Candied Eringo, amending the defects of nature
'Eringo, Eringo, the candied root of sea-holly, whose sharp tang, soaked in sugar with a flavour of burning, he had enjoyed on summer nights at home, lying under the oak tree with a girl, stuffing her mouth with it and then tasting the crisp sugar on her lips'.
Hugh Walpole The Far Pavilions 1940
Candied eringo was, for several centuries, a sweetmeat delicacy for which Colchester was celebrated. It was the preserved root of the sea-holly, Eringium Maratimum, which grew in profusion along on the sandy sea board of the eastern counties. It was an aphrodisiac, a mediaeval version of Viagra. Colchester still uses the symbol of the Sea Holly to celebrate a quondam source of its wealth.
The thick underground roots, which frequently penetrate the sand or shingle to a depth of 3 ft, was gathered all along the coast, and then pickled, or candied, with sugar and orange-flower-water. As an industry, it reached its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was popular with the elderly. Gerard, in his herbal, says that the candied roots were '... exceedingly good to be given to old and aged people that are consumed and withered with age, and which want natural moisture: they are also good for other sorts of people, nourishing and restoring the aged, and amending the defects of nature in the yonger.'.
The industry disappeared a hundred and fifty years ago, when people stopped believing in its herbal qualities. It had previously been so popular a favourite that the Colchester Corporation was in the habit of presenting packets of it to distinguished visitors. Thus in 1621 they gave four pounds of eringo to the chancellor of the Bishop of London, paying for it at the rate of four shillings per pound. As late as 1795 Queen Charlotte was presented with a box of it as she passed through the town. This candy ceased to be an article of commerce at Colchester about 1865 ; its last maker was a Miss Thorn, an elderly maiden lady.
There are various recipies for achieving the candied sweet. It is highly probable that the real recipe was kep secret in the families that ran the production. However, Hugh Plat, in 1609, says...
Seethem them till they be tender: then take away the piths of them, and leave them in a colander till they have dropped as much as they will: then having a thin sirup ready, put them being cold into the sirup beeing also cold, and let them stand so three daies, then boyle the sirup (adding some fresh sirup to it; to supply that which the rootes have drunke up) a little higher: and at three daies end, boyle the sirup againe without any new addition, unto the full height of a preserving sirup, and put it in your rootes, and so keep them. Rootes preserved in this manner, will eate ery tender, because they never boyled in the sirup.
A 17th century recipe for 'Eryngo cream' by John Evelyn says:
'Take halfe a pound of Eringo Roots and mince them very well then take an Ale pint of Creame sett them on the fire and boyle them with a piece of Isinglasse to thicken it boile a litle of it to trie the stiffnesses when enough put in a litle orenge flower water and so put it into a dish keepe it till the next day then stick it with pistachoes.'
If Culpeper's herbal is to be believed, then the plant not only increased ones lust, but cured all manner of disease, broken bones and snakebites.
"The plant is venereal, and breeds seed exceedingly, and strengthens the spirit procreative; it is hot and moist, and under the celestial Balance.
The decoction of the root hereof in wine, is very effectual to open obstruction of the spleen and liver, and helps yellow jaundice, dropsy, pains of the loins, and wind cholic, provokes urine, and expels the stone, procures women's courses.
The continued use of the decoction for fifteen days, taken fasting, and next to bedward, doth help the stranguary, the difficulty and stoppage of urine, and the stone, as well as all defects of the reins and kidneys; and if the said drink be continued longer, it is said that it cures the stone; it is found good against the French pox.
The roots bruised and applied outwardly, help the kernels of the throat, commonly called the king's evil; or taking inwardly, and applied to the place stung or bitten by any serpent, heal it speedily. If the roots be bruised, and boiled in old hog's grease, or salted lard, and broken bones, thorns &c. remaining in the flesh, they do not only draw them forth, but heal up the place again, gathering new flesh where it was consumed.
The juice of the leaves dropped into the ear, helps imposthumes therein.
The distilled water of the whole herb, when the leaves and stalks are young, is profitable drank for all the purpose aforesaid; and helps the melancholy of the heart, and is available in quartan and quotidian agues; as also for them that have their necks drawn awry, and cannot turn them without turning their whole body.