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Bringing History to life with York Castle Museum

posted Dec 14, 2010, 2:48 PM by Sophie Jewett   [ updated Jan 4, 2011, 3:14 PM ]
We've recently been lost in York's chocolate history creating some very special chocolates for York Castle Museum. The museum has a very special sweet shop in the heart of Kirkgate, a recreated street that captures life in Victorian England, the sweet shop resembles the original Terry's shop in St Helen's Square that during the 1890's sold "sweets", "bride cakes" and "chocolates".  The shop is filled with the original jars from Terry's containing sweets created by the factory before they closed and soon visitors will be able to purchase their sweets weighed out in paper cones. Now however visitors can purchase their own piece of York's chocolate history with a special jar of Vanilla Creams that we have created especially for the museum using the original recipe journal of J Terry, Clementhorpe 1892.

I came across the most exciting little leather bound journal when exploring recipe journals at The Borthwick Institute in the summer, we had been asked to spend a day in the Castle's kitchen studio in August so we went searching for some exciting recipes to recreate. It was a very emotional moment, the little book I was holding was written in the very place that I now live in and where Little Pretty Things was created, I wondered what this gentleman was thinking when he wrote his ingredients for his chocolates in his journal, did he have a clue about the regard his name would have in the world of chocolate? I could only hope of achieving such a place in chocolate history. One of the recipes in the journal caught my eye:

Chocolate Cream Tablets

100lbs sugar

22lb Glucose

Vanilla Flavour

Making costs (2/-)                         _____

Say 120 lbs = 26/- per cwt             1/7/5d

However ingredients are one thing, judging how they were combined was an entirely different matter, Terry provided a whole book of ingredients but not the magical process of putting them together, that was the next stage of the discovery. Our journey to discover York's chocolate making history led us to sugar, as Mary Poppins tells us "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" the British obsession with the sweet stuff quickly caught on and revolutionised the delivery of medicines and potions. During this Victorian period the cheaper and more affordable sugar became the more the British public would purchase and consume, and the use of sugar became an artform and skill as Terry's shop front in St Helen's Square testifies. With the help of Food Historian Laura Mason's book "Sugar plums and Sherbet" I was able to piece together the art and history of sugar boiling to create a greater picture of how "Chocolate Cream Tablets" would have been made. The temperature that sugar is boiled to chemically changes the water content in the end product, the higher temperature produces a higher concentration of sugar and creates a more brittle sweet, however the addition of a long sugar such as glucose and agitation of the mixture creates a fondant cream, leave it to set without agitating it and we get a Kendal Mint Cake type product, crystalised in a brittle structure, all creating very different consistency and taste. I had at least a small hint of the process in the title, it was a fondant "cream" type of centre, the next part was judging what it would have looked like. Fry's had been creating a chocolate cream since 1866, a bar with segments, still popular today, the term tablet could have been any one of our general uses of the term now - it could have been a bar, a small pill like item or something completely different. Discovering more about the production methods of the day gave a clearer picture of what Chocolate Cream Tablets would have been like. Fondant Creams were created by dissolving the sugar and glucose in water and bringing to the boil, heating the mixture to a "soft ball", 115C or 240F, the vanilla was then added before allowing the mixture to cool before agitating it to stimulate crystal formation, spontaneous graining or the formation of crystals turns the mixture opaque, by agitating the mixture in a figure of 8 the crystals are formed and distributed to create a smooth, white creamy paste. The traditional methods were done on a much larger scale and used mould pieces imprinted onto a bed of starch to create indentations into which the mixture could be poured to set. Once set the fondant cream pieces would then be enrobed in a dark, sugary chocolate. 

I have to admit I cheated a little, not having a bed of starch readily available I used some very handy pre-made moulds, using the same ratios and processes we created the chocolate shell first before filling with the fondant cream, however if the first chocolates tasted like the ones we made then I think they were justified in being quite happy.

We presented our chocolate cream tablets in some Yorkshire made glass jars with some perfectly created tags, reminiscent of the branding and packaging used by Terry's on their other sugar based products. We had an emotional time creating these chocolates, it was an enlightening journey discovering the production methods of the old sweet makers, they certainly tasted gorgeous, it was a shock to see how easy they were to make. This has been just the start of discovering the ways of sugar boiling, it's a journey we're looking forward to discovering more about.

You can now purchase your own little piece of York's chocolate history at The Terry's Sweet Shop, Kirkgate, York Castle Museum. We hope you enjoy them.

View our latest story in York Press here