Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Elinor Fettiplace, Walter Raleigh’s Rose Sweet Potatoes and an Excellent Negus

Elinor Fettiplace née Poole (1570-1647) was born 12 years into the reign of Elizabeth the 1st. What the Poole family did well was arrange advantageous marriages that increased their land and fortunes, took positions that had hefty benefits and endeared themselves to important members of the nobility who responded generously to their ministrations.  These talents took them very far very fast.

So far that Elinor’s grandfather, Sir Giles Poole (the Patriarch at the time) had his heart set on creating a mansion to rival his Thynne relations at Longleat (where he had been a retainer 30 years before) as befitting his station in the world but died before it could be finished. Sir Giles did well by his granddaughter, Elinor, leaving a lusty dowry for her marriage to Richard Fettiplace in 1589.  The Fettiplaces had probably been selected for their ancient pedigree (at least back to William the Conquerer in the 11th century) and large land holdings but they had fallen onto hard times in the current generation.  The Pooles made life a little easier for them as part of the marriage agreement in exchange for some acreage.

 Elinor and her husband moved to one of his family holdings, a Norman Manor house at Appleton where she raised 5 children and lived with an extended family.  Her husband Richard was knighted through her family connections in 1601 (possibly as a result of a meeting with Queen Elizabeth at an enormous wedding celebration for Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert in 1600). 

In 1604, Elinor Fettiplace put together a small leather-bound book of recipes, cures and advice that was discovered nearly 400 years later by a descendant, playwright John Spurling and was brought to life in a book by his wife Hilary -- herself a theatre critic, editor and author. Spurling’s book was aptly named Elinor Fettiplace's Recipe Book .
Spurling found Elinor’s work inspirational and full of great recipes.  She did a lot of legwork to remake the old recipes while still providing the originals so reinterpretation was possible (which I am thankful for.)  In the intervening 20-odd years since the book was published, many ingredients that were impossible to find then are now available so the recipes can be made as written (still no musk though!).

Fettiplace’s work was one of the first books of its kind that we know of, handwritten by a very literate, well-to-do woman (well actually for her… a secretary most likely did the writing).  She outlived 2 husbands and lived to be nearly 80… a fine old age for the time.

           Sir Walter Raleigh 1554-1618

Many of the recipes came from powerful friends and famous neighbors like Sir Walter Raleigh (she was related to his brother, Carew Raleigh) who contributed some unusual recipes from wondrous new produce obtained on his forays to the New World in 1595 and again in 1616.  Aside from tobacco water and syrup, he also shared recipes for sweet potatoes that were brand new imports.

The sweet potato member of the Convolvulaceae family (related to morning glory, not the potato) was domesticated in South America at least 5000 years ago.

John Hawkins (ship builder and architect of the Elizabethan navy that triumphed over the much larger Spanish Armada in 1588) may have brought the sweet potato to England in 1565, but Elinor’s neighbor, Walter Raleigh, grew them after his visit to the new world in 1595.  I would imagine that the sweet potato was as rare as a white Italian truffle when Elinor wrote her recipe book in 1604.  Her recipe for the prized vegetable with rose and ambergris doesn’t seem so extravagant given the newness and scarcity of the New World vegetable.  The combination is inspirational with the voluptuous texture of the sweet potato -- the rose perfumed syrup transforms the lowly potato completely by treating it like a fine preserved fruit.

Sweet Potatoes with Rose Syrup and Ambergris

1 pound sweet potatoes
1 pound sugar
1 c water (1/2 cup if using rose water)
2 drops Aftelier rose essence or ½ c rosewater
juice of 3 oranges
a pea sized piece of  ambergris, grated or 1 t vanilla
Dried Rose Buds for garnish (optional)

Boil or bake the potatoes till cooked but not mushy.  Remove the skin and then slice.

Heat the sugar with the water and rose until liquefied over a low heat, add the orange juice and simmer for 10 minutes.  Skim and add the sweet potatoes and heat over a low flame for 20 min.  Remove the potatoes.  Put the hot liquid into the dish you are using to store/serve them in and add the rose essence or rose water.  It is best done the day before so the flavors meld.  Serve by warming the mixture (especially the syrup) and grate the ambergris over them (or add the vanilla).

“Boile your roots in faire water until they bee somewhat tender then pill of the skinne, then make your syrupe, weying to every pound of roots a pound of sugar and a quarter of a pint of faire water, & as much of rose water, & the juice of three or fowre oranges, then boile the syrupe, & boile them till they bee throughlie soaked in the syrupe, before you take it from the fire, put in a little musk and amber greece.”

I love ambergris and wanted to also use it for a special holiday celebration drink after being inspired by Meriton Latroon’s Punch by historical mixologist, David Wondrich in the NYT’s  and in his new book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.

Chest of Books  says “Punch is of course from the Hindustani [character] signifying 5, from its five original ingredients, to wit, aqua vitae, rose water, sugar, arrack, and citron juice”, but the definition has widened a good deal in the passing years.  I was noodling around in one of my favorite 19th century drink books, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks by William Terrington and found a recipe for special version of Negus… a warm port drink with ambergris that fit the bill perfectly and isn’t far from the spirit of the spiced wine Hippocras  popular in England for hundreds of years. I think it would have pleased Elinor. 
My ambergris is from Ambergris Co. NZ , a fine reputable source of found ambergris ( I wrote about it HERE).  It is such a haunting scent.  I had wished I could wear it as a perfume as well as using it for cooking and drinking and EUREKA—now they are making the real deal in an ambergris perfume   … a dream come true for Christmas (hint hint)!  Added to the glorious scent of an old port… well, this is a special occasion drink and if you don’t know about great vintage port… you are missing something wondrous. 

My favorite port quote came from a 1932 book by H. Warner Allen called The Romance of Wine that I’ve had since college.  He reflected on the space left at the top of a port bottle by saying “ I have liked to fancy that the extra air space is given to vintage port rather as a small supply of food was provided for the guilty Vestal Virgin when she was being buried alive.  Condemned to grow up in the most difficult of conditions with no external aid, the wine is given a little extra air to encourage it in its desperate strivings towards perfection…” on its journey to become what wine connoisseur Prof. Saintsbury called “our noblest legacy”.  Come on, you have to admit, that is quite an image.  He also says that an old port tastes of “molten gold and soft purples of antique tapestry”… with that reflection’s purple prose , I concur.

Negus is a wine punch, named after Col. Francis Negus who invented it in the early part of the 18th century during the reign of Queen Anne. The drink flows all around English literature from Jane Austen to the Bronte sisters to Dickens and in modern times with Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey novels.  It was usually port wine with sugar rubbed on lemon peel, lemon juice and nutmeg -- warming and popular for 100 or so years on both sides of the Atlantic.  It often had a good deal more water in it than wine and by the mid-19th century was considered a good drink for children.  In this version it’s a luxurious drink with a fine port made even more elegant with the sweet breath of ambergris tossed on its steaming wine-dark waters.


Excellent Negus for 4, based on a recipe from Cooling Cups

1 c port (I used a 1983 Warre Port from The Rare Wine Company but an LBV or good ruby will work, however, the better the port the better the drink )
1/3 to 1 c of water (your choice and it depends on the port used--I liked much less water)
juice  and the grated  peel of  a ¼ lemon
pinch of grated nutmeg
sugar to taste ( I used 4 t)
1 pea sized piece of ambergris (Ambergris Co. NZ) or 2 drops of vanilla

Heat the liquids and add all the lemon and peel, nutmeg and sugar and pour in a glass (I preferred it with no lemon juice... just the peel).

Grate the ambergris over each serving while still hot… this releases the oils in the ambergris, it is not as effective when it cools.  Then, inhale… the scent is magical. Ambergris is something you smell more than taste.  Breathe deeply of the warm scented steam before you taste.

PS.  Last weekend I went to a fabulous series of lectures and demonstrations at the Astor Center in NYC in a series called The Alchemy of Taste and Smell with such food luminaries as Harold McGee, Johnny Iuzzini, David Chang (Momofuku) Wylie DuFresne, David Patterson and master mixologist Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club.  It was a celebration of the art of Mandy Aftel of Aftelier who makes the divine chef essences I so love to use.  They have changed the way I think about food and are doing the same thing for chefs and drink masters all over the world. She has reestablished the connection between the perfumer’s art and cooking… a connection that existed for millennia (see Cosimo de Medici’s apothecary Francesco Redi who created Jasmine Chocolate HERE ) . Do try some of her amazing scents… they will rock your world and your cooking for the holidays!

AND, the beautiful Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella, was kind enough to mention this blog  in an Australian magazine, My Look Book … how cool is that… many thanks… and buy  her book when it comes out… it’s sure to be a gas.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!


cherry on a cake said...

This is a very interesting post. How wonderful if i had as an adventurous a neighbour as she had had! wonderful photos too.

La Table De Nana said...

I too really like the photos..your research is thorough!You put your heart into your posts..You have mentioned ambergris before.Love the way that recipe is written also.:)

Diane said...

What an interesting post. Strange I have sweet potatoes out for dinner this evening. Diane

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'd love to get my paws on some Ambergris perfume just to see what it is like! I wonder if it will be very accurate or just inspired by the scent? And great story, she really did live for a long time-80 in those times is quite remarkable! Perhaps it's the new world food? :)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another excellently written and researched post, Deanna! The history is wonderful to read. I love sweet potatoes (sadly DH does not) and the port cocktail sounds perfect for a cold winter evening!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

Barbara said...

How I would love to spend time in your library, Deana. What treasures you have!

Not to ignore the recipes you have today (and their history) but I am so envious you saw that series of lectures at Astor Hall!! That must have been fascinating. You really should do an entire post on the experience.

Nice of Lorraine to mention your are so deserving of praise. Your in-depth study and obvious enjoyment of each subject is what I love about Lost Past Remembered.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Deana Sidney said...

I wanted to respond to Lorraine, the perfume is the real deal.. distilled from ambergris so it will smell like the real deal. I had some many many years ago and loved it. That was why I recognized it when I got my first ambergris shipment (isn't it incredible that you can remember scents so clearly a million years later?). There is a reason that it was considered magical and prized so highly... there is nothing like it. I even gave some to Harold McGee to play with since I thought he would be fascinated by its unusual properties (you do smell it more than taste it). If you have a few bucks... give it a try just once!

Happy thanksgiving to you all... have a great turkey day for those of you in the US!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the images to compliment your post.
I really liked the first painting. There is nothing like a good detailed portrait.
Thank you for sharing.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Did you see the NY Times piece by Kim Severson on sweet potatoes? They are all the rage. So, as usual, by reaching back into history, you are right at the cutting edge!

Gemma said...

It's a very surprising recipe... It's a dessert, isn't it?
The colour of potatoes is beautiful, intense and showy... I like it ;)

Happy thanksgiving to you!

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is an intriguing recipe for sweet potatoes. I've never seen a recipe that called for Ambergris. I will have to try this with vanilla. Happy thanksgiving!

Faith said...

I love the use of rose (both essence and buds) in this dish! It adds such a special flair. Hmmm, I'm thinking I need to check out those perfumes! :)

Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Lazaro Cooks said...

The sweet potato recipe is amazing. A treat for the senses for sure. Sweet potato was certainly on my table yesterday.

Congrats on the success of your blog. I am glad that people are acknowledging the fantastic work you do. Clearly one of the best written and researched blogs on the net.


Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Deana dear,

Your dream manor is exquisite and certainly a place to keep in your heart and mind, for dreams can come true when we decide to create and make something out of almost nothing. We did that with our lowly little house that is now being transformed into a very lovely cottage. THOSE SWEET POTATOES ARE DIVINE! That has to be my favorite all-time TUBER! But I have never seen the likes of this recipe! AND, we have dear friends named NEGUS...I wonder if there is any relation! Thank you for your kind words and visits, and I must tell you that my LATINO FLAVORED TURKEY came out so good. I made a sofrito (you must have heard of this Puerto-Rican pesto) and I smother the bird the day before in a good two cups of this stuff. Then I marinade in an apple cider vinegar and WOOOOOOO....away we go. What a fine meal.

Bon Appétit my friend! Anita

tasteofbeirut said...

Fascinating post! Anytime I see mention of rose water, my eyes widen! Of course, I love the association of sweet potatoes and rose; ambergris, I don't know personally! need to get acquainted with it!
I just bought a little bottle of Gioia perfume by Armani, to see if it did remind me of these guavas I smelled in a street in Beirut, and I did get a whiff of them, so fascinating all these smells, what an escape into a beautiful world!

Sarah said...

Another fascinating post. Ambergris is becoming more and more intriguing. How I envy your opportunities in NYC, a far cry from my scenario here on the Cdn prairies! Thank heaven I love to dream.

Unknown said...

Once again, I am truly impressed. I don't think I've ever seen ambergris used in any recipe except on tv (I saw Heston Blumenthal use it). As usual, great post. You always manage to transport us somewhere exotic in time. You are a star!
Hope you had a marvellous Thanksgiving.
*kisses* HH

funkiefoodie said...

What a concinnous way to prepare and serve sweet potatoes. How wonderful for you to have mingled with such potable culinary icons. I was excited just to read of it.

The ambergris is used to fix the aroma to the taste? Is this the alchemy of taste and smell in the dish?

Hope your holiday was lovely. LA ox.

Anonymous said...

Deanna, what a terrific post, it's fascinating to learn about Elinor Fettiplace and her recipe collection. The sweet potatoes sound so fragrant with rose water and ambergris (which I was thrilled to learn about too). And I love the elegant presentation with the rose buds!

chow and chatter said...

i adore your blog the history and old recipes its exceptional would adore it if you would consider a guest post for chow and chatter one day


rebeccasubbiah at yahoo dot com

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That is a great manor house and 2 wonderful recipes! Your posts are always so instructive.



From the Kitchen said...

When I come here, I feel as if I'm stumbled onto a very interesting PBS presentation. As I read further, I wondered where I would ever find ambergris! And now I know.

Thanks so much for such an interesting and delicious read.


Magic of Spice said...

Fantastic as always...the sweet potato dish is extraordinarily, and the drink is up there too :)
The lecture series sounds intriguing and I will definetly check out the link :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Thanks for letting me know about the ambergris! How very exciting and yes it's funny how general memories can fade but scent memories always stick around :)

Rachana said...

An interesting post! Both the recipes sounds great...

Sue said...

I look forward to reading your posts Deanna - they are a rare treat. What a skilled writer you are! I loved this one with the Raleigh connection - you transport me back in time and I now have my Tudor head on in the kitchen!

Stella said...

Hey Deana! Schmoozing to the point of marriage and being able to usurp well guarded wealth is indeed a talent that most do not have;) So many try though (smile)...
Your sweet potatoes sound wonderful, and I just clicked over here from Photograzing. Beautiful and romantic photos-as usual.