Monday, April 27, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe John Nott on Smooth & Blown Sugars

John Nott on the smooth boiling of sugar and on blown sugar.

Continuing with John Nott, here are his entries on the smooth boiling of sugar and on blown sugar.

164. The Smooth Boiling of Sugar.

You must first clarify your Sugar, and then set it on the Fire again, to boil it to its smooth Quality, and you may know when it is come to that, by dipping the Tip of your Fore-finger into it, and applying it to your Thumb, and then opening them a little; for a small Thread or String will stick to both, which will immediately break, and remain in a Drop upon the Finger; when this String is scarcely to be pereciv’d, the Sugar has only boil’d till it is a little smooth; but when it extends it self further before breaks, then the Sugar is very smooth. [Section SU; 1726 edition.]

165. To boil Sugar to its blown Quality.

When the Sugar at its pearl’d Quality has boill’d a few more Walms, shake the Skimmer a little with your Hand, beat in the Side of the Pan, and blow through the Holes of it, and if certain Sparks, as it were, or small Bubbles, fly out, the Sugar is come to the Degree or Quality called blown. [Section SU; 1726 edition.]

Nott, John. Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. 1726. Facsimile. Edited with introduction and glossary by Elizabeth David. London: Lawrence Rivington, 1980. [Limited numbered edition.]

Subtleties&Stuffe John Nott on crack'd, feather’d, and pearl'd Sugars

John Nott

Continuing with John Nott, here are his entries on crack’d, feather'd, and pearl’d sugars.

168. To boil Sugar to its crack’d Quality.

To know when the Sugar has attain’d to this Degree, you must provide a Pot or Pan with some cold Water: Dip the tip of your Finger into it, then dip it quick into the boiling Sugar, and then immediately into the cold Water; and keeping your Finger in the Water, rub off the Sugar with the other two Fingers; and if it breaks afterwards, making a kind of crackling Noise, it has attain’d the crack’d Quality. [Section SU; 1726 edition.]

169. To boil Sugar to its feather’d Quality.

When after some other Boilings, you blow through the Skimmer, or shake the Spatula with a backstroke till thicker and larger Bubbles rise up on high, then the Sugar has attain’d its feather’d Quality; and when, after several Trials, you perceive the Bubbles thicker, and in greater Quantity, so that several of them stick together, and form, as it were, a flying Flake, then the Sugar is greatly feather’d. [Section SU; 1726 edition.]

170. To boil Sugar to its pearl’d Quality.

 Having boil’d your Sugar to its smooth’d Quality, continue the Boiling a little longer, and then try a Drop of it between your Finger and Thumb, as before, and if the String continues sticking to both, the Sugar is arriv’d at its pearl’d Quality; the greater pearl’d Boiling is when the String remains, though the Finger and Thumb be quite stretch’d as far as you can extend them asunder; this Degree of Boiling may also be known by a sort of round Pearls that rise on the Top of the Sugar. [Section SU; 1726 edition.]

Nott, John. Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. 1726. Facsimile. Edited with introduction and glossary by Elizabeth David. London: Lawrence Rivington, 1980. [Limited numbered edition.]

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe John Nott on Caramel and Barley Sugar

John Nott on Caramel and Barley Sugar

Continuing with John Nott, here is his entry on Caramel.

“163. To boil Sugar to a Caramel.

If Sugar, brought to the Quality commonly called crack’d, were put between the Teeth, it would stick to them as if it were Glue or Pitch; but when it is boil’d to its utmost caramel Height, it will break and crack without sticking at all, therefore you must observe very diligently every Moment; when it has attain’d to this last Degree of Boiling, putting the foregoing Directions into Practice to know when it is crack’d, and afterwards biting the Sugar so ordered with your Teeth to try whether it will stick to them or no; when you perceive that it does not stick to the Teeth, but on the contrary cracks and breaks clever, take it off the Fire immediately, or else it will be burnt, and fit for no Use at all.

But in Respect to the other well-conditioin’d Boilings, if after you have preserv’d any Sweet-meats, some Sugar be left that is crack’d, or greatly feathered, and is of no further Use in that Condition, you need only put to it as much Water as will boil it over again, and then you may bring it to what Degree or Quality you please, and mix it with any other sort of Sugar or Syrup.
The pearl’d Boiling of Sugar is generally used for all sorts of Comfits that are to be kept for a considerable time.

The caramel Boiling of Sugar is proper for Barley Sugar, and for a certain small Sugar Work called by that Name, which is described in its proper Place.” [Section SU; 1726 edition.]

Nott’s recipe for Barley Sugar is as follows:

“33 To make Barley Sugar.

Boil Barley in Water, strain it through a Hair Sieve, then put the Decoction into clarify’d Sugar brought to a caramel height, or the last Degree of Boiling. Then take it off the Fire, and let the Boiling settle: then pour it upon a Marble-stone rubb’d with the Oil of Olives. When it cools, and begins to grow hard, cut it into Pieces and roll it into Lengths as you please.” [Section BA; 1726 edition.]

Nott, John. Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. 1726. Facsimile. Edited with introduction and glossary by Elizabeth David. London: Lawrence Rivington, 1980. [Limited numbered edition.]

Subtleties&Stuffe John Nott and the Boiling of Sugar

John Nott

In 1723 John Nott published the very novel compilation titled The Cook's and Confectioner's Dictionary: or, the Accomplish'd Housewife's Companion. Charles Rivington, at the Bible and Crown, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, was the publisher of this original volume; they published a second edition in 1724 and a third edition “with additions” in 1726. In 1980 the publishing firm of Lawrence Rivington in London published a numbered facsimile edition of just 200 copies of the 1726 edition. The Lawrence Rivington Press is a direct descendant of the original press of Charles Rivington; Rivington is thought to be the oldest publishing family in the British Isles.

John Nott in his introductory address “To all Good Housewives. Worthy Dames” stresses the work “is chiefly design’d for the Use of you British Housewives.” It was signed “Your humble Servant, The Compiler.” 

Nott was or had been a cook to several notable personages in his time. He served as “late Cook to the Dukes of Somerset, Ormond, and Bolton, Lord Lansdown and Ashburnham,” but what he provided in his book was a compilation of the recipes of the age, chosen for his audience of literate British housewives. 

The English culinary historian Elizabeth David in her introduction to the 1980 facsimile edition of Nott described the work in this way: “The receipts collected by John Nott into so very individual an idea of dictionary form were those of the published books of the second Stuart age, let us say from approximately 1650-1715.” Nott freely took recipes from the earlier cookbooks of Robert May, Kenelme Digby, Giles Rose, Patrick Lamb, Francois Massialot, and others, revised or improved those recipes based upon his experience, and then included "his" versions in his Dictionary. That he termed his work a Dictionary and described himself as a “Compiler” makes his collection perhaps a more honest reflection in an age when theft and plagiarism of recipes were the rule and not the exception.

What Nott’s Dictionary provides to readers today is an easy way to quickly find recipes or dishes for ingredients. Anchovies and angelica are found under AN;  entries on bullocks, buntings, bustards, and butter are found under BU. The SU section is crammed with entries on Sugar. Elizabeth David wrote “Given all the circumstances, Nott’s Dictionary cannot but be of the greatest interest, particularly so to anyone who has fallen under the spell of the diaries, the travel journals and the memoirs of the time. It remains as an invaluable and charming source today.

Nott has this to say regarding the boiling of Sugar.

162. Of the Boiling of Sugar.

People, for the most part, think Sugar is boil’d enough, when the Drops that are put upon a Plate grow thick, as it were a Jelly, and do not run; but tho’ this way of Boiling may be sufficient for certain Jellies of Fruit and Composts; yet it is not enough in the whole Art of Confectioning. There are therefore necessary to be known fix Ways of boiling Sugar, that is till it becomes smooth, pearled, blown, feathered, crack’d, and caramel; and besides these again are divided into the lesser and the greater smooth, the lesser and the greater pearled, feathered a little, and a great deal, and so of the rest.” [1726 edition]

Nott, John. Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary. 1726. Facsimile. Edited with introduction and glossary by Elizabeth David. London: Lawrence Rivington, 1980. [Limited numbered edition.]

Several editions of Nott may also be found on Google Books.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe Ivan Day

Ivan Day

I mentioned sometime back that I would be mentioning and sharing sources. Up to now I have been mentioning various historical books and passages of interest.

Here’s a living sourcebook of sorts.

One hardly knows were to begin when mentioning the work of the food historian Ivan Day. There are his many books and articles, his website, his blog, his work on museum and gallery displays around the world, his marvelous classes, his funny and informative lectures, and last but not least, his radio, television, podcast, and YouTube appearances.
Of special note:
For anyone doing subtleties or sugar sculptures, make an effort to borrow a copy of Ivan’s Royal Sugar Sculpture. 600 Years of Splendour. Barnard Castle, UK: The Bowes Museum, 2002. An exhibit catalogue created to accompany a special exhibit of sugar and confectionery moulds. Ivan surveys the history of sugar sculptures and trionfi. 46 pp., color and b/w illustrations. Bibliography. Sadly it’s out of print, but it’s worth seeking out from a library.
His Shire Album is a real treat for those readers who collect works on the topic. Ice Cream: A History. Shire Library, 2011. Other works include: Cooking in Europe, 1650-1850. Hint: Many of Ivan’s other writings are contained in the collections of papers from the Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions. One collection, which he edited, is titled Over a Red Hot Stove: Essays in Early Cooking Technology. (2009).
One of his YouTube contributions is “Supper with Shakespeare: The Evolution of English Banqueting” which highlights an exhibit from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2012.
His website Historic Food is at

His blog Food History Jottings is at