The Confectionery and Wafery

Appears in
Cooking and Dining in Medieval England

By Peter Brears

Published 2008

  • About

Sugar, the staple ingredient processed in the confectionery, was first experienced by English people during their first major incursion into the Mediterranean as part of the First Crusade of 1096–9. Within a few years, small quantities were being imported as an expensive luxury, the amounts then being gradually increased to several tons by the late thirteenth century. Household accounts provide evidence for its places of origin, the monks of Durham buying sugar ‘Marrokes’ and ‘Babilon’, the Earl of Derby sugar ‘Candy’ (Candia being the contemporary name for Crete), whilst recipe-books list sugar ‘Cypre’ (Cyprus) and sugar ‘of Alysaunder’ (Alexandria). All these were brought into our southern ports by the galleys of Venice and Genoa. Much of the sugar arrived in the largely refined form of conical sugar loaves, those purchased by Bishop Swinfield of Hereford weighing about 8lb at 6d. to 8d. the pound in 1289, for example. Other sugars arrived ‘black’, which we would now call muscovado, or else ‘rock’ or ‘rupe’, large-crystal, highly refined sugar candy. Sugars which had been boiled and mixed with finely powdered flower petals at source were held to be particularly good for colds and other ailments, promoting warm and moist humours. In 1287, Edward I’s Great Wardrobe accounts record the purchase of 667lb of sugar, 300lb of violet sugar, and a massive 1, 900lb of rose sugar. The same had been prescribed to his sickly son Henry, who had died in 1274 when only six years old. Such medicinal use only accounted for a small proportion of the imported sugar however, the bulk being diverted to the confectionery for the royal table.