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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Picnicking through the past

We are delighted to welcome Maya Pieris as today’s guest author. As a founding member of Bridport’s History Girls group, she has plenty of experience in recreating historic recipes. She has even brought her love of historical cookery to her business Four Seasons Preserves, with a range of pickles inspired by recipes from the past.

In today’s article, Maya takes us through the evolution of the picnic, from adhoc snacks for workers in the fields to formal outdoor dining…

Al fresco dining in 1905.

Al fresco dining in 1905.

“If you go down to the woods today …….”

Mention the word picnic to me as a child and I was in instant heaven! From Chaucer’s garden picnic in the Franklin’s Tale to Jane Austen’s disastrous outing to Box Hill and Ratty’s deliciously overloaded wicker basket the picnic has long had an important place in the English heart and stomach. My catering group, The History Girls, was recently asked to create a Thomas Hardy themed picnic hamper and yes, there was apple cake, Blue Vinney cheese and cider!

The word “picnic” is French in origin and may derive from piquer (to pick or peck) and nique, being a thing of little importance. I rather like to think of it being like scrumping and have visions of children picking and nicking ripe fruit! The word first appears in English in a letter from Lord Chesterfield in 1748 but can be found in French from at least the 1690s.

No doubt people from earliest times were obliged to eat on the hoof (so nothing new about fast food) and generations of invading armies were expected to eat in an alfresco style, but the idea of formal outdoor eating does occur in many cultures – the Chinese will feast by a graveside as did the ancient Romans, while the Japanese picnic is often a deliberate aesthetic experience organised to celebrate events such as the flowering of cherry blossom.

Evidence for the formalising of the picnic dates from the 1300s and is found in works like Gaston de Foiz’s Le Livre de Chasse of 1387. This was a period which also saw the development of the private garden and the hunting parks of the wealthy. Hunting feasts or breakfasts became a part of the entertainment and could include a selection of cold meats like mutton and meat pies and perhaps the cooking of the kill.

The semi-rural idylls of pleasure gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall provided popular spots for a light meal outdoors

The semi-rural idylls of pleasure gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall provided popular spots for a light meal outdoors

The English tradition, however, owes a lot to London of the 17th and 18th century when many of the large parks and pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall were created, “allowing bevies of gallant ladies, some singing… devouring cheesecakes, marchpanes and china oranges”: a sight which Pepys describes as “mighty pleasant”. This rather sets the scene for the early picnics as adult affairs and sometimes an opportunity for dalliance! The Fetes Champetres were another interpretation of informal eating though these were more complicated staged events with performers and sometimes held, curiously, indoors! In 1802, however, the picnic formally arrives with the founding of the Picnic Society in London – and attendees were each required to provide a dish of food! These picnics were also indoors events accompanied by staged entertainments. It was this element that caused friction with the theatrical establishment and saw the demise of the society after only a year.

The concept of the picnic continued to gain ground with the growing middle class and skilled working class as a family affair, and was no doubt aided by the gradual improvements in transport. Days out to the seaside or to big sporting events like Derby Day and Henley were opportunities for relaxed eating, at least while the sun shone. Endorsed by Queen Victoria and Mrs Beeton with her advice on picnic menus, and with Fortnum and Mason and Harrods producing hampers for all occasions, the picnic was well on its way to being part of our culinary tradition, even if in a “wet and wasp-haunted field” as described by Georgina Battiscombe in her book, English Picnics!

So whether you incline to an egg and cress sandwich, potted asparagus or a freshly barbecued beach mackerel let’s hope the sun shines, the wasps aren’t flying or the ants crawling!

[Maya]

FHistory Girlsor more information about Four Seasons Preserves or The History Girls group, contact Maya. The History Girls also regularly appear at the annual Bridport Food Festival. To see what they got up to this year, check out the festival blog!