The Complete Confectioner, or, The Whole Art of Confecionary, Made Easy, by Frederick Nutt
This book is a deeply interesting book, and its contents open up a view into the world of dining for English elites in the period of the early 19th century. Published in 1808, this book is the kind that would have been very popular during the days of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. And given the popularity of the regency period to contemporary readers, it is little surprise that a book like this would remain popular as a way of understanding the foodways of British elites during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. this book does provide just such a window into that period, and it prompts the reader to have a lot of interesting questions of the tastes and habits of British elites. It must be noted that this is a book that deals with elite culture. The people buying this book and preparing the items in it were not rural cotters or urban factory workers at the edge of survival, but rather people who had enough disposable income to buy foods from foreign sources or to grow tropical fruits like oranges and pine apples (the spelling of the time) in greenhouses.
This book, at around 300 pages, consists of a large variety of recipes that would be familiar to the household of an elite or elite aspirant in Napoleonic England. The book begins with about forty recipes for biscuits and related dishes, which sets the tone for the incredible variety of dishes to be found in a book that largely lives up to its name. After that come some recipes for wafers, drops, and prawlongs (pralines), a type of food that has become much less popular than it was during the time this book was written. After that comes a variety of jellies and jams. The author includes various essences for waters and various waters, including lemonade and orangeade. There is a staggering amount of ice cream, many flavors of which are not made often in contemporary times like black currant or burnt iced cream, for example. The frequency of fruit ices suggests the ability to find ice despite the absence of powered refrigeration. After that there is a large number of wet and dry preserved fruits as well as some fruits preserved in brandy. The book then ends with some recipes for homemade liqueurs, chesses, puddings, and homemade wines, including, at the end, mead and milk punch.
One of the notable aspects of this book and its recipes that is worthy of reflection is the way that there are so many different recipes with very similar ingredients and only slight changes in preparation. Given the very limited ingredients that appear in many of these recipes, it would appear that the author cultivated a high degree of skill in changing the way that these ingredients were prepared as a way of avoiding boredom and providing for a large variety. And if this book demonstrates anything, it is a large variety of foods, and that is something that ought to impress the modern reader. Even if some of the dishes themselves are ones that few contemporaries would be familiar with–including parmesan cheese ice cream, the approach of the author of this book in seeking the maximum amount of variety from his ingredients is something that contemporary cooks and British elites would have likely appreciated a lot. Given the continuing popularity of Regency novels among contemporary readers, it seems likely that this book and others like it will continue to be resources for readers and writers who want to better understand the world of novelists and their characters, especially among the more privileged classes, since few people want to read about peasants or industrial workers anyway.