Four modern-day confectioners recreate a Tudor sugar banquet and discover how the quest to satisfy the nation's sweet tooth transformed Britain.
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Sweets. They're our guilty pleasure.
Today, British confectionery is a £6 billion industry.
But where did it all begin?
We've asked four modern confectioners
to go back in time to work their way through
three eras that revolutionised their trade.
From the birth of their profession four centuries ago,
where they'll craft luxuries for Tudor aristocrats...
-It's cracking, Cyn. It's getting worse - look.
..to Georgian entrepreneurs storming the high street
and tempting the fashionable middle classes.
And, finally, they'll work on the production line of a 20th-century factory,
making affordable goodies for the masses.
You're a cog in a wheel.
I'm a chocolate dipper.
Our 21st-century confectioners will be learning to make the sweet treats
of the past. They'll be using the ingredients,
recipes and equipment of the time.
It looks like a tapeworm.
This is bum-clenching stuff.
They'll experience first-hand the triumphs...
..and the trials of their profession.
-Oh, that's hot.
-Hot, hot, hot!
And they'll be creating sugary masterpieces,
which haven't been tasted for hundreds of years.
Oh, my God. That is amazing.
But as well as making the treats of the past,
our confectioners will be exploring the bittersweet story of sugar,
an ingredient that transformed Britain,
shaping our empire, bankrolling our cities, igniting our slave trade...
The cruelty is just unbearable.
..and changing the way we eat for ever.
Andy Baxendale, Diana Short,
Paul A Young and Cynthia Stroud
all work with sugar on a daily basis.
But they are about to experience life as confectioners
from 400 years ago,
when sugar was a rare and precious commodity in England.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to everybody who went before and
discovered the methods and discovered the ways of doing things.
And so much we do in modern confectionery, we take for granted.
They'll be working as servants at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire,
recreating original recipes from the 1580s -
as printed English cookbooks began to mention sugar -
through to the 1660s, when growing trade links were transforming
the confectioners' world.
I don't know anything but I'm really excited
to find out what we're going to get stuck with, if you like,
get stuck in and get dirty.
Sugar was an expensive luxury in this period,
reserved for the upper classes.
Over the next four days,
our confectioners will be creating exquisite dishes to be served
at an intimate aristocratic sugar banquet.
Wow. Oh, my goodness.
You feel properly like you're back in Tudor times.
I can hear the lutes already. THEY LAUGH
-Shall we go to the kitchen?
-Come on, then.
-Yeah, let's go for it.
Our confectioners are entering a remarkable portal to the past,
a kitchen which has some of the oldest working ovens and equipment
in the country.
-Oh, my goodness.
This is what I love, worn away by time,
all the effort that's gone into chopping or...
-Is that wood?
-What does that do?
It looks a bit disturbing.
That's our stove.
The heater. It's to let the air in,
-so you can get it going.
Stuff on there and it balances.
Where do you think the oven is?
-I see the flue, but...
But there's nowhere to bake.
This kitchen has none of the modern gadgets they rely on,
and so will require all of their skills and intuition
Oh, there's the oven. Looks like my pizza oven.
So much of it just looks so strange and counterintuitive.
Nothing looks like what it's supposed to be.
Only the upper echelons of society could afford to employ
their own confectioners.
As artisans working with such a precious commodity,
they were highly valued.
Royal confectioners had their own department
and were paid around £20 a year,
triple the wages of an urban labourer.
Welcome to Haddon Hall,
and welcome to your kitchen.
I'm Dr Annie Gray,
a food historian, and I'll be guiding the confectioners,
together with social historian Emma Dabiri.
Well, this is your home for the next four days.
It's a bit different to the kitchens you'll be used to.
One of the primary things you'll notice is the lack of heating...
-..which is clearly going to be a slight issue,
given that sugar work normally requires things like, you know,
heat and a dry atmosphere.
But we can overcome everything.
The kitchen's not the only thing that's unfamiliar.
The hard cones of Tudor sugar are nothing like what they're used to working with.
So, guys, this is the beating heart of the confectioners' world.
-This is sugar.
-How does it smell?
It smells, it smells like actual sugar that you're used to, but...
-It's really fruity.
-..that's where it stops.
The earliest records of sugar in England
are from the 12th century, when it was used sparingly as a condiment.
As the trade routes of English merchants expanded across
Europe and Africa,
more sugar began to be imported from the cane fields of Morocco,
Madeira, Spain and Sicily.
By the 16th century, 400 years later,
confectionery had become a regular feature on the tables of the English elite.
So, I don't know how much you guys know about sugar cane
but as soon as it's cut, it's very quickly squashed and then pressed,
and the juice that comes out is boiled and then crystallised.
But, unlike modern sugar, which is made under quite strict,
hygienic conditions, thankfully,
this is quite a different prospect.
This crude sugar was often very dirty.
You might have been treated to such delights as bacteria, lice...
-..soil or even hair.
The English lust for sugar launched a new type of business.
As early as 1544,
London boasted two sugar refineries, processing barrels
of cane juice into sugar cones to be sold to the wealthy.
So, up until the 19th century,
there are tons of different grades of sugar and that's because sugar
was so incredibly expensive to refine.
So the darker it is, the kind of lower quality it is.
The whiter it gets, the higher grade of sugar it is.
So, the first thing you're going to have to do,
as professional confectioners, is to clarify your sugar,
to get rid of all the impurities. And it's a task that would've been
carried out on an almost daily basis in some cases,
because you can't work with this.
Now, we do know at Haddon,
better grades of sugar were bought in from time to time
but we're now in the late Tudor period,
it's still hard to buy in those sugars,
so let's start with the basics.
You do have a recipe...
-Oh, my God.
-..taken from the original books.
So, the first job is to decipher what they're actually saying.
One of the key points about sugar is that not only is it very, very
expensive as a raw material, but it's incredibly labour-intensive.
So if you are able to display sugar,
then you are showing that you can afford to buy it,
afford to have the staff to process it, the time to process it.
Our confectioners are following rare original recipes.
-Shall I start chopping?
Early printed cookbooks were invariably written by men,
as less than 10% of women were literate at this time.
"The manner to clarify sugar and honey.
"Good sugar, which is white and clear..."
-That's not easy.
-You would get blisters.
I've found a technique.
It's like chopping wood. Look.
-It comes off.
It's so labour-intensive just getting the sugar.
Chocolatier Paul has turned his childhood passion
for all things sweet into a career.
He now runs three boutique chocolate shops in London.
I love working with chocolate because it really fulfils
every aspect of being a creative person.
I think anyone who's given a cookbook that is from their parents
or grandparents or great-grandparents,
you have to value them a lot.
It's all my mum's recipes,
they're all handwritten, and the predominant recipes are sweet.
Like, every page.
It's messy as well.
-It is, yes.
-This is precious sugar.
Just as confectioners did more than 400 years ago,
our team are using only the most primitive heat sources -
charcoal-fuelled chafing stoves.
But first they have to get them lit.
I nearly set myself on fire.
Working with all of this around you, you know,
it's not what we're used to.
We're used to having close-fitting garments which don't get in the way,
which don't float around,
and you just, you forget they're there, you know,
and you turn and that's it, and suddenly you're caught.
Wow. There is our stove, look.
They did not need to go to the gym back then.
It's so physical.
We think we work hard now, don't we?
-We don't have a clue, really.
Without the clocks,
scales and measuring jugs of their 21st-century kitchens,
the confectioners are having to improvise.
That looks about the size of a pint glass.
-How are we doing?
One of the things you've clearly had to get to grips with is the lack
of measurement, and you find various ways of measuring things,
both time and weights, that you find in books like this.
Say, for example, you may well find a recipe
that calls for a walnut-sized piece of butter,
knowing that everyone knows what a walnut looks like.
-Or something where you're stirring something
for the time it takes to say an Ave Maria, knowing that everybody...
-Ah, that's clever.
-..knows how long it takes to say an Ave Maria.
It tastes lovely in the air.
To clean the pulverised sugar, it must be boiled up in water...
..and then beaten together with egg whites.
-Keep beating, little rod.
My little rod is working very hard.
Paul is using a primitive Tudor whisk,
basically a bundle of sticks.
It's good, isn't it? That works. My little rod works.
There's a lot of froth on the top.
When the egg white sets,
that will be the thing that we'll able to take off.
This is a familiar technique to trained chef and chocolatier Diana.
Her grandfather was a chef at the Hyde Park Hotel in London
in the 1940s, and the desire for culinary perfection is in the blood.
I suppose I'm anxious about not being able to achieve
what I would like to achieve in any given situation.
I don't like things to go wrong and I get really antsy when things
don't turn out right and I'm kind of like,
"That's not good enough. I want to do it again."
I like to eat nice things, so I like to make nice things.
I think we will have to pop it back on,
bring it back up to the boil again and then...
-Quite a lot, isn't it? It's coming up.
As a desirable commodity,
sugar even influenced the early days of England's foreign policy.
In the 1580s,
Queen Elizabeth I forged a controversial alliance
with Muslim leaders, in defiance of the Pope,
and traded arms and cloth for sugar.
You can see that beautiful clear liquid underneath.
It doesn't look that much lighter, but there is a lot of scum.
The English word for sugar even comes from the Arabic sukkar,
and in 1588, more than 450 tons of Moroccan sugar arrived in London.
And the Queen and her loyal subjects weren't beyond stealing extra supplies.
Port records from the end of the 1580s show that more than 500 tons
of sugar a year were being brought back as booty
from raids on enemy ships.
-It's still really dark.
-It's really, really dark.
That is delicious, though.
It's interesting that that's taken
half a day just to make this much sugar that you can use,
cos what it was before wasn't actually,
it wasn't stuff you could use.
It wasn't usable, no. Time is money.
-It's never just the cost of the ingredients.
It's your salaries, it's your time.
-That is what goes to make this THE crucial ingredient.
Sugar today is cheap and readily available.
The average person in the UK eats the equivalent
of 34 bags of sugar a year.
In the late 16th century, average consumption was far lower -
half a bag per year -
but how much you got very much depended on your class.
The less privileged members of society would have tasted sugar,
but they would not have had regular access to it.
It was just too expensive.
It was usually kept rather ostentatiously in locked caddies and
transported surrounded by padlocks
so that thieving varmints couldn't get their hands on it.
We know from their receipt, the Manners family,
who owned this house,
spent as much on a loaf of Madeira sugar as they would have paid
a carpenter to construct an entire bridge.
After half a day, the sugar is finally clarified
and the confectioners can now start work on the dishes for their banquet.
"Melt your sugar..."
The first recipe is for comfits.
"Half a pound of aniseed with two pounds of sugar
"will make fine, small comfits."
Seeds, such as aniseed, fennel or coriander,
painstakingly covered with layer upon layer of sugar.
We still eat liquorice comfits today.
For a recipe this size,
-this must have been such an important part of the sweet table.
-Yeah, it would've been.
Absolutely. And when you think about it,
if sugar is so expensive, to coat it, you know,
eight to ten times at a time, building up,
-this is the sign of, "Look how wealthy I am."
Today, excessive sugar is known to be unhealthy,
but Tudor confectioners believed it had healing properties.
Coriander comfits were served at the banqueting table to aid digestion,
in the belief that they closed up the stomach
and prevented vomiting after a massive feast.
Should we check the syrup and lift a little bit out?
-No, it's still dropping.
-Yeah, it's still watery.
A lot more cooking, isn't it?
Isn't it hard not having a sugar thermometer?
It is so hard.
Because you would just look at it.
Everything is so physical here, you know, you're judging things by eye,
it's all your five senses,
judging by eye, sticking your finger in and stuff.
Wealthy families could also buy in comfits from fairs
and from traders in the big cities.
One of the earliest of London's confectioners
was a Spanish comfit-maker called Balthazar Sanchez.
Sanchez fled to Protestant England for religious reasons.
Once here, he began to work for Queen Elizabeth I,
an arch-rival of the Catholic Spanish.
We can see the success of Sanchez's confectionery from this copy of
his will. By the time of his death in 1602,
he had amassed a large enough fortune to be able to leave hundreds
of pounds to feed London's poor and to build almshouses for them.
This suggests his business was so successful
that he had entered into the hallowed ranks of the gentry.
In the early days of the trade,
very few confectioners enjoyed the wealth that Sanchez achieved.
They might be highly valued craftsmen,
but they were still dependent on their aristocratic masters.
And they couldn't afford to make mistakes
with the most expensive ingredient in the kitchen.
-There we go.
-Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
Are you ready?
Paul and Cynthia are wrangling a balancing pan
as they attempt to get just the right amount of sugar syrup
on their coriander seeds.
Yeah, move that really quick or it will start to crystallise
just in one block.
It's not as easy as it looks. They're all clumping, aren't they?
As it crystallises, it should separate, shouldn't it?
That looks so much better.
-I had a little panic.
Imagine how many hours, three hours, just...
Yeah. I think if you've had to do this all day long,
you'd need a stiff drink or two.
A gallon of mead, please, at the end of the day,
-and a back massage.
With more than 50 coats of sugar required,
the team will have to take shifts to make sure they have enough comfits
for their banqueting table.
As a bespoke wedding cake maker,
Cynthia is used to creating beautiful,
artistic pieces under pressure.
She grew up in Nigeria and is completely self-taught.
Cake making's, like, my heart's in it.
It is very much linked to my childhood and baking with my mum.
Being thrown out of your comfort zone
to get to experience life basically
through the life of my counterparts, but hundreds of years ago,
you just want to see how you stack up.
Confectioners in the 16th and 17th centuries often worked hand-in-hand
with the lady of the house.
For aristocratic women, sugar work, be it medicinal or decorative,
was seen as an art, along with music and embroidery.
A perfect hostess's sugar banquet
should not only delight the taste buds of her guests,
but offer some unexpected bonuses.
This is your next ingredient.
Any idea what it is?
It's a plant which is known today as eryngo
and it was quite common in recipes
and used for a very, very specific purpose.
They were the Viagra of their day.
-Do you know how much is there?
Culpeper said of them
that they "breedeth the seed exceedingly",
and also that they were "very good for the spirit procreative".
That's not at all euphemistic.
Well, it is a far cry from my Catholic upbringing.
But I am doing... It depends on how you play it.
I'm doing what I can to foster marital relations.
Andy's not taking this lightly at all.
Andy is trying to get every last root from there.
Make a fortune on Wigan market with these.
Sweets to boost libido might be new to Andy,
but as a troubleshooter for the confectionery industry,
there's not much he hasn't seen.
To work in confectionery you have got to be fairly unflappable
because of the nature of the stuff. You know, you're working with
materials that are at high temperatures, especially the sugar.
If you started flapping and it goes everywhere, you know,
you're in trouble, so you've got to be quite cool, calm and collected.
I love my job the most because of the pleasure it gives other people.
When you give someone something that you yourself have made,
to see the look on their face...
Oh, absolutely gorgeous.
To complement Andy's natural Viagra,
Paul and Diana are getting on with the Tudor cure for gonorrhoea -
Edible flowers were a regular feature on 17th-century tables.
This is lightly beaten egg white,
which we're just brushing onto the petals,
and then we'll dip it into fine sugar.
By the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign in 1603,
better grades of white powdered sugar
had started to become available to confectioners.
England had become a major centre for refining sugar
for the European market.
We used to crystallise rose petals at home.
My grandma grew roses. This is the simplest thing.
It's like one of those things you do as a child that is a technique
rather than a recipe, and you get something like, look,
it's like a fairyland rose,
and I was a little bit of a fairyland kid,
I loved anything fairy tale.
Shake the excess sugar off.
There we go. And we're going to pop it close to the oven.
It crispens up the petals.
The roots are blanched.
Sadly, there's nothing magical about Cynthia and Andy's eryngo.
-What do you think it tastes like?
-It tastes like...
I'll tell you a second.
I mean, it's got a thick coat of sugar now on it.
Mmm, chop suey.
It tastes like a root covered in sugar.
It does taste like a root coated in sugar, doesn't it?
You'd only eat that if you were desperate for it to
-perform another purpose.
-It's definitely medicinal.
-Yes. Not for pleasure.
You wouldn't eat that for pleasure.
No, you wouldn't eat that for pleasure, definitely not.
An aristocratic sugar banquet was all about showing off
the elite's wealth and taste.
So with three days left,
the confectioners need to focus on some more spectacular dishes.
-Right, ready for the next task?
-Yes, we are.
Marvellous. The late Tudor and early Stuart banqueting course
was a thing of beauty.
The next fundamental part of it is to make a thing called sugar plate.
There is a recipe.
-This one is from a book by a man called Thomas Dawson.
-The main thing you'll need for it is this.
-Oh, it's like a fingernail.
-This is gum trag.
-Is this gum trag?
We actually use this at the moment.
Like, if you were making sugar flowers and stuff,
the really fine ones, you'd use that.
So we use that, but from powder.
Gum tragacanth is a natural product, it's a resin,
it's a sap that comes out of a plant.
My hat off to whoever discovered that by adding something like this
to icing sugar you could make something
-that was utterly malleable...
-..and utterly brilliant.
The recipe calls for you to soak it in rose water, and it does need soaking overnight.
-We do have some pre-soaked.
-You can smell it smells...
-It smells lovely.
-It smells like a really good knicker drawer!
-It smells lovely.
Turkish delight! Turkish delight.
The crucial thing here is to know, I suspect,
what you're making with your sugar plate.
You are going to be moulding it, which is clearly the easy route.
You are also, as Mr Dawson says,
going to be making "plates, dishes,
"cups and suchlike things, wherewith you may furnish a table".
-And for your centrepiece for your banquet,
you are going to be constructing a small banqueting house made
out of sugar plate, but this is going to be the start
-of something beautiful.
-I think it's going to be.
In the 17th century, sugar sculpting was all the rage.
One royal banquet at Whitehall
boasted a complete sugar army of horses and soldiers.
I added a bit more rose water, just for wetness.
The recipe that Paul and Cynthia are using for sugar plate
combines powdered sugar, egg white,
lemon juice and the soaked gum trag
to make a malleable dough that they can mould.
We've cut a rectangle...
-..for the sides of our house.
So I want to get this done tonight so I'm going quite fast.
Cos I'm a bit concerned - we've got two days for it to dry out
brittle hard so we can stick it together.
Let's cut our edges.
The atmosphere is cold. It could...
Just take a bit longer to dry.
Take a long time to dry, or it could stick.
There we go. Two more to go, two ends and two roof.
Banqueting houses were where a select few guests could withdraw
after the main meal,
to enjoy the sugar course, and other pleasures.
They were intimate spaces tucked discreetly in gardens or hidden
on rooftops. The English love of sugar was so great that more than
60 banqueting houses were built by the elite in this era.
How are you feeling about this?
I'm a bit nervous, because if you're thinking...
-..if you need a lot of them, you need to know it's going to work.
-Hit it hard.
-Is it coming out?
-It is coming out, but bits of it are sticking.
Oh! It's so delicate.
Oh, it's just catching that little edge, isn't it?
That is fan... I'm so pleased with that.
-Look at that!
-I am actually quite pleased with that.
You've done a fantastic job with that.
-Pleased with that.
-So how many do we need?
-Right, let's get going. We've got a lot of work to do.
With even plates and bowls made of the sweet stuff,
the Tudor aristocracy were England's first sugar addicts,
with no idea of the damage it was wreaking.
Jelena Bekvalac is an expert in the study of skeletons and teeth
at the Museum of London.
This is the store where we keep about 20,000 individuals
that have been found from archaeological excavations
-within the London area.
What I'm particularly interested in is their teeth.
Yes, we've got two individuals here, which are really good contrasts.
This male was excavated from a site at Spitalfields market.
So this individual we know is from 1100 to 1200,
-but as you can see...
-The teeth are immaculate.
The teeth are phenomenal.
Yeah. You'd be hard pushed to find teeth that good these days.
I find myself sort of licking my own silver crowns quite surreptitiously.
This male individual is from a later time period
and dated to about 1595 to 1666,
so several hundred years between them,
but you can see that their teeth are in not such good condition
at all as the medieval.
So if we turn this over and show you, you can see inside better.
You've got really nasty indications of decay,
so really bad dental health.
-Some missing teeth.
-You can see here you've got the teeth that have
then been lost early, which probably again was caused from decay.
This molar here, you can see that really nasty hole.
Writing at the time,
Shakespeare's plays were full of references to stinking breath,
while European ambassadors reported that Queen Elizabeth I had lost
so many teeth that nobody could understand her when she spoke.
So can we tell from the state of his teeth how wealthy this individual
might have been, and if he would have had access to sugar?
Yes, from the context that we have from the archaeology, indicating
that they would've had the type of status that would have enabled them
to have then accessed sugar.
People are eating it and we see that decline in people's dental health.
The English loved sugar so much that they packed fruit dishes with it as well.
Marmalades and tarts were a staple of the sugar banquet.
But some fruits are more familiar than others to
our modern confectioners.
-Oh, my gosh! Look at those.
-What on earth's that?
-Seen them before?
-They are called medlars,
or the open arse fruit.
-Any arse in particular?
-That's what the French call them - cul de chien.
And they are kind of rotten.
When you read the recipe that you're about to do,
you'll see it calls for rotten medlars.
The term we tend to use now is bletted.
They've been picked from the tree and they've been
left somewhere cold until they soften,
so you can see they are very, very soft.
It's not the most attractive fruit you ever saw, is it?
Well, it isn't,
but the first time I tasted one I couldn't get over
how exquisite it was.
-It smells interesting.
It smells the way it looks.
Have a taste of it.
Do you mind if I don't?
It's nice. Like baked apple.
Once grown in orchards across England,
medlars have been popular since medieval times.
Andy is simmering them with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and egg yolks.
And Cynthia has made pastry tart cases.
But the temperature of the ancient oven will be very hard to judge,
so she will be baking blind in every sense.
Never quite done anything like this before, so...
It'll be fine.
All of the confectioners are beginning to recognise
the limitations of their primitive equipment.
It needs to boil a bit more, doesn't it?
-I know. These cauldrons, they just...
-Let's pop the lid back on.
By the time they come to the boil they need more fuel.
-It must have been a real challenge.
The whole thing is boiling hot,
handles are hot, but we need more fire.
We need a lot more heat to get it to boil.
It is wobbly. The pot is wobbly,
so you have to be very, very careful, otherwise there will be
a bit of scalding going on.
-So we're having to be very, very careful not...
-I'm going to get a bit more and put it on the other side.
-..not to shake it too much.
One out first.
-Doesn't that look like a cowpat?
-It's really bad.
It's like there's several layers of badness here.
The ovens are quite tricky to control,
so it's not cooked at a high enough temperature.
It must've been a nightmare to work with.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
It's... It's gone awfully wrong, really, so...
So you did it wrong?
That is one way to interpret it.
If you work at any sort of event,
of which a banquet is certainly an event,
you would've thought ahead and there is always a plan B, isn't there?
Luckily, pastry cases often weren't eaten,
they were just vessels for serving the fruit mixture,
so Cynthia is improvising with a serving bowl.
Yeah, mine's disappeared.
-Lock and load.
After a long day of struggling with primitive equipment,
the confectioners are relaxing with yet another unfamiliar tool -
engraved wafer irons.
Wafers were a staple of the banqueting table
and were often used as the base
for other dishes or dipped in sugared wine.
-Would you like a knife, Andy?
-It's still too soft.
He's just going in there, nicking my heat.
I need more heat.
-That one's ready.
Oh, that's exciting.
I'm just going to give it a minute.
-It's very difficult to make Tudor wafers, isn't it?
Yeah, it's really hard to judge.
Oh, I can't see. Someone take that.
-Smoke in my eyes.
Do you want to put yours on first?
There's absolutely no way of knowing what's happening inside
-those irons once you clamp them shut.
-No, that's it.
-I've got a wafer! One wafer!
20 minutes for a wafer is not good yield on your time.
-But it's beautiful, isn't it?
-They are beautiful.
-Well done, everybody, well done.
As the 17th century progressed,
England's trading links were spreading across the globe.
Portuguese imports poured into the country,
sugar from their cane fields in Brazil and luxurious citrus fruits.
Cynthia is making a recipe from Sir Hugh Plat's book
Delights For Ladies,
called To Preserve Oranges After The Portugal Fashion.
The closest thing I'd say it smells like is Orange Tango,
that's how intense. It smells artificial.
The softened oranges have been soaked overnight in syrup
and now are being mixed with sugar to make a marmalade.
There's something really satisfying about doing this.
It is just pulverising it with very little effort, actually.
Do you want to taste that?
-It tastes amazing.
-Oh, let's have a little lick.
Oh, my goodness!
-That is gorgeous!
Wow! I can't wait to try them when they're done.
Everything they did seems so packed full of flavour.
-It's flavour and colour first, isn't it?
Paul's back at the balancing pan on the next comfit shift.
I have probably been doing these now over an hour and there are still
50 more coats to put on here.
50 more. So it is quite tough,
but it is incredibly satisfying,
and the smell, it must've been the most exotic smell they had,
to have toasted coriander seeds coated in sugar,
and I've never had a toasted coriander seed
covered in sugar, so I can't wait to see what they taste like,
but another 50 coats to get a tiny little seed,
so I have got a lot of work to do.
The Portuguese oranges are being stuffed with marmalade,
ready to be coated with boiling sugar syrup.
Are you all right? It is chilly out here.
Yeah, but I'm just feeling a little bit light-headed in there so...
-Standing over the burner?
Carbon monoxide poisoning not a massive issue, generally for cooks now...
Oh, so it's not just me, then?
No, no, no. In the past, when you look at the kind of ailments
that cooks suffered from, charcoal chafing stoves like this were one
of the banes of cooks' existences.
If you're stirring a hot stove all day, obviously inhaling it,
respiratory failure was a real problem, and cooks did die from it,
-often quite high-ranking cooks.
-So I think you probably did well to come outside.
We don't necessarily want to replicate every aspect of the past.
I think these need to come out, by the way.
Yeah, they're starting to just burn.
How are you finding the recipes for this,
and the fact that they're quite so vague?
I'm OK with this cos, you know,
growing up, you don't have set recipes.
My grandma will say, "Take a handful of something and put it in there."
My grandma's five-foot-one with tiny hands and I am five-eight with huge hands.
Whose handful of sugar is the handful of the person cooking.
So that's about as much instruction as you get,
so I'm comfortable, you know, you have a gut feel and you go with it.
Oh, my God!
-Do they taste all right?
-They're really tart
and really sweet and really strong,
and they make me feel more alive than I think I've done all day!
Producing delights like these oranges relied on imports
of expensive foreign sugar.
With a seemingly insatiable demand among the upper classes,
the English urgently needed their own supply,
and they finally acquired the perfect source.
In 1625 they'd seized Barbados,
which would become the first Caribbean island where they
would set up sugar plantations.
When the fledgling colony started to grow sugar for export in the 1640s,
most of the labour was provided by white people.
These were mostly Irish who worked in the fields side by side with the
enslaved Africans who were starting to be imported here in their thousands.
Gradually, forced labour from Ireland was replaced by the slaves,
torn from their homeland against their will
to work in the sugar plantations.
This tortured history is particularly poignant to me
as somebody who is part Irish and part Nigerian.
Most of the slaves were taken from west Africa,
many of whom came from what is present-day Nigeria.
While the Irish undoubtedly suffered terribly,
it is those of African descent who still endure the legacy
of marginalisation, exclusion and racism that was bound up
in their enslavement.
By 1700, there would be over 50,000 slaves on Barbados.
The sugar plantation had become the ultimate business model,
feeding what would become known as the triangular trade.
European goods were exchanged for African slaves,
who were shipped to the West Indies to work the plantations,
and finally the resulting sugar was sent back to Europe.
Sugar would make England rich,
but at a horrific human cost.
Hugh Cumberbatch supervises a rum factory
on one of the oldest surviving sugar plantations in the Caribbean.
What we are doing here is how it was done from the time of slavery until now.
They're harvesting by machete.
People tied the canes in bundles and transported them either
to the factory or to the mill directly.
Yeah, I'll have one more.
What would it have been like for a slave
who was harvesting the sugar cane crop?
Back then, the fields would have been covered, say,
with slaves using the machete.
There were a lot of activities in the field to get the canes reaped
as quickly as possible, and as much as possible.
You had to work, you were a property, per se.
The master, he bought you.
There was no other options. You were bought to work, you had to work,
And literally with people being worked to death?
To death, yeah. Or in some cases, beaten to death.
Sugar imports into England soared,
and prices fell by 70% between 1640-1680,
as the free labour of the slaves fed the supply of the country.
The world of the English confectioner was completely transformed by the conquest
of the Caribbean islands.
The kind of brunt of that is borne by the Africans
that the British shipped in order to produce this sugar.
-Considering sugar is so prolific,
we're all addicted to it, we love it, it's there.
-But it's a sweet story usually...for a sweet substance.
-We have here one of the very earliest accounts
of plantation life.
"The planters buy them out of the ship.
"They choose them as they do horses in a market.
"£20 sterling is a price for the best man Negro
"and 25, 26 or £27 for a woman.
"The children are at easier rates."
One of the big problems that the slavers
ran into in the early days was that of suicide.
Lots of the people chose to kill themselves.
Of course, yeah, than face that fate, yeah.
Not only that fate for themselves, but also for their children as well.
-So I have another little excerpt.
"They believe in resurrection and that they will go into their country
"again and have their youth renewed,
"and lodging this opinion in their hearts,
"they make it an ordinary practice, upon any great fright,
"or threatening from their masters, to hang themselves."
So obviously the plantation owners are deeply, deeply enraged,
so one of them devises a disincentive.
"And he calls one of their heads to be cut off
"and fed upon a pole a dozen foot high,
"and having done that, called all his Negroes to come forth
"and march about this head and bid them look on it.
"He then told them, how was it possible
"that body could go without head?
"Being convinced by this sad yet lively spectacle,
"they changed their opinions,
"and after that, no more hung themselves."
It's, it's... It's speechless.
Our jobs are using sugar every day.
The cruelty's just unbearable. It's...
It's not just then...
..what it has led to.
It's the entire legacy of race.
-Like, all of the racism, all of the stereotypes about black people,
all of that comes from this period.
And it's just, it's just money.
I mean, that simple act, as well, just says, you know,
how much money was at the heart of everything.
I think it was just greed. I don't think it was sugar itself.
It makes me feel very uncomfortable
about where my job has come from, in a way.
Plentiful sugar was not the only Caribbean crop that would
transform the world of the confectioner.
When English troops captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655,
they gained access to a precious commodity that had previously been
monopolised by the Spanish Empire...
-Look what she's got, look what she's got!
So you're going to be making a very, very early chocolate recipe.
It comes from a recipe book which was translated from the Spanish
by a man called Captain James Wadsworth.
He felt the need to tell his potential audience about the virtues
of chocolate. Because, like so much, once again,
it was linked very much to medicine.
He started by saying,
"Doctors, lay by your irksome books, and all you petty-fogging rooks,
"leave quacking, and enucleate the virtues of our chocolate."
So he's really bigging up the chocolate.
-"Nor need the women longer grieve who spend their oil,
"yet not conceive,
"for 'tis a help immediate if such but lick of chocolate."
Our confectioners have blocks of bitter, coarsely ground cocoa beans,
quite unlike the sweet, smooth chocolate of today.
-Yeah? Chuck them in.
Incredibly, it would take more than 200 years to invent solid
chocolate bars that were good enough to eat.
In the 17th century it was hot chocolate that was all the rage.
Then three cods of logwood.
The Spanish roots of this recipe are evident
from the inclusion of logwood,
which comes from the Campeche tree,
which is native to Mexico.
I don't know what a cod is. Is cod a length?
It doesn't have much flavour, but it does go incredibly...
It doesn't seem to be bringing out any colour.
Maybe it does when it's boiled.
Ready? Chocolate going in.
Stir continuous, so it doesn't burn on the bottom.
-Spicy. Oh, my God.
It smells so intense.
It smells lovely. Can you remember the first time you either saw or tasted chocolate?
As a child, my dad would take me with him to London,
and he would make pilgrimage to a posh chocolate shop on Bond Street,
buying himself chocolates,
I hasten to add, not to buy me chocolates.
And I remember sort of going in and seeing all these glistening chocolates
in rows and rows and rows.
And the smell when you walked into that shop
was like something else.
A tad more. Oh, wow, look at the colour of it.
-You can see the red, actually.
-Yeah, you can.
-You can see that red now, yeah.
The confectioners are using a molinet,
a 17th-century chocolate whisk, to froth it up.
Oh, my goodness me.
-That is gorgeous. Look at the colour.
-That looks so beautiful.
Oh, my God. That is amazing.
-Ooh, I just got a kick of chilli.
-It's got a lovely kick.
-It's like hot ganache, isn't it?
Hannah Woolley became the first female cookery writer to
be published in England.
As the third day draws to a close,
Paul and Diana are following her recipe for marchpane,
the old name for baked marzipan.
"To make marchpane according to the best art...
"Two pound of Jordan almonds,
"blanche them and beat them very fine in a stone mortar."
We are skinning the almonds, so it comes off really, really easily,
but when they've been in there the optimum amount of time,
they will literally just slip out,
whizz across the kitchen when you're doing this.
I used to have to do this every year when my dad was making cakes.
He used to make Dundee cake
and I would have to skin the almonds for him.
There's a song in there somewhere.
THEY HUM GREENSLEEVES
We can rock.
I don't know the rest of the words!
Moulded marchpane could be used to construct castles,
chess boards and other playful pieces for the banqueting table.
It does taste beautiful with rose water,
which is not used as much now in marzipan.
It just tastes of almond.
But there's a small technical problem with one of the moulds.
I'm freeing up her nipples, because they got...
..clogged with icing sugar, which is no good at all.
I'm going to roll it and hope that we can get that off in one piece.
-There she is.
Wow. This is the first time I've ever had to work on boobs
-this close up in my life.
And they are epic, aren't they?
Well, yeah. See what you're missing out on?
-Ready for the oven.
-And finally, Lady Dorothy, that's what I'm calling her.
There we go. Lady Dorothy going in.
It's like someone's had a chew on the end of that...
Confectioners used dyes sourced from around the globe to decorate
their sugar plate and marchpane.
While blue azurite, a rather toxic pigment, was shipped from Germany,
saffron was grown in Essex.
That will make a beautiful yellow.
Yeah, but I think that's used to grind that.
No, I think this is going to make a colour, I think.
-I'm going to grind this down...
-..and add some egg white to it and see if it will...
-Let's see what happens.
-Yeah, but I've no idea what it is.
Oh, look, look, the colour that's coming out.
-Is it cochineal? I wonder if it's cochineal.
It is, it is, it is.
-So it's beetles.
-It's dried beetles...
The vivid red of the cochineal beetles,
harvested from prickly pear cacti,
came to English kitchens from Peru and Mexico.
I bet it's really natural and lovely.
-It tastes delicious.
Just like eating a really nice green salad.
-It's like a wheatgrass shot.
Here comes the Madonna.
Lady Dorothy - how is she looking?
-Oh, she's beautiful.
Great. Let's turn her the right way.
She was ripe.
I'm really pleased that the oven has dried the embellishments,
the relief, so that we can get detail and decoration onto it.
A Tudor high-five, that was!
It's the day of the banquet,
and the moment of truth for their sugar plate,
which has been drying for two days.
Oh, my God... Oh, my goodness, look at that! That is brilliant.
-That's held perfectly.
-You just earned your keep for the day.
Brilliant. I only had an hour's sleep worrying about that.
Seriously. Wow, we've got to paint it, though.
Feathers were a perfect tool for the detailed artistic pieces.
Totally outside my normal remit.
I don't normally get involved in such an intricate level,
but I have to say, it's very satisfying.
We want the elephant to look like the most exotic,
amazing creature that's ever come out of some strange land
-that nobody's ever seen.
-This needs a gold trunk.
Yeah, a gold trunk.
The centrepiece is the sugar plate banqueting house, and Cynthia,
who's used to working with moulded sugar for her wedding cakes,
is taking charge.
Everything crossed this works...
Do you know, as soon as Cynthia put the back of the house on...
..my heart started beating faster. It looks like a house.
Phew. I'm excited like it's Christmas Eve, honestly.
All my thoughts are going towards the roof at the moment,
I'm not worried about the house itself.
I'm just thinking about the roof.
Does this fit? It looks like it's going to fit,
-but there is a crack in the back, so we have to be very...
-Oops, sorry, Andy.
Confectioners would have used props to hold up their centrepieces,
which were built for show, not always to be eaten.
If this breaks completely, then we can't use it.
So the crack is just here.
Cynthia's just mortaring it up with more icing.
Yeah, at this point it would move so slowly,
that even though it might look fine,
it's just moving like literally millimetres,
and then if it's going to go, it'll all go suddenly.
-And crash on the board.
-And we don't want that to happen.
-No pressure, Cynth!
We do not panic.
We've definitely got some movement here.
-I don't know which one it is.
-It's both of them.
-Both of them need holding up.
-Gravity's annoying, isn't it?
It's cracking, Cynth, it's getting worse, look.
And this one's moved as well.
You know what? Let's take these roofs off.
-These are going to go.
-Are you sure?
So, guys, this now has two pieces.
Guys, this roof's cracked in half.
I think we should take that roof off.
Fearful of collapsing the entire structure,
the confectioners have abandoned the roof for the time being.
I don't think we've achieved enough,
and not always getting the result that we anticipated.
I'm just worried it's going to look really rubbish.
After three days of panning,
Paul is adding cochineal to the sugar syrup in a last-ditch attempt
to improve his comfits.
I am a bit tense, because in the bottom a lot of the seeds
are popping out of the sugar,
and I'm really wanting a smooth, even ball.
It must take hours and hours, even days and days and days, of practice,
to get an even coating.
I wanted them to be better, a lot better.
The confectioners have spent four days as highly skilled servants
to the aristocracy, but will their final dishes be up to scratch?
-Oh, my goodness.
The peacock is fabulous.
-Your comfits, as well.
-My favourites are these ones.
-They don't taste very English to me.
-They taste like a really, like, highly spiced and flavoured,
like they'd be from India or something.
-Yeah, very exotic, aren't they?
-Do you know what? I would honestly consider to start making those and experimenting with them.
I don't know why I got attached to them,
I don't know if it was just the process, the colour, the taste, the smell,
but I think we're all attached to something.
This is called eryngo, and it's a root out of the garden.
-It's supposed to have Viagra-like properties.
-I'm quite into that.
-Oh, hang on.
The more I chew...
It gives me like a real sense, though,
-that they possibly had a very, very different palate to ours.
-Sense of taste.
Now, we do have one critical element lacking.
I don't think without a roof you can pass this off,
so you've got to put something on top.
Just know that it will only fall once.
No, it's not moving, it's not moving.
Please, do not touch it.
I need to get it together.
I think we're all right.
-Can they come in now, please?
-Really super quickly!
I'll go and get the guests.
Over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries,
ever-expanding trade routes brought new and precious ingredients into
as they became indispensable servants, creating ever more ambitious dishes.
Wow, that's incredible.
Wonderful. That's just like eating pure sugar.
The explosion of sugar production,
enabled by the slave plantations of the Caribbean,
fed the national addiction,
fuelled the country's growing economy
and changed the diet of the English for ever.
-Confectioners, you smashed it. They absolutely love it.
And the roof is still on the building!
-Brilliant, we did it.
Really lovely. It's super sexy. Everyone was eating with their fingers. Honestly...
-Just a job well done.
Probably the most exciting thing I've done in a very, very long time.
They were a lot more adventurous than I think we are these days.
-I was going to say...
Really, really strong flavours.
Intense flavours, yeah. Those oranges and the rose water,
everything dialled up maximum, wasn't it?
And the biggest thing I'm surprised about is the colour.
Look, we're not exactly flamboyant, but all the food is flamboyant.
It's been wonderful watching you approach everything with such
enthusiasm, but what have you actually loved about the period?
There comes across in the recipes a respect for the confectioners' own intuitions.
I definitely found it very soothing.
It takes you away from the normal day-to-day worries and anxieties.
With all the labour-saving technology and equipment that we have today,
actually we're more stressed
and we're under more time pressure today than
we were doing it by hand.
So I think Tudor confectionery rocks!
With sugar becoming rapidly more available,
its association with extreme wealth and privilege faded,
and sugar banquets became a thing of the past.
Next time, our team will run their own high-end
Georgian confectionery shop in Bath,
as they move out of the homes of the elite and onto the high streets.
Four modern-day confectioners step back in time to discover what life was like for their Tudor predecessors. They explore how our national sweet tooth developed as the tables of the aristocracy now boasted fantastic displays of sugarcraft to show off their wealth and status. The sweetmakers also explore the negative side of the introduction of sugar to the Tudor lifestyle, including the impact on teeth and fuelling our involvement in the most shameful chapters in British history - the slave trade.
Guided by food historian Dr Annie Gray and social historian Emma Dabiri, our modern professionals are entering the world of the 16th-century confectioner - a time when sugar was believed to have medicinal qualities and was so valuable it was kept under lock and key. Sugar was the preserve of the elite so every dish the team makes forms part of an elaborate aristocratic sugar banquet.
Our confectioners are chocolatier Paul A Young, wedding cake designer Cynthia Stroud, sweet consultant Andy Baxendale and chocolatier Diana Short. They spend four days using original recipes, ingredients and equipment to create dishes that haven't been made, let alone tasted, for hundreds of years.
Their final lavish sugar banquet includes candied roses (believed to cure gonorrhea), a sweet candied root that was considered to be a Tudor aphrodisiac, sugar plates and goblets, gorgeously decorated marzipan and a spectacular model banqueting house made entirely of sugar.