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 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 10:26

'The Queen's Closet Opened' is not a voyeuristic peek at Her Maj's latest millinery confections, nor is it a salacious outing of yet another flamboyant celeb, MP or vicar. Rather it is a collection of mid-17th century recipes assembled for Queen Henrietta Maria and published in London in 1655. Some years ago I transcribed these recipes from photos of the original and bound them up in a little book with a glossary of the various terms for cooking methods, utensils, ingredients etc.

But one word that confounded me and continues to do so is “vargels”. Does anyone know its meaning, or can offer a suggestion... even just a guess?

It seems to be some sort of seasoning or minor ingredient, and was probably not in a liquid form. It appears only once and only in one recipe (of 85 total in the collection). Although the spelling throughout the original book is often inconsistent, even sometimes within the same recipe, I have no reason to think this word is a typographical error as no other typos seem to exist. I haven’t found the word, or this particular recipe, in any other contemporary collections (which are often word-for-word copies of each other), and it doesn’t appear in Robert May’s 1685 “The Accomplisht Cook” which is probably the most comprehensive collection of 17th century English/Scottish recipes.

To put it in context the full recipe, complete with those lovely long-s’s (here I’ve used §), is as follows:

To boyle a Capon larded with Lemons

Take a fair Capon and Truss him, boyl him by him§elfe in faire water, with a little Oat-meale, then take Mutton Broth, and halfe a pint of white Wine, a bundell of Herbs, whole Mace, §ea§on it with Vargels, put Marrow, Dates, §ea§on it with Sugar, then take pre§erved Lemons and cut them like Lard, and with a larding pin, lard it in, then put the Capon in a deep Di§h, thicken your broth with Almonds, and powre it on the Capon.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 11:43

I would doubt that it's a powder either but a numbers of little 'things' like peppercorns or capers from the use of the plural. There's a north African flavour with the preserved lemons, dates and almonds but I suppose that could have come via Spain or Sicily or various other routes.
That really doesn't help, I know, since it could be lots of things like cardamoms or pink peppercorns or a specific name for a particular form or variety of an ingredient now obsolete.
Since this term doesn't appear in the other recipes, is there anything that strikes you as a possibility that is missing from them? I notice that there's neither salt nor pepper in the recipe, is that usual?

Edit - Meles, your book is online so we can all have a look. The link is 'page images in Spain'. The site is in Catalan but the book isn't, fortunately.http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=olbp26675
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 12:14

My thinking too ferval, could 'vargels' simply be salt and pepper? In a modern receipe the s&p would appear in the list with the other dry seasoning ingredients, just as it has in your receipe MM.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 12:25

But if it just meant salt and pepper, it would surely turn up more than once in this or other books?
It must be a really unusual ingredient so that makes it all the harder to guess and I suspect that guessing is the only option.

Edit - MM, what page is your recipe on and what is it intended to treat? I'm pushed for time to search the book just now.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 12:32

I agree with you ferval that it is probably not a powder but " a number of little 'things' like peppercorns or capers from the use of the plural".

In other recipes in the book ingredients such as peppercorns, dates, raisins, nuts, currants, barberries and even various flowers like marigolds and wallflowers, appear under obvious proper names (albeit with sometimes slightly bizarre spellings). However I did wonder if vargels might be a specific variety of fruit or nut perhaps. For example Tudor recipes often say "wardens" to mean hard pears - a warden being a specific variety of cooking pear. Similarly today in France one might buy confiture de Mirabelle, de Brignoles, d'Ente ...and other specific plum varieties, rather than a pot of something described simply as "plum jam". But I still cannot sensibly link vargels to any type of fruit etc.

Re. the abscence of salt and pepper... most recipes in the collection do not mention them, other than as peppercorns (ie not finely milled) or as "good sea-salt" when making up preserving brines. All the recipes are fairly minimalist in their detail and I think salt and pepper seasoning was left to the cook's individual discetion. Also in this specific recipe (as in others) there is the use of preserved (ie salted) produce, here lemons, so often the cook's problem was actually to reduce the saltiness of a dish rather than add salt.


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 02 Sep 2012, 12:46; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : §pelling)
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 12:41

Page numbers? ... the original had no pagination as I recall, and I don't think it is available in print or on-line. The photographs of the 1655 original appeared as page headers/illustrations in a modern (1980/90s) cookbook called, "Take a Buttock of Beef", which was a collection of modern tried and tested recipes "based" on original 17th century recipes. As I recall these modern-style practical recipes did not closely resemble the originals - and the photos of the original pages were only included as pictures to accompany the modern text.

My transcription had a "print run" of only five. I printed and hand-bound all five copies and gave them as presents to friends. I kept one copy for myself.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 13:17

Isn't this it?




The whole book is on the site above. The page numbers question was silly, it referred to the pages of the online version.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 13:33

Oh! Shocked

Yes that is indeed it! Although I had copies of a slightly earlier 1655 edition! Gosh thanks ferval for finding that ... I never thought it would be available on line and as a photo-faximilie of the original edition!

I need to have a good look. In the mean time a 21st century Sunday lunch needs cooking.

Thanks again. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 14:16

I'm wondering where you got your extract, MM?


According to the University of Adelaide who have put W.M.'s work up on the internet as "The Compleat Cook", an extract from "The Queen's Closet" the passage reads thus:

Quote :
To boyle a Capon larded with Lemons.

Take a fair Capon and truss him, boyl him by himselfe in faire water with a little small Oat-meal, then take Mutton Broath, and half a pint of White-wine, a bundle of Herbs, whole Mace, season it with Verjuyce, put Marrow, Dates, season it with Sugar, then take preserved Lemons and cut them like Lard, and with a larding pin, lard in it, then put the capon in a deep dish, thicken your broth with Almonds, and poure it on the Capon.

Now this makes much more sense to me. Verjuice (green juice) was indeed a common flavouring in the period - an essence of grape much like modern vinegar but not as tart.

Here is the Gutenburg version:



The Compleat Cook by W.M.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 14:42

You really have to read the middle "receipt" from W.M. very carefully, bearing in mind typography of the period (and even then, it's still weird!)

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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 14:48

Well yes verjus, verjuyce etc ... did originally come to mind - except in my copy they were always spelled thus - and not as: "vargels"

I will need to look back, if I can, but seeing these alternatives from "corrected and updated" editions I think you may well be correct in that vargels - in my edition - was actually a typo/spelling error.

Or, and I am quite happy to accept this, that I made a fundamental error when I transcribed this.

Mea culpa, perhaps.

BUT I am so glad I can see the original (at least the 1658 edition) on line. I think I might well reprint and rebind these like I did before.... but supplemented by an updated glossary.

Thanks all .... never thought I would get such a quick result.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 14:50

The online version from the Barcelona University which ferval links to does not include the cooking recipes as far as I can see but covers the medicinal entries completely.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 14:51

@nordmann wrote:
You really have to read the middle "receipt" from W.M. very carefully, bearing in mind typography of the period (and even then, it's still weird!).

.... §illy §od !


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 02 Sep 2012, 15:01; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 14:57

Ah, Barcelona have it as a separate publication. Here's the relevant page:




And here's a link to the first page so you can browse through it yourself. It's fascinating stuff!

The Compleat Cook by W.M.



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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 15:48

Thanks all for such a quick response, and with such a richness of information to be pursued at my leisure. Absolutely brilliant.

Who would image just 10 years ago, how the internet and more specifically message boards such as this, would be able to work like that.

Such a quick response and with links to original sources too. Great work guys!
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 15:54

Thanks Nordmann.
It looks rather an interesting dish but I'd prefer not to use mutton broth. Larding a bird with preserved lemons is a nice touch, I'd try that if I had a proper larding needle, something I've wanted for years.

Now, what's Hippocras?
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 20:25

Hippocras is a spiced wine, so called because the wine, once spiced, then had to be strained through a conical filter bag which at that time was a common item to be found in any apothecary and was known as "manicum Hippocraticum" (the sleeve of Hippocrates).

The spices used varied but cinnamon, cardamoms, grains of paradise and long pepper were the usual ingredients. Once added and left a day or so to do their business in the wine the mixture was then sieved through the manicum and a red dye then added if necessary.

Here's a recipe for Hippocras - de-luxe royal edition - from 1508;

"Take ginger, pepper, graines, canell, sinamon, sugar and tornsole, than looke ye have five or sixe bags for your ipocras to run in, and a pearch that your renners may ren on, than must ye have sixe peuter basins to stand under your bags, than look your spice be ready, and your ginger well pared or if it be beaten to pouder, than looke your stalkes of sinamon be well coloured and sweete: canell is not so gentle in operation, sinamon, is hotte and dry, graines of paradice be hot and moist, ginger, grains, long pepper ben hot and moist, sinamon, canell and redde wine colouring.

Now knowe yee the proportions of your ipocras, than beate your pouders, eache by them selfe, and put them in bladders and hange your bagges sure that no bagge tough other, but let each basinge touch other, let the first basin be of a gallon, and each of the other a pottell, than put in your basin a gallon of red Wine, put these to your pouders, and stire them well, than put them into the firste bage, and let it ren, than put them in the second bagge, than take a peece in your hand and assay if it be stronge of Ginger, and alay it with sinamon, and if it be strong of sinamon, alay it with sugar, and look ye let it ren through sixe renners, and your ipocras into a close Vessel and keep the receit, for it will serve for sewers, than serve your souvraign with wafers and ipocras."

Henry VIII was allegedly mad for the stuff, though Elizabeth later actually banned it so as to discourage illicit trading with Spain for the more esoteric spices. It is still popular here in Norway where it's sold, especially around Jul, as a form of gløgg.
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 21:16

Looking for some of the more unusual herbs and spices, I've ended up here

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24790/24790-h/keruyng.html#keruyng_sauce_fowl


It's all wonderful. Is the net a blessing or a curse when there is all this out there to stop a buddy doing any work of any kind?
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 22:01

"Here endeth the sauces"

Classic!
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PostSubject: Re: 'The Queen's Closet Opened' - Help, what are vargels?   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 22:30

The Fyrst boke of curtasye is full of useful advice,

Ȝif þou sp[i]tt ouer the borde, or elles opoñ,
Þou schalle be holden an vncurtayse mon;

Indeed.


As is the Second.

With felawe, maystur, or her degré,
Þou schalt enquere be curtasye
In what par[t] of þe bedde he wylle lye;
Be honest and lye þou fer hym fro,
Þou art not wyse but þou do so.

I assume Mr Hague and Mr Myers remembered that.


The customers in the bar would do well to be advised

No filthy taulke
in no wise vse,
Thy tonge therby
for to abuse.

and to

Ne drynk behynde no mannes bakke,
For yf þou do, thow art to lakke.
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