Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Winter Queen, a Love Story and Raspberries in Port Syrup with Rose Cream


In honor of Valentines Day, I thought I’d share a heartwarming story of love and devotion that I stumbled upon when Ashdown House was in the news last fall (and share a diabolically simple dessert to compliment their story and the holiday).

Legend has it that the Dutch-style manor, Ashdown House, was built for William, Lord Craven to serve as an exquisite bower for his beloved Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I and Queen of Bohemia for one short winter in 1619 before she and her husband, Frederick V were expelled and forced into exile (Bohemia was the old name for the Czech Republic).

Frederick V died in 1632 after fathering 13 children with his much loved queen. It was a tragic ending to a marriage that had begun with enormous promise (to bind a faction of the Protestant world together) and pomp (Shakespeare and his players performed a special Tempest just for them to celebrate their betrothal in late 1612) -- their English wedding was one of the grandest ever seen.  Frances Yates in her brilliant book The Rosecrucian Enlightenment wrote: “ … all the treasures of the English Renaissance were outpoured, and London went wild with joy at what seemed a continuation of the Elizabethan age in this alliance of a new young Elizabeth with the leader of the German Protestants…The court bankrupted itself through the vast expenditures in clothes, jewelry, entertainments and feasting for their marriage."

It is from this brief monarchy that the title “Winter Queen” was born. Also called “England’s Pearl” and “The Queen of Hearts”, Elizabeth was a contemporary romantic heroine, renowned for her beauty, grace and wit yet buffeted by tragic circumstances in a turbulent age (she was only 9 when she was made an unwitting pawn of the infamous “Gunpowder Plot”  to unseat her father, King James I).

Elizabeth and her family barely escaped Prague with their lives, leaving most of their possessions behind and forced to live in penury while exiled in The Hague.  She lost most of her jewelry to pawnbrokers just to be able to live, yet pride would never let her part with the priceless Medici pearls that were her trademark. She would pawn them then retrieve them when she could.  She and her daughters can be seen wearing them in most portraits.  

All the while she worked tirelessly though a prodigious letter writing campaign to enlist the great and powerful in her cause (you can read about that HERE) as the 30 Years War (1618-48)  raged on (a war precipitated by her husband’s crowning as King of Bohemia).

Fascinating as this may be, where is the love story, you may ask?  This is a Valentine’s post! Here you go, gentle readers...

There was another part of Elizabeth’s life, a theme that played quietly throughout. Amid these crashing waves of history there was a precious, touching love story of unrequited love and devotion.

You see, William, the first Earl of Craven was in love with Elizabeth Stuart for most of his life. As far as anyone can tell, this love was never consummated. He fell for her as a lad of 16 (she was 28) and worked tirelessly to help her for the rest of her life behind the scenes,  even though she referred to him as “the Little Man” or “Little Craven” because of his small stature. This was possible because although he was nouveau riche… there was a whole lot of riche.  His father had moved stratospherically upward in society from poverty to great success in the rag trade and used his position and his wits to amass an enormous fortune, eventually becoming Lord Mayor of London and moneylender to the crown. 

William, Lord Craven had a good ‘back-story’ of his own.  At novelist and historian Nicola Cornick's fine blog Ashdown House, I found a biography of this forgotten cavalier. Today he is most famous for his enduring, unrequited love for Elizabeth, but there is so much more to him.  The Earl of Craven was one of the 9 richest men in Stuart England.  He served bravely in the army of Maurice of Orange while still in his teens and remained on the continent during the Commonwealth (much of the time hovering around Elizabeth).

Craven put large chunks of his wealth at the disposal of Elizabeth, her ill-fated brother Charles I and her nephew Charles II when he could  -- to the tune of £50,000 (perhaps 100 million today!!!) even with most of his money tied up and most of his lands confiscated.  

When Charles II was restored to the throne (April 23, 1661), Craven came back to England … with a 65 year old Elizabeth. Craven’s generosity increased with his fortune that was to become even larger than before when he was richly rewarded by the crown for his loyalty.

Her former residence in The Hague was a renowned gathering-place for the great minds and talents of the age and she wielded a remarkably powerful influence on the arts. It was a testament to her charms as the place was run-down, full of tattered upholstery,  her beloved ‘viol-brown’ silk draperies hung in shreds and all of her best plate had been pawned for bills. She sometimes wanted for enough food for the household and could not entertain lavishly-- still they came.

After the poverty of her exile in The Hague, Craven set Elizabeth up in his own well-appointed house in Drury Lane, London. Now, for the first time in years, she wanted for nothing.  Craven went so far as to fill the London house with items from Coombe Abbey, a childhood haunt of hers that he had acquired so that she would be feel at home.  Craven, forever faithful, began to construct a country house for her when she complained about the noise and crowding in London... Ashdown House. Tragically, she died suddenly, barely a year after her return at age 66 before the house was finished.

After the death of his beloved, Craven showed enormous courage during the Great Plague of 1665 by remaining in London when the rest of the aristocracy fled, working to restore order -- even going so far as to give up some of his own land to use as burial grounds for the plague dead (15% of the population of London died in the summer of ’65).

In the end, Elizabeth acknowledged her faithful friend by willing him all of her papers and pictures.  He lived to be nearly 90, surrounded by enumerable portraits of his love and her family.   The painting “Allegory of Love” by Peter Lely was commissioned after her death but is reputedly an idealized Craven and his Elizabeth -- oil-painted avatars blissfully bound together on canvas as they could never be in life.

Cornelia, Countess of Craven gave Ashdown House to the National Trust in 1956.  The National Trust then took to leasing out the much-aggrieved property (it had been badly abused during WWII). The most recent holders of the lease hunted down and returned to Ashdown House the paintings of Craven, Elizabeth and her family that had been scattered over the 300 odd years since the First Earl of Craven died. They took over a burnt-out shell of a place in 1984.  Over 26 years they restored both the collection and the house to its former glory.

Yet after all that effort to bring the collection back to Ashdown, the contents were sold in fall 2010 in a grand sale (the notice of the sale was how I discovered the story) and the 41 year lease for the house was sold to The Who’s Pete Townsend for a song… a £4.5 million song.  Townsend said that he based many of the songs in Tommy and Quadrophenia on the music of baroque master Henry Purcell so he must have a fondness for the period in which the house was built.  One hopes he will be happy there.

It was a pity all the glorious portraits were dispersed, but the story lives on.  Elizabeth lived a full life playing a dramatic and principal role during extraordinary times. Being a woman of quality and taste (if not always sufficient funds to support those tastes), she paid attention to her surroundings and her table in the best and the worst of times.

Marie Hay wrote The Winter Queen (that you can read HERE) in 1911.  Although a romance, Hay did an enormous amount of research -- using period letters and documents (including snagging access to Lord Craven’s papers) -- even traveling to Prague and Heidelberg to get a better sense of her  “well-beloved, sweet, undaunted lady”.  Hay does paint a well-rounded, if extremely flowery portrait of her heroine and ably points out the changes in style that were occurring during these turbulent times in England and the continent.

At table, the simple Tudor pewter and pottery were replaced by more elaborate silver, pewter and glass during Elizabeth’s lifetime. Food historian Peter Brears wrote in his little book, Food & Cooking in 17th Century Britain, “In 1670, for example, Prince Rupert [Craven administered his estate as well as Elizabeth his mothers’] purchased five dozen silver plates from Alderman Blackwell, each plate weighing 17 ó ounces at 5s 8d per ounce, the whole set costing almost £300.”  “Since solid silver was extremely expensive, many households used pewter as a substitute [pewter cost 1s to 1s 2d per pound]”.

 The BYO knife and spoon (even aristocratic tables were not set with cutlery… you had to bring your own) gave way later in the 16th century to the host providing eating implements.  The hand was no longer the preeminent dining tool.  Hay’s book had a fine description of a banquet for Elizabeth and Frederick in Heidelberg in 1617, mentioning very specifically the unusual refinement of having individual knives, spoons and goblets and clean silver and gold platters (the custom had been to reuse them without washing between uses at table) in addition to some of the 160 glorious feast dishes:

This was radical behavior.  During this same time period in the court of Louis XIII, they still had their goblets or tankards off the table at grand banquets.  Goblets were passed to diners by servants when the diner was thirsty.  I imagine glass became more popular when goblets were left on the table and not carried back and forth by servants as became common later on in the century. Neither were napkins set to each placesetting.  It was an honor to hand napkins to royalty when needed since they didn’t hold them themselves (according to Katharine Alexandra Patmore in her 1909 book on Louis XIII)

This period also saw the beginnings of the more intimate dining room as opposed to the enormous banquet hall. Old houses were retro-fitted and new houses were built with them.

Hay also wrote about less formal occasions and the way Elizabeth brought her English habits with her – especially the snowy white tablecloth (Hay said the Germans preferred Oak and fancy velvet coverings).  Their morning meal with soups and roast chickens, pasties, game, possets cakes and sweetmeats sounds more like a huge dinner than a breakfast.

You can see below the type of table dressing that may have appeared at Elizabeth’s table.  I don’t know about you but I am crazy about the damask.  What gorgeous tables they must have had!

Ceramics masters like Thomas Toft operated in Burslem at Staffordshire potteries making slipware that was the popular ceramic form toward the end of the 16th century. Brears suggests that the pottery became more popular since pewter was so soft that it scarred dreadfully… the glazed slipware held up to the ravages of cutlery.

Can you believe that there were even glass plates in the 17th century... looks Victorian, doesn't it?

I wanted my dessert to have the taste and romance of this history for Valentines to honor Craven’s love and devotion.   I went to Robert May whose cookbook, The Accomplisht Cook, was new when Elizabeth of Bohemia was alive. May’s rosewater and ambergris cream (or boiled cream as he called it) would be perfect, but what with it?  Raspberries, yes voluptuous, red and sweet -- blood-red raspberries -- warm and yielding in ambergris-scented wine… yes, yes, yes and easy as could be to make. 

People think of ice cream or whipped cream with fruit… but an old-fashioned creamy rose-scented sauce is really elegant and lovely with the berries. And the ambergris?  I know I’ve said it before HERE and it is precious, but unlike, say, a truffle, you need so very little to do so very much and it has Olympic staying power… it stays fragrant for years!  It is sublime stuff with a reputation as an aphrodisiac that goes back thousands of years.  Perfect for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think?

 Thanks to Aftelier  (for their rose essence) and Ambergris NZ  (for their ambergris) -- supplying special magic for Valentine’s Day…. May you all have a great one.

Raspberry Sauce with Port for 2

11/2 cups frozen raspberries
½ c port or  banyuls
1/2 c water
2 T sugar
1 drop Aftelier rose essence  or 1 t rosewater
grating of ambergris  (optional)

 Cream Sauce

1 cup cream
1 egg yolk
2 T sugar
pinch of mace
1 drop Aftelier rose essence  or 1 t rosewater
grating of ambergris or ¼ t vanilla

1 c fresh ripe raspberries

Cook the frozen raspberries with the port and sugar for ½ hour over low heat until liquid becomes thickened.  Strain the sauce pressing hard on the solids.  You should have about 1/3 - 1/2 c.

Heat the cream, sugar and mace with the egg yolk over a low heat until slightly thickened.  Cool… it will have a sauce-like consistency… not custardy.  Add the rose essence and grated ambergris now and cover and chill – it is best cool or warm, not cold.

Warm the fresh raspberries in the sauce.  Add the rose essence (or rosewater) to the warm raspberries and grate the ambergris over it at this point or add the vanilla.  Heat melts the ambergris and releases the perfume.

Place the raspberries in the center of the plate, spoon some sauce over the berries, spoon a thin layer of cream and then put dots of sauce in the cream.  Drag a toothpick through the dots and you have hearts!  It is very easy to do.  I think they are more stable when the cream is cool and the sauce is warm…

Just for Valentine’s Day, I give you a lovely drink.  It’s sweet, and full of amazing flavors with a color you will just love.   Hard cider has lovely bubbles at a fraction of the cost of champagne!  The jasmine leaves your mouth perfumed for kissing on Valentines Day!

Red Dusk for 2
½ c sparkling hard cider (I used Crispins)
2 T blueberry syrup*
1 t lemon juice (up to 1 T if you find the drink too sweet)
1 T Liqueur de Poete  (this is a 23 year old pear brandy base that has had gorgeous botanicals added to the mix including sandalwood… a really special liqueur available online and at fine liquor stores)
-- pear brandy or cognac if you can’t get it in time.

Combine all and stir.  Pour into champagne glasses and serve;
*Blueberry Syrup

2 cups blueberries
sugar to taste (2 T to ¼ c)
pinch cinnamon
½ c water

Put all into saucepan and allow to simmer for ½ hour.  Strain, pressing on solids

You have just enough time to get some of Aftelier's divine essences to add to your cooking, or her perfumes to pamper yourself or a loved one for Valentine's Day by pressing HERE


Diane said...

What a truly heart warming and interesting post. Sad that all the paintings are not still at the house. I also love the way you have done the rasberry sauce with the shape of hearts in it. Cheers :) Diane

pam said...

This post was such a treat!

man and Van london said...

Excellent blog, I like it. A lot of useful information. Thanks to the author. More on this topic thank you and Good day, everybody!

Joanne said...

I love all of the components of this dessert and, of course, the history to go along with it. I think eating it would be that much better after knowing the story behind it.

Faith said...

I think you absolutely picked the perfect dessert to pair with this bit of history! Loved reading about Elizabeth...I'm glad she never parted with her trademark Medici pearls!

Ana Powell said...

What a lovely post, so well written and full of inspiration.
Congratulations, you can write, cook and take awesome clicks.
What a great artist you are.
Wishing you a lovely Valentines Day ♥

La Table De Nana said...

So interesting as to who bought the manor.. he must be over the moon to own something w/ so much history and so grand..Yes happiness to him..

Your post is as interesting as ever and very fitting for the time:)

You research.. so could be your livelihood..I am reading the girl with the dragon tatoo.. mid way..they should have hired you!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Lovely, just lovely. The story and the dessert! (BTW, you should try Elsewhere next time you are in the city. I think you would enjoy their Rose Snow dessert.)

Jacqueline said...

The manor is absolutely stunning and the dessert goes right along with it. What a romantic dessert and the visual presentation is fantastic. I am afraid I would not be very romantic nor very lady like as I might be tempted to lick the gorgeous dish, and then I wouldn't get invited back!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Such a wonderful post. The Little Craven certainly did so much for Elizabeth. What a huge sum of money he spent on her!

The BYO cutlery made me smile :)

What a gorgeous dessert (loved the heart shapes in the cream) and the cocktail sounds lovely too. You use the most exotic and wonderful ingredients!

andrew1860 said...

What a beautiful dessert and story. Great post. I love Raspberries and antique damask.

Rattlebridge Farm said...

An extraordinary, divine post. XX00

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

Deana, you really open my eyes to so many new things. The amount of effort you put into research, with the photos ... you should be an academic, if you aren't already! ;) I wish I had that English goblet. The desserts are so pretty, esp the raspberry one. Love what you did on the cream ... little red hearts! Adorable!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a tale! And that's why I always prefer real life to fiction! The twists and turns to each real story story would rival any fiction book! A perfect post for Valentines Day Deana! :D

Unknown said...

What a fitting desert in tribute of a wonderful love story. You are a wonderful story teller, and it makes your desert all the more sweet. Those little hearts in the sauce are such a pretty touch.
*kisses* HH

Cathy said...

What a wonderful post. It's hard to believe that such beautiful silver and glassware were available in the early 17th century. Dining back then must have been am amazing experience.

Linda said...

Deana...have I told you lately how much I love to visit you here. I would love to take a class with you...this was such a wonderful post in every way!
I too am in love with vintage damask and dishes and glass and well all of it!...All I knew about Drury Lane before today was that the "Muffin Man" lived sang that song to my babies many times over!
Thank you so much my friend!
Happy Valentines Day!

oops...made a typo and had to repost...sorry!

Sarah said...

You must be a voracious reader to write something like this once a week. Always interesting. I am envious that you can find such lovely raspberries this time of the year.

Ken Albala said...

What an amazing story! I had no idea what became of her after the 30 years war. And I teach this stuff! The house looks so very late 17th even early 18th c. Were the wings and dome added later? Well, gorgeous story for V Day.

Barbara said...

I always sit down with a cup of tea when I read your posts, Deana. Ready to be entertained and ready to learn.
We all need a little Craven in our lives, don't we? It's so lovely to be adored. :)

Damask is so very elegant. I love a heavy damask in a deep color on a skirted table. My MIL had lovely table linens of which I have many. Thankfully. Her generation set such lovely tables.

Your raspberry dessert is the perfect Valentine's offering. And that plate! Gorgeous!

pierre said...

lovely combination rose and rapsberry !!Bravo Pierre

El said...

I wish I could have been at that estate sale. Beautiful, beautiful dessert. Happy Valentine's Day to you!

Fresh Local and Best said...

The antique flatware and glassware are so beautiful. I hope to be able to collect them someday. One of these days I will have to find ambergris, I am so curious what it is like. I love how you created hearts out of the raspberry sauce.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Chef Dennis Littley said...

what a wonderful story of lord Craven....and such a perfect dessert for valentines day! I wouldn't mind one of those red dusks too!
hope your weekend is going well

Emily said...

I didn't know the compelling story of Elizabeth or Ashdown House and you've reallymade me want to go there. Such a pity about the paintings being sold but thanks to you, I can imagine these fine banquets, exquisite fabrics and the touching relationship with Lord Craven. You have such a unique way of delving into the past and making it come alive and your desserts are stunning. Anything with raspberries gets my vote.

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

Fascinating! (I really lead such a very dull life compared to the English aristocracy of history!) Your Valentine's dessert looks luscious, and the name "Red Dusk" makes my heart beat faster!

Lucy said...

What a beautiful post! I love a good unrequited love story from the past, when they knew how to use the mooning about for such an unattainable love to their best advantage, getting tons of great poetry and artistry out of it. That William is dishy I must say.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Precious Deana, I can ALWAYS count on a banquet of diverse thoughts and genres here chez toi, and this one is right up my ally. I love ANYTHING to do with queens and kings and RASPBERRIES! Teeeheeee....I just finished polishing off a whole basket of the tender little fuzzy berries! Oh, LOVE is the one theme that will always serve up a sweet and sour, bitter or smooth story for all times. THANK YOU for your visit this morning; I am exhausted from all of the moving, but that's what these things take, such as love. Exhausting at times, but ever so rewarding when that time comes for that COUCH picnic when we can reminisce about the day's events and the next plot and scheme! May your Valentine's Day be filled with much love of all sorts and the days that follow be wondrous opportunities for happiness. BON ST. VALENTINS!!! Anita

tasteofbeirut said...

Every post you write is better than the one before; I just think it all needs to be compiled in a book. The story is so interesting, the recipe so refined, there is always something to learn form each post, I am just so awed by your talent Deana!

BonjourRomance said...

SUch an intersting story, history is the most fantastic of all isn't it. Your desserts are the perfect ending.
Happy Valentine's Day,

Anonymous said...

Beautiful dessert and wonderful post!

Angela Cox said...

Oh but what did her husband look like ? With a son who had the looks of Rupert of the Rhine he must have been gorgeous. I don't think either her mother or father had those looks. I prefer her sister-in-laws wonderful concoctions . Thanks for more information about Elizabeth though . Henrietta Maria is the really romantic one to me .

Tasty Trix said...

This post is epic, I love it! I am going to Prague this spring so this was particularly fascinating ... also Poppa Trix is a few years younger than I am so I REALLY appreciate devotion to an older woman, lol!

Megan @ FeastingonArt said...

That sauce is so gorgeous!! I always particularly liked hanging out in the old portrait rooms of the museums, you have a few gems in this post!

Karen from Globetrotter Diaries said...

O those little hearts are soooo cute! It's gorgeous. As always love the history...

Stella said...

Oh Deana! You know, I can't imagine living to age 90 when my love died at the young age of 66. That must have been so hard for a man like Craven who truly had the virtue of loyalty (and love). I can only hope for such unfailing love through the trials and tribulations of this life...I guess Elizabeth was at least lucky in love if not holding on to her riches:)
Oh, I almost forgot the food. Yum, Lady! That raspberry port sauce with creaminess looks just lovely. I'd take that over all this baked stuff I've seen today any time!

Stella said...

Oops, Happy Valentine's Day, Deana!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this story! The antique flatware and glassware is very neat, and the raspberries are just lovely!

Quay Po Cooks said...

Interesting story and lovely antiques to look at. Love the rasperberries sauce.

a quiet life said...

loved your dessert and cocktail, my mouth is truly watering first thing in the morn... i fear it will be a long day now!

peter said...

By the time I get to the end of your posts, I feel like I've earned a Master's degree. Lately I've been very into rosewater as a flavor. This looks delightful.

That back yard of yours is pretty posh. Do you trim all those hedges yourself?

Marjie said...

I've heard of using rosewater, but never actually used it! I love your story here, and I'm drooling over the dessert.

Jason said...

Great post. Such a good history lesson. The plates have so much history behind them.

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