Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rosemary Comfits, etc.

We discovered yesterday that the Shuttleworths of Gawthorpe Hall (our source of inspiration for the week) in Lancashire regularly ordered special supplies to be sent all the way from London. In November 1617, they purchased from Mr. Thomas Lever,confectioner, one lb. of rosemary comfits.

I have met comfits made from caraway, aniseed, coriander, cinnamon, and orange (and the infamous ones used by the Maquis de Sade, supposedly containing Spanish Fly) in my reading, but I don’t believe I have come across a reference to rosemary comfits before, and I am most intrigued by them.

Rosemary was used regularly in those times for medicinal purposes, to make pot-pourri, and to flavour beverages such as mead. Comfits were somewhere in the first group – as a sort of after-dinner digestive. Musing on the use of the herb led me to wonder when it became used for more definitive culinary purposes. I don’t pretend to have researched it in any depth, but I give you a few gleanings to get the discussion going.

Firstly, for the comfits themselves, I found a nineteenth century recipe:

Lavender and Rosemary buds may be put into just as much white of egg as will damp them, and then shaken amongst fine-pounded sugar till they are well-covered, and left to dry in it.
Domestic Economy, and Cookery, for Rich and Poor, by a Lady (1833)

I did find one reference from 1867 (from a book supposedly of Welsh cookery ideas) of it being added to the water used to clarify lard when a pig was killed, which sounds a very elegant touch to the inelegant process of rendering. Then there was this idea (from America) at a further point in the pig processing:

Souse for Brawn, and Pig’s Feet and Ears.
Boil a quarter of a peck of wheat-bran, a sprig of bay, and a sprig of rosemary, in two gallons of water, with four ounces of salt in it, for half an hour. Strain it, and let it get cold.
Irving’s 1000 Receipts, by Lucretia Irving (America) 1852

Here is a proper cookery recipe from 1804.

The Head of a Turbot Stewed.
Fill a sauce-pan nearly full with water, and put in a few anchovies, some marjoram and rosemary, two or three cloves, some whole pepper, and scraped ginger. Stew these for the space of an hour ; then strain, and put in the head to be stewed till tender ; when enough, thicken the gravy with flour rolled in butter; add to the butter an anchovy or two, and a little nutmeg. When ready to be served up, put in some spoonfulls of white wine, together with some balls made in the following manner : Bone and skin a piece of turbot; then chop it small, with a little thyme, marjoram, grated bread and nutmeg. Form these into balls with some melted butter and cream, or the yolk of an egg. Put jnto the stew-pan, before the head is taken out, a large piece of the forcemeat, and salt to the taste.
Culina Famulatrix Medicinae, by Alexander Hunter, 1804

And finally, a more familiar application from much more recent times. It is a dish of lamb with rosemary, from Mrs Beeton’s Cookery book and Household Guide, of 1909 – which is to say that it is Isabella’s in name only as she had been dead since 1865. Her original collection was progressively changed and manipulated after her death – exponentially so after the Beeton company was sold in the wake of her husband’s financial failure. It is a nice recipe nonetheless – a sort of herby pickle of lamb that methinks would adapt well to the modern slow cooker.

Baked Saddle of Lamb.
Ingredients: A small saddle of lamb, shalots, marjoram, rosemary, bay-leaves, cloves, juniper berries, lardoons, ½ pint vinegar, ½ pint of claret, pepper and salt.
Mode: Chop the shalots, rosemary, marjoram and bay-leaves; crush the berries, add the cloves and pepper, and having skinned the saddle, rub it thoroughly inside and out with the mixture. Put it in an earthen pan, pour over the claret and vinegar, and let it remain in this liquor for 4 days, frequently turning it. Then lard it, and bake it in an earthenware pan, carefully basting it, and adding a little salt, for 1 to 1 ¼ hour.

Quotation for the Day:

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that's for thoughts.
William Shakespeare.

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