Chapter 7: Teatime – Completed!

When I started this project, baking wasn’t the seemingly national pastime as it is now since the rise of the behemoth that is The Great British Bake Off, but it was something I liked to do and was okay at, but certainly had a very narrow baking repertoire. I certainly never baked bread or biscuits, my cake-making was average, but I did make a passable shortcrust pastry. After baking my way through the recipes in this chapter, my world was opened up to a vast array of sticky, spicy, sweet and sometimes stodgy treats, many of which are now standards in my own cooking.

Baking #429 Cumberland Currant Cake
People are sick of mass-produced cakes and biscuits devoid of real flavours, covered in single-use plastic wrapping. Many of the recipes were quite obscure then and I wouldn’t have bothered with them normally, they seem less so now as people all over the country are looking to tradition in their home baking. That said, some recipes in the book are still obscure and old fashioned: you still don’t see #227 Wigs, #62 Seed Cake, #274 Saffron Cake or #431 Murrumbidgee Cake. All these recipes can be found within the pages of English Food.

#113 Muffins
The Teatime chapter was a whopper; so big  I had to split it into four parts, otherwise it would have felt like a never-ending task as there were 72 recipes!
I split them into:
·       7.1: Bread (15 recipes)
·       7.2: Cakes & Tarts (35 recipes)
·       7.3: Pancakes & Griddle Cakes (13 recipes)
·       7.4: Biscuits (9 recipes)

Click on the hyper-links to see my reviews of the four sections.

The chapter scored an overall mean score of 7.0, which seems pretty average for the book so far. For those who care (and I know none of you do), here’s a little bar chart showing the mean scores for the chapter as a whole and then the separate subchapters. There are even error bars, don’t say I don’t treat you.

One important thing I learnt was that Teatime treats are not always sweet cakes and biscuits, but sandwiches made with a variety of breads, toast, muffins and crumpets.


There are blurred lines between my distinctions too; cakes used to be leavened with yeast before the advent of chemical raising agents so there is a continuum between bread and cake, cake and tart, tart and biscuit, biscuit and cake.

#186 Cheese and Oat Biscuits


But where does our obsession with teatime come from?

Well, tea had been drunk in Britain from around 1660; Charles II enjoyed a cuppa char every now and again, that’s for sure. However, it was extremely expensive and only the richest of folk could afford this exotic Chinese drink. It only really started to catch on when Assam tea plants were discovered to be growing in India in the 1820s. Prior to this, the Chinese had held the whole process of tea growing and drying under a shroud of secrecy. The British could buy their tea much more cheaply – it was also the catalyst for the British occupation of India, but that’s a story for another day. It was still expensive at this point, but the upper and middle-upper classes starting drinking it with gusto.

Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford
The idea of teatime as we know it originates in the mid-19thcentury when the 7th Duchess of Bedford started asking for tea and bread and butter to be served to her in her room at 4 o’clock. The reason she did this was to quash her hunger pangs as she waited for dinner at 9 o’clock. Then, the only other meal of the day was breakfast. She started inviting her lady friends to enjoy her, and soon her lady friends began their own teatimes and invite other ladies to attend. The Duchess was very prominent in society and was good friends with Queen Victoria, so when her Royal Highness decided to start taking tea in afternoon too, the country went nuts.
The Queen had elaborate teas, and whatever she was doing, and wherever she might have been, she stopped for tea at around 4 o’clock. It would be very common for an en routequeen to stop her carriage and entourage, for a fire to be lit at the roadside, and for her to sup tea and eat the associated treats. She loved travelling and eating but found it much less exciting once her travel occurred mainly by train and there was no need to stop for tea anymore!

Making dough
Ladies had to be seen hosting teatimes and attending teatimes, one must have needed quite some stamina to trawl across the town or village several times so that one could be noticed.
Some disapproved of teatime, Sir Henry Thompson in 1891 said it was an undesirable habit as it was too generous and spoiled the coming dinner. He may well have been right, those poor ladies must have eaten and drank their fill when doing their rounds.
A truly traditional teatime is made up of sandwiches of cold meats and watercress. Cucumber was not originally popular as people regarded it with distain thinking raw cucumber was poisonous. It was also a rigmarole to prepare the sandwiches in advance; just using sliced cucumber made sandwiches soggy, so the slices had be salted overnight to draw out moisture, then rinsed and individually patted dry.

#270 Mereworth Biscuits
Joining the sandwiches were crumpets, muffins, wigs and seed cakes. Seed cakes were very popular because the caraway seeds that went into them were one of the very few spices that could be grown in Europe. There would be lashings of butter, honey and jam too of course.
Sweet sponge cakes like Victoria sponges were not generally eaten by the grown-ups, but instead made up the bulk of the nursery tea, though I’m sure there are many adults today who would prefer it!
I spotted a great reference to a Victorian book called Walsh’s Manual of Domestic Economy, which recommended, as part of a child’s teatime, a wineglass of homebrew to ‘restore health to the most delicate children’. Get that top tip on Mum’s Net!
Personally, I am very glad that home baking and teatime have regained popularity in Britain. I hope it’s not a fad and we all start buying Mr Kipling’s Fondant Fancies again in 18 months’ time or whatever.
Long may it continue!

7.2 Cakes & Tarts – Completed!

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake

The Cakes and Tarts section of the mammoth Teatimechapter is now complete. There have been some great recipes in this part of the book, many of which have become standards.
The Teatimechapter is so big that I had to split it, rather arbitrarily, into four parts; because of this there are some grey areas and some of the Breadrecipes should technically be part of this section. When we think of cakes, we tend think of light sponges made with flour containing a raising agent. These chemical aids to cookery, only appeared in late Georgian times, and only really caught on in the Victorian era; before then, cakes had to be raised with yeast. These days we would call these sorts of cakes ‘enriched breads’, so that’s why I have included them in the Breadsection. Likewise, there is a continuum between cake into tart with a cut-off point that was more difficult to separate and so for that reason, I kept them together.
#49 Orange Cake 


There were very few disasters in the book, with the only bad recipes being the extremely dry and boring (#160) Rice Cake, and the super-sweet (#248) Mazarines; avoid those ones for sure. However, everything else was pretty good, I think I got better at baking cakes and pastry as I worked though the book, so some earlier efforts got unfairly marked down. Like all baking, it takes a little practise to improve. I also cooked many of these recipes very early on and barely remember cooking some of them!

#135 Butterscotch Cake

Inside this section are some simple classics as well as some great discoveries. The two tea loaves really are excellent, and it turns out the parsnip beats the carrot hands down in a cake. (#429) Cumberland Currant Cake and (#431) Murrumbidgee Cake (though the former is not a cake, but a tart) were excellent latter day discoveries, and Jane’s (#226) Eccles Cake filling is delicious, especially when used with her recipe for (#384) Fool-Proof Puff Pastry.
The biggest successes of all must be the Christmas recipes. Jane’s (#15) Christmas Cake is simply excellent, it is the only recipe to achieve full-marks and it is the one I use professionally. Likewise, the two mincemeatrecipes are part of my Yuletide repertoire, though I inexplicably scored them quite low. Must have had a bad day.
#429 Cumberland Currant Cake

This recipe had 35 recipes in all, and I think pretty comprehensive; usually I have list of glaring omissions, but this time I can’t really think of any. I suppose there are cakes that didn’t exist, or were not yet popular at the time of writing English Food, like lemon drizzle cake or American muffins. If you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know and leave a comment!
#56 Stuffed Monkey

All the recipes from this section are listed below with links plus the scores they were awarded. It scored a mean mark of 7.3 (or if you’d prefer, both a median and mode of 7), making it a rather average chapter; the average mean score for a chapter at the time of writing is 7.28, so it couldn’t be much more average!
Finishing this section, means I have completed the behemoth that was the Teatimechapter, so I’ll be writing a little round up of that soon.
#206 Orange MincemeatPart 1 and Part 2 6.5/10

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake

I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Jane Grigson – and therefore this blog – I wouldn’t be doing what I do now. Cooking and writing for a living was not what I had in mind when I started it; I just needed a way to practise writing for my PhD! I didn’t really know who Jane Grigson was, but I could see by the book English Food sat on my shelf, which someone else had bought me, that it was comprehensive and would be a challenge.

Jane Grigson died in 1992, but her voice and ethos certainly spoke to me loud and clear. Since her death, her influence is still strong for those in the know. But how do you get people not in the know to discover her? It’s certainly not by walking into a bookshop. I make a point of going into one and heading straight to the cookery section; only very rarely is there a Jane Grigson book to be found, yet there is often several by her contemporary Elizabeth David.
Jane and Sophie Grigson (Rex Features)

Her death shocked and saddened people, and her family felt it the strongest, yet after her death her daughter Sophie discovered something in Jane’s kitchen. “We were sitting around shell-shocked, but then I found a Murrumbidgee cake in her larder. A beautiful thing, rich, dense, a favourite of hers. I cut slices of it, and we ate them, and it was wonderful. Her last gift to us.”

Jane would buy these cakes in Oxford, eventually getting hold of a recipe after several years of searching and put it in English Food. It’s a fruit cake so full of dried fruit and nuts that there’s barely any cake batter, rather like American fruit cakes, she says. The cake takes its name from the Murrumbidgee river in Australia, so how it ended up in Oxford I don’t know.

First of all, line a 2 pound loaf tin with greaseproof paper and set the oven to 150°C. Next, mix together the fruit and nuts in a large bowl: 7 ounces of whole Brazil nuts, 5 ounces of whole walnut halves, 8 ounces of halved stoned dates, 3 ½ ounces of candied citrus peel, 6 ounces of glacécherries, 3 ½ ounces of raisinsand the grated zest of a lemon. Phew!


Now mix 3 ½ ounces of plain flour with ½ teaspoon each of baking powder and salt and five ounces of caster sugar. Sift these over the fruit and nuts, getting your hands in there to make sure they all get coated.

In a jug, beat 3large eggs with a teaspoon of vanilla extract, pour into the fruit and flour and mix well until you have a stiff batter.
Pile in the mixture into the tin, pressing down the fruit and nuts and smoothing as well you can; I found this very tricky as there is so little cake batter but it all turned out okay in the end.

Bake for two hours, testing the mixture with a skewer to see if it’s baked, if during the bake, the cake looks as though it’s getting too brown, cover with brown paper.
Cool the cake for 10 minutes and turn out onto a clean tea towel and make several holes in the cake with a skewer. Feed it with some alcohol; Jane suggests brandy or rum, but you can use any spirit or liqueur you like, I went with rum. Wrap the cake in the towel, cover with cling film and pop in the fridge. Every week, for one to two months, feed with a little more alcohol.

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake. This was a wonderful cake! I know fruit cakes like this are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to say it beats a Christmas cake hands-down, and as just as Jane says, there’s a good richness to the cake but without the sweet icing that usually adorns a fruit cake. The fruit was soft and the cake mixture deliciously moist. It’s quite an expensive cake to make, unless you eat a variety of dried fruit and nuts anyway and have them in your larder, but it is definitely worth it. It may not have become a British classic, but it is a Grigson family classic, and that’ll certainly do for me. 9/10

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake


Jane Grigson was brought up in the far north of England, and this currant cake was very popular there when she was a child. At the end of winter, when there was nothing fresh left in store aside from a few apples and jars of dried fruit, this cake – more a tart really – would be baked. Everywhere in the north has a similar sweetmeat: Eccles cakes, Chorley cakes and currant squares, and of course mince pies. Children usually called them squashed fly cakes or fly cemeteries. ‘We loved it’, she says, ‘and giggled in a corner, while the family talked. No one realised that they were eating a cake with a history, and medieval ancestors.’

In these days of seasonless, year-round fresh fruit and vegetables flown in from all four corners of the globe, many turn their noses up at these dried-fruit based treats. Well not me! I could eat them all year round, though they do taste most delicious when it’s cold and bracing outside.


To make the currant cake, first make a rich shortcrust pastry by rubbing in 5 ounces of butter and 5 ounces of lard into a pound of plain flour along with a pinch of salt. Form a dough with a little cold water, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to rest for around 30 minutes.

Use half the pastry to line a tin with approximate dimensions of 7” x 11” x 1”. My tin wasn’t quite the size as in Jane’s recipe, but it still worked very well.

Now it’s time to layer up the filling ingredients. Start with a good covering of raisins or currants (10 ounces) and then 4 ounces of candied mixed peel. Peel, core and grate a medium-sized cooking apple and scatter that over the mixed fruit. Next, melt 5 ounces ofbutter in a saucepan, remove from the heat and add 4 ounces of pale or dark soft brown sugar (when given the choice, I always go for the latter), 5 tablespoons of rum, a teaspoon of ground allspice and half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and mace. Beat them all together and pour evenly over the fruit.

Now roll out the remainder of the dough so that you can cover it – don’t forget to brush the edges with milk or beaten eggbefore you cover. Press down on the edges, then trim and crimp the pastry. Now brush the lid and scatter over some granulatedor Demerara sugar.

Bake at 200°C for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

Jane suggests either eating hot as a dessert with cream, custard or #211 Cumberland Rum Butter, or cold cut into squares for teatime.

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake. Well I ate this oblong of deliciousness both hot and cold, and it was delicious. The pastry was very rich and the filling sweet yet still tart from the cooking apples; not unlike a giant, square mince pie; and seeing as I’m a mince pie fan, it’s getting a very good mark. When I return to trade at Levenshulme Market later this month, I shall be bringing some of this to sell. Delicious! 9.5/10.

#280 Welsh Cinnamon Cake

Known as Teisen Sinamon in Welsh, this is a mysterious cake. Griggers doesn’t really give any history behind it in the book. She says that the recipe is by Mrs Bobby Freeman (who has written a book of Welsh cakes and buns). She also says that it’s bit of a pity that chefs don’t make traditional dishes enough in their restaurants anymore. I did find after a little research that is a Victorian recipe – thanks Victorian Recipes of Wales teatowel! I’m not actually sure if it is a cake – it’s more like a giant biscuit with some meringue on top. Quite American really.
I made this cake on request for my mate Chandra’s birthday the other day. I think it went down quite well at work.
Cream four ounces each of butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and then beat in two egg yolks (reserve the whites!). Sift eight ounces of plain flour, a rounded teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of baking powder and mix them in stages into the creamed butter and sugar. Knead this mixture together and roll it out to line a nine inch flan tin with a removable base. Actually rolling it out is a total pain in the arse because it breaks up very easily. Instead spread it out over the base of the tin using your knuckles, pushing the dough up the edges and make it neat using the edge of a measuring cup. Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C (that’s 400°F). Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack. Heat some apricot jam with a little water to make a glaze and paint it thinly over the cake. Remember those two egg whites? Add another one and whisk until the stiff-peak stage. Then add three tablespoons of caster sugar and whisk again until the meringue becomes silky and creamy. Pile into the centre of the cake and make decorative swirls and spikes. Bake again at 180°C (350°C) until the meringue is a nice golden brown – about 10 or 15 minutes. Take out and cool on the rack again.
#280 Welsh Cinnamon Cake. Is it a cake? Is it a cookie? We just don’t know. It was very nice though – plenty of warm cinnamon spice. It was a bit stodgy too, but in a good way. I’m not sure about the meringue topping though. Not a bad one, by any means. 6.5/10.

#267 Nut Cake

I needed to test out my oven’s baking capabilities so I thought I would go for a tried-and-tested pound cake. There are five pound cake recipes in English Food and this nut cake is the final one. They all have the same basic recipe, but this one being a nut cake, required two ounces of chopped nuts (I went for walnuts) as well as two tablespoons of strong coffee or rum (I went for coffee) extra. A pound cake needs icing and Griggers suggests making the one that is given for the walnut cake recipe from many moons ago. However, there is such an exciting selection of frostings available in American supermarkets that I had to try one. I bought a vanilla. Talking of vanilla, I got to test out the concentrated vanilla sugar from the last post and used half vanilla and half normal sugar.



#267 Nut Cake. This was a good cake – the vanilla sugar was very successful I thought. Although never the most exciting, pound cakes don’t disappoint either, so all was good. It was a bit dry, but I think I over-did mine a little, so it isn’t Griggers’ fault. 6.5/10.

#259 Banbury Cakes

There has been previous debate and discussion here on Neil Cooks Grigson on the what makes a Chorley cake different from an Eccles cake. It wasn’t really solved, but I thought that an Eccles cake was made with shortcrust pastry and the Chorley was made with puff pastry. It seems that coming in from leftfield to further confuse us is the Banbury cake. Which is what I thought was a Chorley cake. As far as I can see the only difference is maybe that there are more species in it as well as a touch of rum. Does anyone know the differences between the three?

Banbury cakes certainly go way, way back – Griggers found a recipes for them in a book called The English Hus-wife, written in 1615. Hus-wife: what a great word. I’m going to start using it in conversation.

Anyways. In the EEB department of Rice Uiversity we had a Thanksgiving dinner and we were all asked to bring something in for it. These little cakes seemed like the perfect thing to make for a buffet – no need for slicing or even plates. I’m always slightly nervous of making recipes from the book for these kinds of things in case the recipe is God-awful – like previous bad experiences like the Whim-Wham, English Rarebit, the Rice Cake or the Mocha Cake.

First of all, melt two ounces of butter in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and add four ounces of currants (or if you live in America, raisins!), an ounce of candied chopped peel, two ounces of sugar, ½ a teaspoon each of ground allspice and nutmeg as well as ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a tablespoon of rum. Allow to cool.

While you’re waiting, roll out some puff pastry thinly and cut seven inch wide circles. Put a spoonful in the centre of the circle in line about five inches long, drawing and folding in the pastry, pinching in the edges. Turn them over and flatten them slightly with the rolling-pin so that you have oval shaped cake. Make three slashes over the top, brush with egg white and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 220°C (425°F). Allow to cool on racks.

#259 Banbury Cakes. These were very good indeed and they went down well at the thanksgiving dinner which was good, where I got the chance to shamelessly plug the blog. I think I prefer these to the Eccles cakes too, though there isn’t much in it. I scoffed down two as soon as they were cool, which wasn’t good as I was meant to be off wheat at the moment. One thing led to another and I ended up drinking wheat beer and eating a giant pizza in Late Nite Pie. Oh dear. 7.5/10.