Back in October 2016 I caught a lucky break…a rooftop tour on a beautifully sunny day. It’s not cookery related (vaguely kitchen related stuff after the pictures), but we could all do with a lift and some images of a better time…click the images for larger versions.
If you feel the need for Kitchen related stuff…the roof on the right is the Great Kitchen
When you stand there and look at this view it really gives a sense of scale to the Palace as the front seems so far away from you (this is taken from the eastern end of the Great Hall)…it looks like its own Tudor townscape, so different from the feeling you get when you’re walking around at ground level.
Looking at the Kitchen roof on the right (with the zig zag pattern in the tiles), you can see the 3 sets of chimney stacks that sit on top of the 3 fireplaces on the north side of the Kitchen.
Well it looks like I’ve meandered back inside from the roof…might as well finish off with some shots of the Great Kitchen roof from underneath then!
One of the things we always encourage people to do when they come into the Kitchen is to look up…I mean it’s magnificent and they miss it. Ok, so it’s not quite the Great Hall or Chapel roof, but it’s not far off it in my opinion. Kids always say it looks like thousands of books on library shelves…just before they comment on all the spider webs they can see.
Seeing it from the ground is one thing, but you get a whole new appreciation for it from close up…the opportunity for which came during the last refresh of the Kitchen interpretation in early 2018
Of course, all those rafters and beams don’t look particularly Tudor because they aren’t, the original Tudor roof was supported on the corbels that stick out from the walls all down the length of the building.
you can still see two parts of the original roof structure if you look up…well, one part of Wolsey’s original kitchen at the east end of the building, and one part of Henry’s extension at the western end.
So that’s the ever so exciting roof dealt with, not sure where I’ll go with the next post…I’ll see how the mood takes me, I’m making this up as I go after all.
I wrote this back in 2015. Originally I’d tweeted throughout the Christmas cookery week with updates of the work being done, then after the dust had settled from the event itself, I used the now-defunct Storify service to tie all the tweets together and flesh out the background and information that 140 characters wasn’t nearly enough space for. With Storify set to be binned I managed to save the whole thing by exporting to a PDF and there this has languished for a few years…now re-purposed for you lucky people to enjoy.As it was originally a Twitter story, I’ve done my best to reconstruct it as per the original, dated pop culture references and all…
December 27th 2014 to 1st Jan 2015 the kitchens at Hampton Court Palace were
once again brought to life with Tudor cookery. Over the 6 days we made three
cokentryce, this is what happened and why.
So what’s a cokentryce, and why make 3?
There are a number of surviving medieval recipes for making
a cokentryce such as this one from Harleian MS 279:
Harleian MS.279 .xxviij.
Cokyntryce. – Take a Capon, & skald hym, & draw hem clene, & smyte
hem a-to in the waste ouerthwart; take a Pigge, & skald hym, & draw hym
in the same maner, & smyte hem also in the waste; take a nedyl & a
threde, & sewe the fore partye of the Capoun to the After parti of the
Pigge; & the fore partye of the Pigge, to the hynder party of the Capoun,
& than stuffe hem as thou stuffyst a Pigge; putte hem on a spete, and Roste
hym: & whan he is y-now, dore hem with yolkys of Eyroun, & pouder
Gyngere & Safroun, thenne wyth the Ius of Percely with-owte; & than
serue it forth for a ryal mete
[Take a capon and scald him [in boiling water] and cut him in half at the waist. Take a pig and scald him and gut him as the capon was, and cut him in half at the waist too. Take a needle and thread and sew the front of the capon and the rear of the pig together and the front of the pig and the rear of the capon together then stuff them both as you would stuff a pig. Now put them onto a spit and roast them until it is nearly cooked then coat with a mix of egg yolks, ginger and saffron followed by parsley juice then serve it for a royal meat]
“Clearly that’s a goose and not a capon…can’t you guys even follow a simple recipe?”
“at least you got the pig right…but hang on! I can’t
see a boiling pot and they don’t loook pre-boiled and to cap it all, that’s a
medieval recipe and this is supposed to be a Tudor kitchen so what the hell is
going on here??”
The recipe for cockentryce is an excellent example to use
to explain what our job in the kitchens at Hampton Court actually involves.
We’re employed to look at the kitchens of Henry VIII and to put them into context, both of the building and also in history. That means looking at ingredients, recipes, equipment, people, and documents….pretty much everything that might impact on our understanding of those rooms. We’re interested in process much more than taste or end result. It’s simply not possible to produce something that we can say tastes like it did in the past, we can though say that this is how it was made, and these are the techniques used and this is how it could have been done in this space. We are at times though limited by ingredients and equipment and the requirements for cockentryce are a good example of this. To fully understand we need to look at the rational behind the recipe and look at what it is calling for you to make. Although ostensibly telling you to “just” cut the two animals in half and sew the opposing front and back halves together that is missing the subtext which is the creation of, in the case of the recipe, two new animals. If you just cut ‘n shut the two halves together you end up with what Heston Blumenthal created for his Feasts programme…something that needs somewhat of an extensive tummy tuck to get rid of all the excess bunching at the join as clearly the two vastly differently sized animals are never going to marry together neatly
Heston’s version may be following the recipe, but it’s missing the spirit that I belive was intended. When you see fantastic creatures in medieval manuscripts, such as this image from the Luttrell Psalter, they look fantastic but they also look feasible with all the parts joining together in an animalistic way. Many of the illustrations are not simply fantasies constructed by the illustrator but were images of what were believed to be real animals that existed somewhere in the world, they may not have been roaming around Europe but roam they most certainly did to the medieval mind; this is what the recipe for cokentryce is trying to create…an actual animal, not simply 2 halves sewn together for comedy effect. It is supposed to be as real and believable to the medieval diners as the dinosaurs in Walking with Dinosaurs are to modern TV viewers; we know they aren’t real but we expect them to look realistic and I belive the same held true for the cokentryce recipe.
so it isn’t just a case of cut and sew if you want to make
a “realistic” looking animal, the old adage of measure twice and cut
once is true when making a cokentryce and it really helps if the ingredients
are of a similar girth, something which causes slight confusion when ordering
from the butcher as meat tends to be sold by weight not waist size!
It is also this need to create a new animal that means
making 2 as stated in the recipe isn’t particularly simple.
To make a good looking end result the two halves need to be
cut and joined so they look good and hold together so Adrian and Marc united
them with a scarf joint favouring the front of the goose and rear of the pig in
the cutting. This method allows the animals to be cut in such a way as to leave
more skin than rib and flesh to give more area for sewing. This meant that out
of each pair of animals only one new one could be created as the opposing
halves were not suitable for joining and were used for spare parts on the main
beast. I suspect that with more practice they would be able to end up with 2
new animals from each pair; practice as they say, makes perfect.
“Yes…but why the goose when the recipe calls for a
Capons are castrated roosters; the castration is done in one of two ways, either chemically or physically. Chemical castration of fowl has been illegal in the EU since the 1990’s…residual chemicals in the end product do the same to male consumers as they did the bird, and physical castration is illegal within the UK on animal welfare grounds, though it isn’t illegal to import true capons from areas of the EU where physical castration is still legal. This tends to mean that most birds labelled as “capons” in the UK are simply fat chickens, and they haven’t grown in quite the same way, aren’t quite the same shape, have too much breast and not enough leg and aren’t in great supply. Put simply, the goose is a substitute that we feel is acceptable given the restrictions on obtaining true capons and they have a similar measurement to the sucking pigs that we chose to use.
“ok, so you went with a goose that’s fine…but this is a medieval recipe and you’re in a Tudor kitchen….”
Well, leaving aside the argument that the first half of the
sixteenth century is still medieval, as I said before, it’s almost the perfect
recipe to showcase what we do in the kitchens at Hampton Court
Palace…research, reconstruction, investigation, interpretation,
experimentation and history all seen through the lens of food. We have no
evidence to say that Henry VIII ever saw this recipe presentented before him,
but likewise we can’t say it wasn’t. Just because the source material here is
from the previous century it doesn’t mean it was only made in that century;
cokentryce can be found in fourteenth century recipe collections and there’s
plenty of evidence to show that recipes from earlier centuries were included in
recipe collections in the sixteenth century and after all, the cokentryce
according to Harleian MS 279 is a “ryal mete”. so what better place
to make one than in a royal kitchen?
“and the boiling….or lack of it?”
quite simply we don’t have pots big enough to fit a goose or pig into! I also suspect that the scalding process referred to in the recipe is the scalding done as part of the slaughter process to make it easier to pluck or dehair the carcasses rather than an extra one done as part of the cooking process. Having tried scalding chickens before placing them onto a spit for roasting, their skin shrinks quite extensively which whilst making them look more rounded and smoother and neater to the modern eye, also has the effect of increasing any cuts or splits in the skin which, combined with the shrunken skin would make sewing the halves together that much more tricky than it already is. Oh, and before you ask about the stuffing, the flavour wasn’t important to us, the process was so we used bread as a stuffing. This had the advantage of being quick to insert, held the body out to a suitable dimension and held the animal reasonably firmly on the spit, which is the principle role the stuffing plays, but without the time consuming process or cost of mincing pork to use as a stuffing.
Sewing the halves together isn’t a quick job; the grease and fat in both animals starts to melt and makes everything extremely slippery.
and when it’s sewn together you need to think about how the beast will be posed, so in this case a stiff wire was inserted through the mouth and down the neck to provide an armature to allow the head and neck to be positioned well.
once on the spit, pins, wire and thread were used to position the legs and wings with the aim of cooking it in pretty much the final position it was wanted to be in as once cooked it would not be possible to move any of the limbs without breaking them off.
again, during the coating process we deviated somewhat from the recipe as previous experience has shown that using a green batter is more successful than simply coating with the parsley juice.
So the end of day 2 and the 1st of the 3 planned beasts was
complete. It was good….but not good enough for Adrian and Marc, they wanted
more, bigger and better and along with Jorge, set to discussing what
improvements the mk2 variant would have.
Jorge wanted to apply more colour and use different colouring techniques with the next version whilst Adrian and Marc wanted more legs and a better, more natural overall look to the 2nd….and a tail, a much better tail than the one provide by the pig.
“our butcher has just delivered the meat for the last cokentryce that’ll be started tomorrow. He left with the look of ‘what the hell have you done with my beautiful meat??’ on his face”
here you can see the tail that Marc made from the back skin of the goose,stitched into shape and cut so that as it cooked and shrank it would hopefully form a serpent/dragon like appendage.
Adrian was keen to try and add scales to the pig skin and used Jorge’s spare pen knife, which was the finest and sharpest blade to hand, to cut scales into the skin. His thinking was that as the pig skin cooked and formed crackling, the scales would be revealed like the score lines in a traditional roast pork joint and that these would then show up through the thinner batter that was to be applied at the last stage of cooking….it didn’t work.
So 2 down…1 to go, and as with the previous ones, the guys wanted bigger and better. They wanted to take what they had learned from the previous 2 (which were the first ones they’d ever attempted) and improve on that for the last. Chances are this would be the last cokentryce that they would get to made for a while so they wanted to go out in style.
unfortunately by the time it was all finished it was gone
half past three and what little light there had been in the kitchens had gone.
This meant that the flimsy cameras I had were simply not up to the task of
taking pictures of the finished beast in all its glory. Suffice to say it had a
golden bill and toes along with silver and gold tips to the dorsal spines that,
much to Adrians shock had stayed in during the cooking process; a miracle
considering they were just spare rib bones poked through the skin and into
pieces of bread stitched into position beneath.
The paper wings were ok, but it would have been much better
had they been real feather wings…something for the future perhaps?
You’ll notice that I’ve got all the way to here and not
actually mentioned what it or they tasted like; possibly one of the more
popular questions we were asked over the week. Well it is what it is, the front
tastes of goose and the back pork, because that’s what they are and I suppose
we should take it as a compliment at having produced a sufficiently convincing
series of animals that people would ask what it tastes like.
It’s also worth noting the reaction that our visitors had to the whole thing, which was very positive. Young and old seemed to be genuinely fascinated and even those who expressed a negative opinion for whatever reason, were still interested enough to ask questions and discuss the process and history of the dish. We all spoke to hundreds of people for great lengths of time and all in all had a great, if extremely tiring 6 days making these three animals. It was a genuine team effort and one I am very proud to have been a part of.
…and so with all the visitors having left, the washing up done and the tables and equipment returned to the store room, all that was left was to sweep the floor and think about what we might like to do for future events.
Well! Global pandemic, who’d have put money on that a few short months ago?!
With all future work cancelled/put on indefinite hold/pushed to who knows when, there won’t be anything new to update you on from the Kitchens at Hampton Court or Kew palaces for a fair while. Fortunately there’s an awful lot in the past that I never got round to writing up because a) I’m pretty lazy when it comes to writing b) Time marched on and the next project needed all of the concentration c) I tweeted it…that was good enough at the time
So, in order to keep me sane, I suppose I should use this time we all have to write some of it all up for you. So, expect to see sketchy photos taken with poor quality camera phones (God that HTC One M7 “purple” camera issue was a nightmare!) that I’ve dragged up from the depth of my hard drives, all married to half remembered information about what was done and when…all heading your way some time soon(ish)
In our last exciting instalment of all things knot garden, we left the team with Robin working on the base/tank for his sugar version of the Diana fountain design from the garden of Nonsuch Palace. This would form the centre of the knot garden that was being worked on and he wanted it to look pretty special. As such, he planned to include water and swimming fish in the final design…yes, I thought he was mad!
Just to show us that he meant business, Robin whipped up a tiny test fish in short order….though luck wasn’t on his side and the fish was filleted by an overexcited young helper…back to the drawing board then!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table… Jeremiah was making a new plinth for an obelisk, egged on it seems by Robert. Most of the obelisks all looked the same, as they should, being cast from the same moulds
but this one was different…though vaguely familiar
Jeremiah and Robert said I was imagining things….nothing to see…move along…and besides, none of the visitors had said anything so clearly there was nothing odd going on…I wasn’t convinced!
By now, work was really cracking on and everyone had really got into their stride. Marchpane hedging was springing up left, right and centre and sugar architectural pieces were filling the work table, as well as every spare surface in the team break room and preparation kitchen. Adrian was working on combining a load of these into a classical temple…lots of columns and some domes that explained why he’d been looking for small bowls all morning the previous day.
Taking a base of wood and sugar, a stoneware drinking jug, the sugar columns, the dome, a bowl of thin sugar paste to use as glue, and not quite enough fingers and hands…he was off. The columns were glued to the base with the jug in the middle to act as a support. While the “glue” was still flexible, small wedges of sugar were inserted to spread the columns apart so they were wide enough to hold the domed roof.
Clearly the dome couldn’t go on now, it wouldn’t fit with the jug there, so I left him to it went to make a coffee! Now for clarity I should point out that my office (the whole of the Daily Programmes team office really, it just makes me feel better calling it my office 🤣) isn’t where the Kitchens Team are based. When I’m in the office I’m away from the Kitchen and divorced from the work that they’re doing in there. The kitchen for the office is upstairs, and while I was finishing making my coffee I could hear the door downstairs open. It was half term, most people were busy elsewhere and I knew the only other person in that day was definitely downstairs when I came up to boil the kettle…it could *only* be one of the Kitchen Team…would it be good news, or bad?
I came down the stairs, cup in hand, and entered the office to find Marc waiting…”QUICK, bring your camera,…you’ll want to see this” he said and then shot off towards the historic Kitchen. Still none the wiser as to good or bad, I put the coffee down and followed him back to the Kitchen to find
What had been a mould and a few test pieces the day before had turned from that, via some deft colouring to a self supporting feature.
but hang on a minute…what’s that in the background?? JEREMIAH!!
I suppose that’s the trouble when you employ fans and give them creative free reign! On the up side, nobody said anything, so we might just have gotten away with it. As well as the arbour, sat on the side was the temple…the finished temple, roof and all columns fixed in place and pretty solidly dry!
I have absolutely no idea how it all happened in such a short space of time? Perhaps they’d managed something with the TARDIS?? Returning to my now tepid coffee, I left them to finish the rest of the day off making more of all of it, nothing specific, just lots of parts being made and by the close of the day on Friday there were two quadrants virtually finished, or at least it was obvious what they would look like when finished, and a pile of pieces ready for the final push over the weekend.
Saturday was, for me, quite relaxing. Not at work, doing the usual weekend sort of things like shopping and visiting family, but in the back of my mind was the nagging thought that I really should go in on Sunday to see how they ended up and take images of the final result. I also couldn’t help but wonder how the fountain was getting on, as Robin had become a touch obsessed with it by the end of the week.
He had a kit of pieces on the Friday afternoon and mocked up some of it so I could see what he was planning
He was still talking about fish and water, but I wasn’t convinced it would come to much as I thought he’d run out of time…I was wrong, oh so wrong, and late on Saturday afternoon a message popped into my inbox containing a picture
Blimey! Well that sealed it for me, I had to go in on Sunday to see what else had materialised over the Saturday…I would not be dissapointed.
When I walked into the Kitchen on the final Sunday,I found a slightly saddened Robin…the moisture in the room had ruined the ‘water’ in the fountain and it now looked more like a fountain of chicken soup than water…there’ll be a reason the original confectionery was in the rooms above the pastry department and their ovens, where it would be nice and warm and dry
What had been hedges laid onto paper to create the quadrants, now had the paper covered with sheets of marchpane that Jeremiah was decorating and painting with a woad coloured syrup to resemble pantiles
Where the plan had been to create decorative poles from pulled sugar for the garden, time had gotten the better of them and paper straws had to make do. The intention had been to use the recipe from Harley MS 2378 for Penydes contained in f157v and 158r
This recipe is essentially for making pulled sugar rods that you cut up with shears into the desired lengths. The intention had been to create coloured rods and thus use almost every technique available to Tudor confectioners to make the knot garden. Alas, it was not to be and we’ll have to add that to the next project.
Time ticked on through Sunday and gravel paths started to cover joints between quadrants. A third quadrant had materialise since Friday and was now having the finishing flourishes added to it
The fourth quadrant was always planned to be unfinished in order to show the working and what was underneath. There had been hopes that visitors could have driven the design of this 4th space to really make this a truly collaborative project, but I think the team were so wrapped up in the rest of the work that this laudable plan fell by the wayside. As with the pulled sugar, next time perhaps!?
Then suddenly it was 3.30. I had told the team that they had to finish by now so that they and the visitors could see the final object in isolation. They cleared away all the work tools and ingredients and cleaned the table around the garden. The last touches were added and stray comfit gravel raked into neat paths…voila! The finished knot garden.
The finished garden was all that was planned for and more. 3 completed quadrants and a forth showing the process. Statues, obelisks, temple and fountain…there was even a viewing stump complete with spiral pathway!
I’ll even cut them some slack for the TARDIS as it looked pretty damn good with its woad blue colouring!
They did a fantastic job. They worked like troopers to get this completed from drawing to finished garden in 9 days and it looked like a single finished product, not a collection of separate items posed next to each other. It met the brief and was suitably sized for the room and visually impressive. It showcased the various skills available, not only to Tudor confectioners and cooks, but of the team themselves and they should all be justifiably proud of what they achieved. I doff my cap to them all, Marc, Robert, Robin, Jeremiah, Zak, Adrian, David and Barry.
So what happened to it afterwards I hear you ask. As much as this might have been amusing…
it wasn’t destroyed in some Godzilla re-enactment; it was however not long for this world. About 4 minutes after I took my last photograph it was gone; dismantled, stored and reclaimed. The architectural pieces are now in store in case they are useful in the future, the gravel and ‘flowers’ were bagged up along with the spare comfits and await a use in the next project. The paper plats have been stored with the rest of the project paperwork and plans while the rest was eaten, taken or binned depending on how many little hands had been all over it. Why didn’t we keep it all as it was? Several reasons really. First, we just don’t have the space to store it. Second, the longer it’s stored the more ‘tired’ it starts to look unless it’s carefully wrapped or covered. Third, in the main subtelties like this weren’t designed to last; they were designed to be created, admired and consumed. Finally, and most importantly, if we don’t get rid of the things we make, we’re less inclined to have the incentive to progress and improve…we’d find excuses to do new and completely different things because we’d have “done” sugar subtelties. By destroying what’s been made, we never have the actual object to rest our laurels on.
So that’s the sugar knot garden done and dusted. Hopefully that’s given some idea of the work that went into it (despite all the bits I’m bound to have forgotten thanks to taking a fortnight to finish writing this up!)
A quick diversion away from the sugar knot garden excitement to throw some fakery into the mix…fake food to be precise. Why? Why not? Also I was looking back through photographs and had forgotten all about some of this, so why not take the opportunity to remind myself while telling all of you?!
But why would we need to talk about fake food when we’ve a team dedicated to experimenting with and creating accurate (or as accurate as we think it’s possible to get) replicas of historic recipes. We’ve got a couple of historic kitchens to play in, and a shed load of tools and equipment, all available to make real food, so why think fake?
Well there are quite a lot of times when real food isn’t suitable for a project…we use “fake” meat and pies within the Kitchens at Hampton Court to give visitors a sense of some of the food preparation tasks that would have taken part there. Using replica foods means we’re not having to continuously remake thousands of pies and pieces of cooked meat all through the year, it also means we don’t have to fret about the health and hygiene issues…leaving large joints of raw meat hanging around unattended isn’t exactly going to win us any friends in the local environmental health department and the less said about the smell of rotten meat the better (NO, you can’t and NO ‘they’ didn’t disguise that with spices, people in the past ate meat before it went off, and threw it away when it did go bad…but that’s a subject for another time I think). So obviously, “fake” or replica meat is clearly the way to go sometimes, and it’s something we first did back in 2006 when we introduced spits full of raw, and plates of cooked meat into the Kitchen display.
Here we commissioned a company that specialises in replica foods to make us a load of meat; we provided pieces of raw and cooked meat and they made fibreglass replicas of the raw and PVC versions of the cooked. They’re pretty good, and many are still in use in the Kitchens today as they still look like the real thing.
The thing with food is, that there’s lots of other places that could benefit from using it as an interpretive device…that is after all one of the main reasons that we cook in the Kitchens at Hampton Court, it’s not from an interest in food, rather that it’s a great subject to use as a lens through which you can view all sorts of other topics, have a look at some of my papers that touch on this subject if you’re interested in why we do what we do! With that in mind, think about all of the rooms that are NOT kitchens that Historic Royal Palaces look after, but that due to their sensitive conservation needs, aren’t suitable to have real food in them at all (or at least unattended). How much might they benefit from using food interpretively…dining rooms with tables laid and sideboards full, larders full of produce, and Great Halls ready for feasting…then fake or replica food suddenly becomes something that could be really useful. The problem is, a lot of what’s available isn’t very good, or what we’re after is so specialised and specific that we have to commission it from scratch, which leads to very long discussions with modellers and a lot of R&D to try to get what we’re after all of which is very costly in both money but more importantly time…wouldn’t it be easier to make it ourselves?
Obviously in a lot of cases, no, it wouldn’t. We aren’t set up for it and don’t have all of the skills for working with the various materials that are involved….fibreglass for example is something that should be worked on with extreme caution and the correct protective equipment. However, there are some cases when doing it ourselves is absolutely ideal, and more so if we continue the experimental approach that’s taken with the real food. Rather than trying to replicate the final product, which could really just be carved out of a solid block and painted to look realistic, why not find ways of replicating the actual component ingredients and simply follow the recipe?? That way, as well as ending up with a finished item, we might also learn something about the recipe itself along the way, as well as saving some time in not having to try to explain to a model maker what a recipe that they might not even understand, should actually look like.
The first chance to try this out was a couple of years ago for Christmas at Kensington Palace. We wanted to display a selection of Victorian period Christmas dishes, but they would need to sit out on the conservation sensitive visitor route for the whole of December. Some things were easy to do…plastic mince pies were available to buy “off the shelf” and looked pretty realistic, others proved less simple. For some reason that I can’t recall, I insisted on having a boars head as part of the display, as nothing says ‘historic Christmas’ like a boars head…but not a meat one, Charles Elmé Francatelli’s mock boars head made from cake and ice cream; the recipe for which is in his book The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book. (London: 1862)
Click on the recipe to enlarge and read!
Obviously Ivan Day has been here before but I wasn’t that interested in how he did it, it was all about following the recipe…but without using food! Could I replicate the finished dish by using simulated ingredients and following the recipe, rather than just trying to make a model of the final thing? Fire retardant high density foam was to become the sponge cake, with caulking sealant coloured with acrylic paints substituting for ice cream and icing as appropriate. Over a number of days, the recipe was followed, with foam blocks being glued together as the cake would be if you didn’t have a boar head mould hanging around. These were then carved with a large ham knife for added irony, into the rough shape of a boars head which was then coated with “chocolate” icing once the ears had been added…though throughout this part I couldn’t help but think it looked more Muppet Pigs in Space Captain Link Hogthrob and less wild boar!
The back of the head was then cut out and filled with two separate layers of “ice cream”, teeth, tusks and eyes added and the whole thing touched up for colour…it really looked too milk chocolate rather than the plain I was after.
Meanwhile, a “cake” of foam was iced pink and glued to a ceramic dish to hold the base in place. When the head was dry, it was both glued to the cake base and skewered on, to hold it steady…these were the worst bits as I ran out of time and had to fashion hastelet skewers from brass rod and Fimo modelling clay in short order to meet the deadline…eventually I’ll replace them with something nicer (yes I know, the chances of that ever actually happening are remote at best, but I can dream!) Decorative croutons were made to resemble those shown in the Francatelli lithograph, and the whole thing was boxed and shipped off to Kensington for public derision.
This sense of making fake food from the ingredients up was one that also found its way to the fake meat for the Kitchen re-display in 2017/18. The original fibreglass and PVC models looked really great, but as they were originally made to be viewed from a distance, didn’t stand up to scrutiny when touched. In short, the realism vanished as soon as the joints of meat were touched, and we wanted to push that perception of realism so it lasted just a few seconds longer…could we make visitors unsure about whether they were looking at and touching models or the real thing?
Careful discussion with the same company that made the original meats lead to models made of a selection of materials, all designed to replicate the feel of raw and cooked meat…made up of differing densities of foams and rubbers to simulate the different muscle structures in the meat.
How good did they look and feel? Good enough for a visitor to pick one up on the opening day of the new interpretation and take a massive bite out of a “cooked” piece…oops! The sad thing was, they were too good…people just had to touch them to see if they were real or not, and that touching extended to pulling , hitting and tearing, so we had to take them off display and go back to the drawing board. Interestingly there must have been something subconsciously telling people it wasn’t real as I find it hard to believe that people would pull and tear at raw meat if it was on display for fear of getting it on their hands (though obvious caveat…people are weird 😎)
Unfortunately, the new “rubber” meat had spoiled me and I got a bee in my bonnet about replacing it, but how? At the moment I’m experimenting with making a solid silicone version…yes it’s not going to be as realistic, but possibly that’s a good thing; at least it’ll withstand biting! So far all I’ve made is a small test piece which now serves as a paperweight on my desk, but the process is relatively simple and produces a product that looks just like the real thing…or will do once coloured. First, make a mould of the meat. For this test, I used casting alginate to take an impression of a small piece of beef…as always, I took lousy images as a record of the work
The mould was opened by enlarging the hole at the top where I’d not covered the beef fully, and the meat removed. A two part platinum cure silicone was then mixed together and poured into the mould cavity…no colour, just the pink that it came as, it was only a test after all.
Yes, it was full of air bubbles (really need a vacuum de-gasser) but as a test it was ok. Yes, it feels like silicone rubber to me, but crucially it doesn’t feel like fibreglass or PVC so it may well work at pushing that sense of uncertainty a little further than it currently stands….even if in the end it turns out that I make a huge beef joint shaped bouncy ball! Consider this all a work in progress, and expect more news some time in the future.
Lapping it up
Another dish that has been completed, was made for Kensington Palace’s Christmas 2019, where a display needed to show the gifts that the young Queen Victoria left for her dog, Dash for Christmas 1833…a rubber ball, some gingerbread and a bowl of bread and milk. The ball and gingerbread weren’t an issue…a little paint to modify a stock fake “loaf” created the gingerbread and an online purchase sorted the ball…the bread and milk were a little more challenging. Continuing the thinking process as above, I wanted to simulate the ingredients separately and make the dish, not just think about the final appearance, so tried a couple of different methods using different materials. The first used a two part rubber which is used to simulate water, or any other liquid when it’s coloured.
A bowl was obtained and a base layer of high density foam stuck into the bottom just so I wasn’t having to use too much of the rubber milk. PVC bread slices brought off the shelf from a replica supplier were then glued to that foam and the “milk” was poured over the lot and left to set. As it’s a rubber designed to simulate liquid, it remains a little translucent at the margins which really adds to the sense of it being a liquid. It looks really realistic in the flesh, but the rubber isn’t particularly strong and after I’d made it I realised that visitors would be able to touch it if they wanted…the meat experience mentioned above meant I needed to try a different method that would be a little hardier and so a second version was made, this time using a 2 part hard plastic resin. Again the bowl (a new one) and PVC bread were prepared and the two part plastic mixed. When mixed, the liquid is clear and only turns white on curing…it really is quite magical watching it go from see through to opaque in around 10 minutes.
This one was much better, rock solid, yet once again made by combining separate simulated ingredients together. Compared to the first version, the milk is a little too white in some lights, but it serves its purpose well and you don’t tend to notice the brilliant whiteness…except in the image above! Making this used up most of the amount of chemicals that I’d purchased for the job, but did leave a small amount unused; I had no real use for them, there wasn’t enough for another bowl and they wouldn’t last in their containers as they’d been exposed to the air and would degrade over time…so mixing the last couple of slugs together with a good shake, the resultant liquid was poured into a container, set with a straw and left to harden. One of the good things about this plastic is its viscosity once mixed, it’s actually quite fluid and that helps any air bubbles that have been created by the mixing process to rise out through the mix to the top without needing a vacuum chamber…keep in mind this is a plastic designed to be cast in moulds, so in most use cases it’s actually the bottom (that would be in contact with the mould) that people want to have no bubbles in…having them rise to the top means they don’t mess up the final cast item. In this case, bubbles floating to the top was something I was counting on as it meant that I could create a plastic cup of frothy milk
so far, it’s fooled most people who have seen it.
Now this is all rather fun, and it means I get to do some interesting (to me) diversions now and then, but is there any real use for all of this? Well I say yes, there is. As I said at the beginning, we already use fake food for displays where we can’t use the real thing, so having more options opens up the possibilities of how we can interpret spaces. If we can try and make these things in-house where possible, we can see if we can apply the real cookery skills and knowledge that the team has to making more realistic looking fake food, we might even learn something in the process and there’s nothing worse than seeing crap fake food ruin perfectly good interpretation all for the want of 10 minutes work and a smidge of effort
So, we’re a couple of days past the end of the February half term holiday that contained the Elizabethan confectionery cookery at Hampton Court Palace….how did things go? As with previous posts, this is picture heavy, text light…and likely to end up being split into a couple of posts just to keep you coming back for more and because there’s a lot to cram in from 9 days of work!
Many of you will have seen the updates on Twitter over the week, so you’ll already know that the results look awesome…the guys really knocked this project out of the park.
I think it would be fair to say that the plans for this week haven’t had an easy life. I wrote a brief for the team at the end of last year listing what I wanted them to end up with…a sugar knot garden…as well as giving some specifications about what I didn’t want included or worked on (should be visually impressive and proportionate to the room it would be displayed in, but shouldn’t be “to scale”, should demonstrate correct period techniques and help visitors understand the use of sugar subtelties in the late sixteenth century as well as giving them some information about Tudor garden design and banqueting… but I left all of the detailed planning as to how this would be realised up to them. They had all of the Christmas cookery week to discuss ideas amongst themselves and to decide what they would be doing, how they’d do it, and more importantly, when it would get done. This was as much about the team learning to plan things that I would have done for them in the past as it was about working out how to make a sugar garden!
Their response to the brief was a good one, they gave some great examples of the sort of stuff they wanted to make, they said roughly how they’d make that sort of thing and when it might get made through the course of the 9 days, they even thought about who would be needed to bring which skills to each task…what they didn’t say was exactly what it would look like! So this past week has been as much of a journey of discovery for me as it has been for you on Twitter.
When I left you last, the team had made a start on the first quadrant of their plan, and the sketches and draft plats that they had created gave me some idea of what I should expect to materialise through the course of the next 7 days. They moved fast and converted almonds and sugar to marchpane paste for the hedges in swift order, all of which were textured to look like real hedges using Adrian’s nifty broken stick technique I showed in the last post. These hedges were then laid over the drawings on the plats they’d made out of replica medieval paper and hey presto…knot gardens!
With all the hedging being made, it was easy to forget that there were all of the rest of the garden parts to manufacture as well, from architectural details like a fountain or decorative obelisks to gravel paths and flowerbeds. The gravel and flowers would be made from sugar comfits, what today we’d call hundreds and thousands, and these would be needed in bulk . Comfits are made by coating seeds with a thin layer of sugar syrup, then drying it out until it’s hard and then repeating that process a number of times depending on how big you want the final product…this can be anything from a few dozen times for hundreds & thousands, to a few hundred times for gobstoppers! Ivan Day has already described the process in great detail which means that I, a very lazy man, do not have to. Making comfits is something that the team have been slogging away at each cookery weekend through January and early February to ensure a stockpile of sufficient size for this garden project…if only they had the modern mechanised process of making them with what look like large heated copper cement mixers to rotate the seeds and syrup automatically.
Probably the best historic description that’s easily accessible for comfit making is contained in Delights for Ladies… by Sir Hugh Plat it’s chock full of detail and echoes descriptions and mentions that are found in earlier texts and recipes.
For the architectural features like the pillars, columns and fountains, I’d specified to use sugar plate made from fine ground sugar and gum tragacanth. This was to be moulded with wooden or plaster moulds, not free modelled…which they’d have much preferred (I know, I’m a total git!). This meant that they would need to plan what they wanted to make, then make moulds of those items and only then, could they begin to manufacture the pieces for the garden…easy right?!
Again, they grasped the task with both hands and really went for it. While some of the ideas for moulds were complete from the get go…an architectural obelisk, and a plinth/base for it for example…many were planned with no particular end function in mind, such as decorative strips that would eventually find a use as applied decoration on the fountain base, or to form the steps of the classical temple.
With these moulds made before the start of the week, work could begin at any time, but the need for a number of other moulds only became apparent mid-way through the week, once the team started to work out what was and wasn’t likely to be achievable, or just went and had some mad ideas. These included the mould for the rustic arbour pieces as well as the columns for the temple. As we’ll see later, the arbour pieces were designed to interlock, providing support for the completed piece as well as looking like tree limbs and leaves.
Along with the carved wooden moulds, I had challenged them to make and use plaster of Paris moulds as they had done when they made the sugar queen in 2016/17, though on a considerably smaller scale this time! Robin decided that he’d use this technique to make the figure that would top the fountain he wanted to make…this would be based on the Diana fountain image a few pics up from here. His plan was to sculpt a wax master of the figure, make a two part mould from this and then use that mould to either cast boiled sugar figures (really adventurous), or press sugar paste into it to make them that way. As is more and more the way of late, because of other responsibilities, I was out of the room when he started the process of making the mould and only caught it as he poured the second batch of plaster to make the top half.
Having made a bed of plaster within clay retaining walls, the small wax figure was laid into the plaster and locating marks were sculpted into it just before it fully set. Then an hour or so later, the second half of the mould was poured in and the whole left to set…which is about when Robin realised that he’d got so carried away with wanting to get the mould made, that he’d not actually added any barrier or release agent to either the wax figure, or the first half of the mould. Had he just encased his delicately carved wax model inside a block of solid plaster??
No…he was a VERY lucky chap, and at the end of the day when the plaster was fully set and dry, some gentle prising with a stout blade…and a few choice words uttered…popped the two halves of the mould apart. Admittedly it did decapitate the figure, but as the mould was good, with no air bubbles or voids, that mishap could be overlooked. The two halves were popped into the airing cupboard to dry overnight, and the next day Robin used it to create tiny “marble” statues around 5cm tall, each one made slightly different by adding more sugar that was free modelled to make draping cloth or clothing pieces.
These were all well and good, but his plan was for a figure topped fountain, complete with water…and fish…because why not?! Obviously it wouldn’t be real water, boiled sugar would substitute for that as it should set hard but stay transparent enough to see the tiny sugar fish that would be “swimming” in it, but it did mean that the main tank had to be “water” tight. The image of the Diana fountain was fairly easy to follow, especially as in July 2019, Robin had made a series of moulds that made up an octagonal box and he hoped he could re-purpose these to make the main base/tank of the fountain; it’s actually why a fountain was suggested by the team as they though it would be fairly easy to make and that time could then be spent on other details within the garden….that didn’t really work out that way though.
It turned out that the box mould was a little smaller than the fountain needed to be, so Robin proceeded to create a kit of parts of flat panels cut from a sheet of sugar paste. When these were dry, they were “glued” together with a thinned down sugar paste and the joints covered in thin strips of paste for rigidity and decoration, as well as helping to seal the tank to keep the “water” in.
as an aside here before the details of the rest of the fountain, it’s probably worth pointing out the bone tools Robin is using…which he had to make for the job…a nice and useful piece of recycling kitchen waste…and by custom making, it ensured he gets the exact tools he needs, not some that are only “close enough” for the job.
I’m going to leave it here for now and give myself a couple of days to write the next post and you time to digest this…it’ll also allow me time to fit in the day job and prepare a report on the past week, carry on planning the next major cookery run at Easter, and sort out end of year reviews for the team…fun or what?!? By the way, there’s cookery in the Kitchens at Hampton Court each weekend through until the end of March, so plenty of opportunity for you to visit and see some of this sort of thing in the flesh…who knows, you might even fancy lending a hand! Details of cookery events at Historic Royal Palaces sites can be found by visiting the website and searching for “what’s on” at Hampton Court or Kew Palaces (if the eighteenth century is more your thing)
Waaaaay back in 2015, the Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace saw the Kitchen Team try to make a sugar knot garden that may or may not have gone according to plan…well, ok, it didn’t, we ended up with some very impressive jam tarts but not the sugar and almond garden that was planned. So with the February half term school holiday 2020 upon us, and the last of 6 months of Elizabethan interpretation drawing to an end, I thought it was high time that redemption was sought and I tasked the team with planning and preparing to make a sugar knot garden once again.
Clearly sugar models of gardens are a popular subject; the inestimable Ivan Day has recently created one for the outstanding Feast & Fast exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge
(if you’re reading this before April 26 2020 and have the chance to go and see it…GO, you won’t be disappointed). Ivan chose to model a sugar version of the banqueting house from Melford Hall as his centre piece, with the knot garden itself a much more two dimensional affair (you can just about make it out in the image above, there’s a golden tree/bush in the middle of part of it), surrounded by a multitude of other sugar delights and beautiful serving dishes. For our version, the intention was always to repeat the plan from 2015…go large, go 3-D, concentrate on the hedges and paths and add period architectural details such as obelisks and posts as would have been found in a late Tudor period garden at a high status property, while using techniques found in confectionery and cookery texts of the time. Inspiration was to be drawn from surviving and replanted gardens at stately properties across the UK as well as details from lost gardens such as those at Hampton Court itself, along with the garden at Nonsuch Palace, many details of which survive…
This was to be an interactive affair, with as many things as possible for visitors to help with or shape with their thoughts and opinions, but most of all it should be fun and interesting…So with that in mind, the plan that the team came up with was this:
Rough sketch design for the HCP sugar knot garden 2020
Each quadrant of the design would be based on suggested garden designs contained within the 1577 Gardeners Labyrinth and would look something like one of these sketches
The design would possibly repeat…or maybe stay the same in 3 of the 4 quadrants, with the design of the 4th one being created by visitors over the course of the 9 days of cookery. The designs would, as with 2015, be sketched onto replica medieval paper using oak gall ink and quill, and would form guides upon which almond marchpane, and sugar paste “hedges” would be created. The gravel in between the knots would be made of sugar comfits and the pillars, posts and perhaps a banquet house, would be made of various forms of sugar…either pulled or moulded into shape, all coloured with period food colourants.
That was the plan…how’d that work out??
As I write this, it’s day two of the 9 day event and so far, so good! Everyone is on the same page and progress is coming along at a pace…in fact, much quicker than I’d expected to be honest. Jeremiah has been transferring the original sketches onto paper that can be used out in the kitchen (rather sneakily working in the warm of the office next to a radiator while Storm Dennis ravages the UK)
When he’s not been doing that, he’s been blanching almonds like a man possessed as they’re going to need an awful lot of them to make all the marchpane that they’ll need.
Robert has been busy testing out the moulds that he’s created for some of the architectural details…he’s making these details from a mouldable sugar paste that is very similar the the modelling sugar used to make decorative flowers and such like for wedding cakes. This is then pressed into the moulds to shape it before it’s turned out and left to dry and set hard; the kit of parts is then stuck together with more paste to create some (fingers crossed) impressive pieces for the garden.
One of the new sugar moulds
The first test of the mould
With all this activity this morning, seeing the first quadrant change from this:
To this, in such a short space of time
was a bit of a shock! The plan is to create all of the hedging and then “paint” it green with a parsley juice based colouring. This was the second method tried back in 2015 (if you’ve not gone a read that post…slackers) and while it doesn’t produce as solid a green paste, it does mean you aren’t held up waiting for the green to be made before you can get on and model the marchpane.
You’ll notice that there’s a texture to the marchpane, and at first I thought it was just roughly made, but how wrong I was. Adrian wanted to make it look like it was actual box hedging, so started to stipple the surfaces with the point of his knife but found that took too long…
cue some quick thinking and a broken stick, and suddenly you have a tool for making box hedging
Obviously, on top of all this confectionery construction, there’s the usual roasting of beef taking place. That’s a staple within the kitchens as it’s the primary function that the surviving spaces were designed for. It’s also great on a cold, wet and blustery day like today when it becomes the single most popular place in the kitchen if not the Palace!
There’s still 7 more days of the knot garden construction to go, the last day is Sunday February 23 2020, so hopefully time for a few updates between now and then, if not here then certainly on Twitter. Fingers crossed it all ends up as impressive as these first steps look like they might lead to.
Waaaaay back in the mists of time (2016) I set the Historic Kitchen Team the task of trying to make large figurines from cast boiled sugar; you can read about it <HERE>. Try as they might, there was little success…but we did end up with a very nice mould that’s been sat in storage ever since crying out to be used. Well this October, for the school half term holiday, the opportunity presented itself to push the team one more time to try to produce a cast sugar figure…and this is the short update about what happened, though as there’s a picture of a dirty great sugar figurine at the top of the page, I’m pretty certain it’s not going to be a great shock to you when you get to the bottom of the page.
But was that something they actually did in the past I hear you ask….well, as I detail in the post from 2016 (don’t worry, you don’t have to scroll back too far through the blog to find it, I’m lazy and haven’t written a great deal since then) there are plenty of recipes that run through the process, so it seems likely.
There’s also descriptions of subtelties in the form of people being presented to the table, such as the description of vaulting and leaping figures served by Cardinal Wolsey to French guests in Cavendish’s “Life of Cardinal Wolsey” 1 as well as suitable Elizabethan period references…all very handy as Hampton Court is showcasing all things Elizabeth this autumn (2019), to coincide with the temporary exhibition of the Lost Dress, the former Bacton Altar cloth, thought to be made from one of Elizabeth’s dresses.
So, fast forward to the present day and the nine day half term event, during which I charged the team with the task of repeating much of what they’d done in 2016, but with the added demand of having to produce cast models.
The first test of the week looked promising, and half a queen was produced in short order…though not by pouring boiling sugar into the mould, but rather by creating a sheet of sugar then slumping it into place to create the form.
The resultant half a queen needed a stick to support it…which very swiftly begat the concept of a “lickable, ‘lizabethan lolly”!
This test piece was left overnight when it was thought it might firm up as it dried out a little more in the airing cupboard…
but that was not to be, and by the morning,the once 3D form of the front of a queen was now an accurate sugar model of a Dr Who character from the Troughton or Pertwee eras.
Quite a lot of the rest of the week was spent with the team fixated on improving the results of the slumping method and with creating a crystal clear sugar that would set hard despite the awful weather we had over the week and the rain soaked and sopping wet atmosphere in the Kitchens…
it’s no great surprise to find out that confectionery kitchens are nice and warm and dry, and Henry VIII’s were no exception.
Situated at the end of Fish Court in the midst of the Kitchen complex, upstairs above the pastry house where it could be kept warm and dry by the heat from the ovens and the working rooms below. Here in 1539, Bonaventure Carter, James Fulgam, George Herd and John Bartlett would have worked to produce sweet delicacies for King Henry VIII and the upper echelons of his Court…but I digress…back to the Elizabethan stuff!
The obsession with the slumping wasn’t what had been asked for and isn’t how the recipes describes figures being made, so that had to stop and work needed to concentrate on working out how to work with boiled sugar in quantities that could fill the mould, or at least fill it to coat a layer sufficient to hold the shape of the Queen figure and most crucially, survive removing from the mould (the principal problem back in 2016). By now, Friday was upon us and there’d been no great signs of progress. Several changes of staffing had occurred and work on comfits was proving to be popular because it was nowhere near as complicated as the casting work was turning out to be. 5.45pm on Friday rolled round and I left for a weekend of shopping and the normal “adult” things that have to be done on days away from work, only to be greeted at four o’clock on Saturday afternoon on Twitter by the image of a ‘perfectly’ cast sugar figure posted by Jeremiah from the team…they’d actually done it, pulling it out the proverbial bag at the 11th hour. Like buses, it wasn’t long before Robin (it was Robin and Jeremiah who were working on the figures over the weekend) sent me a photo of a second figurine…
This one was much less caramelised than the first one as you can see from the handy mobile phone torch being shone through it from behind.
Unfortunately, these two were the only two sugar queens they made, but its not about quantity, its about the ability to make them, and to repeat making them which is the whole point of the recipes…to be able to make as many as you need, repeatedly. On returning to work after the weekend, I was able to check the team camera to see if they’d managed to record any of the manufacturing process…which luckily for all of us, they had (click on the images to see larger versions).
So, is that it you ask? Pretty much. As is was all rather 11th hour, there was no real time to experiment with the decoration as it’s described in the recipes and colouring the finished article. Likewise, time didn’t allow for working on a less clear version of the sugar to see if not caring about clarity would make a difference. The recipes never mention the end result being clear, especially as they go on to describe how to colour and paint them with coloured sugar. The notion of ‘clear’ is a modern one in my opinion, and not likely to be something they were either worried about or possibly had worked out how to achieve as it took a LOT of work and patience to keep the boiling sugar from crystallising on the stove or as it cooled and started absorbing moisture…still, lots of things to look at next time I pick this as a topic to work with. =o)
George Cavendish, The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, 2nd edn (London: Harding and Lepard, 1827) (pp. 197–198) ↩
When Henry VIII and Francis I met for the treaty negotiations now known as the meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, little did they realise than almost 500 years later, someone would have the reasonably insane idea of recreating part of that meeting in three dimensions out of sugar. Well of course they wouldn’t realise that, it would be stupid to think so, and even more stupid to consider making a sugar version as an idea; which possibly tells you more about me than anything else, as it was the first idea that sprang to my mind when my colleague Suzanne asked for ideas to link the family “make and do” activity planned for this summer with the work that the Historic Kitchens Team would be doing in the Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.
Her intention was to have something that any visitors to the Palace could participate in, that built in scale over the course of the event, was a genuine community effort but also allowed people to try real historic techniques and methods out…the only problem was that she didn’t have any idea what it could be as she didn’t want to suggest anything that the Kitchens Team wouldn’t be happy with…what did I think it could be?
Now, those of you that have followed the exploits in the Kitchens over the last quarter of a century (dear God has it really been that long!?!) might recall that the team have been responsible for a lot of sugar models in the past…I touched on some of them when we were talking about the making of the sugar knot garden a couple of years ago (HERE). You also might know that I’ve never been a great fan of this work, not because I don’t appreciate the immense skill that my friends and colleagues have in order to turn powdered sugar into stunning models, but rather that it is work that was never done in the room we have to work in and so by making confectionery models and such like we run the risk of giving a false impression of how the spaces were used in the past. That being said, sugar work can be ideal as a public interactive activity because if using the later sixteenth century recipes for sugar plate, as for example was published in the Second Book of the Good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson in 1597, then you’re essentially working with edible modelling clay…ideal for kids of all ages to play around with.
So setting aside my reservations, I suggested sugar work to Suzanne and we were then merely faced with working out what this would be used to make.
In fact it didn’t take long, she mentioned that we could use the Field of the Cloth of Gold painting (held by the Royal Collection and displayed at Hampton Court Palace in the Young Henry exhibition) as a subject and I did the rest. As there would be a finite number of days that the build would take place over, we really needed a subject that couldn’t be finished…nothing worse than saying you’ll be building XXX over a month only to be so busy with helpers that you finish on day 2! That meant that the obvious candidate, the main temporary Palace in the foreground was out, yes we could have added lots of decoration, but how interesting is it to ask people to make a tiny brick or tile? Much better to be able to make lots of something, where numbers weren’t important…and what are there lots of in the image and what were there lots of at the actual meeting?? People and tents. All that was needed was a bit more focus and we’d have an idea to work from.
If you look in the top middle of the painting, you’ll see a large golden tent…no, not the fancy double ended one, just above that, the round one with the two kings in front of it all surrounded by a circle of tents in the Tudor colours of green and white. That was what we’d make, and if we had too much help then more tents or more figures could be made to bulk it all out. On the days that the guys in the Kitchens were making the “real” thing, people could also work in one of our other Palace rooms and help make more of the image in paper and card, that way everyone had the chance to try historic and modern methods of model making all to create a giant 3D version of as much of the painting as we could get done.
So with the flimsiest of ideas to work from, I dropped the news on the team that starting in just over a week, they’d have two and a half weeks to make as much of the image as they could, and that on 6 of those days they’d have as much help as they could coerce visitors into giving them…you can imagine how popular I was that day! They might have been fuming, but I was pretty confident in their skills and abilities and was sure that by the due date (21 August) there’d be something pretty spectacular to see. I walked back to my office to leave them to cogitate and come up with a plan and within a very short time, Adrian and Robin came up with a blinder.
Construct a large sugar central tent, possibly on top of a paste board framework to support it, and gild that. Make a Henry VIII and Francis I out of a combination of sugar plate and marchpane (almond and sugar paste) and paint them with natural food colours. Make a mould to construct sugar figures and press them out to make an army and the crowning glory of an idea, break the green and white striped tents down into individual stripes, make the white from sugar plate and the green from coloured or painted marchpane then when each “stripe” was sat next to the others you would build up a tent; all you needed was a “straight” piece and a wedge piece to make the curved tents (a bit like an [insert name brand here] chocolate orange)
All they would need to do would be to have people churn out stripes and wedges like there was no tomorrow along with a few dozen soldiers, while the team concentrated on the marchpane monarchs and the massive gold tent…easy! Well I say easy, because for me it has been…pop in to the Kitchen once in a while to see how things are progressing, take a few pictures in anticipation of this blog post, order sugar and almonds…a lot of sugar and almonds…then at the last minute, buy a load of gold leaf and go on leave for a few days leaving the guys to it for the final big push to the finish. For them, it’s not been as easy, but it’s been a genuine revelation in some respects.
Firstly there’s Jeremiah…who knew the hidden talents the man had?! We got our first inkling when he wanted to try his hand at sugarwork in the first planning week, so “had a go” at making a sugar playing card:
the man’s a demon with a brush…turns out he’s none too shabby when it comes to freehand modelling too as his marchpane Henry and Francis heads showed:
Robin once again demonstrated that for a man with what he describes as “builders hands”, the detail and finesse with which he can make things is astounding, from the bone modelling tools that the whole team used, to an alabaster mould for making tiny sugar figures
He also proved more than capable when it came to modelling marchpane
too…something that for years he’d never tried to do…perhaps we should have pushed him earlier?!
These are just some of the stand out examples in a sea of skills that have genuinely shone over the last few weeks of work.
Zak working wonders with kids and families alike, convincing them that making loads of identical tent pieces was something they should aspire to, and without that coercion and cooperation, there really would be so much less for you to see here. He was also responsible for finishing off the sugar part of the golden tent and helped add the gold leaf with Dave…when Dave wasn’t busy gilding children’s fingernails or noses to order!? [note to self…discuss profligate use of gold leaf with Dave 😎 ]
and all ably assisted by Robert and Liam who when not explaining what the others were doing, were providing the other daily cookery for visitors or helping them turn out tent sections, soldiers and a host of other sugary delights.
So, enough smoke blowing, how did they actually go about making the model I hear you cry?
Well the segmented green and white tents were ‘easy’, just pressed out in the moulds that Adrian and David whittled out of wood from the firewood pile in the Kitchen. Sugar plate was made following the Dawson recipe you can look at above (as with all the images, clicking on them should expand them to full size…or at least a larger size more conducive to viewing), and this was used like edible play dough. the marchpane was made by grinding almonds in a mortar and pestle…very ‘hands on’ for visitors…with a little rose-water and then powdered sugar was added and the whole pounded into a paste. You can see from the two images of the heads above that Jerry was a little less fussed about how fine his marchpane was ground compared to Robin, but either way the result is the same, a pliable almond modelling paste that can be coloured with natural colouring just like the sugar can.
Colours were made up from parsley juice for the green, cochineal for the reds (ideally we’d use kermes for this, but time and tide meant that the more readily available cochineal would have to suffice), woad powder for blue, oak gall ink for blacks and saffron for yellows. These were applied with brushes made from assorted hairs, furs and feathers, bound together to make tips and held onto wooden hafts with goose quills.
The main golden tent was always intended to be made of sugar, but this was highly unlikely to be strong enough to be self supporting, so Adrian got the first few groups of visitors helping with the project to make some paste board with him. This was easily made from our archival paper glued together with a flour, water and alum glue then pressed until dried and hard. This was then cut to shape and stuck together to form a board base upon which to place the sugar.
Initially Adrian had made moulds that included integral decoration so that a raised foliate design would be cast into the tent walls, but it turned out that the carving wasn’t quite deep enough to consistently guarantee that a panel would turn out with decoration on it…it was a fine line between not quite deep enough and too deep to easily come off the mould, so erring on the side of caution was probably the best thing he could have done.
Once turned out and set aside to dry, the panels were placed onto the pasteboard former and then a thin ‘mortar’ of liquid sugar plate was used to bond the panels together…and to the board it appears as Zak was quite generous with how much he used! When this was all complete and dried, the whole tent was painted with a saffron based paint, principally to act as a base to put the gold onto, but also as a fail safe in case I forgot to order the gold leaf (oh ye of little faith!!). Apparently the guys had planned for the painting to take at least a day, if not longer so that plenty of visitors could get a chance to help. Turns out that on that day all our visitors were budding painters as they covered the whole thing in a couple of hours or so…perhaps finer brushes to slow them down next time?
I think it was around the start of the painting phase that Jerry noticed that the tent in the original painting had a figure as a finial, so he knocked one up out of marchpane, but all I can see when I look at it is the
old magic robot game from the 1970’s….I still keep expecting it to spin round and point at things 😀
The final things to make were the wrestling monarchs which Adrian had intended to be made from sugar and marchpane and probably would have been about the same size as an Action Man figure, but Jerry ended up taking the reigns and they turned out a little more in scale with the tent…and waltzing we think rather than wrestling.
Meanwhile, Dave started to gild the tent and when he wasn’t doing it Zak took over; together they plastered about 6 books of leaf onto the tent (about 150 leaves of gold)…less what Dave put on children or blew into the air to show how light gold can be when it’s very, very thin.
Finally all that was left to do was put all the pieces together to form the diorama…
So that’s that then. One roller coaster ride of a month, tens of kilos of sugar and almonds, innumerable bunches of parsley, 6 books of gold, the blood, sweat and tears of all the team, the help of hundreds of visitors all to make something that was designed to be ephemeral…displayed for a short time to show the skills of all concerned, then broken up and eaten….I think it was worth it.