Painting on Food

originally published in Decemer 2003, by Maedb Hawkins

For fancy meals and feasts, the cooks of upper- class households would decorate the food they served, particularly the desserts. Sugar plate, icing, and marzipan were popular choices for this because they could be colored. When thinned, they could be used to paint tarts, pies, cakes, and other foods. (You didn.t think decorated birthday cakes were a recent invention, did you?)

What designs did they use? Heraldry was always popular. Imagine serving a pie with the arms of your guest painted on it? Or your own arms (depending on what kind of impression you wanted to make, and whether your guest was more important than yourself)?

Since winter is a time that we are all cooped up inside, it.s a great time to play in the kitchen. Here are some recipes that you can experiement with. Enjoy.

If you would make good marzipan

First take a half pound of almonds and soak them overnight in cold well water, take them out in the morning. Next pound them well until they become oily, pour a little rose water on them and pound them further. When they become oily again, then pour a little more rose water thereon. Do this until they no longer become oily. And pound the almonds as small as possible. After that take a half pound of sugar, pound not quite all of it in, leaving a little left over. Next, when the almonds and sugar are pounded well together, put them in a bowl, take the lid from a small box, loosen the rim completely, so that it can be detached and put back on again, however leave the lid and the rim together. Take wafers and make them about as wide as a pastry shell, very round. Spread the almond paste described above with the fingers onto the wafers, moistening the fingers with rose water and dipping the almond paste into the sugar, which you have kept in reserve. After that, when you have spread it out evenly with your hands, take the sugar that you have reserved and sprinkle it through a sieve evenly over the marzipan. And take a small brush and dip it in rose water and sprinkle the marzipan overall, so that the sugar is dissolved. Then let it bake. Check it often, so that it is not burnt. It should be entirely white. The amount of a half pound is necessary, so that the oil remains.

Recipe 27. Sabina Welserin (1553)

To make ymages in suger.

And if 3e will make any ymages or any o[th]er [th]ing in suger [th]at is casten in moldys, sethe [th]em in [th]e same manere [th]at [th]e plate is, and poure it into [th]e moldes in [th]e same manere [th]at [th]e plate is pouryde, but loketh 3oure mold be anoyntyd before wyth a litell oyle of almaundes. Whan [th]ei are oute of [th] moylde 3e mow gylde [th]em or colour [th]em as 3e will. 3if 3e will gilde [th]em or siluer [th]em, noynte [th]em wyth gleyre of an egge and gilde [th]em or siluer [th]em, and if 3e will make [th]em rede take a litell gum araby, and [th]an anoynt it all abowte and make it rede. And 3if 3e will make it grene, take ynde wawdeas ii penywey3te, | ii penyweyte of saffron, [th]e water of [th]e gleyr of ii egges, and stampe all wele togeder and anoynte it wyth all. And if 3e will make it lightly grene, put more saffron [th]erto. And in [th]is maner mow 3e caste alle manere froytes also, and colour it wyth [th]e same colour as diuerse as 3e will, and [th]er [th]at [th]e blossom of [th]at per of apel schull stand put [th]erto a clowe & [th]er [th]e stalke schall stand makes [th]at of kanell.

Recipe 15, Curye on Englische 


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