Monday, September 16, 2013

A Sugarplum Siege

Sir John Irwin [Irvine] (c.1728-88) was a British Army Officer who was Acting Governor of Gibraltar from 1765 to 1767. He was apparently not at all happy with the posting, but his service was rewarded with a promotion on his return, and in 1775 he became Commander in Chief of Ireland, where he had been born.

Irwin was a sociable man, and it appears that he not afraid to spend an exorbitant amount of money on dinner parties.  The Recreative Magazine  published in 1822 recounted a story of a very extravagant dessert-entertainment which he provided in Dublin in 1781, which referenced one of the many sieges of Gibraltar (perhaps the one that was underway at the time.)

Entertainments, as we grow in experience, become refined ; devices by the ingenious mechanism of our confectioners now load the tables; witness one grand piece of machinery which actually performed A Sugar-plum Siege !—Sir John Irvine, who was commander-in-chief of the forces of Ireland, appears to have had an aptitude in commanding away his property as fast as possible, as the following anecdote will shew : "At one of the entertainments which he gave to the lord lieutenant, in 1781, in Dublin, he displayed on the table, as the principal piece in the dessert, a representation of the fortress of Gibraltar invested by the Spanish forces, executed in confectionary. It exhibited a faithful view of that celebrated rock, so dear to the English nation; together with the works, batteries, and artillery, of the besiegers, which threw sugarplums against the walls. The expense of this ostentatious piece of magnificence did not fall short of fifteen hundred pounds; and, so incredible must the circumstance appear, that if I had not received the assurance of it from-Lord Sackville, I should not venture to report it in these memoirs."

As the recipe for the day I give you a fine sweetmeat that will surely impress your own guests.

Yellow Almond Sweetmeats.
Blanch a pound of sweet almonds; wash them in cold water, and when quite dry, pound them with a sufficient quantity of yolks of eggs into a fine but rather stiff paste; add to them a pound of powdered sugar, and the rinds of two lemons grated; knead the paste well with your hands, first sprinkling the table with sugar. Form the paste into what figures you please, such as fleur-de-lis, trefoil, &c, &c., each being about the size and weight of a macaroon. Place them on a white Diaper and on an iron plate; fry them in a moderately hot stove. If they are of a deep yellow they are sufficiently done. These sweetmeats may be still further ornamented in the following manner: Boil some sugar in orange flower water, and as soon as the sweetmeats are taken from the stove or oven, wash them over with a light brush, dipped in the syrup; this will give them a delicious perfume; when cold take them from the paper, and put them into glasses for the table.

Practical American cookery and domestic economy (1860)

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