Tag Archives: Cookery

Taste the Archive: gingerbread!

Today is World Baking Day – the perfect excuse for making – and eating – our favourite cakes. This week staff at the Hartley Library held a charity bake sale to raise money for Solent Mind, a great cause and one of several charities we will be supporting through 2017 http://www.solentmind.org.uk/

cake-sale-3

We enjoy the tradition of sharing, swopping, and passing on, favourite recipes. Some of these may be older than we think: I recently discovered in the Archives a 19th-century version of a recipe that is a real favourite with my family today: Grantham Gingerbread

MS 112 LF 780 UNI 2/7/75/266, mid 19th-century recipe book from the collection of Miss A.M.Trout

MS 112 LF 780 UNI 2/7/75/266, mid 19th-century recipe book from the collection of Miss A.M.Trout

This little volume has ‘Ledger’ in red on the spine and contains lined pages – it was intended for recording accounts – but is actually a manuscript recipe book. You can just see the word ‘Receipes’ written in ink on the front. It has a beautiful parchment cover, decorated with blind tooling and embossed to create a raised design, with combed marbled book edges. The brass clasp closure bears the words “improved patent” above the image of a lion:

clasp-crop

MS 112 LF 780 UNI 2/7/75/266 Brass clasp closure showing the words ‘Improved Patent’ above an image of a lion

Inside, it has glorious decorative endpapers – perhaps Dutch gilt – showing a printed design of tiny gold stars on a bright pink background. There is even an alphabetical index with finding tabs, each tab printed with two letters. So this is a special book – and it is no surprise that it was treasured and passed on:

index-crop

MS 112 LF 780 UNI 2/7/75/266 Interior: printed decorative endpapers in a gold star design; an alphabetical index with printed finding tabs.

The recipe book is undated and we don’t know who originally filled its pages: but it is likely to be mid-19th century and was added to by several owners.  It contains fair copies of recipes in at least two different hands, plus a few printed recipes cut from newspapers.  It was clearly in use long before it came into the collection of Miss Annie Mary Trout, who worked as a lecturer in Mathematics at University College, Southampton, in the 1920s.

It was the recipe for Grantham Gingerbread that caught my eye: seen here on the right-hand page; (on the left-hand page you can see recipes for ‘Cake’, and Hot Cross Buns).

blog copy recipe pp26-7

MS 112 LF 780 UNI 2/7/75/266, pp.25-7

It contains some very old-fashioned ingredients – such as ‘½ an ounce of volatile salts’ and ‘1 penny worth of essence of lemon’! It poses more than a few challenges for the modern cook: the quantities of flour and sugar are quite huge; it doesn’t use an egg; there are no details of cooking temperatures, or timings, and only the scantiest method for guidance:

Grantham Gingerbread
1 ½ lbs flour
1 ½ lbs of very fine sugar
¼ lb butter
1 oz of best ground ginger
2 oz of lemon peel
½ oz of volatile salts ground
& mixed in a teacupful of
new milk, 1 penny worth
of essence of lemon, a little
more milk if required to make
it into a stiff paste, melt
the butter & mix together

Another name for the ‘volatile salts’ in the recipe is ‘Baker’s Ammonia’ or ammonium bicarbonate, which was used as a raising agent in the days before baking powder was commonly available. It has a strong and horrible smell – these were the salts that were used to revive fainting ladies in Victorian times! It wasn’t an ideal ingredient, as the smell of the ammonia released during heating might linger after cooking.  By the mid-19th century, when this recipe was copied out, baking powder was already available – so this was an ‘old’ recipe even at that time.  What did it taste like?

Ginger biscuit photo

You can see that Grantham Gingerbread is not the traditional dark, treacle-based cake that we tend to associate with gingerbread, but a large crisp and chewy ginger cookie. It is apt that we have a historic recipe here – because gingerbread is one of the oldest of all cakes – and there are many different regional variations.   Some are deep ginger cakes; others are thin and crisp biscuits or ‘buttons’, fairings or gingerbread men.  This heritage version went down well with friends and family.  Here is my adapted recipe for World Baking Day:

Grantham Gingerbread 2017
12 ozs plain flour
12 ozs soft light brown sugar
2 ozs butter, melted
2 tablespoons ground ginger (or less or more!)
1 oz mixed peel
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ cup of milk
zest of a lemon
Mix ingredients together until a stiff dough is formed. Pat into a ball and knead until smooth. Divide into 24 equal pieces, rolling each into a ball; place onto a greased baking tray, allowing room to spread.
Bake for 25-30 mins until golden and crisp at 160ºC/325ºF/Gas Mark 3
Remove from oven; leave to cool for a few minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool

Once I had worked out some alternative ingredients, and halved the quantities, the 19th-century recipe seemed easier to make than my modern recipe.  Everything was stirred together, which took little effort (no need to cream butter and sugar, or beat in an egg; no sifting; and using melted butter and a little milk makes it easy to work in the large volume of flour!)  Be careful to pour in the milk, a little at a time.  Add ginger to taste, but note that the original recipe calls for ‘best ground ginger’, probably fresh ginger, rather than the dried ground ginger we use today.

For an excellent modern version of Grantham White Gingerbread try the recipe in Julie Duff’s Cakes – Regional and Traditional.

Happy Baking!

Food and reflection

As we settle into 2016 we reflect on recent activities from the past year…

Over the holiday season many of us have indulged in a range of winter comfort foods and festive treats, from turkey and sprouts to mince pies and puddings. In the lead up to the Christmas break visitors were invited to Special Collections for our third and final Explore Your Archives event of the year, with the focus of the afternoon being (somewhat appropriately) food! The material on display covered areas such as the cultivation of food, food preparation, household management, food supplies, consumption of food (including some fine dining), and food relief.

Lankester & Crook price lists for the Christmas Season on display for the 'Food, Glorious Food' open afternoon

Lankester & Crook price lists for the Christmas Season on display for the ‘Food, Glorious Food’ open afternoon

Beginning with a section on cultivation, one of the first items was a plan and catalogue for trees in the kitchen gardens at Broadlands from 1769 which, incidentally, coincided with work done on the estate by ‘Capability’ Brown whose 300th anniversary will be celebrated later in the year. This was followed by a selection of material relating to the management of crops and livestock.

The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, with the aim being to “promote broad discussion and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by pulse farmers, be they large scale farms or small land holders.” As the planet’s population continues to increase, pulses such as beans, lentils and peas, are recognised as a sustainable crop which provide a low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

The Perkins Agricultural Library, which primarily supports research on the general practice and improvement of agriculture in the 18th and 19th centuries, also holds a range of material focusing on areas such as household management. On display was William Ellis’ The country housewife’s family companion (London, 1750) which contains the following useful tips for preserving broad beans and peas: “To preserve broad beans and pease dry: take them out of their pods before they are ripe and while their skin is green strip them of their skin and dry them thoroughly in the sun; rub them all over with winter-savory, and barrel them up in straw or chaff, or without either, provided you keep the air from them. In winter or spring, or when they are wanted, soak them six hours in warm water, and then boil them for eating…” [Perkins TX 151]

A highlight from the selection of cook books and recipes was Florence Greenberg’s classic Jewish Cookery Book. First published in 1947, the book proved hugely popular with post war Anglo-Jewish households, bringing a mix of British and continental cooking. She described the Jewish influences as being seen clearly in the fish dishes, sauces and puddings.

There were also many examples of fine dining drawn from the papers of third Viscount Palmerston, Lady Swaythling, Lord Mountbatten, and W.W.Ashley and Cunard cruise ships, including menus, dinner books, and letters reporting on dinner parties and social gatherings. In contrast, somewhat less savoury culinary descriptions were to be found among the journals of William Mogg. Written during his time on Captain Edward Parry’s expeditions to the Arctic in the 1820s, Mogg describes methods used to thaw the crew’s frozen supplies — leaving them in a fire hole for three days — as well as the Christmas festivities enjoyed by the crew.

Chris Woolgar giving his talk on food related resources

Chris Woolgar giving his talk on food related resources

The visit to Special Collections was followed by a talk by Chris Woolgar who provided a highly engaging and comprehensive analysis of a number of the items on display. The evening was then rounded off with some tea and seasonal treats!

As we plan events for the year ahead we would like to thank everyone who attended our open afternoons over the past few months. Details of forthcoming events will be announced on our blog and website in the near future.

We hope to see you in Archives soon!