Sweets and Treats of the 14C
by Lady Hauviette d’Anjou
Confits and Candied Fruit
Many medieval cooking manuscripts mention confits and some give recipes for them. Confits or comfits also known as dragees, are candied spices used to end a meal or sometimes sprinkled over a dish as a final touch. I think that the origin of the use of these candied spices was to humorically balance a dish by adding the constituents of warmth and dryness that was believed to be inherent in them. This theory is based on Galenical principles of balance of the four humors and their properties. A more in-depth discussion of this theory is not practical in this context.
Le Menagier makes mention of candied spices numerous times. These treats are discussed as “chamber spices” including candied orange peel, candied citron, red anise, rose sugar and white sugared almonds (red sugared almonds are also mentioned frequently). Le Menagier describes menus that include spices served along with “Tartlets and other things, hippocras and wafers, wine and spices”.
In addition, Le Menagier provides a recipe for Candied Orange Peel;
To Make Candied Orange Peel, divide the peel of one orange into five quarters and scrape with a knife to remove the white part inside, then put them to soak in good sweet water for nine days, and change the water every day, then cook them in good water just till boiling, and when this happens, spread them on a cloth and let them get thoroughly dry, then put them in a pot with enough honey to cover them, and boil on a low fire and skim, and when you believe the honey is cooked, (to test if it is cooked, have some water in a bowl, and let drip into this one drop of the honey, and if it spread, it is not cooked; and if the drop of honey holds together in the water without spreading out it is cooked;) and then you must remove your orange peel, and make one layer with it, and sprinkle with ginger powder, then another layer, and sprinkle etc., and so on, and leave it a month or more then eat.
Although the above recipe uses honey, I believe that in part is used as a preservative to keep the peels fresh and soft. My intention was to create a candied peel that would be dry and transportable. As a substitution for the ginger powder mentioned in the original, I felt that powdered sugar would fit as it was considered to be a spice as well as a sweetener. In addition, the use of honey may have reflected the more humble station of the Menagier, his house being one of the bourgeoisie and not a noble house. The candied peel I wished to make was intended for the finest of nobility and to suit that station, I used sugar as well as honey.
Candied Orange Peel
Rind of 8 Mineola Oranges (chosen for their colour and strong flavour, a more period orange would be the Seville)
2 cups honey (I used orange flower honey as I felt it would enhance the citrus flavour)
1 cup white finely granulated sugar (I ground my own, but you can buy “fruit sugar” or “quick dissolving sugar”)
Water to cover
After carefully peeling the oranges, using a large knife, skin the white pith off as much as you can. Once the majority of the pith is off, it is easier to scrape the peel to the porous layer of the peel. Place the orange peel in cool water to cover, place in the refrigerator and change water each night for 9 days.
On the 9th day, change the water and place the peel with fresh water on to boil. Bring just to the boil, strain and let dry several hours.
Placing the honey in a heavy pan (I used a porcelain lined heavy iron pot)add the peel. Let the honey come to a boil and skim the top regularly. The honey will be cooked when dropped onto a cold plate and the honey remains in a ball. At that time, remove the peel and douse each layer generously with the sugar, shake to coat.
The most complete and descriptive recipe for confits and candied fruit peel comes from, not the 14th Century, but from an early 17th C manuscript, “Delights for Ladies, to adorne their Perfons, Tables, Clofets, and Diftillatoriess, With Beatuies, Banqvets, Perfumes & Waters” 1609. I have included it here to demonstrate the method that I used to make the confits.
54.The art of comfet-making, teaching how to cover all kinds of seeds, fruits or spices wiht sugar.
First of all you must have a deepe bottomed bason of fine cleane brasse or latten, with two eares of Iron to hang it wiht tow several cords over a bason or earthen pan with hot coales.
You must also have a broad pan to put ashes in, and hot coales upon them.
You must have a clean latten bason oto melt your sugar in, or a faire brasen skillet.
You must aslo have a fine brasen ladle, to let run the sugar upon the seeds.
You must aslo have a brasen slice, to scrape away the sugar from the hanging bason if neede require.
Having all these necessarie vessells and instruments, worke as followeth.
Choose the whitest, finest, and hardest sugar, a qarter of a pound of Anniseed; or Coriander seeds, and your comfits will be great enough; and if you will make them greater, take halfe a pound more of sugar, or one pound more, and then they will be faire and large.
And hhalfe a pound of Annis-seeds with two pounds of sugar, will make fine small comfits.
You may also take quarter and a halfe of Annis-seeds, and three pound of Sugar, or halfe a pound of Annis seeds, and foure pound of sugar Do the like in Coriander-seeds.
Melt your Sugar in this manner:viz. Put three pounds of your powder-sugar into the bason, and one pint of cleane running water thereunto; stirre it well with a brazen slice, until all be moist and well wet: then set it over the fire, without smoke or flame, and melt it well, that there bee no whole gristie sugar in the bottome, and let it seethe mildely, untill it will streame from the Ladle like Turpentine, with a long streame, and not drop: when it is come to his decoction, let it seethe no more, but keep it upon hot embers, that it may run from the Ladle upon the seeds.
To make them speedily, let your water be seething hot, or seething and put powder sugar to them: cast on your sugar boiling hote: have a good warme fire under the hanging Bason
Take as much water to your Sugar, as will dissolve the same.
Never skim you sugar, if it bee clean and fine.
Put no kind of starch or Amylum to your sugar.
Seeth not your Sugar too long: for, that will make it black, yellow or tawnie.
Moove the seeds in the hanging bason as fast as you can or may, when the sugar is in casting.
At first coate put on but one halfe spoonefull with the ladle, and all to move the bason, move, stirre and rubbe the seeds with thy left hand a pretty while, for they will take sugar the better, and drie them well after every coate.
Doe this at every coat, not onely moving the bason, but also with the stirring of the comfits with the left hand, and drying the same, thus dooin you shall make good speed in the making:as, in everie three houres you may make three pound of comfits.
And as the cofits doe increase in greatness, so you may take more Sugar in your ladle to cast on. But for plaine comfits, let your Sugar be of a light decoction last, and of a higher decoction first, and not too hote.
For cripe and ragged comfits, make your sugar of a high decoction, even as high as it may runne from the ladle, and let fall a foothigh or more from the ladle, and athe hottter you cast in your sugar, the more ragged will your comfits bee. Aslo the comfits will not take so much of the sugar as they will upon a light decoction, and they will keepe their raggednesse long. This high decociton must serve for eight or ten coates in the end of the worke, put on at every time but one spoonefull,and have a light hand with your bason,casting on but little sugar.
A quarter of a pound of Coriander seeds and three pound of sugar will make great huge, and big comfets.
See that you keepe your Sugar alwaies in good temper in the bason, that it burne not into lumpes or gobbets: and if your sugar bee at any time too high boyled, put in a spoonefull or two of water, and keep it warily with the ladle, and let your fire alwaies bee without smoke or flame.
Some commend a Ladle that hath a hoel in it to let the sugar run thorow of a height: but you may make your comfits in their perfect forme and shape, onely with a plain Ladle.
Wehn you comfits be make, set your dishes with your comfits upon papers in them, before the heat of the fire, or in the hot Sunne, or in an Oven after the bread is drawne, by the space of an houre or tow:and this will make them to be very white.
Take a quarter of a pound of Annis-seeds, and two pound of Sugar and this proportion will make them very great: and even a like quantity take of Carroway-seeds, Fennell seeds and Coriander seeds.
Take of the fines Cinamon, and cut it into pretty small stickes beeing dry and beware you wet it not, that deadeth the Cinamon: And then worke as in other comfits. Doe this with Orenge rindes likewise.
Worke upon Ginger, Cloves, and Almonds, as upon other seeds.......................
The remaining recipe, although a good read, adds little to the usefulness here so I have edited this part out.
From these detailed instructions I have worked out a recipe and technique to create comfits ,candied orange rind and candied nuts.
A Recreated Recipe
1 cup/6 ounces granulated white sugar (very finely ground in a food processor or mortar) or fruit sugar or castor sugar (10X sugar)
1/2 cup/ 3/4 ounce (approx.) coriander seeds (or any other suitable seed or nut i.e. anise, caraway, fennel, pine nuts, almonds are the most commonly mentioned in period)
food colouring (optional)
1/2 cup hot water
heavy bottomed saucepan (I used a small cast iron skillet)
metal soup spoon
Using a heavy pan, over low heat, combine sugar and water. Stir frequently until sugar melts. You must monitor the sugar carefully. If it over boils it will simply dehydrate and crystallize and you will need to add water and begin again.
The setting I used ranged from 1-3 on an electric stove. Your appliance may have a different level, so you may need to work with the syrup a bit to get the right heat. Note that you will need to adjust the temperature to keep the syrup hot, but not caramelizing or boiling for too long.
As the syrup heats up, you will begin to notice that it becomes clear, this is the beginning stage of it being ready to use. You will also see fine crystals on the spoon when you dip it into the syrup and let it run. When the crystals disappear, you are nearer to the syrup being ready. In addition, you will notice that when allowing a spoonful to pour back into the pan, it will remain as a stream from the spoon about 5-6 inches in the air to the pan. Finally, the syrup will be ready when you can put drops into a glass of cold water and the sugar doesn’t dissipate, it will clump up (this is known as the soft ball stage), you can also put a drop on a cool plate, if it does not run it is also at softball stage.
Having your seeds in a bowl (I used a small stainless steel round bottomed bowl), take half a soupspoon full of syrup and pour it into the seeds, shaking the bowl with your right hand as you do so.
Now for the fun part. Working quickly, begin to stir the seeds using the small fork, (think scraping the side of the bowl or beating eggs) with your left hand while holding the bowl in your right (or vice versa if you are naturally left handed). As the seeds separate, (you may need to help them along with the fork), they will begin to roll, continue this fast stirring until the seeds are separate and appear somewhat white. This will require some effort and should be done with some speed. The first few coats will seem almost inconsequential, but as you continue you will see them increase in size.
Do not use allot of syrup the first few coats, you do not want to let the seeds cool down before you can mostly separate them, this will result in a mass of seeds, not really useable as confits. As you finish, allow the seeds to cool before adding more syrup. If the seeds seem unwilling to separate, sometimes allowing a little time to cool will coax them along. Check to make sure your sugar is ready (i.e. the softball stage) and not crystallizing.
The technique requires some practice, but once you get used to it, you’ll be surprised how easy it really is.
Nuts were used in combination with sweets such as sugar and honey in other ways as well. In a German recipe in
Daz Buch von Guter Spise (1345 to 1354) From an Original in the University Library of Munich, Translation by Alia Atlas. Found in A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks, 7th Edition, almonds are ground and blended with honey to make a tasty treat.
Heidenische erweiz (Heathen (Saracen)Peas)
Wilt du machen behemmische erweiz. so nim mandel kern und stoz die gar cleine. und mengez mit dritteil als vil honiges. und mit guten wurtzen wol gemenget. so ers aller beste hat. die koste git man kalt oder warm.
How you want to make heathen peas. So take almond kernels and pound them very small. And mix it with a third as much honey. And with good spices well mixed. So it has the very best. One hands this out greedily, cold or warm.
4 cups whole almonds*
1 cup honey
2-3 tsp. ground cinnamon
In a food processor, coarse grind 3 cups of almonds. On a baking sheet, place the almonds into a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes**. Finely grind 1 cup of the almonds and add to the roasted almonds. Mix in cinnamon.
Warm the honey and add to the almonds, stirring well.
Keeping a bowl of warm water near by (to rinse your hands occasionally), take a generous pinch of the honey/nut mixture and roll into a 1 inch ball. Continue until all of the mixture is used. Keeps well in a cool place, sealed container. Makes approximately 90- 1 inch balls
* The original recipe calls for a 3 to 1 ratio of almonds to honey. In my trials I have found that this results in a meal that is a little too loose to roll properly. I have reduced the ratio to 4 to 1 and am much happier with the end result. This effect could be accounted for in the original recipe as the cook using approximations which might be off slightly.
**Although this recipe does not call for roasting the ground nuts at all, I have found that this extra step eliminates the sometimes harsh taste of the oil in the almonds. If you feel you would like to stick to the letter of the recipe, I would simply suggest you avoid that step.