Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, TV Programme, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Forgotten Christmas Foods & Customs: Part 2 – Puddings, Cakes & Mince Pies

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  • A Victorian family gather to stir the Christmas pudding for luck. Christmas card of 1871 or 1872. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Of all the bountiful fare that graces the festive board at Xmas time, surely this pudding of all puddings receives the most enthusiastic welcome. Here comes the plum pudding !! Watch the eager anticipation of every member of the family – and is it not more than justified – could there possibly be anything more richly flavoured than the delectable richness of the cunningly mixed fruits and spices.

(Practical Cookery for All  by Blanche Anding et al, c.1946)

November the twenty-sixth really sees the start of the preparation for Christmas in the New Forest. For that is the traditional date on which the Gypsies are allowed to start picking holly to sell at local markets and to make wreaths. Already they have filled their sacks with moss gathered from the boggy paths on the side of the hill above Abbots Well. This moss is used in foundations of wreaths…..On Christmas Eve the kitchen is very busy place. Although the cake and puddings have been made for several weeks there are still the mince pies to make, the chestnut stuffing to mix, vegetables to prepare, the trifle to make and the cake to decorate.

(A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (pp, 20-23))

The countdown to Christmas has begun. For some, that statement will induce feelings of anxiety, for others, pure excitement and joy. For me, it is a mixture of both. However, now is the time to start getting organised in the kitchen, preparing menus, stockpiling your store cupboard, making your Christmas pudding, cake and mincemeat. It is also a good time to keep an eye out for bargains at your local supermarket, come 1st December, prices start to rise.

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  • A Victorian family being served a huge flaming plum pudding at the end of their Christmas dinner.  Illustration from “Eight Happy Holidays” published by E.P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1882.

Stir-up Sunday

In Britain this year, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ took place on the 23rd November and in 2015 it will be 22nd November. Panic not if you forgot to prepare your cake and pudding on the 23rd because you have still about a week to get organised. Don’t leave making these Christmas staples until the last minute, dried fruit needs time to absorb the alcohol which is what gives both cake and pudding that lovely rich taste and moist texture. Your Christmas cake will need to be topped-up with alcohol (known as ‘feeding your cake’) on a weekly basis until the big day.

I was recently approached by Spun Gold tv who make the popular weekly cookery show, Weekend Kitchen With Waitrose, for Channel 4 (Saturdays, 9am). Spun Gold asked me to help them with research for a forthcoming segment they were running on ‘Stir-up Sunday’. It was very good timing, I had been researching forgotten Christmas foods and customs for quite a few months. In addition, I also lent the production team a selection of vintage cookery cookbooks from my collection.

The full episode (Series 2, Show 10, 22.11.14), can be viewed here and more details about the items featured in the segment, including replica silver pudding charms, can be found here. The episode is also be repeated on the UK Good Food Channel, Saturday 29th November, 11am and 4pm, more information here.

I am delighted with the finished segment, the production and presenting team (Lisa Snowdon, Steve Jones and Angellica Bell) did a fabulous job. Frumenty (see below) certainly divided the presenters! A special mention must also go to Weekend Kitchen’s excellent Assistant Producer Claire Paine who coordinated the research with myself. Claire has just started-up the excellent food blog, ‘Claire-en-Croute’ (, do have a look, it is very good.

I have reprinted below a selection of the best Christmas pudding, cake and mince pie recipes taken from my collection of vintage cookbooks. You will find recipes from the Victorian era right through to the 1960s. Hope you find a recipe that catches your eye. Don’t forget to send me images of your retro recreations or Tweet me @emmahistorian.

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  • Vintage engraving from 1868 after the painting by Thomas Webster (1800-1886) a Victorian family sit down for their Christmas Dinner.

The origins of ‘Stir-up Sunday’ date back to the sixteenth century.  In the Book of Common Prayer (1549), the following passage would be read-out to Anglican congregations on the last Sunday before Advent (or the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity):

Stir-up, we beseech thee. O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.

Traditionally, stir-up Sunday is a communal event when family come together to help stir both pudding and cake mixture. Prince Albert (1819-1861) is thought to have encouraged the family element of stir-up Sunday, during the Victorian era. There should be thirteen ingredients in a Christmas pudding, the number represents Christ and his twelve disciples. The mixture should be stirred from east to west in honour of The Three Wise Men. The sprig of holly placed on the top of the pudding represents the crown of thorns on Christ’s head.

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  •  Cast of Love Lies, Gaiety Theatre Making A Christmas Pudding (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

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  • Medieval Christmas feast – illustration by Birket Foster, 1872. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)


History of The Christmas/Plum Pudding

The solid Christmas pudding, that we recognise today, would have once been a liquid porridge made from wheat flour. In Medieval England, frumenty was a classic grain pottage, made with almond milk, boiled beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, spices and wine. Other variations on this recipe include: chopped poultry, pheasant, partridge and rabbit, sugar apples, raisins candied oranges and lemons. The fourteenth century, cookbook Forme of Cury , written c.1390 by chief master cooks of King Richard II, (1367-1400), contains a recipe for frumenty with porpoise (‘furmente with porpays’).

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  • Christmas pudding ceremony at Greenwich Spaman’s Hospital, London, they are aboard a model of a hospital ship, ‘dreadnought’, Lady Stonehaven, Father Christmas and Father Neptune stir the pudding. 1931, 10th December.  (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that this liquid dish evolved into a pudding thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and flavoured with ale and spirits. In 1664, Puritans banned this type of pudding, along with mince pies, considering it to be a lewd custom, packed full of far too rich ingredients that could over stimulate the senses. It also contained alcohol, which of course for the puritans was a big ‘no no’. In 1714, King George I (1660-1727) re-introduced the pudding as part of the Christmas festive meal. As the eighteenth century progressed, meat was gradually replaced by all sweet ingredients.

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  • A vintage colour Christmas greeting featuring a couple offering ‘Every Good Wish’, published c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Christmas pudding is sometimes referred to as ‘plum pudding’. However, before the Victorian era, plum was actually the culinary term for raisins. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, plum pudding was also called ‘plum porridge’ and was the first course at Christmas dinner. Similar to frumenty, plum porridge was made with boiled beef or mutton and when the meat was half-cooked, the broth was thickened with brown bread. Then currants, raisins, ginger, mace, prunes and cloves were added and the mixture then returned to the boil.

This porridge was sent to the table with the meat and eaten with it. Before the nineteenth century, wealthy families also ate a boar’s head which was in fact the first dish brought in for Christmas dinner. This stunning centrepiece was adorned with garlands, a lemon stuffed in its mouth and had its tusks left on. The boar’s entrance was pure theatre.

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  • British comedians Eric Morecambe (1926 – 1984), left, and Ernie Wise stir up a Christmas pudding with actor Sir Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000) outside a mock-up of the doorway to Number 10 Downing Street, at Thames Television’s Teddington Studios during the making of their Christmas show. Original Publication: People Disc – HK0409 (Photo by Wesley/Getty Images)

Pudding Cloth

The ‘pudding cloth’ or ‘clout’ was first introduced in the seventeenth century. The cloth (usually muslin) contained the wet ingredients in a round bundle securely tied around the top and boiled in the family cauldron (see Ruth Goodman’s demonstration above).  Writer, Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) describes the practice of using a wooden bowl as well as a pudding cloth. This bundle was boiled upside down in the steaming pot:

..put a linen cloth or handkerchiefs over the mouth of the dish [wooden bowl] and reverse the mouth downwards, so that you may tie the napkin close with two knots; by the corners cross or with a strong thread, upon the bottom of the dish then turned upwards all which is, that the matter may not get out, and yet the boiling water get through the line upon it on one side enough to bake the pudding sufficiently. The faster it boils, the better it will be. The dish will turn and rowl up and down in the water, as it gallopeth in boiling. An hour’s boiling is sufficient.

In Scotland, a variation on the Christmas pudding is the ‘clootie dumpling’.  A wet mixture consisting of flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, sugar, suet, spice and milk is then wrapped in a floured cloth and boiled in a large saucepan.

I must not forget to tell you, Eloise, that any of the above sort of puddings, no matter what made of, if sweet or savoury, is preferable made in a basin to being put in a cloth, which is often very dirty in appearance; while, if boiled in a basin, the paste receives all the nutriment of the meat, which, if boiled in a cloth, would evaporate in the water, if by neglect it ceases boiling. If you wish to turn it well out, thoroughly grease the inside of your basin when making. On pudding cloths: A pudding cloth, however coarse, ought never to be washed with soap; it should be dried as quickly as possible, and kept dry and free from dust, and in a drawer or cupboard free from smell.

(Soyer’s Shilling Cookery For The People by Alexis Soyer, 1860, p.103)

Christmas Pudding Charms

In the 1850s, particularly in Germany, tiny silver pudding charms were added to the mixture before cooking. There were usually six charms: boot (travel); wishbone (granting of a wish); thimble (bad luck, predicting spinsterhood); horseshoe (good luck); bell and bachelor’s button (lucky for a man). Depending on which charm you found in your pudding portion this would indicate whether you would be ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ the following year.

It is sometimes possible to pick-up Victorian pudding charms in antique markets or on e-bay etc and reproductions are widely available on the internet. All these items come with the usual modern-day health and safety precautions. Old-fashioned replica Christmas pudding charms can be brought from Vivi Celebrations or The Charmworks.

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  • Two Belgian soldiers having a Christmas meal in a dry corner of a flooded trench on the Western Front during World War One, circa December 1915. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)


Christmas/Plum Pudding

Ingredients: ½ lb each of: beef suet, sultanas, currants, seeded raisins, breadcrumbs (white), ¼ lb each of: flour, chopped candied peel, blanched almonds and brown sugar. Grated rind of 1 lemon, ½ gill of brandy or rum, 6 eggs, ½ a grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoonful mixed spice, ½ teaspoonful salt. Method: Clean and pick the fruit and chop the almonds. Sift the flour, salt, and spices together. Add the finely shredded suet and rub it into the flour. Add the fruit and other ingredients. Mix all well together. Add the brandy. Tie in a greased and floured pudding cloth or basin, and boil for 6 hours. Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949) DSCF2939

Ingredients: ½ lb of flour, suet, sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, carrot (raw and grated), brown sugar, peeled raw potato (grated). 1 teaspoonful each of: mixed spice, grated nutmeg and cinnamon, grated rind of lemon. ¼ lb of shelled, coarsely chopped, almonds. 1 large wineglass of rum or brandy or sherry. Method: Mix all ingredients together, put into basins. Steam eight hours, and use as required. Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949) An old family recipe about 1713.DSCF2943

Ingredients: 1 lb shredded Atora suet, 2 lb raisins, 1 lb currants, 1 lb sultanas, ½ lb candied peel, ¾ lb sugar, 2 teaspoonfuls baking powder, ¾ lb flour, 2 ozs sweet almonds. Rind and juice of 1 lemon. 6 eggs. 1 lb breadcrumbs. ½ nutmeg. 1 eggspoonful of salt, milk, sufficient to make right consistency. ¼ pint rum. Methods: Clean currants, stone raisins, put all the dry ingredients into a basin, blanch and chop almonds, add eggs, well beaten, grated rind of lemon, and the juice strained. Mix all thoroughly, put into greased pudding basins, cover with greased paper and steam 6 hours. Sufficient mixture for 4 puddings. The Recipe Book of Atora: The Good Beef Suet (1932)


(Plum Pudding) Ingredients: 12 oz flour, 1 lb beef suet, 1lb stoned raisins, 1 lb Tate & Lyle’s caster sugar, ¾ lb breadcrumbs, ½ lb tart apples, ¼ lb almonds, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon ground mace, ¾ pint old ale, 2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup, ½ lb picked sultanas, ½ lb cleaned currants, ½ lb minced candied peel, 6 eggs, ½ nutmeg, 1 orange, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Method: Prepare the fruit. Put apples, peeled and cored, through a mincer with the peel and raisins. Blanch and chop almonds. Sift flour with spices and salt. Remove gristle and skin from suet and put suet through mincer with 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour to prevent it sticking. Mix all the dry ingredients in a basin. Stir in the grated lemon and orange rind. Make a hollow in centre. Add syrup, well-beaten eggs, and strained fruit juice. Lastly stir in ale, or substitute 1 glass of sherry and a glass of rum for ale. Cover pudding mixture. Stand 24 hours to ripen. Pack into well-buttered pudding basis. Cover with buttered papers and then with a pudding cloth. Plunge into boiling water, coming almost half way up the sides. Steam for 7 or 8 hours, keeping saucepan replenished with boiling water when necessary. To serve pudding, remove from pan, stand for 4 minutes, remove coverings and turn gently on to a hot dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate with a spring or two of holly. Pour over a glass of brandy or rum, and set fire to it. Serve with brandy butter or brandy custard. More Every-Day Dishes Edited by Elizabeth Craig (1930s)

1932 Atora Recipe Book


One dish of crushed whole wheat, sugar, spice, and raisins and skimmed new milk, simmered in a jar in the oven, or at the back of the stove overnight. It can be eaten hot or cold. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.23)


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  • Colour lithographic illustration advertising the Centenary of Atmore’s mince meat plum pudding, Philadelphia, PA, 1876. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Crusader’s Pie! The mince pie dates from the days of the Crusaders. It used to be called the ‘Christ’s Cradle’ and was oblong in shape instead of round. The Crusaders said the spices put into it represented the gifts of the Wise Men to the Holy Child, and the crust represented the cradle.

Ingredients: 1lb of cooking apples, 1lb of currants, 1lb of sultanas, 1lb of raisins, 1lb of chopped or shredded suet, 1lb of soft brown sugar, 1/4 lb of minced candied peel, 4 ozs of finely minced blanched almonds, 1/4 a level teaspoonful of mixed spice, 1/2 a level teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1/2 a lemon, 1 large wineglass full of brandy. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.25)

How To Make Mincepies

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  • British magazine advertisement for mincemeat c.1930. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Method: When the paste (pastry) has had the necessary number of turns, roll it out to about 1/4 of an inch in thickness, and line some large-sized patty-pans with it. Fill with mincemeat, cover with paste (pastry), brush over lightly with cold water, and dredge with castor sugar. Bake in a moderately hot oven from 25 to 30 minutes, and serve either hot or cold. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.

Method: Make 8 oz flaky pastry, and roll it out to ½ inch in thickness. Cut the required number of rounds to make lids for the patty tins to be used. Fold up the trimmings, roll 1/8 inch thick and cut out rounds to line the tins, making the rounds a size larger than the tins to allow for the depth. Line the tins, fill with mincemeat, damp the edges and put on the pastry lids. Decorate the edges with tiny flutes, make a hole with a skewer in the top of each and glaze with egg white and sugar. Bake in a hot oven (450F, mark 8) for 20-30 minutes.

Ingredients: 1 large apple (minced finely), 2 ozs each sultanas, seeded raisins, currants, and sugar, grated rind and juice of 1 lemon – more if liked. 1 oz candied peel, finely chopped. ½ teaspoonful cinnamon, ¼ teaspoonful mixed spice, 1 teaspoonful melted butter, 1oz chopped nuts, 1 tablespoonful sherry or brandy. Method: Mix all the ingredients well together. NB if brandy is used the mince will keep well. Line patty tins with pastry; fill with mince; brush round edges with water. Cover with pastry. Decorate edges with a fork. Brush over with beaten egg. Bake at No. 6 (gas) for short crust, No. 7 (gas) for rough puff pastry. Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)

A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time
A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time

Vintage Advice On The Culinary Countdown To Christmas

Mrs Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey (1947):

  1. Before the end of November make the Christmas cake and puddings.
  2. During the first week in December make mincemeat.
  3. During the second week in December ice and decorate the Christmas cake.
  4. Make some plain good keeping cakes such as Madeira, Parkins or gingerbread, a few dishes with no fruit in are acceptable at Christmas time.
  5. December 22nd and 23rd, make flaky pastry and set aside in a cool place. Make such things as biscuits, sponge cakes, jam rolls and flans, cheese straws buns.
  6. December 24th make mince pies and sausage rolls and other pastries. Make cold supper dishes both sweet and savoury. Boil tongue or ham, make hard sauce for pudding, stew giblets, prepare bread sauce and stuffing. Singe, stuff, and truss the bird and put it in the roasting tin, prick sausages and cook these to be served cold on Boxing Day.
  7. December 25th, put pudding on to boil early. Heat oven and put bird in. Head bread sauce and put under a cosy till wanted. Prepare vegetables, parboil potatoes and put under a cosy or round the bird, cook greens, skim giblet stock, remove the bird ¼ hour before serving and pour off dripping, then boil up the giblet stock in the pan for gravy it will not need any thickening, but strain it into a tureen or jug and keep hot till wanted. Dish up, and serve – carving will be speeded up considerably if it is begun in the kitchen, by cutting several slices from the breast and removing wing, leg and thigh from one side of the bird, the uncut side should be carried “right side out” and if possible kept to make a second dinner on Boxing Day.
From my private collection of vintage cookbooks.
From my private collection of vintage cookbooks.

Good Housekeeping’s Modern Hostess (1959):

  1. The following time-table may be used as a guide is based on preparing a 14 lb turkey for dinner at one o’clock. 8.45am Light oven and set to moderate heat (350F, mark 4). 9am Put in turkey. Allow 15 minutes per 1lb (dressed weight) up to 14 lb; 10 minutes per lb for a heavier bird. Baste every  ½ hour. If aluminium foil is used, remove it ½ hour before the end of the cooking time, in order to brown the bird. An alternative way of roasting a turkey is by the long, slow method. Cook in a very slow (250F mark ½), for the following times: 6-12 lbs 20 mins. Per lb and 1 hour 20 mins. Over 13-20 lbs. 14 mins. Per lb and 2 ¼ hours over.
  2. 10am Put pudding on to steam. 11am Lay table with silver, cutlery, glasses, etc., arrange dessert, prepare wines, set out coffee tray, etc.  11.30am Boil potatoes for 3 minutes, and meanwhile heat some dripping in a tin. Put the drained potatoes in this and place in oven. Put onion to infuse in milk for bread sauce.
  3. 12.15pm Put sausages round bird and turn them occasionally to brown them. Put the plates to warm. 12.30pm Put on water for sprouts and cook them. 12.45pm Dish up bird. Put mince pies in oven to heat up. Make gravy. Prepare coffee. 12.50pm Finish bread sauce, dish up vegetables. 12.55pm Dish pudding and keep with basin over hot water. Turn out oven, dish up mince pies and leave in warm oven. 1pm Serve the dinner.

    A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time
    A 1940s living-room decorated for Christmas. Exhibit at Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke. ©Come Step Back In Time


Christmas Jelly

Perfect  Cooking: A Comprehensive Guide to Success in the Kitchen by the Parkinson Stove Co. Ltd (1949)

Ingredients: 1 ½ pints wine jelly, 2 ozs walnuts, 1 tablespoonful rum, 2 ozs muscatels (seeded), 1 oz dates, 1 oz glace cherries, washed & dried. 3 ozs blanched dry almonds, 1 oz figs. Method: Make jelly, add rum, a few drops of lemon juice, an inch cinnamon stick. Chop roughly most of fruit and nuts. Pour a little jelly into bottom of wetted mould and set some fruit into patterns. When set pour in half-an-inch of jelly and allow to set. Fill in layers of fruit and jelly alternatively till the mould is full. Set in a cool place.

It was once the custom to celebrate the ‘Feast Of The Stars’ by holding a ‘Twelfth Night’ party. A special cake was baked for the occasion very rich and spicy. It was iced with a blue coloured icing to represent the sky and decorated with silver stars and twelve candles.

A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)

Twelfth Night Cake

Ingredients: 8 ozs of flour, 4 eggs, 8 ozs of sugar, 9 ozs of butter, 1 level dessertspoonful of mixed spice, 6 ozs of currants, 8 ozs of sultanas, 2 ozs of candied peel, 2 ozs of glace cherries and a little milk to mix. Method: Grease a cake tin and line with paper. Prepare the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar together, beat in each egg separately, stir in the sieved flour and spice, fruit, etc., alternately with the milk, adding a little of each at a time. Blend all the ingredients together, put into a prepared tin, and bake in a moderate oven of about 350F for two hours. When cold, ice with pale blue icing and decorate as suggested. A Hampshire Christmas, compiled by Sara Tiller, 1992,  ‘Food Glorious Food’ Chapter by Irene Soper (p.27)

Christmas Cake

Ingredients: 8ozs plain flour, 1 level tsp baking powder, 5 ozs butter, 6 ozs soft brown sugar, 4 eggs, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon mixed spice, 8 ozs raisins, 1lb currants, 8 ozs sultanas, 2 ozs glace cherries (halved), 4 ozs mixed peel (chopped), 2 ozs chopped almonds, 1 tablespoons grated lemon rind,  2 ozs rum or sherry. Method: Prepare the fruit. Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices. Warm the beater and bowl. Cream the butter and sugar on speed 2 for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Reduce to minimum speed and tip in the sift flour, then the fruit and lemon rind, switch off as soon as ingredients are incorporated. Turn into a greased tin which has been lined with greased paper and back on a low shelf for approximately 3 ½ hours at 300F. Allow to stand in tin on a rack until cool. Turn out and pour rum over the bottom of the cake and when quite cold wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin. Kenwood Recipe Book (1967).

Eggless Christmas cake from World War Two. Ingredients: 4 ozs carrot (finely grated), 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 ozs sugar, 4 ozs margarine, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, vanilla essence, almond essence, 4-6 ozs dried fruit, 12 ozs self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 small teacup milk (slightly warmed). Method: Cook the grated carrot and syrup over a low heat for a few minutes. Cream the sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the carrot and syrup mixture, then beat it into the sugar and margarine mixture, treating it as if it were an egg. Add a half a teaspoon each of vanilla and almond essence, and stir in with the dried fruit. Fold in the flour and cinnamon, and add the warmed milk to make a moist dough. Put the mixture into a greased cake tin. Smooth the top, and make a deep hole in the centre with a spoon, to stop the cake from rising too much during cooking. Put into a hot oven (gas regulo 7) then turn down to a very low heat (gas regulo 2) and bake for 3 hours.

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  • Christmas Cake preparation, Germany, 1957. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Museum, Rural Heritage, Uncategorized, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Forgotten Christmas Foods & Customs – Part 1 – The Goose

©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

Chef Adam Gray cooking breast of goose on the Kadai fire bowls. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire. Beautiful, heritage cooking products.
Chef Adam Gray cooking breast of goose on the Kadai fire bowl ( Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in Shropshire (http:/ Beautiful heritage cooking products. Image courtesy of The Reel Media Deal (


Me with Chefs Adam Gray and Michel Roux Jr. Image courtesy of the Reel Media Deal.
Me with Chefs Adam Gray and Michel Roux Jr. Image courtesy of the Reel Media Deal (
Producer/Director Di Evans filming the fire pit demonstration at Taste of London Winter Festival. Image courtesy of The Reel Deal Media (
Producer/Director Di Evans filming the fire pit demonstration at Taste of London Winter Festival. Image courtesy of The Reel Deal Media (

Goose Revival at Taste of London Winter Food Festival 2014

I recently appeared at Taste of London Winter food Festival 2014, Tobacco Dock alongside Michelin Chef Adam Gray. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Forgotten Foods’. Looking at ingredients, techniques and skills form the past that are not as commonly used today. Remembering what our great grandparents and previous generations cooked. Chefs were encouraged to use wild British ingredients that are often ignored or simply just not readily available in supermarkets today. For more information about this year’s Taste of London Winter food Festival, click here.

Me and Chef Adam Gray with musical Theatre star/Presenter Craig Price. Image courtesy of Craig Price.
Me and Chef Adam Gray with musical Theatre star/Presenter Craig Price. Bespoke iron pans made by Netherton Foundry in historic industrial heartland, Ironbridge, Shropshire. Image courtesy of Craig Price.

Chef Adam Gray cooked breast of goose with caramelised apples and shredded Savoy cabbage. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in South Shropshire, birthplace of the European Industrial Revolution (http:/ Beautiful, heritage cooking equipment, the level of craftsmanship displayed in these pans is outstanding. Chef Gray found them a joy to cook with.

Although Chef Gray used apple, other fruits that work well with goose are quince, blackberries, gooseberries or any fruit that has a high acid content to help cut through the richness of the meat. Apples have always been a popular accompaniment for goose, I found references to this fact in several of my Victorian cookbooks, including Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) in his Shilling Cookery For The People. Chef Gray also suggests cooking goose over a tray filled with apple juice which helps infuse the meat with a sharp and sweet flavour.

Map showing layout of garden from a house in Walderton as it would have look in the first half of the seventeenth century. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Map showing layout of garden from a house in Walderton as it would have look in the first half of the seventeenth century. Brassicas (including cabbages) were popular vegetables grown by homesteaders in rural communities. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

Cabbage was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BCE and revered by Romans and Greeks. Savoy cabbage first appeared in Europe during the sixteenth century.  This humble brassica thrives in Britain’s nutrient rich soils and has always been a peasant dish staple. Brassicas are hardy vegetables but no species of cabbage survives in a wild state.

Victorian farmhouse kitchen. ©Come Step Back in Time
Artefacts from a Victorian farmhouse kitchen. ©Come Step Back in Time

In Medieval Britain, people were nervous about eating cabbage as it was considered to be bad for you, probably due to its gas-inducing qualities! Medieval cooks were encouraged to boil the vegetable well and add oil, marrowbone or egg yolks to soften the texture. Chef Gray continued with the tradition of making cabbage more digestible by shredding it very finely and adding a butter emulsion. I can promise you there was not a hint of school canteen cabbage hanging in the air at Taste of London last week.

Basic kitchen range in a toll house from Beeding, Sussex, 1807. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.
Basic kitchen range in a toll house from Beeding, Sussex, 1807. Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

Traditionally, goose would have been cooked over an open fire, probably using a spit, turned by hand. This method continued to be used in poorer households until kitchen ranges/half ranges then cookers became cheaper and more widely available. Cooking meat over an open fire gradually declined in popularity before World War One. If the spit mechanism had a treadmill as opposed to a spit/roast jack (nickname for an odd job man), dogs or even geese were put to work keeping the wheel turning. Geese are hardy creatures and were known to work the treadmill for twelve hours at a time.

Special dogs were bred for the treadmill, vernepator cur, translated as ‘a dog that turns the wheel’. These poor creatures were of small stature with long bodies and short legs. If the dog took a rest, a red hot coal would be tossed into the treadmill to keep the animal moving. There is an example of a Turnspit dog, ‘Whiskey’, preserved in the collection at Abergavenny Museum, he came from a house in Skenfrith. There is a rare example of a working treadmill mechanism at The George Inn, Lacock, Wiltshire.

A fine example of a roasting spit/jack. Complex combination of ropes, weights and pulleys operate to turn the meat over the naked flame in the open hearth. Before these mechanisms, the process was hand-operated usually be a young lad or maid servant. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time
A fine example of a Victorian roasting spit/jack. Complex combination of ropes, weights and pulleys operate to turn the meat over a naked flame in an open hearth. Before this mechanism was invented, the meat was turned on the spit by hand, usually by a young lad or maid servant. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Close-up of the spit/roast jack mechanism. Exhibit in Portsmouth City Museum. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time
Close-up of the spit/roast jack mechanism. Exhibit in Portsmouth City Museum. Exhibit from Portsmouth City Museum. ©Come Step Back in Time

Sadly, goose is now considerably more expensive than turkey and because of this many home cooks shy away from buying it at Christmas. A 7kg goose can cost around £100 and a turkey of the same weight usually costs £65 (retail prices based on free-range birds, Christmas 2014). The meat-to-carcass ratio for goose is lower than turkey and in these cash-strapped times, getting more bang for your buck, so to speak, is in the forefront of most of our minds.

However, I do believe the tide is beginning to turn in favour of goose. Growing interest in reviving British heritage foods is fuelling this trend as well as a realisation that eating goose is more humane, the animals are not intensively reared and are usually free-range. The price of meat, like so many other foods, is dictated by inflation as well as supply and demand. If more people want goose on their Christmas table, as opposed to turkey, prices will drop.

Geese are very cheap to keep, live by grazing and don’t need expensive grain, making them a greener choice for the environmentally conscious cook. Their eggs make spectacular omelets and their feathers can be used for stuffing cushions or for the creative among you, turning into quill pens. We all know that goose fat makes the best roast potatoes.

In my opinion, goose is a far tastier meat than turkey. Goose is not just for Christmas, it can be enjoyed throughout Autumn and Winter. Gressingham, well-known for their duck meat, also sell goose. Their Geese are grown free-range on farms in East Anglia, from early summer until autumn, there they graze on grass as well as eat a mix of wheat and soya with vitamins and minerals. For more information about Gressingham Goose, including recipes, click here.

Gressingham, free range goose from East Anglia. This particular goose has been fed on grass and wheat. ( Image courtesy of Chef Adam Gray.
Gressingham free range goose from East Anglia. This particular goose has been fed on grass and wheat. ( Image courtesy of Chef Adam Gray.

Goose has always been associated with deep Winter feasts and its origin goes back as far as ancient Egypt. According to Greek historian Herodotus (484 BCE – 425 BCE), geese stay with their young in the most imminent danger, at the risk of their own lives. The goose of the Nile was Velpansier and when geese appear on walls of temples they are often painted in bright colours. Egyptian mythology classifies goose under the care of goddess Isis. Along with the ram and bull, goose is also a symbol of the creator-god, Amun/Amen.

Goose comes into season around the Christian feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, or Michaelmas (29th September). This type of goose was often known as ‘green goose’ due to the fact it had been raised on grass (‘green’) and was fairly lean. Eating goose at Michaelmas dates back to Elizabeth I (1533-1603) who is said to have dined on one at the table of an English baronet, when news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada reached her. In commemoration of this event, she commanded goose make its appearance at table on every Michaelmas. Alfred Suzanne, in his book La Cuisine Anglaise, writes of this historic event:

The principal dish that day was roast goose, to which the Queen, it is said, was particularly partial, and in an excited outburst of patriotism and… gourmandism, she decreed that this glorious occasion be commemorated by serving roast goose on the day every year.

The Harvest goose or Martinmas goose comes into season around the time of Saint Martin’s feast, 11th November. This goose is fattened on grain (wheat or barley) and is plumper and meatier as a result. This is the bird traditionally served at Christmas time.


Unlike today, goose was once cheaper and more widely available than turkey which was expensive. The turkey came to Europe from Mexico in about 1541, brought in by Spanish and West African traders. In Victorian England, turkey gradually replaced beef and goose at the Christmas dining table. Ever since Victorian times, the trend for having turkey at Christmas time has remained, thus nudging the poor old goose out of the picture. Victorians liked to stuff their goose with sage and onion.

Evidence of this can be found in A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens. Bob Cratchit and his family tuck-in to the traditional Victorian fayre of goose. The Cratchits are poor, so goose is the proud centrepiece of their Christmas dinner. However, following his epiphany, Scrooge wants to lavish gifts upon employee Bob Cratchit and family. One of these luxury items is a prize turkey, only meat that the wealthy could afford in Victorian England:

Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.

“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”

“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.

“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Cratchits. “Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Scrooge buys a turkey for the Cratchits:

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it

(A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Staves Three and Four, 1st edition, 1843)


  • The brilliant American chef, Julia Child (1912-2004), shows you how to roast your goose. The French Chef  was a television cooking show created and hosted by Julia Child and produced and broadcast by WGBH, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts, from February 11, 1963 to 1973. It was one of the first cooking shows on American television. All rights belong to the Cooking Channel. Uploaded to You Tube 8.3.13.
Toulose goose from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1869 edition which belongs to Chef Adam Gray).
Toulouse goose from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1869 edition which belongs to Chef Adam Gray).

According to Larousse Gastronomique (1961), the Toulouse goose, from the Garonne basin in France can reach a weight of between and 10 and 20 kilos after fattening. This bird carries its body almost perpendicularly; its behind, called ‘artichoke’, drags on the ground even before the fattening process. The skin covering its breast is loose and slack, forming a lappet, or wattle, which constitutes a veritable fat store. This variety of goose is used in the south-west of France for the Confit d’oie and the livers are used for pâtés de foie gras with truffles.

  • Nottingham Goose Fair (1947) by British Pathé. The fair is still held during the first week in October. In 1284, the inaugural fair took place and apart from 1646 (bubonic plague) and throughout the two World Wars, has taken place annually for over seven hundred years. Originally the fair was a celebration that coincided with flocks of geese being driven from Lincolnshire to be sold in Nottinghamshire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

 Fascinating Facts About Goose

  • Italians Goosestep For Hitler (1938) by British Pathé. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
  • Goosestep is a distinct marching step originating from mid eighteenth century Prussian military drills. This manoeuvre reminded soldiers how geese often stood on one leg, hence the nickname. Many military organisations today, across the world, still use this marching style.
  • Nursery Rhyme ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ is from 1784 but its origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century England when Catholics faced persecution and men of the cloth had to hide in ‘Priest Holes’.  ‘Goosey, goosey gander’ also implies something unpleasant may well happen to anyone not saying their prayers:

Goosey, goosey gander,

Whither shall I wander?

Upstairs and downstairs

And in my lady’s chamber;

There I met an old man

Who would not say his prayers;

I took him by the left leg

And threw him down the stairs.

  • Goose bumps, medical term cutisanserina occurs when you experience cold or strong emotions. Goose feathers  grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human hair follicles. When goose feathers are plucked, the bird’s skin has protrusions where the feathers once were, these resemble the bumps on human skin following cold or strong emotions.
  • Goose bumps , in Elizabethan times, if someone said; ‘I’ve been bitten by the Winchester goose’, this meant that they had contracted syphilis. A ‘goose bump’ was the first tell-tale sign on the skin that you had contracted the pox. The Winchester Geese were prostitutes that plied their trade in South London, Bankside close to The Globe. This land was owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Brothels in Bankside were known as ‘stews’. In the sixteenth century there were eighteen recorded ‘stews’ in the area. These establishments provided the clergy with a regular income stream. Pandarus (a lecherous old man) in Troilus and Cressida (1602) by William Shakespeare: ‘My fear is this/ Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss/ Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases/ And at that time, bequeath you my diseases/’.
  • Herd geese in London – If you are a Freeman of London you are allowed to herd a gaggle of geese down Cheapside. This is according to an old book of traditional ceremonies and privileges granted to those who have The Freedom of the City of London. This book dates back to 1237.
©Come Step Back in Time
©Come Step Back in Time

 Historical Recipes For Goose

Georgian Era Recipe for Preparing Goose

Singe a goose, and pour over it a quart of boiling milk. Let it continue in the milk all night, then take it out, and dry it well with a cloth. Cut an onion very small with some sage, put them into the goose, sew it up at the neck and vent, and hang it up by the legs till the next day; then put it into a pot of cold water, cover it close, and let it boil gently for an hour. Serve it up with onion sauce.

To Marinate A Goose

The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (1786)

Cut your goose up the back bone, then take out all the bones, and stuff it with forcemeat and sew up the back again, fry the goose a good brown, then put it into a deep stew-pan with two quarts of good gravy and cover it close, and stew it two hours, then take it out and skim off the fat, add a large spoonful of lemon pickle, one of browning, and one of red wine, one anchovy shred fine, beaten mace, pepper and salt to your palate, thicken it with flour and butter, boil it a little, dish up your goose, and strain your gravy over it. NB. Make your stuffing thus, take ten or twelve sage leaves, two large onions, two or three large sharp apples, shred them very fine, mix them with the crumbs of a penny loaf, four ounces of beef marrow, one glass of red wine, half a nutmeg grated, pepper, salt and a little lemon peel shred small, make a light stuffing with your yolks of four eggs, observe to make it one hour before you want it.

Eighteenth Century Receipt Book – Boiled Goose With Celery Sauce

When your goose has been seasoned with pepper and salt for four or five days, you must boil it about an hour; then serve it hot with turnips, carrots, cabbage or cauliflower; tossed up with butter. The goose would have been hanging in the dairy or game larder with a north aspect for five days or even longer (depending on the outdoor temperature) so that its flesh would have become more tender and developed flavour in that time.

To make celery sauce, take a large bunch of celery, wash it, pare it, very clean, cut it into little thin bits and boil it softly in a little water until it is tender; then add a little beaten mace, some nutmeg, pepper and salt; thickened with a good piece of butter rolled in flour; then boil it up and pour it in your dish. You may make it with cream thus; boil your celery as above and add some mace, nutmeg, and a piece of butter as big as a walnut rolled in flour and 1/2 pint of cream; boil them all together, and you may add if you will a glass of white wine.

Eighteenth Century Receipt Book –  Sauce for Green Goose

Take some melted butter, put in a spoonful of the juice of sorrel, a little sugar, a few coddled gooseberries, pour it into your sauceboats and send it to table.

To Dress a Green Goose

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (1869 edition)

Ingredients: Goose, 3 oz of butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mode [Method]: Geese are called green when they are about four months old, and should not be stuffed. After it has been singed and trussed, put into the body a seasoning of pepper and salt, and the butter to moisten it inside. Roast before a clear fire for about 3/4 hour, froth and brown it nicely, and serve with a brown gravy, and, when liked, gooseberry-sauce. This dish should be garnished with water-cresses [watercress].

Hashed Goose (Cold Meat Cookery)

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  (1869 edition)

Ingredients: The remains of cold roast goose, 2 onions, 2 oz of butter, 1 pint of boiling water, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, pepper and salt to taste, 1 tablespoonful of port wine, 2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup.

Mode [Method]: Cut-up the goose into pieces of the size required; the inferior joints, trimmings, etc, put into a stewpan to make the gravy; slice and fry the onions in the butter of a very pale brown; add these to the trimmings, and pour over about a pint of boiling water; stew these gently for ¾ hour, then skim and strain the liquor. Thicken it with flour, and flavour with port wine; add a seasoning of pepper and salt, and put in the pieces of goose; let these get thoroughly hot through, but do not allow them to boil, and serve with sippets of toasted bread.

Vintage Cooking 2

Posted in Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, Theatre History, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

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In October 1964, in the Evans’ small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library; thus valuable engravings were forced to share a home with Hilary’s casual wear.

The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry’s trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher’s Handbook, which ran to eight editions.

Hilary and Mary’s daughter, Valentine, joined the company in 1992 and her three young children are frequent visitors to the library.

(Above extracts from Mary Evans Picture Library’s website)

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This year, Mary Evans Picture Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the Summer I received an invitation to attend an Open Day at the Library’s premises in Blackheath, London. Such a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique, family-owned, historical picture library whose core philosophy since opening, in 1964, has been:

to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The Library have more than half a million images currently available online and five hundred new images are added every week. A quick glance at the end credits of a documentary or pictures featured in an editorial will reveal Mary Evans Picture Library to be one of the main contributors.

The building that now houses this priceless collection was formerly the Parish Hall of All Saints’ Church on Blackheath. It is designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Charles Canning Winmill (1865-1945).

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©Come Step Back In Time

There is something really quite special about the Library. Upon entering you are immediately transported into a maze of corridors and staircases leading to room after room of historic treasures. This vast collection is presided over by a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate about the priceless ephemera they are custodians of:

Few working offices feature desks surrounded by a fine collection of coronation mugs, a melted wax fruit display, an original Edison Phonograph and a broomstick in full flight suspended above the heads of staff.

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The set-up of our office is unashamedly individual, and the archive of postcard folders, rare books, boxes of ephemera and racks of bound magazines is as integral to the working space as the computers and desks, squeezed, as they are, into the last available corners.

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The main room downstairs will always be known as Mary’s office…. Conducting a tour of the library invariably involves squeezing past colleagues, step ladders, Missie the dog, someone preparing lunch or a private researcher hidden behind five large volumes of Illustrazione Italiana from the 1880s.

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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Mary Evans Picture Library also manage a number of private collections. At the Open Day I was thrilled to meet some of these contributors which included:

Me with Anne Zielinski-Old at the open day. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
Me with Anne Zielinski-Old. ©Mary Evans Picture Library

 Anne Zielinksi-Old

Fashion artist Anne worked for a range of prestigious clients during the 1980s and ’90s.  Anne studied fashion and design at the University of Brighton (1970-73), St Martins School of Art (1975-1976) where she was trained by Elizabeth Suter and Colin Barnes. In 1993 Anne studied at the Royal College of Art, London, undertaking a Research Degree by project. During her long and high-profile career Anne’s clients have included Harrods of Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason, Garrards Crown Jewelers, Burberrys, the Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan Magazine and more.

One of Anne’s many career highlights includes working for Mattel Inc. in California (1997-1998) as an Art Director for Barbie Collectibles. During her time at Mattel Inc. Anne created a Princess Diana Doll and an Elizabeth Taylor Auction Doll which was purchased by actress Demi Moore. I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Anne about her extraordinary career.

  • For further biographical information about Anne, click here.
  • For more information about Anne’s career as a Doll Designer, click here.
  • Browse Anne’s Air Kiss Collection which is managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
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London Fire Brigade (LFB)

The archive of the LFB (The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) is managed exclusively by the Mary Evans Picture Library. The collection contains extensive documentation of the fire service in London from the nineteenth century to the present day. Subjects covered by the images include: World War Two, the Blitz, 1936 fire at Crystal Palace, fire-apparatus from Selfridges Department Store (1966), historic fire-fighting equipment and vehicles.

  • For more information about the LFB archive, click here.
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©Come Step Back In Time

Grenville Collins Postcard Collection

Grenville Collins’ collection comprises over ten thousand images, mostly from before World War One. Grenville has one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of postcards depicting Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire. In the 1960s, Grenville managed rock band, The Kinks, following which, in the 1970s, he lived near Bodrum in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. Included in his collection are several books of postcards by Max Fruchtermann who published Turkey’s first commercial cards in 1895. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Grenville, his collection is outstanding.

  • Browse the Grenville Collins postcard collection managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
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©Come Step Back In Time

H. L. Oakley Silhouettes

One of the more unusual collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library are the silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley (1882-1957). Oakley’s great nephew and biographer, Jerry Rendell, attended the open day with some fine examples from his private collection. Jerry has written a book about his great uncle’s work, Profiles of the First World War – The Silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley  (2013, The History Press).

Oakley was known as ‘the man with the magic scissors’ who began cutting silhouettes aged just seven years old. He trained at the Royal College of Art. During World War One, he served with the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, transferring to the 96th (Lancashire) Brigade in May, 1918. Oakley contributed silhouettes and drawings to the trench newspaper, The Dump. His work also appeared in The Bystander (8th March, 1916, ‘Trench Life in Silhouette’).

  • ‘The Man with the Magic Scissors: Oakley of The Bystander‘s Western Front in silhouette’, by Luci Gosling (Mary Evans Picture Library), published 27.8.2013, click here.

Mary Evans Picture Library – A Few Fascinating Facts

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  • Mary Evans’ lifelong passion for dogs influenced her collecting habits which has resulted in an eclectic mix of books, objects and assorted ephemera. Mary eventually acquired the Thomas Fall Archive in 2003;
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  • The library represents some of the best historical sources of material from around the world. They have exceptionally detailed coverage of the history of many countries, with notably large collections from Germany, France, the United States, Spain and Italy;
  • The library recently launched a superb First World War blog (Picturing The Great War)dedicated to showcasing some of the more unusual and surprising content from the period which is currently held in the collection, click here.
  • In October, 1965, London Life, launched. Although the magazine only lasted fifteen months (closing, Christmas Eve, 1966), it is a wonderful record of swinging sixties London. The library has a complete run of London Life, in five volumes. Each publication reads like a who’s who from the world of sixties music, fashion, media and photography (Terence Donovan, Twiggy, Gerald Scarfe, Jean Shrimpton, Terence Stamp, Ian Dury, Vidal Sassoon, Joanna Lumley, Celia Hammond, Peter Akehurst, the list goes on). These iconic individuals helped shaped London as a vibrant cultural hub during one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic decades. London Life was edited by Mark Boxer, founder of the Sunday Times magazine, the managing editor was David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam).
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  • The Illustrated London News (ILN), launched on 14th May, 1842, is one of the library’s high profile collections. Although the ILN Picture Library (which also includes The Graphic, The Sphere, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Illustrated War News and Britannia & Eve) remains under the ownership of Illustrated London News Ltd, the back catalogue of publications are housed at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Due to the importance of this world-class collection, it was once known as the ‘Great Eight’.

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    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • Hilary Evans was a world-renowned authority on paranormal phenomena. The library has an excellent selection of images on this topic in addition to Hilary’s own publications in this field: Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002), Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion (2004), and Sliders: the Enigma of Streetlight Interference (2011).
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  • Vintage fashion is well-represented in the library’s collection with a number of rare publications. They have: a six-volume Le Costume Historique by A.Racinet; Strutt’s Dress and Habits of the People of England;  French fashion journals, Gazette du Bon Ton and Art, Goût, Beauté, both with pochoir fashion plates. The  library also represents designers Hardy Amies (1909-2003) and Victor Stiebel (1907-1976).
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  • Ninety plus volumes of A & C Black colour books, published between 1901 and 1921, are held in the collection. These books have distinctive cover designs which are decorated in gilt and inside, plates have been produced by adopting a three-colour process which was popular at the time.
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  • Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
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The perfect habitat for this social historian to while away the hours. I truly did get to ‘step back in time’. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
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100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time
100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time

Think History – Think Mary Evans

Closer to History

Centuries of Inspiration

From Antiquity to Modernity

The Specialist History Source

Visual Documentation of the Past

Picturing the Past

The World of Images

First Choice for History

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise which has featured images from the collection at Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise featuring images from various collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Mrs Beeton, Vintage, World War Two

Women’s Hair & Beauty In The 1930s

Grandmother favoured a braided hair style with deep 'waves' framing the face.
©Come Step Back in Time. My Grandmother who was a hairdresser in the 1930s. She wears her hair in a popular style of the period, braided with deep ‘waves’ to frame the face.

I am fifteen years of age and attend West Kensington Central School. I live in Shepherds Bush at present and have done all my life. I have fair hair, blue eyes and am about 5ft 2 inches in height. I like school very much but I do not like going home in the evenings to a lot of homework. It is my ambition to be a hairdresser but my parents are very doubtful and prefer the Civil Service. I am fond of sports, hockey and tennis in particular. My chief dislike is housework, cooking, sewing and other duties I do not dislike but I can never force myself to do housework with a good heart. My best subject at school is maths, and at this I make progress but French on the other hand is my weakest. I think I have a few good qualities but I am afraid to think of my bad ones in case they outrun the good. I am very determined to get a thing if I have set my heart on it, but on the other hand I am obstinate.

My Grandmother The Society Hairdresser

The above extract is from an essay written by my late grandmother in 1931 when she was just fifteen.  The self-confessed ‘obstinate’ streak served her well, rejecting her parents’ wish that she join the Civil Service and instead leaving school at sixteen to train as a hairdresser.  The Headmistress of her School in West Kensington was not best pleased, after all she was practically top of her class in mathematics and could pick from a wide range of employment options.

My grandmother as a young girl in the late 1920s.
©Come Step Back in Time. My grandmother as a young girl in the late 1920s.

My late grandmother knew what she wanted to be and didn’t waste any time in embarking upon her career choice. She enjoyed a highly successful, albeit relatively short, career as a society hairdresser in London. By the end of the 1930s, now in her early twenties, she was managing one of the top hair and beauty salons in Mayfair. This exclusive Square Mile meant her clients were a mix of wealthy business people and stars from the entertainment industry.

Grandmother striking a film star pose in the 1930s.
©Come Step Back in Time. Grandmother striking a film star pose in the 1930s.

During a recent trawl through our family archives, which are currently kept by my Aunt, we discovered a pile of old papers belonging to my grandmother. Imagine our thrill when we noticed some of her original business cards from the 1930s sticking-out from the bundle. The address on the front is not the salon address but her home address in Shepherds Bush. In addition to her work at the salon she also had a number of private clients.

Grandmother's original business cards from the 1930s.
©Come Step Back in Time. Grandmother’s original business cards from the 1930s.

World War II interrupted the working lives of many women including my grandmother. Hairdressers were known to have very nimble fingers and as such were often asked to contribute towards the war effort by working in the munitions factories. My grandmother decided that this was not for her (perhaps the obstinate streak rearing its head once more) and following her marriage to my late grandfather in 1940, they moved to Essex.

My grandparents on their wedding day in 1940. My grandmother wore a blue satin bias cut wedding gown.
©Come Step Back in Time. My grandparents on their wedding day in 1940. My grandmother wore a blue satin bias cut wedding gown.

Until my mother was born in 1944, grandmother continued to work as a hairdresser, managing another salon in Galleywood, near Chelmsford. If she were alive today, I often wonder what she would think of all the permatans, vajazzles and hair extensions. Although, to be honest I would like to think she would be quite amused by it all really.

35.1 Marjorie Robinson
©Come Step Back in Time My late grandmother on Hythe beach, Kent in the 1930s.

During her time working at the Mayfair salon, grandmother acquired quite a star-studded client list including: Pamela Mason, James Mason, Dame Anna Neagle, Margaret Lockwood, Sylvia Sims and the Head of United Artistes Pictures and his wife. The salon contained a series of discrete, individual cubicles, inside of which the glamorous and wealthy were primped and preened, whilst outside the chauffeur paraded up and down the pavement exercising the Pekingese. Clients would often bring their own perfumes stored in elaborately designed glass defusers. Once the hairstyle had been set my grandmother would spray the hair with these expensive French scents.

Some of the more high-profile clients did not wish to come to the salon, so a chauffeur driven car would be sent to pick my grandmother up and take her to the client’s house or apartment.  One story that my mother told me, is that on one of these home visits my grandmother had been asked to style a lady’s hair and manicure her nails in readiness for a VIP party to be held at their house that evening. The party was to honour the lady’s birthday and her husband (who worked in the film industry) had the doors to all of the rooms in the house removed and replaced with gold-plated gates. This Kardashianesque display did not end there, the house had also been filled with a variety of ‘props’ including fountains and sculptures. The whole house was turned into a Hollywood film-set, very far-removed from a townhouse in central London. The lady told my grandmother that she envied her life, which surprised grandmother somewhat. The lady went on to explain that she could have anything she wanted but nothing really had a value because she didn’t feel that she had earned the money to pay for it herself. The envy stemmed from the fact that my grandmother was independent and everything she brought she had to earn the money before she could purchase it. As they say, ‘all that glitters is not gold’.

Key Hair Trends Of The 1930s

  • Video clip from Olympia’s Health and Beauty Fair of 1938 shows complex pin-curl hair styling. CLICK HERE.  
  • Video clip from the International Hairdressing Exhibition in Paris, 1933. A deep ‘wave’ and pin-curl extravaganza. CLICK HERE.
  • Video clip showing a British hairdresser re-creating the fashionable ‘Mingle’ haircut from 1931, a mix of ‘waves’ and curls with hair accessories. CLICK HERE.

Hairstyles in the early 1930s contained influences carried over from the 1920s. For the ladies, ‘bobs’ and variations on the boyish ‘shingle’ were still popular. Long bobs with demi-waves were fashionable towards the middle of the decade influenced perhaps by Hollywood starlets.  Some of the newer trends included bold ‘waves’, flat pin-curls, perms and sets. Apparently, my grandmother was a particular fan of deep ‘waves’ and used a sugar and water solution on the hair to aid setting. She also liked braids pinned across the front of the head in such a manner so as to frame the face. Earlier this year, this ’30s trend came back again, minus the deep ‘waves’ of course.

41.1 Marjorie Robinson
©Come Step Back in Time

My mother remembers my grandmother styling ‘waves’ well into the1950s. However, by this time she was using heated electric tongs to create the look. In those days thermostat controls on electrical hair appliances were pretty temperamental and in order to avoid singeing the hair, she would hold the flex and swing the tongs backwards and forwards to help them to cool before beginning styling.

1930s fashion for curls pinned on one side.
1930s fashion for curls pinned on one side.

Towards the end of the 1930s, curls were a key trend. Whether worn loose or tight they were often piled-up on the top of the head or to one side and accompanied with a slight, sweeping fringe. By the outbreak of World War II in 1939, curls featured less on the top of the head and more often at the ends of hair, which was now worn longer. Many women who entered war work cut their hair short or covered it using a variety of practical headwear, particularly scarves.

41.2 Marjorie Robinson
©Come Step Back in Time

1930s Make-up & Beauty Influences

During the 1920s, beauty regimens and application of make-up had been mostly the preserve of starlets, theatricals, bright young things and wealthy aristocrats who were fortunate enough to have a personal maid assist them with its preparation and application. The 1920s is the decade when suntanned skin became acceptable and fashionable. Achieving a tan was now much easier, thanks to the rise in popularity of outdoor pursuits such as sunbathing, PT, swimming, cycling and tennis.

In 1930, Mary Bagot Stack (1885-1935) created the Women’s League of Health and Beauty which followed on from the success of the London-based Bagot Stack Health School, which she had opened in 1925. The Women’s League of Health and Beauty (now known as the Fitness League) was very popular and enabled women to exercise, en-mass, in public places wearing their gym clothes. All without breaking any of the social codes and conventions imposed upon women at that time. I found this short clip of the WLHB exercising in a park in 1937. CLICK HERE.

The film industry, particularly in America, played a significant role in popularising make-up and beauty products in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. Prior to the introduction of Eastman Kodak’s panchromatic film stock in 1926, black and white films were made with blue-sensitive film. This type of film stock was sensitive to the blue-violet end of the visible spectrum and insensitive  to the yellow-red end. The consequences for the actress with blonde hair, blue eyes and painted red lips would be that she appeared on-screen with very light hair, white eyes and black lips. Thick, ghostly pale, pan stick or greasepaint would be applied to smooth-out skin imperfections and on top of that plenty of blending powder, finished-off with shading to accentuate eye sockets, jawbones and prominent facial features. Without such make-up techniques the actor or actress would be completely washed-out on-screen due to the harsh lighting and blue-sensitive film.

Following the introduction of sound, studio lighting changed. In 1927, arc lamps were replaced with tungsten lamps, make-up styles had to change once more to accommodate this new lighting.  Film stock became increasingly more sophisticated, resulting in higher definition of facial features and the revealing of a wider range of skin tones in the finished print. In 1931, Eastman Kodak introduced their Super-Sensitive Cine Panchromatic stock which was sensitive to the full colour spectrum. The use of greasepaint was no longer required and actors were encouraged not to wear any make-up unless they were playing a character role. This did not go down well at the time.

However, leading make-up artists of the day such as Percival Westmore (1904-1970) who was Head of the Warner Brothers Make-up Department and the team at Max Factor embraced the changes. These artistic Titans spotted a gap in the market for a range of everyday beauty and make-up products suitable for both starlet and shopgirl. The House of Westmore were the first to successfully launch their own beauty product range which soon gained popularity with women on both sides of the Atlantic.

The 1930s is where you begin to see early examples of celebrity endorsement of beauty and make-up products. Bette Davis, Merle Oberon and Olivia de Havilland were often to be found in magazine advertisements promoting the Westmore brand. The beauty industry really took-off in America and Britain in the 1930s and the influence of cinema in creating this thriving market should not be underestimated.

Advertisement for Coty beauty products from 1935.
Advertisement for Coty beauty products from 1935.

Rose Laird – An American Beauty Pioneer

The product range my grandmother used in her London salon was by American beauty pioneer Rose Laird.  Rose’s story is a fascinating one and a great example of reaching for and succeeding at achieving the American dream. Rose was born c.1877 in Philadelphia to Glover Glaser, a chemist. After leaving school, she enrolled as a student nurse, specialising in diseases of the skin, at the skin clinic of Jefferson Hospital. Following her marriage to F. Raymond Laird, an inventor, the couple enjoyed both financial success and significant hardship.

Rose wanted to become a dermatologist but this was at a time when female medical professionals were as rare as hen’s teeth. Realising that this was not an option, she brought a one-way ticket to New York and with only $26 in her pocket she embarked upon her dream of setting-up her own cosmetics company.  Upon arrival, she lodged in a cheap hotel and searched the city for a one-room office which she eventually found at West 31st Street. Her new business premises only had hot and cold water and a wash bowl and was certainly not in a suitable state to begin trading in facials and shampoos. She managed to source a second-hand barber’s chair and worked hard to make the small room look respectable and hygienic.

Rose’s first client was the wife of a physician friend of her father.  Her aim was to give massages and shampoos along scientific principles that would hopefully freshen skin and bring radiance to the hair. Her first consultation was a great success and recommendations came quickly, ensuring that she raised enough funds to pay the first month’s rent on her new premises. Further clients in her early days included financier Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851-1928) and his wife who then in turn recommended Rose to their circle of friends which included the author Mark Twain (1835-1910), financier H. H. Rogers (1840-1909) and politician and composer Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941). The business was an instant success and Rose’s client base widened to include, theatricals, opera singers and the higher echelons of New York society.  Alongside her treatments, Rose sold jars of creams and bottles of lotions which she had mixed herself based upon formulas passed down by her father.

It wasn’t long before she outgrew her one-room premises and moved into a purpose-built beauty and hair salon elsewhere in the city. The business continued to expand and she opened a salon in London. Whether this salon was the same one that my late grandmother managed in the 1930s, we cannot be sure but it is a strong possibility. My mother tells me that Rose Laird was her mother’s product of choice throughout her life and she did not like using other brands. Rose Laird said of cosmetics and beauty products:

Cosmetics are mere aids to beauty, which results from proper care of diet and of the circulation and skin; from scalp to toenails. There is nothing more important to man or woman than a good appearance. It creates self-confidence and self-respect, removes inferiority complexes, makes women good wives, mothers, sweethearts and socially productive human beings.

Beauty Tips From The Popular Press Of The 1930s

Magazines and newspapers at the time were crammed full of tips and hints on re-creating a movie star’s hair or make-up as well as general advice, mostly to women, on how to ‘keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’. There was also a fixation with diet, exercise and maintaining a slim figure. The fashions of the period were not very forgiving, only the sveltest of young ladies could carry-off the flounces, frills or satin bias cut dresses. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

  • ‘A Continental treatment which is being given in London is intended to take away tired lines and wrinkles, especially from beneath the eyes. Heavy eye pads, soaked in lotion, are put over the eyes, and while the “patient” rests, an orange light plays over her wrinkles. It has the effect of ironing out the tired lines and leaving her rested for the day.’;
  • ‘An Evening Cocktail – If you have remembered to bring your tube of liquefying cleansing cream, your handbag flask of eau-de-cologne or astringent, your rouge compact and powder, you can give yourself a facial “cocktail” in five minutes at the end of the day and emerge fresh and fragrant for the evening’s amusement.’;
  • ‘Have You A Film Face? – She has a pale skin of fine texture which needs the minimum of make-up. Her hair is auburn – not platinum blonde – and has wonderfully effective lights and shadows. Her eyes are dark and sparkling, set rather wide apart, and her brow is low and broad. White, perfectly even teeth are almost essential. But the shape of the mouth does not matter very much, provided it is not ultra wide, for new mouths can very easily be sketched in with lipsticks. A delicate nose, no matter whether retroussé or Roman, a clear profile, long neck and well-poised head complete my perfect film beauty.’;
  • ‘Curls in Wet Weather – If you will damp you hair with a little setting lotion, before doing it up in curlers at night, your curls should last.’;
  • ‘Lashes like Joan Crawford – Q: ‘I would do anything to make my eyelashes grow like Joan Crawford’s. What would you do in the circumstances?’ – A: ‘Rub a little castor oil into the roots of the lashes each night for three months.’;
  • Make-up advice – pale skin, wear natural powder, rose-pink rouge and light-red lipstick. Olive skin, wear brunette rouge and dark red lip salve.;
  • Advice from Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery from 1936: ‘If the finger nails have become stained or discoloured in any way they should be soaked in a pint of warm water containing a dessertspoonful of lemon-juice. If the nails are very brittle, it is a good plan to dip them for a few minutes each day in lukewarm sweet oil’;
  • ‘Draggly ends left by a brushed-up hairstyle can be curled into little ringlets. This looks much prettier.’
    My late grandmother who was a hairdresser and beautician in the 1930s.
    Copyright, Come Step Back in Time. My late grandmother. This photograph was taken in the 1940s when Victory rolls were all the fashion in hair styling.


Posted in Fashion History, History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, World War One

Motoring In 1915 Britain

The Motor Manual, 19th Edition, 1915.
The Motor Manual, 19th Edition, 1915.

Thanks must go to my mother for this article which features a gem of a book that caught her eye in the window of a local charity shop. How very glad I am that a decision was made to purchase it. One of the reasons for my mother’s purchase, apart from the obvious usefulness to a daughter who edits a history blog, was that it contained a two-page advertisement for a ‘Swift’ motorcar. Upon handing me the book, she very excitedly told me of a long-standing family connection with this rather attractive looking chassis.


Apparently, my great, great, grandmother (whose 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  I relentlessly plunder for my blogs and whose Wedgwood blancmange mould recently featured on British television ) owned a Swift and employed a chauffeur to drive her around in it. Make and model of which my mother could not be sure of. Great, great, grandmother was a lady of significant means but readers before you go thinking I am trying to be all grand, there is a rather juicy and scandalous back story about this Grand Dame that relates to her husband, my great, great, grandfather. However, if I were to ‘spill the beans’ and share the titbits with you all, I would receive a lynching from my relatives, so sorry to tease. Let’s just say for now, ‘all that glitters is not golden’.

The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother.  Photograph is dated c.1911.
The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother. The young lady seated is my great grandmother. Photograph is dated c.1911.

Anyway, the story of my great, great-grandmother’s beloved Swift I can tell you. The Swift was eventually handed down to my great-grandmother who had a holiday home in Hythe, Kent and decided to leave the motorcar there for use during her visits. Only problem was, she didn’t drive so a chauffeur needed to be found. The local fishmonger came to the rescue. In exchange for driving great grandmother and her family around during the holidays he was permitted to use the car in between visits. When great grandmother died the fishmonger brought the Swift and there I am afraid the story ends.


Regular readers will also remember that I wrote an article last year which featured advice given to the motorist on care and maintenance of one’s motorcar, taken from my 1915 edition of Household Management. I was particularly thrilled to discover that this The Motor Manual was from exactly the same year. Must be fate.


This is the 19th edition of The Motor Manual (1915) and one of 400,000 produced that year. The book is British and published by Temple Press Ltd, London, written, compiled and illustrated by the staff of The Motor magazine. This British weekly car magazine had been founded on 28th January 1903 having previously launched as Motorcycle and Motoring in 1902. In 1988, The Motor became part of Autocar, the latter having published its first edition in 1895 and of course is still going today. Incidentally, Autocar is the magazine that famously sacked Top Gear’s James May after he put together a hidden message in the 23rd September 1992 issue (Google details, it is quite amusing).



It is important to note, if you hadn’t already worked out for yourself, that 1915 was near the start of World War One (1914-18). Petrol was not yet on ration when this edition appeared but there are a number of interesting references to the War in some of the publication’s advertisements:

This publication goes to press at a time when our entire works are under Government control, and, in consequence, the manufacture of the Swift “15” is for the time being suspended. We desire to point out to motorists, however, that when we resume production, our 15 h.p. model will more than ever maintain past records for efficiency, durability, and economy; and motorists may take it as certain that many refinements made possible by the valuable experience we are gaining now, will be incorporated in the new models.

(The Motor Manual (1915) – Extract from advertisement by The Swift Motor Co. Ltd, Coventry)

It is important to note that a majority of car manufactories at the time had been requisitioned by the Government for war work, chiefly for the production of armaments. As the optimistic tone of the advertisement suggests, it was hoped that new engineering techniques encountered during this period of secondment would benefit car production once the war was over.



Here are few of my favourites quotes from the Manual:

Keeping A Car At Home (pp. 156-7)

With storage facilities at home the upkeep of a car is considerably lessened. As referred to in another section of this book, it is quite possible to convert a coach-house and stable into a serviceable motor-house, though it would necessarily lack certain conveniences that a properly designed motor-house would possess…A good feature of many up-to-date residential houses of the small type is the inclusion of a motor-house with the premises, with water and lighting laid on.


Petrol Consumption (p. 158)

The small 8-10 h.p. two-seater cars are the most economical. With a well-adjusted carburetter the average ranges between 35 and 40 miles per gallon, according to road and weather conditions. The four-cylinder 11 h.p. to 14 h.p. cars run from 28 to 35 miles per gallon, whilst the 14-18 h.p. four-cylinder cars range from 25 to 30 miles per gallon.


Speed Restrictions (p. 252)

1. For ten miles or lower limit of speed: A round white ring, 18 inches in diameter, with plate below giving limit in figures; 2. For prohibition: Red solid disc, eighteen inches in diameter. 3. For caution, dangerous corners, cross-roads, or precipitous places: Hollow red equilateral triangle. 4. All other notices under the Act to be on diamond-shaped boards.


Motorists Must Respect The Rights Of Road Users (p. 253)

When turning from the left side of the road to the right hand (or wrong side) a careful driver will slow down a good deal, and before turning look round to his right to warn any oncoming traffic, especially cyclists; a driver should always signal by projecting the right arm for a moment as a warning. The use of an exhaust cut-out on public roads is prohibited by law.


Official Regulations For Touring Abroad (p. 259)

Every motorcar must be provided with plates showing the name of the manufacturer of the chassis and the manufacturer’s number, the horse-power of the engine or the number and bore of its cylinders, and also the weight of the car unladen. In respect to the other regulations, it is necessary only to mention that no driving certificate can be issued to a person less than 18 years of age, and that, in addition to its ordinary number plate, the car shall be provided with a distinctive plate indicating its nationality. This plate must be carried in a visible position on the back of the car, and must be of oval form, 11 7/8 inches in width and 7 1/2 inches in height. The distinctive letters for Great Britain and Ireland are G.B., and must be painted in black capital letters in Latin characters on a white ground. The letters must be at least 4 inches in height, and the breadth of each line not less than 5/8 inches. These regulations apply to touring in Belgium, France, Italy, and other countries.




Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, History, History of Medicine, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Museum, TV Programme, Vintage

Hidden Killers of The Victorian Home

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

BBC4’s hour-long documentary Hidden Killers of The Victorian Home  has been one of my recent television highlights. Dr Suzannah Lipscomb reveals some of the hidden horrors lurking in a typical, middle-class, Victorian home.  Joining Dr Lipscomb in her quest to uncover these invisible dangers were a whole host of experts including:  Judith Flanders; Dr Suzy Lishman; Prof. Andrew Meharg; Colin King; Matt Furber; Sarah Nicol; Dr Matthew Avison; Nathan Goss and Max Wagner.

The Victorian era was a time of rapid change. The Industrial Revolution enabled many to prosper, leading to greater social mobility for some and the emergence of the new middle-classes. Dr Lipscomb states that as a result of Industrialisation, by the end of the Victorian era, 25% of the population were categorised as middle-class. The middle-classes, with their disposable income, were looking to splash their cash. Gadgets for domestic use as well as decorative items for the home were a particular favourite and the Victorian consumer was spoilt for choice. However, in this unregulated, pre-trading standards era, the margin for human catastrophe was huge.

Arsenic and lead were two particular toxins that caused many, often unexplained, deaths. In a time before health and safety dominated our everyday lives, danger, sometimes death, was never far away and could be found in the most unlikely of domestic items. Vivid green pigments in wallpaper contained traces of arsenic, children’s toys were coated with lead paint and feeding bottles for babies were breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases making them one of the leading contributors towards infant mortality in Victorian Britain.

©Come Step Back in Time. Tiny waists, a fashionable Victorian look. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.
©Come Step Back in Time. Tiny waists, a fashionable Victorian look. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.

The fashionable silhouettes of the hour-glass shape or ‘wasp’ waist meant that corsets were very tightly laced and vital organs became misshapen. In the BBC4 documentary there featured a liver specimen from a lady whose tight-lacing habits had put so much pressure on her rib-cage that indentations appeared on the organ itself.

©Come Step Back in Time. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.
©Come Step Back in Time. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.

Whilst researching this article, I found the following which appeared in a newspaper from 1895. The piece discusses both trends and dangers of tight-lacing as well as the gradual move towards dress reform – The Rational Dress Society was established in London in 1881. Although, I do get the impression from reading this article that dress reform is viewed by the author with some degree of suspicion: ‘..The dress reformers who are determined to abolish all waists, no matter how sylph-like or how divine..’ The aesthetic for a tiny waist seems to appeal to the author :

Fads in CorsetsLonger in the waist, but not to be laced so tightly. The dress reformers who are determined to abolish all waists, no matter how sylph-like or how divine, will wax indignant when they learn that the latest news of the corset market is the appearance of the longest waisted corset yet offered to women. Heretofore “five clasps and a half” has been considered “extra long”. This gave what the corset experts call a three-inch waist. Women whose anatomy demanded something even longer-waisted than that have had corsets made to order. But now in a few days there will appear a six-clasp corset, and the waist measure thereof will be about four inches – not four inches around, but four inches on the length of the corset bones. This measure of the waist is a term with which most women are not familiar. It means that in bending the corset top and bottom together there is a springy motion which commences a certain distance above the lower edge of the corset. That is the lowest edge of the waist. The point near the top of the corset where the springy action practically ends is the top of the waist. Short-waisted persons may only measure two inches. Four inches indicates that the wearer must either be as slim as a rail or else intend to crowd and crush her vitals into a space that would be almost fatal to a constant wearer after a few years. There is a tendency, however, which all manufacturers and dealers in corsets notice; to wear corsets looser than ever… They [dressmakers] say the ambition of a young woman is to show an hour-glass figure. When she wears tight sleeves and narrow shoulders she laces to secure the hour-glass effect. With the immense sleeves giving such breadth of shoulders it would be perfectly ridiculous to lace into a wasp waist. So the dressmakers claim that the big sleeves are saving many women from death by corsets badly worn. The fact that corsets are worn less tightly laced is partly responsibly for this new six-clasp, four-inch waist style.

(The Western Mail, Saturday 11th May, 1895)

Following marriage, increasing numbers of middle-class women found themselves in charge of running a household for the very first time. A great many of these women had little or no prior knowledge of what this new responsibility entailed. It was to this demographic that domestic goddess, Mrs Isabella Beeton (1836-1865), targeted her famous tome, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). Apart from multiple chapters containing recipe suggestions, the book also includes advice on hiring and firing staff, first aid, household legal matters as well as a chapter on the ‘Management of Childhood’.

Particularly relevant to this article is Mrs Beeton’s advice on what to do should a poisoning occur in your home.  (please do not follow this advice in modern-day cases. For suspected incidents of poisoning, you should seek professional medical help IMMEDIATELY. Extract featured is purely for historical interest.):

When an alkali is the poison, give drinks of weak vinegar or lemonade. When an acid, chalk and water, whiting plaster from the walls, or white of egg; if a narcotic, give strong coffee, and do everything to keep the patient awake, walking him about, opening the windows wide, applying cold water to his face, and so on. (p.1874)

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Until The Pharmacy Act of 1868, the sale, dispensing and compounding of poisons was, to a large extent, unrestricted. Arsenic was used as rat poison, sheep dip and on fly papers and thought to be an effective treatment for malaria, asthma, skin problems, rheumatism and even morning sickness. (Victorian Pharmacy: Rediscovering Forgotten Remedies and Recipes by Eastoe, J. and Goodman, R., 2010, p.121, Pavilion Books). In the early decades of the Victorian era, people were largely ignorant of the harmful effects of ingesting, touching or being close to products containing arsenic. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning (fever, chills and sweating) resembled those associated with cholera, which was one of the nineteenth century’s biggest killers, hence mis-diagnosis and incorrect treatment for arsenic poisoning being commonplace.

Mrs Beeton also gives advice on bottle-feeding, which she refers to in her publication as ‘rearing by hand’. Using feeding bottles during the Victorian era was a very popular alternative to breast-feeding. Some of the bottles were earthenware, made in Staffordshire, others were glass.  They were very difficult to clean and although bottles were supplied with long-handled brushes to help with the task, these receptacles became silent killers due to the fact that fatal germ deposits gradually built-up over time. This led to bottles earning the nickname, ‘killer bottles’. (please do not follow this advice at home for cleaning your baby bottles, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Extract is featured purely for historical interest). Mrs Beeton recommends:

There are two methods that may be employed in this artificial system of feeding – the one is to give the child its meals from a spoon, the other is to allow it to suck from a bottle. Of these the latter is preferable. It is most essential to the success of this method of feeding that the bottle or bottles be kept scrupulously clean, as dirty bottles frequently give rise to “thrush”. The best form of bottle to use is the boat-shaped one, with a rubber nipple fixed to the end or neck. No bottles with rubber tubes should be used, since milk sticks to the inside of the tube, and cannot be removed. This milk when decomposed will set-up diarrhoea. The bottle and teat must be scalded after each meal in hot water and soda, the teat turned inside out, and both rinsed in cold water. They then should be allowed to stand in cold water in which a little boracic acid has been dissolved. (p.1914)

I came across in the course of research so many interesting newspaper articles reporting incidents of domestic tragedy from this period. Sometimes death was averted and other times not. Quite a few of the articles specifically relate to the consumption of food that unwittingly contains toxic substances.  Since I am currently writing a publication on the history of blancmange, I have chosen here two extracts that relate to the potential hazards of consuming this seemingly innocuous desert:

A Providential Escape – A few days ago one young family of the Hon. A. Ellis, residing at Bognor, were, together with the governess and two maids, nearly poisoned, owing to their having eaten some blancmange, a part of which was coloured a bright light green; very fortunately this green part had an unpleasant taste, which prevented their eating more of it. The medical man who analyzed the remaining quantity found it to contain a verdigris powder. Whilst he had it in a liquid state he dipped into it a knife, which became instantly covered with this green copperas, and he asserts that there was a sufficient portion of this poisonous powder in the quantity analyzed to kill six persons. As it is, the two maids and governess and one of the children are still suffering from its dangerous effects. It appears this powder for colouring the green part had been purchased from a pastrycook in london but it is to be observed that such an article ought never to be sold for such purposes, and this has been inserted as a caution to the public.

(The Blackburn Standard, 18th February, 1846)

Poisoning at a public dinner – great excitement has existed at Northampton, in consequence of the sudden illness of 20 out of about 60 persons who attended a public dinner at the New Hall, which followed the ordination of the Rev. G. Nicholson, B.A., as the minister of the Ring-street dissenting chapel, in the room of the Rev. T. Milner. The viands were of the usual substantial kind, and before the cloth was removed some of the gentlemen were seized with sickness and vomiting, while others were taken ill at a later period of the entertainment. One of them, Mr Cornfield, an accountant in the town, expired at five o’clock on Thursday morning. The dinner was provided by a Mr Franklin, at whose house the whole of the cooking utensils were seized by order of the magistrates. At the inquest held on the body of the deceased, the medical witnesses stated that they had detected copper in the green colouring stuff which coated the blancmange used at the dinner. A verdict of “Manslaughter” was accordingly returned against Mr Franklin, by whom the dinner was provided, and against Randall, the cook.

(The Examiner, 17th June, 1848)

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Doctor's House and Surgery. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Doctor’s House and Surgery. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Doctor's House and Surgery, no. 2 Furnace Bank. Rebuilt brick-by-brick, a majority of one Duke of Sutherland's cottage built on Wellington Road (no.15), Donnington, Telford. 1862. Opened on site 22nd October, 1986.
©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Doctor’s House and Surgery, no. 2 Furnace Bank. Rebuilt brick-by-brick, a majority of one Duke of Sutherland’s cottage built on Wellington Road (no.15), Donnington, Telford. 1862. Opened on site 22nd October, 1986.

On my recent trip to the excellent Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire, I wandered in and out of the many shops and cosy cottages with their glowing ranges and welcoming costumed inhabitants. I tried to imagine what life must have really been like for those living in an industrial town during Victorian times. It is all too easy to foster a rose-tinted view of Victorian life.

©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor's House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor’s House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor's House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor’s House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Documentaries such as Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home are a stark reminder, to anyone interested in the social history of the period, to look for the truth behind the social myth.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Blists Hill is not actually a real town, it has been developed over a number of years by The Ironbridge Gorge Trust and covers an area of fifty-two acres. Its purpose is to immerse visitors in the atmosphere of a small industrial town at a pivotal time in British history – the period between 1890 and 1910, late Victorian early Edwardian.

©Come Step Back in Time. Inside McClures General Draper and Outfitters, no. 3 Canal Street, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire. An original building from Stafford Place, Oakengates, Telford (exterior and shop front only). c.1880. Opened on site on 4th Apri, 2009.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside McClures General Draper and Outfitters, no. 3 Canal Street, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire. An original building from Stafford Place, Oakengates, Telford (exterior and shop front only). c.1880. Opened on site on 4th April, 2009.
©Come Step Back in Time. Grocery and Provisions Shop (A.F. Blakemore & Son), no. 7 High Street. An exact replica of Owen's Grocer's shop and warehouse, Market Street, Oakengates, Telford, Shropshire. c.1890. Many of the items on display in the shop are from Chester's Salopian Stores, Westbury, Shropshire. The shop opened on site on 14th July 2000.
©Come Step Back in Time. Grocery and Provisions Shop (A.F. Blakemore & Son), no. 7 High Street. An exact replica of Owen’s Grocer’s shop and warehouse, Market Street, Oakengates, Telford, Shropshire. c.1890. Many of the items on display in the shop are from Chester’s Salopian Stores, Westbury, Shropshire. The shop opened on site on 14th July 2000.

In 2013, Blists Hill celebrates its 40th anniversary. Many of the buildings on the site are original and are from other parts of the region but have been saved and reconstructed to create the Victorian Town you see today. What is remarkable about the site is the fact that in the 1960s when historic buildings were being swept away to make room for modern constructions, the forward thinking Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust stepped in and managed to rescue some of them, ensuring that our heritage is now preserved for future generations to enjoy and study. After this initial period of rescue and reconstruction, the focus of Blists Hill shifted toward turning the site into a Victorian Town:

…the focus of Blists Hill shifted as people and not processes became the new priority. Efforts turned to recreating a coherent environment in which visitors could experience what it was like to live and work when Britain was the Workshop of the World at the very end of the 19th century. Blists Hill Open Air Museum became Blists Hill Victorian Town.

But Blists Hill has never been just a museum of buildings and old things. When the decision was made in the 1980s to put museum staff into Victorian costume, carefully replicated from original patterns, a new standard of interpretation was born. The site came to life. Since then, professional actors have added another dimension to street life, and special themed events have helped emphasise the significance of customs and traditions in the lives of ordinary working class Victorians.

(Blists Hill Victorian Town Souvenir Guidebook, 2011, p.51 & 53, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

If you were a fan of the BBC’s Victorian Pharmacy (2010) then you may will recognise Blists Hill’s Bates & Hunt’s Pharmacy and Chemist’s shop as being the location used for the series. I could have spent hours in Bates & Hunt’s Pharmacy examining all the pills, potions and lotions that have been superbly re-displayed.

©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

The Pharmacy is based on an original building which was located at the corner shop, Constitution Hill, Wellington, Telford in Shropshire. The date of the store is c.1890 and the contents come from West Cliffe Pharmacy (latterly Pars & Co.), Poole Hill, Bournemouth. The Pharmacy has been at Blists Hill since 9th July, 1984.

  • For more information about and to plan a visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire, CLICK HERE;
  • For more information about events at Blists Hill and the other Ironbridge museums, CLICK HERE.

    ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
    ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Review, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Food Glorious Food – ITV

Food Glorious Food (ITV) Judges (L-R) Anne Harrison, Loyd Grossman, Carol Vorderman, Tom Parker Bowles and Stacie Stewart. Wednesdays, 8-9pm, ITV 1. © Optomen / Syco

I am delighted to tell you about a major new British television series just started on ITV 1, Food Glorious Food. If you love heritage food then this is the programme for you. Do not be swayed by the critics who have been unnecessarily harsh on what is actually a great show put together by a world-class production team (Optomen International and Syco tv). Contrary to what you may have read, the series is NOT trying to copy BBC’s Great British Bake Off neither is the aim of the show to find the next Masterchef. 

On Food Glorious Food, over the coming weeks, you will see a fascinating and engaging series that brings together food and family like never before. A judging team of four passionate food experts travel the country in search of the very best home cooked recipes. Behind every treasured recipe there is an interesting back story which is often bursting with family history and nostalgia.

I can reveal to you now that one of my aforementioned ‘secret media projects’ has been my involvement with Food Glorious Food. My passion for making blancmanges, in particular using my great, great grandmother’s Wedgwood mould as well as researching the history of this long-forgotten dessert, led me to being selected to take part in the show. My judge was the delightful Tom Parker Bowles and we shared a number of interesting conversations about Mrs Beeton and other luminaries from the annals of food history.

I am also in the cookbook that accompanies the series (see below for details) and if you turn to page 86 you will find my recipe for vintage lavender and lemon blancmange which I hope you have as much fun recreating as I did experimenting with it. How far did I progress in the show? Well, I am not able to tell you that at the moment but if you tune-in to ITV 1 on Wednesday 20th March (South-East regional heat) you can watch me begin my Food Glorious Food journey. What I can tell you is that it was a jolly good adventure and has left me with many memories that I will treasure forever.

I recently launched my new website, Viva Blancmange, which celebrates retro food as well as being a platform from which I will continue my campaign to revive the blancmange. My aim is to put this long forgotten dessert back onto the British menu within the next year. (CLICK HERE). My loyal band of readers need not panic, Come Step Back in Time will continue to go from strength-to-strength (so many fabulous history articles coming-up, sadly not enough hours in the day to finishing all the writing). In the future, Come Step Back in Time will feature a lot less retro food and lifestyle articles as these will now appear on Viva Blancmange.

Food Glorious Food’s presenter is Carol Vorderman and joining her on the show’s culinary quest is food historian and writer Tom Parker Bowles, globe-trotting gastronome Loyd Grossman, Women’s Institute vice-chair Anne Harrison and baker Stacie Stewart. Each judge has their own area of interest. Stacie, owner of online company the Beehive Bakery, is on the hunt for an amazing cake or pudding that the nation will fall in love with, food writer royalty, Tom is scouring the land for a great British recipe with culinary heritage, Loyd is hunting for a new favourite to match that much-loved dish, the curry, and Anne is championing traditional home cooking. At each of the six regional heats the team of experts come armed with rosettes which they hand out to dishes that meet with their high standards.

The Food Glorious Food team has been inspired by the show to reminisce about their own childhood food experiences. Carol’s cooking career began when she was a schoolgirl, she cooked for her family, “I used to make tea every night when I was at school. My mum was working as a school secretary so I’d be home from school before her. I loved laying the table and getting everything ready.” For Carol and her family it wasn’t typical 1970s cooking the family dined out on – thanks to her Italian stepfather, “In the ‘70s it was very unusual to cook with proper Italian produce. Back then, you’d buy olive oil from the chemist to get the wax out of your ears! Parmesan cheese was dried in cardboard tubes and smelt like sick. Whereas we had the proper stuff because we used to go to Italy every year. We had canned olive oil from my stepdad’s brother’s farm, we’d bring back Parma ham that my aunties had cured then use a bacon slicer at home to cut it.”

Food historian and writer Tom is keen to find a regional recipe or traditional British dish with real history. “I’m obsessed with the history of food and I want to find a great British recipe with a fascinating culinary heritage. I was quite late to cooking. I’ve always eaten, being a greedy pig. My mum’s a good cook and my dad was a farmer but I didn’t really get into cooking myself until after university. I certainly wasn’t at my mother’s apron strings when I was growing up – I was far too lazy.”

Loyd’s a self-confessed foodie and says childhood experiences first sparked his interest, “I just loved food. I was very lucky: I travelled a lot as a kid; my parents were interested in food and restaurants so I was exposed to a lot of good food. I grew up in New England where there were both farms and fishing so I saw all the fabulous produce first-hand. I always remember how exciting it would be to go down to the harbor in the morning and see the fishermen unloading their catch.”

Anne’s foodie beginnings came from her farming background. “My parents were farmers and my father was killed in the Second World War. My mother didn’t go out to work, she and my grandmother always cooked. In those days, you didn’t go out to buy anything. I was always keen to have a go at cooking myself, I suppose I absorbed their knowledge and I’ve always been used to home cooked food. Later, I went to boarding school and excelled at what they called domestic science. That led me to teaching.”

For Stacie, a recipe with a strong family connection will also win points with her. “I like to see people cooking recipes that have been handed down through generations because that’s how I learnt to cook. Stacie’s grandmother is responsible for her passion for baking, and cooking stems from her childhood. “My mum can’t boil an egg so my nana taught me how to cook. Every Saturday without fail our mams went to bingo, our dads went to the pub, our grandad sat in the front room and watched the horse racing and my nine cousins and I were in the kitchen with our nana. It’s a great memory and, now, all my cousins cook as well as I do. I also like to see innovation, taking something you’ve been taught how to do and making it better. Just because something was done one way many years ago, it doesn’t mean that it has to be done that way now. If that were the case, we’d still be walking around like cavemen. There has to be progression. My nana used to make scones with lard and water, because that’s all she could afford. It doesn’t mean they were the best scones in the world.”

Each of the first six episodes feature a different region of the UK (South-West, South-East, North-East, London and The Midlands). The judges eat their way through plenty of pies and puds, to find six amazing recipes and contestants to take through to the semi-final stages, where two will be picked to battle it out to win a place on the shelves of Marks & Spencer and a prize fund of £20,000. The winning dish will be decided by shoppers and sold exclusively by Marks & Spencer stores across the country with 40p from each dish sold going to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The first episode aired on Wednesday 27th February, 8pm, ITV1 and will continue for a further eight episodes, culminating in The Grand Final which, at the time of writing this article, is due to be aired on Wednesday 24th April. If you missed the first episode, then it is now available to view on itvPlayer. The series continues on Wednesday 6th March, 8pm, ITV1.


Out now, to accompany the series, is a superb anthology, published by Mitchell Beazley, containing some of the best recipes featured in the programme. Divided into regions, it is full of delicious dishes for you to try as well as information about the dish’s creator. All the finalists’ dishes and the winning recipe are included.  Old favourites like Bread and Butter Pudding, Cornish Pasties and Bakewell Tart feature alongside new and inventive fusions of flavours that simply have to be tasted. Some dishes will incorporate quirky twists – for example, an extra ingredient that was originally added by chance – while others will stick to time-honoured techniques handed down through multiple generations of the same family.

Some of my favourite dishes in this beautifully illustrated cookbook include:

  • a secret recipe Devon apple cider cake (p.52). In 1983 Sandy Gilbert brought a former bakery with her husband and as part of the deeds they were required to buy this recipe along with the property;
  • bonfire stew with cannonball dumplings. Publican Tony Leonard cooks this dish with the South Street Bonfire Society every year and serves it in his pub, The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes, East Sussex, at the start of the Lewes annual bonfire night on November 5th (p.70);
  • Henry’s Malay jungle curry (p.84). Rachel Kelly’s father learned to make this dish when he was in the army in Malaya in the 1950s, do also check-out Rachel’s excellent food blog Marmaduke Scarlet it is packed full of great recipes and food photography;
  • Laura’s fiery ginger cake (p.94). I can vouch for the fact that Laura Wiles’ cake is delicious. My husband and I tried it at the South-East regional heat in Brighton;
  • Nettle cake (p.139). Marcelle Burden’s cake comes from her French grandmother, who used all sorts of wild plants in her cooking;

As well as the featured recipes, there are thoughtful reflections on Britain’s food heritage and the nation’s love affair with home cooking. This is the definitive guide to the nation’s best recipes, written for the people of Great Britain, by the people of Great Britain.


Posted in Activity, Fashion History, History, Mrs Beeton, Museum, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Vintage Pinboard – Make & Bake – Be Inspired In 2013

Vintage Cooking 2Happy New Year to you all, I hope that 2013 brings you good health and happiness in equal measure.

I say a fond farewell to 2012 –  what an incredible year it was. During the past twelve months I have experienced the usual highs and lows of everyday life as well as a number of unexpected media opportunities which may not have come my way had I not written this blog.

I am hoping that 2013 will be full of adventure and new experiences. I cannot wait to share my news with you about one of these exciting media opportunities, a primetime television series that I have recently been involved in. However, I have to keep my ‘secret squirrel’ promise for a little while longer before all can be revealed and the series finally airs on British television.

The start of a new year is, for many, a time of new beginnings, setting resolutions and making plans for the future. This year, one of my creative aims is to improve my knitting and crocheting skills which at present can best be described as of a basic level. I began my first knitting project in December, a plain scarf for my parents’ dog. A hit I think, but not quite as much as the packet of tasty treats and squeaky ball which were also in the dog’s Christmas stocking!

Margie models her Christmas scarf. I think she was pleased with it!
Margie models her Christmas scarf. I think she was pleased with it!

Last year, I purchased a selection of vintage knitting patterns from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The pattern books contain many inspiring projects. Although, fifty or so years ago most knitters were pretty accomplished at their craft and some of the patterns do look fiendishly difficult but I like to have something to work towards.

My grandmother's 1948 Singer sewing machine.
My grandmother’s 1948 Singer sewing machine.

Whilst home for the holidays, I took the opportunity to have a rummage in my parents’ attic and was not disappointed by my search. Amongst the assortment of heirlooms and vintage treasures, I found a real gem – my late grandmother’s 1948 Singer sewing machine (Serial No. EE617052).  Mum told me that grandmother had ordered the machine in 1945 and due to the shortage of materials following World War Two, waited three years before taking delivery of it. Mum said that it was grandmother’s pride and joy.

Detail of my grandmother's 1948 sewing machine.
Detail of my grandmother’s 1948 sewing machine.

In 2013, I would like to bring the Singer back to life, perhaps using it to make a vintage outfit. I thought I might use it to make a copy of Christian Dior’s, 1948, New Look – similar to the outfit I wore to the first Goodwood Revival meeting in 1998. (Featured in 1950’s Britain – Part Three)  However, it will have to wait for a short bit as I am currently making a 1950s evening gown for one of my ongoing media projects and anyway, I will need to get the Singer properly serviced first.

I wanted to find-out more about Singer sewing machines. During the course of my research I found a really interesting website, Love to Know Antiques: Advice Women Can Trust  CLICK HERE. The article on Singer machines was very helpful, particularly when it came to identifying the exact production date of grandmother’s machine.

There are now a growing number of collectors and vintage enthusiasts who are using antique sewing machines for their crafting and dressmaking. Artist Sarah Harper, owner of Rowan Tree Studios, collects and uses them for teaching sewing courses at her workshop in Clovelly, Devon. CLICK HERE. The February issue of Homes & Antiques magazine (on sale in the UK, 3rd January) also includes an article on ‘Vintage Sewing Machines’, exploring why they are becoming increasingly popular and desirable to collect. CLICK HERE. So what are you waiting for, treat yourself to a secondhand sewing machine, you will be so glad you did. Many of the models can be brought for less than £100. Sarah Harper also sells and reconditions old machines so do check-out her website before you begin your search. CLICK HERE.

I discovered there is a Museum dedicated to sewing machines.  The London Sewing Machine Museum can be found on the first floor of Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company’s premises (292-312 Balham High Road, London, SW17 7AA – Tooting Bec tube stop using the London Underground) which is owned by Ray Rushton.  The Museum has over seven hundred industrial and domestic machines, many of which are incredibly rare, including one owned by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, HRH Princess Frederick of Prussia (1840-1901).  The machine was made in 1865 by a German company to a Wheeler & Wilson pattern, it had been given as a wedding present to the Princess. (Homes & Antiques, February, 2013, Sorrell, K., p.62).

The Museum is open on the first Saturday of every month, between 2pm and 5pm. The next two openings will be on Saturday 2nd February and Saturday 2nd March.  Admission to the Museum is free but donations, upon entry, towards The Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Leukaemia Research, would be much appreciated. One point I must alert you to, is that due to the fact the Museum is located on the first floor of a building, access is via approximately forty steps. Unfortunately, they do not have a lift, so access for the disabled and those with limited physical ability, is restricted.  For views of the Museum’s interior, CLICK HERE.

Judkin sewing machine. The display label reads: 'Charles Tiot Judkins was the only British exhibitor of a sewing machine in the 1851 exhibition. His machines, made in Manchester, were close based on American prototypes. This particular type of single thread chainstitch machine was presented in Ameria in 1859 by Charles Raymond. Judkins registered Raymond's patent in England in 1865 (No. 144) and this little machine is Judkin's only essay into small domestic machines and few have survived, his other wares relate to industry. Weir and several others cloned or imported Raymond machines.' Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke.
Judkin sewing machine. The display label reads: ‘Charles Tiot Judkins was the only British exhibitor of a sewing machine in the 1851 exhibition. His machines, made in Manchester, were closely based on American prototypes. This particular type of single thread chainstitch machine was presented in Ameria in 1859 by Charles Raymond. Judkins registered Raymond’s patent in England in 1865 (No. 144) and this little machine is Judkin’s only essay into small domestic machines and few have survived, his other wares relate to industry. Weir and several others cloned or imported Raymond machines.’ Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke.
Vintage sewing machine for a child. Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke.
Vintage sewing machine for a child. Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke.

Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke  has a wonderful collection of domestic bygones to help inspire you. This museum is the perfect day-out for social historians and vintage enthusiasts. In my opinion, Milestones has the best collection of vintage kitchenalia on display of any museum outside London. They also have a nice selection of vintage sewing machines, including models produced for children. For more information on the museum, please see my previous article, CLICK HERE.

The Comet toy sewing machine (EMG - SH.1986.122). The display label reads: 'The first 'toy' machines were small machines pour fillette made in France in the 1860s. Late in the nineteenth century the German tinplate toy industry began to produce large numbers of pressed steel cheap toys. After 1945, production of these simple pressed steel toys was restarted and gradually many of the steel parts were replaced by plastic. The Comet is a British toy of the 1950s with its pressed steel mechanism clothed in a plastic body.' Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke.
The Comet toy sewing machine (EMG – SH.1986.122). The display label reads: ‘The first ‘toy’ machines were small machines pour fillette made in France in the 1860s. Late in the nineteenth century the German tinplate toy industry began to produce large numbers of pressed steel cheap toys. After 1945, production of these simple pressed steel toys was restarted and gradually many of the steel parts were replaced by plastic. The Comet is a British toy of the 1950s with its pressed steel mechanism clothed in a plastic body.’ Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke.

Further Reading

To help inspire your inner ‘creative god(dess)’ I have compiled a selection of craft projects for you to have a go at. All chosen from my own collection of vintage magazines and books. Some vintage patterns and sewing instructions tend to be quite tricky, presuming prior ability and knowledge of the craft in question. However, I have selected ones that are fairly straightforward to follow. If crafting isn’t your thing, then why not have a go at one of the vintage recipes instead.Vintage  cooking


If you do make/bake any of the items featured below I would love to see the end result, so too will other readers of Come Step Back in Time.  Please e-mail me a photograph (JPEG format), your name and a short paragraph about your experiences making/baking it – which may be good, bad or humourous. I will select the best examples to showcase in an article, here on Come Step Back in Time, in Spring 2013.  My e-mail address can be found on the ‘About Me and Media Contact’ page.  Deadline for receipt of e-mail and image, is midnight (GMT) on Friday 1st March 2013 – so you do have plenty of time to complete your chosen project. I cannot wait to see how you all get on.

From the examples showcased in the article I will select one winner to be the ‘best in show’.  The ‘best in show’ winner will receive one of my vintage, secondhand books.  I will send it to you wherever you are in the world – postage paid by myself! I have a large collection of incredible books so it will be something special, I promise. So, what are you waiting for, get creative…….

Peg-top kite diagram.
Peg-top kite diagram.

The Peg-top Kite

(The Motherhood Book, c.1932, Amalgamated Press, pp.700-701)

The best-known simple kite is the peg-top pattern.  It is of fairly small size and covered with tissue paper gummed to the frame; such a kite, a foot long, can be flown on stout thread as a line.  The frame consists of a relatively stiff wooden backbone, and a thin, flexible piece of split cane bent to a semicircle by a string arranged like a bowstring.  The centre of the bow is lashed to the top of the backbone, and strings are run from the horns of the bow to the bottom of the back-bone; these strings, however, are not too tight, as the strain is to be taken on the bowstring.

After the frame is covered, a piece of string double the length of the kite has its two ends tied to the backbone, one near each end.  This is the bridle, and the kite line is tied to it so that the upper arm of the bridle is shorter than the lower.  The rig of the kite is completed by a tail, to which convention consigns the form of a string two or three times the length of the kite, tied to the bottom of the backbone and having screws of paper tied to it at intervals; a strip of fabric, however, answers the purpose equally well, being more durable and less trouble to fix.

Home-made peg-top kites sometimes have a rigid wooden member instead of the bowstring.  This is a mistake, as it tends to prevent the horns of the bow from bending backwards under the air pressure, as they must do to give the dihedral angle effect needful for stability.

The adjustments that have to be made consist in varying the amount of tail to be carried and the point of the bridle at which the line is tied on; the kite will not fly unless these adjustments are made suitable to the speed at which the wind is travelling.

The peg-top pattern is inconvenient in large sizes, as it cannot well be taken to pieces for travelling.  A modified form of it is therefore used in which the bowstring is replaced by a straight and particularly flexible stick and the bow omitted, the frame thus consisting of two wooden members arranged in the form of a cross, with a surrounding edge of string tied in succession to the four ends of the sticks.  If this frame is covered with a light cotton fabric it can easily be arranged so that the sticks may be removed and the whole rolled up for transport.  The same adjustments as in the case of the peg-top kit are needed in order to secure for it a satisfactory stability.Finished toy rabbit.

Rabbit Soft Toy

(The Motherhood Book, c.1932, Amalgamated Press, pp.670-671)

The main part of the body and the head are cut in one, but the under part and the ears are added separately.  A quarter of a yard of cloth, 48 inches wide, is needed, together with a little pink silk material for lining the ears.

Pattern for toy rabbit.
Pattern for toy rabbit.

When cutting out, use the cloth folded with the selvedges together, and arrange the pattern, cut to the shape shown, in the positions seen.

It is necessary first to join the long straight seam of the base or under part; then take it, still folded, so that the seam runs along the top, but with the wrong side inside, and slip it between the two layers of the main body.  The latter should be so put together that the right sides face.

Stitch the edges of each layer of the base to the edges of each layer of the main part, matching edges neatly, and also drawing the curved back part of the base down to the lower edge of the main part.  Next stitch the two main parts of the body together above the inserted base portions, commencing at the front just below the head, and working around this along the top of the body to the back of the inserted base.Rabbit toy diagram

Leave a small opening in the part of this seam, however, so that the stuffing may be put in.  Turn the shape inside out, stuff it tightly with kapok;  and sew up opening.  Line each ear with silk; then make a pleat in the straight edge and sew it to the head.  Insert two eyes. [Plastic animal eyes are easily brought from a craft shop or on-line store. These modern eyes will need to be inserted before you commence stuffing the toy. If you intend making the toy to give to a child/baby then not all man-made or natural stuffing is safe. I found an interesting article on the website ‘FunkyFriendsFactory‘, about toy-making which you may find helpful when choosing materials for your rabbit. CLICK HERE.].

Knitted Bed Socks

(Woman’s Weekly, November 4th, 1911, p. 4)

Cast on eighty stitches for lady’s and ninety for gentleman’s socks.  Knit four plain rows, increasing one at each end of the rows.  Then knit ten or twelve rows (knit two, purl two) to form the width of the foot.  Begin the intakes by knitting two together twice in the centre of every row.  Do this for about eighteen or twenty rows, afterwards knit without decreasing, ten more rows, cast off, and sew up.Finished knitted bath mat

Knitted Bath Mat

(Stitchcraft, September 1947, p.9)

The original mat measures 20 by 26 inches.  It is knitted from end to end in an easy loop stitch, and can be made very quickly by even the most amateur worker.

12 ozs of thick knitting cotton are used here, but you may find the quantity you use may be slightly different, as these knitting cottons vary very much.  So we give you here the stitch you use first of all; just try a bit to make sure. Tighten loops as you knit.

Cast on 8 stitches on the largest needles you have, about size 5 will do; use the yarn double.  1st row: Work loops thus: – k. 2 border sts., * put needle into next st. without knitting it, put forefinger of left hand under point of right needle and wrap yarn over right needle point and round finger in opposite way to knitting, then round needle again, draw through stitch on left needle, put these on left needle, then knit all sts. again as 1 st.; repeat from * to last 2 sts., k. 2.

2nd row: k. 2, purl to last 2 sts., k. 2. These two rows form the pattern. Repeat them in a few times to make a piece about 2 inches.

Now measure the tension of your work over the back, and work out how many sts. you will need to cast on to get a width of 20 inches.  For example, if you have 3 sts. to an inch you will need 60 sts.  The mat you see here had just under 2 sts. to an inch, so 45 sts. were cast on.

When you have done 9 inches in pattern, work 5 sts. in centre of the work in plain stocking-stitch, keeping remainder in pattern as before, for 8 inches, then finish off with another 9 inches of pattern. Cast off.

With a length of contrasting wool, embroider ‘bath’ across the plain centre piece, then work all round the edge in buttonhole-stitch.His and Her's Scarves

Knitted Scarves

(What’s New in Knitting by Patons & Baldwins Ltd, 1958, p.24)

Tubular knitting on only 2 needles. The secret is how you can knit on one pair of needles a double fabric often used for scarves which has the appearance of a tube of stocking stitch seamed together at both ends. This fabric is easy to knit, and simply consists of one row.

Cast on double the number of stitches required for the finished width, e.g. if you are working at a tension of 8 sts. to the inch in stocking stitch (3-ply on a size 11 needle), you would need 80 sts. for a 10-inch width in ordinary stocking stitch, therefore would cast on 160 sts. for tubular knitting.

Cast on an even number of sts.

1st and every row – * K. 1, bring wool to front, slip 1 purlwise, take wool to back; repeat from * all across row.

Suggestions for scarves:

For a light-weight scarf in 2-ply, use No. 9 needles. Cast on 160 sts.

Work in tubular knitting for 46 inches. Cast off, knitting, 2 together, all across row. Fringe ends.

The ideal needle for 3-play is a size 8; 4-play a size 7, and double knitting a size 5.Make Do and Mend Coat

Make Do And Mend – Two Old Dresses into a Coat-Frock

(Make Do and Mend by The Board of Trade by The Ministry of Information, 1943, p. 25)

Here is an idea for a dark woollen dress that is worn in front and is too tight for you.  Open it from neck to hem and finish the edges neatly, turning hem in and rounding them up to the neck, unless you like to turn down the points at the neck as revers.  Then use the best part of the silk from an old printed dress or any other material you may have in a contrasting colour, and gather it in a panel down the front, fastening it under the edges of the dark material to give the effect of a Redingote worn over a dress.  This is very suitable for maternity wear.

You could use the bodice of the figured silk frock to make a blouse.  It will probably be worn under the arms, or you wouldn’t be cutting it up, but there should be ample material left over in the skirt after making the panel for the coat-frock to put in new short sleeves and a yoke to the blouse.

Edwardian home sweetmaking.
Edwardian home sweetmaking.


Tipped to be THE sweet of 2013, be on trend!

(Highclass Sweetmaking: Chocolates, Candies and Dessert Bonbons by May Whyte, 1909, p. 77)

Ingredients: 10 ozs granulated sugar; 1/4 pint water; 3/4 oz powdered gelatine; 1 dessertspoonful glucose and 1/4 pint water and orange flower water mixed (4 dessertspoonfuls orange flower water is sufficient).

Method: Put the gelatine in the water and orange flower water, then dissolve it in a fairly large pan over gentle heat, and set it aside.  In another pan put the sugar, water, and glucose, dissolve in usual way, and boil to 260 degrees.  Rewarm the pan containing gelatine and pour the boiled sugar into it, beating briskly with an egg whisk; after a minute or two add the stiffly beaten white of an egg, then whip the batch till it gets white and stiff (takes about 15 minutes), leave it in pan for half an hour, then run a thin knife round the sides of pan, and turn it out on to dry sifted icing sugar.  Leave it for an hour or  for some hours, then rub it over with icing sugar, then with large scissors cut it into squares, and rub each square with icing sugar.  Leave these exposed to the air in a warm room for two or three days, then keep in a tin lined with kitchen paper.  Any kind of nuts, if ground, can be added to the batch while beating it.  Various flavours can be used, such as vanilla, rose, chocolate, strawberry, or coffee.

To Mould Chocolate Eggs

Get ready for Easter, which this year is on Sunday 31st March, 2013

(Highclass Sweetmaking: Chocolates, Candies and Dessert Bonbons by May Whyte, 1909, pp. 55-6)

Have [melted chocolate] covering at same temperature as for dipping.  Pour some into the mould, and run it all round the mould to line it well, then empty out the surplus chocolate.  When almost setting, with a knife push some of the chocolate up round the edge – to form a wider rim. Then when the chocolate is quite firm and set take a very sharp knife and pare the edge of the mould quite clear, then give lightly a little jerk or squeeze to the mould each way, then turn it upside down and tap the edge on the marble, and the chocolate egg will drop out.  Fill inside of egg with toy, sweets, motto, etc. Damp round edges of shell with warm chocolate, insert a loop of ribbon or cord to hang egg by, and press the moulds together and let set.

Rich Cream Chocolates

(Highclass Sweetmaking: Chocolates, Candies and Dessert Bonbons by May Whyte, 1909, pp. 64-5)

Ingredients: 1 dessertspoonful of glucose; 1 and 1/4lb granulated sugar; 1/2 oz fresh butter; Saffron [yellow] colouring; 1/2 pint good cream; small 1/2 pint cold water; vanilla flavour.

Method: Dissolve the sugar in the water in usual way, add the glucose and butter, and the cream poured in slowly, and carefully stirred all the time, until the thermometer registers 236 degrees.  Pour into a basin which has been rinsed out with cold water, and when half cold, add colour and flavour and stir with a wooden spoon until it creams.  Cover it with wax paper and a towel and leave for twenty minutes, then work it soft and mellow, and make into centres, and when these are cold and firm cover them either with chocolate, or make them into suffed fondants.

I was recently asked to create a blancmange banquet. Here are examples of some of my blancmanges.
I was recently asked to create a blancmange banquet. Here are some of the results.

Orange Blancmange 

Another hot trend for 2013 – Jelly has had its revival, now it is all about blancmange.

(Practical Cookery for All  by Anding B. et al, c.1950, p.406 – original recipe was for lemon blancmange.)

Ingredients: 1 pint milk; zest of two oranges; pinch of salt; 1  oz sugar;  1  oz cornflour;  1/2  oz custard powder.

Method: Pour about three-quarters of the milk into a saucepan, add the orange zest, salt and sugar and bring to the boil slowly.  Mix the cornflour and custard powder to a smooth paste with the remaining cold milk. Pour the boiling milk on to the mixed cornflour, stirring well.  Return to the saucepan over a low flame, and boil, stirring continuously for a few minutes – until it thickens.  Pour into a lightly oiled mould.  When set, turn out on to a table dish and serve when ready.

My version of a strawberry blancmange.
My strawberry blancmange with a vintage twist.
Another version of my crème de menthe blancmange.
My crème de menthe blancmange.

Orange Sauce for Blancmange

(Brown and Polson’s Recipe Book, c.1920, p.12)

Ingredients: 1/4 oz cornflour; 1 orange – juiced and zested; 2 ozs loaf sugar; juice of half a lemon; 1/2 pint water.

Method: Rub the sugar on the orange to absorb the zest.  Put sugar and zest into a saucepan with the water. Bring to the boil slowly and boil for three minutes. Strain through muslin, return to the saucepan, and add the lemon and orange juice. Blend the cornflour with a little cold water, and add it to the liquid when boiling.  Boil for three minutes. When cold, pour round the blancmange.

My crème de menthe blancmange with antique gold (edible) cake decoration on top.
My crème de menthe blancmange gilded with antique gold (edible) cake decoration.
How to turn-out a blancmange from its mould.
How to turn-out a blancmange from its mould.

Marrow Chutney

(Practical Cookery for All  by Anding B. et al, c.1950, p.480)

Ingredients: 3lb Marrow; salt; 12 peppercorns; 1/4 oz bruised ginger; cinnamon and allspice; 1/2 lb shallots; 1/2 lb green apples; 1/2 lb sultanas; 1 1/2 pints vinegar; 8 0zs sugar.

Method: Cut up the marrow and put it into a basin.  Sprinkle two teaspoonfuls of salt over it and leave for twelve hours.  Drain well and rinse. Tie the peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon and allspice in a muslin bag. Peel the shallots and apples and chop them finely.  Place all the ingredients except sugar in a saucepan and bring them slowly to the boil.  Allow to simmer gently until almost cooked, add the sugar and boil until a syrupy consistency. Remove the bag of spices. Pour the mixture into a [sterilised] jar and cover.

Redcurrant and Cherry Jam

(French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David, 1963 [1951], p. 189)

Put 4lb of redcurrants into a pan without any water and stir them over a gentle flame until the juice comes out.  Strain through a muslin without pressing the fruit so that the juice is clear.  There should be about 2lb of juice.  For this amount stone 4lb of cherries, and make a syrup with 6 lb of sugar and 3 glasses of water; put the cherries into the syrup and let it boil gently until the syrup sets, when put on to a cold plate.  Now add the redcurrant juice, let the whole mixture boil again, and the jam is ready to put into [sterilised] pots. These jams made of mixed fruits are very much liked in France, and are often served, with fresh cream, as a dessert.

Mary Berry preparing her pineapple ice-cream in 1972.
Mary Berry preparing her pineapple ice-cream in 1972.

Pineapple Ice Cream – 1970s style

(Popular Freezer Cookery by Mary Berry, 1972, p. 94)

Ingredients: 1 medium-size fresh pineapple; juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons; 1/4 pint water; 6 0zs castor sugar; 1/2 pint double cream, lightly whipped.

Method: Cut the pineapple in half lengthways, and cut out the hard-core down the centre of each side.  Keep the pineapple shells. With a grapefruit knife or a sharply pointed spoon, scoop out all flesh and chop finely, saving the juice.  Mix the chopped pineapple, juice, and lemon juice together.  Dissolve the sugar with the water in a pan over low heat, then cool.  Add the sugar syrup to the pineapple and pour into a rigid container. To Freeze: cover and freeze until almost set then turn mixture into a bowl and whisk until broken up and light. Fold in the cream and return to container.  Cover, label and freeze until required. To Thaw: thaw at room temperature for 15 minutes. To Serve: scoop out ice-cream with a metal spoon that has been dipped in boiling water. Serve in pineapple shells. Note: a blender speeds up this recipe. Put the pineapple flesh, any juice and lemon juice in a blender, switch on for 2 minutes, then add cooled sugar syrup. (Serves 6).Lyle's Golden Syrup

Russian Gingerbread

(More Everyday Dishes by Elizabeth Craig (Ed.), for Tate & Lyle, c. 1935 p. 47)

Ingredients:  1/2 lb flour; 2 ozs castor sugar; 1 oz blanched almonds; 1 egg (well beaten); 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves; 3 ozs melted butter; 2 tablespoons golden syrup; 2 ozs crystallized ginger; pinch of salt; 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice; 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger; milk.

Method: Grease a shallow baking tin. Sift flour into a basin with spice, salt and soda.  Stir in other dry ingredients and ginger finely minced.  Add syrup, egg, butter and enough milk to make a running batter. Beat till smooth. Pour into tin, dredged with flour.  Decorate with split blanched almonds.  Bake in a slow oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

Raisinet – A Preserve For Winter

(A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes by Charles E. Francatelli, 1861, pp.54 – 55)

Ingredients: 12 lbs of fruit, consisting of peeled apples, pears, plums, and blackberries, in equal proportion; 6 lbs of raw sugar; one quart of water.

Method: Bake three hours in a slack or slow oven; First, prepare the fruit, and put it in mixed layers of plums, pears, berries, apples, alternating each other, in stone jars.  Next, put the 6 lbs of sugar in a clean saucepan, with the quart of water, and stir it with a spoon on the fire till it comes to a gentle boil; remove the dirty scum from the surface of the sugar; and, after allowing it to boil for ten minutes, pour it in equal proportions into the jar or jars containing the fruits, and place them in a moderate heat to bake slowly for three hours at least.  When boiling the sugar for this purpose, remember that it is most prudent to use a saucepan capable of containing double the quantity, as sugar is very liable to boil over and waste.  When the fruit is nearly dissolved, the raisinet will be done; it must then be removed to a cool place until it has become thoroughly cold and partially set firm; the jars should then be tied down with thick paper and kept in the cellar for winter use, either for making puddings or tarts, or for spreading on bread for the children.

Good Woman’s Soup

(Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, 1936, p.129)

Ingredients: 1 quart of white stock, 1 white-heart lettuce, 1 thick slice of cucumber (the length of which must equal the breadth, so that a square block may be cut), a little tarragon and chervil (these may be omitted when not procurable), 1 oz of butter or good dripping, the yolks of 2 eggs, 1/4 of a pint of cream or milk, salt and pepper.

Method: Wash and shred the lettuce finely, cut the block of cucumber lengthwise into thin slices, and the slices into match-like strips.  Melt the butter or dripping, and fry the vegetables for about 5 or 6 minutes, then add the stock, salt and pepper, and boil slowly until the lettuce is tender (10 to 15 minutes).  Beat the yolks of the eggs, add to them the cream or milk.  Let the soup cool slightly, then pour in the yolks and cream, and stir until the soup thickens, but it must not boil or the eggs will curdle. Take 40 minutes to prepare and is sufficient for 4 persons.

Simnel Cake

(Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, 1936, p.575)

Ingredients: 1/2 lb of castor sugar, 6 ozs of butter, 1/2 lb of eggs (weighed in the shells), 1/2 lb of flour, 6 ozs of currants (cleaned), 2 ozs of peel – shredded; for the almond paste: 6 ozs of castor sugar, 3 ozs of ground almonds, 1 egg.

Method: Beat the butter and sugar to a cream, add each egg separately, stir in as lightly as possible the candied peel, currants and flour.  Work the sugar, ground almonds, and egg to a stiff paste, and roll out to the size of the cake-tin.  Put half the cake mixture into a lined cake-tin, add the almond paste, and lastly a second layer of cake.  Bake in a moderate oven from 1 to 1  1/4 hours.  If preferred the cake mixture can be divided into three layers and the almond paste into two. Takes 2 hours to make and bake.

Aunt Betsey’s Cake

(Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, 1936, p. 565)

Ingredients: 5 teacupfuls of flour, 2 teacupfuls of sugar, 1/2 a cup of butter, 1 cup of golden syrup, 1 cup of water, 2 eggs, 1/2 lb of chopped raisins, 1 teaspoonful (each) of bicarbonate of soda, cloves, cinnamon, and mace.

Method: Beat the butter and sugar together; add the eggs, dissolve the soda in the water, then add the golden syrup, flour, spices and fruit, and work the mixture in the bowl.  Turn it into a greased flat square tin baking-dish and bake in a moderate oven, or if preferred in small crinkled patty-pans. Takes 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours to make and bake.

Baroness Pudding

(Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, 1936, pp. 436-437)

Ingredients: 6 ozs of finely chopped suet, 6 ozs of flour, 6 ozs of raisins (stoned), 1/4 pint of milk, 1/2 saltspoonful of salt.

Method: Mix all the dry ingredients together, add the milk and stir well.  Put into a well-greased basin, and boil or steam for about 3 hours.  Serve with any suitable sweet sauce, or with a little sugar. Takes about 3 and 3/4 hours to make and is sufficient for 4 persons.Vintage Cooking 4

Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, History, Maritime History, Mrs Beeton, Museum, Rural Heritage, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

A Taste of History – St. Barbe Museum, Lymington.

‘A Taste of History Exhibition’, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire.

St. Barbe Museum‘s recent exhibition, ‘A Taste of History: Local Food and Farming’ (6th October-17th November 2012) took the visitor on a fascinating journey through the history of British food, from pre-historic times to the 1950s.  The exhibition is part of a year-long project organised by the museum’s staff and supported by a team of dedicated volunteers:

We may think that our obsession with celebrity chefs, new ingredients, food imports and diet are a very modern phenomenon, but food developments have been at the heart of our culture since the beginning of farming in the Stone Age.

A Taste of History, exhibition panel, 2012)

St. Barbe Museum is located in the historic town of Lymington, which nestles on the edge of The New Forest National Park and hugs the Solent shoreline.  The town’s unique dual location has meant that for many centuries its residents have enjoyed both a marine and carnivorous diet.  In 1079, William the Conqueror (c.1028-1087) established the New Forest as a royal hunting ground and the Domesday Book (1086) even had a separate section for it.  (A Taste of History exhibition, 2012).

One of the former salt houses, still standing today, located on the Salterns near Lymington. The salt boiling houses were last used in 1865. Salt would have been transported to the houses by barges which also brought coal for the salt pan fires.

Lymington once had a thriving salt industry. Before the refrigerator, salt was used to preserve food, particularly meat and the exhibition included a section on its uses.  I was interested to discover that as soon as man stopped hunting salt became an important part of our diet. Previously, meat that had been procured by hunting would normally have been roasted thus ensuring that any salt would automatically be retained in the flesh.  When meat was farmed rather than hunted, boiling became the preferred cooking method. Boiling extracts salt, rendering the meat bland, adding salt to meat improves its taste. The demand for salt began to increase.  Salt was also used in the leather industry for tanning hides and in the treatment of wounds.  Edwardians loved salt pork – cured hams hanging in the pantry were a common sight.

Lymington’s salt industry was well-established by the Stuart period in England (1603-1714).  According to historian Jude James:

A visit to Lymington by the indefatigable Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) in the 1690s provides us with a very detailed description of the salt making processes.  In her account she writes of Lymington as having a few small ships but “the greatest trade is by their salterns” and she gives details of the liquor being conveyed through pipes into iron or copper pans situated in buildings [salt houses] where it was evaporated by furnaces blazing beneath to keep them boiling rapidly.  She states that up to 60 quarters of salt could be made in a single pan beneath which the furnace was kept burning day and night.

(James, J., 2006 [1996], The Salt Industry of Lymington and the Solent Coast, published by Lymington Museum Trust)

By the middle of the eighteenth century there were one hundred and forty-nine active salt pans.  Wealthy local businessman Charles St. Barbe (1750-1826) owned fifteen salt works and forty-eight pans, after salt taxes had been paid, he made a profit of £25,000 (£2.2 million in today’s money).  Salt tax was first introduced in England in 1694 and just over one hundred years later had risen to ten shillings per bushel and in 1805 was fifteen shillings per bushel.  The salt industry in Lymington had declined by the mid nineteenth century and by 1865 the boiling houses on the Salterns were forced to close due to the high cost of coal and cheaper rock salt being produced around Liverpool.

‘A Taste of History’ exhibition panels were full of so many fascinating facts about the history of food and here are some of my favourites examples:

  • the first recipe book in Britain was introduced by the Romans in the 1st century AD, De Re Coquinaria by Apicius (I have found a translation of the cookbook on-line, CLICK HERE);
  • the Romans were the first to introduce Sumptuary Laws which limited the number of dishes allowable at a meal and banned the eating of stuffed dormice;
  • a popular Roman delicacy was boiled flamingo with thick sauce made from dates and spices;
  • Roman soldiers were paid some of their wages in salt – salt money or a ‘salarium’ from which the word ‘salary’ derives;
  • Romans brought to Britain carrots, cabbage, parsnips, turnips, endive, celery, lettuce, cucumbers, marrow, asparagus, onions, leeks, new varieties of plums, apples, damsons, cherries, herbs such as fennel, rocket, parsley, borage, dill, spearmint, aniseed, hyssop, rosemary, sage and sweet marjoram. That is quite an extraordinary list of food imports, we do have quite a lot to thank the Romans for in terms of improving our palate;
  • during the Middle Ages (1066-1485) the diet of a Lord included a number of foods that we would find strange today. Beavers were a popular delicacy and because they swam using their tails they were technically thought of as fish, therefore enabling the Lord to eat them but still not fall foul of the strict fasting rules;
  • John Bakere was thought to be the first butcher on Lymington High Street in 1391 and he operated from ‘shambles’ or wooden stallsin the market hall;

    Topps Butchers c1900, located at No. 20 High Street, Lymington. Topps were known for their pickled tongue. There was also a slaughterhouse behind the shop. The photograph is in the St. Barbe Museum Collection – 1994.78.
  • in Lymington in 1726 butchers were forbidden from throwing guts of slaughtered beasts onto the street on pain of a 3s 4d fine.  Such was the dirt and filfth on the unmade High Street (from general waste, mud, and live dead animals) that in the eighteenth century, ladies would wear pattens, special platformed over-shoes, to protect their shoes and clothing;

    Drawing (1784) by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) of the kitchen at the inn at Lymington on the road to Pilewell. Rowlandson visited Lymington in 1784. In the trade directory for that year, Lymington had 4 butchers, 1 fruiterer, 6 bakers, 6 grocers, 2 pastry cooks and a wine merchant. The drawing is in the St. Barbe Museum Collection – LMGLM 2012.31.8.
  • in the Medieval period a feast could have up to six thousand guests Peacocks were a feast favourite, they were plucked, cooked and sewn back into their feathers before serving.  Layered jellies were made, flowers such as violets and primroses were also used;
  • in the seventeenth century mushrooms and runner-beans were introduced from Central America and grown ornamentally, along with bananas from Bermuda and grapefruits (called shaddocks) from the West Indies;
  • in 1944, Sway (village close to Lymington) Women’s Institute reported that their Jam Centre that year they had made 193 lbs of A-Standard jam and jelly. Sway WI were obviously a most enterprising group and in 1944 The Rural Meat-Pie Scheme was set-up by one of their members. During its first year of existence Scheme records show that an incredible 28,318 pies were made and sold. This really is a remarkable feat considering food rationingwas in force;

    From the Dig for Victory display in the Wartime section of the exhibition.
  • after the Second World War farming began to decline. By the end of the 1950s, tractors outnumbered horses by a ratio of two to one and approximately sixty farm workers per day were leaving agricultural employment.
A reversible linen smock which is the same front and back, so it could be turned inside-out when one side became dirty. Smocks fell-out of fashion amongst agricultural workers from the 1850s onwards. This smock is in the St. Barbe Museum Collection.

Throughout this year the Museum organised a large number of educational activities, in particular historical food days, eras and topics included: The Romans; jams and chutney; bread; wartime and the Tudors.  If you regularly follow my blog, then you will have already read my articles on Prehistoric Cooking with Jacqui Wood and An Invitation to a Stuart Banquet. Both of this days were part of this programme of events.

The Victorian farmhouse kitchen exhibit.

I also attended their Victorian food history day.  I took along my great, great grandmother’s copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management as well as my china tea set from 1845, some Victorian table linen and a late nineteenth century copper jelly mould.

Victorian kitchenalia, including my tea-set, linen, copper jelly mould and copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
I loved this object, a ‘memory tickler’, which was part of the Victorian farmhouse display. I think that this old-fashioned style shopping list would still prove popular if it were reproduced today. I’d definitely buy it. I also note that blancmange powder was considered a store cupboard staple then, most interesting.

There were plenty of activities to participate in and a local cook, who specialises in baking historical food, made some very tasty cakes based on original Victorian recipes –  a fill belly cake and a pound cake (see below for recipes).

Costumed museum guide at St. Barbe Museum’s Victorian day.

There were costumed museum guides, lots of vintage recipe books to browse through and an opportunity to make chocolate bon bons as well as a little gift box to take them away in.

The chocolate bon bons and little gift box that I made.

One of the highlights was a reading, by local actor Bruce Clitherow, of extracts from William Charles Retford’s (1875-1970) Memoirs of Growing-up in Ashley.  Retford’s Memoirs provide a wonderful glimpse of rural life in late Victorian Ashley and Burley, two villages not too far from Lymington.  Retford moved to London in 1982 to take-up an apprenticeship as a bow-maker for cellos and violins:

All good things come to an end.  In 1892 Arthur Hill, the violin maker, spent the weekend at the Old House and offered me a job.  By the end of March I was in a third floor back in New Bond Street cleaning fiddles and fitting pegs.  Unhappy and hard up.  After the first week I was taught nothing more for a year. “Thereby hangs a tale,” written but quite unprintable.  Cleaning fiddles was kids play to me.

(For a transcript of Retford’s Memoirs together with a more detailed biography of his extraordinary life, CLICK HERE.)

Local actor Bruce Clitherow reading from William Retford’s Memoirs of Growing-up in Ashley.

To accompany A Taste of History a lovely little book has been produced by staff and volunteers at the museum.  It contains recipes and notes from the exhibition, here is one entry in particular that caught my eye, a recipe for Saffron Bread:

Saffron Bread (A pre-Reformation Lenten bread)

For 1 loaf:

3/4 cups of milk; 12.5mg saffron; 1 packet of dried yeast; 60 ml lukewarm water; 450g strong white bread flour; 10mg salt; 2 eggs, lightly beaten.

Scald the milk with the saffron.  Let it cool.  Dissolve yeast in water. Sift together 300g of flour with the salt, spoon in eggs, milk and yeast mixture and blend.  Add enough flour to prevent it becoming sticky.  Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as needed.  Put in a greased bowl in a warmish place, leave to rise until it has doubled in bulk.  Punch down, shape in a round loaf.  Place on a greased baking sheet, leave to rise until it has again doubled in size.  Bake at 170C (375F) for 25-30 mins. then cool on a rack.

(A Taste of History: Celebrating food and farming throughout the ages, 2012,  St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington)

At the Victorian food history day there were lots of historical recipes to take away and try for yourself which was such a lovely touch. Another nice idea was an opportunity for a recipe swap, you could pin your handwritten family recipes on a noticeboard for others to see. Here a few of my favourite recipes that I discovered:

Eggless Sponge

150g self-raising flour; 5ml baking powder; 65g margarine; 50g sugar; 15ml golden syrup; 125ml milk or milk and water; jam for filling.

Sift the flour and baking powder.  Mix the margarine, sugar and golden syrup until light and soft.  Add a little flour and then a little milk or milk and water and mix it in.  Continue adding the flour and liquid like this until the mixture is smooth.  Grease two 18cm cake tins and sprinkle them lightly with flour.  Divide the mixture between them and bake at 200C, for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.  Tip out the tins carefully and spread one cake with jam.  Cover with the other cake.

Fill Belly Cake

2lbs stale bread; 0.5 lbs shredded suet; 1 lb granulated or brown sugar; 1lb mixed dried fruit; 3 eggs; 2 0z butter or margarine; 1 teaspoon mixed spice.

Soak the bread in water then drain and squeeze-out the excess water.  Flake with a fork and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well together and spread the mixture into a greased baking tin.  Dot with butter and bake in a moderate oven for about 2 hours or until nicely browned.  A variation is to make a pastry base, spread it with jam and then cover with the bread pudding mixture.  Bake as before.

Victorian Pound Cake

10 eggs, separated (or 1lb in weight); 1lb sugar; 1lb flour; 1lb currants and candied peel; 1 glass of brandy (optional).

Cream the butter and sugar together.  Mix in the egg yolks. Stir in the egg whites lightly.  Add the currants and peel, then mix in the flour a little at a time and the brandy if you are using it.  Bake for about 2 hours (or one hour if using half quantities).

Vinegar Cake

6oz self-raising flour; 3oz margarine; 3oz sugar; 1/4pt milk; 1tbsp vinegar; 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda; 3-4oz mixed dried fruit.

Sift the flour. Cream the margarine and sugar.  Pour the milk into a large basin, add the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda; the mixture will rise and froth in the basin.  Blend the flour and vinegar liquid into the creamed margarine and sugar then add the dried fruit.  Put into a greased and flour 7″ tin, bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour.

Seed Cake

3/4 lb flour; 1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder; 2oz lard; 2 oz butter or margarine; 60z brown sugar; 1 egg; 10z candied peel; 1/2 oz caraway seeds; a little grated nutmeg; pinch of salt; about 1/4 pt milk.

Pass the flour and baking powder through a sieve, rub into it the butter and lard, and add all the dry ingredients.  Beat up the egg with the milk, pour this into the cake mixture and mix thoroughly.  Turn into a 6″ x 3″ tin lined with a greased paper (7  1/2″ x 3  1/2″ tin if making double quantities).  Bake for 1  1/2 hours at gas mark 4 (or 2 hrs  30 at gas mark 3 for a double quantity cake).

For more information about visiting St. Barbe Museum, CLICK HERE.

St. Barbe’s next exhibition is ‘Randolph Schwabe: A Life in Art’ which opens on 24th November and runs until 16th February 2013Randolph Schwabe (1885-1948) was employed as an official War Artist in both the First and Second World Wars.  He is known for his portrait series ‘Women on the Land’ depicting the Women’s Land Army at work during the First World War. During the Second World War he produced drawings of bomb damage. The exhibition, curated by Dr Gill Clarke MBE, contains a number of works by Schwabe previously unseen.  Schwabe was born in Barton Lancashire in 1885.  He entered the Royal Academy of Art aged fourteen and in 1900 went to Slade School of Fine Art.  He married Gwendolen Rosamund on 19th April 1913 and they had one daughter.

This was my favourite photograph from the exhibition, ladies inspecting one of the new, Creda, electric cookers in the 1920s. This photograph is in the St. Barbe Museum collection.
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, History, Mrs Beeton, Museum

An Invitation To A Stuart Banquet

Mike and Jasmine with the marchpane and leach they made for the Stuart Banquet.
A selection of delights from the Stuart Banquet, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington.

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a Stuart banquet hosted by St. Barbe Museum, Lymington.  The event was part of a programme of activities organised to compliment the Museum’s new exhibition on food history, ‘A Taste of History – Local Food and Farming’ (6th October-17th November).

An invitation to a Stuart Banquet at St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire.

What a treat for a historian this event was. The costumed re-enactors were superb, their knowledge of the Stuart period (1603-1714) just incredible.  The banquet showcased a fantastic array of dishes that had been recreated, by some of the re-enactors, using recipes (receipts) from cookbooks published during the seventeenth century, including:

  • A Delightful Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen by John Murrell (1621) – the white gingerbread;

    Red and white gingerbread.
  • Delightes for Ladies by Sir Hugh Platt (1609) – the red gingerbread and lemon marmalade;

    Lemon marmalade.
  • Country Contentments, The English Huswife by Gervase Markham (1623) – the marchpane and leach;

  • The closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digbie (1669) by Sir Kenelm Digby – the apricot sweetmeats and syllabub;

    Syllabub. Helen Horsfall writes: ‘Seventeenth century syllabubs are a confection of alcohol and cream, well sweetened and flavoured with lemons or spices. The simplest syllabubs were made by milking a cow straight into a bowl of sweet spiced cider or ale, drunk on the spot. Alternatively, the milk could be heated and then whisked into the alcohol mixture.’
  • Rebecca Price’s Receipt Book (1681) – the biscuits;
  • A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1636) – the Prince-Biskits;

    Prince-Biskets with bread and cheese. Helen Horsfall writes: ‘The word “bisket” or biscuit derives from the French word ‘bis’ meaning twice, and ‘cuit’ meaning cooked. Traditionally, biscuit dough was cooked first in a baking tin, then put back in the oven a second time to dry out, more literally “twice cooked”.’
  • The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth Commonly called Joan Cromwell (1664) – the gooseberry cream;

    Gooseberry cream.
  • The Cook’s Guide or Rare Receipts for Cookery by Hannah Woolley (1664);
  • The Cooks and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott (1725) – the jumbles.

    Jumbles. Helen Horsfall writes: ‘Jumbles were popular over a long period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. They take their name from their shape, a circular knot like a twisted ring or pretzel “jumbles” is thought to derive from gemmel, meaning ring.’
Sugar-coated caraway and fennel seeds.

Here is Gervase Markham’s (1623) recipe for ‘White Leach’:


To make the best Leache, take Isingglasse and lay it two houres in water and shift it and boile it in faire water and let it coole: Then take Almonds and lay them in cold water till they will blaunch: And then stampe them and put to new milke, and straine them and put in whole mace and ginger slic’t, and boile them till it taste well of the spice; then put in your isingglasse and Sugar, and a little rose-water: And then let them runne through a strainer.

Marchpane made by Mike and Jasmine. The marchpane depicts Lymington’s Coat of Arms, a sailing vessel.

Historians Mike and Jasmine were responsible for many of the stunning examples of food on display. The marchpane was a particular favourite of mine. Marchpane is similar to marzipan.  In its simplest form it is made from blanched almonds that are ground finely and then mixed with refined sugar and good quality rose-water.  The combination of these ingredients produces a malleable paste that can be fashioned into all manner of exotic shapes. Natural dye extracts are added for colour and spices such as a cinnamon and ginger are sometimes added.  The banquet recreated at St. Barbe was typical of a spread that would have been found in a wealthy household.  I was told the total amount of sugar required to produce the dishes on display amounted to approximately 5lbs. The wealthy Stuarts certainly had a sweet tooth!

Mike making butter.

Mike and Jasmine also gave a butter making demonstration. A simple, if slightly labour intensive, process that I always enjoy watching.  I remember being taught how to make butter as a child, I haven’t made any since then but really should try to have another go.

Jasmine moulding the butter.
Straining excess liquid from the freshly made butter using a muslin cloth. All liquid must be removed otherwise the butter will be go rancid very quickly.

Historical interpreter Helen Horsfall gave a short talk ‘Invitation to a Stuart Banquet’, packed full of fascinating facts about food during the Stuart period.

John and Patricia Oakley.

Customs and practices associated with dining Stuart style were also demonstrated and historian John Oakley had written a selection of information panels to accompany the banquet. John and Patricia Oakley are members of The Sealed Knot’s Learning Team. Included in John’s text panels were a set of guidelines for the Stuart diner.  Here are a few of these observances:

  • Men kept their hats on and swords in their scabbard;
  • Servants helped the diner to wash their hands before sitting at the table to eat;
  • The lowest Social Class first. All came to servants to have water poured over their hands for washing then took linen cloth from servant to dry hands and return it;
  • After washing, the diner goes to designated table place and stands behind chair until the top person is ready;
  • All stay standing for grace, and then sit after top persons are seated;
  • Diner takes napkin from place setting and drapes it over left shoulder (women may use left arm);
  • The knife was always used in the right hand;
  • Food was taken with fingers with the left hand and transferred to individual plates;
  • Food was taken with fingers of left hand and transferred to own plate.  Food was then transferred to mouth with the right hand;
  • Spoons were used with the right hand. A fork (if they had one) was for holding food instead of with the fingers;
  • Knives are never put into mouths;
  • Do not leave your spoon on the serving dish;
  • If the diner wants salt he uses the tip of a clean knife;
  • Diners do not leave the table before the top person, and leave when they do even it still hungry.

Another unique experience was the re-enactment of a Court Leet.  This example of a session held by the Court Leet was set c1632 using real cases as a basis for the dramatisation. Where I live, in Hampshire, the Court Leet is still active. One session is held in Stockbridge and another in the City of Southampton.  Southampton’s Court Leet takes place annually on the 1st Tuesday after Michaelmas, this year that was Tuesday 2nd October.  Historically, this type of Court did not have any real powers to punish, although for petty crimes, fines or community based punishments were handed-out.  The Court would refer serious crimes to the Quarter Sessions or the Assizes. The Court was also responsible for overseeing the town/city’s trade regulations, particularly in relation to weights and measures.  The Town Clerk would act as Steward of the Court and the Sheriff as Foreman of the Grand jury.

Ray Costello presides over the Court Leet.

The audience was completely enthralled by this theatrical and historical extravaganza.

Giving evidence.
Giving evidence.
Giving evidence at the Court Leet.
A gentlewoman (Patricia Oakley) listening to evidence being given at the Court Leet.

The dramatisation was also interactive, we acted as the jury and helped decide the fate of:

  • A waggoner whose cart had been damaged by an uneven road surface;
A waggoner pleads his case.
  • A washerwoman (Mistress Pippin) wanting compensation from the owner of a pig who had eaten one of her customer’s neckerchiefs which had been left to dry outside, near to common grazing land;
Washerwoman, Mistress Pippin (Jane Cox), pleads her case.
  • Finally, a widow is accused by the Town Bailiff of growing illegal substances (tobacco) on her farm. She claims the tobacco is for medicinal purposes.
Farmer’s widow defends her tobacco-growing activities.

Well done to all involved in organising this highly successful event.  St. Barbe Museum’s next food history event takes place later on today (Saturday 20th October), ‘A Taste of History: Victorian Cooking’ (10-4pm).  If you are a fan of Mrs Beeton and/or want to learn more about Victorian cooking, then pop down to Lymington in the New Forest.  I will be there with my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and a selection of lovely Victorian china.  There are lots of interesting activities happening throughout the day including: costumed guides; mini-theatrical performances based on oral history testimonies; examples of food from this period prepared by a historical food interpreter; Victorian kitchenalia; Victorian recipes and of course there will be an opportunity to visit the Museum’s new exhibition all about local food history.  For more information, CLICK HERE.

Sandra Costello and her excellent spinning demonstration at the Stuart Banquet event, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington, Hampshire.
Wool selection, all dyed by Sandra using plant/vegetable extracts.