THE LAND ROVER

What a great name!  It tells you everything you need to know … for outdoor people everywhere, to go anywhere, at any time, over any sort of terrain.  And, if you are British, you either own one or you’d like to own one.  Well, my hubby doesn’t own one, but has always wanted to.  So, when I saw the Land Rover Experience while perusing activities available to us while in the U.K., I immediately booked it.

If you are unfamiliar with the Land Rover (which would surprise me), let me just say that it is probably, except for perhaps the Rolls Royce or Aston Martin, Britain’s best known automobile.  Marketed as the “go anywhere option for the farmer, the countryman and general industrial use”, it is and has been, since its introduction in 1948, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite vehicle.  Not only is this the Queen’s favorite car, it has been a favorite of other royals as well as well-known political figures and celebrities from Winston Churchill to Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Sean Connery and Paul McCartney.

Although Queen Elizabeth is not, by law, required to have a driver’s license, she did learn to drive in 1945 as a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) where she trained as a mechanic and military truck driver.  For official engagements, she often rides in the backseat of her custom-built Bentley, but her vehicle of choice is her Land Rover.  On occasion, the Queen can still be seen navigating the streets of London, or cruising across the fields of her Balmoral Estate in her 2015 Land Rover.

Queen Elizabeth II driving a Range Rover at the International Carriage Driving Grand Prix.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

This boxy 4-wheel drive, off-road icon was actually inspired by the then American Motors Corporation’s Jeep.  The AMC Jeep, created in 1940, was designed to be an off-road army vehicle specifically to be used in WWII.  It was so popular, the Jeep became even more in demand after the war.  Designers everywhere loved the basic utilitarian look of this vehicle, calling it a “masterpiece”.

Land Rover on Jeep Chassis 1948

Maurice Wilks was chief designer at the Rover Company, a British car manufacturing company known for high-quality vehicles.  Maurice’s brother, Spencer was managing director.  Inspired by the American war vehicle, on his farm in Anglesey, Maurice and Spencer built a prototype in 1947, using a Jeep chassis, and military surplus supplies from the war.

I don’t think I need to go over the Land Rover‘s unique features and specifications, nor do I think I need to cite all its military capabilities and its combat tours with not only the British Armed Forces, but also the Australian Armed Forces.  You might be interested to know, however, road accident statistics show the Land Rover to be one of the safest cars on British roads.  But, what I do want to talk about is the Land Rover Experience.

It is one thing to buy a Land Rover.  It is quite another to know how to drive a Land Rover.  Established in 1990, Land Rover organized a network of centers throughout the world to help customers learn how to get the most out of their vehicles’ on and off-road capability.  Not only do they instruct customers in driving their cars, they also offer a fun, exciting adventure in off-road driving for those of us who do not own one of these all-terrain automobiles.

We booked the experience in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire.  Pulling up to the castle, there they were, a fleet of white vehicles all lined up and ready for you to take out.  After all the necessary paperwork, licenses, waivers, etc., we were introduced to our co-pilot and handed the keys.  Our personable instructor could not have been more experienced or a better host.  Fully versed in all the vehicles capabilities, off we went onto Mother Nature’s “track”, with our qualified co-pilot up front, hubby nervously driving and me tucked safely away in the back.

Starting the drive, you’re taken in by the beauty of the area, from dense, lush forests to open fields and pastures.  You can spot deer who perk up when they hear the automobile coming.  Pheasant and grouse dart across the terrain.  It’s quite beautiful.

The terrain was, however, challenging to say the least.  With typical British weather, the recent rains had certainly added an element of breath-taking moments, negotiating the rivulets that ran through the forest.  There were times I was sure, while balancing on a rock, that we were going to topple over, but the automobile took on each obstacle with the tenacity of a warrior.  If you want to pull over, take photos, swap drivers, that’s not a problem.  It’s your day to enjoy.  Now let’s be clear, this is not a ‘test drive in the hopes that you are going to purchase this car’ ride.  This is a bonafide adventure course with an experienced instructor who, with his guidance, takes you over some of the most difficult terrain you’ll ever come across while driving.  It was exhilarating, challenging and so much fun!

This British icon has always been ‘a car of the people’, from Royals to the dairy farmer and there are very few vehicles which can actually wear that title.  If you are traveling in England and looking for something a bit different to do, I  recommend this experience to everyone.  We chose North Yorkshire for our drive, but there are other centers around the country.  And, they offer half-day to full-day experiences.  Would we do it again?  Absolutely!  And now I’ve learned that Land Rover offers the Land Rover Experience here in the States, as well as longer adventure travel packages.  From the warm welcome to the confidence boosting off-road driving challenges, I couldn’t recommend this unique adventure more.

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References:  Jeep-Wikpedia, Cheat Sheet, CNN, LandRoverUSA, Yorkshire Experience, Wikipedia Rover,
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THE BROWN BETTY

I become practically apoplectic when I watch someone prepare tea using a microwave, a mug and a teabag.  I want to shout “stop, what are you doing?”  But, of course, I don’t.  The reason why is because it really doesn’t matter to them that what they are doing is not preparing tea, but making some sort of hot beverage, quickly.  Am I a tea snob?  Some might say ‘yes’, but I don’t think so.  Would that same person think mixing a teaspoon of instant coffee powder into a mug of water and zapping that in the microwave is a good cup of coffee?  I hope not.

I love all things tea … from the origins of the leaf to the ritualistic preparations, the variety of ethnic traditions, as well as the fascinating accoutrements.  For preparation, the simple unadorned, unpretentious Brown Betty is one of my favorite teapots.  I know its a name that is familiar to a lot of tea drinkers, but I wonder if anyone knows how this modest, round-bellied pot got its name and why some devout tea drinkers think it the only vessel worthy of steeping a perfect cuppa.

Although quintessentially British, the origins of the teapot are actually Chinese.  As more and more tea was being imported from China into Europe and Great Britain beginning in the 1600s, a vessel in which to steep the tea became necessary.  The first teapot ever created was in China in the 15th century, but the Chinese primarily steep their tea individually in small porcelain bowls called gaiwans.  Europeans, however, wanted to steep larger quantities and demanded a more practical way of preparing and serving their tea.  Knowing this, the East India Company commissioned the Chinese to come up with a larger, more useful vessel.

Chinese artisans designed these pots, each with a spout, handle and lid. These vessels were small, unadorned, round pots, made from the red clay of the Yixing area … and ideal for preparing a good cuppa tea.  The teapots were packed in crates by the thousands and placed in the cargo holds in the bottom of the large sailing ships, which also helped to provide ballast, while the teas were then packed on top.  Everything was sure to arrive safely to ports throughout Europe and England.

Ming Dynasty Yixing Teapot

As we all know, tea was incredibly expensive at that time, and kept under lock and key, to be enjoyed only by the wealthy.  As tea pots started appearing, the aristocracy demanded these as well.  The Dutch were the first to request permission to try to reproduce these tea steeping ‘pots’.  In 1679 two potters from Delft sent a letter to the court of the Count of Holland stating: “we, associates, have discovered production techniques which make it possible to copy the teapots from the East Indies. We request permission to produce these pots for 15 years and to be the only ones to market them”.  But it was two silversmiths from Holland, brothers John and David Elers, who also saw the potential for this new industry and relocated to England to become potters.

In the Stoke-on-Trent area, the Elers brothers were able to find veins of fine red clay, the clay most like the red clay the Chinese were using.  The brothers then quickly and secretly established a factory in the area, and began producing some of the finest pottery to be found … some of which is on display today in the Victory Albert Museum in London.  Although their  “fine pottery” business was not financially profitable, they had a huge influence on the growth of this industry, making Staffordshire the ceramics capital of the world.

Two Teapots by the Elers Brothers 1627.  Photograph by David Jackson, CC BY-SA 2.0

As tea became more affordable, teapots became more in demand.  Artisans from Swinton pottery developed a unique glaze from iron and manganese that was brushed on the outside of the clay  pot. The excess glaze was allowed to run down the sides, creating an elegant streaky finish when it was fired.  That shiny brown glaze, referred to as the Rockingham glaze, in combination with the natural color of the clay, helped give the Brown Betty pot its name.

So, we’ve learned how “Brown”, became part of the name of this teapot, but what about “Betty”?

During the Victorian era, every affluent household had servants.  In the grander homes, there were servants who worked “downstairs” and servants who worked “upstairs”.   The “downstairs” servants generally were not known by their name and were usually referred to by their job, “cook” or “boots”, but the “upstairs” servants were well known to the lords and ladies of the house and would probably be referred to by a ‘nick name’.  MaryJane would become “Mary”.  Abigail would become “Abby”.  Elizabeth would become “Betty”.

The name Elizabeth, shortened to “Betty” was a very popular name then.  The hugely successful Betty’s Tearooms were begun (and still very popular today) by Swiss baker, Fritz Butzer, but there was no “Betty” in his family.  Perhaps he was inspired to name his tearoom for Betty Lupton, the queen of Harrogate, or the popular theater production about a maid named “Betty”, or could it have been “Betty” Rose, the granddaughter of his first investor in Betty’s Tearooms.  As Elizabeth was such a popular name, chances were that at least one servant was called “Betty” … and, “Betty” probably served tea.

By the mid-1800s, with many Staffordshire Pottery factories producing them, the teapot had evolved somewhat and became considerably more affordable.  And by 1926, it was estimated that the industry was producing approximately 500,000 Brown Betty Teapots per week … making it the most popular, widely used teapot in the country.

And what is it about this teapot that makes the Brown Betty my favorite pot for steeping tea?  Not particularly colorful or decorative, this unpretentious, utilitarian pot has a big round belly which allows the loose leaves to swirl around and infuse the water properly.  The clay retains the heat from the boiling water, holding the tea at the perfect temperature for me.  The handle is big and comfortable and the spout is dripless.  What more could anyone want in a teapot?

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References:  Hoteliers, Cauldon Ceramics, Wikipedia, VisitStoke, Bettys, Coffeeteaclub, thebrownbetty,

What’s In a Name?

TEA … what a strange name for a beverage.  A beverage which originated in China over 5,000 years ago.  A beverage which comes from infusing the leaves of a specific plant into hot water.  A beverage which has been drunk and enjoyed around the world for centuries.  Where did this simple name come from?

The word for “tea” can be quite different in many languages.  In China, the word for tea is “cha”.  In India and other Far East countries, the word for tea is very similar … “chai”.  In Great Britain and parts of Europe, however, the word for this amber-colored liquor is the word we in the U.S. use … “tea”.   How is it that this, the most popular beverage in the world, can have two completely different names?

Legend tells us that more than 5,000 years ago, the Chinese emperor, Shen Nung, was sitting under a tree in his garden boiling water when the wind picked up and leaves from the tree drifted down into his pot.  Intrigued by the fragrant aroma and beauty of the golden liquid, he drank the infusion and enjoyed it.  Tea has played a vital role in the Chinese culture ever since.

The Chinese character for tea is  .   Written from top to bottom, this calligraphic character is quite beautiful.  The top strokes, which I’ve always thought were shaped like a house, really represents “grass” or a “plant”.  Although Mandarin is the most common language in China, there are over 300 different languages and dialects.  In Mandarin Chinese this “house-shaped” character is pronounced “cha”.  In Min Chinese, however, this very same character is pronounced “te”.
Why is this important?  Because China is a very large country, with different languages spoken in different regions, and depending upon the port from which the tea was shipped, is how this beverage got its name.

China had two primary shipping locations:  Guangzhou (Canton) to the North, and Xiamen in Fujian Province, to the South.  If the tea leaves were exported from the northern route, they went overland, and they were referred to by their Mandarin name, “cha”.  If the very same leaves were exported from the southern route, they went by sea and were referred to by their Min name, “te”.

The northern route, known as the Tea-Horse Road, traveled over 6000 rugged miles through Tibet and on to India, eventually linking up with the infamous Silk Road.  Ultimately this route became vital for, not only trade, but for the sharing of information, religion, and the arts.  The Silk Road crossed into the Middle East, where some goods, including tea … “cha” … were loaded onto ships destined for Mediterranean ports.  With the introduction of the faster and more efficient Clipper ships in 1840, however, the use of this road lessened.

The southern trade route, which was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, actually introduced England to tea.  This dangerous and long voyage traveled from China through Java to Europe around the Cape of Good Hope up the coast of Africa to Europe.  It was these very same Portuguese and Dutch traders who first imported tea … “te” … into Europe.  Regular shipments of “te” had begun reaching England by 1610.  And with the use of Clipper ships, traveling at over 250 miles a day, the race was on.

So, if you lived along the Northern route and into the Middle East, your beverage of choice was “cha” taken from the Mandarin name.  If you lived along the Southern route and into Europe, your beverage of choice was “te” taken from the Min name.  But regardless of where you live and whether you refer to this wonderful elixir as  thé in Paris …or in Rome … chay in Moscow … or chai in Nairobi, just know that you are enjoying the oldest and most popular beverage in the world.

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References:  Wikipedia, History of Tea, Trade Routes, Siam teas, Mental Floss
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GINGERBREAD

Who thinks of “gingerbread” in April?  In America, “gingerbread” doesn’t seem to enter our thinking until the holidays start approaching.  And even then, we tend to think of gingerbread only in the form of gingerbread men cookies and gingerbread houses.  In the U.K. and throughout Europe, however, gingerbread is available, purchased, baked and enjoyed year round.  This may be of no interest to anyone, but I find it fascinating.

Illustration depicting Christopher Columbus’s fleet departing from Spain in 1492.

We’re all familiar with ginger, even if its only in the dried, powdered form.  But did you know the ginger plant, from which we use the root, was discovered in the Indonesian islands, along with many similar plants, as early as 2000 B.C.  Knowing its medicinal benefits even then, ginger was already being cultivated by the indigenous people.  Along with turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and cassia, ginger was among the first spices to be transported from the Far East over land and by sea to the Middle East and Europe.

From burning the spices in religious ceremonies, to creating ointments and potions to ward off the plague, as well as to hide putrid household smells and make unpalatable food edible, spices were in high demand.  We all know Christopher Columbus was trying to find a shorter route to the spice islands when he ‘bumped’ into this land mass.  The trade routes were so coveted, battles were fought over them and spice merchants became extremely wealthy and powerful.  Ginger was so expensive n the Middle Ages, one pound was the same price as one sheep.  But once the trade routes became established during the 15th and 16th centuries, prices stabilized … and by the 17th century, the Spanish were able to cultivate ginger and were growing it in the West Indies, making it affordable for all.

So, now that we know where ginger came from, let’s find out where “gingerbread” came from and why it’s so important in European cuisine . . .

I’ve read that the first known recipe for ‘gingerbrede’ came from Greece in 2400 BC.  Really?  How do they know that?  I do know, however, that food historians have traced ginger as a seasoning since antiquity.  From my research,  it seems an Archbishop from Armenia, in the 1st century, is credited with serving his guests a cake made of spices.  By the tenth century, its proven that Chinese recipes for ‘spice breads’ were developed using ginger, and by the 13th century European nuns in monasteries were known to be baking ‘gingerbredes’ to ease indigestion.  As spices, and in particular ginger, made their way throughout Northern and Western Europe, these breads baked in monasteries became so popular professional bakers began to make them.  The ingredients, of course, were a bit different from what we would expect.  Ground almonds, breadcrumbs, rosewater, sugar and ginger were mixed together and baked.  It wasn’t until the 16th century when eggs and flour were added.

Did you know Queen Elizabeth I is credited with creating the first “gingerbread man”?  Known for her outlandish royal dinners, Queen Elizabeth employed a ‘Royal gingerbread baker’.  Among her array of fancy desserts were not only birds, fruits, and castles shaped out of marzipan, but also of gingerbread. The first documented gingerbread-shaped biscuit actually came from the court of Queen Elizabeth when she commissioned figures to be made in the likeness of some of her important guests.  They were the hit of the court and soon these biscuits made their way into the bakeries.

Still not an inexpensive treat, gingerbread became widely popular at Medieval fairs all over Europe.  They were sold not only as delicious snacks, but as souvenirs and good luck charms.  Gingerbread became so popular, cities in France and England began holding “gingerbread fairs” and even formed Gingerbread Guilds, with strict baking guidelines and competitions.   Nuremberg, Germany was actually recognized as the “Gingerbread Capital of the World” and the quality of their gingerbread was so high that it was even used as currency for paying city taxes.  The oldest recorded gingerbread recipe, dating back to the 16th century, is on display in the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg.

Elaborately decorated gingerbread became so synonymous with all things fancy and elegant that the Guilds began hiring master bakers to create works of art from gingerbread.  Bakers began carving wooden boards to create elaborately designed molds to shape individual images.  The shapes included not only flowers, birds, and animals, but even people.  They were in such demand, kings and queens, lords and ladies, knights and bishops wanted their images captured in “gingerbread”.  Should a young woman want to improve her chances of attracting a husband, she would have a “gingerbread man” made for her in the likeness of her gentleman’s image.  The hope was that if she could get him to eat the spicy delicacy, he would then fall in love with her.  Decorated gingerbread was given as a wedding gift, or to celebrate a birth or special occasion.

Gingerbread became such a specialized and highly prized item, only professional ‘gingerbread’ bakers were allowed to make it, unless, of course, it was a holiday such as Christmas or Easter, then anyone would be given permission.  The gingerbread house, as we all know and love, was created in Germany to replicate Hansel and Gretel’s foray into the woods.  Can we say Brothers Grimm?  This tradition of creating gingerbread houses at Christmastime is as strong today as it was 300 years ago.

In England, the small town of Market Drayton has been making gingerbread since the 1640s, and by 1793 had four gingerbread bakeries.  The town is so proud of its gingerbread heritage its displayed on their welcome sign.

In many European countries, gingerbread is still considered an art form, and the antique mold collections are on display in many museums.  According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the largest gingerbread man was made in Norway in November 2009 and weighed 1,435 lbs. And the largest gingerbread house was made in Texas, November 2013 by the Traditions Club – 60 ft. long, 42 ft. wide and 10 ft. tall – all to raise money for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Whether you enjoy your gingerbread soft and chewy, as a crispy biscuit, or as a dense cake sweetened with molasses or honey, this tummy-warming treat is hard to resist.  Now that I’ve uncovered these little known facts about gingerbread, I think I better understand why its so popular in Europe . . . from Norway to Switzerland, Poland to Germany, Bulgaria to England,  gingerbread is available, loved, and eaten year round, and not just at Christmastime.

 

As Shakespeare said, “An I had but one penny in the world,
thou should’st have it to buy ginger-bread
…”

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References:  Britannica, Unesco, Vegetable Facts, Wikipedia, Confectionary Chalet, BBC,
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THE PEARLIES

Have you ever visited London and come across a handful of colorful characters dressed head-to-toe in black outfits completely ‘blinged’ out with mother-of-pearl buttons?  Probably in a parade or at a charity event?  Well, if you haven’t, then you’ve missed a wonderful treat … and tradition.

Pearlies began in London in the early 1800s as ordinary “costermongers” or street vendors.  The name “costermonger” comes from “costard” for apple and “monger” meaning seller.  Often seen as vagrants and hounded by the police, these costermongers roamed the streets selling fruits and vegetables.  Times were difficult and money hard to come by, but costers were always willing and eager to help each other out.  Looked down upon by society and often bullied, they organized themselves into neighborhood groups for safety and elected Kings to lead them.

It was hard for the ‘costers’ not to admire the wealthy West Enders, whose style and panache were clearly evident as they paraded about London.  One of the very fashionable items was mother-of-pearl buttons.  So in demand were these accessories, factories couldn’t keep up with production.  Costers, in an attempt to boost their sales by calling attention to themselves, began to sew lines of buttons up the side seams of their trousers.  Not the expensive mother-of-pearl buttons, of course, but whatever buttons they could find.  This also provided a way for them to identify which neighborhood group they belonged to.

Henry Croft, orphaned at a very young age, became a street sweeper at age 13.  Croft was fascinated by the costermongers and by their charitable lifestyle.  He was also fascinated with their concept of adorning clothing with attention-getting buttons.  Although there are many stories about how Croft came about obtaining his first set of mother-of-pearl buttons, the truth has been lost in time.  What we do know is that in 1880, Croft with his good friend, George Dole, started sewing hundreds of mother-of-pearl buttons on a suit.

George Dole with his daughter, Annie. Early 1900s.

Croft realized that by wearing these attention-getting ‘blinged’ out clothes, he might be able to raise money for the orphanage in which he grew up.  From that first successful event, Croft then raised money for the London Temperance Hospital, and so began his path as a fund raiser.

Having created one suit, though, was not enough for Henry.  He actually ended up creating seven suits, each one very distinctive from the others.  In addition to the suits, Henry adorned a range of hats, belts, waist coats, ties, and even an overcoat, not only for himself, but for others.  One of his suits was actually discovered in 1974 stowed away in the attic of a home in Essex.  It is now part of a private collection.

Henry remained in the employ of the city for most of his life, as a street sweeper and then rat catcher (a very in-demand job during Victorian times).  As husband to Lily Newton for 40 years, and father of 8 children, Henry became a successful and beloved member of the community, who never forgot his early struggles.

Described as the “Pearlie King of Somers Town“, Croft became such a local hero, he was written about and photographed in his famous suit consisting of 4900 buttons by STRAND MAGAZINE.  This notoriety drew such attention that over the next ten years, all of London’s neighborhoods had established  Pearlie families, numbering in the hundreds.  Deemed the undisputed Pearly King, Croft continued raising thousands of pounds each year by appearing at various charity and social events until his death in 1930.

Henry Croft (1861–1930)

His funeral procession, comprised of Irish bagpipers, 400 Pearlie Kings, Queens and family members, as well as representatives from Croft’s charities and organizations, was nearly a half mile long.  Commissioned by several of his favorite charities, in 1931 a marble statue of Croft was erected.  The statue depicts Croft proudly posing with top hat and cane in a coat of more than 30,000 buttons, and the legend ‘the original Pearly King’.

The tradition of the Pearly King and Queen continues today.  Each Pearlie is responsible for the design and the sewing of their own suit.  Each suit must have its  own unique pattern which should be personal to them.  Some fairly common symbols include doves for peace, hearts symbolizing love or charity, wheels for the circle of life, and playing cards which symbolizes that life is a gamble.  If the Pearlie should have a title, it should also be spelled out in buttons on their backs.  To be a Pearlie you must also deal with the fact that a fully finished suit can weigh up to 50 lbs.


Croft’s friend, George Dole, also went on to become a Pearlie King and his family, to this day, continues his charitable work, as do Henry’s family.  Since their beginning, Pearlies have organized into many different associations, each raising money for their specific charities.  Although the  numbers today are not as great as they were 100 years ago, the Pearlie Kings, Queens and their families continue to carry on the work of their ancestors spreading goodwill with cockney spirit and cheer, and you just might come across them on your next visit to London.

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References:  Oxford Dictionary, Wikipedia, Pearlies, Fashion Fix, Oddity Central, Express UK
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JAFFA CAKES

With this world wide global marketplace in which we now live, it seems we have available anything we want from anywhere at anytime.  Teas from China … cotton sheets from Egypt … woolen scarves from Scotland … wild salmon from Alaska … it’s all there in the stores.  But, when you want some Jaffa Cakes, where can you find them?  I realize, of course, most everything you can think of is available through Amazon (at an exorbitant price, I might add), but we were hoping to find these inexpensive and delectable little nuggets of deliciousness in the International food aisle from at least one of the big supermarket chains, and not have to wait for the delivery man to walk down the driveway in two or three days. 

For those of you who don’t know what a Jaffa Cake is, it’s a small not overly sweet, cake-like cookie with an orange-flavored gelatinous disc in the center, topped with dark chocolate.  They’re inexpensive, sold in packages and are available everywhere in the U.K., from supermarkets to convenience stores, and loved by everyone.  And, yes, they were a baking challenge on one of the earlier Great British Bake Off programs.

Well, if I can’t buy them, then here’s another baking challenge – Jaffa Cakes.  As always I begin by doing a little online research.  It astonishes me that you can see the exact same recipe on a dozen different ‘home baker’s’ sites.  Do they just copy and paste from one to another?

From the web, I printed a couple of recipes and then took out my British cookbooks.  Now which recipe to try?  The first recipe was Mary Berry‘s, which was confusing because it said to ‘break the jelly into pieces’.  Wasn’t sure what that meant.  Next was Paul Hollywood‘s recipe which also called for me to ‘break the jelly into cubes’.  Apparently, this is an ingredient we either don’t have here in the U.S., or we call it something else.  I decided to make my own orange filling with gelatin, orange juice and sugar.  It didn’t really work.  Okay then, why not use orange flavored JELL-O?  Which I did and it worked perfectly.  After many tries and fails, converting grams to cups, and wondering why all British recipes call for “free range” eggs, here’s my recipe.  I hope you like it!!

JAFFA CAKES 
Bake at 350°.  Makes 12 – 2″ cookies.  Equipment needed:  muffin tin and/or whoopie pie tin

2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 3 oz. package orange-flavored JELL-O
1/3 cup boiling water
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
butter for greasing tins

Make the filling first by dissolving a packet of orange-flavored gelatin into 1/3 cup of boiling water.  Spray or grease a 12 count muffin tin.  Into the bottom of each cup put a tablespoon of the gelatin.  Put the tin into the refrigerator for the gelatin to set.  When the gelatin has set completely, remove each disc from the muffin tin and place on a dish.  Place the dish back into the refrigerator until its time to assemble.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for at least 5 minutes until delicate, pale and frothy.   Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.  Be careful not to deflate the eggs.  Put 2 tablespoons of batter into the bottom of each of the greased muffin cups and bake at 350° for 7 to 8  minutes or until pale but baked through.

Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Then remove each cake/cookie and let them cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, over a bowl of very hot water, melt the chocolate chips, stirring as necessary until smooth and shiny.  Let cool a bit.

To assemble:  take a cake/cookie and place an orange disc on top and quickly place a spoonful of the chocolate on top of the disc.  Using the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate, sealing in the orange wafer.  Place the cookie back onto the rack.  When they are all assembled, using the tines of a fork, gently make a criss-cross pattern on each of them*.

They may not be as pretty as Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes, but they taste pretty darn good.  Tasty little cakes with an orange filling and chocolate frosting.  If you wanted to  make these ahead, I’m sure they’d probably last a few days, but definitely not in our house!

*As you can see, I tried … but failed miserably at this.
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CRUMPETS

We’re all doing our best during these stressful times to stay home, stay active and stay informed.  Hubby and I put it off as long as we could, but finally had to make our way into the grocery store.  Well, it was obvious that we were quite a bit late.  Needless to say, all the cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. were gone, but baking ingredients?  Baking is what I like to do to relax, and apparently, a lot of people share in this, because the flours, sugars, and all of the essential baking ingredients were also not to be found.  I was completely unprepared to see even these supermarket shelves barren.  It’s a good thing I had some of the basic items at home.

With that in mind, what challenge do I need to take on with my limited pantry?  Having just received the latest edition of COOKS ILLUSTRATED (a periodical I’ve relied upon for other recipes), there it was … Crumpets!  I’ve never made Crumpets before and felt the need to tackle something new.  The article was a full two-pages on how to make ‘authentic crumpets’, which should have been my first clue.

What are Crumpets?  I think they are most easily described as Britain’s version of an English muffin.  Perfect for breakfast or teatime, they are a home-spun, belly filling, crisp on the outside, kind’a doughy on the inside, griddle cake.  The best way to eat them is toasted and slathered with butter or jam, or butter AND jam.

The COOK’S ILLUSTRATED recipe called for “cake flour”, which struck me as rather odd, because this is hearty comfort food, not a delicate sponge.  Hubby said I needed ring molds.  Really?  COOK’S ILLUSTRATED didn’t say I needed them.  Why can’t I just drop the dough onto the griddle in rounds?  After trying to do exactly that, I can tell you, hubby was right … you’re  not going to get nice, fat, round muffins.  You are going to get something flat and misshapen like a pancake.  The recipe said to ‘scrape off the top of the batter, before flipping, to expose the beautiful air holes’.  Why that alone didn’t  make me toss the recipe aside, I’ll never know.  I plunged ahead anyway.

Epic Fail Crumpet Flapjacks

Three hours later, all 12 misshapen, gluey, tasteless griddle cakes went into the trash.  If you want to make Crumpets, I do not recommend the COOK’s ILLUSTRATED recipe.  I did, however, go through all my cookbooks, as well as online recipes and, after four more attempts, ended up making delicious Crumpets with thanks to Paul Hollywood. 

DIY crumpet ring molds

Not having crumpet rings and looking frantically for something to use, I ended up squashing some cookie cutters into roundish molds.  They aren’t pretty, but they worked. And with my final attempt to make these crumpets, I decided they should be a bit more nutritious.  Why not Whole Wheat?

Super easy to prepare … although the grilling part was a bit tricky.  You can easily use a bowl and wooden spoon, but I choose to use my stand mixer.  And, you can prepare the batter the night before and grill them in the morning.  What could be easier than that?  Eat them as they come off the grill, or make ahead and freeze.  Either way, when you’re ready to eat them, be sure to toast the crumpets til crisp and slather them with rich, creamy butter.  Here’s the recipe.  I hope you give it a go!!

WHOLE WHEAT CRUMPETS
Makes approximately:  10 to 12  4″ crumpets.  Cook time:  8 to 12 minutes.

1 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
*(or you can use two cups all purpose flour)

First, warm the milk in the microwave (not too hot) and stir in the yeast and the sugar.  Let it rest for 10 minutes until its frothy.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt.  Add the warm milk mixture and stir together until a thick dough forms.  If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Let it mix for about 3 or 4 minutes.

No need to take it out, knead it and grease the bowl.  Just cover the bowl with a towel and put it aside to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

When it has doubled and will hold an indentation from your finger, it’s ready.  Mix together the cup of water with the baking soda.  Now comes the tricky part, mix this liquid into the dough.  It’ll be difficult at first.  I used a fork to break the dough up, and then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it was somewhat smooth (but not perfect … still a bit lumpy).

After the water/baking soda liquid has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl again and put it aside for another hour.  When it’s ready, there should be bubbles on the surface.

Preheat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan on medium heat and oil it a bit.  Not too generously.  But, generously grease the inside of the ring molds.  If you don’t, the batter will stick and you’ll never get them out.  Put the rings onto the skillet to get hot as well.

Using a ladle or tablespoon, spoon equal portions of the batter into the molds.  The batter will be sticky and gloppy.  Don’t be concerned.  That’s how it’s suppose to be.  Keep an eye on the heat to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom, turning it down as necessary.  They will rise and as with pancakes, they will be almost fully cooked before they need to be flipped over (about 6 minutes on the first side).  When the top has lost its gloss and the sides look firm, remove the rings.  The rings will be hot, so use tongs.  With a spatula, flip the crumpets over and let them cook on the other side for just another minute.

The crumpets should be lightly browned and ready to eat.  Move them to a rack and let them cool for a bit, as they will continue to cook on the inside for a minute or two.  Re-grease the ring molds and put them back on the griddle to heat up and then ladle in more batter.  Keep going until all the batter is gone.  Depending upon the size of the rings, this recipe will make 8 to 12 crumpets.

Whole Wheat Crumpets

Crumpets are delicious hot off the griddle with a generous slathering of butter.  If you are going to toast them, don’t slice them open.  They aren’t English muffins.  We really liked the whole wheat flour, giving these crumpets a darker color, rich nutty flavor.  Half of them were gone, the moment they came off the griddle.  I wrapped the others, put them into the freezer, and they’ll be perfect for the weekend.


If you make them, please be sure to let me know how they came out.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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CHATELAINES

“Chatelaines” … what a delicate, intriguing word.  If you don’t know what they are, let your mind wander a bit and come up with your own definition.  Could they be a buttery, flaky French pastry you’ve never heard of?  Or perhaps, a little embroidered purse into which you’d put your loose change?  Maybe, they refer to a member of a European family, perhaps third or fourth cousin, who ran off with the chambermaid.  If you do know what a “Chatelaine” is, you are better informed than I.  I had no idea.  But these practical items were quite popular for centuries, and are still around today.

A Chatelaine is nothing more than a “key chain” … a key chain most often worn by women heads of households, but also some men, from early Roman times through to the 19th century.  During this period, women’s clothing did not have pockets, and women did not carry handbags.  Unthinkable, I know.  So where did women (and some men) keep the keys to the larder or the tea chest?  What about those small embroidery scissors or their watch?  Not to mention their snuff box or perfume vial.  This very practical accessory, the Chatelaine, would hold all of these and other essential items, which a head of house, a nanny, or nurse might need at a moment’s notice.

Derived from the French word for “Keeper of the Castle” or “Mistress of the Chateau”, the Chatelaine would be affixed by a hook to a leather belt, cord or chain worn around the waist.  This hook would then have a series of smaller hooks or chains hanging from it, each holding one of these essential tools.  Not only were these essentials vital to the daily household chores, it was a status symbol letting others know this was a woman “in charge” and took her domestic responsibilities seriously.

Mrs. Hughes, wearing a Chatelaine, had a very prestigious and respected position as head housekeeper at Downton Abbey.

One of the most important uses of a Chatelaine was to hold a watch.  With no pockets and wristwatches were not as yet invented, the need to have a watch handy was vitally important, especially if you were overseeing the running of a manor house.

Victorian Antique Chatelaine

As with most items, Chatelaines eventually became a symbol of a person’s wealth.  A wealthy person might wear a very decorative and ornate Chatelaine made from precious metals and adorned with precious and semi-precious stones.  As handbags became the fashion, the Chatelaine shrank in appearance and functionality, but was still a popular ornamental piece.  Men began wearing them from their waistcoat to carry their watch.  Women began wearing them more as a decorative accessory around their neck and even around their wrist.  Perhaps this was the origin of what we now know as a “charm bracelet”.

Punch, a very influential 19th century British weekly magazine, notorious for their  sophisticated humor and satire (and is known for creating the “cartoon”), came up with an interesting use of the Chatelaine to aid mothers of young children

As I mentioned above, Chatelaines are actually still very popular. Today’s Chatelaine may look a little different and some may be purely decorative, but not all.  How many of us wear a Lanyard to hold our eyeglasses or company badge?  This very practical accessory, the Lanyard, is also a modern day form of a Chatelaine.

You can find modern day replicas of the classic Chatelaine on Etsy or EBay, as well as department stores.   But they are not only found on the runway and in fashion magazines, they are also quite popular as a ‘punk rock’ accessory in the form of a chain belt worn by both men and women, to hold wallets.  Worn primarily with jeans, but they can be worn with just about any outfit.  So, the name may have changed, but I believe the practicality of being able to have handy what you need, at a moment’s notice, will never loose its appeal, and if it can be decorative too, why not?

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References: Millys Marvels, Mental Floss, Louis Dell’ Olio, Wikipedia,
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CORNED BEEF and CABBAGE?

How did corned beef and cabbage become associated with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day?  It just seems strange to me … especially considering  you’ll be hard pressed to find corned beef in Ireland.  Cabbage?  No problem.  It’s plentiful and prevalent in many dishes … along with potatoes, turnips, carrots.  Colcannon (cabbage and potatoes) being the most popular cabbage dish.  I think the dish that comes closest in Ireland to what we call Corned Beef and Cabbage is Cabbage and Bacon.

But don’t get confused.  Bacon in the U.K. is slightly different from bacon here in the U.S., we get our ‘bacon’ from the belly of the pig and it’s almost always smoked.  Most of us like our bacon cooked til crisp.  In the U.K., bacon comes from the back of the pig and usually not smoked … and definitely not fried til crisp.  U.S. bacon is available in the U.K., but it’s referred to as ‘streaky bacon’ (probably because of the streaky layers of fat).  We, on the other hand, generally refer to U.K. bacon as Canadian bacon (the fat is on the outside), not that it is, of course.  Have I confused you?

Canadian bacon left, U.S. bacon top, U.K. bacon bottom

Why am I trying to explain the difference in bacon?  Because Cabbage and Bacon is a heartier dish than we imagine, more like Cabbage and Ham, and is definitely old fashioned ‘comfort’ food in Ireland.  In fact, you’re more likely to use a ‘joint’ of ham when making Cabbage and Bacon.  But what isn’t ‘comfort’ food in Ireland is Corned Beef and Cabbage.  In fact, Corned Beef and Cabbage doesn’t even exist in Ireland.  Why then is it so endemic to celebrating St. Paddy’s Day here in the States?

Let’s start at the beginning.  Although the British had been ruling Ireland since the takeover in the 12th century, Brits did not live there, preferring to be absentee landowners.  In Ireland, cattle were beasts of burden and unless they were old and not able to plow the fields, or the cows to produce milk, they were not slaughtered.  Cattle was a sign of wealth and the only time one might be slaughtered was if there was a festival or celebration.  And, even then, it was only the wealthy English landowners who could afford to part with this valuable beast of burden.  Pigs were, and still are, the most prevalent animal raised to be eaten.

The English, however, were ‘beef eaters’ (the tag name given to the Queen’s guards).  In fact, Englishman, Robert Bakewell is credited with creating ‘selective breeding’ and was the first person to breed cattle for the beef industry, increasing their size and quality of meat.  Eventually the beef industry in Ireland grew and tens of thousands of cattle were being transported from the English-owned cattle farms in Ireland to England; but the government (as government’s always do) became involved and prohibited the transportation of live animals.  Now what to do?  Ireland had an abundance of salt and the process of salting to preserve food goes back throughout history.  Thus began the slaughtering of cattle and salting of the beef to preserve it.  The size of the salt crystals used to preserve the meat were enormous, as large as corn kernels some said … and so the name for this very salty, preserved meat soon became referred to as “corned” beef.

Pastures near Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Shaylyn Esposito

Irish ‘corned beef‘ was relatively inexpensive and, because of its ability to be stored for long periods of time, became in demand around Europe.  Although this was a huge export product for Ireland, the Irish couldn’t afford to buy or eat it.  It was the English who owned and controlled the industry.  Sadly, the Irish, who were producing this valuable export product could, at best, only afford potatoes and a bit of pork.

Detailed map showing where the Irish settled in the U.S. 1890 census.

Now fast forward to the heartbreaking potato famine which decimated Ireland beginning in 1845 and lasted seven long years.  It is estimated that well over a million Irish families escaped to America to avoid starvation.  Most landed at Ellis Island in New York City and, for lack of funds to move on, were forced to settle in the run-down tenement areas along the waterfront and in the Jewish neighborhoods.

The Jews were also new immigrants to America and were living in these same run-down, tenement areas.  The two groups formed a sort of kinship.  Both groups were discriminated against, forced from their homelands, penniless and starting their lives over.  As they started to settle in and progress financially, businesses began opening up, jobs were had and, finally, there was money for food.  The Irish began purchasing their meats from Kosher butcher shops, which sold a version of “corned beef”, much different from what they once produced.  But, it was delicious and they grew to love it.  All of which brings us back to today and Corned Beef and Cabbage!The cabbage, potatoes, turnips and carrots are traditional, but the Jewish-style brisket is definitely American born.  To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Americans today (and those wanting to be Irish) will pin a shamrock on their lapel, order a green beer and enjoy Corned Beef and Cabbage.  From high-end, fine dining restaurants to local mom and pop diners, on kitchen tables and celebrations across the country, we’ll all be tucking in to this homespun dish.  You still, however, won’t see it served in Ireland.

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References:  Wisegeek, Smithsonian, History Place, Irish Central, History, Wikipedia
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ABERFAN

I wished we had known about Aberfan before we traveled through Wales.  We would have visited this little hamlet to pay our respects.  Although the horrific catastrophe took place over 50 years ago, I wonder if that community has ever really healed.  Losing half the town’s population of children, 116, and 28 adults in a matter of moments is something which, I imagine, you can never really ever put behind you.  And, this preventable tragedy actually happened to this tiny Welsh coal-mining village on Friday, October 21, 1966, at 9:15 am.

Coal mining, or “black gold”, played a huge part in the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  Wood was in short supply by the 19th century and coal was needed to fire the blast furnaces for the iron and copper industries.  The dangerous job of mining coal was the center of discontent for most of its workers.  Uprisings against employers were commonplace.  Although the Factory Act and Mines Act were passed, which were meant to prevent women and children under the age of 10 from working underground, they were by and large, ignored.  Accidents, long-term health problems and other catastrophes continued.

Did the coal-mining company knowingly and willfully disregard the maximum amount of unstable waste which could be piled up, on a sloping hill, on top of an underground stream, even though they were warned repeatedly?  We’ll never really know.  The National Coal Board, however, was responsible for maintaining these waste sites which hovered dangerously close to these small towns and, it’s obvious, they didn’t.

The aftermath of the Aberfan disaster. 1966

But all it took was a very rainy season that year.  Local residents noticed that flood waters were actually dripping down from the coal mines.  The situation was dangerous!  Meetings were held between the local representatives and the National Coal Board.  Although the National Coal Board admitted knowing there was a problem, they did nothing.

It was the last day of the school term, and after a night of heavy rains, at 9:15 am on Friday, October 21st, as the children of the Pantglas Junior School were seated at their desks, with their teacher at the helm, about to begin their first lessons, a deafening roar could be heard outside.  It didn’t take but a few moments for this 30′ high avalanche of debris from the mine to wash down the hillside and completely engulf the little school, a row of houses, and a farm.  1.5 million cubic feet of sludge crushed the life out of this community.  A torrent of water then engulfed the sludge caused by the broken water mains.  It all happened so quickly, the children didn’t have time to flee for their lives.  Teachers threw themselves over the children to protect them.  116 children died – ages 7 to 10 … 28 adults – 5 of them teachers … many more injured.

Hundreds of people heard the noise, stopped what they were doing, picked up a shovel and ran to the site.  It took over a week for rescuers to retrieve the bodies of the victims. “Civil defense teams, miners, policemen, firemen and other volunteers toiled desperately, sometimes tearing at the coal rubble with their bare hands, to extricate the children,” reported the New York Times.  The dead were taken to a makeshift mortuary set up in Bethania Chapel, where many parents had to endure the ordeal of identifying the bodies of their children.

Rescue workers at the site of the Pantglas Junior School.

Inquiries were held and findings resulted in this statement … “our strong and unanimous view is that the Aberfan disaster could and should have been prevented. … the Report which follows tells not of wickedness but of ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications. Ignorance on the part of those charged at all levels with the siting, control and daily management of tips; bungling ineptitude on the part of those who had the duty of supervising and directing them; and failure on the part of those having knowledge of the factors which affect tip safety to communicate that knowledge and to see that it was applied.”

Mourners walk through the center of town. 1966

A mass burial was held on the 25th of October.  The company was never prosecuted, nor any of its staff members.  Instead a paltry offer of £500 was paid to each of the families who lost a loved one.

Today they have moved on.  Well, some of them.  It’s still a very sensitive subject, which some refuse to talk about.  For the longest time, it was never mentioned in school, but now school children are being taught about this horrific tragedy.  Of course, the coal mines have been closed for years … and there now stands a memorial garden where the school once stood.  There’s also a community center setup by one of the childhood survivors, which is an integral place for young families.  The River Taff, once a smelly streak of polluted, black liquid running through the town is now a source of local pride and brimming with life.


The residents of Aberfan don’t want to deny the tragedy, but they want to be remembered for more than just that.  I do know should we get the  opportunity to travel through Wales once again, we will definitely pay our respects to this brave little hamlet.

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References:  Walesonline, Wikipedia, MSN, Vogue, History Extra, Averfan Documentary