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Recipes from the Ladies of Llangollen

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Ladies of Llangollen

My slightly battered library copy!

As some readers may already know, I also run a book blog based on my never ending TBR Pile, and one of my recent reads was a book about the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) by Mary Gordon. I was curious to learn more about the Ladies so I requested a book from the library called A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen edited by Elizabeth Mavor (Penguin, 1986). This comprises a selection of journal entries taken from Eleanor Butler’s journal, arranged from January to December to give a good idea of their seasonal activities from year to year.

In amongst the journal entries, written mainly by Eleanor Butler are extracts from the accounts kept by Sarah Ponsonby. The accounts give an indication of the practical housekeeping aspects of the Ladies’ lives, as also do the recipes that were included within the original journal. The women had servants, as befitted their social class, but I assume that they kept a close eye on what went on the kitchen to ensure that everything ran smoothly. I just want to mention a couple of the recipes here. I have been thinking that when I have time, I might play around and adapt some for a twenty-first century kitchen. If you remember, that is what Juliet Greenwood did as part of her research for her World War I novel We That Are Left (Honno Press). I made her version of seed cake from the recipe she adapted from that era. Very tasty it was too!

Journal Excerpt

January events…

Some of the recipes from the Ladies’ book strongly tempt my creative juices, though not perhaps anything involving a sheep’s head, neat’s tongue or sausage making. Some of the recipes are too robust for modern tastes I fear (well, mine anyway). Some dishes, such as stewed cucumber sound quite strange and not particularly palatable. Having said that, I am willing to give it a whirl, as it does not involve brains or eyes. Naturally, the recipes for cakes and biscuits have most interest for me, with the bonus that they are potentially adaptable to modern ovens and ingredients. I have picked out two recipes to give you an idea, quoting them exactly as Elizabeth Mavor has done, with the erratic punctuation and capitalisation.

The first recipe (or receipt) comes from a March 1794 entry (p65); the ingredients are all that the writer gives, so I assume that the method, baking times and temperature must have been so well known as not to require mention. It does remind me of some of the cryptic notes I find in my own recipe folder; I know what I mean, so it does not occur to me to expand on the basics for anyone else’s benefit.

Almond Cakes

Eight Eggs and two Whites, three quarter of a pound of Sugar a quarter of a pound of sweet Almonds half an Ounce of Butter. half a pound of Flour. Bake them in little Earthen pans.

I am guessing that the method would be to whisk the eggs up with the sugar, then to fold in almonds (ground?) and flour followed by the ounce of butter (melted). For practical reasons I think it would make sense to scale down the recipe to half the quantity to try it out for the first time. The recipe does not say whether the almonds should be roasted or how finely prepared, but again I suppose the Ladies knew that detail and didn’t consider it necessary to write it down.

The following cheese recipe [From January 1815, p37] might also be a good one to try. At first, I had visions of the Ladies having a 1970s style fondue party, but what they call a fondue is a sort of baked cheese soufflé. Again, the details are sketchy, as the cook gives no quantity for the cheese, so I suppose you would put grated cheese in to your taste depending on its vintage.

Fondue of Cheese

Rasp some Old rich Cheese and some common cheese equal quantities of each. boil half a Pint of good Cream and let it cool, beat up the whites of four eggs. Mix all together lightly, put them in little paper Cases and Bake them in a Gentle Oven.

Literally plenty of food for thought, and I have only browsed as far as March. I shall be truly sorry to have to return the Ladies to the library. Elizabeth Mavor’s book will be one to hunt down and buy I think. I would love to hear from anyone else that has tried out old recipes and to hear about the results.

UPDATE: September 2016

I have finally got around to ordering a copy of a Year with the Ladies of Llangollen and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. However, I don’t know how long it will be before I manage to try out any of the ladies’ recipes. I will keep you posted!

WWI Seed Cake Recipe from Juliet Greenwood

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After months and months of promising to do it, I finally got around to baking Juliet Greenwood’s Seed Cake. Anyone who follows Juliet’s blog, has read her WWI novel We That Are Left (Honno Press) or who has read the guest blog post that Juliet wrote for my book blog, will know exactly what cake I am talking about. For those who are unfamiliar with the culinary background, I will explain…

In Juliet Greenwood’s novel, which was set in Cornwall during the First World War, the growing of food and creating nutritious dishes with whatever was available, played a central part in the drama. As Juliet explained:

Among the many roles of women at home was ensuring that there was enough food at home for the population to both survive and be strong enough to continue, as well as sending supplies to the soldiers at the front. Like today, much of Britain’s food was imported, and fashionable and convenient new foods, like tinned fruit, had begun to replace the traditional ways of cooking.

It wasn’t just food, but medicines too. So women, especially those in the countryside returned to the old ways of their grandmothers. They grew and preserved as much as they could and foraged for things like blackberries and rosehips, which are an excellent source of vitamin C and wonderful home remedies for coughs and colds. As well as women working the land, schoolchildren were drafted in to help, growing food wherever there was space.

Juliet had researched recipes from the era and had included a few at the back of her book. Thankfully, she had adapted the original recipes into versions more suitable for twenty-first century baking. For example, the WWI Seed Cake recipe was made with 2.5 lb of flour and 12oz of seeds until Juliet scaled it down to manageable proportions.

Here is the recipe as adapted by Juliet: (you can find the original via the above link to Juliet’s website).

baked poppy cake

Just out of the tin and cooling down…

8oz     230g   Butter or Margarine
8oz     230g   Sugar
2oz   60g     Caraway or Poppy Seeds
8oz     230g   SR Flour
2oz      60g     Candied Peel
Rind and juice of 1 Orange
Rind and juice of 1 Lemon
3 Eggs [I used large eggs]

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with flour alternately, then add juice of one orange, caraway/poppy seeds, candied peel. Spoon into a greased 7inch/ 18cm tin and bake in oven at 180 degrees (160 for fan assisted)/ Gas Mark 4 for one hour or until a knife comes out clean. When cool cover with butter icing (Vanilla or lemon both worth well).

I used poppy seeds this time, though I plan to try caraway next time. I made a couple of unintentional tweaks to the recipe as I forgot to add the candied peel and instead of an orange, I used the juice and rind of two mandarins since that was what I had in at the time. The impetus for making the cake was that I had been asked to make something for a post-grad coffee morning, so I baked the mixture in my smaller roasting tray instead of a 7inch tin so I could cut it into slices more easily.

Iced Poppy Cake

All ready to cut and sample…

After the cake had cooled, I spread some lemon glace icing on the top, which I left to set a little before cutting the cake into squares. We did get to try a piece before packing the cake for the coffee morning and voted the poppy seed version a success (even without the candied peel). The orange and lemon juice adds a lovely flavour to the cake. I’ll use caraway seeds next time, though I do have a lot of cardamom in at the moment and I wonder how that would work in a cake. Any thoughts from the bakers out there?

 

If you want to follow up the First World War theme, then check out the Facebook page for We That Are Left for lots of interesting posts. I have baked a few other treats for coffee mornings this semester, so I will post up soon about some of the recipes I have used.

Happy baking!

 

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