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!

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes


Life is too short to stuff a mushroom

Shirley Conran

Goodness knows what Shirley Conran would have thought of this recipe then! It’s the last one in the Vegetableschapter of the book and I have put it off since the beginning, because life’s definitely too short to build a bread snuffbox and stuff it with mushrooms.
A French gold snuffbox (Christie’s)

Another reason I’ve put this one off is that Jane says it’s a ‘good recipe for stretching a few field mushrooms’, and I have been unlucky when it comes to foraging for this type of fungus. I either find just one or two miniscule specimens, or loads of shaggy inkcaps, which aren’t great and prone to decaying very quickly. Well I ran out of patience and bought some nice organic Portobello mushrooms from the excellent grocery store, Unicorn in Chorlton, Manchester.

This is a very calorific recipe: lots of butter, fried bread, cream and sherry. If you make it and next day wake up with gout, don’t run crying to me: you were warned.

Jane doesn’t say whether this a single course or an accompaniment to something else. I had mine with some bitter, dark kale to offset the richness.

She also doesn’t give us any amounts – ‘a system rather than a proper recipe’, she says. Here’s what I did:

I cut slices of breadfrom a tin loaf two inches thick and removed the crust. I reckoned I had enough mushrooms to fill two ‘snuffboxes’. I melted some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and got to work frying the bread. It needs frying on all sides, so you may find you have to add more butter.

Take the giant croutons out of the pan, add more butter and fry a finely chopped onion until golden, then add your mushrooms, which can be sliced, halved or left whole, depending upon size. Season with saltand pepper. Some mushrooms let out a lot of juice, so get the heat turned up so it can evaporate, before turning back down to medium heat.

Whilst you wait for the mushrooms to cook, cut lids into your snuffboxes about half an inch deep. I wasn’t sure if she meant to cut a square from the top, or that you should just slice the top off, so I tried both to see which looked best. Remove the bread from the inside so that you have a box of fried bread; this was actually very easy to do, the bread within was hot and fluffy and just lifted out.

Keep them warm in the oven as you finish the mushroom mixture: mix in a teaspoon of flour, and once incorporated, plenty of double cream(I used a 150 ml pot) to form a smooth sauce. Add a dash of sherry if you like and check the seasoning. Spoon the mixture into the snuffboxes, replace the lids and serve.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes. As is often the case with the book English Food, the recipes one doesn’t want to cook, turn out to be the most delicious; and these snuffboxes were very delicious indeed. What’s more, they weren’t particularly difficult to make. It’s tricky to know what to serve them with. I suggest making them smaller and serving them with a watercress salad for a great first course. Alternatively, make large ones and serve alongside roast game for a family meal. 8/10

#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.

#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns

The Roman Baths

The great thing about Bath is that it has such history; you cannot help but find something to be amazed by at the turn of every street corner.

The famous spa at Bath has attracted people for millennia – there is archaeological evidence of human settlement going back 10,000 years. Bath was founded in 863BC by a chap called Bladud. Suffering from leprosy, he had been ostracised from society and found that bathing in the warm, muddy springs, after seeing pigs doing the same, cured him. It must have put him in fine fettle because he later went on to become the ninth King of the Britons and to father King Lear.

Of course it was the Romans that really transformed the place, creating the town Aqua Sulis with the baths that are there today in fine working order.

From the point of view of food, however, Bath really came into its own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was deluged by the holidaying  middle classes. The Roman Baths and Pump Room were restored to their former glories after centuries of neglect, making Bath the best and most popular of all the spa towns. This wasn’t just because of its locality to London, or that it was in a lovely part of England; it was because Bath simply had the best of everything. It was a trade epicentre: excellent salt marsh lamb from Wales, a seemingly endless supply of fruit and vegetables from Tewkesbury, cider from Glastonbury, apricots, cherries and plums from the Cotswolds, cream and junkets from Devon and Somerset, excellent freshwater fish – especially elvers – from the Severn Valley as well as sea fish from the ports of Cornwall, all came to one place. And that was just British produce! I haven’t mentioned the French brandy, the Spanish wine or the exotic spices from further afield.

All this has made Bath what it is today. Its food heritage, however, seems to have been boiled down into two things: Bath buns and Sally Lunns.

I’ve never seen either Bath buns or Sally Lunns anywhere other than Bath itself, which just goes to show that we still have regional cooking in an age of a swirling population. I like that you don’t see them everywhere; it makes eating one a rare treat to be relished. There are, of course, stories attached to the invention of these enriched breads which should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

A bath bun is a large fruit bun, made with dough similar to that of a Chelsea bun or hot cross bun. The bread dough is enriched with eggs, sugar and currants. At the bottom of each bun is a lump of sugar and the freshly-baked bun is finished with a sticky wash, extra currants and crushed loaf sugar or sugar nibs.

The Bath bun is said to have been invented by a doctor called William Oliver in the 18th century. After his patients visited the Roman baths he would give them a nourishing Bath bun. It was soon apparent that his plan was not working as he expected when he realised his patients were getting somewhat portly. He withdrew the buns and replaced them with hard, dry water biscuits.

I must say that I would have become a hypochondriac if I was one of Oliver’s patients! I would have used any excuse to get my hands on one. They are so delicious – sweet and sticky and very bad for you. I can’t put the attractiveness of the Bath bun better than W Chambers, writing in his Edinburgh Journal of 1855:

The Bath-bun is a sturdy and gorgeous usurper – a new potentiate, whose blandishments have won away a great many children, we regret to say, from their lawful allegiance to the plum-bun. The Bath-bun is not only a toothsome dainty, but showy and alluring withal. It was easier for ancient mariners to resist the temptations of the Sirens, than it is for a modern child to turn away from a Bath-bun…Large, solid, and imposing, it challenges attention, and fascinates its little purchasers.

We can see from this quote that the Bath bun was popular, not just in Bath, but England and Scotland, so what happened to it? Enriched breads are still pretty popular in Britain, even with the advent of comparatively modern chemically-aerated sponge cakes. Strange.

Here’s the recipe that appears in English food. It contains no currants, which I think are as essential as the sugar lumps:

First of all make the ferment – sometimes called a sponge – a yeasty batter that gets the microbial metabolism underway quick smart. Mash together 1 ½ ounces of fresh yeast with the same weight of granulated sugar in a little water taken from ½ pint of blood-heat water. Add the remainder of the water and leave until the mixture has begun to foam, around 20 minutes. As you wait, weigh out 15 ounces of eggs in their shells and crack them into a bowl. Beat in 5 ounces of strong white bread flour and then add the yeast mixture once foaming. Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel so that it can rise for around an hour.

To make the dough, mix into the ferment the following: 30 ounces of strong white bread flour, 12 ounces of softened butter, 3 ounces of granulated sugar, 12 ounces of broken sugar lumps, a good pinch each of mixed spice and salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

Jane says for us to knead this dough together; good luck with that, the mixture is more a batter than a dough. I did this impossible task in my Kitchen Aid. Cover and leave to prove again until its double the size, which could take 90 minutes or longer with such an enriched dough weighed down with so many goodies.

Knock back the dough (the best part of the bread-making process) and ‘shape the dough into pieces the size of a small Cox’s orange pippin’. Good luck with that, too.
Somehow place the pieces of dough on baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper, cover with plastic bags and allow to rise again.

Bake at 200⁰C for around 20 minutes, swapping trays half way though to achieve an even bake.

When almost baked, make the bun wash by boiling together 2 ounces of sugarwith 5 tablespoons of water. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, place on racks and brush with the syrupy mixture. Lastly, crumble over more broken sugar lumps.
#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns. As with many of Jane’s recipes from theBread section of the book I didn’t get on very well with this recipe. The dough was tricky to handle and I couldn’t achieve the proud, round shape I expect from a Bath bun. They also seemed to stale almost immediately. Bit of a damp squib for the last recipe in this section. 3.5/10.

#401 Plum Bread

I made this bread (the penultimate recipe in the Breadpart of the Teatime chapter) all the way back last autumn when plums were in season. It has taken me only four months to pull my finger out and tell you about it.

This is a recipe from a book called British Cooking by Theodora Fitzgibbon published all the way back in 1965. I just a quick search of her back catalogue and she has written a huge series of books on British and Irish cookery. (I ordered a load off that evil website that rhymes with Schlamzon, don’t judge me.)

Jane points out that raisins can replace plums out of season. Here’s what to do:

This is an old school recipe and so it starts with an ounce of fresh yeastcreamed in 3 tablespoons of warm milk. Leave it to do its stuff for 10 minutes and in the meantime mix together 8 ounces of strong white flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the grated zest of a lemon in a bowl.

Make a well in the centre and plop in a large beaten egg, 2 ounces of melted, but tepid, butter and the yeast. Now mix to form the dough. What Jane does not mention is that this dough is so stiff it couldn’t possibly make a decent loaf of bread. Nevertheless, once the dough is (somehow) kneaded to make a smooth dough, place it in an oiled bowl with some clingfilm over it.

Next stone and chop enough plums to make 8 ounces and knead these into the bread. This was quite simply an impossible task, the dough was so stiff that the plums just squashed and made a pulpy mess. This required the food mixer.

“Mix in the plums, this makes the dough sticky”, says Jane. Well the Kitchen Aid made it into a big old sloppy mess, and I was not feeling hopeful.

Pour this mixture into a buttered and lined 9 inch loaf tin and leave it prove until the dough comes to the top of the tin. Bake for an hour at 190⁰C, remove and see if it sounds hollow, if not, pop it back in for another 15 minutes.

#401 Plum Bread. Of all the hundreds of bread recipes in England, why did Jane pick this one? It was so difficult to make and really was not worth the effort. Although the plums were delicious and sweet, the final bread had a strange sour taste. Its texture was very close and cakey. I am wondering if there was a typo or something somewhere in the recipe (I have spotted quite a few in other recipes). Disappointing and took up far too much of my time. 3/10.


#370 Chelsea Buns

‘The best of all buns, on account of their buttery melting sweetness, and the fun of uncoiling them as you eat them’
Jane Grigson

Chelsea buns are indeed delicious, and I think I may agree with Ms Grigson that they are indeed the best. Things are often a far cry away from their best when one makes them ourselves. And after all, what is the point of making something at home if it isn’t as good or better than what you can get in the shops?

The Chelsea bun is an 18thcentury invention, created in the Old Chelsea Bun House, situated between Chelsea and Pimlico. Curiously, noone is absolutely sure of its exact location, but it is known that Kings George II and III visited often. It finally closed in 1839.
The Old Chelsea Bun House
For those of you not in the know, Chelsea buns are made from coils enriched bread dough filled with butter, dark brown sugar and dried fruit and brushed in a sticky sweet glaze.
To make your own Chelsea buns you will need to prepare a batch of #224 Basic Bun Dough, which I first made many moons ago and is also used to make #237 Hot Cross Buns.
Knock back the dough, stretch and roll it into a rectangle of approximately 12 inches by 18 inches so that it is set out before you like a landscape and not a portrait painting.
 
Melt 2 ounces of butter and brush the dough with it, then sprinkle 3 ounces of dark brown sugar evenly over that. Finally, scatter with 3 ounces of raisins and 2 ounces of candied orange peel. Make sure everything goes right up to the edges of your dough. Now start to roll it up; start at one far corner and carefully fold the dough over along the long side.
When you get to the end, go back to the start and start rolling up one section of a time. It needs to be quite a tight roll, so lift the rolled up dough a little to stretch it as you coil it up. Keeps going until it’s all rolled up – it’s quite easy to develop the knack.

Using a good serrated knife or a dough scraper, neaten the roll by taking off the two ends (these can be rolled up to make little teacakes). Now cut the dough into 18 equal pieces. This is easier than it sounds – first cut it into thirds, then cut those thirds into halves to make 6 pieces, and then cut those small bits into thirds again! Breaking it down like that ensures you get even-sized buns.

Grease one large or two medium tins and arrange the buns inside, leaving a gap of about half an inch between them and the sides of the tin. Brush with some beaten egg, then cover with a damp cloth so that they can prove for 20 to 30 minutes until the coils are just touching. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 230⁰C (450⁰F). While the buns are baking, make a bun wash by boiling together 5 tablespoons of water and 2 ounces of sugar until syrupy. When the buns are ready, the edges will be well-joined and the tops nicely browned. Brush over with the bun wash and sprinkle over some crushed up sugar cubes if liked.

It might be tempting to dive straight into the buns while they are hot, but they do eat better if cold or barely warm.

#370 Chelsea Buns. These were brilliant and better than any you can buy – the dough was light and fluffy, the fruit soft and darkly sweet. Excellent with a cup of tea. Definitely the best bread recipe from the Breadsection so far, and not as tricky to make as you’d think. Go and make some! 10/10.

#349 Poor Knights of Windsor (1937)

The Poor Knights of Windsor was a charity set up centuries ago by Edward III soon after he created the Order of the Garter in the mid-14th century to give alms to old and retired soldiers that had lived to protect the country. Quite ahead of his time, I think. How this dessert came to be called Poor Knights of Windsor I do not know. The earliest mention of this dessert I can find crops up in Elizabeth Cleland’s 1755 book A new and easy method of cookery.

Edward III creates the Order of the Garter

Almost 2 years ago I made the 1420 version of this dessert, also called pain perdu. This medieval recipe gave reasonably precise instructions to make it (see here for that post). Perhaps surprisingly, this more recent recipe from Ambrose Heath’s 1937 book Good Sweets, is rather scant on instruction:
Cut a French roll in slices and soak them in sherry. Then dip them in beaten yolks of eggs and fry them. Make a sauce of butter, sherry and sugar to serve with them.

Brevity is obviously his middle name. Here’s what I did…

First I took some of Jane’s advice and that was to use not just any old French roll, but a nice, rich brioche (like it wouldn’t be rich enough without!?). Although brioche wasn’t around much in the 1970s it is widely available these days.

I beat a couple of egg yolks with a little water just to make them easier to work with. I took a slice of brioche and sprinkled it liberally with dry sherry, then dipped it in the egg yolks and fried them on a moderate heat in a frying pan with butter. I kept the poor knights warm in a low oven whilst I got on with making the sherry sauce.

I melted 2 ounces of butter slowly in a small saucepan, then I turned up the heat and stirred in a tablespoon of sugar.  When it had dissolved and was bubbling away, I added 2 tablespoons of dry sherry and that was it! Very simple indeed.

I served up the poor knights with a little of the buttery sauce drizzled over them.

#349 Poor Knights of Windsor (1937). It’s not very often that I make a recipe from the book just for myself, but  this one I did. I thought it would be awful – I don’t usually like alcohol in desserts, but I was so, so wrong! It wasn’t as rich or as heady as I expected, the secret was to make the sauce very sweet and to liberally sprinkle the brioche with the sherry, rather than soak it. Very good 7/10.