The Gardeners Labyrinth

The Gardeners Labyrinth T Hill 1577

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

One of the magnificent recreated banquet tables created by Ivan Day for the Feast & Fast exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
One of the magnificent recreated banquet tables created by Ivan Day for the Feast & Fast exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, 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).Melford Hall banqueting house 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
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

 

design 1 & 2design 3& 4

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)

transferring the designs onto replica medieval paper with quill and oak gall ink
transferring the designs onto replica medieval paper with quill and oak gall ink

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.wp-1581858682325.jpg

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.

With all this activity this morning, seeing the first quadrant change from this:

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The first quadrant at 10.20 am 16/02/20

To this, in such a short space of time

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The first quadrant at 12.30 on 16/02/20

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…

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a simple broken stick becomes a creative tool for making marchpane hedging

cue some quick thinking and a broken stick, and suddenly you have a tool for making box hedging

roasting beef in front of the great fire

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.

 

 

 

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