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Welcome to Candy Land

As someone who researches 16th century Italian cuisine, and who has a lifelong sweet tooth, the more I looked at extant menus of the time the more I developed a passionate sub-interest in authentic period candy. Below is a list of articles on specific subjects relating to candy, followed by how I came to have an interest in candy, and my argument in favour of serving candy at feasts.

Why candy?

Two reasons. One is called Scappi and the other Nostradamus.

Firstly, picking one of Scappi's menus1 where he fully lists the candy served, here's what shows up:

  • Candied citron - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Small candied lemons - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied citron peel - 16lbs in 8 cups.
  • Candied cucumber - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied melons - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied gourd - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied pears - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied nutmeg - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied local nuts - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied peaches - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Candied apricots - 16lbs in 8 cups
  • Cherries in syrup in cups - 40 on 8 plates
  • Quince jelly in little boxes - 40 on 8 plates
  • Little boxes of quince marmalade - 40 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of honey and spice bread - 24 on 8 plates
  • Cakes of quince marmalade - 24 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of anise comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of large comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of [folignata] comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of melon seed comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of coriander comfits - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of almond comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of pistachio comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Boxes of pinenut comfits, of two pounds each - 8 on 8 plates
  • Fennel stem comfits - 16lbs on 8 plates
What struck me here was the diversity of candy on offer. Who has eaten a candied gourd, or cucumber? Candied melon seeds? I was also struck by the sheer volume. Regardless of which pound measurement you choose to use, there is a lot of candy on offer here. Of course, this is for a big occasion, which I think is why he has bothered to list them all out - not something that he always does. He'll often just state that there are "candies and comfits in good quantity" - how many sorts, it's hard to say; but the number of plates of candy is the same number of each sort as the number of plates for all the other dishes in the meal.
The other thing that struck me at the time was that I had never been to a feast where candy was served. To this day, I still think that for late period feasts, candy is significantly under-represented. The most common argument I've heard against candy is that sugar was only used by the very rich. Yes, it was. And which part of society is it we're reenacting, when we put on a feast? The 16th century Italian menus that survive nearly all come to us from people that cooked for popes. At the very least, when I'm cooking a feast, it's for the local B&B. Sometimes it's for the King and Queen. In either case, wealth is assumed - and candy is, therefore, appropriate.
I think the real reason we don't see much candy on the menu is the sheer investment in time that it takes. I can spend up to a month working on a batch of candy. It can go wrong at any stage, and I have potentially then wasted enough sugar to seriously dent my wallet - and these days, sugar is cheap. Still, I think for the dedicated late period cook who is interested in presenting a plausible meal structure (but one that's palateable for the modern audience), candy is one of the things that we can get right on the menu, so at least presenting some sort of candied dish or two as part of the final course - even if it's bought quince paste and candied ginger - at least gives a nod in the right direction.
My other key influence in the realm of candy is of course Nostradamus. Nostradamus is perhaps better known for his prophecies, but I really think he ought to be remembered for his contribution to the world of candy. After all, as an apothecary, he made his living making and selling candy, and he wrote a book of candy recipes, which still survives. So, you can in fact make candy using the recipes of Nostradamus. How cool is that?
Initially I was working from my own rather poor translation of Nostradamus' recipe; fortunately, however, someone put me onto the Bloomsbury edition edited by Knut Boeser (cheap and readily accessible).

1. Collation for the final day of May, third course.