To make a Leach of Dates

Leach of Dates is a dish fit for a banquet table. (No, it’s not that kind of leech!) Naturally sweet from dates, elevated with sugar, scented with rosewater, and spiced with cinnamon and ginger, a tiny bite of this confection is immensely flavorful. In the early decades of the seventeenth century, Leach of Dates would have been served on a delightfully arranged banquet table alongside marchpane, jumbles, nuts, candied fruits, suckets, comfits, and gingerbread.

Leach of Dates

As Ken Albala writes in The Banquet“The word [banquet] itself derives from a board or bank mounted by a street performer or mountebank, or set on trestles for dining. Thus banquets could be staged anywhere, because in Renaissance-era Europe, homes lacked a fixed room with stationary tables for dining. The term took an odd twist in England, where it denoted the final portable dessert course of sweetmeats and fruit. Elsewhere it meant an entire meal, the grandest that could be imagined at European courts” (vii). Banquets were feasts for all senses and even the smallest confections were beautifully designed and highly flavorful.

Leach is a thick preserve of fruits that can be molded or sliced. Some recipes include nuts and emulsifying agents to add structure to the confection. As Stephen Schmidt writes in an excellent blog post about banqueting, “There was also a specialized jelly called leach (from a French word meaning slice), which was creamy and rose-water-scented and was set with the new-fangled isinglass, made from sturgeon swim bladders.” The recipe for Leach of Dates relied on the natural viscosity of the dates and bread crumbs for structure, rather than isinglass.

Like my last post about a cure “ffor a cold,” this recipe “To make a Leach of Dates” is from an early seventeenth-century recipe book from the library of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612). It was likely created around 1610 and is now held at the Indiana University, Lilly Library. As Schmidt notes, the final pages of this manuscript list “Severall sort of sweet meates fitting for a Banquett” and fruit pastes and jellies form the bulk of this list.

Original Recipe

recipe in original manuscript

To make a Leach of Dates.
Take and beate your Dates in a morter
with suger, synamon, ginger, sauders and
rosewater till they bee fine, then putt
in grated bread and beate them together
till it bee thikke and soe serve it forth
in moylde or loves.

After transcribing this recipe, I was left with some questions about “sauders.” On the one hand, this could be a misspelling of “saunders,” a common spelling for sandalwood in the period. Sandalwood was commonly added to sweet, savory, and medicinal recipes in the form of a powder. On the other hand, “sauders” could be connected to isinglass or other emulsifying agents that might help this leach set into a harder paste. Finally, I tested this recipe with Cinnamon Verum. If you’re using Cassia Cinnamon it will taste slightly different. Readers, I would love to hear what you think about “sauders” and if you happen to test this recipe using cassia.

Updated Recipe

4 dates
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 Tablespoon bread crumbs

Remove the pits and stems from the dates. Chop them finely.

Put the chopped dates in a mortar and pestle with the sugar, spices, and rosewater. Beat into a uniform paste. Add bread crumbs and combine until thick.

Shape the paste freeform or using molds.

The Results

Sweet and spicy, the Leach of Dates reminded me of panforte. Each tiny morsel was full of flavor and the scent of rosewater dominated.

I was immediately able to slice the confection into small wedges. I’m planning to check on the Leach in the coming days and see if the texture changes. I anticipate that it will set more as it sits in my kitchen cupboard.

Ultimately, Leach of Dates surprised and delighted me. In the concordia discors of the banquet table, this petite confection invites as much pleasure as an elaborate marchpane sculpture or a prettily arranged plate.

I’ve been thinking about banquets quite a bit in the past weeks as I collaborated on the creation of a performance at Penn State Abington called Exit: A Banquet Piece. I’d like to thank Jac Pryor, for collaborating on this experimental course and performance with me, and I’d like to thank Jonathan Bercovici, Madison Branch, Kyleigh Byers, Jaleel Hunter, Trim Walker, George Ye,  and Aman Zabian for inspiration and conversation. As always, thank you to Joseph Malcomson for taste testing and brainstorming.

ffor a cold

Lately I’ve been writing a piece about recipe manuscripts and William Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. I’m reading and transcribing  a unique early seventeenth-century recipe book from the library of Prince Henry Frederick (1594-1612). The description of the manuscript in the Indiana University, Lilly Library catalog (where it is now held) and the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey description concur that the manuscript was likely created circa 1610 around the time of Prince Henry Frederick’s investiture as Prince of Wales. The young prince died of typhoid fever a few years later in 1612 when he was 18.

cover of manuscript with Prince Henry Frederick's arms

The cover of the manuscript is embossed with Prince Henry Frederick’s coat of arms. (The Stuart arms with specific features denoting the Prince of Wales. For more info, see

The majority of the recipe books that I’ve cooked from and written about on this site are from later in the seventeenth century or the eighteenth century. As I’ve been researching and writing, I’ve noted a number of recipes from the Prince Henry manuscript that I look forward to sharing with you. Today, I want to start with this recipe “ffor a cold.” Although this recipe appears in the “Chirurgery” section of the manuscript, I thought it also had culinary potential when I first read it. I was right.

Original Recipe

manuscript image of recipe

ffor a Cold.
Take Garleeke and seeth it in
two or three waters and when
it is very softe then take it vpp
and mingle it with yealowe suger
Candy well together and eate of
this when you goe to bedd five
or six nighte together.

I was immediately intrigued by the combination of cooked garlic and sugar because I love roasting garlic to reveal its natural sweetness. As Sarah Lohman writes in the “Garlic” chapter of her wonderful book Eight Flavors, “A clove of garlic, the part of the plant we cook with most often, is actually a leaf: a storage vessel that packs away energy for the next growing season. The energy stored in the cloves is in the form of sugar — specifically fructose — which is why a clove tastes sweet when it is cooked slowly and caramelizes when roasted” (150).* Now I had never mixed garlic with sugar before and ground it into a paste, but memories of garlic ice cream recipes and sweet braises with garlic came to mind.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century, English cooks were more interested in garlic’s medicinal properties than its culinary potential. In Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala explains that outside of Southern Europe, garlic eating was associated with the lower classes and with medicinal preparations. He writes, “The therapeutic virtues of garlic were also recognized from an early date, and as the ‘poor man’s theriac’ or medicine, it was recommended for those who could not afford more expensive spices. But it was also thought to be difficult to digest, which is why, they claimed, it causes bad breath” (34-35). It’s curious to me that a manuscript from the elite household of the Prince of Wales would take note of humble remedies like this one alongside heavily spiced preparations. A perfume recipe follows directly after this cold cure and would have been prepared and used to ward off miasma, or bad air, associated with diseases like plague.

Gerrard’s Herbal, however, persuasively claims that the warming humoral properties of garlic are especially well-suited to disperse a wet, sniffly, drippy cold symptoms as “Garlic is very sharp, hot, and dry, as Galen saith.” The Herbal also notes “But if it be boiled in water until such time as it hath lost his sharpeness, it is the less forcible, and retaineth no longer his evil juice, as Galen saith” and thus the boiling diminishes the abrasive properties of garlic. Boiled and sweetened with “yealowe suger” — similar to Demerara sugar — this garlic concoction is both a tasty medicine and a culinary treat.

Updated Recipe

3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sugar

Boil the garlic in water until tender, approximately 20 minutes. (I put three cloves of garlic in cold water in a small pot. I brought the water to a boil, reduced the temperature, and let is simmer for 5 minutes. I drained off the water, let the garlic rest for a bit and then repeated the process and simmered the garlic for 15 minutes. I did this to honor the “two or three waters” instruction in the recipe, but I doubt that the results would be different if I had simply simmered the cloves for 20 minutes.)

Mash the garlic with sugar.

Eat before bed for five or six days to treat a cold. Spread on a cracker or toasted bread to enjoy non-medicinally.

The resulting garlic paste tasted like extra-sweet caramelized garlic cloves that had been slowly roasted in an oven. If I did have a cold, the sugar would help this medicine go down. I enjoyed it spread on a cracker and I think it would be delicious on a piece of hearty, toasted bread. It is worth noting, however, that garlic breath is an inevitable side effect whether this recipe wards off a cold or simply delights the palate.

*For a preview of Lohman’s garlic chapter, see this post on The New York Academy of Medicine Blog, but for the longer story (near and dear to my heart) about garlic, Italian immigration, and the post-Julia-Child garlic boom as French cooking trends swept through America, you need to read her book.