The keen bakers among you will know that we’ve already missed “Stir-up Sunday”. This is informally marked in the Anglian calendar on the last Sunday before the season of Advent; the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the day begins with the words, “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. The day has become associated with making Christmas puddings as most recipes require it to be cooked well in advance of Christmas and then reheated prior to serving.
Avid followers of our blog will know that a Southampton student spotted Mary Berry, a “cook maid” listed in a Broadlands account book from 1760. Great British Bake Off enthusiasts might like to consider whether judges Mary and Paul got some of their recipes for the show’s technical challenges from a manuscript recipe book found within the paper of Miss Annie Trout, formerly a maths lecturer at University College, Southampton. It includes many seasonal favourites but, like many older recipes, they are little sparse in terms of instructions and often lack cooking times or temperatures.
Bread sauce: Crumble the bread & soak it in milk put a whole onion in & cover it in the oven taking care that it never boils. Remove the onion beat it lightly with butter, cream, pepper and salt.
Christmas cake: ¾ lb flour; ½ lb butter; ½ lb currants or sultanas; 3 eggs; lemon peel. 2 oz glace cherries; salt; ½ teaspoon b[aking] powder. Cream the butter, add the sugar add the egg, beat with a wooden spoon, the add flour and b[aking] powder. Mix lightly. Layer of dough and cherries alternately, a few for the top. Bake in a hot oven for 3 hrs. Let the oven cool for a bit so as to soak well.
Fig pudding: Soak 8 or 9 figs all night. 8 oz breadcrumbs, 2 oz suet, 2 oz brown sugar, 1 egg beaten with a little milk, 1 level tablesp treacle, pinch of carbonate of soda dissolved in warm milk. Mix all dry things – add eggs and steam at least 2 hours.
[MS 112 LF 780 UNI 2/7/75/266 Miss Trout’s recipe book]
Of course, all these festive ingredients need to be purchased. The Special Collections hold some price lists for the local chain of grocery stores Lankester & Crook dating from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
They sold, among other things, dried fruit, candied peel and spices plus readymade mincemeat and Christmas cakes as well as Cadbury’s chocolate, “delicious, nutritious, wholesome and pure”: this would surely be unacceptable under today’s trading standards!
It is customary to share food and drink with family and friends over the festive period. On 22 December, aged about 11, Henry Temple [later third Viscount Palmerston, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister] wrote to his mother, Mary Mee, “in her dressing room upstairs”:
Mr Temple will certainly do himself the honour of waiting upon her ladyship on Christmas day to gobble up mince pies or whatever else there is for dinner [BR21/1/5]
Many years later we find a subsequent resident of Romsey’s Broadlands estate, Lord Mountbatten dining with the troops during Christmas 1945 at Raffles College in Singapore during his tenure as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia.
And finally a more sobering thought for this time of year, sometimes criticised for its excesses when many still have so little. Contained within the Wellington Pamphlets is A well seasoned Christmas-pie for “the great liar of the north”, prepared, cooked, baked and presented by Richard Oastler. Printed in 1834, it concerns Oastler’s campaigns for better conditions for factory workers and his letter to the Leeds Mercury on the subject. The demand was to limit the working day to ten hours – all very Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.