Often, when reading historicals (Over four decades now! Gads!) I’ll read something and not think twice about it.
In this instance, I’m talking about lumps of sugar, you know, as in, Do you want one lump or two in your tea?
For years, I mistakenly assumed it was the British way of referring to sugar cubes, which weren’t patented until 1843 by Jakub Krystof Rad who operated a sugar refinery. According to history, his wife sliced her finger cutting a lump of sugar and complained that sugar should come in a convenient size for a teacup. Being a dutiful husband, he created the nifty little units we take for granted today.
The English, however, had to wait until 1875 for the luxury of sugar cubes on their tea trays.
After a lengthy refining process, the sugar was poured into cone-shaped molds with a small hole in the bottom to let the dark syrup drain out. To whiten the sugar, a solution of dissolved loaf sugar or white clay was repeatedly applied to the large end of the loaf, and as the liquid drained through the sugar, it purged any remaining molasses or dark coloring.
Once tapped from the molds, the sugar was wrapped in blue paper to enhance the whiteness.
After purchasing whatever quality of sugar the mistress of the household could afford, how did she fill her sugar basin? She couldn’t very well pass around the entire loaf and ask her guest so take a lick! I did read sometimes larger chunks were simply dunked in the tea because they wouldn’t fit into the cup.
Those were dried and used again. I’m truly hoping not by different guests.
The elite ladies of the ton, weren’t about to get their dainty fingers sticky, no indeed. Plucking a lump or two from a china sugar basin with tongs was much preferred.
But, how to get those neat little lumps?
That in itself was no easy chore.
The larger cones weighed thirty pounds and measured fourteen inches tall with a three foot base. The higher quality cones used for tea typically weighed between one and three pounds with only a six-inch base and were much more manageable.
Still, no convenient granulated sugar or cubes for those Regency biscuits or tea!
Some nippers came on stands so the user could put their weight into nipping off a piece of sugar. Naturally, tidy, uniform lumps were preferred for serving guests, and that chore generally fell to the mistress of the house or a highly trusted servant.
Sugar, like tea, was expensive and both were often kept in locked chests or caddies to which the mistress kept the keys. Some sugar chests had compartments for powdered and granulated sugar.
Just how did the cook come by powdered and granulated sugar? The lumps were pounded or grated to create granulated sugar and a mortar and pestle was used to make powdered sugar.
Now, don’t you have even more appreciation for those elaborate confections nibbled by callers as they whispered about the latest on dit over a steaming cup of sugar-sweetened tea?
HERE’S A SCENE FROM WAGERS GONE AWRY (CONUNDRUMS OF THE MISSES CULPEPPERS, BOOK 1) WHICH STARTED ME ON MY SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE SUGAR CUBE.
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After sinking gracefully onto the sofa, and nudging aside a sleeping cat in order to make room for two of the young women to sit beside her, Miss Culpepper poured his tea. “Milk or sugar?”
The girl in yellow sat in the other chair while the twin attired in green plopped onto a low stool and, chin resting on her hand, stared at him.
Never had Heath experienced such self-consciousness before. Five pairs of eyes observed his every move. What was their story? His task would’ve been much easier if they were lazy, contentious spendthrifts sporting warty noses and whiskery chins.
“My lord?” Tongs in hand, Miss Culpepper peered at him, one fair brow arched, almost as if she’d read his thoughts. “Milk or sugar?”
He flashed her his most charming smile—the one that never failed to earn a blush or seductive tilt of lips, depending on the lady’s level of sexual experience.
Her eyebrow practically kissing her hair, Miss Culpepper regarded him blandly. The twins salvaged his bruised pride by turning pink and gawking as expected. The older two exchanged guarded glances, and he swore Miss Brette hid a smirk behind her hand.
Heat slithered up his face.
Poorly done, old man.
These weren’t primping misses accustomed to dallying or playing the coquette. He doubted they knew how to flirt. Direct and unpretentious, all but the youngest pair had detected his ploy to charm them. Rather mortifying to be set down without a word of reproach by three inexperienced misses.
Miss Culpepper waved the tongs and flashed her sister a sideways glance, clearly indicating she thought him a cod-pated buffoon.
“Just sugar please. Two lumps.” He ran his fingers inside his neckcloth. The cloying material itched miserably.
Heath relaxed against the chair, squashing a cat that had crawled in behind him. With a furious hiss, the portly beast wriggled free and tumbled to the floor. Whiskers twitching and citrine eyes glaring, the miffed feline arched her spine, and then, with a dismissive flick of her tail, marched regally to lie before the hearth.
“I’m afraid you’ve annoyed Pudding.” Chuckling, a delicious musical tinkle, Miss Culpepper lifted the lid from the sugar bowl and dropped two lumps into his tea. Four remained on the bottom of the china. “She holds a grudge, so watch your calves. She’ll take a swipe at you when you aren’t looking.”
She passed him the steaming cup then scooted the small chipped plate of biscuits in his direction. Her roughened hands that suggested she performed manual labor. The other cat, its plump cheeks the size of dinner rolls, raised its head and blinked at him sleepily. The animals, at least, didn’t go hungry around here. Miss Culpepper’s keen gaze remained on him as she settled further into the couch,
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