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A method of preserving fruit, whereby the water is drawn out, preventing the growth of micro-organisms, leaving the natural sugar to act as a preservative.
Combining dried fruit with nuts and spices has been traditional in English cooking since medieval times, when crusaders returning from the Middle East introduced dried vine fruits, prunes, figs, dates and almonds.
At this time dried fruit was used not only in sweet dishes - at a time when sugar wasn"t in common usage - but with savoury food, especially meat pies and stews.
The 15th century Harleian manuscripts give an extremely good recipe for braised ribs of beef cooked with cinnamon, cloves, currants, peppercorns, red wine, red wine vinegar and saffron. Te same source gives a recipe for meat balls tat includes ground almonds, cloves, currants and mace.
In the early 17th century, there was a threat that imports of currants from Greece were to be cut. According to the Venetian amassador of the time, "Such a thing cannot take place without dscontenting the entire population of England, which consumes a greater amount of this fruit than all the rest of the world". See "Crèvecoeur", "Harleian manuscripts"; "Pie"; "St. John de":