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Marzipan Fruits 
Colored With "Period Food Coloring"
Arwen Southernwood


In trying to think of new things I have learned over the past year, I decided that the one I've had the most fun with is the making of marzipan fruits.  However, until now, I had always used modern commercial food colorings to color the marzipan.  Recently, in reading through some recipes in the Forme of Cury, I noted that there were an abundance of dishes where the maker was instructed to color them with saffron, saunders, alkanet, and other substances.  As this intrigued me, I decided to experiment with using period coloring agents to color marzipan.  The results looked like this:

Skip right to the redaction

Source Recipes

Substances used to color food:

Lete Lardes XX.III.VIII.

    (from Forme of Cury)
    Take parsel and grynd with a Cowe mylk, medle it with ayren lard ydyced take mylke after that thou hast to done and myng therewith.  And make thereof dyverse colours.  If thou wolt have zelow, do thereto safron and no parsel.  If thou wolt have it white, nonther parsel ne safron but do thereto amydon.  If thou wilt have rede do thereto sandres.  If thou wilt have pownas do thereto turnesole. If thou wilt have blak do thereto blode ysode and fryed.  And  set on the fyr in as many vessels as thou hast colors therto and seeth it wel and lay thise colours in a cloth first oon, and sithen anothe upon him, and sithen the thridde and the ferthe.  And presse it harde til it be all out clene. And whan it is al colde, lesh it thynne, put it in a panne and fry it well, and serve it forth.


    (from The Ladies Cabinet, Ruthven, 1655)

    66 - To make a Paste of Almonds.  Take a pound of small Almond, blanch them out of hot water into cold, then dry them with a cloth, and beat them in a stone morter till they come to Paste, putting now and then a spoonfull of Rose-water to them to keep them from oyling; when they are beaten to a fine Paste, take half a pound of Sugar finely beaten and searced, put it to your paste, and beat it til it will twist between your fingars and your thumb finely without knots, for then it is enough: then make thereo Pies, Birds, Fruits, Flowers, or any pretty things printed with Moulds, and so gild them and put them into your stove and use them at your pleasure.

    (from The English Housewife, Gervase Markham, 1615.)

    173. To make the best marchpane.  To make the best marchpane, take the best Jordan almonds and blanch them in warm water, then put them into a stone mortar, and with a wooden pestle beat them to pap, then tke of the finest refined sugar well searced, and with it, and damask rose-water, beat it to a good stiff paste, allowing almost to every Jordan almond three spoonful of sugar; then when it is brought thus to a paste, lay it upon a fair table,an, strewing searced sugar under it, mould it like leaven; then with a rolling pin roll it forth, and lay it upon wafers washed with rose-water; then pinch it about the sides, and put it into what form you please; then strew searced sugar all over it; which done, wash it over with rose-water and sugar mixed together, for that will make the ice, then adorn it with comfits, gilding, or whatsoever devices you please, and so set it into a hot stove, and there bake it crispy, and so serve it forth.  Some use to mix with the paste cinnamon and ginger finely searced, but I refer that to your particular taste.



    Three tubes of prepared marzipan
    1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
    1 bunch of parsley
    2 tablespoons beet powder
    2 tablespoons saunders (sandalwood powder)
    whole cloves (optional)

Preparation Steps:

  • Divide the marzipan into six chunks (one each for red apples, green apples, lemons, pears, oranges and strawberries).
  • Moisten the saffron with 1/2 teaspoon boiling water.  Allow to steep for 15-20 minutes to bring out the maximum color.
  • Wash and de-stem parsley.  Puree it in a blender or food processor with just enough water to moisten it (no more than one tablespoon).  Wring the pulp through a cloth to extract as much of the green juice as possible.
  • Mix the 1 tablespoon beet powder and 1 tablespoon saunders each with just enough water to make them into thick liquids.
  • Put 1/4 cup sugar into each of five ziplock baggies.  For the saffron and parsley, drop a few drops of each liquid into a bag of sugar and mix well.  Mix saunders and beet to make apple red.  Mix remaining dry saunders with sugar to make orange.  Mix remaining dry beet powder with sugar to make pink.

  • For Lemons:  Add a few drops of saffron liquid to marzipan and mix.  Form into lemon shapes.  Roll in saffron-colored sugar.
  • For Oranges:  Add several drops of saunders liquid and a drop or two of saffron liquid to marzipan and mix.  Roll into balls.  Roll in saunders-powder colored sugar.  Use a clove for the stem end.
  • For Green Apples:  Add many drops of parsley liquid to marzipan and mix.  Form into apple shapes.  Roll in parsley-colored sugar.  Add cloves for stem and blossom ends.
  • For Red Apples:  Add several drops each of beet liquid and saunders liquid to marzipan and mix.  Form into apple shapes.  Roll in sugar colored with saunders and beet liquid.  Add cloves for stem and blossom ends.
  • For Pears:  Add a few drops of saffron liquid to marzipan and mix.  Form into pear shapes.  Roll in parsley-colored sugar.  Add cloves for stem and blossom ends.
  • For Strawberries:  Add several drops of beet liquid to marzipan and mix.  Form into strawberry shapes (remembering that period strawberries were more similar in size and shape to wild strawberries).  Roll in sugar mixed with dry beet powder.

  • If the colored liquids make the marzipan too soft to work with, work in some sugar or powdered sugar, then let it sit and dry for half an hour.
  • When finished, spread the fruits out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or in the bottom of a baking pan.  Allow to air dry for 2-3 days, until the outside is dry to the touch.

Redaction Notes:

    Since the focus of this project was on coloring agents, rather than the marzipan itself, I chose to use commercially prepared marzipan instead of making my own.  Unfortunately, the commercial supply I purchased was old and too hard to use.  I fell back on some that I had on hand, and while it was a little on the dry side, given how much liquid I needed to add in order to achieve some of the colors, that was probably a good thing.

    Some notes on the various coloring agents:

  • Parsley:  Despite the fact that I added as little water as possible when grinding the parsley, the resulting color was still very pale.  Perhaps setting the leftover juice in an open dish in the refrigerator to allow excess water to evaporate from it would result in a stronger color (I had intended to experiment with this, but the dish was accidentally spilled before I could try the color).  The marzipan colored with parsley juice (green apples) had a substantial amount of sugar mixed into it in order to make it workable.
  • Saunders:  The color that resulted from unmixed saunders was a disappointing, muddy reddish-orange.  Adding a few drops of saffron to that batch of marzipan resulted in a color that, while still muddy, was acceptable for oranges.  When I rolled the finished oranges in sugar that had been mixed with dry saunders, they seem to have picked up mostly the saunders, giving them a different look and texture than the other fruits.  Saunders mixed with beet liquid, however, made a perfect apple color.
  • Beet:  My original plan was to use beet juice for this color, but then I found beet powder at a local health-food store, and thought that would be a great way to get a more concentrated color.  I was concerned that the beet would impart an unpleasant flavor to the marzipan, so when I sampled a leftover bit, I was delighted to find that there was no beet flavor at all!
  • Saffron:  This was by far the easiest of the four substances to work with, and produced the most vivid color.  The saffron liquid was as potent, or possibly even more so, than commercial yellow food coloring.  Its only drawback is that it did impart a saffron flavor to the marzipan; however, the flavor is not unpleasant.


  • Brander, Gustavus (ed.).  Forme of Cury, A Roll Of Ancient English Cookery, Compiled, about A.D. 1390.  London, 1780.  Scanned facsimile available at
  • Markham, Gervase (Best, Michael R., ed.).  The English Housewife. McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986
  • Renfrow, Cindy & Fleming, Elise.  The Colorful Cook. Self-published, 1999.  (Later published as a Compleat Anachronist, October 2000).
  • Ruthven (Lord).  The Ladies Cabinet Enlarged and Opened.  Falconwood Press, 1990.

Date Of Redaction

Prepared for the Caerthen Arts and Sciences Competition
November 4, A.S. XXXV (2000 c.e.)

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