flummery

My friend Cathy suggested “flummery” as another word for baloney. And yes, that is one definition for it, but it’s also a food made from the husks of oats steeped in water, called in Scotland sowens, which developed into a sweet dessert popular in the British Isles. 

The name is derived from the Welsh word for a similar dish made from sour oatmeal and husks, llymru, which is of unknown origin. “Flummery” later came to have connotations of a bland, empty, and unsatisfying food and thus developed the meaning of empty compliments, unsubstantial talk or writing, and nonsense.

The name is first seen in Gervase Markham’s 1623 Countrey Contentments, or English Huswife: “From this small Oat-meale, by oft steeping it in water and clensing it, and then boyling it to a thicke and stiffe jelly, is made that excellent dish of meat which is so esteemed in the West parts of this Kingdome, which they call Wash-brew, and in Chesheire and Lankasheire they call it Flamerie or Flumerie.”

“Flummery” is also the name that has been given to more modern mousse desserts or to blancmange, or for foods that incorporate jelly and tinned cream.

A modern cook says “flummery” is an ancient recipe that featured in Scottish feasts dating right back to the 1400s. She says the dessert takes its starchiness from the soaked oats but, because the starch in oats varies, the time can vary on how long the dessert takes to thicken. Her recipe will make 6 small servings.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons medium Scottish oatmea
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons caster sugar
3 fluid ounces double cream
2 tablespoons Scotch whisky
2 tablespoons runny honey
3 fluid ounces whipping cream
zest of 1 orange

Soak the oatmeal in 15 ounces cold water for 48 hours, then drain and discard the oatmeal, retaining the liquid. Pour the liquid into a pan and add the orange juice and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously till thick. This can take from 15 minutes depending on the starchiness of the oatmeal used. If it doesn’t thicken to your liking, add cornstarch dissolved in a tiny amount of water. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then stir in the double cream and pour into 6 small serving glasses. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes. Mix whisky with honey and add a teaspoonful to each glass. Whip the cream and top each glass and sprinkle with orange zest.

Do a search for flummery on the Web and you’ll find many recipes. I liked the one for Raspberry Flummery, made with fresh raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch cooked together, then topped with freshly whipped cream, the perfect combination of tart and sweet.

A number of 1700s cookery books have recipes for flummery eggs and bacon. In one version, the eggs and bacon are sitting on a bed of green jelly which is meant to represent chopped spinach. Now, spinach is a food that can be banned forever, as far as I’m concerned, and green Jello is not far behind. Gimme my eggs and bacon straight, please!

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