What is Flummery?

Posted on 19 Jul 2014 03:03

I am not sure if flummery was a good food, but it is certainly a great word! Flummery was an Old English pudding that was made from oatmeal. The oatmeal would be soaked in water and rubbed to make it finer and help release the starch. Then the water containing the starch, which would come off as a white, gelatinous material (known as a mucilaginous starch), would be boiled down until the mixture became very thick and somewhat like a jelly. It could also be made from wheat meal. This was eaten as breakfast, and often known as a convalescent food. Flavorings might be added, such as honey, sugar, almonds, cream, raisins, or sherry. Other names for the flummery made from steeped oats were flammery and wash-brew. In Britain, by the 1800's, it became a dish made from cream or almond and made into a gelatin by some something like isinglass or another ingredient that would set the dish into a gelatin like consistency.

Later, other types of flummery were made by different means, such as gelatin, isinglass or other cereals. Flummery later became known as any type of soft custardy dessert and even fruit molds were sometimes called flummery. In the United States, flummery referred to a dish made from berries that were simmered and then thickened with cornstarch, and flavored with a cream or a sauce. My grandmother used to make a type of flummery out of blackberries, but she used a recipe that strained out the gritty seeds and produced a thick blackberry pudding that was then served with a sauce also made from blackberries. I didn't know this was a flummery until I learned more about food history.

Flummery is no longer a food, although many of the foods we eat today are basically flummeries, in a similar was as my grandmother's blackberry dish derived from flummery. The word comes from the Welsh llmryu. The word still survives to mean the same as nonsense, meaningless babble, or, if you're a Wizard of Oz fan, humbug, which has the connotation of phoniness and deceitfulness. It could also be used to describe flattery. I am not sure if this meaning for the word flummery is indicative of the quality of the dish, but it does sound dreadful, doesn't it? There are some old cookbooks which seem to indicate it as being a delight, but perhaps that is a kind of childhood nostalgia. After all, in my child's mind, my grandmother's flummery was wonderful, but I have began to learn that childhood has a way of coloring our experiences, and not just in terms of our palate's development!

The dish certainly bears similarities to many medicinal preparations where ingredients were boiled for long periods to try and extract their "goodnes" resulting in something that the pigs might have liked better than humans. When I began to think about starting a new blog, I could not resist the parallel meanings of the word, as it represents what I do here, and what I wanted to do with the new site. Hogwash, as well, is the same kind of word and we can see how that word could come about.

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