Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Manus Christi -- A Sweet That Is Rich In More Ways Than One

When sugar and sugar recipes came to Europe from the Holy Land, sugar was considered a health food. Early confection recipes were found in medical books rather than cook books.

Manus Christi is something I found in a book on sweets my husband gave me, SWEETS: A HISTORY OF CANDY. Manus Christi dates from the Middle Ages and disappeared from use early in the 19th century. It means "the hand of Christ". Why it's called that, I do not know. It isn't shaped like a hand or even like a cross. Or a person, come to that.

There are various versions of this "life-saving" sweet, but it's usually a stick or a disc of hard candy flavored with cinnamon, violets or rosewater. Sometimes flakes of precious metals and powdered gemstones were added to medicinal sweets for extra goodness, and Manus Christi contained gold leaf and sometimes crushed pearls.

Sometimes the sweet was dissolved in liquid and taken as a cordial. It wasn't an emergency treatment, but was taken on general principles. England's Henry VIII kept stocked up on it.

Needless to say, it was used exclusively by the very wealthy. Poor people had to make do with less healthful foods, like whole-grain bread, fresh fruit and root vegetables boiled with herbs.


Marian Allen, Author Lady

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