Friday, 7 August 2015

Yellow Flummery

Gaze upon my flummery!

Flummery. What a majestic word.

When I read the recipe below, I walked around for a good five minutes saying in delight, “Flummery. Flummery. Flummery.” My wife’s reaction to this excellent new addition to my vocabulary was to say drily: “It sounds like a word for writing your name in pee in the snow. Y’know – ‘I was walking home and saw some dirty so-and-so had committed flummery’.” Right.
Well, cookery friends, you can rest assured that flummery has nothing to do with urination in the snow, or anywhere else for that matter. It is in fact a wobbly custard and booze dessert-pudding that flourished in Britain from the 1600s to late 1800s (the period from which our particular specimen is drawn).
However, unlike many other dishes from this period, flummery is still rattling around. When I mentioned it to a fellow-foodie friend she said airily that she’d eaten it almost exclusively a few weeks back after a dental operation. Wild Colonial Grandma remembers eating it as a child (and despite the pseudonym I’ve given her, she isn’t actually from the Colonial era!).
Interestingly, both my friend and mother report that flummery is made with berries and beaten when partially set. The Oxford Companion to Food reveals that Victorian-era flummery (the wine and custard pudding which is the focus of today's recipe) is in fact the second dish to hold the name, and the modern dessert the third. Originally, flummery ('llymru') was a Welsh peasant dish that involved making a jelly from soaked oats or oat bran.

Even more interestingly, my 1935 edition of the Edinburgh-printed Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary defines flummery as the oldest of the three dishes mentioned above: "an acid jelly made from the husks of oats: the Scotch sowens". Clearly two, if not all three, of these uses for the term were doing the rounds concurrently. (The dictionary goes on to say that flummery can also refer to "anything insipid: empty complement", which I thoroughly encourage you to use in everyday conversation.)
It’s fair to say, though, that even the more modern version of flummery has somewhat fallen off the culinary radar. The food bloggers at Savouring the Past humorously recount their efforts to make a 1760 recipe work. Damn you, fish swim bladders! Learning from their tribulations, I went straight for gelatin as a setting agent, with pleasing results. My flummery was perfectly set, but deliciously wobbly, and had a pleasantly tart taste of dry white wine and citrus.
Please note that the cooking process will not remove all the alcohol from the dish. If you, or someone you are planning on serving this dessert to, doesn’t drink, then consider a different option or an ingredient substitution.

Flummery. Don't you just want to wobble it?

Here is the original recipe:
YELLOW Flummery.-Boil 2oz. of isinglass in a pint and a half of water till it is dissolved, and then add a pint of white wine, the juice of two and the outside of three lemons, the yolks of seven eggs well beaten, and sugar to your taste. Mix the whole together and set it on the fire till it boils, stirring it continually; strain it into a basin, and stir it till it is almost cold, then put it into the moulds.
Recipes. (1866, September 22). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 5. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
2 teaspoons powdered gelatin (or as much as the packet suggests will firmly set 500ml of liquid)
300ml of water
200ml white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Peel of 1 lemon
Yolks of 2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup sugar
Easily enough for six dessert serves
Cooking Time
Half an hour, plus allowing it to set overnight
Select an appropriately sized mould – the closer to 500ml volume it has, the easier it will be to turn out the flummery. I used an old Bundt tin from Aldi, so don’t feel like you need to rush out and purchase a special flummery receptacle.
Combine the gelatin with the water, following the packet instructions.
Combine the white wine, lemon juice, lemon peel, egg yolks and sugar in a saucepan. Slowly bring to a simmer, while continuously stirring. The sugar should have dissolved, and the whole should be a uniform light yellow colour.
Remove the mixture from the heat, and strain into a bowl to remove the lemon peel and any stray pieces of overcooked egg.
Continue to stir and as you do, pour in the gelatin. Stir to thoroughly combine.

Pour the flummery into the mould. Once it has cooled completely, refrigerate
The next day, gently turn out your flummery onto a flat plate or serving tray. If you’re serving it as part of special dinner, decorate it with edible flowers – a popular Colonial era method of presentation. If you’ve just made it for your own enjoyment, then I strongly recommend jiggling the plate back and forward while saying “Flum-a-lum-a-lum-a-lum-ery” in time to its wobbles.