Sunday, October 28, 2012
Using post period sources for period research
The use of post period sources for period research has been something on my mind, off and on, for years. The thing about it, is that there can be no real stead-fast rule, there is no exact science and you can't just learn about what's best by reading a book.
Even the latest exercise, I went through... and by no means is it even anywhere near complete, was to take somewhere around 20+ (and more) recipe books written between 1400 and 1660 and try to determine by quick reading and recipe name where foods trended from one era to another in English cookery. Sadly, too much information was missing to follow the trends properly from 1400 to 1560 so I concentrated my efforts to following the trends from 1570 to 1590 and then from 1590 to where-ever the next major trend seemed to have begun, but it wasn't easy and I was left with no definitive answer.
What I did find is a really markable change around 1650 from the late 16th century with a heavier emphasis/variety of things such as cakes, puddings, cheese dishes and creams, not that these were not known earlier, just that the emphasis moved towards adding more dishes/variety in these areas than I noticed before. Sometimes they would be made with already known and widely used foods while some new dishes also came from newer items. Pies, as much as any other food, had some new trends and new introductions. Potato pie is an obvious newcomer due to a new food source while other dishes were mostly new names on the block, such as Lumber Pie and Taffety Tart, which show up fairly regularly through, and after, the 1650's. Obviously, those are items I would not choose to re-create for use in a 16th century context. On the other hand, there are 1650's publications and manuscripts that do carry a lot of known dishes from the late 16th century and earlier, in those cases, I would use them to compare and draw from if the comparison is close, otherwise I would draw from the earlier version. Rastons make a good example, as well as comparisons to various other buttered loaves where earlier versions do not seem to add up to the later ones.
Going back a bit earlier to 1609 ("Delightes for Ladies", that is) and we find some new recipes that are new in the context of the middle 16th century, but not for the very late 16th century such as "puff paste" which is very comparable to the "Housewife's Jewell, 1596 "butter paste" and other knowns such as White Broth and Bisket Bread, but to this we also see some newcomers such as Jumbols which remain a known from then. Given this, I would actually hazard to guess that Jumbols were actually known before 1600 even though there would be a whole decade of time past. But, that is not enough, so looking forward, we find books such as John Murrel's 1615 book showing a large number of recipes we become familiar with, more or less, pre-1600. the new comer terms that I did notice sticking out were "smoore" and "hash" but I hadn't spent a lot of time looking into it at this point. Another newcomer on the block were "Kickshaws". At this later date, I would hesitate on saying the names/terms were used before 1600, but the essence of the book itself is not far removed, nor is there a highly notable different trend taking place with the recipes. A Manuscript even further into the 17th century, written in the 20's by Grace Acton, has only a few recipes but ones that reflect some older trends in cooking such as Browet of Almayne, Rose, Leche Lumbarde... Egredouce! and yet drops in a bit of a shocker early in the list of recipes: Syllabub! Does this possibly mean that Syllabub may have been known before 1600? Possibly, if anything, it makes it likely for the early 17th century and at the very least, it does draw into question how much earlier than this date was it known and that term used? I can't see it being a mistake for the name "Posset" though the idea had crossed my mind as the recipes seem to be decidedly more antiquated for the date (old family recipes? something re-written from an older source?, I would not regard this as a trend).
This drives home that there can't be a steadfast cut-off date for books post 1600 when considering the reality of food trends but all we know for sure is what was published within the date we wish to research while using other sources for additional help with familiar recipes.
When moving beyond stricter guidelines, I would probably use 1620 as an easy cut off date where it comes to newer recipes. I wouldn't be able to realistically document them but given the relatively small number of publications to draw from, it is somewhat plausible that some later recorded recipes in a book full of otherwise familiar recipes, could have occurred earlier... but only plausible and certainly not a given, nor should it be treated as such.
It has since come to my attention that "Smoore" may be an ill transcribed word, while the meaning and process were indeed known pre-1600, the word itself seems new and unique in the context. It was suggested to me that a possible, more correct translation would be "smother" to which I would agree. Regardless, it is still a word in the Gloning transcription that does stand out as a word used to describe the dish/process not used before that date as is transcribed.