THE NATIONAL LOAF

Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy, which was a major turning point during World War II.  The horrors of war are untold and we are very fortunate to live in a country in which we haven’t had to fight a world war on our soil.  I realize the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and French and Indian War were all fought here, but they were not ‘world’ wars and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who lived through those times.  You can, however, still find people who lived through World War II and remember the horror and sacrifices that had to be made.

Britain entered the second World War in 1939 after many attempts at appeasing Germany.   At that time, Britain was importing about  20,000,000 tons of food each year to feed its 50 million people, from meats and cheeses to sugar, fruits and grain.  Most of Britain’s imported food, at least 70% of its grain, came by ship across the Atlantic from Canada.  Although Great Britain had the support of many countries, war is incredibly expensive and food, fabrics, coal and oil had to be rationed.   A year later, in addition to the months and months of bombings, Germany’s strategy was to cut off all imports to Great Britain, attacking all ships bound for England, and starving this island nation into submission.  By 1942, with no end in sight, this once-powerful country was not only running out of money, it was running out of food and the ability to produce the most important staple of life … bread.

The government-organized Ministry of Food was resurrected from WWI to create a system of rationing.  Customers were required to register at selected shops where they would receive ration books with coupons for their purchases.  Prices were controlled and the shopkeeper would have just enough food and goods for those registered customers.   When making a purchase, the shopkeeper would take the necessary coupon.  If you did not have a ration book, you could not buy (unless, of course, you had the money to pay exorbitant prices on the black market).  Although some fruits and vegetables were not rationed, they were available in very limited supplies.  Children growing up during this time had never heard of, and didn’t even believe ‘bananas’ existed.  It was during this time that “victory gardens” were encouraged, and are still very popular today.

But it was bread, the staff of life, that garnered the most attention.  Today, quite a few of us wrinkle up our noses at the thought of a loaf of squishy white bread, preferring whole grains and artisan loaves.  But in Great Britain at that time, a loaf of ‘white’ bread was thought to be the preferred bread, eaten by the upper class, with whole grains relegated to the poor lower classes.  With the diminishing supplies of wheat, however, the Ministry of Food had to come up with a way to provide a more nourishing staple for the masses.  What they came up with was a milled flour which had far less ‘white flour’ and contained far more wheat germ, to which they added calcium and fortified it with iron.

Now named the ‘national loaf’, bakers were banned from baking any other type of bread.  To further complicate the availability of purchasing this national war effort ‘loaf’, bakers could only bake the fibrous bread one day a week … and could not sell it until the next day … realizing that the day-old bread could be sliced thinner, providing more slices per pound, although the one pound size was also reduced to 14oz.

A homemaker filling out her bread ration card for the day.

Many sacrifices had to be made during the war and rationing of food supplies was some of the hardest.  But it was the bread which they loathed the most.  Nicknamed “Hitler’s Secret”, the high fiber, dense flour, created a loaf which, although nutritious, was heavy, grey in color, and stale by the time it was purchased.  Even Eleanor Roosevelt, America’s First Lady, when visiting Buckingham Palace in 1942 was served “the same kind of war bread ever other family had to eat.”

On May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted unconditional surrender of the Nazi Germany armed forces, but it wasn’t until 1956 when the ‘national loaf’ was finally laid to rest, after years of providing healthy, nutritious bread to stave off hunger during and after the war.

“Pat-a-loaf, pat-a-loaf
Baker’s Man
Bake me some Wheatmeal
As fast as you can:
It builds up my health
And its taste is good,
I find that I like
Eating just what I should.”

We are so very fortunate to live in a country and during a time when we have vast amounts of foods available to us, not only quantity, but superior quality, and unlimited varieties of foods.  Sadly, 30% to 40% of the food produced in the U.S. is quite literally thrown away, ending up in land fills across the country.  Given a national emergency, could we survive food rationing and would we support a “national loaf”?  I wonder.

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References:  Wikepedia, World War II History, Granny Robertson, Cook’s Info
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PIT BROW LASSES

If you read my post on THE COURTING CAKE you might remember where I mentioned how the coal mines in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution were staffed by, not only men, but women too.  Today is National Women’s Day and, I feel, it’s the perfect day to shine a little light on these brave, incredibly hard-working women who never received the attention they so rightly deserved … Pit Brow Lasses.

Because of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain in the 19th century, coal production increased dramatically.  Not only was coal used for fueling the steam engines, it was also used for heating and lighting.   In the coal mining areas, from Yorkshire County to Wales, it was very common for whole families to work in the mines.  “Pitwork” in these areas, was usually the only work to be found.

Prior to the passage of “The Mines and Collieries Act of 1842” when it became illegal to employ women and children to work underground, it was commonplace for women, young and old, and their children to work in the mine shafts, alongside their husbands, fathers and brothers, with pick axes and shovels, hauling coal and moving stones.  Children as young as five often worked underground alongside other members of their family.  From 6am to 6pm, six days a week, the work was dirty, brutal and incredibly dangerous.  And for a mere six to eight shillings per week,  depending upon which owner you worked for, was just enough to keep them out of the workhouse.  The women and children, of course, worked for less than half what the men received.

The shafts were dimly lit, hot, cramped, with no ventilation.  Most often the children worked either as ‘trappers’, opening and closing ventilation doors, or as ‘hurriers’, pushing tubs of coal.  And with baskets strapped to their backs, or chains wrapped around their chests, armed with picks and shovels, the women worked right alongside the men, in the shafts, hauling coal.

Sweating profusely and stripped to the waist, if they weren’t completely naked, the women would wear trousers.  But they had very few choices.  It was extremely hot in the shafts, but if they wore lightweight, flimsy clothing, it would be seen as inviting promiscuity.  The trousers were practical, but often led to large holes wearing through, and provided no protection after all.  Needless to say, Victorian England was outraged.  No, not about the dangers of working in the mines, but about the clothing or ‘lack of’ which these women miners did or did not wear.  The mining women were then branded as “unsuitable for marriage and unfit to be mothers.”

Devastating accidents occurred more frequently than not … fires and explosions were commonplace, but it was a flash flood in 1838 in a Yorkshire mine, which caused the deaths of 26 children, all of whom died trying to escape the pit … 11 girls aged from 8 to 16 and 15 boys between 9 and 12 years.

This disaster led to a public outcry and finally came to the attention of Queen Victoria who ordered an inquiry.  Commissioners began to investigate the working conditions in the mines and seeing for themselves, they were appalled by what they found. The working conditions were horrific.  This resulted in the passing of the Mines Act  which prohibited the employment of women and children under the age of 10 to work underground in the mines.  But for many mining families who were dependent upon this income, it was a devastating blow.  These women were not afraid of hard work and needed their wages.

After the passage of the Act, some women, knowing there were few inspectors around, and that the employers (who paid the women half of what the men earned) would turn a blind eye, continued to work underground in the pits.  Others continued to work at the mines, but above ground, sorting the coal.   Slowly, however, these strong, hard-working women began to accept the inevitable fact that they had to work above the pits, and not in them.  These women and children were eventually replaced with pit ponies, horses who were bred to be miniature in stature, whose size and strength was perfect for pulling the coal barges in the mine shafts.

Above ground the work was still rough, cold, dirty and physical.  But now the women chose practical clothing and dressed more as men than as women.  They wore thick boots to protect their feet, trousers under heavy, rough skirts to protect their legs, and kerchiefs tied tightly around their heads to keep out the coal dust.  These hard-working coal mining women quickly became known as ‘Pit Brow Lasses’.

 

Victorian society now feared these “Pit Brow Lasses” who dressed and acted like men, but somehow they became a sort of fascination for social commentators of that time.  Some social commentators had a fascination for not only mining women, but any woman who worked outside the home, from servants to factory workers.  But it wasn’t the fact that these women worked at the mines that caused the stir, it was only the fact that they wore trousers.

Photographers came from around the country just to photograph them.  Most of the “Pit Brow Lasses” saw this as an opportunity to make a little extra cash and began charging to have their photo taken.  Now many of these extraordinary images are on display in mining galleries in and around Yorkshire County.  As with most women, though, these Pit Brow Lasses didn’t think they were doing anything out of the ordinary.  They did what all women around the world do.  They had a job to do, a family to support, and they did it!


“A Pit Brow Wench For Me”

Anonymous

“I am an Aspull collier, I like a bit of fun
To have a go at football or in the sports to run
So goodbye old companions, adieu to jolity,
For I have found a sweetheart, and she’s all the world to me.

Could you but see my Nancy, among the tubs of coal,
In tucked up skirt and breeches, she looks exceedingly droll,
Her face besmear’d with coal dust, as black as black can be,
She is a pit brow lassie but she’s all the world to me.”

 

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References:  Balmaiden, History, Atlas Obscura, Daily Mail, Wikipedia, History Extra
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THE COURTING CAKE

Today you might think it a very thoughtful gesture to ‘bake a cake’ for your loved one … especially for Valentine’s Day.  But there was a time, in northern Britain, when baking a cake to show your love was exactly what you did.

Lancashire County, north of Cheshire and west of Yorkshire, was a very working-class area.  Although the low lands were and are important agricultural areas, the predominant industries were coal mining and textile mills. The Industrial Revolution actually started in this county with the invention of steam power, fueled by coal, and the resulting creation of the factory system.  The coal mines were staffed by men (women were forbidden to work underground in the mines … but that’s a story for another day), and the textile mills were staffed by women.  The work was hard, usually six days a week, with little time and few places for socializing.  But these young, hard-working men and women found a way.

Each Saturday and/or Sunday, eager-to-meet-the-opposite-sex, young men and women would dress in their finery, and along a designated area of the town square … women friends together on one side of the street … men on the other … each group would stroll or “promenade” up and down the streets. Hopefully, you might catch the eye of the opposite sex and, if you liked what you saw, you would accidentally meet at the local tea shop.  Different towns had different designated “promenades” and “accidental meeting spots”.  In some towns the “sorting” process was even more segregated.  In one part of town the promenade would be comprised of only factory workers, while across town, would be those who worked in offices.  The end result, however, was the same … to find true love.

We’re all familiar with the old saying “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, well this is where the “courting cake” makes its appearance.  Should the connection be made and true love was found, the young woman would bake her betrothed a cake … a “courting cake“.  Was this to impress the young man or perhaps the potential mother-in-law, we’ll never know, but the cake was always the same … a shortbread base, filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  How can you go wrong with that classic combination?

This tradition didn’t just exist in England.  It actually crossed the Atlantic into America, as so many traditions did.  The future “first lady of the United States”, Mary Todd, made this cake for her betrothed, Abraham Lincoln.  Upon tasting it, Lincoln proclaimed, “it was the best cake he had ever had”.  This recipe eventually became a tradition in the Lincoln home and is printed in Mary Todd’s cookbook.

As a symbol of love and in keeping with the Lancashire tradition, in the last public appearance before they were married, Kate Middleton and Prince William were presented with a courting cake.  The shortbread-based, two-layer cake was baked was in the shape of a heart with the couple’s names on the top.

I’m all about keeping traditions alive and with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I think my day is going to be spent making a “courting cake” to show my love for my special guy.

COURTING CAKE
Bake 350°F.  25-30 mins.  Makes one two-layer cake.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup milk
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups strawberries
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Butter and flour two (or three) round cake pans.  In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy … about 6 to 8 mins.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla.  In a separate bowl, thoroughly sift together dry ingredients.  Fold the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture.  Slowly add the milk.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake between 20 to 30 mins (a little less if using three pans).  The top should be lightly browned and firm to the touch.  Remove and cool thoroughly.

Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and whip the heavy cream.  I like a touch of vanilla and tablespoon or two of confectioners sugar in my whipped cream.

To assemble, place one layer on the plate, top with half the whipped cream (or 1/3 if making three layers) and half the strawberries.  Place the top layer on and repeat.  Be sure to arrange the berries in a decorative pattern.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and enjoy.

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References:  Downton Abbey Cooks, New Opinions, Lancashire Life, Curious Taste Bud
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GUINNESS

Do I drink Guinness? No.  I’ve tried Guinness … but just don’t like it.  I am, however, in the minority.  Guinness is one of the most popular beers in the world.  So why am I blogging about something I don’t care for?  Because I find their story fascinating.  With so many breweries, not only in Great Britain, but around the world, how did this small Irish company become such a favorite?
During the middle ages, beer and ale were the most common drinks in Britain.  Because many of the rivers and waterways in the cities were polluted, water, at that time was not always safe to drink.  Beer (a much less alcoholic version than we know today) was drunk with every meal, by everyone, every day.  Providing the bulk of the caloric intake, beer was also believed to be nutritionally good for you.

Brewing beer at home was quite common and the Guinness family did as well. I’m sure one of Arthur Guinness’s jobs growing up was to help his father with the brewing.  Although many families brewed their own beer, it was also commercially available.  At inns and taverns, alewives would put out an ale-wand to show when their beer or ale was ready.  Gradually brewers began organizing themselves into guilds and as brewing became more reliable, many inns and taverns then stopped brewing and began to buy beer from these early commercial breweries.

Arthur Guinness

When Guinness was 27, his godfather died and left him £100 (over £5,000 today).  Having an entrepreneurial spirit, in 1755 Guinness purchased a floundering brewery not far from Dublin.  He began brewing ale … an “unhopped” brew.  After four years, Arthur put his brother in charge and then purchased another brewery, about 20 miles away at St. James’s Gate in Dublin.  The brewery industry was beginning to fail, but it didn’t deter young Guinness who took out a 9,000-year lease on a 4-acre, run-down brewery … for a cost of £45 per year.  And just ten years later, Arthur Guinness began exporting his brew.  It may only have been six barrels to England, but it was ground breaking at that time.

In 1761 Arthur married Olivia Whitmore, who bore him 21 children – 10 of which lived into adulthood.  Three of his sons eventually joined him to work at the brewery, with Arthur Jr., his second son, eventually becoming senior partner.

Meanwhile, Londoners were enjoying a new style of dark beer, called Porter or “stout”, named after the river porters who worked in London.  Although his brewery was doing well, Arthur made the decision to stop brewing ales and concentrate on perfecting this bold, black beer.  In 1778 Guinness started selling only Porter.  By his death in 1803, the annual output at the brewery was over 20,000 barrels.  With Arthur Jr. now at the helm, exporting became his focus and sales continued to soar … from 350,000 barrels in 1868 (now with Arthur Jr.’s son in charge) to 779,000 barrels in 1876 to over one million barrels ten years later.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, the beloved Prince Albert in 1871, a local pub owner decides to create a drink in his honor.  By combining Guinness’ Stout with champagne, he created the Black Velvet, a drink that is still very popular today.

The Guinness brewery grew by leaps and bounds and remained in the family for four generations.  The original 4-1/2 acre property grew to where it boasted its own medical facility, fire department, railway system and canteens; and it took very good care of its workers.  By the 1900s the brewery provided unparalleled benefits for its 5,000 employees, costing the brewery one-fifth of its total wages.

By 1914, Guinness was producing 2,652,000 barrels of beer a year, more than double that of its nearest competitor Bass, and was supplying more than 10% of the total UK market.  In the 1930s, Guinness became the seventh largest company in the world.

Some very creative advertising and marketing campaigns were begun at this time.
The first advertisement featured the slogan ‘Guinness is Good for You’.
Following this success came ‘My Goodness, My Guinness,’ which featured the now famous Guinness toucan.
When World War II broke out, all British Troops in France receive a bottle of Guinness to accompany their Christmas dinner.
And let’s not forget the Guinness Book of World Records, which came about in 1954 when the Managing Director had the idea for a promotion based upon settling pub arguments.  Little did he know that this book would go on to become an all-time best seller, and spawned an entire culture of its own.
To celebrate their 200 anniversary in 1958, Guinness dropped 150,000 bottles into the Atlantic Ocean, from different points, over six weeks.  Should one of those bottles reach shore, inside you may have found a certificate from ‘the Office of King Neptune’, or a booklet telling the story of Guinness.  Others may have had instructions on how to turn the bottle into a lamp.

Guinness Book of World Records – Longest Bicycle

In 2000 Guinness transformed the former fermentation plant at the St. James’s Gate Brewery into a magnificent seven-story experience, now the biggest tourist attraction in Dublin.  The story of Guinness is brought to life from its humble beginnings through to its modern-day successes.

Today Guinness is brewed and enjoyed all over the world.  It may not be a favorite of mine, but obviously I am in the minority.   As Irish actor Peter O’Toole once said, “My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice is Guinness. My third choice … would have to be Guinness.” 

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References:  Ranker.com, Guinness, Wikipedia, World Records
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DONUT DOLLIES

Who doesn’t love donuts. The puffy little mounds of fried deliciousness can be found in countries all over the world. They may or may not have a hole in the middle and they may be called by another name … beignets, bombaloni, bismarks, sfenj, lokma, badusha and more; but we all know what these deep-fried sweet yeasty balls of tenderness dipped in a sugary substance are … and we love them.

Although the donut appears to be such a true symbol of America, I wonder how many know that the donut was not invented here. I wonder, also, how many people know how important the donut became during a time of crisis?

A fried ball of dough can be traced as far back as prehistoric times, but historians believe that the sweetened version of fried dough we’ve all come to love originated in the Netherlands, and were (and still are) known as ‘olykoeks’ or oily cakes. From Amsterdam the donuts or oily cakes came to New Amsterdam (or, as we know it today, New York City) in the late 1700s. But as popular as they are today, donuts really didn’t come into their own until World War I. Women volunteers from the U.S. and England served up donuts daily to home-sick American boys. These brave, selfless women earned the name “donut dollies“, a name that is still being used today.

It began in 1917 when the Salvation Army sent 250 women volunteers to the trenches of eastern France in order to boost morale by providing some of the same comforting touches the soldiers would have enjoyed at home. One of the more specific requests from the men was for a taste of something sweet, like pies or cookies. But baking in the battlefields was absolutely impossible, never mind trying to get supplies.

Two of the women, Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance came up with the idea for making donuts. They collected surplus rations for the dough and used wine bottles and shell casings for rolling pins. They then filled a soldier’s helmet with lard for frying. The Boston Daily Globe reprinted a letter from Sgt. Edgar S. Chase of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who wrote from the battlefield, “Can you imagine hot doughnuts, and pie and all that sort of stuff? Served by mighty good looking girls, too.”

Archival footage courtesy of the Salvation Army

These brave women became lovingly known as “donut dollies” and were just one small part of a larger female war effort. John T. Edge in Donuts: An American Passion cites that these treats were an immediate hit, and cemented the Armed Forces’ relationship with donuts, and the women who served them. “By the close of World War I, the Salvation Army was among the strongest charitable forces in America – and their chosen totem, the doughnut, was an ingrained symbol of home.”

When World War II began, the Red Cross immediately began recruiting young women to serve as “donut dollies.” The women had to be at least 25 years of age, with a college education, pass a physical exam, and have a pleasing personality. They needed to be intelligent, charming and sensible. They were expected to be “the girl next door” … nothing more. From the many volunteers, only one woman out of six passed.

The Red Cross then began retrofitting English Army buses to serve as “Clubmobiles” supplying not just coffee and donuts to the troops but outfitted with a small lounge where the men could sit for a few moments. With freshly made donuts, hot coffee, a record player, gum, cigarettes, magazines, newspapers and a friendly face these Clubmobiles provided the morale boost the soldiers desperately needed. The first clubmobile arrived in France just days after the D-day invasion, staffed with three women volunteers. By July 1944 there were well over 100 clubmobiles in action.

“We were standing in the village street in a row serving our coffee and donuts and I was at the end of the line with the coffee dipper. And a G.I. came up to me, a very young guy, a 19-year-old, like a lot of them were, and he said his name was Jerry and he just needed to talk to me,” said Barbara Pathe, a Clubmobile worker with the troops in Germany. “And so he stood there and talked to me the whole time we were serving. Listening was the biggest thing we did. Nothing else, just listening.”

With volunteers from every walk of life, women played an important role in the American war effort, risking, and some losing, their lives to do so. The Donut Dollies continued their service throughout France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany until 1945 when WW II was won, but they did not stop there. They continued to operate during not only the Korean War, but the Vietnam War as well.

The Vietnam War was a divisive and highly controversial war. Morale within the troops was at an all-time low. In 1965, Defense Department officials asked the Red Cross to establish a program in Vietnam and the “Donut Dollies” were put into service once again. From 1965 through 1972, nearly 630 brave, young women served in Vietnam through this program.

In 2014 filmmaker Norm Anderson made a documentary about two women who served as “Donut Dollies” in Vietnam as they attempted to retrace their steps during this tumultuous era. One of the donut dollies was Norm’s mother. The other, her best friend. If you are interested in learning more, please click on this link …
The Donut Dollies an untold story about American women in Vietnam.

Donut Dollies in service to the Red Cross in Vietnam. Credit Larry Ray/American Red Cross

From World War I to the Vietnam War “Donut Dollies” were not shielded from the horrors of war. Not only did they drive the buses and fix them when they broke down, the Donut Dollies risked their lives every day as they tried to fulfill their mission to cheer up the troops. They saw death all around them, and some women lost their lives, but each day they had to compartmentalize their own fear and sadness, and provide that glimmer of hope and kindness which was so appreciated. 

We can all sit back and debate the merits of Dunkin’ Donuts vs Krispy Kreme vs the local donut shop, but one thing we can all agree on is that “we love donuts and we love the “Donut Dollies“.

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References: Smithsonian, All Good Found, NY Times, Easy Science, War Veterans, My Recipes,
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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,

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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MARZIPAN – MARCH BREAD

First of all, I love sweets!  Yes, I’ve said it.  Candy, chocolates, pastry, cakes, pies and tarts!  I do not discriminate.  There’s hardly a bakery, patisserie, Godiva, Lindt or Ghirardelli shop I haven’t been into.  Whenever I travel, I am immediately and irresistibly drawn to specialty confection and pastry shops.  Our recent trip to Spain satisfied all those desires.

Here in the states, most people think of marzipan, if they’ve even heard of it at all, as those small candy confections molded and colored to look like miniature fruit, usually only available around the holidays and sold in specialty shops.  In Great Britain and Europe, there’s a broader view and range of marzipan which includes using marzipan as fondant to cover cakes, as well as a filling in tarts and pies.  While in Spain, I was quite surprised to learn that not only was marzipan invented there (sorry Italy), but there are confectionery shops dedicated to making and, of course, selling marzipan.  I don’t know why this surprised and fascinated me, but it did.

Here in the northeast, along the seashore,  we have specialty candy shops which sell ‘salt water taffy’.  This sweet, boiled and pulled taffy (which my dentist will no longer let me eat) is generally made in large copper kettles in full view of the public.  Candy stores and gift shops up and down the coast sell this sweet confection, in individually-wrapped pieces, from large bins to tourists who try to choose between the many different flavors.  Ergo marzipan!

If you’re not familiar with marzipan, it is a sweet, thick paste made from ground almonds and sugar, commonly referred to as a ‘sweetmeat’.  And as with all great things, who invented it is up for debate.  The Italians say it was invented in Sicily.  Spain claims it was invented in Spain. Greece takes credit for it, as well as Germany and the Middle East.  After being in the small village of Toledo, Spain, I think I now have the whole story.

Spain was settled by the Romans, but during the 5th century the Visigoths conquered the Romans and took over the kingdom.  The Visigoths established the village of Toledo as their capital.  It was a turbulent time.  Hostilities were everywhere … between the Catholics, the Aryans and the Arabs, who were now moving in.  By the end of the 6th century, the Arabs had successfully taken over and drove the Visigoths from Toledo.  The Arabs settled into this peninsula bringing with them, among many other foods,  almonds, asparagus, dates, figs, grapes, strawberries and olives.  None of these foods had been known to the Europeans before this time.

Southern Spain flourished.  Wealth was being generated by the now rich and fertile farmlands.  Irrigation systems were developed.  Dams were built.  Windmills were constructed. And Jews, Christians, and Muslims all lived together peacefully.  But nothing is forever.  Christian forces started moving down from the north and captured this area in 1085.  The battles took years and dried up all the food sources.

There was widespread famine everywhere.  It was devastating. The wheat fields and storerooms were gone and with no wheat to make bread, what would the people eat?  What Toledo still had stored, however, was sugar and almonds.  The nuns from the Convent of San Clemente, in an effort to come up with something to feed the starving population, created a paste combining these two ingredients, sugar and almonds.  Some historians claim eggs were added to it, others claim ground chicken meat was added to it, but the fact that a paste using these ingredients was fed to the people and kept them from starving to death.

Is it possible the nuns could have had prior knowledge about mixing these ingredients?  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that a paste made from ground almonds and eaten during Ramadan is mentioned in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, written around the 8th or 9th century.  Because of its extensive cultural heritage, Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.  And with such a fascinating and rich heritage, you’ll find nuns from the many Convents in Toledo still making this very popular confection today.  Should you be fortunate enough to travel to this fascinating little town of Toledo, you can actually take a marzipan making class, which I wish we had time to do.  Definitely with our next visit!

Marzipan which literally translates as March Bread is a sweet, nutty confection known and enjoyed all over the world.  Italy, of course, is a large producer, as is Germany and the Middle East, but to proudly wear the D.O. (designation of origin) stamp assigned by the Mazapán de Toledo Counsel, the marzipan must be made in Toledo and contain at least 50% almonds.

Although we didn’t take the marzipan cooking class, we certainly did purchase and sample as much as we could.  Marzipan shops line every street in this quaint town.  Creamy in texture, rich in flavor, from simple bite-sized pieces to large impressive sculpted designs … none of those fussy little imitation fruits … this was the best marzipan I have ever had.  But now that we’re home and all the marzipan is gone, you know I’m going to try making it myself.  How difficult could it be?

This is a recipe I found online.  Now to go shopping …

MARZIPAN

  • 2 cups finely ground blanched almonds, or almond flour
  • cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
Instructions
  1. In a food processor blend together the almonds and sifted sugar.
  2. Stir together the honey, egg white and almond extract.
  3. With the food processor turned on, slowly add the honey mixture in a slow stream.
  4. When all of the honey has been added the marzipan should hold together, like play dough.
  5. If it is a little too dry add more honey a tablespoon at a time.
  6. Form the marzipan into a log and cut it into two or three portions,  wrapping each one tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  Will last two to three weeks.


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    References:  Arab America, World History, Eye on Spain, Wikipedia,
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