Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Night Experiment: Hildegarde of Bingen's Small Cakes

I've been a bit lax in bottling last summer's batches of brandy and cordials so there was a bit of a frenzy over the last 2 weekends of straining off brandies and doing a first bottling to let the sediment settle.  The blackberries were too soft after soaking for 12 months to do anything with, but there was a nice quantity of brandied peaches.  And Tourney of the Foxes is next weekend, so I was planning on packing a nice picnic to feed starving fencers.  I'd been thinking peach shortcake but that didn't pass the "easy to eat" test then Mistress Kyra posted a picture of her daughter making peach hand pies on Facebook.  Bingo!  Brandied peach hand pies it was going to be.

At the grocery, I looked at the whole wheat flour, thought about buying it since I'm doing more Renaissance cooking these days and then thought " Nah...I don't have any recipes that need it right now."   Then I got home and was flipping through a copy of Duke Sir Cariadoc's "How to Milk and Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip" that had just arrived to replace an old copy that got lost over the years.  And came across his redaction for Hildegarde of Bingen's small cakes from her Physica.  Which I was immediately curious to make and, of course, required whole wheat flour.  So back to the grocery it was.

The original was from her entry on nutmeg and said "Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverise them.  Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water.  Eat them often...It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses and make your mind cheerful.  If purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors"1

I remembered Hildegarde von Bingen from college and immediately ordered a used copy of her Physica from Amazon. But I was too curious about these cakes to wait to confirm the reference when the book arrived.  And I  mean..  it's Duke Sir Cariadoc's redaction.  I'd definitely consider him pretty reliable as a source.

So in between straining the last of the peach brandy and making a batch of dough from Scappi's Feast Day Cheese tart to experiment with for the peach hand pies, I mixed up the small cakes.  Cariadoc suggested 1 tsp nutmeg & cinnamon and half that for the cloves and one quarter that for the salt with 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup water.

It took me 1/2 cup of water to get dough that was smooth -I wonder if he was using white whole wheat flour originally.  I also separated the dough into 12 pieces rather than the 4 he suggested.

The end result was sort of a dense, chewy, vaguely clove tasting bread. I think next time I'd use less clove.  "a bit of clove" compared to an "equal measure of cinnamon" and nutmeg seems to me to be less than half the amount and clove has a very strong flavor anyway.  When pretty much proves Cariadoc's never trust a redaction unless you see the original because you never know what liberties the redactor took" advice in the introduction.2    It probably wasn't bad for the middle ages -and the recipe was supposed to be medicinal anyway.  But if I made it again, it would probably be for camp breakfasts and spread thickly with apple butter.

Still it was an interesting experiment.  And I have a whole book of redactions to try and primary sources to track down.  Not bad for a Sunday night!

1 Friedman, David and Elizabeth Cook. How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip. Self published, 2011.  referencing Throop, Prisilla, tr.  Hildegarde von Bingen's Physica.  Rochester Vermont: 1998. Healing Arts Press


Friday, August 12, 2016

Drawn Thread Embroidery/HSM #7: Monochrome

Ever since  HSM #3  I've been kind of obsessed with drawn thread embroidery.  I wasn't satisfied with how the legs came out on my drawers, but I loved the technique.  My first big project was half a dozen largesse napkins and while I was working on those at events and Barony meetings, people kept asking "What are you doing?"  so I offered to teach a class on the most basic drawn work stitch:  Hem stitch at Royal University Meridies in July.

I put together 6 kits with a practice piece with threads pre-drawn and edges folded up so that each student could start practicing right away and a napkin with pre-drawn threads to take home and finish.  And just in case, I printed out 9 sets of my class handout.  I'd planned on 3-4 students and lots of one on one time for each of them. Except that I had over 24 students! Thankfully, I had extra linen in my basket to make more practice pieces on the spot and my students were gracious about the lack of materials and instructor time. But I felt bad that I couldn't spend more time with each person.

So imagine my surprise when I find that one of my students enjoyed the class so much she blogged about it! I am over the moon to have passed on my love of drawn thread embroidery to someone else. :)

Once I felt like I had a grasp on basic drawn work, I started thinking about a partlet with drawn work.  My plan was to have it done and wear it for my class as an example, but alas, life intervened.

16th century Italian portraiture shows a lot of elaborately decorated partlets (called colletto in Italy), some of which looked like it could be drawn work.

Attributed to Lavinia Fontana
Portrait of a Woman with a child,
traditionally identified as Eleanora d'Medici
Private collection

Detail of Giovanna of Austria and her son, Phillipo
Giovanni Bizelli c. 1586
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Better still, I had 2 extant examples of hemstitching on neck and wrist ruffles. Neither example was specifically Italian, though.
The Sture shirt, discussed in Arnold's PoF 4
currently located at Uppsala Cathedral, Uppsala, Sweden

Gollar (German partlet)

Jay had finished his second blackwork project, which was a collar for me and I decided to use it for a colletto with drawn work down the front and on the neck ruffle.  While I couldn't specifically document blackwork and drawn work together on the same colletto, Landini states "In the third decade of the 16th century, nets and partlets became the article of clothing which, along with the head-dressing and the sleeves, most lent itself to imaginative invention and personal choice"1 so I was comfortable with my plan being within the realm of "imaginative invention" in the 16th century.

I had already made a simple colletto based off this example and since my focus in this was the drawnwork, I used the same pattern, but made it several inches longer, since the first one always felt too short when I wore it.

Detail from the Arcade Vault Fresco
Alessandro Allori c. 1589
Tapestry Apartments, Pitti Palace
Florence, Italy

It was all handsewn with linen thread, using flat felled seams and a 1/4" hem around all edges.  I used Gutermann silk topstitch thread to fingerloop braid the ties at the neck. The actual technique for the drawn work is discussed here. The bottom has a  drawstring casing through which I threaded handwoven linen tape from a friend's etsy shop, Tied to History.

I'm actually rather pleased with how it turned out.

The Challenge: #7 Monochrome

Material:  3/4  yard 020 linen

Year:  second half of the 16th century, Italian

Notions:  linen thread, silk topstitch thread, Aida 22 count cloth & cotton floss for the blackwork collar

Pattern: self drafted based on the shape from the Allori fresco

How historically accurate is it?  60%?  The aida cloth is not historically accurate, nor is the cotton floss and I can't find an example of drawn work and blackwork in the same partlet.  

Hours to complete:  no idea.  I've been working on and off on this since April.

First worn:  When it gets cooler.  It's too hot to wear anything but Roman at events at the moment.

Total cost:  $4.95 for a spool of silk topstitch thread because I ran out after the first tie.  Everything else was from the stash.
1  Landini, Roberta Orsini and Bruna Niccoli. Moda a Firenze 1540-1580. Firenze: Edizioni Polistampa, 2005. Page 120.