Looking at these beautiful silver condiment labels, I wonder about their history. “What is their history?”; ” Who used them and where? “Tell me more…”
These sauce labels are part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery in Alton in Hampshire and were viewed in October. I wrote the story of the Bronte wine Label in my last post.
Silver labels for sauces, herbs and spices such as those illustrated for Tarragon, Oude, Cherokee, Cayenne, Anchovy were made by silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries in England to be used to identify the contents of glass condiment bottles on the dining tables of the growing middle class in Britain.
Of those shown, the Tarragon label was made in1798, the Cherokee label made in 1780 and the Oude label made in 1841. We know this because the hallmarks on each label identify the date in recognized and regulated letter code.
Apart from the craftsmanship demonstrated in the making of these single pieces of silver, these sauce, herb and spice labels represent different approaches to cuisine in this period of history and the diversity that came from their origins.
Herbs such as Tarragon, one of the four herbs named as “fine herbes” (parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives) was home grown and was, and is, used in classical French cuisine. Spices were more exotic and imported from many areas of the world and brought different culinary inspiration. Both approaches to cuisine represent the march of history, global exploration and the corresponding impact on cuisine.
The history goes back a long way, including ancient times. More recently Marco Polo, the great Venetian 13th century explorer mentions spices in his travel memoirs. He wrote about sesame oil in Afghanistan, he described plantings of pepper, nutmegs, cloves in Java and cinnamon, pepper and ginger on the coastal area of India.
When Christopher Columbus set out on his second voyage in 1493, he revisited the West Indes and Americas, still hoping to go on to China, and brought back red pepper spices and allspice.
All the sea-faring exploration, military actions and colonization around the world over many centuries affected food tastes and cooking styles when people returned to their home countries with their new found food and flavour experiences..
The availability and access to spices in particular was often a function of economic wealth. For example, the price of pepper served as a barometer for European business well being in general.
As is always the case, language reflects culture and how people live. The phrase “peppercorn rent’, an expression used today to indicate a nominal amount, reflects the fact that pepper was used as a currency to pay taxes, tolls and rent. Similarly, in 1393, a German price list identified that a pound weight of nutmeg was worth seven fat oxen!
Researching sauce names reveals some interesting information! I found Cherokee recipes from the southern United States referring to chicken recipes with chilies. Béarnaise Sauce, the famous tarragon flavoured derivative sauce of Hollandaise, was referenced in 1836 culinary materials.
Oude was more difficult to track down. I did find a reference to a Crosse and Blackwell’s Oude Sauce used in a sausage pudding recipe from the 1800s. Crosse and Blackwell, a British company making sauces since 1706, no longer make this sauce although they continue to make other condiment products.
Oude sauce has also been referred to as King of Oude sauce. For example, an 1861 list of supplies included Crosse and Blackwell sauces: Essence of Anchovies, and King of Oude sauce, as well as Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, Mushroom Catsup etc.
Looking further into the Oude reference, my research indicates that the Oudh State (also known as Kingdom of Oudh, or Awadh State) was a princely state in the Awadh region of North India until 1858. Oudh, the now obsolete but once official English-language name of the state, also written historically as Oude, derived from the name of Ayodhya.
Joining the dots, I assume then that Oude Sauce would be spicy in a Northern Indian cuisine style, possibly with spices such as chilies, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander.
Sauce recipes, then as now, are typically not divulged.. While the ingredients for the generic Worcestershire sauce are known and include such items as barley malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, garlic, spices, which may include cloves, soy, lemons, the precise recipe for Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce from 1835 is still a closely guarded secret after more than 200 years. Tabasco Sauce, another well-loved spicy condiment, has been made in Louisiana in the United States since 1868 by the same family business. The spice business and extraction of flavours from herbs and spices has been commercially active since the 18th century in line with the illustrated sauce labels.
McCormick is another maker of condiments in the United States that has been in this business since 1889. The company has established a McCormick Science Institute (MSI). “The MSI research program sponsors research which is focussed on advancing the scientific study of the health enhancing properties of culinary herbs and spices in areas which are considered to have the potential to impact public health. MSI released a research paper in March 2018 identifying how herbs and spices increase the liking and preference for vegetables among rural high school students.” Marco Polo and other early explorers would be pleased!
Thinking about the silver sauce labels on the condiment bottles on the 18th and 19th century dining tables, I wonder about the wine selection in those days to accompany foods using these sauces, especially the spicy ones.
No doubt the advice would be similar to that offered today. For example, with a curry dish, I might consider a chilled white wine such as pinot gris or perhaps a gewürztraminer: among rosé wines, I might consider a lightly chilled wine, but not too floral, a Côte de Province appellation comes to mind. Among red wine choices, considering a lighter red wine and staying away from too tannic a wine would be a good idea to complement the spicy notes of the food. Côte du rhône, Gigondas come to mind or perhaps an Alsace Pinot Noir. I could apply these considerations to wines from other parts of the world in making a choice of wine to accompany a spicy food dish.
Viewing these 18th and 19th century silver sauce labels opened up a Pandora’s box of questions for me, as the unknown name of Oude particularly caught my eye. So much history and information evoked by a small, beautiful example of silver craftsmanship from over 200 years ago.
References: websites for: McCormick and the McCormick Science Institute, Hampshire Cultural Trust/Allen Gallery, British Library. Christopher-Columbus.eu, Lee and Perrin, Crosse and Blackwell, Tabasco.