Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whatever Happened to Corstorphine Cream?

Every now and then I hear of a dedicated food producer with a new, painstakingly researched and developed, locally-produced delicacy; every now and then I read of a once-upon-a-time local specialty which is no more. I don’t know how the balance sits overall, but I sincerely hope that it is tipping in favour of increasing numbers of small specialty products. Some time ago I read of Corstophine cream – a Scottish cultured cream cheese, and thought you might be interested.

The earliest reference given in the online Dictionary of the Scots Language dates to 1742:

Sc. 1742  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 253: Th'yellow Pound & Cauller egs and sweet Corsterphine Ream [‘ream’ being an old word for cream, according to the same dictionary.]

The second reference given in the same dictionary is a little more enlightening. It is from Agricultural Surveys: Mid-Lothian (1795.)

Corstorphine Cream:- The following is extracted from the Statistical Account of the Parish of Corstophine, in this county: “They still prepare for  market a considerable quantity of what is well known over the kingdom by the name of Costorphine Cream. I have not been able to receive any account of the time it was first introduced. I have no doubt but it hath a just claim to a very great antiquity, nor do I know if the same mode of preparation hath been always in use. At present, there is some simple variation observed. I believe the most approved process is very simple and is as follows: They put the milk, when fresh drawn, into a barrel or wooden vessel, which is submitted to a certain degree of heat, generally by immersion in warm water. This accelerates the stage of fermentation. The serous is separated from the other parts of the milk, the oleaginous and coagulable; the serum is drawn off by a hole in the lower part of the vessel; what remains is put into the plunge-churn, and after being agitated for some time, is sent to market as Costorphine cream.

Another account appeared a few years later in ­A Practical Treatise on Diet: And on the Most Salutary and Agreeable Means of Supporting Life and Health by Aliment and Regimen ... and Including the Application of Modern Chemistry to the Culinary Preparation of Food (1801) by William Nisbet, M.D. Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh.

Corstorphine Cream.
Besides cheese, another form in which the curd is used in one part of Scotland, is in what is termed Corstorphine cream. This is made by filling a vessel with skimmed milk, which has a hole in its bottom stopped with a peg; this vessel is placed within another filled with boiling water; and when this is done, it is allowed to remain in this situation for a day or two, according to the state of the weather; at the end of this period a coagulation of the milk has taken place, and the watery part of it subsided to the bottom. This watery part is then drawn off by opening the peg at the bottom of the vessel, and being again stopped up, the same operation iscontinued for 24 hours longer, when an additional water is again drawn off, and the consistence of the curd is thus rendered pretty thick; it is then agitated briskly with a wooden stick, and made fit for use. This form of curd is much used in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh; it forms an aliment tolerably nourishing, and in summer, from its proportion of acidity, is gratefully acid and cooling.

By 1821, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine referred to it as “a species of delicacy at one time greatly in vogue,” suggesting that it was already becoming uncommon.

In 1951, the Scotsman described it as a beverage: “Corstophine cream was an old-fashioned cooling drink. It is made by mixing equal quantities of milk obtained on two succeeding days, letting it stand 12 hours, then adding a little new milk, and beating all well together with sugar.”

I wonder what happened to Corstophine cream? It could hardly have been the development of commercial production on a large scale at that time, surely?

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