Peek Freans

How about “a nice-cuppa-tea-and-a-sit-down”?  It’s the perfect way to recharge when out for a day of sightseeing, or shopping, or just running errands.  The afternoon is winding down and you need to relax for a few moments, over a hot cuppa.  And, what do you need when you’re having that “sit-down”?  A biscuit or two, of course.

The marketing genius who decided that tea and biscuits should go together was James Peek.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the Peek Freans Company, once one of the biggest biscuit (cookie) companies in the world.  How did it start?  With ‘tea’, of course!

William Peek was born into a wealthy family from Devon.  In 1818 William decided to move to London and start a tea importing business, W. Peek and Company.  It became quite successful and within two years William’s two brothers, Richard and James, decided to join the firm.  The name of the company then became, Peek Brothers and Company.

Peek Bros Trademark — Camel Caravan. 1884. Peek House, 20 Eastcheap, London. These premises were the headquarters of Peek Bros & Co., dealers in tea, coffee and spices, built 1883 – 1885. (Ward-Jackson)

In 1824, James Peek married Elizabeth Masters and had 8 children.  As most fathers, James wanted his sons to join him in the family tea business.  But his two eldest sons were not at all interested in tea.  Ever-creative James, realized that a business which would complement “tea” might be perfect for them.  He suggested a biscuit business.  Of course, his sons were still just teenagers at this point, so now James needed someone to run his new biscuit business.

3rd U.S. Infantry eating hard tack.

James’ niece, Hanna, had recently married George Frean.  George was a miller and baker of “ship biscuits” or what was commonly called “hard tack”.  Hard tack is a simple, tasteless cracker made from flour, water and salt.  It is very inexpensive to make and can last for long periods of time, making it commonly used by the military.  James wrote to George, saying that he had set up a biscuit business for his sons, but because he was still managing the tea business, he wanted to know if George would manage the new biscuit business.  George agreed.  The business was set up with James and George as partners, and the factory opened in London in 1857.   The new partners registered their company as the Peek Frean Company.  Just as James had predicted, the business took off, but after three years, the sons wanted nothing more to do with it.

Now George needed help.  George wrote to his long-time school mate, John Carr of the Scottish biscuit company (perhaps you’ve heard of Carr Crackers and Biscuits).  Carr accepted the offer and came down from Scotland to join the company in 1860.  Throughout this time the Peek Frean Company was just producing those tasteless “ship biscuits”, but Carr was working on new ideas and new products.  In 1861, they introduced the Garibaldi biscuit, a thin oblong of biscuit dough with a filling of dried currants.  It’s still very popular in the U.K. as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Now it was time for a softer, sweeter biscuit with no “docker holes” (which kept the biscuit from rising during baking).  Carr named this new soft and crumbling, yet crisp biscuit, the Pearl Biscuit.  The Pearl Biscuit was revolutionary.  Everyone loved them.   In the meantime, an order from the French government came in for 460 tons of “hard tack” which was needed to help feed the armies during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.  Business was booming!

After the “Pearl”, came the “Marie”, then the “Chocolate Table”, “Pat-a-Cake”, the “Golden Puff” and then in 1910, the company introduced the first cream sandwich biscuit, now known as the “Bourbon” biscuit , a chocolate sandwich with a chocolate cream filling.  But did Peek Frean invent this biscuit?

Credit for the “Bourbon” biscuit, the “Custard Creme” and “Nice” biscuits go to Harold Trixie, not an employee of Peek Frean, but housemaster at the King Edward VI Boarding School in Nottinghamshire.  Harold’s father was a baker,  and created the “two biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy filling”.   Boarding schools at that time were notorious for underfeeding their students.  Remembering the French-inspired baked goods his father would make, Trixie used the same method, a soft filling between a harder outer shell, to make biscuits for his young male students.  Disguised as a demonstration of good etiquette, Trixie began hosting informal ‘afternoon tea’ sessions at the boy’s school, bringing in his own baked goods and biscuits.   Because of the extra sugar and fat provided by the biscuits, it was noticed that Harold Trixie’s students had begun to outperform their peers.  His chocolate creation was named the ‘Bourbon’ after the French noblemen’s House of Bourbon.

The Peek Frean Company began hearing about these unusual two-piece with a creamy filling cocoa biscuits.  They contacted the school to ask whether they could reproduce these interesting biscuits, for which they were willing to pay a fee.  When put in touch with Harold Trixie, they were told that the biscuits were free to whoever cared to bake them.  Peek Frean began producing Bourbons, crediting Trixie with his creation, and they became an immediate success.

Peek Frean’s mission was that their workforce should be healthy, comfortable and contented.  For over a hundred years Peek Frean’s focus was the community, with free medical and dental care for their over 4,000 workers.  In addition to its own fire brigade and post office, they founded a cricket club in 1868 and later musical and dramatic societies were set up. In 1918, they cut back worker’s hours, introduced a week’s paid holiday for everyone, a pension fund, and daily tea breaks.  This was a true family-run business which employed generations of families.  Sadly, the biscuit factory closed in 1989, but there’s hardly a Brit who doesn’t lovingly remember them.

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References:  Brighton Toy Museum, Cook’s Info, Wikipedia, Exploring Southwark, Rousdon Estate, Quora,

CUSTARD APPLE PIE

We did not go apple picking this year.  I’m not sure why.  It’s not as if every weekend was so busy we didn’t have time.  Nonetheless, my frig is stocked with apples.  How can anyone pass up those “tote bags” from local orchards in the produce aisle at the grocery store!  Not only are apples delicious and nutritious, they are soooo versatile, and this time of year, very affordable.

This is one of my ‘go to’ recipes.  Hopefully, you’ll like it as much as we do.  Don’t want to make pie crust … don’t worry.  Store bought pie crust is a great time saver.  If you want an easy recipe, my pastry recipe is at the bottom of this post …

CUSTARD APPLE PIE
Makes one family-sized pie, or two or more tarts (depending upon size).  Bake 350°.

1 recipe pie crust (store bought or see bottom)
1/4 cup butter
3 apples, Granny Smith are best, sliced (peeling is optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour

In a saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sugar and cinnamon.  Mix together and then add the sliced apples.  Cook until the apples are tender and the caramel has thickened … about 5 minutes.

Line the pie plate (or tart pans) with the pastry.  I like to use tart shells … just because they look so pretty.  Put the pastry-lined pan into the refrigerator to get really cold.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the milk and vanilla.  When all is blended well, add in the flour and continue to beat until smooth.

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and place it on a baking tray.  Then arrange the sauteed apples with the caramel sauce on the bottom of the pie.  Leave a few apples out for decorating the top.  Put the baking tray in the oven before pouring in the custard.  This will help avoid spillage.

Pour the custard on top of the apples.  Bake at 350° for about 40 to 50 minutes until set (but still a little jiggly in the center).  The pastry should be browned and a slight browning on the custard.

Remove from oven and arrange the saved apples on top.  Drizzle with the caramel.  Let cool completely before serving.  Flaky crust, creamy custard and cinnamon apple goodness … what more could you want this time of year?  Now go ahead, put the kettle on, and wait for all the compliments!!

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Pastry
1-1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
1 stick ice cold butter, cut in pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water
1 tsp lemon juice

I use a food processor to make pastry which makes it so-o-o easy.  To the flour/salt cut in the ice cold butter til crumbly.  Don’t overwork it.  You should be able to see chunks of butter.  Quickly add the ice water/lemon juice til dough comes together.  Dump the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead quickly into a smooth ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes, or up to three days.  The colder the butter, the flakier the crust.
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PUFF PASTRY … MY ‘GO TO’

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but puff pastry is my absolute ‘go to’ when I want to make an impressive-looking dessert.  Take a peek in my freezer and you’ll always find a couple of packages.  All you need to do is take out a sheet or two, let it thaw in the refrigerator, and you’re only limited by your imagination.  Regardless of what I’m making, the results always look as if I’ve spent far more time (and money) than I actually have.

For this recipe, I wanted an elegant-looking tart … flaky, buttery puff pastry, filled with vanilla creme (referred to as creme patissière on the Great British Baking show), and topped with fresh strawberries.  I cut the pastry sheet into fancy envelope shapes for these.  Perhaps a little more time consuming, but I think the results were well worth it.  Let me know what you think.

(If you want to use packaged pudding mix for the pastry cream, go right ahead.  I’ll never tell.)

VANILLA CREAM TARTS WITH STRAWBERRY
Preheat oven at 425° for 20 minutes prior to baking.  Bake 18-20 minutes.  How many you get will depend upon the size you make.  Generally 12 from one sheet of pastry.
(This pastry cream recipe will make three cups and will keep up to three days.  Enjoy it in this recipe, other recipes, or alone with a dollop of whipped cream.)

1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed in refrigerator)
1 pint strawberries, washed, dried and hulled (or any other berry)

3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter, softened

Make the pastry cream first to allow it to set in the refrigerator while you make the tart shells.

PASTRY CREAM
Sift together the flour and cornstarch and set aside.  In a good-sized bowl, beat the eggs.  Add the flour/cornstarch and continue to beat until a pale yellow color and thickened.  Set it aside.  Now its time to heat the milk and sugar.  In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the milk and sugar to a simmer (bubbles around the edge of the pan).  Stir constantly to prevent scorching the milk.

When bubbles begin to form, take the milk off the heat and slowly pour about 1/4 of the heated milk into the beaten eggs.  Continue to whisk.  Do not add all the hot milk at once or the mixture will curdle and the eggs will cook.  Once fully incorporated, pour the egg mixture back into the hot milk pan, and place it back on the heat, stirring constantly.  It may sound difficult, but it really is not.

Lower the heat and continue to cook the custard until thick and lemony-colored.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the pan continuously.  After it has thickened, continue to cook for another minute.  There’s nothing worse than that “flour” taste.  Yuck!

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and butter.  Stir til smooth.

Place a strainer on top of a clean bowl and strain the custard, pushing down to remove any lumps which may have formed.  Then place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream.  Place the cream in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.  You can make this up to three days ahead.

TART SHELLS
Now its time for the tart shells.  This shape is called an envelope and I’m sure there’s an easier way to get the fold, but this is the way I did it.

Take the thawed sheet of puff pastry dough from the frig and place it on a lightly floured board.  With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out just a bit to even it out, and square it off.
Measure and cut 3″ squares from the sheet.

Now it’s time to cut inside each individual square.  Cut a 1/4″ border around each square except for two corners.  Leave two corners intact.  Take one cut corner and bring it over to the inside of the other side.  Now do the same with the opposite corner.  You should have a diamond pattern (or envelope).  Press down slightly around the edges.

Place the shaped puff pastry on parchment-lined baking sheets and place the baking sheets.  Square them off a bit and place the baking sheets into the refrigerator.  Puff pastry puffs up much better when its very cold.  This is when I preheat the oven.

Bake the pastry til golden brown, about 20 mins.  Remove from oven.  Now take a sharp knife and remove the center portion of each pastry, creating a pocket, or cavity for the pastry cream.  Place each pastry on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Now its time to assemble.  What could be easier … spoon (or pipe) a dollop of pastry cream into the center of each individual pastry.  Place a sliced strawberry on top and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Arrange your pastries on a serving tray until ready to serve.  Then show them off to all your guests and wait for the oohs and ahhs.  You deserve it!


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MARY MALLON, A SURVIVOR

I just finished reading a book by Anthony Bourdain, entitled TYPHOID MARY.  It was a quick and easy read about a subject which I found fascinating.  No, not the fact that Mary Mallon from Cookstown, Ireland, unknowingly infected many people with typhoid, three of whom died.  What I found fascinating was how resilient and resourceful women from Ireland in the late 19th century had to become.  Not to say that women from other countries were less so, or had to endure less, but this story about Mary Mallon‘s need to survive seemed personal.  Coming from a large family of strong Irish women, this required a bit more research.

Mary left Ireland at the beginning of the devastating potato famine.  In only seven years, the Irish potato famine changed the face and lives of an entire country.  Unfortunately, this catastrophic event doesn’t seem to be taught or even discussed in schools.  But …

Let’s start at the beginning.  Potatoes are indigenous to South America … and if you’ve ever visited Peru you know how many thousands of varieties they have.  It wasn’t until the 16th century, however, that the potato was introduced to Ireland, after having been brought from South America by the Spanish.  It was discovered that not only could this crop grow easily in the cloud-covered, moist Irish climate with its rich soil, it could feed many, many people per acre.  As a result, the lowly potato quickly became the staple food for the Irish, and in particular, the poor.  With no wheat, corn or grain available to them, a typical peasant might eat up to eight pounds of potatoes each day, providing 80 percent of their caloric intake.

Famine Memorial In Dublin, Ireland

But in 1845 a potato blight, crossing from Europe, began to sweep through the country.  A few days after the potatoes were dug from the ground, they’d begin to turn into a slimy, decaying, black “mass of rottenness.”  Experts started investigating every means possible to understand where this blight was coming from and how to handle it, but they had no answers.  It wasn’t discovered until years later that it was a fungus which traveled from South America.  Nonetheless, one-third of Ireland’s population were completely dependent upon this crop for food, and now their source of food was gone.

Over the course of the next seven years, one in every nine people (over one million) died from starvation and related diseases:  cholera, dysentery, scurvy, and typhus.  As people packed up and took to the roads trying to find food, the highly-contagious typhus was carried with them from town to town.  At times, entire families, ravaged by the disease and starvation, simply laid down along the roadside and died.  Those that could find a means to leave the country, did so.  Another million people emigrated to the United States and Canada.  One of those was Mary Mallon.

Irish Women Domestics – Circa 1850

Many Irish women, leaving their families behind, emigrated to America alone.  But once here, they faced huge barriers … among them discrimination and religious persecution.  “No Irish Need Apply” was the common sentiment.  But because these young women served as the economic lifeline for their families back home, it was imperative that they find work.  And because domestic service jobs generally offered room and board, these were their only choice.

“Going into service” as it was called appealed to many Irish women.  It had no expenses for food, housing, shelter, heat, water, or transportation and meant that they could live in middle-class neighborhoods instead of the tenements.  They knew, however, that they had to delay or forego marriage altogether.  Despite the constant discrimination, they clung to each other and their ethnicity with passion and fervor.

Mary Mallon was one of these women … strong, independent, fearless and resourceful.  But unknown to her, she was carrying the deadly typhus pathogen.  When Mary landed in New York City, she quickly learned to cook (hence, Anthony Bourdain‘s interest).  Mary knew that if she could cook, and be a good one, she could at least elevate her status a bit, and not end up as a laundress or housemaid.  And she did.  Mary was able to find work in some of the most prestigious homes in New York City and Long Island.  Although she never exhibited any signs of illness, she innocently left a wake of illness behind her.

Although Mary was tracked down, she managed, many times to get work and avoid capture by changing her name and her residence.  Mary was a survivor.  It wasn’t until an outbreak of typhoid in a maternity hospital in which Mary was working was she discovered and apprehended.  The resulting story, I think, is a sad one, because although many typhoid carriers were walking around the streets of New York City at the time, Mary was forced into isolation for the rest of her life … 23 years.

Mary never knew, nor did she believe, that she was a carrier of a deadly disease.  The only thing Mary knew was that she had to survive.

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References:  Potatoes, Post Gazette, History, World History Project, Irish Working Women, History.com/Typhoid Mary, History Place/Famine
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JAM ROLY POLY

I’ve been hearing the name “JAM ROLY POLY” for years but have never been quite sure what it was.  I thought it might just be a silly name for an English version of a jelly roll cake or a rolled pastry filled with jam.  With a name like that, it definitely has to be a children’s dessert, right?  Well, I was partly right.  What I’ve learned is that, not only was it one of hubby’s favorite school foods which tugs at the heart strings of most Brits, it has a fascinating history.

If you search online, as I did, for JAM ROLY POLY, you’ll find unappetizing names likedead man’s arm ordead man’s leg, and shirt sleeve pudding‘  which just didn’t provide much information and only continued to confuse me.  To learn more about this strangely named childhood favorite, I actually had to go all the way back to Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain around the latter part of the 18th century with the invention of the steam engine.  Up until that time most goods were made by craftsmen and power was created by water or animals.  Now with the advent of the steam engine, machinery and technology became the catalyst for mass production.  Before long,  an increase in global trade created a greater demand for these manufactured goods and factories were built in all the urban areas.

Inventors were creating more and more machinery to push productivity.  Coal now became a major player to fuel the engines.  The critical element necessary for success to operate all of this machinery was, of course, people.  Three quarters of Britain’s population, at that time, were craftsmen and farmers who lived in the countryside.  But with these rural cottage industries closing, they had no choice but to pack up and move to the cities in search of jobs.

Although British productivity soared, the overwhelming competition for jobs kept the wages low. Some individuals became very wealthy.  Too many people, however, lived in overcrowded slums with little or no food or comforts.  With so little income, parents had no choice but to send their children to work in the factories as well.  Children were welcomed by the factory owners and managers, not only because they were cheap labor, but because their small statures and nimble fingers made them suitable for many work situations.

Prior to this time, education was not free.  Poor children eked out whatever education they could.  In 1833, the government passed the Factory Act, the first of many legislative attempts to improve conditions for children working in factories. In addition to limiting the hours a child could work, this Act made mandatory two hours of education a day.  This did not, however, ensure that these rules would be followed.  Children were wage earners and to have them attend school and not work placed a huge financial burden on the family.  Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy captured the brutality of this era in the storytelling of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

In 1844, the Ragged Schools Union was set up to provide free education to poor working class children.  The success of these “ragged schools” demonstrated that there was a demand for education among the poor and in 1870 public funding began to be provided for free elementary education.  Although Britain’s economy was flourishing, the health of its people was not.  One third of its children were malnourished.  Infant mortality was on the rise.  Men were deemed not fit to serve in the Armed Services.  But it wasn’t until 1889 when a report was published which indicated that over 50,000 pupils in London alone were attending school without having eaten anything at all which prompted two school board members to take action. Margaret McMillan and Fred Jowett persuaded Parliament to introduce legislation which would encourage free school meals for children.

Mrs. Macmillan was passionate about improving the welfare and education of children and encouraged others to see children as the future of the nation.  Her belief was that children couldn’t concentrate on their lessons because they were starving.  Although charities had been feeding the hungry for years, a formal program was now put in place to feed schoolchildren.

Breakfasts for the school children consisted of bread with jam and milk.  Lunch (or dinner as it is called in Britain) consisted of a porridge or stew, pudding, bread and butter and milk. Puddings have been an integral part of the British diet since the middle ages.  They began as a savory item made with suet to bind all the ingredients together and then steamed in muslin cloth (hence, the reference to ‘shirt sleeve pudding’ or ‘dead man’s arm’).

A typical school lunch program from the early 1900’s:

Monday: brown vegetable soup, jam roly-poly pudding, sauce;
Tuesday: savoury batter, beans, gravy, semolina pudding;
Wednesday: potato and onion soup, ginger pudding, sweet sauce;
Thursday: stewed beef and gravy, mashed potatoes, baked jam roll;
Friday: fish and potato pie, parsley sauce, peas, sago pudding.

As you can see, meals had to be inexpensive, filling and something the children would eat.  To get them to eat the more nutritious porridge or stew, a sweet “pudding” was always served.  The one they liked the most … JAM ROLY POLY!

A roly-poly is a pudding made with a suet dough, which is then spread with raspberry or strawberry jam, rolled up, tied in a muslin bag and boiled or steamed.  First published in 1861, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management included a recipe called jam roly-poly pudding and so began the British love affair with this sweet, stodgy pudding served with lashings of hot custard.

Now that we’ve uncovered the origins of the JAM ROLY POLY, do we really want to make one?  Maybe … maybe not!

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References:  Health.co.uk, Wikipedia, BBC, National Archives, Intriguing History, British Food History, the Nosey Chef, Food Timeline, Economic History Association

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THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY

It’s hard for me to realize that I haven’t posted all summer!!  What have I been doing?  Going to the beach?  Nope.  On vacation?  Nope.  Long, lazy, relaxing days of doing nothing?  Nope.  But, somehow the summer has now come and gone, and some of you have been wondering where I’ve been.  I’ll be darned if I know.  What I do know is that I’m back!

I have, however, caught up on some reading over the past few months.  One book which I found quite fascinating is LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY, written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Herbert.  Fiona is married to the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, George Reginald Oliver Molyneux Herbert.  The current Earl and his family live in what fans of the award-winning PBS period drama series now refer to as “Downton Abbey” but in reality is Highclere Castle.  Downton Abbey might have been a fictitious television program, but the 5,000 acre estate in Hampshire, England, does exist in all its splendid glory.

Countess of Carnarvon

In her book, Fiona takes us on a journey through the tumultuous lives of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, Lord Porchester aka “Porchie”, and his American wife, Catherine.  From the glamorous, high-style living of wealthy aristocrats in the free-spirited 1920s through, in vivid heart-wrenching detail, to the impact both the first and second World Wars had, not only on Great Britain, but on Highclere and the people associated with it.  It’s an engrossing book detailing characters and a past lifestyle, which many of us may find hard to comprehend, but in the end, captures us and tugs at our hearts.

LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY by The Countess of Carnarvon

Julian Fellowes, the creator, writer and producer of Downton Abbey, was inspired by the original events of Highclere for his storylines.  He and his wife, Emma, are actually close friends of the Earl and Countess.  ‘Obviously we talk around the dining table when Julian and Emma stay,’ stated Fiona, who moved to the estate when she married her husband Geordie in 1999. ‘They ask questions and later we notice the characters saying things we’ve said.’

The revenue brought in from the commercial success of the tv series has been a financial boon to the cash-strapped estate.  The original home, a large, classic squared-off mansion, was built around the 14th century.  The first major remodeling was in the early 18th century, representative of the House of Parliament.  The last redesign Highclere underwent was in the 19th century.  You can only imagine that 200 years later, Highclere Castle … a modest home of 200 or 300 rooms, 80 of which were bedrooms … was in drastic need of major repairs.

The castle was unlivable.  At least 50 of the rooms were completely uninhabitable with only the ground floor and first floor rooms usable.  The Earl and Countess had to live in a modest cottage on the estate’s grounds.  Water damage had caused the stonework to crumble and the ceilings to collapse.  Estimates for repairs on the estate were around £12 million.

Although the series has ended, fans continue to que up to see the great hall, the dining room, the drawing room, library and music room, as well as any bedrooms which were used for filming.  And now because of the high number of paying visitors, Lord and Lady Carnarvon have made the necessary major repairs.  Although the family now lives in Highclere during the winter months, when the castle is open to the public in the summer, they return to their little cottage.

Even Queen Elizabeth was a fan of the tv series and is also frequently mentioned in Fiona’s book.  Having been a frequent guest at Highclere as a child, Queen Elizabeth was a very close friend of “Porchie”, the 6th Earl, about whom the book is written.  On the Netflix series, The Crown, Queen Elizabeth tells Prince Philip ‘not to be jealous of her friendship with Porchie because he is just “part of the furniture.’”

This was not meant to be a post about the fictitious Downton Abbey, but about the real and factual Highclere Castle, home of the Carnarvon family.  The stories have been taken from the private archives … all richly detailed, including beautiful period photographs … in the Countess of Carnarvon’s book, LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY.
A fascinating read!

 

 

 

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References:  Wikipedia, Highclere Castle, Lady Carnarvon, Amazon,
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ZUCCHINI STREUSEL BREAD

If you check out my recipes page, you’ll find that I have quite a few “zucchini” recipes.  There’s a reason for that … some vegetables  I can grow easily, and zucchini is one of them.  I’ve picked the last of the summer’s crop of zucchini for this year, and, believe me, it was a bumper crop as usual.  I’m not quite sure which of my zucchini recipes I like the best.  They are all tried, true and delicous!   My suggestion, give them all a try and then let me know.

This quick bread is a “go to” and not as complicated as it may look.  I like to make the streusel topping first and set it aside.  Then I mix the dry ingredients together …. the wet ingredients together and combine.  What could be easier!
Happy baking!

ZUCCHINI STREUSEL BREAD
Stays very well for 4 to 5 days if wrapped and refrigerated.  Or this bread can be made ahead and frozen for up to 3 months.  

2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt, non-fat or full-fat
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini (about 2 large)
3 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Optional:  1 cup chopped walnuts, dried fruits

Preheat the oven to 375°.  This recipe will make two one pound loafs, one large 13 x 9 tray loaf or 24 muffins.  Grease and line whichever pans you’d like to use.

Grate the zucchini either by hand or with a food processor, then wrap the grated zucchini in a kitchen towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture.

In a large bowl beat together the eggs, sugars, vanilla, oil and yogurt.  When fully combined, fold in the grated, squeezed-dry zucchini.  A medium to coarse grating is perfect.

In another large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  If you are adding walnuts, dust with a little flour first to prevent them from sinking into the batter.

Quickly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well combined.  Don’t overmix.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s).  Bake at 375° for half the total baking time – 25 minutes for breads – 15 minutes for muffins.  At this half-way point, you’ll want to generously spread the streusel topping onto the bread(s), pressing down slightly.

STREUSEL TOPPING
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 stick cold butter, cubed
Optional:  1/2 cup chopped nuts, chocolate chips, Reese’s pieces, brittle

In a bowl thoroughly mix together the dry ingredients and then cut in the cold, cubed butter until the mixture looks crumbly.  Set aside until ready to spread onto the bread batter.  

Finish baking until a tester inserted into the middle of the bake comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Now it’s time to put the kettle on and make that pot of tea.  When serving, there’s no need for butter, cream cheese or any other spread, this bread is moist, rich and delicious!  Have a second slice, you’ve earned it!!

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STRAWBERRIES

I love strawberries and every year I buy a few strawberry plants and plant them in the garden.  Yes, I know.  Strawberries are perennials, which means the plant grows back every year … in the same place … generally bigger and stronger than the year before.  But, not for me.  Every spring I look to see where the strawberry plants should be and there’s nothing.  Nothing I should say except the dead plants from the season before.

I realize I live in New England and our winters get pretty cold, but no one else has a problem growing strawberries.  I mulch them heavily to make sure they stay as warm as can be over the winter.  But, I have yet to have any plants survive.  All the other perennials in the garden are fine.  As soon as the weather and the soil warms up, the shoots start to pop up from the ground, the blooms burst open and all’s right with the world.  Except, that is, for strawberries!

Strawberries are sweet, delicious and good for you (full of antioxidants and very low in calories).  And they are so versatile.  You can just pop them into your mouth or use them in salads, smoothies and all sorts of desserts from ice cream to shortcakes.  You can make jams, jellies and spreads, or dip them into chocolate.  They freeze easily, and for some people, they are easy to grow.  I, however, have been relegated to a “pick-your-own-fruit” farm where I “pick-my-own-strawberries”.  Now, armed with 10 lbs. of strawberries and a three-day window before they start to lose their appeal, it’s time to get cooking.

Strawberry jam is on the list as is Strawberry Cake Squares and Strawberry, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto Tart … but because this classic dessert is one of my favorites, the first thing I am making is Strawberry Shortcake.  No, not the packaged sponge cakes which always appear next to the strawberries in the produce aisle of the grocery store.  This recipe is more like a crisp, sweet scone.  Split them in half, add the sliced, sweetened strawberries and top with whipped cream!  Oh my, nothing better!

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
Depending upon the size you cut the biscuits, you can make as few as four really large ones to as many as twelve minis.  Oven temperature 425°.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes.

For the biscuits/scones:
2 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold butter, diced or grated
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, beaten

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar.  Either by hand or in a food processor mix the cold, diced butter until the flour mixture resembles crumbs.  Don’t over-mix in the butter.  It needs to be a bit chunky.  Whisk together the egg, buttermilk and vanilla.  Quickly mix these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Again, don’t overmix.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured board and bring together into a round ball.  Flatten the ball and gently roll it into an 10″ circle, about 3/4″ thick.  To cut out the biscuits, you can use a knife and cut the dough into squares or use a biscuit cutter to cut out rounds.  The size, again, is up to you.  I like to make smaller ones … using two per serving.

Place the cakes onto a parchment lined baking sheet, brush with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Demerara sugar has larger crystals and adds a bit of color and crunch.

At this point, put the baking sheet into the refrigerator while you preheat the oven … 425°.  This will ensure the butter is nice and cold.  Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Strawberry Filling:
1 lb. fresh strawberries
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Wash, hull and slice the strawberries.  Put them into a bowl and sprinkle with sugar and balsamic vinegar.  Let the strawberries mascerate for 30 minutes or more.  When ready to serve, split the biscuits in half, spoon the strawberry filling inside, add the top and then slather on the whipped cream.

It’s hard to find a better, more delicious dessert … guaranteed to impress your toughest critics!  Should you prefer to use other berries or fruits, please do.  Or fill these biscuits with ice cream and top with hot fudge!  Yum!!!


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Where Have All the Tea Rooms Gone?

My first visit to a tea room was in London in 1986.  During that trip, I visited as many as I could, from the grand Afternoon Tea hotel experience to the simple, unassuming village repast.  I took what I learned and incorporated it into my business – serving tea to our guests.  They loved it.  And the business flourished.

My next visit to a tea room was in this country, ten years later (I had been busy, very busy).  What I didn’t realize, or perhaps had forgotten, was how much I had enjoyed afternoon tea.  It was relaxing … refreshing … and, yes, even rejuvenating.  I know.  I know.  It’s those three “r’s”, but it really was true.  Was it the tea, the rituals which surround tea, or was it the camaraderie  of being with like-minded friends, sharing food and an experience?  I’m not sure, but, from that moment on, I knew I had found my “happy place”.

An acquaintance soon became a good friend, especially after I found out she and her friends had formed a “tea club”.  Each month they would travel to a different tea room, as a group, and share in the tea experience.  Of course, that didn’t prevent any of them from visiting their local tea rooms at every opportunity.  Immediately, I became a proud member of the tea club.

TEA TIME Magazine

As a group, we’d do our research:  tea magazines, websites, chat groups, word-of-mouth.  We’d be there for the grand opening of the newest tea room, as well as always revisiting past favorites.  There were so many tea rooms to choose from.  We traveled all around New England and then up and down the East Coast.  If the distance was more than 100 miles, we would organize an entire weekend around one or two tea room visits.  The weekends always included staying at a local bed and breakfast, antique shopping and, of course, lots of good food.  Repeat tea room visits ended with our befriending the owners and their staff.  They now becoming “tea friends”.  Our group and tea family grew.

But, no more!

For years, we enjoyed these afternoon tea sojourns … until suddenly … we ran out of tea rooms!  At one time, we could choose from hundreds, now there are perhaps one or two.  I understand tea rooms are, in reality, a restaurant and restaurants are a hard business, a very hard business.  I understand the profit margins are very low.  I understand the owners want to retire.  I understand there’s no interest in the next generation to take over or start up a tea room.  I understand real estate is very expensive.  The reality is I have been a business owner … and I understand.  But, I don’t like it.

Wenham Tea House, Wenham, MA

Did you know tea rooms were the first “women owned” businesses in the U.S.?  At the turn of the century American hotels were mimicking their European counterparts by serving Afternoon Tea in their restaurants, but this was not something a woman could participate in without a male escort.  Unescorted women would not be served.

In the cities and the countryside enterprising women began realizing that women of all classes wanted the ability to socialize outside of the home together, without the required male escort.  They also knew that we were becoming a more mobile and motorized society.  Women in the villages and small towns began turning their front parlors, or shed, or back kitchen into an inviting area where they could serve road-weary travelers a hearty cuppa and something to go along with it.  In the city, middle class women opened their front parlors for other women to gather and enjoy each other’s company without the required ‘man by their side’.  The American tearoom was born.

Tea at Charters Towers, 1880, Courtesy of New Old Stock

These businesses were important.  This was the first opportunity women had to start their own businesses, earning an income, without leaving their homes.  By adding handicrafts and baked goods made by the townspeople, the tearoom also offered a means for others to earn money.  Tea rooms played an important role in our society, our culture and to women.  But now its 2018 and everything is changing.  Why?  Are we all so busy that we haven’t the time or the interest to support this traditional women-owned business?  Are we too sophisticated, or too jaded?  Do we have to be stimulated by something new all the time?  What has happened to the value and importance of traditions?

I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to support your local tea room … woman owned or not.  Small businesses are an important part of our heritage.  Do we really want every shop, restaurant, business in every town to look like the every other shop, restaurant or business?

There are a few tea rooms left around the New England area.  Not many.  I can’t recommend enough that you visit them.  Each is unique, wonderful and an experience you’ll always treasure.  Do it now before they too are gone forever!

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Tea Rooms to Visit in the Greater Boston area
FANCY THAT
WENHAM TEA HOUSE
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
THE TEA LEAF
THE DUNBAR TEA ROOM
HEATH’S TEA ROOM
COZY TEA CART

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TEA in SPAIN

I really should title this post “Searching for Tea in Spain” … because I was hard pressed on our recent trip to find any.  No, I’m not talking about the obligatory selection of tea bags sitting next to the carafe of hot water at the breakfast buffet in the hotel.  And, of course, if you ordered tea at a cafe or restaurant, you were served tea … sometimes even in a teapot.  What I was hoping to discover was a love for, a connection with, or history of  … ‘tea’.

We started in the capital of Spain and the third largest city in Europe, Madrid.  An exciting city, full of vitality and passion, and now well on its way to shaking off the financial woes it experienced during the past decade, but even in the heavily traveled tourist areas, no outward signs of “tea” existed.  What was I looking for?  Perhaps a retail store, tea room, even a tea display or sign … something that beckoned the tea drinker.  Nothing.

We then traveled south into the magnificent area of Andalusia with its vast savannahs filled with olive groves and vineyards, surrounded by the majestic Sierra mountain ranges.  Our visits to the white-washed villages of Cordoba, Toledo, and Ronda were breathtaking … but no ‘tea’.

We marveled at the Roman ruins in Merida, the medieval walled city of Carceres, and hoped to see a bullfight in Seville, but didn’t.  We climbed the narrow stone steps into the cathedral towers, got lost in the maze of winding alleyways, clapped to the beat of the flamenco guitar, and ate tapas, authentic tapas, some spicy, a few not, some raw, others fried … but no ‘tea’.

We strolled through the lively gypsy neighborhoods, wondered at the priceless art collections, and indulged in an occasional afternoon siesta.  We attended the prestigious annual patios festival, took photographs of the vibrantly festooned balconies, and dunked our churros into hot, thick dark chocolate.  We drank red wines and white wines from the local vineyards; rich, red, fruity sangria, and syrupy sweet sherry over ice … but we didn’t drink ‘tea’.

Until we came to Granada.

Granada is one of the most important cities in Spain’s rich history.  Settled by the Phoenicians until the Romans overtook it in the 3rd century; by the 5th century Rome had fallen and Granada was then ruled by the Visigoths.  The Visigoths held this area for a few hundred years until Muslim forces coming from Morocco across the Strait of Gibralta, conquered it around 1010.  The Muslims remained in power, living side-by-side with Christians and Jews, until 1492 (hmmmm, that date sounds familiar), when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand took control.  Why is any of this important?  Because during the Muslim rule, the city became one of the richest cities in medieval  Europe.  Trade routes from Morocco were open and the artistic and scientific communities flourished.  With these trade routes came silk, cotton, paper and … ‘tea’.

Yes, “TEA” is alive and well in Granada!   Although the Muslims were forced out of the city by the 15th century, their influence has remained.  Within the old Moorish district of Granada, known as the Albayzin, there are Arabic tea houses or teterias.   A narrow, cobblestone paved street called “Calle Caldereria Nueva” is as close to a Moroccan souk as you can find, crammed full of trinkets, rugs, lanterns and it is dotted with tea houses!  No, you will not find bone china cups and saucers.  There’s not a scone or tea cake anywhere around.  But what you will find are lavishly decorated, intimate cafes serving loose leaf tea.

Calle Caldereria Nueva

So while sitting on a long, pillow-topped divan, with heavy drapery covered walls, in a Moroccan-inspired tearoom, sipping a hot steaming cup of mint tea, what I learned was, in Spain, unless you are visiting Granada, it is “coffee country”.

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References:  Wikipedia, Andalucia, Love Granada, Trip Savvy,
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