Thursday, February 26, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe Sources: Marques

Marques, Wendy. Sculptural Sugar Paste: A Subtlety Art.
Series: The Compleat Anachronist. #165 2014:3
[This is a pamphlet produced by the Society for Creative Anachronism. ***]

The focus here is sugar paste. The first English printed recipe for this magical substance appeared in 1558 under the long descriptive title of:

“To make a paste of sugre, whereof a man maye make all manner of 
fruites, and other fine thynges, with theyr forme, as platters, dishes, 
glasses, cuppes, and such like thinges, wherewith you may furnish a 
table: and when you have doen, eate them up. A pleasant thing for them 
that sit at the table.”

The volume which contained it was: The Secretes of the Reuerende Mayster Alexis of Piemount. London. 1558.** Or well within the time boundaries of the Society.

So sugar paste is of great interest for those members of the Society of Creative Anachronism and others who dabble or dream about Sugar & Subtleties and work on Renaissance or English feasts of the Elizabethan era. 

The Table of Contents reveals the volume attempts to cover the history of the sugar trade, tools, including ingredients, formulas, armatures, ratios, and colorings in only 34 pages. Also included are photographs of the author’s creations, modern recipes, and a glossary. Appendix A includes four historical recipes on pages 41-43. The bibliography follows on page 48 with the footnotes starting on page 51. The volume concludes on page 53, making this a very tight but very inexpensive package. And as a brief introduction to the topic of large scale works using armatures, it works very well.

The focus is in large part based on the author’s experiments in creating large size sugar paste items for medieval feasts in a Society setting. (She doesn’t use molds, so those interesting in molding the paste will have to look elsewhere.) Ms. Marques talks about various formulae and rations involving sugar and starch and in this section I think a bit of more investigation might have proved useful. 
One source, not mentioned,  which might have provided some invaluable ideas on this topic of sugar and starch ratios would have been William Jarrin’s The Italian Confectioner; Or, Complete Economy of Desserts. (This text from the 1820s talks in great detail about the numbers of pastes that might be fashioned and their uses. The early 19th century was the heyday of sugar paste sculpting. No dinner was complete without sugar items. Food historian Laura Mason notes this early 19th century work is the first to publish or reveal a number of trade secrets involving sugar techniques.) 

I will also note that the bibliography is slightly flawed. A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen is dated 1608, not 1602. [I know this very well as I edited the work in 2010.] The author probably never had the opportunity to see but certainly it is worthwhile seeking out—Ivan Day’s Royal Sugar Sculpture is a marvelous work on the history of sugar paste with great attention paid to molds.

In summary, a very worthwhile work and if you are aiming to create a large scale sugar paste item for an SCA or Renaissance feast, you should read this booklet for its very practical insights based on the author’s experience.

**Bibliographic details for the 1975 facsimile STC (2nd ed.) / 295.  Walter J. Johnson, 
Inc. of Norwood, New Jersey and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd. of 
Amsterdam. 1975. ISBN: 90 221 0707 8.
***Copies available by ordering through
The cost is $4.50 usd.

Subtleties&Stuffe Sources: Fleming

Fleming, Elise. Confections and the English Banquet.
[Series: The Compleat Anachronist. #163 2014:3]
[This is a pamphlet produced by the Society for Creative Anachronism. ***]

The author is a retired teacher and longtime SCA member. This booklet is a labor of love based upon her long time interests in cake decorating, sugar paste items, research, and attending numerous lectures and courses in the US and in England. These include a number of Leeds Symposiums plus confectionery courses at food historian Ivan Day’s home. The work is compiled in part from the author’s many previous papers and talks. See her website at: 

The Table of Contents reveals that the work covers the banquet ranging from its evolution through the development of the banqueting house, a brief history sugar and confections, table layouts, common banquet items, spice dishes, trenchers, and forks, leading into a conclusion on page 22. The rest of the pamphlet is comprised of Appendices covering lists of banqueting items, recipes, a section on recreating a banquet, and lastly sugar stages. The bibliography appears on pages 55-58. Notes appear on pages 59-64. As one can see, lots of interesting material in 64 pages!

I do have a few quibbles. Appendix F on sugar stages is extremely hard to follow. Beginners who are unfamiliar with the terms and techniques may find themselves lost! This material on sugar temperatures and notes is not well served by being crammed into just three and one third pages. Additional space and breaks between paragraphs would have been of immense help in making the material more understandable. There are some problems with the bibliography. The dates of original publication are often omitted. Sir Hugh Plat did not write A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen. Susan J. Evans transcribed the Epulario. She did not translate this English work. W.M. is not HRM Henrietta Maria. Rather minor errors, given the complexity and length.

Despite these quibbles, this is a very good and very readable introduction to an appealing topic of great interest to many Society members. Highly recommended.

***Copies available by ordering through
The cost is $4.50 usd.