Medieval Comfits Recipe

Licorice Comfits by Accidental Hedonist
Licorice Comfits, a photo by Accidental Hedonist on Flickr. 
In the last segment I posted from the novel's first draft, I mentioned Cecily and Bess mixing up "a batch of mouthwatering aniseed comfits." Comfits are still sold today (they are sometimes called "pastilles"), but were made as far back as Medieval times. Basically, these are candies made by coating a seed (anything from  fennel to caraway to coriander to anise) with melted sugar. Licorice comfits are sold today in all kinds of pretty colors, but these treats were probably quite plain in the Middle Ages.

What follows is a recipe I've edited from one on www.celtnet.org.uk, so you can get a taste of Cecily's world!


  • 10 tbsp aniseed 
  • 240ml gum arabic 
  • 250ml hot water granulated sugar 


  1. Wash and dry the aniseed. Use a mortar to break the gum arabic into very small pieces (the smaller the better) then add these to 250ml of hot water. 
  2. Stir the aniseed into the gum Arabic mixture, and keep stirring until the gum mixture becomes thick and treacly. 
  3. Stir in the aniseed, then strain off the excess gum arabic. 
  4. Pour into a greased baking tray and separate the grains, then set aside to harden. 
  5. Once the aniseed are dry, prepare a simple syrup by dissolving 200g of sugar in 1l of hot water. 
  6. Place the aniseed in a small baking dish, pour over 60ml of the sugar syrup, then gently warm the pan. As the comfits begin to dry in the warm pan, swirl them around with your fingers and rub through your hands so that each comfit is separated. Initially the comfits will appear grey, but as they take on more of the syrup they will turn pearly white. 
  7. Once the comfits are dry, give them a further 10 coats of syrup, drying thoroughly each time. Store the comfits in a clean, dry jar and use as needed. If you want colored comfits, simply add a little food coloring to the final few syrup solutions.

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Constructive criticism is welcome! Please remember, though, that nearly every excerpt posted here is my first rough draft.