Monday, March 28, 2016

The Ancient Easter Tradition of Sugar-Cupping.

I have discovered another ancient English Easter food custom that I want to share with you today. It seems to be localized to a small area in Derbyshire, and according to the following article, was already in decline in the first few decades of the nineteenth century.

Sugar Cupping
In the Peak of Derbyshire.
To the Editor of the Every-Day Book.
Tideswell, Derbyshire, March 31, 1826.

Sir,—The pleasure and instruction I have derived from the perusal of your interesting miscellany, induce me to offer to your notice a custom in this neighbourhood denominated Sugar-cupping, which, like similar remnants of the "olden time," is gradually running into disuse.
Last Sunday, being Easter-Day, I walked to the "Dropping Tor," the rendezvous of the "sugar-cuppers," but, owing to the extreme inclemency of the weather, no one was there, nor was it, I believe, once visited during the day. From frequent inquiry of the oldest persons in the neighbourhood, I can learn nothing but that, on Easter Sunday, they were used, when children, to go to the "Dropping Tor," with a cup in one pocket and a quarter of a pound of sugar in the other, and having caught in their cups as much water as was desired from the droppings of the spring, they dissolved the sugar in it, and drank it. The natural consequences resulting from the congregation of a quantity of "young men and maidens" followed, and they returned home, I was anxious to discover some jargon repeated by the youthful pilgrims, as an invocation to the saint of the spring, or otherwise; but I could not collect any thing of the kind. I conjecture this custom to be peculiar to this part. If yon, or any of your cop. respondents, can furnish more satisfactory information respecting it, some of your readers will not regret I have troubled you with the hint.
With respect, I am,
Your obedient servant,
A Peakril.

How fascinating is that! Again, as with the Good Friday tradition of North-West England which was the feature of my story on that day, it seems likely that the tradition has very ancient roots, even if the profligate use of sugar itself must have been relatively recent, given that sugar remained expensive in Britain until the eighteenth century.

The recipe for the day is from the sugar-cupping county, and seems like a fine way to use your quota of sugar:

Derby or Short Cakes.
Rub in with the hand one pound of Butter into two pounds of sifted Flour:- put one pound of Currants, one pound of good moist sugar, and one egg; mix all together with half a pint of milk, - roll it out thin, and cut them into round Cakes with a Cutter;- lay them on a clean Baking-Plate, and put them into a middling-heated oven for about five minutes.

Cook’s Oracle, William Kitchiner (1823)

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