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.

7.4: Biscuits – completed!

So, I have completed another section of English Food! The Biscuits section of the Teatime chapter was quite short with only nine relatively easy recipes; yet it has taken me all this time to bake them!
That said, it’s a surprise that it is so short, as there is a great tradition of biscuit-making with many diverse regional recipes. Jane reckoned that biscuits are one of the few successes of the manufacturing industry, meaning folk are more reluctant to bake them today. She’s probably right, and I expect it is why the section is so short.

Grasmere Gingerbread II
Biscuits come in essentially two forms in Britain: sweet and savoury, the latter more often called crackers. They all have a common ancestor: the ship’s biscuit. A hard, dry rusk that could survive long journeys at sea without spoiling. They were boring, but provided sustenance, often crumbled into broth or hot drinks; our love today for dunking our biscuits into tea and coffee is a throwback to this.
The original biscuits were made from breadcrumbs, reformed and baked in cooling bread ovens (biscuit literally means ‘twice-baked’). Biscuits began to get rather more interesting during the times of the Crusades where the laying down of the spice trading routes, brought not only spices but also sugar (then considered a spice) to Britain. More upmarket biscuits were a mixture of honey and fresh breadcrumbs and were highly-spiced – a Mediæval recipe is included in the book and very good it is too.
But it is descendants of the hard and dry ship’s biscuits that have survived  – Grasmere gingerbread, shortbread, digestives, Rich Tea, Hob Nobs, cream crackers, Ritz crackers, Nice biscuits are all based on them! The list is almost endless.

Cheese and Oat Biscuits
Perhaps it is not the most exciting part of the book, but I there are some real gems in here. I have used  Jane’s recipes for Shortcakesand Grasmere Gingerbread since I first started The Buttery, and the excellent Brandy Snaps were used as part of the dessert in my very first pop-up restaurant. I’ve not found better recipes to this day.
Biscuits are much easier to make than cakes or breads, so if you haven’t done much baking, they are probably a good place to start – though they do have to be watched as they do catch easily.

Making Brandy Snaps
All the recipes in the section are listed below as they appear in the book with hyperlinks and the score I gave them out of ten. The section scores an average of 7.6, the second best mean score so far; the recipes were perhaps not particularly exciting but they were reliable

#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread

Here’s a recipe from English Food I have been meaning to make for a while but never have gotten around to until now. I love nothing more than having a go at making these very old recipes – a true window into the past. I can think of no other way than experiencing history. It doesn’t even matter if it tastes good! Quite often some of them have become part of our repertoire at The Buttery, but will this one?
This is an interesting case – mediaeval gingerbread doesn’t resemble modern gingerbreads (like #174 Grasmere Gingerbread I) or even ginger cakes like parkin or Jane’s Ginger Cake (#53). It’s literally ginger and bread mixed with honey and some other spices, so it turns out that this gingerbread is the predecessor of treacle tart too! (I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could produce some kind of family tree of food.)

Mediaeval woodcut, c. 1485
Jane doesn’t give the original recipe, though I have managed to track it down; it’s from an undated medical manuscript known catchily as BL MS Sloane 121, thought to be late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. Many of these Early and Middle English recipes are difficult to decipher, but this one isn’t too tricky:
To make gingerbrede. Take goode honye & clarefie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastel brede & grate it, & caste it into the boylenge hony, & stere it well togyderfast with a sklyse that it bren not to the vessel. & then take it doun and put therin ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it up with thin hands; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe theron suger, & pick therin clowes rounde aboute by the egge and in the mydes, yf it plece you, &c.
Today there is no need to clarify honey, so that step can be missed out, but then it is simply a case of heating up honey and adding some spices; ginger, long pepper (a very common spice then, which has been superseded these days by peppercorns) and sanders (heated and powdered sandalwood) for colour. Stir these in making sure nothing gets burnt, then shape onto a flat tray. Extra sugar can be scattered over and it can be decorated around the edge and middle with cloves. Often gingerbread would be decorated with gold leaf. Other spices used include saffron, cinnamon, galangal, nutmeg, mace and cardamom.
Oddly, Jane found some recipes for gingerbread that do not contain ginger! This could be a mistake by the scribe (these manuscripts predate the printing press so were all handwritten) or it could be that gingerbread became a word for any spiced honey-bread mixture. Jane flags up the point the point that in some European countries the gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses don’t contain ginger!
Jane’s method:
I made some gingerbread…and found you needed about 1 oz of breadcrumbs to one heaped dessertspoonful of honey…Some kind of colouring was needed, because the mixture would have been too pale without it: I used powdered saffron. By stirring the crumbs into the very hot honey, I made a thick paste which could easily be handled and moulded into shape, like almond paste. When the cake was cool, we ate it in slices…
She doesn’t actually say which spices she used, but it seems she used ground ginger, cinnamon and black pepper as in the original recipe. She doesn’t give any proportions of spice either.
My method:
I used the fact that this mediaeval gingerbread was the precursor to the treacle tart, and made a honey-ginger tart.

900g honey

1 tbs ground ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron
zest and juice of 1 lemon (optional, see below)
325g stale breadcrumbs
a 10-inch blind-baked sweet pastry case
To save yourself from a horrible sticky mess, measure the honey straight into your saucepan and warm it gently. Add the spices, crumbling in the saffron and stir in with a wooden spoon. 


Give the mixture a taste, if you want to add more spice, you can; if it tastes far too sweet add the juice and zest of a lemon. Pour in the breadcrumbs and stir thouroughly.

If you want, you can pour this mixture into a lined tin, even better pour it into the pastry case. Either way, bake the mixture for around 20 minutes in a low oven, around 150C to help it firm up. You can then let it cool and cut up appropriately. If the top looks a bit pale and boring – as mine did – quickly brown it with a blowtorch.

We were quite impressed with the result and put it on the menu with a nicely-placed blob of Frangelico flavoured sweet cream.

#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread. It’s always good to find these excellent ancient recipes, especially when it produces something delicious. For our modern tastes, it definitely needed a bit of lemon, and only really needed the ginger, ground mixed spice and black pepper; the saffron and cardamom were a bit unnecessary. Anyway, a lovely peek into our mediaeval past, 8/10.

7.1 Bread – Completed!

So with the baking of #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns I’ve completed the Breadsection of the Teatime chapter, and it has been a mixed bag. Looking back over the posts, very few have stuck in my mind; in fact I don’t even remember cooking some of them! I have no recollection of #81 Northumbrian Wholemeal Scones, for example. What is strange is that I seem to score the recipes quite highly. I think it was just the novelty of baking bread creating bias; for the first time my house was being filled with the smell of freshly-baked bread, and I was getting to taste real bread made with fresh yeast. Even if it was a slightly stodgy, under kneaded doorstop.
The totally forgettable Wholemeal Scones

Jane doesn’t give much advice to the total novice and assumes we have an idea of the bread-making process. When she does give advice, it is wrong; for #53 Electric Dough Hook Bread, she advises us to mix the dough only briefly. This does not create a good, fluffy loaf, though I was impressed at the time.
Electric Dough Hook Bread
 

 However, it is Jane’s writing that provides such detail about the history of the recipes, one cannot resist getting interested, so I bought Elizabeth David’s tome, English Bread & Yeast Cookery, which again, got me hooked even more so. After baking many of her recipes, I was still finding the bread I was making not quite up to scratch. It was simply practise that got me there – trial and error, and getting used to the feel of dough that had been kneaded sufficiently to produce a good, light loaf. The penny dropped for me whilst I was living in Saint Louis. Only then, did I realise that some of the recipes work very well, but others really do not.

The real star of the chapter is the #224 Basic Bun Dough recipe which can be used to make #370 Chelsea Buns and (my personal favourite) #370 Chelsea Buns. #104 Wiltshire Lardy Cake piqued my interest and I worked on Jane’s recipe to produce one that works well for me, appearing on a pop-up restaurant menu as part of a dessert. I feel I really need to revisit others of the same ilk such as #227 Wigs and #274 Saffron Cake from Cornwall.

The winning recipe – Chelsea Buns
Recipes that simply do not work are #401 Plum Bread and #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns.

Now you may think I am being critical – perhaps over critical – of my food goddess, but over and above what I think of the recipes within this part of the book, the end result is a chap who can now bake bread, knows what good bread is, and who will never, ever, buy a plastic-wrapped Chorleywood supermarket loaf ever again. Surely this is the point?

Wiltshire Lardy Cake
Here’s the full list of recipes as they appear in the book with their scores. The Bread recipes averaged out with a mean score of 6.9.