Friday, December 07, 2012

Rummers and Rennets.

I have previously discussed the evolution of the modern dessert course from the medieval ‘banquet’ course, and the evolution in meaning of the word ‘banquet’ from indicating this final course to encompassing the entire feast itself.  We have also seen how the method of serving a meal changed from the medieval system of two or more courses of many dishes, all placed on the table simultaneously (which came to be called service à la Française ) to the modern system of each dish being presented to individual diners in sequential fashion (or service à la Russe.)  

During the first half of the nineteenth century there was a sort of hybrid system, with both systems of service and both words (banquet and dessert) in use. We have been exploring the arrangement of the mid-nineteenth century meal in The Cook and Housewife's Manual (1847 ed.) this week, and have specifically looked at a couple of fairly elaborate bills of fare for the dessert course. Miss Dods (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) also gives some rather more modest examples of ‘dessert’ for Family Dinners or Small Parties which more closely resemble the medieval banquet course of fruit and sweetmeats. One of these particularly caught my eye.

The first thing that sprang to my mind was that ‘rennets’ meant some sort of set or coagulated fruit or cream ‘cheeses’ – perhaps because the memory of the ‘gizzard cream’ from earlier in the week was still fresh. But then I saw that ‘rennets’ were balanced by ‘pears.’ Symmetry and balance on the table being essential at the time, ‘rennets’ in this case then, were surely the type of  apple that is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:

‘Any of a large class of dessert apples of French origin, of which the most popular varieties are round or flattish in shape, small- or medium-sized, firm-fleshed, with good keeping properties; (formerly also) †a pippin grafted on a pippin-stock (obs.)’

The next thing that caught my eye was a mystery. What is a ‘rummer’? I had no idea. The OED, as usual, came to my aid:

Rumer: A type of large glass for alcoholic drinks, usu. with a rounded shape and a short or heavy stem. Cf. roemer n. Rummers were commonly used until the first half of the 19th C.


Roemer: A type of decorated German or Dutch wine glass, typically having a wide base and a long, ornamental knobbed or ‘prunted’ stem.


So, the ‘cut rummers’ on the table were decorative glassware, not banquet dishes. I have to admit to feeling briefly cheated that I had not discovered a new exotic fruit or sweetmeat!


As the recipe for the day, from The Cook and Housewife's Manual (1847 ), I give you a very fine dish to use your rennets (or pippins.)

Buttered Apples.

Pare and core pippins or rennets. Stew in thin syrup as many as will fill your dish, and make a mash or marmalade of the rest. Cover the dish with a thin layer of the marmalade. Place the apples on this, with a bit of butter in the heart of each. Lay the rest of the marmalade in the vacancies. Glaze with sifted sugar, and give them a fine colour in the oven. This is nearly a compôte in the French style – and a good style it is – or their Pommes au beuvre [this is presumably meant to read ‘au beurre’]


Shay said...

I live about a dozen miles south of a small town (population about 2000) that has the nicest little grocery store I've ever been in, the kind that just don't exist in the US anymore.

They sell, among other things, rennet.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Shay - I dont rememember the last time I saw rennet (or even flavoured junket tablets) in a shop - but I bet there are some small outback country towns where it can still be bought!