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*  SWEETS by Wm. Gorby

*   There is information out there on 18th century foods, but it is sure scattered all over the place. As I gathered the information together and filed it away for my own use I tried to organize it in a way that was at least partly logical. The way I collected and filed it is the way in which I will present it. I have placed items into general categories such as: fruits, vegetables, grains and breadstuff, food processing, etc. Hopefully by the time I’ve completed the coverage of the 18th century foods we will all be a little smarter. Of course, the information that you use will depend on your personae, the time period, geographical location, and station in life of your portrayal. 

With all that aside, I would like to start with sugars, chocolate, and confectionary. This is always my favorite part. In the beginning, fruits were probably a very principal source of our ability to sweeten other food stuffs. In addition to fruits, one of the earliest forms of natural sweetening was found in honey. Archeological records date the use of honey as far back as 10,000 years. Records of bees and beehives appear as far back as part of the hieroglyphic records of the Egyptians. 

Honey was widely used in Europe from the earliest recorded times until the 17th century. It was during this time period in Europe that the increasing availability of cane sugar made honey a less attractive alternative. Cane sugar is easier to produce, store and ship and will be discussed later in this article. While bees were present in the new world prior to the arrival of Europeans they were exclusively a tropical species and produced honey that was as such a poor quality that it was considered unusable. European settlers introduced the honeybee into North America in 1625. The American Indian, while pleased with the introduction of honey to North America, considered bees to be the harbinger of the White Man. The Indian soon discovered that as the bees advanced so did the White civilization and in proportion both the Red Man and buffalo also retreated. 

Honey is composed of the two simple sugars, fructose and glucose and more complex sugar, sucrose, along with about 17 percent water. It has little to offer in the way of vitamins and minerals, but it does contain a compound known as Hydrogen Peroxide. Early colonial physicians used honey to dress wounds, noting that it did indeed retard the advent of infection. Amazingly enough it wasn’t until 1963 that we were able to isolate the compound responsible for this antibiotic type effect, ie. Hydrogen Peroxide. While I hope that this bit of information is never needed, it could be useful when trekking with regards to actual colonial first aid. 

Another compound used commonly in the early part of our American history as a sweetener is maple syrup and maple sugar, both of which are correct for 17th, 18th, and 19th century trekking. Until the arrival of honey in North America, maple sugar was the only source of concentrated sweetness available to the Indians. The Indians taught the early colonists their techniques of processing the maple sap to syrup and sugar. Because of the writings of a young colonist, James Smith, we have an excellent record of how the Indians extracted the maple sap and then converted into syrup and sugar. Captured in 1755 and later adopted into a tribe of Indians in the area now known as Ohio he wrote of his remark- able adventures in his later years; 1799 to be exact. 

Prior to having access to European trade goods, concentrating the sap to syrup or sugar was a considerable problem. Attempts to boil the sap using clay pots was only marginally successful. Often the Indians would construct a tray from birch or elm bark, long and wide with low sides. They would fill the container with a few inches of sap and then let it freeze over night. In the morning a layer of water was frozen on the top and that was discarded, leaving behind the sugar which did not freeze. This process along with simple evaporation would concentrate the sap to a point where it was useable or where it could be boiled in a clay pot with greater success. Early colonists often used this technique to concentrate the sap prior to boiling, particularly if they had only limited access to large kettles. 

Though relatively rare in Europe, North America has some 100 species of maple trees, four of which are useful in sugar and syrup production. A single tree may yield 12 gallons in one season. It takes about 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. In its final concentration maple syrup is approximately 62% sucrose, 1% glucose, 1% fructrose, 1% malic acid, and 35% water. The characteristic flavor of the syrup is the result of a complex reaction between the sugars and amino acids in the sap. The longer and hotter the syrup is boiled, the heavier the taste. 

Maple sugar is made by concentrating the sugars in the syrup to a point that that they crystallize out of the solution when the syrup cools. For those trekkers interested in trying this, make sure that you have real, 100% genuine maple syrup. Heat it to a temperature that is 25 degrees above the boiling point of water. Remember that water only boils at 2120 F at sea level, this temperature changes with changing altitude. 

For the colonists in the 18th century, maple sugar was much cheaper and more available than the heavily taxed and refined cane sugar from the West Indies. Even after the American Revolution when taxation on sugar deceased, most Americans still preferred and used maple sugar. Part of the reason for this was based on morality. and sugar was produced with slave labor. In some of the writings of Thomas Jefferson, the moral issue of cane sugar is mention- ed. It would seem that the use of maple sugar would be more correct than the use of cane sugar in trekking, and just as convenient to use. Ordinary table sugar, is approximately 99% sucrose, a complex sugar that is a combination of 1% frutrose and 1% glucose molecule. Sucrose was relatively unknown in Europe until about 9 centuries ago and was an absolute luxury reserved for a fortunate few until 1700. The principal source of sugar that we will deal with is the sugar cane plant, a 20 foot tall member of the grass family with an unusually high content of sucrose. 

Today, our other source of sugar is the sugar beet. Sugar was first extracted from this plant in 1747 by a Russian chemist. However no significant commercial use was made of his discovery until after 1840, and so is not something that we need to discuss. 

The processing of cane sugar is more involved than the product- ion of honey and maple syrup /sugar, while honey and maple sap contain water and sugars, the sugar cane extract contains a multitude of com- pounds, carbohydrates, pigments, resins, and proteins that not only interfere with the sweet taste but break down to undesireable components when subjected to heat. The sugar extract itself must go through four separate procedures to achieve its final state. The cane stalks were first cut and pressed to obtain the juice. This extract was then cleared of organic impurities by heating it with lime and egg whites. Once the impurities were removed, the remaining liquid was boiled down in a series of shallow pans to remove the water. Once the majority of the water was removed, it was poured into cone shaped molds. Each mold held from 5-20 pounds of sugar concentrate. The cones were stored with the pointed ends down and allowed to cool. This would allow the sucrose to crystallize at the top and the non-sucrose portion, known as molasses to run out a very small hole in the tip of the cone. Once the molasses was removed the remaining sucrose crystals were "washed" by packing wet clay over the large end of the cones and allowing the moisture to percolate through the solid block of crystals for 8-10 days. The remaining sugar was yellowish in color. It was because of this color that the final sugar cones were always wrapped in blue paper, dyed with indigo. Blue wrapping has a tendency to make the yellow sugar look whiter. It is this same blue paper that early colonists valued as a source of indigo dye for clothing. 

The next food source that will be discussed is one common to most trekkers and one that for obvious reasons is usually associated with one or all of the above sweeteners - chocolate. Chocolate is one of the many New World foods, unknown to Europeans prior to 400 years ago. 

The first Europeans to see the cocoa bean were, in all likelihood, the crew of Columbus’s fourth voyage in 1502. It was on this voyage that cocoa reached Europe for the first time. Both words, chocolate and cocoa are derived from the Aztec language. Cocoa is an 18th century corruption of the original word "cacao". 

The first "factories" where cocoa beans were converted into a paste fit for mixing with water were built in Spain in the year 1580. Within 70 years, despite serious Spanish efforts to keep the drink a secret, chocolate had found its way into Italy, France, and England. For the first two centuries after its introduction into Europe, chocolate was used almost exclusively as a beverage. 

The principal reason for the lack of interest in chocolate as an ingredient in candy and cakes during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century was the actual texture of the chocolate and its limited capacity to incorporate sugar. The chocolate of this time period was coarse and crumbly and did not mix well with liquids or sugars because of its high fat content. The bean is better than 50% fat by weight. Even when used as a beverage each person served would be given a stick, called a moulinet, to whip the drink into a froth in an attempt to disperse the fat content evenly throughout the liquid. 

Finally in 1828 a man named Concrad van Houten, a chocolate merchant in Amsterdam, Holland, developed a process to remove most of the fat (butter) from the bean. His final product was cocoa powder, very similar to our present day product of the same name. After 1828 "hot chocolate" has been a very different drink from the chocolate beverage of the 1600 to 1800 time period. The early chocolate drinks would have been very similar to a drink made with today’s unsweetened bakers chocolate. With most of the cocoa buffer intact, trying to dissolve high fat chocolate in hot water or milk becomes a problem. Remember, don’t forget your moulinets. 

And finally, I would like to discuss confectionery or candy. While trekking or preparing for an adventure I’ve always thought that carrying along some good type of candy would be a good idea. But what type? Was anything actually available and if so, what? And how prevalent was it in my area or to my personae? I found some answers, but it was perhaps the most difficult area to research. 

Chocolate as candy did not exist prior to 1847. Marzipan, a paste of almonds and line sugar was known by about 1300. Hard sugar candies had become common place by 1600 and by 1650, pralines were in existence. The documentation of candies seems to improve by the beginning of the 18th century, but remember, sugar was a luxury prior to 1700 and more common place thereafter. While candy as we know it today did not appear until around 1850 (remember the development of chocolate) enough commonly existed according to 18th century records to justify its use in trekking. The question is what kind is historically correct. The following is a listing the available types of confections taken from an encyclopedia of cooking that was published in 1751: whole fruit in transparent syrup, marmalades, jellies and preserves, conserves (a dry preserve made with fruit pulp), fruits covered with a hard sugar shell, marzipan, hard candy (rock candy), and bonbons, which I am sure are not what we know of today. After reviewing this list it is now obvious that only ones that I might want to consider are the jellies, preserves and hard candies. But at least I know these things were commonplace during the 18th century. 

For those people who have made candy in the past, the use of a thermometer is usually important. But as I continued my research I discovered that during the 1700’s confectioners used a more direct method of sampling the sugar syrups fit- ness for different candies. Many of the recipes specifically talk about a "cold water test"; removing a small portion of the heated sugar and placing it in cold water and examining the results. So even making the candy can be done in historic- ally correct manner. As for flavorings, you can use a fruit juice that would have been available either in your geographical area or that would have been commonly imported. 


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Making maple syrup is a tough business, so tough that many families don't even share found secrets with their own families, this was true a century ago and still holds fast today.

The harvest starts in February and runs for a few months, as the frost starts to leave the ground leaving the hillsides in ankle deep mud with ruts left after the wagons and teams pull the equipment into the sugar bush. This is a tough business that Thos.'s involved will see an excellent year and then periods that they barely break even, those's that survive will become legends in the syurping industry.

If one would follow the tracks across the fields and into the woods through the stands of maple trees, soon they would smell and see the smoke from the "sugarhouse" and hear the creaking and jingling of the harness as the teams worked from one tree to another. The trees are bare but spring will soon come to the north woods and the sugar bush (called a sugar bush; as an orchard of apples or cherries), even today this old term is still used when referring to the maple syrup trees.

For centuries teams of horses have pulled the wagons to harvest the maple syrup, at first being the only available transportation but even as time passed it was found still the best as a motor driven vehicle would require a driver to get in to move the unit, with the horses one could walk them over to the next tree with less effort. The same goes for the equipment for processing the sap taken from the trees, its unchanged for several generations or longer, if a system works why change ! Depending on the amount of ground owned by the producer, will usually determine the location of the sugarhouse, found centered in the sugar bush most of the time making it easy to access from any direction as the sap is gathered. One of the biggest changes seen was in this century with the introduction of stainless steel containers, and tanks, at last the age old problem of leaking vessels has been cured.

Many have setup central vats - where the sap is dumped and then by gravity feed it travel down hill to the sugarhouse and into the evaporators. The sap is like oil, and it should not gush when being delivered to the sugarhouse, thus good lines are needed and amount are carefully distributed while being feed into the vats. Inside the sugarhouse is a wood burning evaporator with one that runs on wood and today you will find a second equipped to run on oil, running off the steam that it creates.

The sap when collected is said to be as clear as water, it has been collected as early as February and boiled as late as mid May; there are no set rules for collecting and processing according to several interviewed on the subject. If anything can be said about sugaring its

every year will be different than the one before, with sugaring its like haying, if its not right today - we'll do it tomorrow. One of the biggest fears is moving full vat's at the end of the day to the sugarhouse; a spooked horse can very easily turn over a top heavy wagon, loosing the sap and a day's labor for several men, much care is taken in keeping horses, men and product in a safe environment getting back from the sugar bush to the sugar house.

Trees are rated by percent with a 3% tree considered to be a sweet flavor producer, they know which is the warm side of each tree (warm being better to tap than the cold side) this will change as the sun changes position. A good sugarman will know which trees are good producers, as well as the ones not to waste his time with, some claim that they have a few trees that are 8% sweet, but refused to show which they were. This is knowledge gained from being in the woods day after day, living with their sugar bush is a way of life and this type of attention is needed to have success in this industry. At the sugarhouse you will find small clear glass bottles filled with syrup, each a different color of copper, each load of sap has to be boiled and readied for storage, as another batch will be here tomorrow, aging does not improve the flavor.

Most of the producers of maple sugar have other sources for income that work in conjunction with each other, liking raising beef cattle, dairying or wood lot management. This a hard life, but a fulfilling one, if you don't weaken.

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Until next time, we leave as friends and followers of those that went before us.

Buck Conner 

"One who trades”

"Uno quién negocia"

“Unqui commerce”