Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Ambassador's Requirements.

Catering for visitors, particularly diplomatic visitors, can be a tricky and expensive obligation. When the Turkish Ambassador and his retinue were passing through Vienna in May 1731 (a total of 62 persons and 25 horses), they were to be furnished every day with the following:

8 Pound of Honey
30 White Loaves of a Pound of Bread each
40 Other Loaves of Wheaten Bread, of a Pound each
10 Weathers or Sheep
130 Pound of Mutton
18 Pullets and Capons
2 Turkey Cocks
50 Pound of Rice
25 Pound of Fat
8 Pound of Sugar
4 Pound and a half of Tallow Candles
4 Pound and a half of Coffee
1 Pound and a half of Sugar for Sherbet
Half a Pound of Loaf Sugar
Cinnamon a Quarter of a Pound
Cloves the fame Quantity
Half a Pound of Ginger
The same of Pepper
2 Pound of Wax Candles, of Half a Pound each
3 Pound of Raisins
4 Pound and a Half of Currants
30 Pound of fine Meal
6 Pound of White Starch
2 Pound and a Half of Almonds
60 Eggs
8 Measures of Milk
3 Measures of Wine Vinegar
2 Ounces of Mace
the same Quantity of Nutmegs
Half an Ounce of Saffron
6 Pound of Salt
10 Pound of Onions
6 Pound of White Pease
3 Pound of Soap
2 Pound of Oil Olave
3 Quarters of a Pound of Rose Water
12 Lemons
1 Pound of preserved Citron
2 Pound of Olives
3 Pound of White Sweetmeats, Bikets, &c.
1 Ounce of Balsam
Half an Ounce of Amber
I Pound of Ulm Barley
A certain Measure of Oats for the Horses
Hay and Wood, as much as needful
Also Sallad, Spinnage, Garlick, Parsley, and other
Greens, Fruit, &c.
Lastly, 3 Ounces of Aloes for the whole Journey.

Some of the amounts seem huge: more than one loaf of bread and almost a pound of rice per person per day – and over two pounds of mutton (presumably the Ambassador himself, and a couple of the other top-ranking staff got the turkey cocks).

It would be fascinating to know what was cooked with these ingredients. Sherbet, obviously, as a quantity of sugar was allocated for making it. The amber (ambergris or amber greese) was probably also used to perfume and flavour this sherbet, which at this time was a cooling fruit drink.

Ambergris is a strange substance regurgitated by sperm whales which is found floating on the sea or washed up on beaches, and is an entirely different thing from the amber that is the fossilised resin of a tree that is used to make jewellery. Why the whales produce it is still a bit of a mystery, as I understand it, – but it may be a result of some digestive disturbance. When it is freshly thrown up by the whale it is an unattractive-looking whitish or grey soft mass with an unpleasant smell. Under the influence of the sea and the sun, it develops a waxy texture and the smell becomes musk-like, and voila! it becomes an expensive, exotic ingredient. Its great value is in the fragrance industry, but historically it had a wide range of medicinal and culinary uses. Methinks it was a brave man who first used whale vomit to flavour his drink. We have met ambergris as a flavouring for negus in a previous post. Here it is in a nice pudding.

An Almond Pudding.
Take three penny white Loaves, grate and dry them before the Fire, take a Quart of Cream and make it scalding hot, and put it on the Bread in a Pan, and let it stand to be cold; then take a Pound and and half of sweet Almonds, blanch'd, and beat fine with Orange-flower Water, mixing them with the Bread; the Quantity of Almond should be alike with the Bread; the Yolks of ten Eggs, with Cloves, Mace, Sugar, and Amber greese to your Taste, with a little Marrow; and all mixed together, and put in the Dish, with Paste all round; then bake it.
Court cookery, or, The Compleat English cook, by Robert Smith, 1725

Quotation for the Day.

A Table richly spred, in regal mode,
With dishes pil'd, and meats of noblest sort.
And Savour, Beasts of chase, or fowl of game,
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boyl'd,
Gris-amber steam'd; all Fish from Sea or Shore,
Freshet, or purling Brook, of shell or fin,
An exquisetest name, for which was drain'd
Pontus and Lucrine Bay, and Afric coast.
Alas, how simple, to these Cates compar'd,
Was that crude Apple that diverted Eve!

John Milton, in Paradise Regain’d (1671)

1 comment:

Dianna said...

There's a description in Moby-Dick that I recently read about how they get ambergris from a dead whale. Gross!