Princess Alice of Battenburg

Has anyone else been watching this season’s THE CROWN on Netflix?  I am spellbound by this remarkably well-made, historical drama.  From the stunningly beautiful and lavish set designs to the dramatic vistas and landscapes, the authentically-detailed period costumes, and, of course, the remarkable portrayals of each of the Royal family by such a talented cast, it’s very difficult to not get caught up in every nuance, image and monologue.  Some people may call this nothing more than a glorified soap opera, but it is so believable, so well made, I had to do some fact checking.  Is this historically accurate or has it been infused with ‘artistic license’

Not having any more information about the Royals than most people (supermarket tabloids, banner headlines on search engines), I’ve been intrigued by such a parade of complex individuals who’ve occupied the rooms of the palace and 10 Downing Street at one time or another.  One such person was the recent episode which introduced us to Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg, brilliantly played by Jane Lapotaire.  But a nun?  Living in a down-trodden community in Greece? Looking for charitable donations?  I needed to know more . . .

Victoria “Alice” Elizabeth Julia  Marie was born on February 25, 1885 at the home of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in Windsor Castle to German parents, Prince Louis of Battenburg and Princess Victoria of Hesse.  Alice’s father was an officer in the Royal Navy, and as a result, the family lived in, not only London, but Germany and Malta.  The eldest of four, Alice’s mother was very concerned by Alice’s lack of development.  Alice was slow in learning to speak and had trouble pronouncing words.  Through her aunt’s intervention, Alice was later diagnosed with congenital deafness.  Once diagnosed, Alice quickly learned to lip read and became proficient in English, German, French and Greek.

Princess Alice and her husband, Prince Andrew
(1903)

She was a stunning beauty and grew to be one of the loveliest young women in Royalty.  At the coronation of King Edward VII, Alice met her future husband, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark.  On October 6, 1903, she 18 and he 21, this handsome couple were married and moved to Greece where Andrew became a commissioned officer in the Greek army.  The marriage was marred from the beginning.  Little did Alice know of Prince Andrew’s bisexuality or extravagant lifestyle.  Regardless, the pair would go on to have five children, four daughters and one son. The youngest, Philip, born in 1921, six years after their youngest daughter.

As with most young, wealthy princesses, Alice had little or nothing to do but attend social gatherings.  On a trip to Russia in 1908 to attend the wedding of her husband’s niece, Alice became intrigued about plans to create a religious order of nurses.  When Alice returned to Greece, she found the country in political turmoil.  The turmoil escalated into war and the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912.  Alice quickly threw herself into helping the wounded soldiers by organizing field hospitals.  During this time Prince Andrew’s father was assassinated by a Greek anarchist so the family was forced to flee in exile to Switzerland.

Alice with her first two children, Margarita and Theodora, c. 1910

Just a short two years later saw the outbreak of WWI which caused horrific tragedy to Alice’s family back in Germany, most of whom were murdered.  The family had to give up all of their privileges, positions and titles, as well as their name.  From “Battenberg”, they were now known as “Mountbatten”.  With the end of WWI and the fall of the German empire, the Mountbattens returned to Greece, but once again war broke out in Greece only two years later and Prince Andrew, who was commander of the Military, was banished from the country.  This time the family fled to Paris.

After all this turmoil, tragedy and disruption in their lives, it’s no wonder that Alice turned to religion.  She converted to the Greek Orthodox faith.  Her philandering husband didn’t help Alice’s now fragile state of mind.  With all she had been through, Alice began thinking she had special healing powers and was receiving messages from God.  The couple became estranged. Now diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Alice, aged 45, was forced to move into a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she lived for two years.

Alice tried many times, unsuccessfully, to escape from the sanatorium.  Under the care of many psychiatrists, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, Alice was forced to undergo invasive treatments to “cure her of frustrated sexual desires” which was Freud’s diagnosis.  Dr. Freud concluded that Alice was suffering from unsatisfied sexual frustration.  Her son, Philip, was just nine years old when his mother was taken from him.  Prince Andrew had no desire to raise his son.  He, in fact, ran away with a mistress to the French Riviera.  Young Philip was raised by other members of his family in England, living and being educated in exclusive boarding schools.  During this time, Alice’s daughters all married German prince’s and moved to Germany.  Alice did not attend any of the weddings.

When Alice was finally released from the sanatorium in 1932, she found herself alone.  With nowhere to go, she drifted throughout Germany for years.  The death of her daughter and her daughter’s family in a plane crash in 1937 was the first time in seven years Alice saw her husband.  It was at that time she reunited with the rest of her children and family.  Alice then returned to Greece to continue her charity work.  She wanted her son, Philip, to come with her, but he had a future with the Royal Navy.  When the second World War broke out, Alice’s family was split between Germany and England.  Her son and British family members were on the Allied side, while her daughters and in-laws were on the German side.

In 1941 the Nazis took over Greece.  Although many fled, Alice remained and became an activist, hiding as many Jews as possible in her home, smuggling in medical supplies and doing whatever charity work she could find.  In 1944 when the war was over, Athens was liberated but nothing changed in Greece.  The British were now fighting the Communists for control.  With no food, most people living in squalid conditions, Alice continued putting her life on the line with her dangerous acts of charity.

In 1947 Alice did get the opportunity to leave Greece to attend the wedding of her son, Philip, to Princess Elizabeth.  Her visit was short lived, however, because she wanted to return to Greece where she organized a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, modeled after the one she had witnessed in Russia many years before, known as the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.  By June of 1953, Alice was now clothed only in the simple grey habit worn by many Greek Orthodox nuns, which she wore to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

The military junta in 1967 forced Prince Philip to send for his mother.  Alice returned to London to live out her years with her son, Prince Philip, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, at Buckingham Palace.  Now quite frail and deaf, but alert and cognizant, she continued to smoke and play canasta.  Then, on December 5, 1969, at the age of 84, with every one of her belongings given away at her request, Princess Alice of Battenberg died.

This remarkable woman endured more than most.  It’s sad to me that so few have even heard her name, never mind her incredible story.  I wonder if any of us could have lived through the terrors of wars, family members killed and murdered, a husband who betrayed her and children who seemingly left her completely on her own.  The British government named Princess Alice “Hero of the Holocaust” for her services during the Jewish Massacre, and in 1994 she was honored by Israel as ‘Righteous among the Nations’.

As fascinating as the episode on The Crown was, it barely scratches the surface of the dramatic life this woman has lived.  Were there some artistic liberties taken for the script?  Yes, of course.  But I don’t think it was necessary.  A remarkable story of a remarkable woman.  Thank you Netflix!

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References:  Crowns, Tiaras, Coronets, Famous People, Wikipedia, CNN, Elle,

WHITBY FISH PIE

Whitby is a charming, seaside village in north Yorkshire.  Although we have visited quite a few times, there’s no real reason for most people to have heard of Whitby … unless you’ve followed the career of Captain Cook or have read Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA.  Actually, quite a few literary geniuses have lived or visited Whitby during their careers.  In addition to Bram Stoker, you may have heard of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell or Lewis Carroll among many others.  Today, tourism is what keeps this quiet, little fishing village alive … well, that and “fish pie”.

As with most regional recipes, it comes down to whatever is available, and whatever the cook decides to do with it.  In Whitby, it’s the ‘catch of the day’.  For me, it was a quick trip to the grocery store, after which I decided to use cod.  And pulling from my bookshelf of resources, it was Paul Hollywood’s BRITISH BAKING which inspired this beloved regional dish.

I was a bit hesitant … not all of my attempts at Hollywood’s recipes have been successful … but this one certainly was.  We all loved it.  A hearty, satisfying dish, flavorful and delicious.  Perfect for a Sunday supper on a wintry night.  Serve it up with a tossed green salad and bottle of white wine.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

WHITBY FISH PIE
Serves 6 to 8.  Bake at 425º for 30 to 40 mins.

The crust (or purchase a pre-made pastry crust)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup icy cold water

The filling
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 diced white onion
2 stalked celery, diced
2 cups spinach, washed and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 lbs. solid white fish, skinned, cubed
2 boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 egg, beaten

I know after reading this list of ingredients, it seems like a lot of time and work, but it really isn’t.  We all know a good pie starts with a good crust.  They are super easy, but if you don’t feel comfortable making one, store bought crusts have come a long way.

When ready to cook, make the filling in one large saucepan, beginning with a roux, adding leftover cooked potatoes if you have them.  Dump it all into a large pie plate or casserole.  Then top it with the pie crust and bake for about 40 minutes.  Done!
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The details:
To make the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Add the chilled butter and cut in until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the beaten egg and, with a fork, mix together quickly adding the cold water as needed …

OR … put all the dry ingredients in your food processor and pulse for 10 seconds.  Add the cubed butter and pulse for another 10 seconds.  Add the beaten egg and as much water as needed to hold it together and pulse for a final 10 seconds.

The flour mixture should stay together.

Whichever method you use, when it comes together, turn out on a floured board and form a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

The filling:
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  When melted, stir in the 1/2 cup of flour and cook til all combined.  Slowly add the milk and whisk until smooth and creamy.  This will take two to three minutes.  Season with cloves, salt and pepper.

The bechamel should be nicely thickened.

Next, stir in the diced onions and celery.  The heat should be medium to low.  Then add the chopped spinach and parsley.  Taste to adjust the seasoning.  You may need to add a bit more salt.

Add the cubed fish and fold in gently.  You don’t want to break the fish up.  If you have leftover boiled potatoes, add them now … or any leftover veggies you may have.  Turn off the heat and dump everything into a large casserole or pie plate.

Take the pastry out of the frig and, on a lightly floured board, roll it out to fit the casserole or pie plate.  Be sure to cut an air hole in the center of the pastry for the steam to escape.

Brush the edges of the casserole with water or the beaten egg and put the pastry crust on top.    Press the pastry onto the rim of the dish to adhere.  Decorate as you’d like, or not.  Brush the beaten egg all over the pastry crust.

Be sure to put the casserole onto a baking tray to catch any spillage … and there will be spillage.  Bake at 425º for 40 to 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.


Take it out of the oven and serve right away.  A simple green salad and glass of white wine … maybe some crusty bread, perfect!  This is an old-fashioned supper dish and it doesn’t disappoint.  WHITBY FISH PIE … a steaming pie full of goodness and nutrition.  If you make it, please let me know.
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References:  Wikipedia, Visit Whitby, Paul Hollywood,

Portsmouth’s Dockyard

When hubby suggested that we visit the Portsmouth Shipyard while in England this past fall, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical.  A visit to a naval base?  My Dad worked at a naval base for years (one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in this country), so I’m quite familiar with touring historic shipbuilding facilities and what they have to offer.  I wasn’t, however, prepared for the fascinating, fun and intimidating adventure that was awaiting us.

Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth

We chose to stay at a quirky little b&b along the waterfront, originally a 200-year old pub frequented by the dock workers.  The location couldn’t have been better.  We had views of the waterfront, the quay, the shipyard and the 560′ foot high Spinnaker Tower.  The weather was, what we generally refer to as, typical English … a bit grey, overcast and drizzly.  That didn’t stop us, however, from seeing all this unique little area had to offer.

Our first afternoon we visited the very touristy quay with all its fine, upscale shops and restaurants.  The next day, we took an exhilarating ride on a hovercraft, floating above the sea and traveling at 45 knots, to the beautiful Isle of Wight where we relaxed on the beach, hiked to the top of lookout cliff, ate local seafood and where I’d love to return … for more than a day.

But the reason we came here was to visit the Dockyard.  I wasn’t prepared for how pristine this working shipyard would be.  It was almost ‘elegant’ in its presentation, and a bit intimidating with its  20′ high brick walls and imposing main gate, which prevent you from seeing what lies behind the walls.

In addition to the fleets of ships and repair facilities, the entry fee gains you admittance to children’s action stations and pirate adventures, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, harbor tours, a water bus, as well as the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  The highlights, of course, are the H.M.S. Victory, the H.M.S. Warrior and the Mary Rose.  Being very familiar with “Old Ironsides”, the U.S.S. Constitution, built in 1794 and now housed at the Boston Naval Shipyard, I was most fascinated to tour the equally famous British warship, H.M.S. Victory, built for battle against the American’s War of Independence.


When you step on board the H.M.S. Victory, you get to experience the ship as it was in 1805.  Not only can you inspect every nook and cranny of this fascinating vessel, observing where the sailors and officers ate and slept, the costumed crew take on the characters and give you a very real and personal look at how harsh life was like on board as they prepare for the Battle of Trafalgar.  Of course, I found the galley and the main cabin to be the most fascinating.  Others may have been more fascinated by the cannons and the coal-fired boiler room.  All  in all, I would absolutely recommend a visit to experience this piece of history.

The entry fee alone was worth our visit to the H.M.S. Victory, but our day didn’t end there.  We took a water bus across the bay to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  Having never been on a submarine before, this exhibit was incredibly fascinating to me (and the others in our group).  The first impression for me was trying to imagine how these brave men were able to withstand the claustrophobic conditions aboard this imposing vessel.


This monstrous, grey, monolith of a ship was beyond intimidating.  The H.M.S. Alliance is England’s only remaining WWII submarine and what an absolutely incredible experience this was.  A retired submariner guide takes you through the entire ship beginning in the engine room and ending in the torpedo compartment.  He’s not only very informative, but entertaining as well, providing you with all the ‘inside’ information (including how to use the toilet flushing system*).  You have the opportunity to not only view the world through the periscope and push the horrifying ‘dive alarm’, you’ll observe how these brave men lived and worked on this undersea, iron amphibian.  Each compartment is staged to replicate exactly how it would have been during WWII, from the jacket still hanging on the peg, to the canned milk for the tea, to the photos of their true loves pinned to the wall.

In addition to the Alliance, there is a submarine museum where you can tour Britain’s first submarine, the Holland I, and learn about John Holland, who developed the very first submersible vessel.

From the Victory to the Alliance and everything in between, our visit to Britain’s oldest Naval Base, the Portsmouth Dockyard, was truly memorable.  Restoration of these vessels has been a considerable and expensive undertaking,  but so worth it.  And in order to continue the restoration, the ticket prices are a bit high, but when would you ever get the chance to experience anything like this?  I’m sure you’re thinking this would be great for kids and families and may not interest a lot of people, and I was certainly skeptical, but take it from me, you’ll never forget your visit to Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Dockyard.

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* Just for fun:   How to Use the Submarine Toilet Flushing System:  After entering, close door “A”

  1. Open waste tap “B” and flush tap “C” with lever “D”, causing door “A” to be blocked.
  2. Open cover “E”.
  3. Move lever “F” to “use”.
  4. Use lavatory “G”.
  5. Open waste tap “H” and flushing tap “I”.
  6. Move lever “F” to “flush” position (do this more carefully the deeper the submarine is submerged) until compartment “J” is barely filled.
  7. Open shut-off valve “K”.
  8. Move lever “F” carefully to position “eject”.
    Compartment  “J” is filled through “K” and “L” with air from the 12 ATM system.
  9. Move lever “F” carefully to the “air waste” position. In this position, the air flows out of compartment “J” through valve “M” to the foul water tank and on to the battery compartment through pipe “O”.
  10. Lever “F” stays in the “air waste” position when the lavatory is not in use.
  11. Close and lock taps “H” and “I”.
  12. Close lever “E”.
  13. Close taps “B” and “C” with lever “D”.

Note: If these instructions are not followed exactly as above, the contents of the toilet will spill out over and up and down the closet. If you are so careless, you clean it up!

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References:  Historic Dockyard, Boston Navy Yard, HMS Victory, Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Wikipedia, John Holland

GBBO . . . what’s happened to you?

What has happened to the Great British Bake Off?  Now in season 10 (or is it 9, maybe 8?) it has become a showcase of unattainable, unrelatable challenges.  No longer is it a baking show to which home bakers can think about, perhaps some day, challenging themselves to bake that irresistible, classic cake/pie/tart/bread/roll/pastry.  Now the contestants are asked to bake scenic ‘landscape desserts‘, pita bread on an outdoor  fire pit, and what in the world is a ‘Kek Lapis Sarawak‘ cake?  I completely understand that this is a long-running program and there is a need to have new “content” for each of the 10 episodes, but biscuit chandeliers? REALLY?

Has anyone else noticed that the bakers are younger, more stylish, and dare I say, more attractive?  In past seasons, there was a wide range of ages.  But not so much any more.  Where’s the Val, Diana, Brendan, Norman and Nancy today?  Is this home baker now too old for the commercial Channel 4 audience?  Also, these much younger contestants, with their perfect teeth, coifed hair and slim  bodies appear to be in ‘character’ now … much like MasterChef.

Season 1, which (unless you have a streaming service) we in the U.S. have never had the opportunity to see, featured 10 home bakers baking in the imposing tent which then moved around the U.K. to six different locations.  It was all about the classic bakes, ranging from puddings to breads to cakes.

The judges were Paul Hollywood, a seasoned bread baker, and Mary Berry, the Julia Child of Great Britain.  Together with comediennes Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as the sympathetic, caring, yet off-beat presenters who were always there to bolster a sagging souffle, the show was an immediate hit.  Let’s not forget the music.  Combining cellos, violins and a xylophone, the tension-building introduction perfectly set the mood of the show.

Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc

The logistics of a roving tent must have been too daunting because in Season 2 the tent became permanently setup on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a 17th-century mansion house.  The number of contestants increased from 10 to 12 and a “star” baker was introduced.  It was official.  The Great British Bake Off was a huge hit!

Season 3, which here in the U.S. is referred to as Season 1, is when the rest of us fell in love with this charming baking show.  We were tired of the gimmicky, cut-throat, competitive, backstabbing drama which was so prevalent in our cooking shows.  We all fell in love with this simple format and with contestants who actually cared about each other, helping each other out when a crisis was imminent.

Ian dumping his bake into the bin.

Yes, there was one incident in Season 4 when Diana is accused of leaving Ian’s ice cream out of the freezer, which caused his bake to fail, and thus being eliminated.  Diana left the show because she said the program was edited to make it look as if she left the ice cream out when, in fact, she had put it back into the freezer.  She departed the show because of how she was portrayed.

The BBC series ran for six seasons, but when Channel 4 purchased the show, Mary, Mel and Sue left.  Paul Hollywood remained.  We were then introduced to Prue Leith as judge, replacing Mary Berry.  Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig took over for Sue and Mel.  Yes, they get the job done, but with gimmicks and slapstickish comedy, none of the clever, witty interplay we so enjoyed from Mel and Sue.

The first six seasons of this beloved show are constantly rerun on PBS, while Netflix has kept us up-to-date on the recent three.  Will I continue to watch?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t miss one episode.  But I do miss the eccentric, aging, snaggle-toothed, rural baker who is completely uncomfortable in front of the camera, but was such fun to watch.

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CAKE

One of the oldest forms of what originated as a sweetened bread is cake.  In its simplest form, it is flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and butter, but it can be so much more than just that.  Cake can evoke so many different emotions and memories in each of us.  From the modest, but much-loved birthday cake of our childhood, to the multi-tiered symbol of love, the wedding cake, to the rich, decadent torte we enjoyed during our last extravagant dinner.  Or perhaps it was that $5.00 cake at the grocery store which looked so good you couldn’t pass it up.  Today a celebratory Cake is a ‘must have’ for most cultures at every occasion … from the baby shower to the anniversary dinner to the retirement party.

Duff Goldman photographed next to one of his designer cakes, a floral wedding cake at Charm City Cakes West.

I am fascinated by the incredible cakes produced on some of the Food Network shows. Watching episodes of Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes can leave you feeling hopelessly inadequate as a baker.  But you must know that lavishly decorated cakes didn’t begin when the Food Network started showcasing these professional bakers and their cake masterpieces.  It began during the Victorian era.

When hubby and I have a weekend free, we love to spend a Sunday afternoon strolling around rural town centers, browsing through curiosity and antique shops.  Recently I came across a fascinating  book entitled The Victorian Book of Cakes, Recipes, Techniques and Decorations from the Golden Age of Cake Making”.  Not the original, this reproduction, written in 1958, is taken from the turn-of-the-century tome which was the standard for professional bakers during the Victorian era. The recipes range from petit fours to pound cakes, slab cakes and shortbread, to gingerbread and marzipan.

The illustrations in this book are remarkable in that they are not photographs but drawn capturing the precise details from each original baked item.  The images of wedding cakes are astonishingly beautiful, each having won prizes at the London International Exhibition 100 years ago.

The book has hundreds of recipes, which are quite interesting.  Most use the same simple ingredients, but with very minimal direction.  The cakes are generally traditional fruit cakes, with nuts, spices, and rum or brandy, such as the wedding cake Prince William and Kate Middleton served for their wedding.

For leavening agents, although they do not call it “baking powder”, a blend of ‘cream of tartar’ and baking soda (two pounds of cream of tartar to one pound of baking soda) is used – which essentially is ‘baking powder’ (invented by Alfred Bird in 1840).  Yeast or beaten egg whites were also used to lighten batters, all of which leads me to think that most of these cakes were probably more ‘bread like’ and quite dense.

In a Victorian bakery or pastry shop there would be a variety of cakes and biscuits for sale from scones and shortbread to meringues, marzipan and trifles.  This book gives the bakery owner, not only recipes for its ‘best sellers’, but advice on how to display these confections and what to charge … with cakes starting at a shilling.  One description for a “SHILLING GATEAU” is described as “very saleable and enhance the general shop display.  They should be made from a good Genoese base, either a light egg mixture or a closer-eating butter mixing.  The latter seems to be the favorite of the cake-eating public.”  How fun!  I guess we ‘cake-eating public’ like a ‘closer-eating’ mixture … whatever that may mean.

In addition to the advice and recipes are the original advertisements for all the baking essentials required, from flours and sugars to cake stands and ovens.  One advertisement which I found interesting was for a “vegetable butter” made from “cocoanuts, as an excellent substitute for butter, margarine and lard”.  Why has it taken us another 100 years to fully incorporate coconut oil into our baking?

Times may have changed and although some of the ingredients have stayed the same, progress seems to be  mostly in the preparation, and in the myriad of flavors we have today.

I’m sure you’ve probably realized by now that ‘I like to bake’.  Breads, cakes, cookies, it really doesn’t matter.  I find baking to be relaxing.  It also provides a much-needed creative outlet.  Taking an assortment of unrelated ingredients and turning them into, hopefully, a confection that not only tastes good, but is pretty to look at, is quite satisfying.  Not all my ‘bakes’ have been successful, of course.  In fact, some have been complete disasters, requiring a quick trip to the nearest bakery when it was an occasion for which I was to supply the “cake”.  But, for the most part, they’ve been pretty decent.

I’m not sure any of us would enjoy making the seemingly simple, but on closer inspection, overly-complicated recipes in this “The Victorian Book of Cakes” today,  but I do feel challenged to try my hand at making one or two – some shortbread perhaps?  Not that I would ever do what Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  But, then again …

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THE BEATLES

I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads wondering why in the world would I be writing about the Beatles.  What could they possibly have to do with a blog called TEA, TOAST and TRAVEL?  Well,  they certainly do qualify … definitely from England, and they were all “tea” drinkers.


We just returned from a two-week visit to England and, never having visited before, this year we decided to go to Liverpool.  How surprised were we when we discovered this once down-on-its-heels city of the working classes is now a thriving metropolis with a world-class seaport district, high-end restaurants and shops, museums and a tourist mecca.  How did all this happen?  The obvious and logical answer, of course, is the investment over recent years by developers into revitalizing the city.  I say it’s because of four young men from the ‘neighborhood’ …. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

In making plans for our visit to Liverpool, I thought it would be great fun to take a “Beatles tour” … maybe finding a cabbie to take us around, or we might find a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus.  So, I started trolling websites looking for what we might be able to do.  Not only did I find a slew of companies offering organized Beatles tours, ranging anywhere from three hours to a full day, and anywhere from a private tour with an ‘expert’ Beatles guide, to full bus tours, it was impossible to choose.

Looking at the range of possibilities (and the costs), I choose one of the bus tours.  Now I had to choose the day and time to make our reservation.  Huh?  Although they offered tours every three to four hours, they strongly suggested advance reservations because they usually sell out before the day of.  Once again, huh?   This was just one of the many Beatles tours.  So, I selected one time slot which would work for our schedule …. sold out.  Okay, I choose another …. sold out.  Picked one for the next day …. sold out!  What the?  I had to switch to another tour group.  Finally, landed on the “Magical Mystery Tour”.  Made the advance online reservation.  Paid in full.  And exhaled!

Never having been to Liverpool, we wanted to get there early, poke around the city center a bit and get a feel for this coastal metropolis.  Thank goodness for “sat nav” because without it, we’d still be driving in circles, trying to navigate the many bridges and tunnels.  And when we finally emerged, it was beautiful!  Elegant ornate old stone buildings intermingled with the sleek, modern architecture of today.  With the help of the many tourist information stands, we found our way to the “Magical Mystery Tour” kiosk (located right next to the Beatles museum), picked up our “Tickets to Ride” and were soon in the midst of other like-minded tourees … all ages … all countries … all interested in The Beatles!

There we all were clustered in front of ‘our’ bus (of which there were many), taking selfies, waiting patiently for the doors to open.  As soon as they did, we piled in, jostling each other for the best seats.  The tour leader boarded, introduced himself and we were off.  We began at the stadium where tickets to Paul’s 2008 concert sold out in seconds to twice its capacity, when he played far into the night without ever taking a break.  We then drove to the ‘neighborhood’ where the four young men grew up, visiting each individual location, the schools, the hangouts, the barber shop, the church where Paul was a choir boy … learning about all the inspiration for their songs.  Along the way, the entire bus group would break out into song, everyone knowing the words, to the Beatles background music.

The tour leader was not only entertaining, he provided us with so many rich details on each band member, making it quite an intimate experience.  Starting from 1957 when 15 year old John Lennon started a skiffle band, to Paul McCartney asking his banjo-playing mother to teach him how to play the guitar, to Richard Starkey wearing a bunch of gold rings and earning the name “Ringo”, to Lennon wanting George Harrison in the band because “that kid can sing and he’ll get us all the girls”.  And learning that the reason the Beatles broke up was not because of Yoko Ono, but because of the death of Brian Epstein, the cement which kept these talented four together.

Yes, we stopped at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Paul McCartney’s home, George Harrison’s home and more.  At each destination, everyone piled out of the bus, taking turns for our photo op in front of whatever icon we visited, while watching similar buses, taxis or limos pulling away with another group of like-minded Beatles fans.  I felt badly for people living on the streets where all this activity goes on day after day.  They still had to go to work, school, shopping, the dentist, whatever, and here we all were clogging up these narrow, little neighborhood streets.  Our tour driver insisted not only don’t they mind, they actually love all the attention.  I hope so.

Two hours later, our tour ended back in the city center where it really all started for the Beatles, at the Cavern Club.  This little below-ground club is where in 1961 the Beatles (before Ringo) played to the lunchtime crowd almost daily.  Today this alleyway of a street is the hub for Beatles mania!  The Cavern Club sits mid-way, but first there are Beatles gift shops selling absolutely every item you can imagine with Beatles images on them.  Outside the Cavern Club is a brick wall with the name of every known country, rock or blues musician.  And be sure to have your photo taken with John Lennon or Cilla Black.
Each year Liverpool hosts an International Beatles Week attracting thousands of fans, with concerts all throughout the city performed by hundreds of Beatles tribute bands from around the world.  And, if you are such an ardent Beatles fan that you want an all-consuming experience, then you must stay at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.  This high-end establishment is adorned with specially-commissioned artwork and memorabilia.  And, yes, it serves Afternoon Tea.

As I said Liverpool is a vibrant and thriving city now.  If you ever get the chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And if you want to argue that Liverpool’s amazing turnaround over the past 30 years is because of the investment of dedicated developers which has led to the revitalization and rebirth of the city, you may be right.  But I say it’s all because of four lads, who called themselves the Beatles.

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References:  Hard Day’s Night Hotel, The Cavern Club, Beatles Tours, Wikipedia,
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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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