Let’s celebrate afternoon tea week, who can resist those little finger sandwiches, scones and fancy cakes, it’s like reliving a dolls tea party. That quintessential British meal that sadly is disappearing from our daily lives. With the advent of full time work for women the ritual that is afternoon tea became lost, hardly surprising, who of us has time to work and cook for a tea break?
As lifestyles and hours of working changed over time so have mealtimes , following working patterns and changes in social status. The following is from “A Short History of [British] Mealtimes”
Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner
Breakfast 8AM (town), 9-10AM (country); Lunchoen 1-2PM; Dinner 6-8PM (depending upon formality and place)
Early morning 8AM (tea, bread and butter); Breakfast 8-8:30AM; Luncheon Midday; Afternoon tea 5PM, Dinner 7:30-8PM
Breakfast 8AM; Lunch/upper classes or Dinner/rest Midday-1PM; Afternoon tea 4PM; High tea 5-6PM; Dinner 7-8PM; Supper 9-10PM.
“Mealtimes…These vary somewhat depending on the region of the country you are visiting, but in general breakfast is served between 7:30 and 9, and lunch between 12 and 2. Tea–an essential and respected part of British tradition, and often a meal in itself–is generally served between 4:30 and 5:30. Dinner or supper is served between 7:30 and 9:30, sometimes earlier.”—Fodor’s Great Britain  (p. 34)
As you can see, tea the kind of fancy-schmancy affair emerged as a social event sometime around the 1830s or 1840s, Bruce Richardson writes in A Social History of Tea. And Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, led the pack. When there is nothing else to do but enjoy a little ‘something’ with friends, why not?
Nowadays we only celebrate high tea on high days and holidays usually eaten out rather than at home despite the popularity of TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off which celebrate baking in all its forms.
But it is a lovely way to indulge yourself, so this week find somewhere locally that does provide ‘high tea’ and give yourself a treat. Or make something you usually don’t make time for – a few scones or how about a little Victoria sponge? or at least a biscuit and a cup of tea.
These great biscuits are easy to make and are just right for children to decorate.
Tunbridge Water Cakes (William Sayer)*
I have seen references to these biscuits called Tunbridge Wafers or Romary biscuits after the baker Alfred Romary who had a bakery in Tunbridge, opened in 1862. Romary later received Royal warrants for his wafers. Recipes seem to vary of course, some of them more savoury, and this writer has added orange flower water.
250g icing sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange flower water
Preheat the oven to 180oc/350of/gas 4
Rub the butter in with the flour; add the sugar and make the whole into a paste. Don’t work too much as this will make the biscuits hard. Roll it out very thin on a floured table and cut it out with a plain round or scalloped cutter about 3in across. Place them on a greased baking tray and bake them to a pale delicate colour.
They take about 15 – 20 minutes depending on your oven.
These make lovely biscuits for children to decorate and makes about 50 biscuits.
* From Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen click here
A recent buy at a book auction was box of two VERY tatty cookery books, a few reasonable cookery books and, of course my favourite, three handwritten cookery books. I pored over these great books, written between 1920 and 1962 including the war years and found some new recipes. I’ll be adding a few to these blog pages over the next month or so as I work through them.
However the real gem were wads of recipes cut out of newspapers of the time, stuffed in the pages, again running from the 1920s through to the 1960s. Sadly it wasn’t always easy to find the dates as the cuttings themselves didn’t include the dateline, but there was a whole new world on the rear of some of them either with the date or pointing to it. Following both the important and frivolous background to the food.
These news items were in themselves worth the money I spent. Included here were royal weddings, a call up advertisement for the war, political and social articles, births, deaths and marriages, military appointments, divorce proceedings, new plays on in London, commentary on the war and fashion tips.
A bit of a tease were those articles that were only partially there as the recipes was cut out including a tantalising snippet from a court hearing where ‘the women in the court broke down crying’…
One sad article from The Observer Review November 1962 was Titled ‘Tragic Lag on Powered Limbs’ and rated against the sad failure of the Ministry of Health to provide limbs quickly enough for those children who were victims of thalidomide. A very sad period in our history.
A complaint on the letters page (I think of The Times 1950s) that sponsored advertisement were creeping into exam papers made me smile …
and best of all this little snippet, a small note about a reward from the railway company.
No wonder I never get anything done!
It’s raining and cold here today so a bit of comfort food in the form of Egg Pie, a pie with mash not pastry. This recipe is from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen (again!). From the time of World War II and like a lot of recipes in this era, Egg Pie was born out of a necessity brought about by rationing but actually reflects British comfort food. It just shows what you can make out of the store cupboard and with an inspired veg dish this will fill the family.
4 hard boiled eggs
4 onions, sliced
A little oil for frying
150ml white sauce
Salt and pepper
A small bunch of parsley
Hard boil four eggs. Throw into cold water and remove the shells. Fry the onion slices until golden.
Boil and mash the potatoes with a little butter, minced parsley and season to taste. Spread a layer of this at the bottom of a pie dish, then put a lay er of the cooked onions spread on the potato.
Then put a layer of sliced eggs a little white sauce and more potato and repeat until the dish is full. Finish with potato on the top. Put a few bits of butter on the top & bake until really hot and brown.
North Country Fidget Pie (G. R. Moore)
Generally fidget pie includes apples and bacon or ham so this North Country version is quite unusual. Fidget Pie is a traditional English recipe for a pie served in the fields to the workers busy bringing in the harvest. I can see why. The name fidget (or fidgety) pie, originates around Derbyshire andShropshire, in the middle of the country. The origins of the odd sounding name seem to have come from the fact that it originally was fitched, which means five sided in Anglo-Saxon.
250g plain flour
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 finely chopped onion
250g sausage meat
Pepper and salt
250g raw potatoes
Make the pastry by popping the flour, salt and margarine in a processor, whizz until the mix is like breadcrumbs then add the egg then the water, to make a firm dough. Wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour or more. Mix the chopped onion with the sausage meat, seasoning and bind with the beaten egg. If you are using frozen peas defrost and drain well, if you are using fresh- cook gently then drain.
Roll out the pastry and use 2/3 to line the base of a pie dish. Put in a layer of the sausage meat mix, then a layer of potatoes thinly sliced, season well then add the peas. Lightly beat the egg and pour over the filling. Use the remaining 1/3 of the pastry to form the lid, glaze using beaten egg. Heat the oven to 190oc/375of/gas5. Bake it in hot oven for 30 minutes reduce heat to moderate – 180oc/350of/gas4 and cook for further 15 minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.
I know I am supposed to be in the book selling business to earn a living but sometimes I find it very difficult to actually part with some of my books. It is like saying goodbye to a friend and today is one of those days.
I am a particular fan of hand-written recipe books and one that I had in the shop has gone to a new home in Australia where I am sure it will be much loved.
William Sayer starting writing his book in 1821, the hand-writing is beautiful and the recipes exciting. Some of them I used to write Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen, including currie powder, camp vinegar, curacao, Oxford sausages.
I have been missing from the shop for much of the summer, partly due to a natural need to get out in the sunshine in the garden or on the allotment but also working on the last part of the Taste of the Home Front project that I have been working on with Arundel Museum.
With a team of eight volunteers we researched the availability of food locally during the wartime and how that impacted on the townspeople, farmers and shopkeepers of Arundel, how the town and castle answered the call for food and coped during shortages. We searched through local records, including the archives of Arundel Castle and local newspaper archives, and the stories we found showed how the town came together to win the war on the Home Front, from gardeners and allotment holders to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, farmers, fishermen, shopkeepers and housewives.
I had a whale of a time and found some fascinating stories which have drawn a picture of how the people of Arundel fed themselves during the conflict. With the help of Sam Bilton who runs the Repast Supper Club we reproduced some of the recipes from the time. Sam ran a day of cooking demonstrations and produced some great recipes translated for modern day use.
We are now putting these and the stories into a booklet, so here is a taster.
Potato Pastry Mrs C. S. Peel The Daily Mail Cookery Book (1918) Ingredients
Cook’s Comments: This pastry is as useful for sweet pies as savoury, especially a nice apple pie – Sam
They say you should never stop learning and I agree. Sadly I have the memory or a goldfish so I have to put in serious work to make things stick, however I am always attracted by learning new things. I am just going through ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’ course, one of the Freelearn, on-line courses from Reading University. Interesting, I thought when I saw it, but it is much more, these courses are a great resource and really well put together in small bite size chunks that build up week by week, with videos transcripts, cooking practical exercises and downloads.
I will be trying out some of the recipes and will put these up on the blog to give you a taster.
To catch this one you will have to be quick as it is running now. for more info go to: