Yet more Twelfth Cake

I’m back! I’ve been lecturing like a beast, living on oatcakes and cheese as I drive around the country in my increasingly crumb-filled car. It’s Christmas, again, which means time for my annual plea to bring back the Twelfth Cake.

Really. Seriously. What IS the point of Christmas Cake? I adore it, I could wallow in it and eat it every day (always with cheese), but for many people its sort of lost its place in the world… We make them (or buy them), save them ’til Christmas’, and…then what? Friends come over – we feed them mince pies. Pre-Christmas festivities – we don’t want to broach the cake. Christmas day – we’re too full to eat it. And after Christmas there’s a slow, increasingly guilty feeling as we fail to broach the bugger and feel we should perhaps wait for some undefined special occasion. And snacking is bad, and sugar is the devil etc etc. Sigh. There is, however, a solution! This year, get your cake, unwrap it (or before you ice it – this may be a tad too late), upend it, and stick a dried pea and a bean in each side.  Plonk it back on the plate and decorate as per usual. The kicker is that you then save it, to be eaten with lovely people and lots of booze on Twelfth Night (6th January) while you all have a have a proper party to send out the season. (Obviously I am assuming no-one reading this does anything terrible like ‘dry’ January, or, even worse, ‘Veganuary’. Please. January is a TERRIBLE month. You need bacon and wine.)

Srsly, argh.
Srsly, argh.

…Ok, realistically it may be that even the thought of Twelfth Night is making you feel a bit queasy, what with next year possibly lining up to be even worse, on a global politics/world meltdown scale than this year, and in fact you want to bury your head in the cake right now, and now come up for breath – but I still feel we need to address this cake situation. How about going some way toward it?  You could still to the bean and pea thing? Right? With a crown from a cracker or the finder of the bean, or a small token of your esteem. Makes cutting the cake way cooler….

This year, I am singing the praises of Twelfth Cake in public not once, but twice. First up is Victorian Bakers at Christmas (airs Christmas Day at 9.30pm and repeated Boxing Day), and next up is a special, 12th Night themed episode of The Kitchen Cabinet on January 7th at 10.30am, recorded at the Banqueting House in London. I am bound to be asked for the recipes, so here they are. Enjoy.

For Bakers, we were looking at an 1840s Christmas, when Twelfth Cake was really at its peak (see my previous post on the subject).The bakers were tasked with making cake for all, not just the fashionable bon ton who could afford the beautiful concoctions sometimes featured at heritage sites, but  the riff and the raff and everyone in between. Their cakes needed to be quick to make and decorate, and easy to sell – bright, fun, and funky. Inspired by the lurid descriptions of the time, the results were utterly joyous, and when the shop window was dressed it was so spot on that it made me very happy.

The shop.
The shop.

The cake recipe was from The Knight Family Cookbook, which is linked to Jane Austen through her brother, and was reprinted as a facsimile by Chawton House a few years ago.

To Make a Great Cake (a note in the margin reads ‘good cake’)

Take 5 quarts of fine flower, a pound of fine sugar beaten, half an ounce of mace, 3 nutmegs, a few cloves, a little cinnamon all well beaten, 8 pounds of currance, & a pound of raisons of the sun stoned and shred, mix all of these in the dry flower; then take 3 gills of cream, 3 pounds and a half of butter melted in it, almost a quart of new ale yeast, 20 eggs which beat with the yeast well together & strained in. Then put a jack of brandy [a jack is half a gill] into the cream & butter, so pour it to the rest blood warm, & mix it lightly with your hands. It must be about as stiff as a hasty pudding, so beat it with your hands a good while, & have ready half a pound of candied lemon & half a pound of citron cut into pieces. Then put your cake into your hoop with 3 or 4 papers at the bottom. If your hoop be half a yard over it will do – when you have put in some of your cake, show in some of the candied lemon and citron, then put in more of the cake, then the rest of the sucket, then the rest of the cake, then cut t over with a knife or it will crack, but don’t prick it at all. This cake is very subject to scorch, so when it colours lay a paper over it. It must stand in the oven full 2 hours, longer if it be thick when almost cold ice it.

I love the wording of this recipe, from the hoop half a yard across (we had to commission one), to the assumption that the cook knows the texture of a hasty pudding (thick batter). It speaks volumes that the writer assumes blood warm makes perfect sense – which it did to me, who spends half my life reading recipes like this, but it confused a couple of the bakers. And teh use of the term suckets for candied lemon and citron is a throwback to the 17th century and earlier, and, along with the use of yeast as the raising agent, hints at the longevity of this kind of recipe. Clearly if you decide to make it, scale it down.

For The Kitchen Cabinet, we were going all 17th century, in keeping with the glories of the Banqueting House venue (THAT CEILING!). Thus the recipe which I chose for the show was an earlier one (though the above would have been around then, easily). I also inserted tokens into the cake, whereas for Bakers, set 200 years later, we played with cut up Twelfth Night Character cards. The tokens were based on the list given in Bridget Henisch’s Cakes and Characters, where she quotes Henry Teonge, recounting a party at sea in 1676: ‘we had much mirth on board, for we had a Great Cake made, in which we put a bean for the king, a pea for the Queen, a clove for the knave, a forked stick for the cuckold, and a rag for the slut’. (Pepys records similar shenanigans, but he rigged it so that a friend of his under investigation for fraud got the clove…)

Rubens celebrating James I as an actual god. Because the 17th century has done it ALL before.
Rubens celebrating James I as an actual god. Because the 17th century has done it ALL before.

Again, the cake is yeast-risen, and packed with fruit and booze. Neither recipe contains much sugar; a reflection of the high cost of sugar before the late 18th century. Both benefit from a little while to rise, this more than the former. This one is somewhat bread-ier, and keeps less well (hence the ground almonds, which improve keeping qualities), but it is also slightly lighter, and was eaten by the audience before any of the panellists got a look-in. It’s from John Nott’s Cook’s Dictionary (1726).

To make an extraordinary Plum Cake

Take five pound of flour, two pound of butter, put the butter into the flour, five pound of currants, a large nutmeg, three quarters of an ounce of mace, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves, finely grated and beat; take three quarters of a pound of sugar, twelve eggs, leaving out three whites, put in a pint of ale yeast; then warm as much cream as will wet it, and pour some sack to your cream, and make it as thick as batter; then pownd three quarters of a pound of almonds, with sack and orange flower water, beat them but grossly; add a pound of candy’d citron, orange and lemon-peel, mix’d all together; put a little paste at the bottom of your hoop, and put it in.

Again, the language is revealing, though less old-fashioned than the manuscript recipe: tidied up, perhaps, for a modern reading audience. The paste at the bottom of the hoop is a nifty idea to stop the bottom burning, and doubles as a cake board when the thing is served. It’s a trick I’ve found in Victorian books as well, and it’s an easy way round having to cut bits of wood to shape or find silver platters upon which to serve your cake if you are trying to be vaguely in keeping with periods before foil-covered cardboard cake boards. Agnes Marshall even has a recipe specifically for cake bottom pastry.

Oh! And to prove I put my money where my mouth is, I have made all of my Christmas Cakes into Twelfth Cakes this year, peas and beans in every one. Some have, however, already been consumed…

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Yes, they were vaguely themed: this one is vaguely Tudor (and uses Tudor sugarplate)
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C18th gum plate.
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I made myself a Greedy Queen cake, AND?
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More sugarplate, different recipe, new moulds.
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From a book from 1904. STILL a TWELFTH CAKE, OK.
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The early C18th version. M insisted we try one to check they were edible and it was gone in minutes.

 

Happy Christmas!

 

The recipes, side by side, for scaling purposes.

Knight Family Cookbook

10 pints of flour, 1lb caster sugar, 1/2oz mace, 3 nutmegs, few cloves, bit cinnamon, 8lb currants, 1lb raisins, 12 fl oz cream, 3 1/2 lb butter, 2pt ale yeast (or fresh yeast mixed into a blend of weak beer and water), 10 medium eggs (or 20 pullets’ eggs), 2 fl oz brandy, 8oz candied lemon peel, 8 oz candied citron peel,

I tend to do an eighth for a standard 12 inch cake tin. Note the liquid measurement for a dry foodstuff in the flour.

Nott

5lb flour, 2lb butter, 5lb currants, 1 nutmeg, 3/4oz mace, 1/4oz cloves, 12oz sugar, 6 medium eggs (12 pullets), leaving out 2 whites (3 whites), 1pt ale yeast (or weak beer and water mixed with fresh yeast – or dried), glug of sherry or brandy, orange flower water, 12oz ground almonds, 1lb candied mixed peel.

I quarter this and it’s pretty ample.

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Old sheep are the best sheep

pie!
pie!

The Kitchen Cabinet is back! YAY. One of the things I most love about doing the show (and there are lots and lots of things to choose from) is the opportunity it gives me to cook things I probably wouldn’t get round to otherwise. (It’s sort of provocation and ‘I dare you’ more than opportunity, actually). For those unfamiliar with the programme (HOW? WHAT? WHY?), the format is a sort of Gardener’s Question Time on LSD, with a series of enthusiastic and up-for-it audiences asking questions to a panel of culinary experts which differs each week. In every episode we cover different topics, linked to the place where we are recording, what’s in season at the time the programme will air, and burning food questions of the day. The questions we answer are submitted by audience members on the night, so we have no idea what we will be responding to until about 2 minutes before we step on stage, but we do get a heads-up on the main subject areas. For me, that means a day or so of intensive research, to find interesting facts, recipes and to create a historical narrative which will act as context to the more immediate questions around how to cook it, build it, eat it or think about it. We also have invited guests from the area in which we record, who usually bring things we can eat (it goes without saying that we are all enthusiastic eaters).

The latest run started last Saturday (the 24th September), with a show from Derry (you can catch up via iPlayer Radio, by downloading the podcast, or by going to the show’s very own website, here). This Saturday we are coming at you from Windsor, and we are talking about Queen Victoria (clearly a fabulous topic upon which it is possibly to wax lyrical for about 5 days), Ragus sugar syrups and mutton. You’ll have to listen to the show to hear its glories, but I promised several audience members that I would post the two recipes I cooked, hence this post.

For those of you who are raising an eyebrow at the thought of mutton, DO NOT DARE. Mutton, in my view, is far superior to its fatty, flaccid offspring, lamb, and has both a better taste and texture. I am not alone in thinking this, and there is a website, fronted by Prince Charles, devoted to its charms. The 19th century definition was that it was meat from a sheep of over 3 years, and the meat of those of 6 years plus was deemed the best. Generally now, sheep meat is lamb until it about a year and a half old, and hogget until it is three ish, and mutton after that. Some butchers only admit to having hogget if you ask them, as they label it as lamb, for lamb sells better. Very few sell mutton and you generally have to order it, or buy it online. It seems silly to me that, since the 1960s, we’ve largely lost the habit of eating baby cow (though veal remains easier to obtain than mutton), but embraced the habit of eating baby sheep (yes, yes, not actual babies: both veal and lamb is usually a year old unless stated otherwise). Lamb is baby food, really, as sweet and tender and juicy as is veal, although it is not quite as different to mutton as veal is to beef. Lamb is delightful to cook with if you need a hefty amount of fat, and don’t mind a bit of insipidity. Lamb chops are delightful, and delicate, and lamb roast is like putting spring in your mouth. If you actually like the flavour of it though, and want something with a tad more texture and bit more life to it, mutton is where it’s at. It’s also, in my view, more versatile than lamb: you can very very slow cook it until it falls apart, you can flash fry the chops (and the kidneys are divine), you can stick it in pies and sausages, and stews and – well. you get the picture.

These recipes are both from books by Charles Elmé Francatelli, who was – briefly – Chief Cook to Queen Victoria before he departed after some murky business involving fisticuffs and the police (also, everyone who worked from him seemed to dislike him). One, The Modern Cook, was aimed at high end chefs working in large establishments, like him. The other, The Cook’s Guide, was more middling sort. Both are good, though the Modern Cook is tediously attached to garnishes of pureed veg and a zillion annoying cross-references. Still, that’s what sold in 1842…

Mutton Pies à la Windsor (Cook’s Guide): 1lb lean loin of mutton, finely minced with a knife; finely chopped mushrooms, parsley, a small amount of shallot, lots and lots of pepper and salt; a little gravy or thick stock. Mix everything together, and put it in small pies (a fairy cake tray is ideal). Pierce the top of each pie and bake for 45mn-1hr in an over at about 160-180. Apparently they are idea for ‘the sportsman’s bag of prog’. (I used a pastry from a Larousse of 1938 – 500g flour, 125g butter, 1 whole small egg, 15g salt).

Mutton cutlets with chestnut purée (Modern Cook): season the cutlets, egg them with a pastry brush dipped in the yolk, dip in breadcrumbs, then in melted butter, then in breadcrumbs again. Fry in very hot clarified butter. Serve with a chestnut purée made by simmering (previously cooked, peeled and probably in a tin chestnuts) in a bit of very good chicken or beef stock for 15-20mn, then adding a scant tsp of sugar, nutmeg and 1/2 pt of cream. Reduce this little lot on the stove and blitz or mash. Add a knob of butter just before serving.

Links…

The Kitchen Cabinet, Be in the Audience
Francatelli’s Modern Cook
Francatelli’s Cook’s Guide
Graig Farm Mutton (amazing)
The Smiling Sheep (wherein I have just obtained 10yo mutton and am very very excited)

I LOVE EUROVISION

It’s the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. If you are not hanging up the bunting and getting in the booze, then you are missing out, in my view. Especially at the moment, watching all the mud-slinging of the Brexit/Bremain stuff, I sort of despair. I adore Eurovision. Always have. To me, it’s a chance to celebrate all the good things about Europe – cultural diversity, shared experiences, and, above all, a sense of massive fun. In the UK, we tend to look toward America for our foreign music, and I still remember the shock and mild horror when I realised that French radio played a lot of French music – and Spanish, and German, and whatever was popular in the European club scene at the time. Eventually I came to enjoy it, and I still listen to as much French music as I do English, I suspect. I shan’t rehearse all the reasons why Eurovision is BRILLIANT here, (though I shall direct you to this radio show with by the Swedish Ambassador, which is very good), but suffice to say that, while the top-rated songs are generally genuinely good (not always- I’m looking at YOU very bad Polish butter-makers in 2014 – terrible, terrible technique), it’s the mixture of great – average – dire and sheer WTF which makes the whole evening such a joy.

I am head down writing chapters of A Greedy Queen like a demon at the moment, so I shall make the rest of this post pithy. Here’re my favourite songs, and, as the point of this blog is to muse in a historically meaningful way, some suggestions of what to cook to celebrate them in a suitably ye olde way:

Austria: OK, I LIKE THIS SONG. How about Kaiser-Schmarn, from Countess Morphy’s Recipes of All Nations? It’s a pancake on LSD – 1/2lb of flour, 1/2 pint of cream, sugar, eggs, raisins, salt and butter. I ate a modern version last year while on the Great Austria Trip and it was immense. Countess Morphy is also immense, as she’s a fake Countess, and wrote what is, in my view, one of the best cookery books of the 20th century. In an amazing departure from every academic norm ever, I refer you to the Wikipedia entry, which has been edited by a crack team based around the Oxford Food Symposium, and therefore is one of only about ten accurate food history articles on the web.

France: Inevitably. I am the only person I know who liked Twin Twin’s Moustache. For France we can delve into the 18th century, as high end cooking was all French influenced at that stage. I’d like to offer up wine chocolate, published in John Nutt’s Cook’s Dictionary of 1726. The French drank a lot of chocolate, and this one has booze in, which you tend to need about halfway through the first song. Anyway, take a pint of sherry, or a pint and a half of red port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or fine flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these as before. But, if your chocolate be with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar; and so in all. I use rice flour as the starch and it’s divine.

Belgium: She’s a sort of foil-clad Kylie. Fun. Go for Brussels Biscuits, which were Princess Victoria’s favourite snack when she was recovering from illness in 1835. Essentially they are a rusk made of brioche dough. Additive. If you seriously want to try them, ping me a comment and I can send the recipe. It’s going in the book…..

Australia: good on the Australians for taking it seriously enough to send a really good song, and being undecided enough to only send her with only half a dress. We’ll plump for an 1880s Beeton recipe, which I suspect no-one ever cooked: parrot pie. It’s the same as pigeon pie (steak, egg, bird), so clearly adapted for a hypothetical Antipodean audience (or possibly just friends and family at home) based on existing recipes, and decorated in the same way with feet sticking out of the lid except….feathers. Love it. It’s as flamboyant and unreal as the whole contest.

parrot pie beeton 88
Can also be made with parakeets.

I should probably admit that my actual menu for my own evening with friends is not exactly this. It’s entirely modern, unusually for me, and rather random. I’ve got recipes representing the UK (Kay Plunkett-Hogg’s Xinjang Lamb), Sweden (Swedes are involved in about half of the entries, so it’s kind of broad – Bronte Aurell’s Cinnamon Buns), France (Pierre Hermé’s excruciatingly complicated macarons),and Israel except also France (taboulé, which I learnt to cook in Paris). I have Austrian, Spanish and French wines though…and German, British and Belgian beers.

Music should be enjoyable, right? (NOT YOU, GEORGIA), and so should food. A winning combination. Here’s to Eurovision, 2016!

 

 

Death in the loaf

Tonight’s episode of Victorian Bakers takes the history of bread forward, from the 1830-40s of episode one, to the 1870s. The bakery has changed too, from the rural surroundings of Sacrewell, near Peterborough, to the very urban Black Country Living Museum, on the outskirts of Dudley. This reflects changes in Victorian Britain. In the 1830s, most people still lived in the countryside and, although industrialisation and urbanisation was well underway, we still had an essentially agrarian economy. By the mid-century for the first time more people lived in cities than in the countryside, and by the 1860s we were entering into a second phase of industrialisation. Now it wasn’t about mills and child labour: it was about finding the balance between machinery and manpower.

As you’ll see if you watch the episode, baking lagged behind other industries. There were far more bakers than were necessarily needed, so there was little incentive to install expensive machinery, when labour was cheap and plentiful. Other workers unionised and forced through changes in working hours and conditions. Bakers also unionised, and went on strike regularly, causing minor meltdown in the middle class press, but they never achieved their aims of no overnight-working and a reasonable shift length. Nor did mechanisation reach the average – still very small – bakery until after the First World War in many cases. Indeed, traditional High Street bakers still work very long hours, and they still work through the night (though they do have mixing machines). All of our bread bakers – the Johns and Duncan – shrugged off the thought of working into the night and getting up in the small hours as something they were well used to, and which they still saw as normal in that industry.

The episode was hard to film, because we all did the nightshifts, and not only fatigue, but also practical matters such as light and the fact it was freezing cold and drizzling, made it rather less pleasant than Sacrewell. It was doubly difficult for the bakers because they were confronting a period in bread’s history which in most cases shocked, and offended them to the core.

The programme is emphatically not a challenge programme – we were in no way testing the bakers, and there was never a question of success or failure. Any jeopardy the viewer feels comes out of the situations and tasks which we all tackled together. It is a living history format, which essentially means it’s based on experiential learning. Within archaeology, a field both Alex (my co-presenter) and I are trained in, there’s a strong element of experimental learning – have a go and see – which underlies both his and my academic approaches to our chosen fields. It’s why it was so important to me that the bakers were professionals, and that they knew what they were doing. There’s nothing to be learnt – by us or, more importantly bearing in mind that this is intended for a wide, general audience, by viewers – by someone who can’t do something trying to do it and finding it hard. The reaction of the team to the adulteration segment in this episode was therefore doubly telling.

Bread had always been a focus for public and official scrutiny. In medieval Britain, bakers were subject to rigid regulation, including on price. A vital piece of legislation called the Assize of Bread was passed in 1266, and set a standard price for a loaf. The loaf size could vary, as market conditions changed, but it ensured that consumers could always afford a loaf of daily bread. There were also penalties for selling underweight loaves and adulteration. The assize remained in place, albeit modified, until 1815, but regulation on adulteration remained in force.

Some things were easy to adulterate, hard to detect, and relatively harmless. Milk and beer were watered down, and potatoes or other cheap starches could be added to bread and pre-prepared cooked dishes (the pies, soups and stews which formed the bulk of working class takeout food). Even many of the adulterants which did pose a health risk – such as the chalk or the alum which we use in the programme – wouldn’t have killed you. Or rather, shouldn’t have killed you. They wouldn’t do much harm to most of us today. But this was an era of widespread and worsening malnutrition, especially in towns. The poor, then as now, had limited access to food shops, no space to grow their own fruit and veg, little time, money and, again in an echo of today, often had no real knowledge of what was nutritionally useful or of how to prepare it. They also lacked cooking facilities or money for fuel. They were utterly reliant on what they could buy, and therefore at the mercy of manufacturers. And manufacturers, especially bakers, were only one step above their customers, desperate to make a tiny profit, and under constant pressure to cut corners. The millers who supplied them were under similar pressures, which is why the end consumer faced a double whammy in the worst cases: adulterated by the miller, adulterated by the baker. It was no-one’s fault, per se, but it was a growing problem in the 1850s and 60s.

Alum is an astringent, and it can irritate the stomach lining. In the young, old, or sick, it could have been, if not fatal by itself, certainly a contribution to illness and eventual death. Additionally, substitutions, such as water for milk, removed a significant proportion of the good stuff, and replaced it with empty stuff (a bit like fat-free yoghurt today, bleurk). If you were 3, and reliant on milk and bread for your health, and your bread was an irritant, and your milk largely water, it’s easy to see the bad consequences in store. In truth, very few loaves would have had as much in as ours did, but in some cases the proportions were dangerous, and, of course, data is hard to obtain. By the mid-century there was growing pressure on the government from health officials to investigate these food frauds for the good of the whole nation – but especially the put-upon workers, without whom industry would crumble.

The Lancet, founded in 1823 as a medical journal, and still in publication (and still very important) today, spearheaded the battle against food adulteration. There were a number of crucial individuals, but particularly vital were the analyses and articles written by Arthur Hill Hassell. In the face of government disbelief, denial and vague suggestions that it would all get sorted out by market forces, they launched a campaign showing just how widespread the issue was. In the 1850s, when Hassell carried out analyses of London foods, not a single bread loaf was alum-free. Tea, mustard, pickles, beer, milk….the list of foods which seemed pure, but were potentially deadly was shockingly long. Eventually the government rather reluctantly passed the Food Adulteration Act (1860) which sort of provided sort of funding if localities really really wanted to test foods and really insisted on prosecution. It did sod all. The struggle for a decent Act was lengthy, and makes for fascinating reading (I’ve put some references below, as this is very bare bones). In 1875 an Act was finally passed which did have some teeth, and which still forms the basis of legislation today. It worked, and by the 1880s, not only were foods generally testing negative for adulterants, but canny companies were realising that marketing foods as ‘pure’ was a good way to sell them. Hence all of those PURE COCOA adverts from the late 19th century, and hence, in the end, loose products such as tea, coffee, and cocoa, being sold in nice little sealed packets with a clear maker’s mark as a brand of quality.

We haven’t entirely sorted the issues out, of course, but today adulterants have to be tested to make sure they won’t kill you, and they generally have to be declared as additives. And some things have come full circle – chalk is back in bread. Now it’s a good thing, adding calcium and making up for people consuming fewer dairy products than once they did.

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The bakers (l-r): Harpreet, John Swift, John Foster, and Duncan

Further reading:

John Burnett, Plenty and Want
Bee Wilson, Swindled
John Marchant et al, Bread
Arthur Hill Hassell’s original Lancet reports (available on Google Books)
EXARC, the Experimental Archaeology Group (website here)

The Victorian Bakers website is here – it’s on iPlayer for a little while yet.

A glorious day at Osborne House

This year’s series of James Martin: Home Comforts has started on BBC1. It’s on every afternoon, and repeated on Saturdays. There are 15 episodes, each of which has a food history slot, which either feature myself or Ivan Day. I’ve had a few requests for the recipes from episode 2, so as usual I’m putting them here. The clip is on the BBC website, so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here, and all will become clear.

For episode 2 I was at Swiss Cottage, part of the Osborne House estate on the Isle of Wight (it’s now run by English Heritage). It was built in 1853-4 as a playhouse for Victoria and Albert’s growing brood of children. Modelled on the idea of a Swiss chalet, it had a kitchen and a scullery, and, upstairs, a sitting room, museum room and dressing room. The children also had a garden, with individual plots where they were taught to grow fruit and veg, which were then bought from them at market rates by the Prince Consort. Later the museum room was expanded, to fill a separate building, and there was also a potting shed and various buildings housing animals. It was tenanted by a housekeeper, Mrs Warne, and her husband, who looked after the garden when they children weren’t there. Mrs Warne is the most likely candidate for the children’s cookery teacher, and they had a great deal of affection for her.

The kitchen at Swiss is, apparently, 2/3 size, and therefore suitable for small children. I mildly dispute this, as for me it’s pretty much the perfect height, but I will admit that when average-sized people are in there, it does look a bit reduced. There’s a range, manufactured under Royal Warrant in Belgium, and probably a gift from Victoria’s Uncle Leopold. He was one of the few relatives she had who wasn’t utterly hideous, though he had his moments. There’s a set of chafing stoves, and there’s a fairly fully equipped set of cupboards and a dresser. Most of the prep work would have been done, as is characteristic of Victorian kitchens, on a central table, and there is also a separate scullery.

The children regularly cooked at Swiss, as did some of their children in their turn. However, after Albert’s death in 1861, the Queen increasingly seems to have used Swiss as a convenient place to take tea (reasonable, given all the facilities for preparing it would have been in place), and as an office. It seems to have drifted out of use as a children’s playhouse by the 1890s, and was eventually cleared out and opened to the public in the twentieth century. Along the way, annoyingly for anyone researching it (!) a manuscript book of recipes disappeared from the drawers under the window. It was still there in the early 1930s…..anyone out there got it?

I’ve done a lot of work on Swiss Cottage, and was lucky enough to be a small part of the team behind its recent restoration and reinterpretation. It’s now the focus of an exhibition exploring childhood at Queen Victoria’s Court, and looking in depth at the lives of her nine children. It’s rather brilliant, and certainly adds an extra element to what’s on offer at Osborne. From my perspective, filming this segment felt very fitting. I was probably the first person to cook in the kitchen for about 150 years, and I was cooking dishes (though probably not the specific recipes) which were definitely cooked by the children. It was very special indeed.

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Me having a moment of joy

The recipes

The primary references to pancakes and schneemilch don’t contain any clues as to which particular versions of them the children cooked. However, I had to make choices for TV, and I plumped for these. I’ve transcribed, modernised and translated them. Massive thanks to Sophia Wollschlager at the BBC and Georgian cooking guru Marc Hawtree for helping with the German.

Schneemilch
Neues auf vieljährige Erfahrung gegründetes Kochbuch, Sophie Armster, 1840

Princess Louise to Prince Albert, 1858, ‘On Saturday we cooked in our kitchen and made some wafers and Schneemilch’.

Ingredients: 10-16 egg whites, 1pt milk, 1pt double cream, 1/4lb white sugar, lemon rind, 3tsp orange flower water, pinch salt.

Method: Whisk 10-16 egg whites (depending on size) to soft peak in a copper bowl. If you don’t have a copper bowl, then all the other possible methods are also entirely fine. Add the other ingredients apart from the cream, and fold them all into the cream. Make thick custard of this mixture. I plonk my copper bowl on pan of water and use it as a Bain Marie, but however you do it, I’m sure it’ll be lovely. Allow to cool, spread on a baking sheet, and cut into lumps to use to make a mountain (the lumps won’t properly set unless they are left overnight, so if you are doing it, as I was, in a few hours, it may be a low mountain). Top with egg yolk custard if you fancy (not least as it uses up all those egg yolks!). Sprinkle with cinnamon and decorate with soft fruit and, for a true Victorian touch, a maidenhair fern.

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Schneemilch

Pancakes à la Celestine
The Modern Cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1845

Princess Helena to Prince Albert, 1858: ‘Alice made a pancake yesterday afternoon at the Swiss Cottage. I had none of it as I was out driving with Mama. Arthur told me that after she had finished it she touched it with the dirty charcoal pincers’.

Ingredients: 4oz flour, 4oz caster sugar, 2oz ratifia or amaretti biscuits, orange flower water, 4 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs, 1 pt cream, fine grain salt, butter for frying, apricot or other jam for filling

Method: Crush the ratifias to dust in a bowl with a masher, add the rest of the ingredients, and then the whisked eggs. Fry each pancake in about 2oz of butter. They burn like crazy, split, and are generally an absolute sod, by the way. Extract from pan, spread each pancake with jam, roll up and serve piled in a pyramid.

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Pancakes à la Celestine

Crammings

Over the summer I was involved in making a living history documentary on Victorian baking. I’m co-presenting (with Alex Langlands), and I was also a consultant on the programme. There are various things I could talk about in this blog, but I’ve decided to pick up on one aspect of each programme (possibly, I make no actual promises), and look at it in more detail. Today: episode one, day three, crammings. 
Episode one covers the 1830-40s. The early Victorian period was, in rural Britain, one of massive hardship. So was the mid-Victorian period, and indeed the late Victorian period, depending on where you lived and what you did. But the 1840s have become especially infamous, mainly because Edwardian and later reformers wanted to make political points about protectionism and the Corn Laws, and so wrote a lot about it, and coined the catchy phrase ‘hungry forties’. There’s even a book called ‘The Hungry Forties: Life Under the Bread Tax’ (Unwin, 1904). It’s heavily weighted to give credence to the view that the ’40s were particularly bad and to lay the blame squarely at the then government’s door. Fine. That said, the oral testimonies and letters included do tell a truth, even if the direct link between bread tax, starvation and that particular decade is less clear cut. People were starving all the time, and there’s little to suggest the 40s were any worse than most of the rest of the period when you look at Britain as a whole.

One practice which crops up in The Hungry Forties book, and which the programme makers wanted to explore in more detail, was the eating of animal food in times of desperation. With any documentary, the aim was to both entertain (or no-one will watch it) and educate (or it may as well be the brain rot which is X-Factor and the like). Asking ‘our’ bakers to make animal food and then try and work out how on earth it could be made edible by humans, was just one way in which to graphically engage viewers in the themes of the period. Crammings are referred to several times, and that was the product which you will see on screen.

Cramming refers to the practice of fattening fowls. It’s similar to gavage, as practiced on ducks and geese today to make foie gras, but most of the references suggest that they seem to have had the pellets forced down in their throats, without a funnel to help, as per factory gavage today. It has a very long history: the practice of cramming poultry for the luxury market continued until the Second World War, but also was known in the Roman period.

It was also pretty widespread and references can easily be found in some of the best-selling cookery books of the Georgian and Victorian period. Here’s Isabella Beeton on chickens in 1861: ‘the fattening process…is to give them a gruel made of pot-liquor and bruised oats, with which are mixed hog’s grease, sugar and milk. The fowls are kept very warm, and crammed morning and night. They are put into the coop, and kept there 2 or 3 days before the cramming begins, and then it is continued for a fortnight, and the birds are sent to market’. In an early critique of intensive farming practices, she goes on to suggest that this process, when done in London especially, is very cruel.

Representing the Georgians, how about Mary Eaton, in 1822: ‘The method of fattening poultry for the London market, is liable to great objection. They are put into a dark place and crammed with a paste made of barley meal, mutton suet, treacle or coarse sugar, mixed with milk…[it] frequently kills them.’ and, on Norfolk turkeys, ‘[they] are literally crammed with boluses of barley meal till their crops are full’. Incidentally, in the good old tradition of plagiarism, both of the above borrow freely from William Kitchener’s rather more original Cook’s Oracle (1818).

Crammings, therefore, were made of bran or other filler, liquid and fat. They could clearly vary from region to region, but were largely based on by-products of the milling industry. It’s not a massive stretch to suggest that rural bakers, especially when attached to a mill, as at Sacrewell, where we filmed, would have turned them out as an easy way to make a few extra pence. Farmers would have made their own, and in bulk. Henry Stephens, in his Book of the Farm (1852) refers to cramming as a paste made with hot liquor and barley or other meal. Meanwhile 200 years previously Robert May opted for wheatmeal and milk (May, 1660). He is one the few writers to give details on making them, and specifies that the crams should be small and ‘well wet’. He also gives the ideal shape as being ‘thickest in the middle, and small at both ends’.

No-one suggests cooking the crammings, I tried making some and just leaving them to dry, which I suspect was the usual way as they could then be kept indefinitely. They would then have been well wetted with milk or water before the feeding process. They would have been pretty inedible in that form though. It seems that when starving rural householders tried them, they processed the basic ingredients into a dumpling – ‘You ask what sort of food we had. Well, crammings was common. It was made with what was left after the flour and the bran was taken away, and what was left, mixed with a little bread flour, we called crammings, but more often we made a sort of pudding with it.’ (Hungry Forties, 22). This makes sense – they’d hold their shape when boiled. Here’s another oral history; ‘Often on a Saturday I’d see Jonathan Heath, what was the son of a wheelwright who lived in the Petersfield Road an’ had a large family, comin’ along with a penny bag of crammin’s – that’s what they give the pigs nowadays – to make the Sunday puddin’ with’. (Ibid.,28)

All in all, it gives a fairly brutal picture of rural life. It was the day that the bakers stopped enjoying the sunshine and birds, and the novelty of wearing hose and drinking endless amounts of beer, and started realising that the past was not always a very nice place. Hopefully that segment also has a certain resonance with current debates around food and nutrition and welfare. Mind you, if that sounds vaguely pertinent to the 21st century, just wait until episode two.

A trifling thing

Today’s The Kitchen Cabinet comes from Audley End in Essex. It’s a house I know well, having pretty much lived there during the second year of my PhD. I led a crack team of costumed interpreters working in the service wing for 5 years, during which time we gutted, plucked, pounded, strained, chopped, cut and boiled more food than I thought possible. The team is still going strong, and Audley remains, along with Hampton Court, one of the very few places you can see professional live cookery and interact with the cooks. It’s all set in 1881, and the team is fully in character, providing a way into the history of that period which is both engaging and accessible, while being underpinned by very rigorous research. I won’t go on about it, but I am quite proud of the whole thing.

Inevitably, as we were recording at Audley, the show had a rather Victorian feel. My contribution was a trifle. I loathe trifle. It’s a texture thing (soggy cake, the ear wax of beelzebub), and a taste thing (sherry, the spit of beelzebub). I have hideous childhood memories of trifles with tinned fruit.(The pears! The grit! The syrup! The ik!), custard powder and squirty cream. It’s like a Proustian nightmare. But trifle was asked for, and trifle I did.

If anyone out there reaaaally likes trifle, there is an excellent book on the subject*, filled with more recipes than you could ever desire. It also covers the history of the dish, and the variants on the theme, such as tipsy cake. (Still cake. Still soggy). Essentially it’s an 18th thing, terribly British, and part of a general elaboration of British cuisine in that period – pies, puddings, cakes, roasts etc. The first few recipes which appeared in print were more along the lines of fools, and the name certainly relates to the other meaning of trifle, as in a trifling thing, a flitting moment etc etc. I’ve cooked come of the early trifles which we would recognise as proper forerunners of the ghastly thing we know today. One of Hannah Glasse’s recipes** (she’s widely credited as being the first author to put a modernish trifle into print), involves almost-set jelly (at that point a sort of citrusy, wine flavour), into which hard, probably almond flavour, biscuits are plunged. Then the usual custard and then cream. I can see the point of this one. The biscuits stay hard, the jelly is wine and not sherry, the custard is fine and, OK, whipped cream isn’t a favourite, but were I a Georgian, I’d put whipt syllabub on top and that is a delight. After that though, in recipe development terms, it all goes downhill. Did I mention the soggy cake?

In celebration of the low regard in which I hold trifle, and because I wanted something 1880s ish to fit with Audley, I eventually went for fabulously named The Queen of Trifles, from Garrett’s Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (c1890). The author was a trifle-obsessive, lauding them as being ‘exceptionally English dishes…held in very poor esteem by the foreign pastry cook, who probably attaches some greater importance to the name than is necessary’. He included 12 sweet trifle recipes and a savoury trifle which sounds much more my kind of thing. The savoury one involves cooked veal or poultry, reheated in a mushroom sauce, and served in hollowed out bread boats, fried in lard. It’s not really a trifle in any sense of the word, even I admit. Hey ho. Here’s his Queen of Trifles.

garrett trifle
People should use crystallised ginger more often.

It looked like trifle (I failed to take a picture). Apparently it tasted incredible, and caused Tim Hayward to threaten all sorts of things involving corsets. The audience loved it, and fell upon the bowl like ravening locusts. I tried it, and I liked all of the flavours and could entirely see why people were raving about it but still……soggy…..etc. But different people have differing tastes and that’s what makes food so much fun. If you do want to have a crack at it, and the whole reason for this post is that so many people have requested the recipe, here are my notes on it as done by me.
Reinterpreting The Queen of Trifles for the hurried modern cook:

I put ladyfingers (boudoir biscuits, sponge fingers, call them what you will, but they also tend to go into tiramisu) on the bottom, macaroons for the next layer – or at least, that was the plan. Clearly, had I looked at the recipe before the day I made it, I’d’ve made some Madeira cake, and some proper English macaroons. I didn’t, and so was reduced to chasing round every shop in Ely, trying to find macaroons, as opposed to macarons. Eventually Waitrose sold me some ladyfingers, and some outrageously overpriced and overpackaged almond amaretti (a special pack for Xmas, as opposed to the usual bag you can find at the bottom of the biscuit aisle, curse this time of the year). Whatever. They worked. Most things would. Don’t stress about it.

My jam was confit de cidre, and my crystallised fruit a heady mixture of ginger, pineapple and glacé cherries. I’m not a masochist, so I bought ready ground almonds. And used 2/3 of the eggs as et were a tad smaller back in the day.

Half of the amounts in the recipe here makes a pretty decent sized trifle, by the way….
References:

*Helen Saberi & Alan Davidson, 2001, Trifle. Republished 2009 by Prospect Books. A must for trifle lovers.

**Hannah Glasse, 1760, The Complete Confectioner. The earliest printed version was in her The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 4th edition, 1751.

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