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- 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.
Ale yeast (which see).
The original English spelling of the modern word “biscuit.” The modern word, imported from French, became the Standard English spelling during the second third of the eighteenth century. Both words are from the Latin bis coctus, or “twice cooked,” meaning a bread or cake that is baked two times, first, at a high heat, to set the dough, and then, at a lower heat, to render the bread or cake dry and crisp through and through. At the time of the original spelling, most biskets conformed to the root meaning of the word. Later, the word “biscuit” came to designate a wide range of baked goods, most of which were baked only once and some of which were soft in texture.
- Bisket Bread
This early modern term generally designated a sweet bisket (see above). Modern equivalents include classic Italian anise biscotti, amaretti cookies, and the dry Italian ladyfingers called savoiardi, used to make tiramisu.
- Bisket Comfits
Candied citrus peel, either in pieces or ground and pressed into small shapes, coated in a smooth or rough hard candy shell. Confusingly, “bisket comfits” are often called simply “biskets” in seventeenth-century recipes.
- China orange
A sweet orange, as opposed to the sour Seville orange, which was more usual in cookery.
This word refers to milk or cream that has been thickened or curdled through the introduction of rennet (see below), bacteria, or an acidic liquid such as lemon juice or wine. Fresh cheese curds and junket pudding are rennet-clabbered; buttermilk and yogurt are bacteria clabbers; and the English dessert called posset is clabbered by lemon juice.
A light meal. In the early modern West the word often referred to a special evening meal consisting largely of sweets.
From the French word confiture, or “preserve,” the word originally designated any small food item preserved with sugar, such as crystallized flower petals or herb leaves (like candied roses, violets, or mint); candy-coated seeds, spices, or nuts (like candied anise seeds or Jordan almonds); or citrus peels, plant stalks, or roots (like candied lemon peel, angelica, or ginger). By the seventeenth century, the meaning of “comfit” had narrowed so that it designated only articles coated in a smooth or rough hard candy shell, that is, dragées (which see, below).
The peppery spice piper cubeba, native to Indonesia. It was much used in medieval western cooking and is still used in several modern Asian cuisines.
A seed, spice, or nut coated with a smooth or rough hard candy shell. Today, the word has come also to designate small, brightly colored decorations made out of sugar paste, such as “silver balls,” “sprinkles,” and nonpareils. (Originally, nonpareils were dragées of poppy or celery seeds.)
A fancy container for holding or displaying dragées (see above).
Candied roots of eryngo, a common name for Eryngium, a genus of flowering plants that includes hundreds of different species. In early modern England eringoes were believed to be aphrodisiacs and were popularly known as "kissing comfits."
A sweet dish or dessert. Historically, there were many different types of fools, including the trifle-like Norfolk fool, fools made by cooking fruit pulp with cream and sometimes eggs, and fools made by cooking fruit juice with eggs to the consistency of stirred custard. Today, the word commonly designates a dessert of pureed cooked gooseberries or other tart fruit and whipped cream.
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.
Heavily sweetened, pungently spiced white or red wine meant to speed the digestion and typically drunk following a meal. Named for Hippocrates, the ancient Greek savant popularly considered the “father of medicine,” the wine was drunk throughout Europe from the thirteenth through early eighteenth centuries.
- Indian meal
- Irish potatoes
White potatoes, as opposed to sweet.
A gelatin derived from the swim bladders of sturgeon. First refined in the sixteenth century, primarily to clarify wine, isinglass soon came into use as a setting agent for wine jellies and creamy desserts commonly called flummeries or blancmanges.
The word derives from the Italian gemello, or “twin.” When jumbles first came to England from Italy, in the sixteenth century, they were sugary, anise-flavored cookies formed by tying ropes of dough in elaborate two-sided knots, such as a figure-eight or a pretzel knot. (See also Springerle.) Over the course of the seventeenth century, jumbles evolved into butter cookies typically formed as rings, in which guise they persisted in English and American baking into the mid-twentieth century. In early modern England, the word also designated fruit pastes and sugar pastes worked up in jumbles-like forms.
Derived from an old French word meaning “slice,” the medieval term leach originally designated several quite different firm or semi-firm foods with relatively smooth textures, including date pastes and forcemeats. However, leach most often referred to a stiff sweetened gelatin of almond milk or cream that was a favorite dish at medieval feasts and at the early modern English sweets meals called banquets. In the last third of the seventeenth century, gelatin leach was absorbed by the modern cream gelatins called flummery or blancmange (which see).
Derived from the Portuguese marmelo, or “quince,” the original marmalade was a firm, jelly-like paste made by boiling pureed cooked quince with sugar until the mixture jelled. This confection is now commonly known as quince paste, quince cheese, or membrillo, from its Spanish name, dulce de membrillo. Invented by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century out of similar quince pastes that had long been extant, marmalade soon came to be made with bitter oranges and other fruits rich in pectin (the colloidal substance that makes possible the acid-sugar bond critical to jelling). In the eighteenth century, as orange marmalade was repurposed as a spread for bread and toast, it came to be made rough-textured and somewhat less stiff.
The Spanish word for quince. In English-speaking countries, the word commonly designates the Spanish confection dulce de membrillo, or quince paste. See marmalade, above.
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. Edible synthetic and plant-based musk compounds are available through specialty websites. But be careful not to cook with musk compounds meant only for perfumery!
- 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 some English recipes written prior to 1800 (and even later) a peck of wheat flour is an understood weight of 12 or 14 pounds. However, in other recipes a peck of flour means a volume measurement of 2 gallons, which would weigh only 8 to 10 pounds, depending on how settled the flour is in the measure. Some recipes specify "peck" as either "by weight" or by the wine or beer quart or pint, meaning by volume. If neither is specified, volume should be assumed unless weight is suggested by context.
Also spelled “quidony” and in various other ways. From the French cotignac, or “quince jelly,” the word originally designated a stiff, molded jelly, often clouded with fruit particles, made from quince. During the mid-seventeenth century, the word broadened to encompass jellies of like kind made from a variety of fruits. By the end of the century, the word had been largely displaced by the modern word “jelly.”
An enzyme extracted from calf’s stomach that causes milk to curdle, the usual first step in the preparation of cheese. In old recipes, the word typically referred to wine in which a piece of calf’s stomach had been soaked. Today, many commercial cheeses are made with vegetable rennet.
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.
Sifted or sieved.
Hard, anise-flavored German cookies stamped with fanciful designs using a specialized rolling pin, a cookie board, or individual cookie stamps. The cookies are traditional at Christmas. The simple egg-and-sugar dough of Springerle is similar to that of the original English jumbles (see above) and both may share a common origin in Renaissance Italy.
- Stone (baking stone)
A flat stone heated in the fire and then used as a griddle to bake flatbreads, scones, and the like.
- Sucket Fork
Sucket derives from the word succade, or “candied citrus peel,” though “sucket” referred to all manner of sugar-preserved fruits and other plant materials. The sucket fork was a specialized British table implement of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, typically made of silver, that had fork tines at one end and a spoon bowl at the other. The fork end was used to spear dry sweetmeats (like quince paste or candied fruit), while the spoon end was used to scoop up wet sweetmeats (like preserved fruits) and their delicious syrups.
Of unknown origin, the word originally designated a restorative drink made by milking a cow directly into a bowl of sweetened wine or cider. Upon contact with the acidic liquid, the milk would clabber (which see, above), creating a thick froth or head. Over time, drink syllabub inspired diverse desserts called syllabub. Although varying in composition and method, these desserts all resembled their forebear in that they consisted of a frothy, creamy head afloat on a clear pool of tart-sweet liquid.
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.
Pronounced VOY-dee, the word comes from the French voidée, meaning “cleared.” The medieval English voidee was a repast of hippocras (which see), plain spices, and dry sweetmeats meant to soothe the digestion. It was typically served, in a specially designated space, following dinner, after the great hall or other dinner room had been cleared of people. However, a voidee could also be served to overnight guests before they went to bed, as the great hall was being cleared for the night.