New book! New book! New book! (Ok, there have been a FEW others since Greedy Queen but hey).
If you are keen to hear me speak, have a book signed and personalised, and fancy a jolly evening out, I am doing a tour. Dates marked ** are hardcore theatre gigs, i.e. with an interval and everything – expect a greatly expanded talk, with recipes and oodles of time for lovely audience questions. Others are book festivals and such like, where you can expect around 40-45mn of a sort of ‘Georgina-lite’. But every event varies, be warned.
This is a work in progress, so do check back, or keep an eye on the speaking pages of my website for up and coming dates.
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Everything from March 24th to June has now been cancelled (book festivals) or postponed (independent talks). I will update this page as and when they are rescheduled. In the meantime, if you want a signed, dedicated book, I will shortly have a stash of bookplates which I can send out. Simply buy your copy through an independent bookseller, and ask them to contact me. I am in contact with Kirstie at Fox Lane Books, Georgia of Imagined Things and the team of Toppings (Ely, Edinburgh etc). Please, please support the lovely dedicated booksellers of Britain through this.
February 6th: official publication date
February 18th: Toppings, Ely
February 19th: The Spring, Havant, Hampshire**
March 2nd: Toppings, Edinburgh
March 8th: Words By The Water, Windermere (12.30pm)
March 24th: Chartwell, Emmet’s Garden & Quebec House (CEQ) National Trust Volunteers’ Group (private event) + book signing @ Chartwell. Rescheduled to October 27th
March 26th: Leyburn Garden Rooms, Yorkshire**. Postponed, to be rescheduled.
June 12th: Otley Courthouse**
July 6th: Buxton International Festival (2pm). Cancelled. Possible online content to follow.
July 18-19th: English Heritage: A Taste of History @ Walmer Castle
Sept 26th-27th English Heritage: A Taste of History @ Audley End
October 22nd – 24th 37th International Churchill Conference, London
Oh dear. It’s been nearly a year since my last post…. SIGH. It does say ‘occasional’ in the title though. In the meantime, The Greedy Queen was published, and I’ve done lots of book talks, and it’s all been lots of fun. (Insert obligatory BUY MY BOOK style comment here).
I also filmed a follow-up to Victorian Bakers in Jan-Mar 2017, which aired in July 2017 and which was about confectioners, though it ended up being called The Sweet-Makers which is sort of the same thing but not exactly due to the confusing and changing nature of what we call sweets now, vs in the 1930s and the 19th century and the 18th century, and what we call confectionery now, vs in the 1930s and – well, you get the general gist. Like Bakers, there were three episodes, with four professionals from the trade, but this time it was a slightly broader scope, for the episodes covered early modern confectionery, late Georgian confectionery and late Victorian to mid-20th century ditto. Again like Bakers, it also covered the social context of the core product, which meant sugar, so slavery, Britain’s involvement with, and reliance on, the slave trade and slave-produced products, and the way in which sugar slowly came to be perceived as a staple food for the British.
The series was made by Wall to Wall, for BBC 2, and will be on iPlayer (here – with clips in permanence) for a bit, and then not. It’s currently being repeated, I’m told, but it’s a sort of Watch Now Or Forever Regret It kind of a deal. The confectioners, who were all amazing, can be found across Britain making cakes and chocolates and boiled sweets, and if you get a chance to eat their wares, do jump at it.
Meanwhile, I’ve been dragged back to the computer to look guiltily at this neglected blog, and finally to write this post, because quite a few people have asked me for the recipes from the programme. (To directly answer a few queries: no, there won’t be a book of the programme, no, the recipes have sadly not been modernised anywhere for your delectation and pleasure, and no, there is no vegan alternative which anyone sane would want to eat for egg whites.). Because I am a firm believer in spreading the joy of historic food, and because no-one else will be doing it because it wasn’t really that kind of a programme, and because I am ever so altruistic, I am listing the recipes here, so you can play with them to your heart’s content. However, because I am also a firm believer in adventure, in research, in the joy of furkling out fun facts and because I am rather too busy to transcribe them all, I am merely listing where you can find the original texts, and you can, I am sure, take it from there….if in doubt, hasten back to the programme and have a look at what they did there. Or double check against something similar and modern etc.
Candied roses (the gonorrhoea cure), Comfits (the seeds in sugar), Candied Orange Peels, Preserved Oranges After the Portugal Fashion (the best thing I ate on the whole show), and Wafers (the scene with the stoves outdoors): all from Hugh Platt, Delightes for Ladies (1609)
Manus Christi (the boiled sweets), Sugarplate (the basic pastillage stuff used to make plates as well as the banqueting house): Thomas Dawson, Good Huswife’s Jewell (1596)
Quince Marmalade (yum): Gervase Markham, The English House-Wife (1631)
Medlar Tart (yes, I did say ‘open arse fruit’ on prime time TV): Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1665)
Marchepane (all the almonds): Hannah Woolley, The Queen-Like Closet (1670)
Candied Eryngo Roots (17th century Viagra): Anon, The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying (1656)
Drinking Chocolate (with chilli etc): Colmenero de Ledesma, Chocolate: An Indian Drink (1652) (translated by Capt James Wadsworth)
Parmesan Ice Cream (seriously amazing), Chocolate Sorbet, Lemon Water Ice (etc): Frederick Nutt, The Complete Confectioner (1790 + other editions)
Gilded Fish in Jelly, A Hen’s Next in Jelly, Calves’ Foot Jelly, Flummery (you can, of course, use gelatine instead of boiling calves’ feet – 1 sheet per 100ml of liquid): Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769 + later editions)
Bon-Bons (the small sugary boiled sweets), Pineapple Tablet (the twisty one), the final Pièce Montée (inspiration, rather than exact recipe): William Jarrin, The Italian Confectioner (1820 + later editions)
Nearly everything in this episode came from Skuse’s Complete Confectioner (1894 + other editions – but make sure you consult a pre-WW1 one), with additions from:
Sugar Drops, Acid Drops: Robert Wells, The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar’Boiler’s Assistant (1890)
Toffee (best without paraffin), Fondants, Chocolate Marzipans (mainly in the Fancy Boxes, these): Mrs M. E. Rattray, Sweetmeat-Making at Home (1904)
All of the books (OK, nearly all of them) are available through either GoogleBooks, archive.org or gutenberg.org, so you should be able to source the recipes fairly easily. Watch out for the editions though, and ensure you’ve got an English edition (some were translated into American), and of around the right date (later Raffalds and Skuses are quite different in some cases). To replicate the basic jelly mix, just use a base of sweetened white wine, brandy and a little lemon juice (no need for feet), and if you decide to work with hot sugar, do have a substantial burns kit on hand.
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.)
…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 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…)
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been asked for this recipe quite a lot. It’s not mine, and when we made it for TV I was suffering from mad altitude sickness and felt like I was drunk and wading through mud. I can’t entirely remember what we did, therefore, so forgive me. Anyway, the fabulous Norbert Santeler, whose recipe it is, has supplied it for the delectation of his adoring English speaking public. Here it is, with a few Annieisms to render it suitable for the average UK kitchen and shop, assuming you aren’t up at 3440 feet when you make it yourself.
Gletscherschneetorte (Glacier Snow Cake)
This is essentially a cheese cake which you assemble and chill overnight. It does, however, need a pastry and a cake base, which need to be made in advance.
MAKE IN ADVANCE:
Shortcrust pastry base. If bought, make sure it is all butter for otherwise it is truly vile as opposed to just not great. Roll it out, and cut it to fit the springform cake tin or, better still, cake ring in which you plan to make your final cake. You could make it in a deep dish, if you have neither cake tin nor cake ring. You just won’t be able to demould it.
Sponge cake base. Again, make this in the same tin that you are assembling your final cake in. That way it will all fit together and be the right size. Any sponge cake recipe will be fine.
Fills a 9 inch/23cm cake tin very generously. Can be done the day before you want to eat it.
500 g sour cream, 500 g whipping cream, whipped to soft peak, 100g icing sugar, 4 standard sheets of gelatine (Norbert recommends 8 small sheets – the UK standard ones each set 100ml of liquid so this should be fine, but by all means play around), 1 small tin of pineapple chunks in juice, 3 tablespoons of whole milk, 1 tablespoon of coconut syrup (essence would probably do at a push), Ladyfingers or boudoir biscuits, granulated sugar, apricot jam, grated coconut (desiccated, either sweetened or unsweetened as you prefer, is fine)
Beat the sour cream with the icing sugar, coconut syrup and milk until smooth. Make sure that your cream is whipped to soft peak and add sugar to taste. Meanwhile, soften the gelatine sheets in cold water until they are very floppy. Squeeze them out gently and add them to a little boiling water (a tbsp should suffice – you need to dissolve them completely. Microwave or heat on the hob if necessary). Stir your now liquid gelatine into the sour cream/coconut mixture. Leave to cool completely. Now add a little of the whipped cream into the mixture to loosen it, before folding in the remaining whipped cream.
Spread apricot jam onto the round shortcrust base. Then add the sponge cake on top of that and place a cake ring round it. Alternatively, put the pastry in the bottom of a deep dish or springform cake tin, add the jam then the cake – the idea is simply to build up the layers inside a support which will hold the cream mix together while it sets. If you do it in a cake ring or springform tin you can demould it, if in a dish, best to serve in the dish.
Spread a little bit of the sour cream/coconut/ gelatine/cream mixture onto the sponge cake bottom. Put a single layer of ladyfingers into the middle and distribute chunks of pineapple around it. Now repeat the process: spread the cream mixture on top, then add ladyfingers and pineapple. Distribute the remaining mixture evenly on top and add grated coconut as the finishing touch – the snow on your glacier snow cake, if you will. Leave to set in a fridge or, if you’ve made it on top of a glacier, move it somewhere where it won’t freeze – freezing destroys the gelatine and it won’t set properly.
Norbert says you can also add chocolate or nuts to the sponge cake mixture. (And I imagine you can use any jam you most desire – or possibly even some mincemeat!)
Massive thanks to Norbert Santeler and his team at the café 3440 on the Pitztal Glacier.