Time for tea?

There are times when I just love playing with the pretty decorations that I have in my house – well I think they’re lovely anyway! Dating back to the times when I was helping style all the non fiction flower arranging and cookery books that I wrote in the 80s and 90s, I have always liked arranging pretty things.

Some might call my house cluttered (Richard does for one) but I just can’t resist lovely bits of vintage lace, shells, pretty flowers, semi precious rocks, old china – you name it and I squirrel it away pretending it might come in for a photo shoot sometime, somewhere!

Well these lovely flowers arrived today and I thought they were too nice not to share with the world. The blue hydrangea is high on my list of favourite flowers as Richard knows and the fabulous bouquet of tulips and herbs was part of my Christmas present also from Richard – a bouquet of flowers every month for six months – how lucky am I?

So I got playing and before you accuse me of eating way too many cakes, these are fake cakes intended for use in photography or window displays and I just think they look lovely sitting on the dresser base I have in that room. I have had to explain to little Grace several times now that they are Granny’s toy cakes like the bits in her toy kitchen and not for eating – you can see her narrowing her eyes and deciding whether to believe me or not!

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The Mystery of Mrs Beeton…

I was having a sort through my many (far too many!) cookery books last weekend and I came across a copy of ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ first published back in1861. The name Mrs Beeton is still widely known and referred to over 150 years later. The book is still in print today.

But what do most people know about Mrs Beeton? Until I read a recent biography of her by Kathryn Hughes, I’d imagined Mrs Beeton was an elderly Victorian lady who recorded recipes and household tips gleaned through decades of running a thoroughly organised family home. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Born Isabella Mayson, she was an English journalist and editor who married Samuel Beeton, an ambitious publisher and magazine editor. In 1857, less than a year after their wedding, Isabella began writing for one of her husband’s publications, ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’. She translated French fiction and wrote the cookery column, though all the recipes were actually plagiarised from other works or sent in by the magazine’s readers!

In 1859, the Beetons launched a series of monthly supplements to ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’. These 24 instalments were published in one volume as ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ in October 1861. It sold 60,000 copies in the first year alone and was one of the major publishing events of the nineteenth century. Of the 1112 pages, over 900 contained recipes. The remainder provided advice on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, first aid and the importance in the use of local and seasonal produce.

Isabella was working on an abridged version of her book, which was to be titled ‘The Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery’, when she died of puerperal fever in February 1865 at the age of just 28. As well as producing an incredible amount of published works, in her tragically short life, she gave birth to four children, two of whom died in infancy, and had several miscarriages.

Her name is firmly linked with knowledge and authority on Victorian cooking and home management, and the Oxford English Dictionary states that by 1891 the term ‘Mrs Beeton’ had become a generic name for a domestic authority. She is also considered a strong influence in the shaping of a middle-class identity of the Victorian era. What an amazing legacy for a woman who died so young.

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More food fun…!

Top to bottom: Sally Lunn Bun, Cornish Hevva Cake, Bath Chaps and Spotted Dick.Following on from an earlier blog, here are some more foods with funny names… childish, me…?!

The Sally Lunn Bun
In the 17th century, the ‘Sally Lunn bun’ became synonymous with the fashionable city of Bath. ‘Sally’ is thought to have been a Frenchwoman named Solange Luyon but, thanks to her colleagues’ poor French, when the bun became a popular delicacy in Georgian times it was mispronounced and became known as the Sally Lunn bun. 

However, as is often the way… there is disagreement over the name’s origin. A similar French breakfast cake known as a ‘solei et lune’ (it being golden on top like the sun and pale on the bottom like the moon) gave rise to the suggestion that the baker could have been crying “Sol et lune! Solei lune!” in her French accent and passers-by misheard it as ‘Sally Lunn’. I quite like both of these explanations.

Cornish Hevva Cake
Cornish hevva cake, also known as heavy cake, is a simple cake associated with the pilchard fishing industry. It is said that when fisherman hauled aboard a pilchard shoal they would cry “hevva” to let their wives know to start baking the hevva cake. Its history is reflected in the diagonal lines scored across its top before it goes in the oven so it comes out looking like a fishing net. I can well imagine them all shouting ‘heave’ as they toiled away, but I guess the ‘hevva’ story is altogether more interesting!

Bath Chaps
Bath Chaps are the lower portion of a long-jawed pig’s cheeks and sometimes part of the tongue, pickled and boiled, skinned and rolled in breadcrumbs. The word ‘chap’ is a variant of ‘chop’ that, in the 16th century, meant an animal’s jaws and cheeks. They were very much a West Country delicacy and may well have been delicious, but are probably a little too graphic-sounding for many of us today!

Spotted Dick
Well, I suppose I had to finish off with this one! The ‘spotted’ part is due to the raisins or currants studded all over the pudding. The word ‘dick’ is said to have denoted a plain pudding and could be a shortening of pudding to ‘ding’, which then became ‘dick’. Amazing how words and phrases change over time!

 

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Funny food!

Top to bottom: Fidget Pie, Toad in the Hole, Singin’ Hinnies and Dead Man’s Arm… sorry, that should be Jam Roly Poly!Coming across things with funny names always makes me chuckle and I think some of the old-fashioned names we have for particular recipes are a hoot! Of course, working out their original meaning is often guesswork, but there are some very interesting ones out there. Here are a few you might enjoy…

Fidget Pie
Fidget pie is a traditional English dish made from a small pastry case filled with gammon, onion, potatoes, cider and apple and topped with cheese and a pastry lid. Some believe the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fitched’, meaning five-sided. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word appeared in the late 18th century as fitchet-pie, perhaps from fitchet, a dialect word for ‘polecat’, because of the strong, unpleasant odour of the pie during cooking. Really?!

Toad in the Hole
Some say this quintessentially British dish got its name because the sausages in batter look like little amphibians peeking out of a hole. But there’s also the possibility it could be linked to a pub game known as ‘toad in the hole’ in which players try to throw a heavy disc – the toad – through a hole in a lead-topped table. Could there have been some resemblance between the two when they were put on the table? I think I prefer the first option.

Singin’ Hinnies
While they may sound like a 1980s pop group, Singin’ hinnies are actually flat, scone-like cakes from the Northumberland area, originally made from a large piece of dough that was cooked on a griddle over the home fire before being split into segments. Singin’ hinnies take their name from the sizzling sounds they make as they cook. They are said to sing because butter and milk or cream would drip and sizzle merrily in the scolding pan. The term ‘hinnie’ is another way of saying ‘honey’ and is used as a term of endearment, often to describe children.

Dead Man’s Arm
Another name for the jam roly poly is the ‘dead man’s arm’, not just because it looks like one when the jam spurts out, but because it was often wrapped in an old shirt sleeve to be steamed. I think I will stick to calling it jam roly poly, thank you, slightly more appetising!

I have a few more up my sleeve (pun intended!) so will share those with you in a later blog. But meanwhile, do share any interestingly named dishes that you know of. There are lots of regional variations I am sure!

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Happy memories…

Guest blog from Julia Wherrell

We have all been feeling immensely sad for the past couple of weeks after the loss of both Joanna’s Mother, Diana, and step-father, John, in such quick succession.

I was fortunate enough to know both Diana and John for about 45 years and have shared many Christmasses and birthday celebrations with them after we all ended up living near each other in Devon. They were very kind and inclusive, there was always a wonderful sense of warmth and the comfortable feeling of things being done ‘just so’.

As a child, I was always awe-struck by Diana as I thought she looked like a film star – always elegantly dressed and coiffured. John had the most beautiful speaking voice and what people call ‘a military bearing’, and they made a fine couple.

I always associate Diana with two things –­ flower arranging and baking. She excelled at both and always had flowers in her house and delicious smells coming from the oven. Up until a couple of years ago, she was still entering flower arrangements in the local flower show and I can remember helping to carry them to the car in readiness for John to deliver them to the judging tent in good time. She invariably won!

About three years ago, when my own Father was visiting me, we were invited to tea with Diana and John. I had assumed with would be a cup of tea and a biscuit… but no! Diana wheeled in a tea trolley laden with freshly-baked scones, home made jam, fresh strawberries and clotted cream! It was a magnificent feast and my Father, well known for his healthy appetite, tucked in very happily.

Diana’s favourite flowers were violets and I know these were foremost in Joanna’s mind when we wrote our second novel ‘A Violet Death’. I was hunting round for violets to photograph for the front cover when I received a call from Diana telling me that she had plenty in bloom in her garden if I wanted to drive over and snap them… so I did.

They will be hugely missed by their family and friends.

 

 

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