“How to Keep the Dry Pulp of Cherries, Prunes, Damsons &c. all the yeere
“You may take of those kinde of cherries that are sharp in taste (Quere if the common black & red cherry will not also serve, having in the end of the decoction a little oyle of Vitrioll, or Sulphur, or some verjuice of sowre grapes, or juice of Lemmons mixed therewith, to give a sufficient tartnesse : ) pull off their stalks, and boile them by themselves, without the addition of any liquor, in a cauldron or pipkin; and when they begin once to boile in their owne juyce, stirre them hard at the bottom with a spattle, lest they burn to the pans bottome. They have boiled sufficiently, when they have cast off all their skins, and that the pulp and substance of the Cherries is growne to a thick pap : then take it from the fire, and let it coole ; then divide the stones and skins by passing the pulp only thorow the bottome of a Strainer reversed, as they use in Cassia fistula ; then take this pap, and spread it thin upon glazed stones or dishes, and so let in dry in the Sunne, or else in an Oven presently after you have drawn your bread : then loose it from the stone or dish, and keepe it to provoke the appetite, and to coole the stomacke in Fevers and all other hot diseases. Prove the same in all manner of fruit. If you feare adustion in this worke, you may finish it in a hot Balneo.”
Sir Hugh Plat, Delights for Ladies (1636)
Cherry season is in full swing here in the UK1It must be, because our local supermarket is selling one kilo boxes of ‘Kordia’ for just a fiver. so I thought it might be a good moment to share this cherry preserving method from Sir Hugh Plat’s seventeenth century manual of household management, Delights For Ladies2Full title: Delights for Ladies, to Adorne Their Person, Tables, Closets, and Distillatories, With Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes, and Waters. Catchy..
As usual with seventeenth century recipes, it’s going to take some unpacking, a little interpretation, and a glossary. Let’s get started.
First off, the recipe calls for sharp, tart or sour, cherries, rather than sweeter dessert cherries. “Quere” – or “Queresen, Queres”, according to Edward Lhuyd’s Archaeologia Britannica (1707) – must have been a type of cherry in Hugh Plat’s day, although it doesn’t seem to have been mentioned since the seventeenth century3The only other fruit-related mention of ‘quere’ that I found was a ‘Gros Quere’ pear variety, listed as a synonym of ‘De Louvain’ in Andrew J. Downing’s Fruit and Fruit-Trees of America (1872) p. 734., but if you do use Quere cherries, Sir Hugh recommends adding “a little oyle of Vitrioll, or Sulphur, or some verjuice of sowre grapes, or juice of Lemmons” to add an appropriate “tartnesse“.
Boil the cherries in a cauldron or pipkin – a small clay pot, according to the Cambridge Dictionary – but don’t add water or any other liquor, just cook them in their own juices, and stir them “hard at the bottome” with a “spattle” – a wooden spatula? – to prevent them sticking and burning. Boil them until the skins separate from the fruit and the cherry pulp has reduced to a thick “pap” or pulp.
Let the cooked pulp cool, then pass it through a strainer – most likely some sort of hair sieve – to separate the skins and stones. I have to admit, the reference to Cassia fistula, which turns out to be the Indian Laburnum or ‘golden shower’ tree, confused the heck out of me to begin with. But according to Wikipedia the fruit pulp of the tree used to be used as a purgative in Ayurvedic medicine, so perhaps something similar was going on in the seventeenth century in England and it was passed through a sieve in a similar manner?
The final step of the cherry drying process is to spread the pulp thinly on “glazed stones or dishes” – the mid-C17th equivalent of a non-stick baking tray – and “so let it dry in the Sunne, or else in an Oven presently after you have drawn your bread” either of which are the traditional methods for drying all sorts of fruit. Although I would imagine that the oven version would avoid the addition of extra chitin the form of the occasional passing insect.
One last morsel of advice from Sir Hugh: “If you feare adustion in this worke, you may finish it in a hot Balneo.” Adustion in this context is burning or heating to dryness – thank you, Wiktionary.org – and a “Balneo” is… well, I’m guessing some sort of cooking vessel of the time? I’m hoping the vibes of confusion I’m putting out will summon Christopher, Brigitte, Paul or another helpful historical food and cookery expert to explain that one to us…
The end result of all of the above? Cherry leather, I reckon. And / or some other sort of fruit leather if you prefer. As Sir Hugh says: “Prove the same in all manner of fruit.” The one step that seems to be missing is storage, but in the course of my research into dried apples and biffins in particular, I often came across the instruction to “put them up into boxes”. I expect the same would have been done with the dried cherry leather; either flat sheets, or perhaps rolls of the leather, possibly divided by slips of paper, and stored in tightly sealed wooden boxes to keep out the rodents and other pests4By which I mean children, obviously….
How about you? Do you have a more modern method for making fruit leather? Do you find the results are worth the time it takes to make it? Do you prefer another method for drying and storing your fruit harvest? Please do let me know, via the comments.
- 1It must be, because our local supermarket is selling one kilo boxes of ‘Kordia’ for just a fiver.
- 2Full title: Delights for Ladies, to Adorne Their Person, Tables, Closets, and Distillatories, With Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes, and Waters. Catchy.
- 3The only other fruit-related mention of ‘quere’ that I found was a ‘Gros Quere’ pear variety, listed as a synonym of ‘De Louvain’ in Andrew J. Downing’s Fruit and Fruit-Trees of America (1872) p. 734.
- 4By which I mean children, obviously…