Category Archives: Nineteenth Century

Angels and Devils on Horseback

A Victorian hors d’œuvre that has died a death in recent decades; an angel on horseback is simply an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled; a devil is a tea-soaked prune treated the same way. The main reason for this is that oysters were then poor man’s food and now they are a delicacy; it is odd to think of the working-class tucking into these at dinner rather than the upper middle classes. Of course, the tables were turned by the time we hit the 20th Century. If you have never tried oysters before, this is a good way to introduce yourself to them, I reckon. They should have a comeback as they are delicious, and if you can’t afford – or stomach – oysters, then at least have a go at making the devils, though they are best made together.

The best oysters for the angels are the large Pacific ones – especially if you can get them pre-shucked. The best prunes are the squidgy ‘giant’ ones; if you can’t find them, just substitute two normal prunes for each giant one. There are many elaborate recipes, especially for the angels; the oysters in one are  breaded and fried, in another they are chopped up to make a stuffing. These things are best kept simple – the raw ingredients should speak for themselves.

You can make these delightful and delicious bite-size nibbles as some decadent finger-food on rounds of bread fried in butter or alongside some roast poultry instead of pigs in blankets.


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Angels on Horseback

12 large shucked oysters

Cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce (optional)

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon cut in half

First, soak 12 wooden toothpicks in some water and get your grill nice and hot. Season your oysters with a little Cayenne or Tabasco sauce if using and roll each in a piece of bacon, securing it with a toothpick. Place them on a baking sheet and grill until the bacon is crisp and the oysters are plump. Serve immediately.

Devils on Horseback

12 large prunes or 24 small ones

Freshly brewed, strong tea

12 roasted, salted almonds

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon cut in half

Soak your prunes in the hot tea until plump – this will take 30 minutes if no-soak prunes, or overnight if they require soaking.* Remove the stones if the prunes are pitted then fills the gap it has left with a roasted almond. If you are using small prunes, sandwich an almond between two of them. Spear with a cocktail stick and grill as described above.

*Don’t throw away the tea for it tastes delicious!

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Filed under food, history, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, The Victorians, Uncategorized

To Make a Coburg (or Cob) Loaf

Here’s another recipe to add to the series of posts on bread and bread-making (see main post here).

Coburg loaves are a common sight in traditional bakeries, but are rarely spotted outside of them these days. A Coburg is a round loaf that is not baked in a tin like your basic loaf (see recipe here), but as a round plump crusty loaf on a tray. On the top there are cuts in a cross shape that open up when it bakes. It can be made with pretty much any flour you like – white, whole-wheat, rye, oat, or whatever takes your fancy. I class it as one of the basic loaves because it contains just flour, yeast, salt and water.

Technically, a Coburg is a kind of cob, the only difference being that a cob does not get cut before going in the oven, though these days, there is no real distinction really. There are variations on the Coburg cuts though; sometimes several cuts are made in a chess board fashion which expands to make a porcupine loaf, which is also known as a college loaf or a Manchester loaf. Alternatively, the top of the dough gets quickly stabbed with a piece of wood spiked with lots of nails. A bit hardcore that one.

The Coburg loaf became popular in the Victorian era, and I assumed the loaf was named after Queen Victoria’s hubby Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, as many things were in those days. The British public were fascinated by the royal couple, and really took to many German traditions (especially a Christmastime). However, it may not be the case. There was such a thing as Coburg material; cheap and coarse and used for making mourning clothes that predated Albert so the word is older. The most likely explanation is that a German baker living in London, as many did, gave it his family name, though no baker actually knows who this was. The loaves themselves were certainly around before the Victorian era, centuries earlier in fact. They were made from courser grains than today and went by the name of a Brunswick loaf. So it seems all that occurred was a name change.

The good thing about baking these loaves is that you need no tin and consequently you achieve a good crust all over the surface. The recipe below is based on one from Elizabeth David and I haven’t provided massive detail on the making of the dough as I have already done that in the recipe for baking a basic loaf, so if you are new to bread-making, it might be worth having a little of that post first (you’ll find it here).

Also, this method asks you to put the loaf in a cold oven and then timing the bake from the time it gets to temperature, this way you get an extra-fluffy loaf. There is a little oil or butter to add if you like too; fat helps the bread keep fresh an extra day.


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Ingredients

up to 15 g fresh yeast or 8 g easy-bake yeast (see method)

400 g strong white flour (or a mix of up to 50% other flour(s) if you like)

10 g salt

25 g softened butter or olive oil (optional)

250 g blood-heat water

If using fresh yeast, cream it in a little of the warm water, adding a pinch of sugar and leave about 10 or 15 minutes until it is alive and foaming. Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the centre and tip the yeast in along with the remainder of the water and the oil or butter.

If using dried yeast, make a well in the flour adding the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other side. Pour the warm water into the well along with the butter or oil.

Mix together with a wooden spoon and then bring the dough together with your hands. Alternatively, you can use the dough hook on a mixer to bring it together. Knead well until the dough becomes tight and springy, around 5 minutes in a mixer, or 10 or so minutes if kneading by hand. It will be sticky, but persevere, sprinkle a little flour or a smear a little olive oil on your work surface if you like. Bundle the dough into a tight ball and place in an oiled bowl and cover to allow it to double in volume in a warm place.

Knock the dough back lightly and give it a brief knead. If you want, give it another rising.

The super-stretchy dough after its first proof

On a lightly-floured work surface, make the cob shape by forming a ball with the dough by tucking your hands under it, tightening the dough. If you twist the ball of dough slightly as you do this, it will be extra tight.

Place the dough on a floured baking tray and cover with a large plastic bag or large bowl or pot.

Slash the top of the loaf with a sharp serrated knife to make a cross shape and place in a cold oven. Set the oven to 220°C and once the oven has got up to temperature, bake for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 200°C and bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until brown and crusty. Check the loaf is cooked by knocking its underside and listening for a hollow sound. Cool on a rack and listen carefully for the sound of the crusts cracking!

A close-up of the cracking crust

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Filed under baking, bread, food, history, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, Teatime, The Victorians, Uncategorized

“Out of the strong came forth sweetness…”

Can there be anything else that sums up British baking as much as Lyle’s Golden Syrup? If you are not British then you might not have heard of it and it is rather difficult to compare it to anything else. It looks like honey, but is viscous like a syrup such as corn syrup and yet it tastes like neither. The taste is more like butterscotch or caramel. It is also commonly called treacle. I absolutely love the stuff and manage to get hold of it here in Missouri to go on my porridge or pancakes of a morning. Oddly, it was never intended to be a commercial product, but thank goodness it became one. I remember as a child, my Dad always used to make us a treacle sandwich after our Sunday baths whilst we dried in front of the fire, soggy towels wrapped around us.

The story of golden syrup starts in 1881when the Scottish businessman Abram Lyle set up a sugar-refinery in London on the Thames with his five sons, processing sugar cane into sugar loaves. In those days, sugar was bought in large tapering mounds that had to be pounded or grated by hand at home. One byproduct of the process was a thick, gloopy syrup that with a little more refining through charcoal was very delicious. So he sold it to his workers from large barrels (Lyle was originally a cooper) and the syrup quickly was anointed with the nickname “Goldy”. Soon, Goldy became popular outside of his workforce and everyone wanted some. Just two years later, in 1883, Lyle’s Golden Syrup was born.

It is the tin the golden syrup that comes in that is the icon of both British cookery and Victorian entrepreneurship. Famously, on the front is a drawing of a dead lion peppered with swarming bees. Abram Lyle was a very pious man, and used the story of Samson in the book of Judges in Old Testament as the inspiration for the design. Quite a while before his fateful haircut, Samson got attacked by a lion which, through His power, Samson was able to rip open, killing it. Later he sees that bees have built a hive within its carcass and he takes some honey to his family and friends and they have a feast. He didn’t tell them about the lion and had them guess how he came about all the honey, presenting them with the poser:

And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.

Judges 14:14


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Tins were first produced in 1884 and unbelievably have not changed at all in their design since. In fact, the recipe for the syrup has never changed either – making Lyle’s Golden Syrup the oldest brand in the world. “You’d be mad to mess with Goldie.” The only slight change is to the weights written on the tin: gone are the “1 lb” and “2 lb” marks, their replacement being the “454 g” and “907 g” marks, to keep in line with EU rulings. Another change occurred during the Second World War when, because of tin shortages, Lyle had to make the ‘tins’ from cardboard instead.

For over 125 years, it has been indispensable – it was even taken on Captain Scott’s fateful trek to the Antarctic. He wrote a letter to the Lyle family:

“Your Golden Syrup has been in daily use in this hut throughout the winter, and has been much appreciated by all members of the expedition.”

In 1950, the Lyle Company brought out a second iconic product: Lyle’s Black Treacle. It is very similar to molasses, though it is considerably thicker and stronger tasting. For any recipes that ask for black treacle, you can substitute molasses instead with no problems.

In the American classic The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, there is a recipe for Cornish Treacle Tart (which is actually made from Golden Syrup). In that recipe it asks for three-quarters of a cup of dark corn syrup. Do not on no account ever, ever, substitute golden syrup for corn syrup. The two are incomparable. So, I urge the American public: if you use a recipe that asks for Golden Syrup and you cannot get hold of any, don’t bother making it. Do you hear me? Good, then we understand each other. Amazon’s grocery section stocks it, so you can always get it online.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Black Treacle are part of so many wonderful recipes, I would be crazy listing them all, but here are what I reckon are the important or interesting ones. As I add recipes, I’ll add links. If you know of any that I have missed off, please let me know. Here goes:

Treacle tart

Flapjacks

Pancakes

Treacle sponge pudding

Mrs Beeton’s rolled treacle pudding

Golden syrup cake

Aunt Nelly’s pudding

Malt loaf

Jamaican ginger cake

Parkin

Ma Buttery’s crunch

Bonfire toffee

Christmas cake

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Filed under General, history, Nineteenth Century, Puddings, The Victorians

Eel, Pie and Mash

Eel, pie and mash houses are bits of living history and are very much a London invention. The houses were a Victorian creation, though sellers had had stalls since the eighteenth century. Eels were very cheap and just swimming about in the River Thames. Strangley, they took off during a time when the heavily-polluted Thames did not have any eels swimming in its waters. The eels did arrive on the Thames though; brought up on barges from Holland. These days they come from Ireland.

There are three elements to the classic meal: pie, mash and eel liquor. The pies began life as eel pies, but over time the pies were made with minced beef and onion; mashed potatoes speak for themselves; and the liquor is the special part. It is made from an eel gravy and is heavily flavoured parsley sauce. You must put on liberal amounts of salt, vinegar and pepper or chili on there too. They also sell stewed eels as well as the other London classic, jellied eels. You can also buy live eels to take home and cook for yourself, if you are so inclined.

They are impressive inside, they’re not ostentatious or anything like that, but being Victorian buildings they have the beautifully-tiled walls that we associate with the Victorians’ eating establishments, public houses and urinals!

I was in London over Christmas so I decided, upon my visit, I would find one and try its wares. There are three families that own the best shops: the Cookes, Manzes and the Kellys I went to F. Cooke’s in Hackney, the first to have a pie and mash house. Frederick Cooke opened his first shop in Clerkenwell in 1862 selling the “poor-man’s delicacy”.

One of his daughters married a Manze, who were an Italian family selling ice cream, and they opened some pie and mash houses too. Their own grandson now runs their first shop on Tower Bridge. The Kellys were an Irish family that arrived relatively late to the trade but are considered the best. At the peak of business, two tons of live eels were consumed per shop! Now there are around 25, so I wanted to go to one before they disappeared.

Walking into F. Cookes really  felt like walking into the past. The place hasn’t changed at all for decades and is now a listed building. I ordered hot stewed eels with mash and liquor and a cup of tea. I sat down to eat them with a liberal seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar. I like eels, so I knew I would like the food.

Eels have quite a delicate flavour, so they went very well with the bland potatoes and liquor; a great winter-warmer. I also ordered some jellied eels – cooked eels set in an aspic jelly made from eel bones. They are an acquired taste, apparently. The eels themselves were good but eating them cold with the jelly was not the gastronomic treat I was expecting. Hey-ho, you win some, you lose some.


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The eel, pie and mash shops are under threat today, and it is not just because of the changing tastes of we Britons, it is because the European eel is becoming threatened. Long gone are the days when people set eel traps on the mudflats of the Thames, or anywhere else, because since 1980, the numbers of eel dropped by 95 per cent. No one really knows why the eel population has crashed by this huge amount, but overfishing, pollution and changes in the ocean current brought on by climate change are the most cited potential causes. I imagine that the latter reason is the most important; eels are catadromous fish, which means that they live in freshwater, but swim to the ocean to spawn (the opposite being anadromous fish, like salmon). The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) swims all the way to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. The eel fry – called leptocephali – take three years to swim across the ocean, until they reach an estuary.

They look nothing like an eel, and for a long time considered totally different species. At the estuary, they metamorphose into elvers, or glass eels, miniature transparent versions of the adult. You can set your clock by the elvers’ migration up the rivers, and people used to collect huge amounts of them, usually in pillowcases, to feed their families.

This no longer happens; places where they used to swarm no contain hardly any. There are only a few people that fish for them, and they hold their fishing spots shrouded in secrecy because they now go for over £500 per pound! I have a soft-spot for elvers and eels – my very first scientific publication was on elvers in Mull, Scotland.

It might not be over for the eel though: a huge amount of migrating elvers were spotted swimming up the River Severn in 2010, say the BBC (see here). Hopefully this isn’t just a freak occurrence.

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To make mince pies…

A few posts ago I gave the recipe for Mrs Beeton’s mincemeat, so I thought it only right to give a little instruction in making mince pies. I have to tell you that it is really worth the trouble of making your own mincemeat and mince pies – any bought ones are incomparable and always too sweet. The secret to an excellent mince pie is two-fold: you need homemade mincemeat and you need shortcrust pastry that is made with half butter and half lard. many people recoil in horror these days at thought of using lard, but it isn’t that bad really, at least not in small doses.

A recipe by Roger Twysden from the times of Charles I (c. 1640) says that larger Christmas pies were also made using a mixture made of meat, sugar, dried fruit and spices. He then says: “put them in coffins or pyes, and bake them”. The word coffin was used to describe the pastry-shell of pies. The reason they were called coffins is because, in earlier times, the pastry simply served as a casing intowhich the meat could be cooked; the pastry itself actually being inedible. They weren’t actually coffin-shaped, except for the Christmas Pie as Charles Dickens, writing in 1877, tells us: ‘ The coffin shape…is not now familiar to us. There is good reason to believe that, in old times, the form was symbolic of the manger at Bethlehem; and that Christmas Pie, whether mince or not, had religious as well as a gastronomic association with this particular season.’

For more typical mince pies, they are based upon Jane Grigson’s instructions from English Food, and they are excellent.

Roll out your pastry and use cutters to line…tart tins [I actually use muffin tins, cutting a large circle for the base, and a smaller one for the top]. Add…[a dessertspoon] of the mincemeat – not too much though the suet and sugar expands quite alot. Use some beaten egg to glue on lids of pastry, pinching as you go. Lastly brush the top with more egg, make a little cross in the top of the pie so steam can escape and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake at 220⁰C (425⁰F) for 15 to 20 minutes. Eat warm or cold. If you are feeling extra-Christmassy and if your stomach can take it, add a blob of brand or rum butter. Personally I go for a blob of lightly whipped cream or even some custard if any is to hand [and I concur!].


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Filed under Christmas, food, history, Nineteenth Century, Puddings, Recipes, Teatime, The Victorians

Traditional Mincemeat

To kick off the Christmas theme for December, I thought I would give you a couple of mincemeat recipes – one sixteenth and one nineteenth century. They cenrtainly different from the Robinson’s jarred stuff my Mum used when I was a child. Robinson’s were a strange brand of preserves with a ‘Golly’ mascot that was still being used in the 2000s. It’s a long story of how this was allowed that requires a whole entry to itself I think…

Modern day mincemeat is a preserve of sugar, dried fruits, nuts and suet used to fill mince pies. It is certainly in no way meaty. In fact, I think vegetarian suet used these days. The further back you travel in time however, the more meaty the recipes become. Originally, the idea was to make a pie filled with minced meat, heavily flavoured with spices and dried fruits. There were two main reasons for this; first it allowed one to show off about how much spice one could afford; and second, the sweet aromatics could overpower any meat that was past its prime. To show you what I mean, here’s how ‘to bake the humbles of a deer’ from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson from 1598 (the humbles are the innards by the way):

Mince them very small and season them with salt and pepper, cinnamon and ginger, and sugar if you will, and cloves, mace, dates, and currants and, if you will, mince almonds, and put unto them. When it is baked you must put in fine fat, and sugar, cinnamon and ginger and let it boil. When it is minced put them together.

The last sentence is puzzling, but it seems to be a recipe that is possible to do these days, though in sixteenth century cook books there are never quantities mentioned.

The same cannot be said for the next recipe from Mrs Isabella Beeton. Mrs Beeton was the first recipe writer to have the great idea of listing the ingredients and the quantities before the recipe. In her magnum opus of 1888, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, she included  recipes for a regular one, an American one and an ‘excellent’ one. I have never tried the latter two recipes, but the regular one makes the best mince pies I have ever eaten in my life, so if you are thing of making your own mincemeat I urge you to give this one a go. It does contain beef which shouldn’t put you off as you can’t taste it, but it does give it amazing delicious qualities. The quanitities Mrs Beeton gives are huge, so it is best to half or even quarter them. Here they are:

2 lbs raisins

3 lbs currants

1 1/2 lbs of lean beeef such as rump

3 lbs of suet – fresh is best, put the packet stuff is also good

2 pounds of soft dark brown sugar

6 oz mixed candied citrus peel (cintron, lemon, orange &c)

1 nutmeg, grated

2 lbs of tart apples such as Cox’s Orange pippins, peeled, cored and grated

the zest of 2 lemons and the juice of one

1/2 pint of brandy

Mince the beef and suet (or get your butcher to do it).

Then, mix all the remaining ingredients together well and pot into sterilised jars, making sure you push it down well to exclude any trapped air bubbles. Leave for at least 2 weeks before you use it. In a couple of weeks, I’ll give you recipe to make the perfect mince pie


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Jam Roly-Poly

That lady I fancied I was looking at her, though, as far as I could see, she had the figure and complexion of a roly-poly pudding – William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes of a journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1846

A great piece of modern-day vintage art by Martin Wiscombe 

If you ask most British people what their most favourite childhood dessert is, the jam roly-poly pudding would be one of the top rankers; it certainly is one of mine. A roly-poly is a pudding made from suet dough that is spread with jam and then rolled up. Originally, it was boiled in some muslin, but is these days steamed or baked. Other fillings can be done such as golden syrup, apples or prunes. I have never tried a sweet roly-poly with anything other than jam, and even then I will only use raspberry or blackcurant jam. There are also savoury roly-poly puddings. It was common to boil the roly-poly in a shirt sleeve, giving it the nick-name ‘dead man’s arm’. I’ve never actually made any kind of pudding by boiling it in muslin, never mind a shirt sleeve. Next time I do a pudding I will do it the old-fashioned way. After all this is a history blog, isn’t it? What makes a pudding a pudding? Click here.

This pud seems to have been invented during the first half of the nineteenth century, no mention of it occurs before 1800 as far as I see, apart from writings about a game called Roly-Poly.

ROLY-POLY. (1) A pudding made in round layers, with preserves or treacle between…

(2) A low, vulgar person.

(3) A game played with a certain number of pins and a ball…

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, A dictionary of archaic and provincial words Vol II, 1847

Here is my recipe for jam roly-roly poly, the suet pastry shouldn’t be sweet; the sweetness should come from the jam and custard (with which it is always served). You can swap any preserve for the jam if you like, I imagine lemon curd would be good. It feeds at least six people and is pretty good value for money – these sorts of wintertime desserts are supposed to warm and fill you. At some point I’ll give the apple and prune one a try and put the recipes for them on here too.


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Ingredients:

400 g self-raising flour

good pinch of salt

200 g suet

160 – 180 ml milk or water

your favourite jam

custard, to serve

First, make the suet pastry. If you haven’t made pastry before, don’t worry, suet pastry is the easiest of all the pastries to make. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar and suet together. Using a butter knife, mix in a little liquid. When incorporated, add a little more. Keep adding and incorporating until a dough begins to form, then start using your hands to form a soft, but not sticky dough.

If you add too much liquid add a bit more flour. Now roll out the dough into an oblong as long as your steaming receptacle (I use a large roasting tin with trivet) and spread it with jam.

Make sure you leave a space of a centimetre at each side and a space of 2 cm along the top length of the rolled out pastry.

Moisten the edges all the way round with a little water and fold over the first part of the dough.

Carefully roll it up, making sure that the jam doesn’t get pushed to the edge, spilling out. Fold the ends under to prevent the jam from escaping.

Sit the rolled pudding on some greaseproof paper and fold the edge up in a pleat, tucking the edges under, making sure there is room for the pudding to expand.

Next, sit that on some foil, and again secure by folding a pleat and scrunching the edges.

Place the pudding on a trivet in a roasting tin. Cover the whole thing with foil, making it nice and tight around the edges – you don’t want steam (and therefore heat) to escape. Leave one corner unsecured so you can pour a kettle of hot water inside, then secure the final edge. Place over one or two hobs and get the water up to a good boil. After around 20 minutes, turn the heat down to medium-low and leave the pudding to steam for 90 minutes.

When the time is up CAREFULLY remove the foil – don’t get yourself a steam burn at this point! Remove the pudding and let it stand for 5 or 10 minutes before you unwrap, slice and serve it.

If you like, especially if the pudding hasn’t browned very much in the steaming process, just before the end of the cooking time, preheat the oven to 200⁰C (400⁰F). Take the roly poly out of its little tin prison, place on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up.

Serve hot with custard poured over it.

Hey Presto!

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