Sunday, April 26, 2015

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.

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