the 19th century.

How old is the tradition?
“Christmas pudding, the rich culimation of a long process of development of ‘plum puddings’ which can be traced back to the early 15th century. The first types were not specifically associated with Christmas. Like early mince pies, they contained meat, of which a token remains in the use of suet. The original form, plum pottage, were made from chopped beef or mutton, onions and perhaps other root vegetables, and dried fruit. As the name suggests, it was a fairly liquid preparation: this was before the invention of the pudding cloth made large puddings feasible. As was usual with such dishes, it was served at the beginning of the meal. When new kinds of dried fruit became available in Britain, first raisins, then prunes in the 16th century, they were added. The name ‘plum’ refers to a prune; but it soon came to mean any dried fruit. In the 16th century variants were made with white meat…and gradually the meat came to be omitted, to be replaced by suet. The root vegetables disappeared, although even now Christmas pudding often still includes a token carrot…By the 1670s, it was particularly associated with Christmas and called ‘Christmas pottage’. The old plum pottage continued to be made into the 18th century, and both versions were still served as a filing first course rather than as a dessert…What currently counts as the traditional Christmas pudding recipe has been more or less established since the 19th century.”
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2000 (p. 184-5)

“…the name Christmas pudding appears to be a comparatively recent coinage, first recorded in Anthony Trollope’s Doctore Thorne (1858). The association of dishes containing mixed dried fruit and spices…with Christmas is a longstanding one, though. Most of them originally contained dried plums, or prunes, but long after these had been replaced by raisins the term plum lingrered on… Nowadays served only at Christmas…this was formerly a common year-round pudding.”
An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 76)

“The plum pudding’s association with Christmas takes us back to medieval England and the Roman Catholic Chruch’s decree that the ‘pudding should be made on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, that it be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles, and that that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction.’… Banned by the Puritans in the 1660s for its rich ingredients, the pudding and its customs came back into popularity during the reign of George I. Known sometimes as the Pudding King, George I requested that plum pudding be served as part of his royal feast when he celebrated his first Christmas in England after arriving from Hanover to take the throne in 1714. By 1740, a recipe for ‘plum porridge’ appeared in Christmas Entertainments. In the Victorian era, Christmas annuals, magazines, and cookbooks celebrated the sanctity of family as much as the sanctity of Jesus’ birth, and the tradition of all family members stirring the pudding was often referenced…Poorer families made the riches version of plum pudding that they could afford…Even workhouse inmates anticipated a plum pudding on Christmas Day.”
Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History, Andrea Broomfield [Praeger:Westport CT] 2007 (p. 150-151)

What is the classic recipe?
There are as many recipes for Christmas pudding as there are cooks. These notes, circa 1875, sum it up best:

Christmas Plum Pudding.— The plum pudding is a national dish, and is despised by foreign nations because they never can make it fit to eat. In almost every family there is a recipe for it, which has been handed down from mother to daughter through two or three generations, and which never has been and never will be equalled, much less surpassed, by any other…It is usualy, before sending it to table, to make a little hole in the top and fill it with brandy, then light it, and serve it in a blaze. In olden time a sprig of arbutus, with a red berry on it, was stuck in the middle, and a twig of variegated holly, with berries, placed on each side. This was done to keep away witches…If well made, Christmas plum pudding will be good for twelve months.”
Cassell’s Dictonary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.: London] 1875 (p. 137)