Glossary

  • Ale yeast
    The yeasty froth that forms on top of malt liquors such as beer or ale as they ferment, which was used to leaven bread or cake.
  • Barm
    Ale yeast (which see).
  • China orange
    A sweet orange, as opposed to the sour Seville orange, which was more usual in cookery.
  • Gammon
    Cured and sometimes smoked meat from the hind leg of a pig, which can resemble either bacon or ham
  • Hair sieve
    A sieve whose bottom is made of haircloth, a stiff fabric woven from horsehair or camel’s hair. Any fine-mesh sieve can be used instead.
  • Indian meal
    cornmeal.
  • Irish potatoes
    White potatoes, as opposed to sweet.
  • Isinglass
    A form of collagen derived from the swim bladders of fish, particularly sturgeon. In cooking, it was melted in boiling liquid and used as a gelatin to stiffen molded desserts such as blancmange and wine- or fruit-flavored “jellies.”
  • Musk
    The pungent secretion of an abdominal gland of the male musk deer. Since musk was expensive, it was likely more often called for in recipes than actually used. Today, authentic natural musk is virtually unobtainable; synthetic musk compounds must not be eaten.
  • Pearl ash
    Potassium carbonate, an alkaline chemical used for a variety of purposes, including as a baking soda; the earliest chemical leavening called for in American recipes.
  • Peck (of flour)
    In most English recipes prior to 1800 (and even later) a peck of wheat flour is an understood weight of 14 pounds. However, in some recipes a peck of flour means a volume measurement of 2 gallons, which would weigh only 8 to 10 pounds. The former should be assumed unless the latter is suggested by context.
  • Sack
    Through the 18th century, any of a number of fortified wines imported from Spain or the Canary Islands. There is disagreement whether the sack called for in historical recipes was understood to be amber or clear, or dry or sweet, or any sack or one particular sack, possibly specifically “Sherris sack,” or sack from the environs of Jerez, a town in Spain, which the English came to call “Sherry.” Since Sherry is virtually the only sack-type wine now easily available in the United States, it is generally substituted for sack in adapting historical recipes. In most cakes the particular kind of Sherry used makes little difference. In puddings it makes somewhat more and in dessert sauces considerably more, and in these a dry, sharp Sherry is likely more authentic than a sweeter one.
  • Searced
    Sifted or sieved.
  • Stone (baking stone)
    A flat stone heated in the fire and then used as a griddle to bake flatbreads, scones, and the like.
  • Treacle
    The word used in England for “molasses” (the original English word for the substance) beginning in the late seventeenth century. What happened, it seems, is that, in England, a popular medicinal syrup or paste called treacle came to be formulated with cheap molasses rather than the original honey. The word then came to designate molasses generally.
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