Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Solteltie in the form of a Siren

I recently had the opportunity to enter a Solteltie competition. Here is my documentation:

A Sinful Siren Solteltie for a Feast

Image from: Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 3466 8º, Folio 37r

Medieval soltelties (subtleties) were illusion foods that added to the spectacle and entertainments of a banquet or feast. Designed to impress the guests and add to the stature of the host, accounts of important banquets are dotted with references to impressive illusion foods that were presented to entertain, and often to allude to a story or give a subtle message. The medieval cook book “Le Viandier de Taillevent” has four pages of subteltie recipes, and two pages of painted subtletie recipes.

With a theme of “sinfulness”, the possibilities for soltelties are almost endless. I was unsure whether this feast would run (due to lack of bookings) until last weekend, so the short time impacted on what I could do. I had originally planned to make a sweet soltltie using sugarplate, but there would not have been enough time for it to dry.

Inspiration struck when I was looking at a book of illuminated manuscripts, searching for ideas for scribal projects. I saw this painting of a siren and a centaur (below), and I remembered that sirens are symbols of (female) heresy, lust, vanity and worldly pleasure (p. 560).

Image from A Bestiary, perhaps by Therouanne, circa 1270. JPGM, Ms. Ludwig XV 3, fol 78 – reproduced in ‘Illuminated Manuscripts from Belgium and the Netherlands’, p. 45

Church writings from the medieval period emphasise that women are the source of original sin and are very prone to lust and temptation. “Medieval patristic sources constantly reiterate Eve’s weakness as the reason for mankind’s suffering, and purport the concomitant weakness of her daughters against which all men must guard” (Glen, p. 2). Glen (p. 4) also refers to Salisbury’s (1994, pp.81–86) contention that “Galenic medicine held that the female, cold of humour, seeks the heat of the male, hot of humour, and is for this reason dangerously lusty at all times”. It is not surprising that mythical female figures (sirens) who are part woman and part bird or fish were imagined that could lure men to their ravishment and grisly deaths with their beautiful singing. This suggests that worldly pleasures can lead to one being vulnerable to sin, or even to being seduced by the forces of evil.

Creating an edible siren sounded similar to a recipe for a Cockatrice that I had seen in Forme of Cury.
“Forme of Cury 183 Cokagrys. Take and make the self fars, but do therto pynes & sugur. Take an hold rostr cok; pulle hym & hylde hym al togyder saue the legges. Take a pigg and hilde hym fro the myddes dounward; fylle him ful of the fars, & sowe hym fast togeder. Do hym in a panne & seeth hym wel, and whan thei bene isode: do hem on a spyt & rost it wele. Colour it with yolkes of ayren and safroun. Lay theron foyles of gold and siluer, and serue hit forth.”
There are other versions of this recipe available in Medieval sources, and some are reproduced at godecookery.com; see below.

I obtained a fresh pigeon from a supplier of game and cleaned, washed and dried it.

I seasoned it and basted and stuffed it with butter. I roasted it at 190 degrees for twenty five minutes. Pigeon is traditionally served rare (cooked for 12-16 minutes), but I overcooked it because I didn’t want any juices dripping out of it. (It still looks too rare for my taste.)

Image of sirens from Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 602, Folio 10r, available online at http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beastgallery246.htm#

Le Viandier de Taillevent (conveniently reproduced and translated online at http://www.telusplanet.net/public/prescotj/data/viandier/viandier420.html) has the following recipe for pigeon:

45. Pigeons. Roast them including the heads but without the feet; eat them with fine salt. In a pie; eat them with fine salt, wine, or scallion, with the fat from the pie. (p.22)

I made the female part of the siren out of marzipan (also called marchpane). Because I was limited by time, I used commercially prepared marzipan.


In period, cooks would have peeled and ground their almonds and mixed the meal with sugar that had also been ground (from a cone) and sieved. I have made marzipan this way, and it is very time consuming and hard on the hands. Here is a recipe that suggests how it would have been done in period:

from Delights for Ladies by Kennelm Digby 1609 (online at http://www.medievalcookery.com/search/display.html?delig:18)

18 - To make a Marchpane. Take two pounds of Almonds being blanched and dryed in a sieve over a fire: beat them in a stone mortar; and when they bee small, mix with them two pounds of sugar being finely beaten, adding 2 or 3 spoonfuls of Rose-water, and that will keeps your almonds from oyling. When your paste is beaten fine, drive it thin with a rowling ping, and so lay it on a bottom of wafers: then raise up a little edge on the side, and so bake it: then yce it with Rose-water and sugar: then put it into the oven once again, and when you see your yce is rise up, & dry, then take it out of the oven, & garnish it with pretty conceits, as birds and beasts, being cast out of standing moulds. Stick long comfits upright in it: cast biskets and carrowaies on it, and so serve it: gild it before you serve it: you may also print off this Marchpane paste in your molds for banquetting dishes: and of this paste our comfitmakers at this day make their letters, knots, Arms, Escocheons, beasts,birds, and other fancies.

I used wooden skewers to attach the siren’s body to the body of the bird. To emulate the gold feathers seen in the image from the manuscript, I dusted the body with edible metallic cake decorating powder. In the Middle Ages and Reniassance, cooks would likely have used an egg yolk glaze or expensive gold leaf, but I always have concerns about using raw egg products in cooking and gold leaf is beyond my budget.

The siren was shaped with my fingers and a toothpick and then painted with commercial food colourings mixed with a little rosewater. Period practices for colouring foods include using juices of herbs such as parsley or alkanet, tinctures of bark such as sanders and cassia, meat juices and egg whites. Tincture of lead and other poisonous ingredients were sometimes used. A recipe for a coloured dessert is included in the supplementary recipe section below.

The siren is presented on a bed of blue jelly to suggest water because fish- and bird-bodied sirens are often depicted in water. Jelly (or “gellye”) was a popular medieval food, and was served in both sweet and savoury forms.
Here is a recipe from Le Viandier de Taillevent  for a savoury jelly:

70. Jelly of slimy fish, and of meat.
Cook it in wine, verjuice and vinegar. Some add a bit of water. Take ginger, cassia, cloves, grains of paradise and long pepper, steep in your broth, strain through cheesecloth, and boil with your meat. Take bay leaves, spike lavender, galingale and mace, tie in your cheesecloth (without washing it) with the dregs of the other spices, and boil with your meat. Cover it while it is on the fire, but when it is off the fire, skim it until it is set out.
When it is cooked, [strain] your broth into a clean wooden dish until it is settled. Put your meat on a white cloth. If it is fish, peel and clean it, and throw your peelings in the broth until it is strained the last time. Make sure your broth is clear and clean.

Because of the time restrictions I was faced with for this project, I used commercially prepared sweet jelly.

Researching this project has piqued my interest in representations of the ‘monstrous’ side of human nature and its portrayal in medieval imagery. I intend to do further research in this area, and I suspect that medieval bestiaries, church writings, and social commentaries will provide me with a rich base of research material!

Image of a siren from Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 25v available online at http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beastgallery246.htm#

Bibliography and References

Kempf, Damien and Gilbert, Maria L. 2015 Medieval  Monsters, British Library, London UK.
Kren, Thomas. 2010  Illuminated Manuscripts from Belgium and the Netherlands, Getty Publications, Los Angeles, California USA.
Morrison, Elizabeth. Beasts Factual and Fantastic, Getty Publications, Los Angeles, California USA.
Shaus, Margaret. 2015 Women and Gender in Medieval Europe : An Encyclopedia, Taylor and Francis Ltd, London, UK.
Salisbury, Joyce E. 1994 The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages, New York, NY: Routledge

A Medieval Bestiary, Siren Gallery http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beastgallery246.htm
A Medieval Siren http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item100301.html  accessed 18/9/15
Glen, Abigail. Sing the Alarm: Sirens, Prostitutes and Silenced Voices in the Bestiaire d’amour, E-sharp magazine, Issue 21: Silenced Voices http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_307344_en.pdf accessed 18/9/15
Recipe for a Cokentrice from Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks - http://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/CookBk/1:10.1?rgn=div2;view=fulltext accessed 18/9/15

Supplementary Recipes

¶ Cokentrice. ¶ Capitulum ciij.—Scalde a capon̛ clen̛, & smyte hem in-to the wast oueretwarde, and scaude a pygge, and draw hym, & smyte hym in the same maner; and then sewe the forthyr parte of the capon̛ and the hyndyr parte of the pygge to-gedrys, and the forther parte of the pygge [leaf 48.] and the hynder parte of the capon̛ to-gedyr: then draw the whyte & the yolkes of eyren̛, and cast ther-to, and svette of a schepe, and saffron̛, & salt, and pouudre of gyngeuere, and grated brede; and medle aƚƚ to-gedre wit thyn̄

Ymages in Sugar
And if ye will make any ymages or any other thing in suger that is casten in moldys, seethe them in the same maner that the plate is, and poure it into the moldes in the same manere that the plate is poured, but loeth youre mold be anoyntyd before with a litell oyle of almaundes.
from Pleyn Delit, 1996, Constance B. Heiatt, p. 142

The Second Part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell, 1597
"To make a past of Suger, whereof a man may make al manner of fruits, and other fine things with their forme, as Plates, Dishes, Cuppes and such like thinges, wherewith you may furnish a Table."
"Take Gumme and dragant as much as you wil, and steep it in Rosewater til it be mollified, and for foure ounces of suger take of it the bigness of a beane, the iuyce of Lemon, a walnut shel ful, and a little of the white of an eg. But you must first take the gumme, and beat it so much with a pestell in a brasen morter, till it be come like water, then put to it the iuyce with the white of an egge, incorporating al these wel together, this done take four ounces of fine white suger wel beaten to powder, and cast it into the morter by a litle and a litle, until they be turned into the form of paste, then take it out of the said morter, and bray it upon the powder of suger, as it were meale or flower, untill it be like soft paste, to the end you may turn it, and fashion it which way you wil. When you have brought your paste to this fourme spread it abroad upon great or smal leaves as you shall thinke it good and so shal you form or make what things you wil, as is aforesaid, with such fine knackes as may serve a Table taking heede there stand no hotte thing nigh it. At the ende of the Banket they may eat all, and breake the Platters Dishes, Glasses Cuppes, and all other things, for this paste is very delicate and saverous. If you will make a Tarte of Almondes stamped with suger and Rosewater of this sorte that Marchpaines be made of, this shal you laye between two pastes of such vessels or fruits or some other things as you thinke good.

From:  An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century
available online at http://daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian9.htm#Heading481
Fruit Made of Sugar [Marzipan]
Add one part of sieved sugar to one part of cleaned and pound almonds. Knead it all with rose water and roll your hand in almond oil and make with it whatever you want of all fruits and shapes, if God wishes.

Marzipans from Libre del Coch 1520
Reproduced online at http://www.medievalcookery.com/search/display.html?libre:135
135. Marzipans. Take almonds which are select, and wholesome, and well-peeled in boiling water. And grind them very well, moistening the pestle of the mortar inrosewater so that they don't become oily. And when they are well-ground, cast in as much syrupy sugar as there will be almonds; and let it be well-ground, and strained through a silk sieve; and make good paste incorporating the sugar little by little, and not with large amounts, so that you don't make the paste viscous, and spread them out very well.
The way to cook and glaze them:
Take fine sugar which is very well-ground, and strain it through a sieve of silk; and for a syrup put it in this way, and blend it with rosewater which is reasonably thick.
It is necessary that the oven is not very intense, but temperate; and take the sheet on which you will cook the marzipans, and heat it in the oven; and when it is hot, cast flour on it, under the marzipans, so that they don't stick; and put them in the oven until you see that you cannot bear to touch them with the back of your hand; and if the outside is not cooked, be sure to return it to the edge of the sheet with the outside on the inside. And then take them out and with a little spoon cast glaze upon them, and with some feathers spread it out all over. And then return them gently to the oven until the glaze hardens, as you think [right] according to the practice you have seen.

From Le Viandier de Taillevent p. 59 (Translation available at http://www.telusplanet.net/public/prescotj/data/viandier/viandier459.html )
182. Parti-coloured white dish.
Take blanched and peeled almonds, crush very well, steep in boiled water, [and make your milk]. For thickening you need some starch or beaten rice. When your milk has been boiled, divide it into several parts, into two pots (if you wish to make only two colours) or (if you wish) into 3 or 4 parts. It should be as solidly thickened as Frumenty, so that it can not spread out when it is set out on the plate or in the bowl. Take alkanets, turnsole, fine azure, parsley, or avens. Sieve a little saffron with the greens so that they will hold their colour better when boiled. Soak the alkanets or turnsole, and the azure likewise, in some lard. Throw some sugar into the milk when it boils, remove it to the back [of the fire], salt it, and stir it strongly until it is thickened and has taken the colour that you wish to give it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bee and Pearl Necklace

I made this necklace as a gift for a friend who has bees on her device. It has a purchased bee pendant strung on gold tigertail wire. The beads are large gold seed beads and baroque pearls.