1631 sugar
March 29, 2016 12:06 PM   Subscribe

What was sugar like in Europe in 1631? If a recipe called for a couple ounces of sugar, was it conveniently granulated like it is now?

this is for using a 1631 recipe in modern cooking
posted by aniola to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Most likely it would be in the form of a sugar loaf.
posted by mr vino at 12:12 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Refined sugar tended to be sold in sugarloaf form until the late 19th century. People would break bits off of their sugarloaf with sugar nips if they wanted to add it to recipes and things. There's probably loads more information about this somewhere else, but I remember looking up what a sugarloaf was when I kept encountering the term around South Carolina!
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:12 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not quite sure about the 17th century, but a hundred-odd years later sugar would have looked like this, and you'd use metal sugar nippers to break the cones into usable pieces.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:14 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Is sugar loaf the same thing as panela?
posted by aniola at 12:16 PM on March 29, 2016

This might be a dumb observation, but if the recipe calls for sugar by weight (ounces), it should be equivalent, whether the refined sugar is in loaf form (1631) or granulated (now).
posted by supercres at 12:23 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

A sugarloaf was generally cone-shaped, hence all the mountains named sugarloaf.
posted by mskyle at 12:30 PM on March 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: ... but would it have been brown like panela or white like the sugarloaf I'm seeing in pictures?
posted by aniola at 12:34 PM on March 29, 2016

No. From the Wikipedia article:

A tall cone with a rounded top was the end-product of a process that saw the dark molasses-rich raw sugar, which was imported from sugar cane growing regions such as the Caribbean and Brazil, refined into white sugar.[1]

Over the next few days most of the dark syrup and noncrystalline matter drained through a small hole in the bottom of the mould into the collecting pot. To improve the whiteness of the sugar repeated applications of either a solution of white clay or of loaf sugar dissolved in warm water was applied to the broad end of the loaf. This slowly drained through the loaf readily uniting with any remaining molasses or other coloring matter and removing it to the collecting pot. The loaves were then tapped out of the molds, dried in a stove room that would have contained hundreds of loaves, trimmed to their final shape and wrapped, usually, in blue paper to enhance their whiteness.[1

Non-white sugar (muscovado) would have been considered "unrefined" and therefore undesirable.

Also known as "Barbados sugar", "molasses sugar" or "moist sugar", muscovado sugar is an English corruption of the Spanish azúcar mascabado or the Portuguese açúcar mascavado,[19] meaning sugar of the lowest quality or lowest value.[20] The name and meaning is tied to the state of sugar production and markets of the late 18th to earliest 19th century, when sugar that had been less refined was considered an inferior product by the industry; thus muscovado meant literally a low quality sugar that was poorly drained of its molasses.
posted by cooker girl at 12:41 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like the Goya panela cones you can sometimes find in the store? Huh. I honestly don't think it matters--glancing at the Wikipedia page, it looks like there would have been a lot of variation depending on where you got the sugar from anyway and how much work they put in to bleach it. I'd think panela would work fine.
posted by sciatrix at 12:43 PM on March 29, 2016

Response by poster: Ok, so when I followed citation 1 from that wikipedia entry, that website has another page which states
Once drained and firm, and knocked out of the moulds, the loaves were baked in the huge refinery stoves at 140ûF. When cool, the molasses-rich tips were removed and the loaves reshaped.

Wrapped in blue paper (patented 1666) to enhance the whiteness, they went on sale in various sizes from maybe 8" to 28" ... the smaller the loaf, the higher the quality and the price.

Also sold in part loaves as 'lumps', 'pieces' and 'ground', loaves were cut into usable pieces using sugar nips.
which I think more or less answers my question. Thanks for helping solve the mystery, y'all!
posted by aniola at 1:17 PM on March 29, 2016

Response by poster: Looks like the sugar also had to be clarified. Lots more info at that link, too.
CLARIFIED SUGAR — This term referred to the cleaning of sugar, whether it was performed in the refinery or at home. It was part of the process of refining sugar but homemakers frequently needed to clarify sugar at home to remove the impurities and adulterants from both brown sugar and refined sugar. Instructions for the process were often included in cookbooks or magazines such as Godey’s. The June 1862 issue contained such directions. “To Clarify Sugar — Take the quantity of fine white loaf-sugar you intend to clarify, add to it of very clean warm water half a pint for every pound; when dissolved, add to it the white of one or two eggs — as the quantity may require — well whipped, put it on the fire, and when it comes to a boil, pour into it an ordinary teacupful of cold water; on its rising again to a boil, remove it, and let it settle for twenty minutes; skim the scumfrom the top, pour off the syrup into a clean vessel with sufficient quickness to leave all the sediment at the bottom, and such steadiness as to prevent any of the latter rising and mixing with it.” If dry sugar was required, the syrup must be agitated in order for the sugar to recrystallize which then must be dried. Instructions for clarifying sugar appeared in cookbooks as late as 1908.
posted by aniola at 1:34 PM on March 29, 2016

Response by poster: I still wanted to know whether sugar was clarified as early as 1631, so I found this pdf of recipes requiring clarified sugar in London in 1608.
posted by aniola at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: As far as I can tell, sugar nippers didn't seem to be in use in the 1630s? I'm not finding references of them from that era.
posted by aniola at 2:35 PM on March 31, 2016

« Older Moving back to Ohio: how do I find a job (and...   |   My mother died almost a month ago and I'm... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.