Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Currants from Corinth

I happened to have a little spare time in town today so I decided to consult some favourite food history volumes in my local library. Since last autumn, when I began modelling food for the Medieval dolls house, popping in to consult heavy reference books has become a  familiar pastime.

Knowing that it was common practice to use spices and fruits with meat and fish in Medieval cooking, borrowing practices and ingredients that the European Crusaders encountered in the Middle East, I decided to do a little research on fruits. What I had not appreciated was that fruits were essentially used as vegetables, which makes sense now one comes to think about the mixtures that recipes called for in typical Medieval sauces and  pies.

 Imported dry fruits were especially popular in England, providing concentrated sweetness when sugar remained a scarce, luxury item even during and after the Elizabethan era when cane sugar had reached these shores. Presumably there was never enough honey to go around!

References in period cookbooks to the highly popular "raisins of Coraunce" actually refer to imported dried small, round, black Corinth grapes. And from Coraunce we get our word currants, used in baking today (when we don't use sultanas or raisins of course). 

I also discovered that the terms for fresh and dried fruits could be used interchangeably. When Little Jack Horner sat in that corner and stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum this was most likely actually a raisin! And so, a plum pudding was probably akin to a "Spotted Dick" and did not contain plums. 

Below, MedievalMorsels has reproduced some 12th scale dolls house miniature dried fruits, currants in stained (aged!) wooden bowls. Ideal for a Medieval or Tudor kitchen setting, or as a luxury snack item at the dining table or trestle as part of the meal.