Friday, 10 January 2014

Wooden Food Moulds

Living in this modern world of plastic food moulds and factory made cakes and confectionery got me thinking about what they did in 'the old days' when it came to decoration on food. So I had a little dig around and found many historical food moulds, the majority made from pear or boxwood. Here are just a few.

Many thanks go to Ivan Day, food historian and television & radio broadcaster for the reproduction of much of the text and images in this post.

Twelfth Cake Moulds

This impressive Twelfth Cake is ornamented with gum paste 'devices' printed from original eighteenth century moulds. The two crowns, standard decorations used on cakes of this kind, were constructed from ten individual shapes pressed from the mould below, a rare survivor from the late eighteenth century. The other ornaments were all printed from two carved wooden moulds or confectioner's boards. Designs for these cakes varied considerably, but the cake above, made with the tools of the Georgian confectioners trade gives a pretty fair impression of these remarkable precursors of the Victorian Christmas Cake.

Eighteenth century crown sugar mould

The front and back of a typical confectioner's board carved with various "devices". This mould is unusual in that it is carved from chestnut. Most were carved from box or pearwood.

A nineteenth century fruitwood mould carved by the celebrated confectioner William Jarrin. Jarrin was famous for his elaborately decorated Twelfth Cakes, which graced the window of his shop during the Christmas season. Motifs of this kind were pressed out of gum paste and stuck back-to-back to form standing figures. They were probably designed as Twelfth Cake ornaments.

This striking specimen of a Jarrin mould below depicts a winged Egyptian mask signed by him on the side, it is dated - 1820.  It is also exceptionally large, taking up almost the full length of a ten inch long block of pear wood.

English Gingerbread Moulds

These little gingerbreads are flavoured with ginger and coloured with red sanders. Chips of red sanders can be seen at the top left of the photograph. It is the wood of the red sandelwood tree (Pterocarpus santalinum),which before the introduction of cochineal was used as a red food colouring. In sixteenth century London there was such a call for it as a dyestuff that there was actually a Guild of Sanders Beaters, whose job was to grind this very hard brick red wood into a fine dust.

Below are a pair of early Stuart gingerbread Moulds.

A nineteenth century pearwood mould for making Punch and Judy gingerbreads,
and a pair of gingerbreads made from that mould.

A selection of English moulded gingerbreads


Some high status dishes in the medieval and early modern periods were not merely decorative, but adorned with images of allegorical, heraldic or religious significance. The sixteenth century Portuguese almond paste mould below, carved with an image of Orpheus playing music to the beasts and birds.

Early modern French multi-purpose food mould with hunting scenes and coats of arms.

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, pies with incredible baroque pastry decorations similar to those on plasterwork and woodcarving were a common element at important feasts. The pastry cooks who made these extraordinary food items possessed skills which were frequently as well developed as those of artists who worked in more conventional media.

Old Icelandic bread moulds

These carved wooden moulds would be pressed on top of the bread prior to baking, to make patterns in the crust

Inscription:  'Glory be to the Good Giver of Gifts'


A French pearwood card mould (ca.1780). The card is carved with the components to make a number of objects, including the tazza (below) with its emblematic royal dolphins.

An early boxwood confectioner's mould (ca. 1720.) for making the components of a tester bed (below). There are more motifs on the back. This kind of mould, carved on both sides, was known as a 'card' or 'board'.The bed may have been designed as an ornament for a bride cake.

A dolphin tazza                                                                          The gum-paste tester bed

A Victorian Royal Cheese Mould


Wooden moulds were also utilised for printing decorative patterns on quiddany, cotoniack and Genoa paste, the principal quince confections of the early modern period.

A quince paste mould carved with the arms of Phillip V of Spain - 18th century.

After this relatively small amount of research into the subject of wooden food moulds it makes me think how boring modern food is to look at by comparison, all these moulds were carved by hand, with our modern technology and CNC carving capability's why are all present day pies, pastries and confectionary not decorated to such a fine detail ?

Many thanks go to Ivan Day, food historian and television & radio broadcaster for the reproduction of much of the text and images in this post. His highly informative website can be found here:

Friday, 3 January 2014

Ancient South African Baobab Tree with Bar Inside

There are eight species of Baobab, the African variety, six in Madagascar and one in Australia. The African variety, Adonsonia Digitata, is the largest and is found in 20 sub Saharan countries. It thrives in dry climes which have low to moderate seasonal rainfall.The Sunland Baobab is one of the most famous baobab trees (and there is something awesome hiding inside of it). It’s located in South Africa in the Limpopo Province and is known for being one of the largest and oldest baobabs.
Carbon dating has been used to estimate the Big Baobab’s age at ± 6000 years. To put this in perspective the tree is possibly older than the Giza Pyramids and was certainly here thousands of years before the birth of Jesus Christ. When the first leaves sprouted the Sahara Desert was still lush and green and our Iron Age ancestors were roaming the land.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

What's Inside this Box ?

When I was first shown this box I didn't think too much of it, what was all the fuss about? 
OK It looks nice, a good quality bit of joinery by the looks of it. But this is no ordinary timber chest. Full information about the maker, plus link can be found at the end of this post.

Gather round, lets take a look inside   :-)

Hmm, intriguing, it seems to be full of wooden slats !

Shaped posts to keep the box's lid vertical.

Time to get unpacking

Every piece has a purpose

The carrying handles are removed to allow the box to extend

Hinged concertina style sides move into position.

Extra battening for strength.

And hey presto .....

A bed in a box !!!

This Box-bed was created and designed by Robert MacPherson to fit a rather strange niche.

Medieval re-enactor MacPherson designed this knockdown bed to be used during his extended trips to Pennsic, an annual event that gathers more than 10,000 re-enactors and medieval enthusiasts for two weeks of life in the Middle Ages. It is typical for campers at the event to construct elaborate campsites, knockdown beds and furniture that are easy to transport.

The majority of the project is made of select pine; the panels are birch plywood. The finish is semi-gloss polyurethane.

The lock and most of the hinges were hand made out of necessity, as the dimensions MacPherson needed were unavailable. He used 16 gauge steel to form each piece, applying a blue-grey oxide finish with a torch and finishing with polyurethane to prevent corrosion.

"I did use screws to make things easier on myself," MacPherson admits. While the use of threaded fasteners wasn't feasible until the late 15th century, he "never intended this to be a pure project. Broadly speaking, this bed-box is to medieval as steampunk is to Victorian."

According to MacPherson, the most difficult and rewarding part of the build was ensuring that all of the unfolding, interlocking, and movable pieces worked in conjunction. "I have pages of notes, sketches, and a 1/6 scale model," exclaims MacPherson. "Most of them represent dead ends, but it's all part and parcel to a prototype."

MacPherson's work resulted in a stowable unit that weighs about 100 pounds and can be brought to a medieval camping event, equipped with a futon mattress and unfolded to become a full-sized bed fit for medieval royalty.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Upside Down Willow Chair by Floris Wubben

When I first saw an image of this chair I was confused, naturally assuming the legs to be seperate from the seat as in a normal chair build and then becoming fascinated the more I learnt.

This chair by Dutch designer Floris Wubben  was made by binding and splinting the branches of a willow tree, forcing them to grow into four legs. 

A seat and backrest were then cut into the trunk and the whole thing inverted.

This chair is made of a (inverted) willow tree. The legs have been obtained by twisting and splinting its branches and letting it dry into the final shape. The seat and back were naturally kept in line with the bole’s silhouette. This project had been put in practice jointly with the artist Bauke Fokkema.

I've seen a lot of willow art from dutch designers recently, with the willow loving water side growing conditions I guess this is no surprise.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

6,000 Year Old Oak Carving

A 6,000-year-old oak timber carved with a concentric oval pattern and zig-zag lines, recently discovered in the Rhondda Valley, Mid Wales, is thought to be among the oldest decorative wood carvings known from Europe.

Found by Heritage Recording Services Wales during the construction of a wind farm near Maerdy, the 1.7m long timber had been preserved in a waterlogged peat deposit, together with 11 other unmarked pieces of wood.
With one end apparently deliberately rounded and the other tapering slightly, the timber has been interpreted as a post, possibly marking a locally significant site or a tribal boundary, or representing a votive offering. Radiocarbon dating has placed it in c.4270-4000 BC, in the late Mesolithic or early Neolithic period.
‘Most finds from this period consist of stone tools, so to have a decorative carving, on wood no less, is very exciting,’ said lead archaeologist Richard Scott Jones. ‘We all put bets on its age, and people suggested Dark Age, Iron Age – but no one imagined it would come back as Mesolithic. We have since shown it to a number of Neolithic and Mesolithic experts, and they say it is a unique discovery.’
He added: ‘This period marks the transition between mobile hunter-gatherer groups and sedentary settlements. The timber was found by a stream edge on a small flat plateau, and if it is a post, it was probably marking something; maybe a sacred site, or a pool, or a nearby hunting ground – there is an ancient lake bed, which could have attracted animals, just a stone’s throw away – or some kind of boundary.’
Similar abstract patterns are known from Neolithic pottery, and from standing stones such as those at the Gavrinis passage grave in Brittany, or, closer to home, at Barclodiad y Gawres, Anglesey, Richard said.
Due to the rarity of such decorations surviving on ancient timbers, however, the team sent the oak timber to experts from the University of Wales Trinity St David, and Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, to confirm that the markings were manmade.
‘We wondered if the lines could have been created by the larvae of oak bark beetles, but after consultation with palaeoentomologists, we are happy that these are not burrowing channels,’ said Richard.
He added: ‘As the timber is about 100 years older than the deposit in which it was found, this may suggest that the oak timber had been brought to the spot deliberately, and perhaps carved on site. If so, then that is a lot of energy to expend, which may indicate that the markings have a special purpose, rather than casual whittling.’
The oak timber is currently undergoing conservation with York Archaeological Trust, where it is expected to remain until 2014.