Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flummery Factoids.

Today I give you, as promised, some fascinating flummery factoids. Flummery is old-fashioned, there is no question about that, and it is probably fair to say that ‘no-one’ makes it anymore. A modern ‘some-one’ wanting to make flummery would first have to decide which historical interpretation they were interested in – which means, in essence, how far back in history they wanted to go.

The original flummery was a kind of oatmeal broth or porridge. In medieval times oats were a staple (especially for the poorer folk) of the cooler northern parts of the British Isles. Flummery was an example of the absolute waste-not, want-not ethic of the time. It could be made thriftily by soaking the ‘skins’ (the ‘flummery hulls’) and dust remaining from the oatmeal seeds, the liquid then being strained off and boiled until it was thick. In some areas this liquid was fermented until it was slightly sour, as in the Scottish dish sowens. Depending on the circumstances it was eaten with milk, or honey, or ale, or wine.

This basic dish was known by many regional names. It seems that it was the Welsh version, called llymru (the double ‘ll’ having a sort of ‘th’ sound, I believe) that eventually gave us the word ‘flummery’. In England it was sometimes called ‘wash-brew’ – no doubt because the greyish thickish liquid resembled dishwater in appearance.

Flummery was from early times considered healthy and strengthening, and the essential blandness and smoothness of the basic recipe contributed to its reputation as a suitable food for invalids right up until the twentieth century. By this time, the idea of flummery was interpreted very widely, so that sometimes the recipes seem more like custard, or jelly, or cornstarch pudding, or blancmange. As the centuries wore on, it was made with basic ingredients other than oatmeal. The congealed or gelatinous texture was sometimes achieved with hartshorn, or isinglass, or gelatine, and the dish could be enriched with cream, eggs, or wine, or fruit could be added. From a simple but sustaining staple, by the twentieth century flummery had become a sweet dessert treat.

I give you a recipe for a delicious, alcohol-heavy, Victorian dessert version of flummery, from Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (c1877).

Dutch Flummery.
Pare the rind of a lemon very thin, and infuse it in a pint of water with half a pound of sugar. Set it on the fire until the sugar is dissolved, and the syrup well-flavoured with the lemon-rind. Simmer a few minutes, and then add two ounces of isinglass to the syrup, the strained juice of four lemons, a pint of sherry, and the yolks of eight eggs. Strain the mixture, put it into a jug, set the jug in a saucepan of boiling water, and stir until the flummery thickens. Take it out of the water, allow it to cool, and then pour it into moulds. A wine-glass ful of brandy may be added to the syrup, but in that case just so much less water will be required. Sufficient for a quart mould.

Quotation for the Day.

This word flummery, you must know, Sir, means at London, flattery, and compliment.
Lady Luxborough, letter of Nov. 29, 1775.


Anonymous said...

the double ‘ll’ having a sort of ‘th’ sound, I believe

Yes, it is what we call an unvoiced alveolar lateral fricative.

Unvoiced means that your vocal cords aren't moving when you say it. Voicing is the difference between s and z, or thigh and thy. If you're still not sure, put your hand on your throat, and go sssssss and zzzzzzz. When you feel your throat humming, that's the voicing.

Alveolar has to do with the "point of articulation", which means where you put the tongue when making the sound. The th sound(s) are dental - you stick your tongue between your teeth or (in some speakers) just behind them. The f sound (another fricative!) is bilabial - your tongue isn't anywhere in particular because the sound is made by using your two lips. Alveolar sounds are made with the tongue on the little bump (the alveolar ridge) behind your teeth. The l sound in English is an alveolar sound. Say "la la la" and feel where your tongue is. That's where you put your tongue to make the Welsh ll.

Fricative is the "manner of articulation", or what you actually do to make this sound. Some sounds we make by stopping our airflow entirely, these are called plosives or stops. With fricatives, the air keeps on coming as we make the sound. That's the difference between "t" and "s".

And lateral means that in this sound the air comes out around the sides of the tongue instead of down the middle.

So if you really want to make the Welsh ll sound, what you do is you put your tongue in the same spot you would to go "la la la", but then you just kinda breathe, just as you would if you were saying "tha tha tha" or "fa fa fa".

You know have well more information about this than you ever are going to need :)

The Old Foodie said...

Well! fascinating, Anonymous! I dont think, though, that it is possible to ever get the sound right, unless you are born to it, is it?
My great grandmother, I believe, was a Llewellyn, so it would be nice to be able to pronounce it properly.
Kind regards

The Old Foodie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well, I don't speak Welsh, so I can't say with any definitive notes "yes" or "no" but if you have the instructions (and that's why sounds have titles like Unvoiced Alveolar Lateral Fricative) you should be able to copy it pretty nearly. I don't know if you'd be good at making it spontaneously in casual speech, but making it independently just to find out how is a different matter.

In the same way, it's very easy to teach a foreign speaker or a young child to make the th sound. They can copy it easily, because it's a sound that's easy to see - you stick your tongue between your teeth and breathe. The trouble is getting them to produce it correctly every time it comes up in speech - that's much harder, and both of them are likely to revert to an easier sound.

It's my understanding that the biggest problems (for many people, obviously every person's experience is different!) in foreign accents aren't unfamiliar sounds but in sounds which exist in your language, but slightly differently - like using an English "ee" where you should use a Spanish one, or vice versa. (In English, we palatalize our "ee". That is, at the end of the sound we move our tongue and say y. In Spanish, they don't do that.)

I didn't intend to be anonymous, actually, but for some reason OpenID hates me. Lemme try it again.

The Old Foodie said...

Looks like Open ID has learned to love you, conuly!
You must be a speech teacher or therapist?

Anonymous said...

Amateur linguist, actually, and once-in-a-while conlanger.

Also, I read a lot :)

The Old Foodie said...

I dont often have to use the dictionary, but I had to look up 'conlanger'. Thanks for the new word!

Anonymous said...

An interesting word, "factoid", and one which is often misused. It was coined by Norman Mailer to mean "alleged facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper". The "-oid" ending implies fascimile, as in the word "humanoid," meaning human-like, but not human.

Thus a factoid is not a "little fact" but a statement masquerading as a fact. Of course, the misuse of this word has become so widespread that the incorrect meaning has obscured the original.