Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cumberland Sauce.

Now for some sauces named for English towns and counties. I want to consider just how “authentic” or “traditional” they really are, and welcome your comments.

We have previously considered what is the best-known sauce named for an English town or county - Worcester(shire) sauce. Today I want to sample Cumberland Sauce.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Cumberland Sauce as “a piquant sauce served esp. with cold meat”. It does not guess at primary ingredients, but generally speaking today it is taken to mean a wine sauce with redcurrants, flavoured with orange. The tradition of serving sharp, sour, fruity sauces with rich meat, especially game is very ancient, yet the OED gives the first supporting reference from 1878.

Strangely, I have found references to it that pre-date the first in the OED – from American sources: one from 1856, and one from 1870 on the menu of a New Orleans hotel. Is it then an American invention, or some sort of around-the-world reattribution, as in the case of the “Virginia Potato”?

Dr. Kitchiner in his famous Cook’s Oracle of 1817 gives a currant sauce recipe that is a Cumberland-sauce prototype or variant:

Wine Sauce for Venison or Hare.
A quarter of a pint of claret or port wine, the same quantity of plain unflavoured mutton gravy, and a tablespoon of currant jelly; let it just boil up, and send it to table in a sauce boat.”

Alexis Soyer gave a recipe (1846) for a port-wine based sauce for Boar’s Head which contains what we think of as the required citrus note in the form of Seville orange rind (along with mustard) – but he gave it a German attribution.

The “authenticity” argument will likely never be settled in the case of Cumberland Sauce. Perhaps the real question is, when did the (red)currant sauce become named for Cumberland (and was it for the English County or one of its aristocratic inhabitants – a Duke, perhaps?) There are a myriad versions of the basic idea in cookery books of the last hundred years or so. Here is one from The Times newspaper of February 7, 1938. Is is “authentic”? How far from the “traditional” version is it?

Gelée Cumberland.
A quite delicious substitute for Cumberland Sauce is Gelée Cumberland.
Take the very thinly peeled rind of an orange, a small piece of lemon peel, two tablespoonfuls of redcurrant jelly, a gill of clear soup and a teaspoon of Worcester Sauce.
Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boils slowly, then strain through a bit of muslin into a small glass bowl and let it set. Serve with cold meats or ham. One chef adds a bit of ground ginger for those who like it highly seasoned.

Quotation for the Day.

I’ve been married so long I am on my third bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Susan Vass.


Tim Palmer said...

Now it's true there are a lot of recipes around for Cumberland Sauce, and maybe the Duke of Cumberland did bring it over from Hanover, but as a long time afficionado I have to say that most of them are overdone. The essential ingredients are zest of orange and lemon, thinly sliced, juice of same, port and redcurrant jelly with cornflour or arrowroot for thickening. The addition of ginger and/or mustard is a distraction and spoils rather than enhances the flavour of the gammon or cold game accompanied. The best and least overblown recipe is in Constance Spry (the richer of the two recipes given). My own variation substitutes quince jelly for redcurrant and is, possibly, even better.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Tim - I do like the simple approach - and the quince jelly sounds like a fabulous idea!

Lara said...

Hi Tim,
Is Port a traditional ingredient for Cumberland sauce, as you mentioned it is a wine based sauce.