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To Farce a Crab

Sliced lemon has always been a popular garnish for fish and shellfish. In the past, other acid fruits were served with both sea and fresh water fish. Gooseberries, verjuice (unripe grapes) and barberries were the most popular, all often being available when lemons were difficult to find.

Barberries or pipperages were once commonly grown in English kitchen gardens. They were used extensively in both cookery and confectionery. There were a number of favoured varieties, most of which have been lost. One was the large fruited 'nutmeg barberry', used for garnishing boiled pike at sixteenth century livery company feasts. This was known to John Evelyn as 'the great barberry'. Evelyn also recommended a seedless variety. In more recent times the barberry was found to be a vector for wheat rust and has been more or less eradicated from English gardens, as well as its natural habitats. If you live well away from a wheat growing area, it is worth cultivating for the sake of its beautiful scarlet acidic fruits.

Confectioners and housewives prized barberries for making jellies, preserves and ice cream. Skillful confectioners took pride in preserving them whole in bunches.

Farced Crab

This is a wonderfully imaginative way of serving crab and illustrates just how good English food could be at this early period. The flesh of the crab is minced together with that of an eel, preserving the crab's flavour, but adding a succulent texture to the blend. As was common at this period, acid fruits like gooseberries. verjuice grapes or barberries were added to the farce for their refreshing tartness. The finished dish was garnished with little crab foremeat balls spiked with pine-apple-seed (pinenuts), pistachios, sliced almonds or 'some pretty cuts in paste'.
To farce a Crab

Take a boil'd crab, take the meat out of the shell, and mince the claws with a good fresh eel, season it with cloves, mace, some sweet herbs chopped, and salt, mingle all together with some yolks of eggs, some grapes, gooseberries, or barberres, and sometimes boil'd artichocks in dice-work, or boil'd asparagus, some almond-paste, the meat of the body of the crab, and some grated bread, fill the shells with this compound, & make some into balls, bake them in a dish with some butter and white wine in a soft oven; being baked, serve them in a clean dish with a sauce made of beaten butter, large mace, scalded grapes, gooseberries, or barberries, or some slic'd orange or lemon and some yolks of raw eggs dissolved with some white-wine or claret, and beat up thick with butter; brew it well together, pour it on the fish and lay on some slic't lemon, stick the balls with some pistaches, slic't almonds, pine-apple-seed, or some pretty cuts in paste.

From Robert May The Accomplisht Cook (London:1660)

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