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The Bowes Museum 1994

The Bowes Museum

This was the first exhibition in an English museum to accurately survey the development of the English table setting. Working with ceramics curator Howard Coutts, Ivan re-created three dessert settings with authentic tableware and real food in the wonderful period rooms of the Bowes Museum.

From F.Massiolot, New Instructions for Confectioners in The Court and Country Cook (London: 1702)

From J. Nott, The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionery (London: 1723). Nott's diagram is based on Massialot's scheme above.

'the exhibition excites so many lines of thought that one must be grateful for so much stimulus to the mind and eye about a subject which is only just beginning to attract proper research'. Sir Roy Strong in Country Life.

'Three rooms trace the geneology of this once lavish course assisted by the remarkable skill and artistry of historic-food specialist Ivan Day'. Lisa Chaney in Apollo.

A late Stuart dessert table in the 'baroque court style' based on the illustrations reproduced in the column opposite. The table features a wooden dessert frame adorned with a pyramid of candied fruits. Both wet and dry sweetmeats are served on late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Chinese porcelain. Typical sweetmeats of the period include quiddany of quinces, preserved cherries, artificial fruits made of apricot paste and royal marchpanes. Recipes from both Massialot and Nott were used to create the dishes.

The predecessor of the French influenced baroque dessert was the cold collation, an arrangement of sweet luxury foods which had its origin in the ultimo servizio of the Italian Renaissance feast. In England this was known in the sixteenth and seventeenth century as the banquet. The table above is a recreation of a banquet of the early Stuart period. It is dominated by a marchpane in the form of a knot garden after designs in William Lawson's Country Housewife's Garden (London: 1628). There is also a large range of other sweetmeats and preserves from other recipe texts of the period. They include cheesecakes, gilt gingerbreads made in contemporary moulds, candied eringoes, diet bread, banebread, Shrewsbury cakes, cotoniack, wet suckets, comfits, fruit pastes and marmalades.

The apogee of the dessert was in the mid-eighteenth century when tables were laid out with miniature gardens with parterres made of chenille filled with coloured sugar sands (sables). This table was laid out in a room from Chesterfield House, probably the first interior in England to be decorated in the rococo manner. The table is set with a complete Chelsea 'Hans Sloane' dessert service with Worcester fruit baskets and figures from the Bowes collection. Dishes visible here are millefruit biscuits, pippin knots, cherries preserved in bunches, preserved apricots and cherry syllabub. The contemporary glass is also from the Bowes Collection. The sable parterres and pastillage designs are from Menon's La science de maître d’hôtel confiseur (Paris: 1749) (left).

To create the food for this setting, Ivan used confectionery recipes from a range of eighteenth century books and manuscripts. These works included Edward Lambert's The Art of Confectionary (London: c.1750), Hannah Glasse's The Complete Confectioner (London: c.1760), Borella's Court and Country Confectioner (London: 1770), Frederick Nutt's The Complete Confectioner and Robert Abbot's The Housekeeper's Valuable Present (Penrith: 1802).

Literature: Howard Coutts, The Art of Ceramics. Yale University Press 2001

Ivan Day 'Sculpture for the Eighteenth Century Garden Dessert' in Harlan Walker (editor) Food in the Arts. Prospect Books 1999.

Click on the links below to see more images from The Tempting Table exhibition.

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