I did meet someone once who didn’t like chocolate, but I don’t think I have ever met someone who doesn’t like almonds, although no doubt there is such a person. It was musing on orgeat that made me realize that I seem to have neglected this almost universally liked nut. I want to address this today, and I may as well start with my muse.
Orgeat is a sweet almond drink which in the past was commonly based on barley. The word itself comes from the old Occitan (Southern France) word orge for barley, and in fact, a supporting quotation from the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that a particular sort of barley may have been used:
a1500 in Englische Studien (1885) 8 281 Item, do gete you ayenst hete sum fyne sugre roset in burneys or in close bagges of lethere, a busshell of clene barly for tysayne, with half a busshell of orgeate.
Orgeat was enormously popular in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, and the Italian version orzata is still much enjoyed in that country. Orange flower water was a common addition, and the base, as mentioned, was originally barley, but seeds such as melon and pumpkin were also used. Orgeat could be made ready for drinking, but was often made in the form of a sugar syrup, or a simple paste of ground almonds and sugar, and either of these were added to water or milk to make a refreshing beverage, or to an alcoholic mix to make a cocktail. It also of course was used medicinally, as you will see below, in the selection of recipes.
To Make Orzat.
Take half a dozen sweet Almonds and as many bitter ones, and four Ounces of Melon Seeds cleans’d; beat these in a Mortar, ‘till it is reduced to a Pastt, sprinkling it now and then with a few Drops of Water, that it may not oil. When they are thoroughly pounded put in a pound of Sugar, and beat that with your Paste, then put the Paste into a Gallon of Water and let it steep; then put in a coupld of Spoonfuls of Orange Flower-Water, and strain it through a Bag, pressing the gross Substance very hard. Put also a Glass of new Milk into the Bag, then put the Liquor into Bottles, and set it by to cool.
The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary (1723) by John Nott
Pound the almonds as directed for orgeat, with a little orange-flower water; and when it is very fine, work it with as much weight of pounded sugar; it will keep a long while, and by this means you have orgeat ready much sooner, by dissolving about an ounce of this past in the proportion of half a pint of water, and then sifting it for use.
The Professed Cook (1812) by B.Clermont.
Beat two ounces of almonds with a tea-spoonful of orange flower water, and a bitter almond or two; then pour a quart of milk and water to the paste. Sweeten with sugar, or capillaire. This is a fine drink for those who have a tender chest; and in the gout it is highly useful, and with the addition of half an ounce of gum arabic, has been found to allay the painfulness of the attendant heat. Half a glass of brandy may be added if thought too cooling in the latter complaints, and the glass of orgeat may be put into a basin of warm water.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, (1815) by Maria Rundell.