A concise history of clotted cream

It is with great pleasure that we welcome back Maya Pieris as today’s guest author. Maya has a passion for food history and, as a founding member of Bridport’s History Girls group, she has plenty of experience in recreating historic recipes. In her last article, Maya explored the history of the British picnic, from working lunches in the fields to formal outdoor dining. Today she serves up another appetising slice of food history as she shares an international story of clotted cream… 

‘Clouted’ Cream

I was taken to see an old gentleman of eighty who has eaten [clotted cream] all his life, four times a day, and he seemed none the worse

 – from Truffle Hunt by Sacheverell Sitwell (1953)

Cream first, or jam? It’s an issue almost as divisive as that which surrounds the pronunciation of “scone” (skəʊn or skɒn): a question which provokes earnest and passionate opinions! I feel that logically (and culinarily) that the order should be scone, then cream and then jam on top. Not only is it visually more appealing this way, but the cream also acts like butter and a kind of ‘glue’ for the jam. No doubt many of you who read this will be of the opposite point of view!

As well as being the focus of this on-running gastronomic debate, clotted cream also has a fascinating history and a wide cultural reach. In the cuisines of countries such as Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, local people make a rich clotted cream called kaymak from water buffalo milk. Cows milk and cream are also used to produce a version which is a little less rich. Production in this area of the world dates back to the 16th century at least:  in 1573 a decree was issued to women of the Ottoman Empire, forbidding them to enter shops selling kaymak as these establishments had become known as trysting places!

Macedonian Kaymark

 – 1 quart milk
 – 500ml /1 pint thick cream

  • Boil the milk in shallow pans and carefully pour the cream in from a height.
  • Simmer on a low heat for about 2 hours being careful it doesn’t catch.Turn off the heat and leave to stand for about 6 hours without touching.
  • Cook again on a low heat for ½ hour and cool again without touching.
  • Place in the fridge for 24 hours. Once the cream has formed, loosen it with a knife and ease it onto a plate for serving.

British clotted cream also has a long and intriguing history.  It has been suggested by food writers such as Alan Davidson that the arrival of Phoenician traders to Cornwall around 2000 years ago may have introduced the tradition. The cream’s association with the dairy farming region of the West Country is also well-established, with recipes for “clouted” cream in local cookbook collections dating back several centuries. But clotted cream was also very popular in other counties. Lady Elinor Fettiplace, Elizabethan mistress of an Oxfordshire manor house, recorded her method for clotting cream in her household book. She made it from the top of the morning’s milk, alternately cooled, heated, “dripped” with fresh cream, heated again and then left to stand overnight. Cinnamon and mace were sometimes used to flavour it.

Sir Kenelm Digby, 17th century courtier, natural philosopher and recipe collector

Sir Kenelm Digby, 17th century courtier, natural philosopher and recipe collector

Another fan of clotted cream was Sir Kenelm Digby (1603–1665), a 17th century resident of Covent Garden. Sir Kenelm’s passion for science and philosophy saw him commit much of his life to the pursuit of alchemy. But he was also a keen collector of more prosaic recipes. A posthumous publication of his cookery writings included a couple of recipes for clotted cream. Although the recipes differ in detail and length (one comprises two pages of instructions while the other extends only to 7 lines), both dishes are decidedly sweet, being strewn with sugar before they are served:

Sir Kenelm’s Clouted Cream

Take two Gallons more or less of new milk, set it upon a clear fire; when it is ready to boil, put in a quart of sweet cream, and take off the fire, and strain it through a hair sieve into earthen pans; let it stand two days and two nights; then take it off with a skimmer; strew sugar on the cream, and serve it to the Table.

Over the centuries, clotted cream has gained a well-deserved place in the nation’s culinary pantheon. Many of us may not follow in the footsteps of Sir Kenelm Digby or Lady Elinor Fettiplace by preparing the cream ourselves, but no matter… this dairy delight seems as popular as ever, whether enjoyed in a West Country cafe or at a London hotel for afternoon tea.

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To find out more about the activities of The History Girls check out their Twitter feed, or browse Maya’s range of historically-inspired pickles by visiting her Four Seasons Preserves online shop!

 
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Preserving fruits the sugar-free way

Two sugar-free recipes for preserving fruit.

The first, for green plums or apples, uses a layer of melted suet to seal the fruits from the air – a method commonly known as potting. We like the idea of boiling the fruits with kale leaf to them a lasting, vibrant green colour:

A method for potted plums or apples from the 18th century compilers of our The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A method for potted plums or apples from the 18th century compilers of our The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Preserve Green Plumbs or Apples

Take the plumbs and pare them very thin and as you pare them, throw them into cold water, parings and all. Then put them in to scald and green them with a cale leaf. When they are green, take them of and let them coole, Then take the ordinary plumbs or apples and boyle them to mash and when they are all cold, take an earthern croc well scalded, and lay a layer of pulp and a layer plumbs till your pot is full. Then take rendred seuit and power on them so the will keep all the year.

Regency cookery writer Dr William Kitchiner has another method up his sleeve – in this case gently heating fruit in wide-mouthed bottles, and then sealing them with corks to create an effective vacuum:

Dr Kitchiner’s instructions for bottling fruit, as transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Dr Kitchiner’s instructions for bottling fruit, as transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Preserved Fruit Without Sugar

Take damsons &c when not too ripe, pick off the stalks and put them into wide mouthed bottles (put in only those that are whole). Shake them well down. Stop the bottles with new soft corks, not too tight. Set them in a very slow oven (nearly cold) four or five hours. When they begin to shrink in the bottles, it is a sure sign that the fruit is thoroughly warm. Take them out and, before they are cold, drive in the corks quite tight. Set them in a bottle rack or basket with the mouth down.

Pickled pork and pease pudding

Pickled pork and pease pudding is something of an English classic. Here we pair two recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, the first from an anonymous 18th century contributor, and the second ‘borrowed’ from Dr William Kitchiner’s cookery guide The Cook’s Oracle:

To pickle pork: a Georgian recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To pickle pork: a Georgian recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Pickle Porke

Make a pickle strong enough to bear an egg. Add to his one pound of brown sugar, one ounce of salt peter. Let it boyle while you can. Skim it when cold. Put it on your porke, as much as well cover it, & keep it close coverd. Cut your porke in picies the size you wold chuse to have them & pack them close. Before you put on the pickle, lay a stone on the meat to keep it under the pickle. If you make much pickled porke, you must add a nother ounce of salt peter & a nother pound of sugar.

A salty pickle mix is the starting point for this recipe. The pickle should be salty enough for a fresh egg to float on top of it (‘strong enough to bear an egg’). This pickle would have been an infusion of vinegar, salt and spices, which could be flavoured in any number of ways – with black pepper, mustard, root ginger, capsicums…  see our All in a Pickle post for more ideas.

The salty-sour taste of the pickle is balanced with a generous amount of brown sugar. Saltpetre (potassium nitrate, a curing salt) is added to further inhibit decomposition and to help retain the pink colour of the meat.

Pickled like this and stored in an airtight container, pork could be stored safely for a relatively long time. When the time came to eat it, the pickle was scraped off and the meat boiled slowly. Pease pudding was a well-loved accompaniment:

A Regency recipe by Kitchiner for a pease pudding, as reproduced in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Regency recipe by Kitchiner for a pease pudding, as reproduced in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Peese Pudding

Put a quart of split pease into a cloth. Do not tie them up too close. Put them to boil in cold water. Two and a half hours will do good pease. Rub them thro’ a sieve into a deep dish, adding an egg or two, an ounce of butter, some pepper & salt. Beat them well together for ten minutes. When well mixed, flour the cloth well. Put the pudding into it, tie up quite tight and boil an hour longer.

Bread pudding

Bread pudding has been a mainstay of English domestic cuisine for centuries. The way it is made has hardly altered with the passage of time, as we can see from this 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies:

"To Make a Bread Pudding": an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“To Make a Bread Pudding”: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Bread Pudding

Take a  meonshit [manchet]. Cut of the crust, slice it in thin slices the pour a quart of boyling milk on it. Then take 12 eggs, half the whites. Beat them very well with a little nutmeg, a qr of a pd of sugar, 2 or 3 spoonfulls of rose water, a glass of sack. Mix all the ingredients well together. Butter yr pan. 3 qrs of an hour bakes it. The same way for boyling, only put in a small spoonfull of flower. An hour for boyling. You may put in sewit if you please. Sack, butter & sugar for sauce. When boyled, don’t mix the pudding till the milk is cold.

The bread used, manchet, was high quality wheaten yeast loaf made with a fine crumb that could stand up to the addition of hot milk and eggs. Manchet isn’t a term much used today, but any white loaf with a regular, close crumb should fit the bill. Why not give it a go?

Stewed oysters on toast

Oysters were extremely popular in the Georgian era and, selling for remarkably low prices, were enjoyed by people at all levels of society. The unknown ladies behind our Cookbook certainly had a taste for them – we’ve seen them serve oysters in soups, bake them in bread rolls and add them to pies in their hundreds.

Here, they set out how to make a simple repast of stewed oysters on toast:

Method for stewing oysters from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Method for stewing oysters from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

How to Stew Oysters

Take an hundred of large oysters unopened, save all their own liquor. Pick out all splinters from them. Put them in a stew pan with an anchovy shred, half a nutmegg grated, a few blades of mace, half a pint of white wine. Sett to stew on ye fire slowly till ye oysters are done. Then, take half a pint of sweet cream that has been first boyld & is cold. Put in to a lump of butter roll’d in flowere. Toss these up with y oysters, shakeing them well untill ye flower is not raw. Let them get a boyle or two together. Take care it is not burnd. [Serve] them with white bread sippits toas[t]ed under them.

Autumnal apple fritters

Two simple but delicious ways to enjoy the best of the season’s apples. These fritters see the fruits fried in a tasty batter, seasoned with warming spices. The first dish is sweet with sugar and ginger, the second more savoury with salt and ale in the batter mix. Take your pick…

This apple fritter is also referred to as a tansie. Recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

This apple fritter is also referred to as a tansie. Recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An Apple Tansie or Fritters

Take yr apples & pare them & cut them in thin slices & have some cream season’d with ginger & sugar, & the yolks of 3 eggs, & half a spoonfull of flower, a spoonful of rose water. Dip yr very thin slices in this batter & fry them on a slow fire in boyling butter. Turn them nicley wth a bras slice. Serve them wth rose water & sugar & lemon juce for sauce. 

Although tansie was traditionally a green-tinged egg dish, flavoured with bitter tansy or spinach juice, the name was also used more generally to refer to other egg-based puddings and omelettes.

The next recipe is a little more complicated, but produces a more flavoursome batter:

Recipe for apple fritters "my Mamma’s way" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for apple fritters “my Mamma’s way” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make F[r]itters – my Mammas Way

Take 8 eggs, take out 3 whites, beat them very well together then take a quart of the uppermost of new milk warmed so hot as you can endure your finger in it. Then, put into it a quarter of a pint of sack or more, 3 quarters of a pint of ale and make a possit of it. If it be too cold, warm it again to make the curd rise, then put your posset and eggs together and beat them well. Then put in nutmeg, ginger and cinemon and salt as much as you find will season them. Then put in as much dried flower as will make it a barter, not too thin. Slice pipens, dip these in the barter, so fry them with a quick fire in good lard or claryfied butter.

Ragoo of rabbits

This recipe is written in a large, bold hand for a confident cook. The success of the ragout is largely down to the cook’s skill in finely balancing the ingredients, several of which would have delivered some pretty punchy flavours. Very few quantities are given in the recipe, so it would all have been down to experience… or guesswork!

18th century recipe for a rabbit ragout from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a rabbit ragout from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Brown Ragoo of Rabbits

Take middling rabbits, nether too young nor old. Cut them in joints, then wash them clean & flower them well. Fry them a little in boyling lard, but not too much. Then draw them well and put to them a pint of strong gravy, two larg onions cut grose, lemon peel cut small, some thyme & parsley shred, two naggins of white wine, some dryed mushrooms, some artichoake bottoms. Cut in bits some bits of ham, a spoonful of capors, two anchovys, some blades of mace. Let this stew a while. Then tos them up with a lump of butter rold in flower. Dont put in ye artichoak[es] till last. Garnish with lemon & red beet pickled.