If you’ve been following my blog over the last couple of years, then you know I love to cook. I also love to try new recipes and even spent several months in 2017 revamping colonial recipes to modern ingredients and cooking methods. One thing I’ve learned is that techniques as well as the packaging of ingredients has changed over time. Today’s topic, sugar cones, is one case in point.
You’ve heard the expression, “Would you like one lump or two?” when someone is serving tea. Nowadays, we most likely picture a cube of sugar, with neat flat sides. Have you ever wondered why those precisely formed little cubes would be called “lumps”? I mean, when I hear the word lump, that’s not the image that comes to my mind. Turns out, there’s a reason for that.
I came across the Old & Interesting site where Lel Gretton talks about “how people equipped their homes in previous centuries, and how they handled household tasks.” Turns out that granulated sugar wasn’t invented until the Victorian era. Prior to that, sugar was shipped in large cone-shaped loaves. Gretton talks more about the history and preparation of sugar on his site, if you’re interested in learning a little more.
What I was mostly interested in was how people would have broken down the solid cone into a usable portion. Customers could buy an entire loaf or a piece of one, but then they had to break it up to actually use the sweet stuff. To do so, they would need to break the sugar into chunks with chisel and hammer. Then they could use the nippers to break it into lumps the right size for their cuppa. Nippers could be handheld or on a stand, too.
Here’s a brief excerpt from The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn where Cassie is tasked by the cook, Sheridan, with the job of preparing the sugar:
“What do you need me to do?” She tied on an apron and hurried to the work table.
“Good morning to you, too.” Sheridan shook his head at her but maintained the wide grin.
Abashed, she shrugged once. “Good morning. Now, what can I do?”
With a chuckle, Sheridan pointed to lumps from a broken up cone of refined sugar in a metal bowl. A stack of small white porcelain bowls and a small steel sugar nipper waited beside it. “You can finish nipping the sugar into those bowls to set out on the tables.”
Mindless task but necessary. A task reserved for the mistress of the property because of needing to guard the expensive luxury of cone sugar. So where was her ma? Perhaps Cassie qualified as an adequate substitute having nearly reached eighteen years of age. Pleased by the thought whether right or wrong, she lifted the scissor-like tool and started nipping the large chunks broken off the large cone by a mallet into smaller lumps as asked. She worked silently, dying to ask about Flint but afraid of Sheridan’s answer. Feared her ma had poisoned the information well against her. Her ma likely warned Sheridan to discourage Cassie’s interest in Flint. She’d probably told everyone on the property. Which made Cassie reluctant to ask but anxious to know. After half filling a bowl—no need to tempt people to use more than necessary of the luxury—she set it aside and pulled the next one closer. Glanced at her friend and mentor and decided to take the chance.
“Sheridan, have you seen Flint this morning?” She kept her eyes on the sugar nippers instead of peering at the cook.
“He’s been in. Why?” He cracked an egg on the edge of the bowl and dropped the contents into the bowl.
“I thought I heard him come down earlier but didn’t see him.” She flashed a glance at Sheridan and then back to her task. “Just curious what he’s doing today.”
“Now, listen here.” Sheridan pressed his palms onto the wooden table to lean toward her as she lifted her gaze to meet his. “I told you before your father doesn’t want you getting involved with Flint Hamilton. Told him that, too.”
So there you have it. The reason why we call the cubes lumps. And a little bit more about how different and difficult life used to be.
The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn is available for pre-order and will release on October 1. You can read a longer excerpt at www.bettybolte.com. I’ll be at Second Read Books in Decatur, AL, 11:00-2:00 CDT on October 5 to sign my new release, too. Come out and see me if you’re in the area. I’d love to meet you!
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Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
Innkeeper’s daughter Cassie Fairhope longs for only one thing: to escape her mother’s tyranny. But in northern Alabama in 1821 marriage is her only escape. Even so, she has a plan: Seduce the young man acting as innkeeper while her father is away and marry him. He’s handsome and available. Even though he has no feelings for her, it is still a better option than enduring her mother.
But Flint Hamilton has his own plans and they don’t include marriage, even to the pretty temptress. Securing his reputation in the hostelry business and earning his father’s respect are far more important. He did not count on having to deal with horse thieves and rogues in addition to his guests.
When tragedy strikes, Cassie and Flint must do whatever it takes to rid the inn of its newly arrived specter—who has no intention of leaving…