Archive for January, 2011

So. Treacle. Or Treakle. And treakyll. Tryacle. And so on. Just
what is it? Well, I’ve always been told, first and foremost, that
it’s a British term, and then one of the following: “just substitute
molasses for it”; or, “it’s the same as molasses.” Now, does that
mean they’re similar or that they’re different?

In any event, I decided to do a bit of research on the subject.
I began by consulting my nearly three-decades-old Webster’s
Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary
, and found it basically says
treacle IS molasses. Definitions in glossaries of several
historical cookbooks agree. One or two books devote more
space to it, from a few paragraphs to an entire page. Most
allude to its use medicinally, its eventual role as a replacement
for honey, and its origins in the manufacture of sugar. They
remain fairly silent, though, as to whether or not treacle
and molasses are the same or different.

I then came upon a British website that discusses the origins
and the uses of treacle. While admitting that the ingredient is
a real “minefield,” it first states that “strictly speaking,” it’s a
generic term for any syrup resulting from the refining of sugar
cane. It then states:

In practice, however, there is
a technical difference between
treacle and molasses in that
molasses is obtained from
the drainings of raw sugar
during the refining process
and treacle is made from
the syrup obtained from
the sugar.

Finally, I turned to The Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It makes a similar
distinction between treacle and molasses. According to the OED, treacle is:

the uncrystallized syrup produced
in the process of refining sugar;
also sometimes extended to
the uncrystallizable syrup that
drains from raw sugar.

I think that’s similar to what’s on the previously mentioned website,
yes? Or maybe not. But then, at the end:

= Molasses 1.

A-ha! So, look under “Molasses 1.” and we find:

the word is rare in British use,
but in the U.S. is commonly
used promiscuously with treacle.

Well! Aren’t we! Stupid, “promiscuous” Americans!

But finally, the OED gets down to the nitty-gritty:

In technical language, molasses
is applied to the drainings of raw
sugar and treacle to the syrup
from sugar in the process
of refining.

OK. Now I understand. I think! Both molasses and treacle are
by-products of the sugar making process, but there IS a difference,
depending on from where within the entire process each particular
liquid is acquired. And I gather that molasses results from the first
draining, and treacle from a later one.
(Yes? No? If anyone has other ideas, please share!)

Okay. When all is said and done, who cares? Well, I do. If you recall,
I stated previously that I wanted to make a dish that included treacle
as an ingredient. Well, by golly, Hannah Glasse’s Ginger-Bread Cakes,
from her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, fit the bill. Of
course, wanting to do justice to her receipt, and to be as historically-
accurate as possible, I knew that only genuine, bona-fide treacle
would suffice. None of that molasses stuff that we Americans
“promiscuously” use as a substitute! The next step was to find
treacle, but that part was actually easy. I knew that one of my
local supermarkets, oddly enough, stocks it. Yep, there on a set
of shelves at the end of one aisle (otherwise known as the “British
section”), in amongst the Marmite and the marmalades, is good
ol’ authentic, made-in-Britain treacle. HUZZAH!

Incidentally, although they may or may not be interchangeable,
the taste of each is, indeed, a bit different. At least, to me. I find
treacle to be more bitter than molasses, almost unbearingly so.
I’d say molasses is the sweeter of the two. Which makes sense,
perhaps, if I’m correct in thinking molasses is extracted first.

Of course, treacle still shows up every now and then. As many
of you know, Harry Potter likes treacle tarts. And then there’s
that beloved childhood nursery rhyme, “Pop Goes the Weasel”:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Read Full Post »

I made Ginger-Bread Cakes, as well, for the Big Weekend Event*
at the Israel Crane House this past December. For these, I used
Hannah Glasse’s receipt from her book, The Art of Cookery Made
Plain and Easy
(1747). What intrigued me most about Glasse’s
version, and the main reason I chose it, was that she calls for
the use of “Treakle,” and I really REALLY wanted to use that
specific ingredient (more on it later).


Here is Hannah Glasse’s receipt:

To make Ginger-Bread Cakes.
Take three Pounds of Flour, one Pound
of Sugar, one Pound of Butter, rubbed
in very fine, two Ounces of Ginger beat
fine, a large Nutmeg grated, then take
a Pound of Treakle, a quarter of a Pint
of Cream, make them warm together,
and make up the Bread stiff, roll it out,
and make it up into thin Cakes, cut them
out with a Tea-Cup, or a small Glass, or
roll them round like Nuts, bake them
on Tin Plates in a slack Oven.

Of course, three pounds of flour makes a boat-load of small cakes,
so I cut the receipt in thirds (one pound of flour instead of three
and so on). I often then go further by cutting those amounts in half.
Makes it all more manageable.


*the Essex County, New Jersey, Holiday Historical Houses Tour


UP NEXT: Just what IS Treakle?

Read Full Post »

From American Cookery (1796), by Amelia Simmons:

Shrewsbury Cake.
Half pound butter, three quarters
of a pound sugar, a little mace,
four eggs mixed and beat with
your hand, till very light, put
the composition to one pound
flour, roll into small cakes—bake
with a light oven.

N.B. In all cases where spices are
named, it is supposed that they
be pounded fine and sifted; sugar
must be dried and rolled fine; flour,
dried in an oven; eggs well beat
or whipped into a raging foam.


I just love that last line: “…eggs…whipped into a raging foam.”
What language! Such imagery! HUZZAH!

In any case, this is the receipt (recipe) that I followed when
making Shrewsbury Cakes for use at the Israel Crane House
this past December. Of course, as you know by now, there
are literally dozens of these out there, and I could’ve used
any one of them. So then, why did I choose Amelia’s?

Well, there were several reasons. Although, I must say, none
were earth shattering! So, let’s see, there were minor things,
such as the fact that American Cookery was published in 1796,
which is the same year that the Crane House was built. That
means, too, her version is appropriate for the early 1800s,
the time period we interpret. The receipt also contains all
the basic Shrewsbury components, without too many extras
thrown in. At the top of the list, however, was that Amelia’s
receipt has very manageable proportions. Yep, it was simple
as that. For instance, her receipt called for just one pound

of flour, as opposed to, say, Eliza Smith’s or Hannah Wolley’s,
which specify three and four, respectively. Thus, there are less
of the other ingredients, as well. So, I could do that. I could
figure it all out. No halving or third-i-fying or whatever all the
quantities. Besides, I knew any receipt, even Amelia’s, would
most likely result in a boat-load of little cakes (and it did), so
why make thousands when you just need hundreds?!

At the same time, I was influenced by all those other receipts.
As you see (above), on the spice front, Amelia’s receipt calls
for mace ONLY. No nutmeg or cinnamon. Not even rosewater.
So I mixed up the batter as written and baked about half of it.
Then I added those other two spices and finished the baking.
I also heeded several of the receipts that instruct the cook
to “prick them before they go into the oven.”

Overall, it was a bit of work, but great fun to do. They were a big
hit with all the visitors to the Crane House that December weekend,
as well.

Incidentally, during the course of my Shrewsbury research, I noticed
that, although these delectable little cakes have a centuries-old history,
they seem to have dropped out of favor by the mid-1800s. I think that’s
a shame. They’re not only delicious, but easy to make, as well. Thus,
I say, let’s join together and start a campaign to bring them back to
the American table. HUZZAH for Shrewsbury Cake!


UP NEXT: Ginger-Bread Cakes.

Read Full Post »

Pick up any 18th, or even 17th, century British cookery book,
whether published or manuscript, and you’ll more than likely
find a receipt (recipe) for Shrewsbury Cake. Or for that matter,
any cookbook, commercially printed and not, during the 18th or
early 19th centuries, here in this country. Yep, the Shrewsbury
Cake is virtually everywhere. It’s also a VERY English concoction.

At least, that’s what I discovered once I decided to make them
for display and eating purposes at the Israel Crane House this
past December. Once I began my research, looking through
a vast assortment of historic cookbooks, I found nearly two
dozen receipts. Whether it was the published work of Hannah
Wolley, Eliza Smith, and Mary Randolph, or the handwritten
records of an unknown housewife in the English countryside,
an anonymous lady of Virginia, or New Jersey’s own Polly
Burling,* receipts for Shrewsbury Cake are abundant.

Of course, finding all these receipts begs the question: Are
they all the same? Well, yes and no. The basic ingredients
are flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and usually one or more
spices. However, the quantities of each changes. As always,
some are sorta similar and others are quite different. Then
there are the exact or near-exact copies that were stolen,
er, borrowed directly from another cookbook (for example,
the receipts in E. Smith, Susannah Carter, and Elizabeth
Cleland are exactly the same).** The specific spices were
often different: some called for mace, nutmeg, cinnamon;
others gave only one or two of those, plus a little rosewater;
then there were a few that specified mace only or nutmeg

and cinnamon only, but with a little brandy instead of (or
at times, along with) the rosewater. One really interesting
receipt not only cut down the the number of eggs (which
was typically three or four) to just one, but it also added
milk (or cream). And finally, another, from a Medieval-era
work, includes it all: the basics of flour, sugar, butter, and
eggs; the spices; the rosewater; a liquor (altho sack instead
of brandy); AND “warm cream.”***

There’s more that I could mention, but I don’t want to bore
anyone. Maybe one of these days, I’ll do a more detailed
comparison of all the receipts (or not!). Suffice it to say
that, in the end, the main components and the overall
structure (the instructions) of each receipt is the same,
but there’s also a bit of creativity, if you will, thrown
in for good measure.

Of course, I’ve already stated that I used Amelia Simmons’
receipt from her book, American Cookery. However, I imagine
now you’re wondering, “Why?” Well, stay tuned!


*Hannah Wolley, The Queen-like Closet, England, 1672;
Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, England, 1750
(1st ed. pub. 1727);
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, Baltimore, MD, 1836 ed.;
18th C British manuscript cookbooks in Egg Pies, Moss Cakes, and
Pigeons Like Puffins
, by Vincent DiMarco;
18th C American manuscripts in Colonial Virginia’s Cooking Dynasty,
by Katharine E. Harbury.
Polly Burling, A Book of Receipts April 1770, NJ.

** E. Smith: ibid.;
Susannah Carter, The Frugal Housewife, England, 1772;
Elizabeth Cleland, A New and Easy Method of Cookery, Edinburgh,
Scotland, 1755.

***William Kitchiner, M.D., The Cook’s Oracle, England, 1831
(1st ed. 1817);
Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.


For more information on the above books, see the Library pages.

Read Full Post »

The holidays have come and gone. It’s a new year. And,
dagnabit, now I need to start blogging again! Yes, I’ve
become a lazy, good for nothing, ol’ dang…whatever.
I must say, it’s quite amazing how NOT posting entries
for just a few days can easily become a bad habit. And
a very shameful and self-defeating bad habit, at that.

Nevertheless, let’s get back to some of my recent (fairly)
adventures in historic cookery. And there are alot of them!

Now, for an entire weekend back in December, the Israel
Crane House was included on the Essex County (NJ) Holiday
Historical Houses Tour. Of course, I participated by cooking
at the Crane kitchen hearth. A fantastic time was had by all.
Particularly me! HUZZAH!

I’ll explain more later about what I cooked before and during
each day of the Tour, but for now, I’ll give you a look at the
Shrewsbury Cakes that I baked at home and then set out
for visitors to enjoy. I must say, they were mighty popular!

Incidentally, I used the receipt (recipe) from Amelia Simmons’
American Cookery (1796). More on that later, as well.


Read Full Post »