Saturday, January 28, 2017

All Manner of Powders

Last Tuesday I posted a link on Facebook to Yonnie Travis' interpretation of Eyron en Poche (poached eggs in a sweet sauce), and one of the commenters asked about "Blawnche pouder" (i.e. "white powder"). Here's the original source of the recipe in question for context (emphasis added):

Cj - Eyron en poche. Take Eyroun, breke hem, an sethe hem in hot Water; than take hem Vppe as hole as thou may; than take flowre, an melle with Mylke, and caste ther-to Sugre or Hony, and a lytel pouder Gyngere, an boyle alle y-fere, and coloure with Safroun; an ley thin Eyroun in dysshys, and caste the Sewe a-boue, and caste on pouder y-now. Blawnche pouder ys best.  [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (England, 1430)]

 So just what the heck is this stuff supposed to be? Sugar? Flour? Cocaine?

Medieval Italian cocaine dealer ... ok, it's really a sugar merchant.Theatrum sanitatis, codice 4182 della R. Biblioteca Casanatense. Rome

In the glossary of Curye on Inglysch, Hieatt and Butler offer the following:

Blawnce Pouder - ginger ground with sugar; see also powdour douce

That seems a bit odd considering the recipe above already listed sugar and ginger separately before calling for blawnche pouder. I suspect their conclusion was based on recipes like the following (again, emphasis added):

.Cxxx. Peerus in confyt. Take perus & pare hem clene. take gode rede wyne & mulberyes. other saundres & seeth the peres ther inne. & whan they buth y sode take hem up. make a syryp of wyne creke other vernage with blaunche poudour. other whyte sugur & poudour of ginger. & do the peres ther inne. seeth hit a litul and messe hit forth.  [Fourme of Curye / Rylands MS 7 (England, 1390)]

In modern English that phrase would be "with white powder, or white sugar and powdered ginger". While the "or" there certainly could mean "or in other words", but it could also mean "or if you don't have any".  That's really not as helpful as I'd like it to be.

The problem with that definition is compounded by recipes like ...

Warduns in syruppe. Take wardens (pears), and pare hom clene, and scthe hom in red wyn with mulberryes, or saunders, tyl thai byn tendur, and then take hom up, and cut hom, and do hom in a pot; and do therto wyn crete, or vernage ||, or other gode swete -wyne, and blaunch pouder, and sugur, and pouder of gynger, and let hom boyle awhile, and then serve hit forth.  [Ancient Cookery / Arundel 334](England, 1425)]

While this recipe is related to the one for "Peerus in confyt" from Fourme of Curye, it seems to be calling for sugar and ginger in addition to the blaunch pouder.

Then I found this recipe:
l - A potage on fysshday. Take an Make a styf Poshote of Milke an Ale; than take and draw the croddys thorw a straynoure wyth whyte Swete Wyne, or ellys Rochelle Wyne, and make it sum-what rennyng an sum-what stondyng, and put Sugre a gode quantyte ther-to, or hony, but nowt to moche; than hete it a lytil, and serue it forth al a-brode in the dysshys; an straw on Canel, and Gyngere, and ȝif thou haue Blank powder, straw on and kepe it as whyte as yt may be, and than serue forth.  [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (England, 1430)]

... so it's already calling for sugar and ginger, and goes on to say "if you have blanche pouder". That kind of does it in for blawnche pouder being a mix of sugar and ginger. They already know you have both of those, so they wouldn't ask if you had them mixed, right?

At times like this I look and see what the French are up to (the words "blawnche pouder" are, after all, originally French, so why not?  In the glossary of his translation of The Viandier of Taillevent, Terence Scully cites the following entry from Cotgrave's 1611 French-English dictionary (silly, I should have thought to look there first):
Pouldre blanche - A powder compounded of Ginger, Cinnamon, and Nutmegs; much in use among Cookes.

Of course Cotgrave's was written over 150 years after the recipe from TFCCB that started this mess (the one way at the top of the page), so it's possible that the meaning had changed significantly by then ... or was just plain wrong.  It's also worth noting that Nutmeg doesn't really show up much in English cookbooks before the 1600s.

On a side note, Cotgrave's has a recipe for Powder Douce that doesn't quite mesh with the source recipes we have from the fifteenth century.
Pouldre de duc - A powder made of Sugar and Cinnamon, & having (sometimes) other Aromaticall simples added unto them.

So let's get back to what we know (or at least what we're pretty sure of).  Blawnche pouder is probably a mixture of sugar and other spices, possibly including ginger.

Also ... nope, that's pretty much it.

We can guess that the mix is light-colored. After all, the English translation of "blawnche pouder" is "white powder", so it wouldn't make much sense for the stuff to be dark brown or red. Of course annual "white sales" in the US include merchandise in all sorts of colors now (but originally included only white bed linens).

This is one of those situations where I will freely admit I just don't know for sure.  Until someone locates an actual recipe for blawnche pouder, I think I'll go with the sugar & ginger mix. Since it's often sprinkled on top of an otherwise finished dish, perhaps use powdered sugar? That would fit the description and keep it distinct from powder douce.