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


Minglinge starche with the suger

As I work through the Grocer’s path, there comes a time to ask the question starch or not to starch.  Most modern US powdered sugars contain up to 5% corn starch. It is an anti caking agent.  Left to it’s own devices, powdered sugar will clump like nobody’s business.  But it is also a big no no for Grocers.

In 1562 the Court made an order that “grocerie wares should not be sold in the streetes, figges onlie excepted ;” and that the Apothecaries, freemen of the Company, should not use or exercise any drugs, simple or compound, ” or any other kynde or fortes of Poticarie wares but such as shall be pure and perfyt good.”

In 1571 King, a brother of the Company, ” and certein others, makers of comfytes, charged before the Wardeyns for their misdemeanours in minglinge starche with the suger, and such other thinges as be not tolerated nor suffrid. And the said Rauf King having now in his place a goode quantitie of comfytes, made with corse stuffe, and mingled as aforesaid with starche and such like,” it was ordered, that the comfits mould be put into a tub of water and so consumed and poured out ; “and that everie of the comfytt makers shall be made to enter into bondes in £20, that they shall not hereafter make any biskitts but with clere suger onlie, nor make any comfytts that shall be wrought upon feeds or any other thinges, but with clere suger onlie.”

The Wardens and Court of Assistants, by the Charters before mentioned, possessed the power of committing to prison any individuals guilty of vending damaged or adulterated goods which came within their jurisdiction ; and accordingly, on the 7th February 1616, we find that Michael Eason, having been convicted before the Court, he being an Apothecary and brother of the Company, of selling ” divers fortes of defective Apothecarie wares, which, on triall, were found to be defective, corrupt, and unwholesome for man’s body;” and it being further proved, “that he had sould and uttered the like wares to Mr. Lownes, the Prince his Highness’s Apothecarie, and others;”[1]

So mixing your starch and your sugar gets you arrested, fined and put in prison. It isn’t specified where not to mix starch and sugar, but one can presume it’s any place where someone wont think it will be noticed. Most likely sugar paste. I don’t do period sugar paste 100% of the time. It isn’t economical, especially the larger structure I’m building. I save the expensive materials for smaller pieces where I am trying to show a comparison between right and acceptable.

If I am working 100% as I can get to period paste, I start by buying my sugar from a vendor that is doing a late 17th/early 18th century refining from cane sugar. I use pigments that were made and ground pigment makers. I am using eggs I can source from chickens. I get my gum tragacath from a Asian apothecary. I use rose water that I know is distilled. I scrape my sugar loaf cones. Grind with a mortar and pestle. Sift. And repeat until I have powdered sugar. I do not add starch. I seal everything with bees wax/turpentine mixture. I store my unused paste in cerecloth until I need more.  It is labor intensive and expensive. I am either working on a science project for A&S or I love the person dearly who is getting the end product.

But wait a minute, what about Plat who says you can cut your sugar with a starch if you do not have enough to make sugar paste? Plat catered to the housewife. He was not selling medicines. Grocers = no starch in your sugar (or at least don’t get caught).

I do not add starch to my pieces, except for what comes naturally in large scale projects where I use modern powdered sugar. IF I were to add a starch, I would likely use with rice flour.  It mixes into the paste white and is relatively light. Some wheat is flecked and that does show up in the end paste. It also tends to be heavier.

[1]– Some account of the Worshipful company of grocers of the city of London- BY BARON HEATH  (John Benjamin Heath)

To purifie and refine Sugar

Refining sugar from cane into a usable product was not an easy task.

To purifie and refine Sugar
Make a strong Lixiuium of Calx vive, whereing dissolve as much course Sugar as the Livivium will beare, then put in the white of Egges (of 2 to every part of the Liquor) being beaten into an oil, stir them well together, and let them boyl a little, and there will arise a scum which must be taken off as long as any will arise, then poure all the Liquor through a great Wollen cloth bag, and so the feces will remain behinde in the bag, then boyl the Liquor again so long till some drops of it being put upon a cold plate will, when they be cold, be congealed as hard as salt. Then pour out the Liquor into pots, or moulds made for that purpose, having a hole in the narrower end thereof, which must be stopped for one night after, and after that night be opened, and there will a moist substance drop forth which is called Molosses, or Treakle, then with potters clay cover the ends of the pot, & as that clay sinketh down by reason of the sinking of the Sugar, fill them up with more clay, repeating the doing thereof till the Sugar shrink no more. Then take it out till it be hard, and dryed, then bind it up in papers.

The basic process contained three steps:

  1. Boil shredded sugar cane to remove the sugar from the plant.
  2. Clarify the sugar syrup by straining through lime water and egg whites or ox blood.
  3. Mold the clarified and strained sugar concentrate into conical molds to cure and dry.

This process resulted in a single refined sugar. This sugar was not often white, but a red or brownish color and it often contained a number of impurities including bits of cane particles and other debris. Each time the sugar was refined, the quality went up.

Most sugar purchased from Grocers was 2x refined.  The sugar was good quality, but not the best. It still retains a yellowish tinge. For this reason, sugar was often wrapped in cobalt blue paper.  Blue caused an optical illusion of making the sugar appear whiter than it actually was.  Unscrupulous grocers could often sell a lesser grade sugar as higher grade, because there was an illusion of “whiteness.”

When I use loaf sugar that is refined in a 18th century fashion, it comes wrapped in blue paper. It appears very white.  As it exposes to air, you can see the yellowing of the impurities. Once it’s been scrapped, you get the perception that the sugar is white again, having “scrapped away the impurities.” However over time and air exposure, it starts to yellow again. This is why you need to refine the sugar further before use in a finished confection. In the Manus Christi, I called this step, skimming the scum.

When I create confections with “period” sugar and modern sugar, I will put them on a cobalt blue background.  The modern sugar is a brighter white due to commercial processing. And in a side by side display (period vs modern), I want you to believe that my confections are of the highest quality. I use the same techniques an apprentice of the time would use, the optical illusion of a bit of cobalt blue. I use wool felt, because the period sugar will grip it and not roll all over the table.

French, John. The Art of Distillation, Or, a Treatise of the Choicest Spagiricall Preparations Performed by Way of Distillation. Lond., 1653. Print p126

Resistaunce of malitious attempts by anny foraigne enemie

The Company was at times called upon to furnish ammunition and even men, both for military and naval service:
In July 1557, the Wardens were to provide 60 good, sadd and hable men to be souldgears, whereof 2 to be horsemen well horsed and armyd, 20 of them to be harquebusiers or archers, 20 to bear pikes and 1 8 to be billmen, all well harnyfhed and weponed, mete and convenient, accordynge to the appoyntment of our Soveraine Lorde and Ladye the King’s and Queene’s Majestie ; as well for the securitie of the Queene’s highness’ most royal person, as for the suretie and safe- guarde of their highnefle’s chambre and citie of London and the resistaunce of such malitious attempts as may happen to be made against the fame by anny foraigne enemie.
Some account of the Worshipful company of grocers of the city of London- BY BARON HEATH  (John Benjamin Heath)

How does this tie into Alesone? She is trained to use black powder, swords, pikes and other fighting/martial activities.  And while I believe they are talking specifically about the funding of the the men for military service, no one ever suspects the confectioner.


There were three paths to be coming a member in a livery company; Patrimony (you were born into the trade), redemption (you could buy your way in) and apprenticeship.

In 1563, the Statute of Artificers and Apprentices was passed in England. This statute was in effect until 1814. It said masters could not have more than 3 apprentices. Apprenticeship lasted for 7 years, typically beginning at age 14. People could not be hired into a trade without first being an apprentice. [1] It would not be typical for women to be in the Grocer’s trade, unless they married into it or were born into it.

In 1611 an act of the Common Counsel set down statutory rules for appearance and behavior.

For Women:
That none should wear on her head any lawn, cambrick, tiffany, velvet lawn, or white silk wires, either in any kerchief, koyfe, crest cloth, or shaddow, nor any linnen cloth therein, saving such linen cloth only, as should not exceed 5s. the ell, nor any lace or edging upon the same or any part thereof: nor any band, neckerchief, gorget, or stomacher, but only plain ; nor any ruff exceeding 4 yards in length before the gathering or setting in thereof, nor 3 inches in depth within the setting in thereof; nor any lawne, velvet, tiffany, cobweblawne, nor white silk cipres at all, other than about their neck or otherwise ; nor any linnen cloth but of the price of 5s. the ell, or lace or edging whatsoever, but plain hem and one stitch ; nor any stomacher wrought with any gold, silver, or silk, or with any kind of stuff made of or mixed with silk ; nor wear any gowne, kirtle, waistecoat, or petticoat, old or new, of any kind of silk stuff or stuffs mingled with silk, nor other stuff than of 2s. 6d. a yard, nor any kersey more than 3s. a yard or broad cloth of 10s. the yard. Nor wear any silk lace or guard upon her gown, kirtle, waistcoat or petticoat, or any other garments, safe only a cape of velvet; nor any fardingal at all, either little or great, nor any body or sleeves of wire, whalebone or with any other stiffing, saving canvass or buckram only. The restrictions as to shoes, stocking &C are the same as those of the apprentices.”

For apprentices-
“nor any silk, worsted, or kersey stockings, but stockings only of woollen yarn or kersey ; nor Spanish shoes, nor shoes made with Polonia heels, nor of any other leather than neats leather or calves leather ; nor wear her hair with any tuft or lock, but cut short in decent and comely manner.” Breach of these regulations was to subject the apprentice to imprisonment in “Little Ease”1 for eighteen hours.

The like confinement was to be imposed on any apprentice who should be found in any ” dauncing schole or of fence, or learn or use dancing or masking, or should use dicing or any other play, or haunt any tennis court, common bowling-alley, cock fighting or brothel houses ; or which should, without his master’s knowledge, have any chest, press, trunk, desk, or other place, to lay up or keep any apparel or goods only in his master’s house, or with his master’s licence ; or should keep any horse, gelding, or mare, dog, or bitch, or fighting cock.“[2]

So what would this mean for Alesone? Having spent the last 5 years researching and experimenting with sugar paste (and various properties/formulas/structures), 4 years working with whole spices, 3 years working with various stages of boiled confections, and a few months creating comfits and candied seeds, there is quite a bit of knowledge accumulated. It is estimated, that Alesone would be 4-5 years into an apprenticeship, with 2-3 years left before being able to be a “freeman/master.” There is still a ways to go in the areas of  preserving and candying various perishable foods and confection creation.

[1] Apprenticeship in England, 1600-1914, Joan Lane
[2] – Some account of the Worshipful company of grocers of the city of London- BY BARON HEATH  (John Benjamin Heath)

The Grocers

The starting point for this book of Secrets lies with the Patent that granted the Grocers the power to garble and examine drugs and spices.
“The King to all whom, &c. greeting, — know ye that we, considering how much it will be for the general good and advantage of all the subjects of our kingdom of England, that all sort of spices and merchandizes as well annis, cummin, wormseed, wax, alum, kermes, — as pepper, ginger, cloves, mace, cinnamon, rhubarb, scammony, spikenard, turpentine, senna, almonds, dates, rosin, treacle, electuaries, syrups, waters, oils, ointments, plasters, powders, and all conserves and confections, — as gum, ginger, succades, cardamums, and all sorts of merchandizes, spices, and drugs, in any wise belonging to medicines, and whatsoever shall by sufficient officers skilled in the premises of this kind whom we are pleased to depute and appoint, duly and justly to supervise, garble, search, examine, and prove, to the purpose and intent, that none of our subjects aforesaid may in future be deprived of benefit in buying any of the aforesaid merchandizes, spices, and drugs, —nor by the buying of these kind to be in anywise hurt in their bodily health;”
Translation from the Latin of the Patent Roll of the 26th Year of the Reign of King Henry VI. , Granting to the Grocers’ Company the Privilege of Garbling and Examining Drugs, Spices, &c. a.d. 1447.

“The Wardens and Commonalty of the mystery of Grocers,” included and had a control over, all druggists, confectioners, tobacconists, and tobacco cutters, ” as having been branched out of and bred by Grocers.
– Some account of the Worshipful company of grocers of the city of London- BY BARON HEATH  (John Benjamin Heath)

Grocers  controlled the raw ingredients, quality of services and the people who sold the medicinals, confections and spices to the public. This will serve as the foundation for building a skill set needed for someone to move from Apprentice to Livery within the Grocers Company, with the primary focus of confections.

Booke of secrets- Beginings

Here begins the nyce and trewe accounte of Alesone Gray of Cranlegh, Sugarwricht. This booke of secrets shall endeavor to record my journey as I learn the skills that would have been needed to become a confectioner in a large noble household in 16th century England. Since confectioners were part of the Grocers, this is the my model for skill discovery and execution. At the end of the journey, I will have my own book of secrets, that I will be able to pass on to others like me, who share a love for confections.

~Alesone, Sugarwricht