A reasonable quantity of sugar

We often hear that sugar was expensive to purchase in Elizabethan England. But how much does expensive translate into current US dollars.  You can purchase sugar by the 5 lb bag at your local store for $3-$5. I purchase 2x loaf sugar from my Grocer of a rate of 8lbs for $25.

“In 1605 Lord Spencer buys a considerable quantity of loaf sugar at a very high price, 2s. the pound, under the name of Barbary sugar.”[1]

£1 = 20 shillings (s)

Measuring Worth [2], calculates a 16th century £1 = £199.10 in 2014 values. In US dollars £1 = $1.57, or $321.54 to £1 in the 16th century.  Sugar by these prices would be $32.154 per pound. Or roughly $160.77 per 5 pounds in today’s exchange. My loaf sugar would be $257.20 for an 8lb loaf.

As you can see, sugar was indeed an expensive ingredient in the late 16th, early 17th centuries.

[1] Arthur George Liddon Rogers, “A History of Agriculture and Prices in England: From the Year After the Oxford Parliament (1259) to the Commencement of the Continental War (1793), Volume 5”,    January 1, 1887

[2] Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present,” MeasuringWorth, 2015. http://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/relativevalue.php

Oyle of Rose Experimente- failen

The first batch of Rose appears to have grown a mold of some sort. It was surface mold only on some of the rose petals that were above the oil. I have a wonderful aerobic environment for things to grow in. The rose and oil are in a sealed jar, in a warm location, and covered by a towel.

I have removed the growing bits and a bit more of the top layer of rose petals that were above the oil line. Currently all remain roses are below the oil line. They have now gone back to their spot on the window sill to complete the 40 day wait. Since this is not a food based product that someone will eat, I am happy to let the recipe do what it is going to do. Batch 2 of rose oil seems to be doing well and shows no signs of growth.

How to distill RoseWater

This is an experiment in creating floral waters, or sweet waters. These are waters that are distilled from flowers, but do not use alcohol as a distillation base. Two different waters were made Borage and Rose. Rose water is the base for many confection recipes including the Manus Christi. Borage water is needed for a syrup recipe I will be making later this month from Mrs Corlyon receipt book.

The basic principle of distillation is creating vapor, that is cooled and condenses into a containment vessel. I have a glass still and an improvised “basic still”. This weekend since I was traveling and didn’t want to risk the science kit, I used the improvised still.

Equipment needed:
1 large pot
1 large steel bowl that will act as a pot lid
1 brick1 smaller steel bowl
4 gallon zip top bags filled with ice

Still set up:

  1. In the center of the pot, place your brick.
  2. Add 1-2 cups of flower petals (fresh or dried)
  3. Add enough distilled water to cover the flowers, but not completely cover the brick (it should not be submerged).
  4. Bring this mixture to a boil.
  5. Place the smaller bowl on top of the bricks and turn the heat down to low.
  6. Place the larger bowl over the mouth of the pot. It should form a lid. The bowl gives the water a low point to drip into the smaller bowl.
  7. Add one bag of ice to the bowl (keep it in the baggie, makes clean up easier).
  8. Set timer for 15 minutes and walk away.
  9. Repeat the ice, timer, walk away 3x more.Do not be tempted to lift the lid. You will let out steam that way.
  10. At the end of an hour, rescue your flower water and clean up.

As you can see the water ends up water colored. I can tell the difference between the two jars, by scent only. Many distillation recipes call for the use of a lead still. Given that the end product will be used in food, I have opted to use a safer still option for food production.

“Stampe the leaves, and first distill the juice being expressed and after distil the leaves, and so you shall dispatch more with one Still than others doe with three or foure stils.  And this water is every way as medicinable as the other, serving in all sirups, decoctions, &c. sufficiently, but not altogether so pleasing in smell.”[1]

[1] Plat, Hugh “Diuers Chimicall Conclusions Concerning the Art of Distillation: With Many Rare Practices and Uses Thereof, According to the Authors Own Experience” 1594

Oyle of Rose- Part 5

Almost done making oyle of rose. We are now just sitting and waiting until it’s time to do the final straining. I have double boilered the oil and dried damask roses. The scent is milder, but still rosey. It joins the other jar on the window sill covered by a towel until the end of the month.  Here is a side by side look at the two oils as of today.

Almond oil- dried damask rose

Olive oil- fresh generic red rose

Oyle of Rose- Part 4

I have started batch 2 with the Damask roses and sweet almond oil.  I was surprised that the oil has no additional sent other than “oil.”  This means, the roses will do their thing and not have to compete with the underlying sent of the oil base. With batch 1, the roses were working against the smell of olive.

I wanted to try making a batch of rose oil with dried flowers. Roses have a growing season, but the recipe doesn’t specify when you should be making the oil. Nor does it specify that you should be using fresh flowers.  There are a number of recipes that discuss the proper way to dry flowers so they can be used later. So this is an experiment to see what type of oil and scent will be generated by dried flowers.  Also Damask roses is one of the period appropriate rose breeds.

Batch 1 of rose oil using modern red roses, is a delightful yellow color. It is currently sitting on a shelf that gets moderate sun, covered with a towel.  The towel acts as an insulator. The rose smell has intensified in a delicate way and the olive smell of the base oil is just a faint note in the background.  The rose breed used in this batch is generic organic red rose.

Oyle of Rose- Part 3

I have removed the rose oil from the double boiler and strained it through a fine linen cloth mesh.  I have lost very little of the oil in this process. What I ended up with, was a lovely pale yellow oil that no longer smells like olive oil. It now smells distinctly like rose oil.


This will now get set in the sun and covered for ~40 days.

An Oynttment for the stomake approved good against the coughe- Part 1

Among the things Grocers were expected to produce are ointments.  I am working on one that requires chicken grease as the base.

“Take of Capon grease the quantitye of 4 ownzes”[1]

The first part of the recipe requires the grease of capons. Chicken fat is not something I keep around the house for very long. It is a great byproduct to use in cooking and in sauces.  So I started this recipe off by rendering a chicken cooked in water.

This rather large chicken, rendered out about 1/2″ of fat at the bottom of a pint jar.
photo 2

I will be cooking off more chicken in the next few weeks.  I have also asked people to save skins and fat for me if they normally discard it.  I have requested these to be frozen as to a time that I can pick them up.  I am storing my chicken fat in the freezer until I have enough to make the recipe a few times and have a little left over for when mistakes happen.

Part 2 will happen in a few weeks, once I have collected enough fat.

[1] “A Booke of diuers Medecines, Broothes, Salues, Waters, Syroppes and Oyntementes of which many or the most part haue been experienced and tryed by the speciall practize of Mrs Corlyon. Anno Domini 1606.”

Oyle of Rose- Part 2

…”sooth them in a doble vessell 3 howers and then straine them and put to the Oyle Rose leaves cut and bruised as before and let them stand in the sonn 40 days well covered. ” [1]

double boil
I have put the roses into a ceramic crocked pot, which has been put into a crock pot.  I filled the crock pot 2/3 with simmering water and set the temperature on low. In the mean time, I am currently pulling the petals off another dozen red roses so I can add them to the oil once it is done.

And then it is on to the very exciting part of hurry up and wait.

In a few days I will be starting a second batch with almond oil and damask roses. I want to compare olive oil and a modern red rose to the damask with almond oil.  The damask roses are coming to me dried. So that will also add an interesting element to the science of making perfumed oils.

“A Booke of diuers Medecines, Broothes, Salues, Waters, Syroppes and Oyntementes of which many or the most part haue been experienced and tryed by the speciall practize of Mrs Corlyon. Anno Domini 1606.”

Oyle of Rose- Part 1

I am making my first infused/decoction oil. This recipe isn’t hard, but it takes time.  47 days and 3 hours to be precise.  This will just be ready in time for Artifacts.

Original recipe:

My roses have been plucked, picked, bruised and are now macerating in Spanish Olive Oil. They are currently sitting in the sun for 7 days.

“A Booke of diuers Medecines, Broothes, Salues, Waters, Syroppes and Oyntementes of which many or the most part haue been experienced and tryed by the speciall practize of Mrs Corlyon. Anno Domini 1606.”

Importante Merchandizes

I often make a distinction when trying out new recipes between, process and the recipe as written. The process is how things go together. Recipe as written is everything from what ingredients am I using, how long it takes to cook , to how it tastes in the long run.

29. To make jelly of Straw-berries, Mulberries, Raspberries, or any such tender fruit. Take your berries, and grind them in an Alabaster mortar, with four ounces of sugar and a quarter pint of fair water, and as much Rosewater: and so boil it in a possinet with a little piece of isinglass, and so let it run through a fine cloth into your boxes, and so you may keep it all the year. -Hugh Plat

When I am first working on process, I use the materials that are cheaper to use and replace if things go wrong.  I work with modern ingredients. These are easy to find at my local grocery store. For the above recipe I got everything, fruit included for about $10. The goal is to produce something that sounds like the recipe I am working on.  I want to see how all the ingredients behave and play off each other.  I take short cuts. Fruits and sugar go into the food processor.  I want to work out how long “boil it” is.

Part 2 is recipe as written.  Once I understand the process of what I’m suppose to be making, I switch over to the ingredients as they are written in the recipe. I use the expensive and harder to acquire ingredients: 2x sugar, distilled rosewater, distilled water, and shredded isinglass. I beat the fruit and sugars in a mortar, with a pestle*. I create the recipe exactly as it is written. I do make a modern exception at the end, by jarring the end product for food safety. The ingredients are specialty items. I get my sugar from one of the only people who still cures loaves in the US (they supply the living history museums).  Total cost of ingredients is about $25.

There is a part 3. If I have enough of the quality ingredients I will do a side by side comparison with modern ingredients and period ingredients, using the exact same proceeding methods. 2 batches of raspberry jelly: 2 sets of identically labeled ingredients + 1 recipe = 2 completely different flavor profiles.  The only difference between the 2 batches is the sugar and the rose water. Batch 1 was made with the loaf sugar and rosewater that I purchased from my Grocer.  Batch 2 was modern sugar and modern rosewater. Both were thickened with shredded isinglass. The difference was remarkable.

There is a noticeable difference when substituting ingredients in the recreation of 16th century recipes.  If you offer something to a person via a blind taste test, they don’t know what is different, just that something isn’t the same. Sometimes that difference is slight. Sometimes it is extreme. They cant tell you which is period and which is modern, but they can tell you which they prefer.

In the case of the raspberry jelly, the difference was a lack of modern sweetness. The 2x sugar has to be cooked on a long slow boil.  This gives the fruit time to intensify in flavor. In the end, the profile was more complex and less cloyingly sweet. Most people preferred the depth of flavor found in the 2x sugar batch.  The rosewater also made a difference. Modern rose waters often have essential oils added back to them, so they are very ROSE, which permeates through out the product. The distilled rosewater is milder, but still rose. This difference was also noticed in the end product.

The important take away here? Ingredients matter. They are important to the process and the overall flavor of the end product. I reserve the pricy ingredients for A&S projects when the science of “what did they do” is my end goal.

The rest of the time, I use what I can get from my local store. Frugality allows me to play with a lot more processes.  If I am cooking a feast, I have to pick and choose where you will employ the expensive ingredients. Personally, I indulge on spices and better cuts of meat, rather than sugar.

* There is a difference between processing fruit in a food processor and processing fruit in a mortar. Fruit ends up in the same state of mush, but looks so very different. It cooks differently also. I’ll take photos next time.

[1]Plat, Hugh. “The Arte Of Preserving Conserving, Candying.” Delights for Ladies: To Adorne Their Persons, Tables, Closets, and Distillatories with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes, and Waters. Reade, Practise, and Censure. London: Humfrey Lownes, 1609