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Mousse-art - 10/19/00


"13 good reasons why chocolate mousse isnÕt medieval." by Lady Jehanne de Huguenin.


NOTE: See also the files: chocolate-msg, sugar-msg, bev-distilled-msg, eggs-msg,

aspic-msg, coffee-msg, puddings-msg, desserts-msg.





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                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org                                         



Originally published in January, AS 34 in "Storm Tidings", the newsletter for the Shire of Adamastor in Cape Town, South Africa.



          13 good reasons why chocolate mousse isnÕt medieval.

                     by Lady Jehanne de Huguenin.


A heavily disguised lesson in some aspects of medieval cuisine


For some reason, if I ask the Herald for suggestions as to what I should

make for a potluck, he usually says "Chocolate mousse." To which I

invariably answer "It isnÕt period," or, occasionally, "ItÕs not period,

dammit!!" I am sometimes tempted to assume that the HeraldÕs harping on

this theme is deliberately unhelpful and designed merely to irritate.

However, mature reflection suggests that such a chivalrous and noble

individual could never stoop to those depths. He must therefore be sorely

afflicted with (a) a liking for chocolate mousse, and (b) ignorance. While

I am unable to indulge (a) within the scope of this society, I can

certainly address (b), which I do below, at some length.


As an added bonus, at no extra charge, and for purposes of discussion, I

reproduce below my favourite Chocolate Mousse recipe. But straitly do I

charge all gentles of the Shire to pray remember that it is a bastard and

upstart recipe, having no place in our Current Middle Ages; for reasons

which I hope I shall be able to demonstrate.





250 ml caster sugar

250 ml cocoa powder

125 ml strong black coffee

4 eggs

250 ml cream

dash of rum or brandy

50g walnuts or pecan nuts


Stir sugar, coffee and cocoa over low heat until well mixed and smooth.

Beat egg yolks until pale and thick and beat in chocolate mix. Cool to room

temperature. Whip cream to soft peaks and fold into chocolate mixture with

nuts and rum/brandy (nuts and alcohol are optional). Beat half of egg

whites until stiff and fold into chocolate mixture (also optional).

Refigerate and allow to set.


Other variations on the chocolate mousse concept use chocolate instead of

cocoa, or set the mix with gelatine.



This discussion is based on my experience of medieval cookery, which I

define for my own purposes as ending somewhere around late 15th century or

early 16th. From the 16th century onwards, the development of cooking

techniques brings the recipes and concepts much closer to our familiar

modern cuisine, and they lose their distinctive medieval character to some

extent. Chocolate mousse has perhaps the most in common with an Elizabethan

illusion food called "A dysshe of Snowe", but I donÕt define that as a

medieval dish. (IÕve reproduced it at the end of this article, just for



Chocolate mousse? ItÕs not medieval. HereÕs why:


1. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "mousse" appeared

first in the late 19th century (1892, a recipe for Chestnut Mousse in an

Encyclopedia of Cookery). The OED isnÕt great on cookbooks, and there are

probably earlier examples that they havenÕt found, but not that much

earlier: 1892 is very far out of our period indeed. The OED suggests that

the word "mousse" developed from "moss", which is "a kind of fine sugar

work, made by confectioners, in imitation of moss" (Edward Phillips, The

New World of English Words, 1706). So we could have a mousse in the 19th

century or a moss in the 18th and probably 17th. Still way out of the SCA



2. Chocolate. This was discovered in South America by the Spanish explorers

of the early sixteenth century; to the best of my (admittedly limited)

knowledge chocolate or cocoa do not appear as an ingredient in any cookery

books of our period. Cortez and the boys were familiar with it, but it took

a while to permeate to the rest of society. In 1604 a dictionary definition

describes it as a drink of the South American Indians; it has appeared as a

Western confectionary by 1659, at six shillings and sixpence per pound for

the best sort. It would have been far too expensive for extensive use as an

ingredient in sweet dishes.


3. Cocoa powder. This is the crushed cocoa bean with the fat and moisture

removed. When chocolate did start to become known in the West, it was as a

drink. The Mayans used to drink chocolate with boiling water and spices,

including chilli; these were added to a crushed paste of the beans. Spanish

missionaries added sugar, cream and vanilla to the cocoa bean paste,

producing the cocoa drink beloved of the seventeenth and eighteenth century

nobility, who drank it in the morning when they woke up. Cocoa powder is a

comparatively modern invention, and its original users would not have known

it flavoured with sugar.


4. Caster sugar is a modern concept: while finely-ground sugar was

undoubtedly known to the medieval cook, any recipe requiring it would

specify that it needed to be specially ground and sifted to make it finer.

In my experience of medieval cooking, finely-ground sugar is generally used

only in later-period or Renaissance recipes for sweets such as sugar plate.


5. There is a lot of sugar in this recipe. In the bulk of medieval recipes,

sugar is treated more as a spice than an ingredient; for example, it is one

of the components of the spice mix known as poudre douce (the Goodman of

ParisÕs version has sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and grains of

paradise). Most recipes calling for large quantities of sugar, such as

sugar plate, seem to be Renaissance or Elizabethan dishes; these are much

closer to modern cuisine, and are not true medieval foods.


6. Coffee. This was known in the West in our period, as a strange

concoction drunk by the Turks. It was only in the seventeenth century that

it became a fashionable drink. It spread pretty quickly: Samuel Pepys

describes frequent trips to coffee houses in his diary of 1664 (in one such

visit he records drinking "chocolata" as well as coffee). But coffee does

not appear as an ingredient in any medieval recipe I have ever seen, and

even as a beverage its use is much later than our period of interest.


7. Rum or brandy. Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat maintains that distilled

spirits were known to the Arabs for centuries before the West caught on;

perhaps as early as 450 A.D. She also claims that the eau-de-vie made by

the French in the fifteen century was a distilled essence of wine, while

the Irish were doing something similar with cereal products. These were not

widely drunk, however, and I have certainly never come across a medieval

recipe of any sort which calls for a spirit ingredient. I suspect the stuff

was too precious.


8. The melting of the cocoa and sugar in the liquid of the coffee is unlike

any method IÕve ever met in medieval cooking, with the exception of some

14th-century Andalusian recipes for lemon or pomegranate syrup (as a

beverage). In period dishes of my experience, a heated syrup is far more

likely to be honey than a sugar syrup. Also, cocoa beans were roasted and

ground and boiling water added to make the seventeenth century beverage;

the powder was not heated in the water.


9. Beat the egg yolks until pale and thick? Whisk the whites until stiff?

This method of introducing air into a mix was apparently unknown to the

medieval cook. The most we have is an instruction to pass the egg through a

strainer, and this doesnÕt seem to introduce air at all. The OED records

the use of a "whisk" for beating egg whites, but the earliest mention -

1666 - was BoyleÕs Origine of Formes and Qualities, a basic physics text

rather than a culinary treatise. ItÕs only with Hannah GlassÕs cookbook in

1747 that we have an injunction to "beat the whites of the eggs up well

with a whisk". Not in our period.


10. While egg yolks and whites were often separated, it was usually only in

order to use one or the other. There seems to be no concept of separating

the egg only to whisk the white and re-combine them, in the body of

medieval recipes.


11. Folding? Most medieval recipes require mixing or beating; they donÕt

ever specify the very careful and specific process of folding an aerated

substance back into the mixture so as not to flatten the introduced air. If

air is to be introduced into a mixture, itÕs by prolongued beating of the

whole mix, sometimes for hours; not by whisking and folding. (A good

example of a beaten mixture is Prince-Bisket (Hugh PlatÕs Delights for

Ladies, 1609), a light, aniseed-flavoured cookie with a texture like rather

tough and glutinous meringue).


12. Some mousse recipes call for gelatine. While there are jellies

described in the medieval recipe books, these are meat jellies, using the

natural gelatinised broth of the meat (e.g. Harleian MS. 279 - Gelye de

chare, a fancy dish of jellied pork and chicken; there are also several

recipes for meat jellies in the 14th century Goodman of Paris). The only

jelly-like sweet recipes I know are dishes known as a leach or leche,

effectively a milk jelly (e.g. A leche of divers colours, from MurrellÕs

Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1617). They are set with

isinglass, a gelatine made from the bladders of fish (yech), and they are

Elizabethan rather than medieval recipes.


13. Chocolate mousse is a dessert. This means itÕs a light, sweet dish

served at the end of a meal, either on its own or with other light, sweet

dishes. This was not a characteristic meal order in the Middle Ages. Sweet

dishes - fruit tarts, cream custards, etc - tended to be served as part of

a meat course. The closest we have to a dessert course is the final course,

which usually consisted of spiced wine, nuts, oranges, and wafers (a sort

of a cross between a waffle and a biscuit - a sweet or savoury batter

cooked on a hot plate to make a thin, crispy biscuit).



An Elizabethan mousse-like thing


The closest thing to a mousse in the Elizabethan cookbooks is an illusion

food that recreates a snow-covered bush; it is made with cream, sugar and

egg whites whisked together.


To make a dyschefull of snowe

Take a pottell of swete thyke creame and the whutes of eyghte egges, and

beate them altogether with a spone, then putte them in youre creame and a

saucerfull of Rosewater, and a dyshe full of Suger wyth all, then take a

styke and make it clene, and than cuytre it in the end foure square, and

therwith beate all the aforesayde thynges together, and ever as it ryseth

taek it of and put it in a Collaunder, this done take one apple and set it

in the myddes of it, and a thick bushe of Rosemary, and set it in the

myddes of the platter, then cast your Snowe uppon the Rosemarye and fyll

your platter therwith. And yf you have wafers caste some in wyth all and

thus serve them forthe. Anonymous, A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (before






Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, History of Food.

Madge Lorwin, Dining with William Shakespeare

The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition.

The Goodman of Paris (1393), tr. Eileen Power.



Copyright 2000 by Lady Jehanne de Huguenin, jessica at beattie.uct.ac.za, P O Box 443, Rondebosch 7701, Cape Town, South Africa.. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org