Friday, September 18, 2015

The Invention of Red Currant Jelly.

Let us agree that recipes are never “invented” at a single point in time by a single individual. Dishes evolve over time by adaptation of existing recipes. The following article, from the Times [London, England] of 20 August 1937 is a marvelous example of international culinary, historical, and journalistic silliness on the subject of invention of recipes. I am sure it will particularly amuse my food history friends.

"Inventor of Red Currant Jelly."
Who invented red currant jelly? On Sunday Frenchmen will pay tribute to the memory of Perrin Lamothe, as inventor, by unveiling an obelisk in his honour at Velaines-en-Barrois. English chefs laugh at the idea that the most typical of all English preserves should be attributed to a Frenchman, who, they say, undoubtedly got the idea from England.
Lamothe is said to have made his discovery in 1364, but Mr. Alfred Willes, chef at Simpson’s Restaurant, in the Strand, where scores of red currant jelly are served weekly with the saddle o’mutton, recalled yesterday an old rhyme, the origin of which is lost in antiquity. It would seem to prove that red currant jelly was known in England nearly a century before Lamothe’s time. At a great and noble feast in the thirteenth century, when Edward I is said to have knighted his son on the eve of his Scottish expedition, two royal swans were served as the principal item. According to the old rhyme, when serving the swan –
To a gravy of beef good and strong I opine
You’ll be right if you add half a pint of port wine,
Then serve the whole up with some red currant jelly.
This sauce was always used with Norwich cygnets until a century ago. One of the earliest recipes for red currant jelly goes back to the sixteenth century, and it was English. Scottish people a few years ago were indignant when an attempt was made to prove that haggis had its origins in France, and now it appears to be the turn of the English to suffer from the culinary assertions of France. All chefs are agreed that la cuisine française is the basis of all good cooking, but most of them are willing to give to England the credit for red currant jelly.

I am unable to find anything at all on Perrin Lamothe, but no doubt this is due to my inability to read medieval French. Perhaps one of you out there can add some information?

There is a famous preserve called Bar-le-duc jelly or Lorraine jelly which is claimed to be the one ‘invented’ by M.Lamothe. It is indeed made from white or red currants, and has been prepared in the area for centuries. The invention claim appears to date from a single mention of a ‘confiture’ in a legal document from the region dated 1344 (the jar of confiture was apparently a gift to a judge) but the specific fruit is not mentioned. Untruth in Advertising clearly has a long history.

The topic of currants needs further attention, I feel, but in the meanwhile, please enjoy the following take on English Cumberland sauce, which as we all know, requires redcurrant jelly as an ingredient.

Gelée Cumberland.
Take a very thinly peeled rind of an orange, a small piece of lemon peel, two tablespoonfuls of redcurrant jelly, a gill of clear soup [stock] and a teaspoonful of Worcestershire Sauce. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil slowly, then strain through a bit of muslin into a small glass bowl and let it set. Serve with cold meats or ham. One chef adds a pinch of ground ginger for those who like it highly seasoned.

Times [London, England] 7 Feb. 1938; In an article called ‘When there is Stock.’

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