Thursday, October 18, 2012

Treats from the Dictionary.

Naturally, after my serendipitous finding of yesterday’s recipe in a nineteenth century dictionary, I had to see if it held any other treasures for us, and to my delight, it did.

The Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English: Containing Words from the English Writers Previous to the Nineteenth Century which are No Longer in Use, Or are Not Used in the Same Sense; and Words which are Now Used Only in the Provincial Dialects (1857) by Thomas Wright includes recipes with its definitions of the ancient dishes of leach, oyster chevit, porrayne, sage-cream, panado, pome-dorrye, white-pot, hippocras, talbotays, eggs in moonshine, and green-sauce. Most of the recipes were taken from well-known sources, some have already featured on this blog, and others will be fodder for future posts. Today I want to talk about some of the other food-history treats to be found in this marvelous reference book.

The dictionary also provides a goodly number of another of my favourite things – forgotten words. For example, on Tuesday we talked about ‘Welsh Cakes’ – oatcakes made in Wales on a bake-stone or griddle; our dictionary of the day tells us that in Lancashire the name for ‘oat cakes made of thin batter’ is (or was,) ‘Kitchiness-bread.’ If it is all in the name, then Kitchiness Bread sounds far more tempting than ‘oat-cakes,’ does it not?

My absolute favourite finding however, is ‘Lang-loaning Cake.’ This is an old term from the north of England for ‘a cake made for schooboys in the vacation.’ No specific type of cake is mentioned, but we find scattered throughout the dictionary:

Spicy-Fizzer: a currant cake.
Lilly-white cake: A short-cake. South
Melere: a kind of cake
Payman: a kind of cheese-cake
Pot-cake: a light Norfolk dumpling

I puzzled over ‘melere’ and ‘payman’ for some time. The former has eluded me completely so far – but perhaps it refers to a honey cake of some sort? The latter seems to be a corruption of payndemain:

 Payndemain n. [OF. pain bread + demaine manorial, lordly, own, private.     Said to be so called from the figure of our Lord impressed upon it.] The finest and whitest bread made in the Middle Ages; called also {paynemain}, {payman}. [Obs.]

I guess that ‘the finest whitest bread’ somehow, sometime, in some region of England got misapplied or transferred to cheesecakes?

Anyhow, for schoolboys and schoolgirls everywhere, I give you a recipe for a very large and very ‘Spicy Fizzer’ of a cake.

Rich Currant Cake.
To four pounds of well-dried flour, add the same weight of fresh butter, well washed in rose or arrange flower water, five pounds of currants well-cleaned and dried, two nutmegs grated, a pound of candied lemon and citron cut small, half a pound of blanched almonds, pounded in rose water, and the yolks and whites of thirty eggs, beaten separately; beat the butter with the hand until it becomes a cream, then add the sugar and the eggs gradually, then the rest of the ingredients, adding, last of all, a wine glass of brandy and a little ratafia; beat the whole well together for an hour, and put it into a buttered cake pan, lined with buttered paper; bake in a moderate oven for about four hours, and when done, cool gradually.
The Domestic Dictionary and Housekeeper's Manual: Comprising Everything Pertaining to Cookery, Diet, Economy and Medicine (1842), by Merle Gibbons and John Reitch.


Anonymous said...

I would assume melere is from Latin mel "honey." Perhaps mel > *melarium > *mélère > melere?

Anonymous said...

I would assume melere is from Latin mel "honey." Perhaps mel > *melarium > *mélère > melere?

The Old Foodie said...

I think you are right, Justin. I would like to find some other similar words for honey cake - will keep looking!

Anonymous said...

Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, eh? The Dictionary of American Regional English is often abbreviated DARE. Somehow I don't think Mr. Wright would appreciate his book being called DOPE. Then again (thanks to Cornell's access to a complete online version), I see the word "dope" doesn't appear in his dictionary, so maybe he wouldn't mind!

Anonymous said...

Well I assume you mean Medieval—Modern words directly related to melere. But if you're casting your nets more widely, ancient Greek has several similar pastry terms, e.g.:

• μελίπηκτον melípēkton, "set/congealed in honey" a fairly common term.

• μελίτωμα melítōma, something like "honyfication"

• μελιχοίρινα melichoírina (from χοίρινα, a type of cake, but literally "pig skin" or a kind of shellfish)

• *μελίγαλα melígala "honeymilk," so far as I know only attested in, of all places, the Talmud, where it is spelled מלי־גאלה and glossed as דובשנין (dūvshanīn, apparently a kind of cake, from dǝvash "honey")

This is probably more random linguistic fun than useful.

Lapinbizarre said...

The second, 1552 Book of Common Prayer specifies the use of "the best and purest wheate bread, that conveniently maye be gotten" for the communion service.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks folks - watch out for a post on 'melere' very soon .... there is another theory.