Victorian Food: The Delectable Sausage Roll

This post is a reboot of one published on October 1.  The original disappeared after a website snafu, but thanks to my RSS feed on Goodreads, the sausage roll recipe is not gone forever, and I have received a helpful reminder to back up my blog posts…

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As the weather turns cooler, my poodles race around like maniacs and I start to bake. Yesterday was no exception. After a week of 80-plus degree heat, the temps finally sank to a respectable 63 degrees and I went digging for my cake pans. I made sausage rolls along with mashed potatoes and onion gravy, steamed English peas, and a Victoria sandwich for dessert. Comfort food at its best.

I’ve already posted about the Victoria sandwich here so today we’ll talk about the sausage roll. Although stuffing sausage in a bread-like cover has been a practice for centuries, no recipe for sausage rolls appeared prior to 1842 (at least that I can find). Since that one is reprinted in a 20-year old English cookbook I can’t get my hands on without paying overseas postage, I have no idea where the recipe came from. My beloved Mrs. Beeton, however, published a recipe for sausage rolls in her 1861 Book of Household Management, which looks very much like the recipes in use today:

MEAT OR SAUSAGE ROLLS. 
1373. INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of puff-paste No. 1206, sausage-meat No. 837, the yolk of 1 egg.
Mode.—Make 1 lb. of puff-paste by recipe No. 1206; roll it out to the thickness of about 1/2 inch, or rather less, and divide it into 8, 10, or 12 squares, according to the size the rolls are intended to be. Place some sausage-meat on one-half of each square, wet the edges of the paste, and fold it over the meat; slightly press the edges together, and trim them neatly with a knife. Brush the rolls over with the yolk of an egg, and bake them in a well-heated oven for about 1/2 hour, or longer should they be very large. The remains of cold chicken and ham, minced and seasoned, as also cold veal or beef, make very good rolls.
Time.—1/2 hour, or longer if the rolls are large.
Average cost, 1s. 6d.
Sufficient.—1 lb. of paste for 10 or 12 rolls.
Seasonable, with sausage-meat, from September to March or April.

Mrs. B’s sausage recipe is also similar to the one I used. Sausage recipes vary immensely from region to region, and Mrs. B points out this one is from Oxford:

TO MAKE SAUSAGES. 
(Author’s Oxford Recipe.)
837. INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of pork, fat and lean, without skin or gristle; 1 lb. of lean veal, 1 lb. of beef suet, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 1 small nutmeg, 6 sage-leaves, 1 teaspoonful of pepper, 2 teaspoonfuls of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of savory, 1/2 teaspoonful of marjoram.
Mode.—Chop the pork, veal, and suet finely together, add the bread crumbs, lemon-peel (which should be well minced), and a small nutmeg grated. Wash and chop the sage-leaves very finely; add these with the remaining ingredients to the sausage-meat, and when thoroughly mixed, either put the meat into skins, or, when wanted for table, form it into little cakes, which should be floured and fried.
Average cost, for this quantity, 2s. 6d.
Sufficient for about 30 moderate-sized sausages.
Seasonable from October to March.

I cheated and used frozen puff pastry (because my fall baking energy only goes so far), but if you want Mrs. B’s puff-paste recipe, there are two versions here, along with a handy tip for how to make butter in summer, should you be so inclined (and have a cow nearby):

VERY GOOD PUFF-PASTE. 
1205. INGREDIENTS – To every lb. of flour allow 1 lb. of butter, and not quite 1/2 pint of water.
Mode.—Carefully weigh the flour and butter, and have the exact proportion; squeeze the butter well, to extract the water from it, and afterwards wring it in a clean cloth, that no moisture may remain. Sift the flour; see that it is perfectly dry, and proceed in the following manner to make the paste, using a very clean paste-board and rolling-pin:—Supposing the quantity to be 1 lb. of flour, work the whole into a smooth paste, with not quite 1/2 pint of water, using a knife to mix it with: the proportion of this latter ingredient must be regulated by the discretion of the cook; if too much be added, the paste, when baked, will be tough. Roll it out until it is of an equal thickness of about an inch; break 4 oz. of the butter into small pieces; place these on the paste, sift over it a little flour, fold it over, roll out again, and put another 4 oz. of butter. Repeat the rolling and buttering until the paste has been rolled out 4 times, or equal quantities of flour and butter have been used. Do not omit, every time the paste is rolled out, to dredge a little flour over that and the rolling-pin, to prevent both from sticking. Handle the paste as lightly as possible, and do not press heavily upon it with the rolling-pin. The next thing to be considered is the oven, as the baking of pastry requires particular attention. Do not put it into the oven until it is sufficiently hot to raise the paste; for the best-prepared paste, if not properly baked, will be good for nothing. Brushing the paste as often as rolled out, and the pieces of butter placed thereon, with the white of an egg, assists it to rise in leaves or flakes. As this is the great beauty of puff-paste, it is as well to try this method.
Average cost, 1s. 4d. per lb.

MEDIUM PUFF-PASTE. 
1206. INGREDIENTS – To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, 4 oz. of lard, not quite 1/2 pint of water.
Mode.—This paste may be made by the directions in the preceding recipe, only using less butter and substituting lard for a portion of it. Mix the flour to a smooth paste with not quite 1/2 pint of water; then roll it out 3 times, the first time covering the paste with butter, the second with lard, and the third with butter. Keep the rolling-pin and paste slightly dredged with flour, to prevent them from sticking, and it will be ready for use.
Average cost, 1s. per lb.
BUTTER IN HASTE.—In his “History of Food,” Soyer says that to obtain butter instantly, it is only necessary, in summer, to put new milk into a bottle, some hours after it has been taken from the cow, and shake it briskly. The clots which are thus formed should be thrown into a sieve, washed and pressed together, and they constitute the finest and most delicate butter that can possibly be made.

And should you find Mrs. Beeton entirely too much work, try this recipe from the BBC, which I tweaked a bit:

SAUSAGE ROLLS 

Makes about 14 4(ish)-inch rolls

1 lb frozen puff pastry, thawed
3 tsp dried mixed herbs (I used Italian herbs since that’s what I had on hand)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs ground pork
1-1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dried rubbed sage
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 oz breadcrumbs
egg wash (1 large egg, lightly beaten)

Preheat the oven to 400 and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Combine the dried herbs, salt and pepper, pork, Worcestershire sauce, sage and thyme. Stir, then add breadcrumbs. Mix well with your hands and set aside.

Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 20 inches long and 12 inches wide (I didn’t measure, so I have no idea if this is right–just make a big rectangle). Cut in half length-wise with a knife or pizza cutter.

Roll the meat into a long, thin sausage, approximately the same length as the pastry. (Don’t make it too thick or the sausage will not cook.)

Place the sausage on the edge of one of your rectangles and roll it up in the pastry. Brush some egg wash on to seal the edge of the pastry. If you want it to look neat, trim any excess pastry from the end and discard.

Cut the sausage roll into four (relatively) equal parts, or more if you want appetizer sized rolls. Brush the top of each roll with egg wash.

Repeat with remaining sausage and pastry. You will have extra sausage meat when you’re done (if you don’t, you made your sausages too thick), so save that for breakfast patties another day, or freeze to use in more sausage rolls later.

Place the rolls on the lined baking tray. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden-brown.

The original BBC recipe, which includes homemade puff, is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/homemade_puff_pastry_72461.

Sausage rolls may be eaten hot or cold, although I prefer them hot, with a bit of mustard. They freeze well, but reheat them in the oven, wrapped in foil, not the microwave.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am rather hungry.

 

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Published on October 01, 2017 07:01

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Why So Many Dead Bodies?

I’ve been sick for a few days with a nasty head cold.  Sitting in bed with the dogs and my iPad for company, I’ve been thinking about a question readers sometimes ask me: why do so many people die in your books?

In truth, not that many people die in my books, but there are definitely a few, and I suppose for romance the number is a bit surprising. The reasons for their deaths are twofold: 1. death can be a useful literary device; and 2. people died in Victorian times. A lot of people.

Although the mortality rate fell during the course of the Victorian era (deaths per 1,000 people per year in England and Wales fell from 21.9 from 1848–54 to 17 in 1901, compared to just over 9 in 2015), sickness and death were regular visitors to Victorian communities, and overall, mortality rates were higher for women than men.  The most common cause of death: tuberculosis, also known as consumption, which caused about 25% of all deaths during this time period. Other common diseases were cholera, influenza, smallpox, typhus, typhoid (the disease thought to have killed Prince Albert), scarlet fever, and syphilis.

In 1858, raw sewage flowed in the Thames, the smell so intolerable it was feared the stench alone would kill Members of Parliament working in their chambers alongside the river. London and other cities, largely because of these conditions, were far less healthful than the country, and the poor were impacted in greater numbers than the middle and upper classes.

 

Although vaccination for smallpox became available in the 18th century, there were few treatments available for any of these diseases until the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics in the 20th century. Cholera, a waterborne disease, killed over 53,000 in 1849. Scarlet fever killed more than 20,000 in 1840. Those who sickened but did not die in a given outbreak were left weakened and susceptible to being carried off by the next illness, which often occurred at nearly the same time as the first outbreak.

 

It is hard now to comprehend the rates at which people died in the Victorian era. My cold is making me miserable but it’s unlikely to carry me off, and even if I do get very sick, two of the best hospitals in the country are less than five miles away. The average Victorian, no matter what class, could not say the same.

I’ve touched on the Victorian obsession with death in a previous post, and when you see the high mortality rates of the period, it’s slightly more understandable. Although I don’t think anything really justifies creepy post-mortem photography.

 

 

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_era#Mortality_rates
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/12158930/Biggest-annual-rise-in-deaths-for-almost-fifty-years-prompts-warnings-of-crisis-in-elderly-care.html
http://www.ehs.org.uk/press/different-death-rates-of-men-and-women-in-victorian-england
https://www.bl.uk/victorian-britain/articles/health-and-hygiene-in-the-19th-century
http://www.geoffsgenealogy.co.uk/other-articles/life-death-in-the-19th-century/
http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health10.html

Trying New Things

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been querying literary agents for my new series. Although I’ve had some interest, I’ve racked up quite a few rejections. The most recent one, a kick in the teeth disguised as a pleasant form rejection, arrived Friday night. Although some writers prefer personalized rejections, I actually prefer the form ones. With them, you can preserve the illusion that they liked the book but it just isn’t right for them, instead of knowing for a fact that they hated it. I haven’t thrown in the towel yet, but I admit my enthusiasm for completing the second and third books in the series is waning the longer the process goes on. It’ll come back, I’m sure, but for now, I’m going to focus on other things to get the creative juices flowing again.

Ever since I was in England last fall, a new series has been percolating in my brain. It’s not a romance, although it will have romantic elements. It’s a cozy mystery set near Keswick in the northern Lake District, right about here:

When you write historicals, one of the most important decisions you make is deciding the time period. Victorian era is a given, but it did last a very long time. I like the middle of the era–1860s/70s. It still has vestiges of the Regency, when people dressed for dinner and wore elaborate gowns, but it’s also hurtling toward the 20th century. Railways are popping up–trains arrived in Keswick in 1865–and society is changing. 1869 saw the opening of the first residential women’s college in England, in 1870 married women gained the right to own property and elementary education was established, in 1871 trade unions were legalized.

I decided to set my series in 1870. The lakes are a popular tourist destination, and the new railway makes it easier to get there. Endless opportunities for new characters, which is essential for a cozy. I’ve uncovered maps and contemporary guidebooks (you may recall Mr. Black from my recent post about Skye, who also wrote a “Picturesque Guide” to the English Lakes in 1870) to get a feel for the area during the time period.

The next step, at least for me, is characters. I usually start with either a look, a name, or an occupation. My new heroine is Cassandra, and she closely resembles actress Emily Blunt. She’s a longtime widow with a teenage son, and runs a farm and a tea shop at the foot of Walla Crag. (It’s inspired by an actual place that offered salvation–in the form of tea, cake, and a bathroom, not necessarily in that order–after a long day of hiking. Should you ever be in the vicinity, do stop in!)

Anyway, her love interest is the local constable whose name I have yet to determine–feel free to offer suggestions–but he looks a bit like David Boreanz. Cassandra’s childhood friend, he’s back in Keswick after a stint as a policeman in Manchester, nursing the broken heart caused by the recent death of his wife.

Cozies have a reasonably large supporting cast of characters, so I am working on those. I also have the resident pet AND the dead body lined up, but you’ll have to wait for the book to meet them. 🙂

I’m going to get to work–I have quite a few characters to develop, after all, not to mention the plot–so I will leave you with a few questions I’m curious about:

Writers, how do you start a new book (or series of books)? Do you start with setting and move from there, or with characters? Or do you focus on plot first? How do you decide when and where to set your books?

Readers, do you like small town settings or cities? What kinds of characters do you like to see? Do you picture them in your head as you read, as I do when I write them, or is their appearance unimportant to you?

 

Over the Sea to Skye

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my last post, in which I mused about which of several settings I should choose for the next book. Perhaps subconsciously influenced by this year’s RITA historical finalists–many of which seem to have involved dukes and Scotland–I did opt to send my duke to the Isle of Skye. In case you were wondering, it’s off the northwest coast of Scotland, very far away from the ballrooms of London:

One of the things I like best about setting my books in the Victorian era is that it is very easy to get my characters from one place to another, compared to the Regency period. Trains criss-crossed the country, allowing people to move with relative ease from London to Glasgow, Perth to Cornwall.

Unfortunately, trains did not get anywhere near Skye until 1897, so the other day I spent hours trying to figure out how my intrepid hero–a city boy who hates to travel–would journey from southern Scotland to Skye. The almighty Google revealed two guidebooks: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Ninth Edition (1851), and Anderson’s Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1850).

Although it was possible to take a steamer from Glasgow directly to Skye (a fact I discovered only after a day spent mapping the picturesque route, naturally), the guidebooks recommended the following route to Skye (in the summer, of course) for those who wanted to take in the scenery:

Loch Lomond. Photo by Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1:  Starting in Glasgow, he’ll board a steamer and sail up (down?) the River Clyde to Dumbarton, about 14 miles.  At this point, our traveler has two options: Either a brisk 5 mile walk north to the foot of Loch Lomond, then a steamer across the loch (another 14 miles) to Tarbet. This is followed by a 1.5 mile walk to the west to Arrochar, where an inn rests on the shore of Loch Long. Alternatively, he could board a steamer at Dumbarton and sail up Loch Long directly to Arrochar, a distance of about 25 miles.

Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 2: Being a sensible sort, our hero will ask the innkeeper to pack a nice lunch for him (unlike when my friend Helen and I set off up a mountain in Keswick, England last fall, because we were so sure we’d be done well before lunch–we weren’t). He’ll then hike around the base of The Cobbler to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, a distance of 12 miles. From there, he could hop on a ferry across the loch to Inveraray (6-1/2 miles), or walk around the head of the loch (9 miles).

Inveraray Castle. Photo by DeFacto, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Our hero will spend the night at an inn in the shadow of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyle. (Of the castle, Black’s guidebook notes, “in one of the rooms is some very beautiful tapestry, which the old lady who exhibits it, states to have been ‘made by the goblins, wha’ are a’ dead now.'”) On Day 3, our hero will continue his journey overland, perhaps carrying two meals this time and a couple of snacks, for this part of the journey begins with a 9 mile hike across rugged terrain to Cladich on Loch Awe.

Loch Awe. Photo by Chris Heaton, via Wikimedia Commons.

If he is anything like me and Helen, he’ll get lost and it will take six hours rather than three, so he’ll spend the night there. If not, he’ll walk for two hours or so along the banks of the loch to Dalmally and stay there instead.

On Day 4 (or 5), he’ll set out from Dalmally on the hardest part of the journey, a 24-mile walk to Oban. Being a pathetic city-dweller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have to stop somewhere along the way–fortunately there is an inn about halfway across in Taynuilt. It sits not far from the base of Ben Cruachan, the highest point in the County of Argyll.

Ben Cruachan. Photo by Grinner, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

From Oban on Day 6, 7, or possibly 8 (I admit I’ve lost track at this point), he’ll buy some fabulous Oban whisky and then board a steamer which will make its way up the coast, a trip that will take one or two days (possibly three, as getting through Kyle Rhea requires high tide) to Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Broadford, Skye. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Easy peasy.

Nowadays, of course, you can travel by train nearly the entire way, then cross a bridge or hop on a ferry over the sea to Skye. I just might be inclined, however, to try to retrace the journey undertaken by thousands of adventurous Victorian tourists on my next trip across the Pond. Perhaps Helen would come with me, if I remember to bring snacks. And a good map. 🙂

Since I have mentioned my hike with Helen, I thought I’d share a couple of photos. I look far more exhausted, but in my defense I should like to point out that my picture was taken just after we hauled our middle-aged butts to the top of Walla Crag, while Helen’s was ever so kindly taken as we made our way down the other side.

Helen

Me.

Would you like arsenic with that?

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m back, finally, with a historical post.

The book I’m working on now is more mystery than romance–my penchant for killing people off in my books suggested I ought to go in the mystery direction, although so far I’ve killed off fewer people in this book than in all the others. Go figure.

Arsenic makes an appearance in the book, largely because it was hands down the most prevalent poison in the Victorian era. Believe it or not, many of the deaths from arsenic poisoning were actually unintentional. Arsenic was a component of many commonly used products, including cosmetics and soaps, fabric, and wall paper. 

Arsenic cleared the complexion of blemishes and produced the pale skin popular at the time. (Of course, they used lead too, which is another issue entirely.)

 

Arsenic was also the main component of lovely green pigments and other colors that adorned Victorian walls–wallpaper was very trendy (between 1834 and 1874, the number of wallpaper rolls produced in Britain rose by 2,615%), and the same colors were used on toys, clothing, even artificial flowers women wore in their hair.
Although doctors began sounding the alarm of the dangers of arsenic exposure in these materials in the early 1850s, they were dismissed as hysterical. It wasn’t until the demands of the market changed in the 1870s (and after Queen Victoria had all the green wallpaper removed from Buckingham Palace in 1879) that British manufacturers began to change their practices. It has even been hypothesized that Napoleon was murdered by wallpaper.

 

There was plenty of deliberate arsenic poisoning in the Victorian era as well. In 1851, Parliament passed the Sale of Arsenic Regulation Act, which required those who sold arsenic to maintain a written and signed record of sales (as we do in the U.S. now with pseudoephedrine), and it demanded that no one could sell arsenic to someone unless they knew the purchaser. It also required arsenic, with some exceptions, to be colored with soot or indigo before sale.

When I first started researching this, I discovered the 1851 act as originally written only restricted children from purchasing arsenic, but I also found several articles which noted an amendment to the law, added at the last minute, restricted women as well.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any proof of this, which is making it somewhat more challenging to write the book. I may actually have to darken the doors of my law school library. Update: Some days I’m unable to stop researching, so I found this snippet about the provision barring sales to women, which in the end was NOT included in the final legislation: “…sales would be restricted to those of full age though not, as Carlisle, the PMSA, and the Pharmaceutical Society would have preferred, to men only, the decision to discriminate against women being dropped ‘owing to the indignant remonstrances of ladies’.” Thank goodness for indignant remonstrances of ladies. 🙂  And now excuse me as I head off to rewrite three or four chapters…

James Marsh

Arsenic poisoning was so prevalent that it was one of the first compounds for which a toxicology test was created. Although a test to detect the presence of arsenic had been developed in 1775, in 1832, British Chemist James Marsh was asked to analyze a cup of coffee that had allegedly been used to poison a man. Marsh did so, but by the time of trial, the substance had deteriorated. The man, John Bodle, was acquitted. When Bodle later admitted he had actually committed the crime, Marsh was determined to develop a more stable test that could be successfully used in court. By 1836, he had done so, and the Marsh test was first used in France to convict Madame Marie LaFarge of killing her husband.

And now, just for fun, I will leave you with this clip from Arsenic and Old Lace

Sources:
http://www.historyinanhour.com/2012/09/08/the-dawn-of-forensics/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2335464/Whats-poison-Easy-buy-tasteless-lethal-tiny-doses-arsenic-regarded-perfect-murder-weapon.html
http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/12/most-dangerous-beauty-through-the-ages.html
http://hyperallergic.com/329747/death-by-wallpaper-alluring-arsenic-colors-poisoned-the-victorian-age/
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1851/13/contents/enacted
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1851/13/pdfs/ukpga_18510013_en.pdf
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2335464/Whats-poison-Easy-buy-tasteless-lethal-tiny-doses-arsenic-regarded-perfect-murder-weapon.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsh_test

 

Winter Blog Hop, Day 12 – Victorian Cookies

SecretPromise_w9701_750Today’s scheduled guest is unable to be here, so I’m filling in with a Victorian era recipe for Cinnamon Cakes, which are actually cookies. I found it in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery, and featured them in Secret Promise. Here’s an excerpt:

Zachary was curled up in a chair in the sitting room, reading.

“Zachary,” Anna said, “I have a surprise for you.”

Zachary’s head snapped up, and he sniffed the air. “Have you been baking, Mam?”

“I have not, but Mrs. Graham has.” The woman herself appeared at the top of stairs, smiling in welcome. She removed a cinnamon cake from the bag she carried and held it out to Zachary.

Zachary leapt out of his chair. “Is that for me?” He hesitated, looking from a smiling Mrs. Graham to Anna for verification.

Anna nodded. “Yes, it’s for you. Mrs. Graham spoiled me with treats when I was young, and I have no doubt she’d very much like to spoil you, too.”

Zachary took the cake, inhaling its sweet, spicy smell before devouring it in three bites. “Thank you, Mrs. Graham. It was delicious!”

Here’s the original recipe from the 1845 edition of Modern Cookery:

CINNAMON, OR LEMON CAKES

Rub six ounces of good butter into img_4520a pound of fine dry flour, and work it lightly into crumbs, then add three quarters of a pound of sifted sugar, a dessertspoonful of pounded cinnamon (or half as much when only a slight flavour is liked), and make these ingredients into a firm paste with three eggs, or four, if needed. Roll it, not very thin, and cut out the cakes with a tin shape. Bake them in a very gentle oven from fifteen to twenty minutes, or longer, should they not be done quite through. As soon as they are cold, put them into a clean and dry tin canister, a. precaution which should be observed with all small sugar cakes, which ought also to be loosened from the oven tins while they are still warm.

Flour, 1 lb.; butter, 6 ozs. ; sugar, 3/4 lb.; cinnamon, 1 dessertspoonful (more or less, to the taste) ; eggs, 3 to 4.

Obs. Lemon cakes can be made by this receipt by substituting for the cinnamon the rasped or grated rinds of two lemons, and the strained juice of one, when its acidity is not objected to. More butter, and more or less of sugar, can be used at will, both for these and for the cinnamon cakes.

And here’s my modern variation, which is a bit easier to follow:

CINNAMON CAKES
Makes about 4 dozen large or 6 dozen small cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

6       oz. (approx 1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1        lb      cake flour (approx. 3-1/4 cups)
1        tsp    baking powder
1/4    tsp   salt
3/4   lb      sugar (approx. 2-1/4 cups)
1        tsp    cinnamon
3        lg      eggs

img_4518Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Mix together the baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon and add to the flour. Add the eggs and beat just until mixed. If the dough is too dry, add up to 1-2 tablespoons of milk, just enough so that the dough holds together.

img_4519Roll out the dough on a floured board to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a your favorite cookie cutters. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle with decorating sugar (or if you really like cinnamon, use cinnamon sugar).

Bake in a 375 oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly brown on the edges.

Cool on a wire rack.img_4521

Just as an FYI, I omitted the salt in one half of the dough and compared the two versions. I liked the salt version a little bit better, but my kid noticed no difference in taste–so if you’re limiting your salt intake, go ahead and try them without.

Feel free to experiment and let me know what changes you made. 🙂

Taking Tea

I apologize, my friends, for my sad neglect of this blog. I have no excuse, really, beyond being busy and inefficient, and, if truth be told, possessing a certain degree of laziness. But never mind, I am back, so I hope I am forgiven.

Sitting in the queen’s chair at Hampton Court Palace (I’d been awake for 36 hours)

Lately I have been thinking about tea and scones far more than is normal for your average American. This past week I returned from a visit to England, where I traveled hither and yon with my dear college friend Helen, talking and laughing and walking and drinking tea at every opportunity in which wine (or gin, in Helen’s case) was inappropriate.

On my first day there I did obtain a scone with jam and clotted cream at Hampton Court (as one does), but all additional efforts to secure afternoon tea were for naught. We arrived at the tea shop as it was closing (as happened at Hughenden Manor and across the street from Jane Austen’s house), there was no clotted cream (said in a rather rude “even if we did have cream I wouldn’t give you any” sort of tone at the cafe in Hyde Park), or on one occasion (at the 1657 Chocolate House in Kendal), I was in the mood for a cup of chocolate and a sandwich instead.

Lady Bedford, circa 1830

Lady Bedford, circa 1820

Spending so much time drinking tea and visiting historic sites last week, I started thinking about the history of afternoon tea. Although tea as a beverage has been common in England since the mid-17th century, it was not until the 7th Duchess of Bedford was feeling a bit peckish that the concept of afternoon tea as we know it today was born. The story goes that sometime in the 1840s Lady Bedford, a close friend of Queen Victoria, found herself desiring a snack around 4 o’clock, halfway between lunch and the fashionably late dinner. She asked for a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake. This repast was so pleasant she made a habit of it, and then began inviting her friends round to enjoy it with her.

Afternoon Tea–not to be confused with High Tea, which is another animal altogether–consists of tea, small sandwiches, cake, and scones served with jam and clotted cream. It is not only the meal itself but the ritual that makes afternoon tea what it is. Ideally, the tea should be loose leaf, served from a tea pot. Milk is added after the tea is poured, not before. (Apparently there is much disagreement on this issue–I had no idea it mattered so much.) There is also great debate about whether jam should be slathered on the scone before the cream. In the spirit of research I tried it both ways, and admit I prefer jam then cream, which gives one the ability to add far more cream than is strictly healthy.

In an effort to make up for my lack of afternoon tea while in England, I shall be baking scones, brewing tea, and eating this afternoon. (Unless I have to go watch middle school boys play hockey, or take a nap.)

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Here’s my recipe for scones:

8 oz (approx. 1-3/4 c) all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 oz (2 T) sugar
4 fl oz (½ c) milk

*Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
*Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the milk and lightly mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.
*Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Spread the dough using your hands until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 8-12 scones using a 1-1/2 to 2 inch fluted biscuit cutter. Press straight down–do not twist, or the scones won’t rise properly. (Ask me how I know!)
*Place the scones on to the baking sheet and brush with milk or an egg wash.
*Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
*Serve the scones warm with clotted cream (or butter) and your favorite jam. If you can’t find fresh clotted cream in your local grocery store, or you object to paying $10 for a jar, you can find a number of recipes online. Here’s the one I’m planning to use, although it takes so long it will have to wait until next weekend’s afternoon tea: https://fearlessfresh.com/make-clotted-cream/. I’ll let you know how it goes!

For more information on the history of afternoon tea:
http://www.creamteasociety.co.uk/history-of-the-cream-tea
http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/afternoon-tea/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-mirza-grotts/the-history-and-etiquette_b_3751053.html?
https://www.fortnumandmason.com/fortnums/short-history-of-afternoon-tea

 

 

 

The Victorian Diet

Last October I turned 50. My sixth decade began with shingles on my face and in my eye, which took about 6 months to vanquish. I gained ten pounds and was diagnosed with high blood pressure, started a new law firm, and finished a book, so it’s safe to say there have been ups and downs. A couple of months ago I decided to get serious about making myself healthier, so I joined a gym, am working with a trainer, and last week I put myself on a diet.

If you have read this blog, or know me at all, you know I love food. Restricting myself to 1350 calories of it is tortuous, especially when I have an active, underweight teenager who needs to have high calorie foods in the house or he’ll blow away in a strong wind. So to occupy my brain while I digest my measly caloric intake, I thought I’d do a little research on the Victorian diet. I know from research for previous blog posts what the Victorians cooked, but I suspected that it was really only the upper and middle classes who ate well, and the poor, working classes ate scraps of bad meat and potatoes. I was, as so often happens, wrong.

One of the Family. Frederick George Cotman, 1880.

One of the Family. Frederick George Cotman, 1880.

Recent studies have demonstrated that the Victorian working classes in the UK were healthier than we are today. For the most part, the Victorians ate nutritious foods (and a LOT of them–the average male consumed 5,000 calories, the average female 3,000), exercised more (which actually means their work was highly physical), ate less sugar and salt, and drank and smoked less.  Their average life expectancy (about 75 for men, 73 for women) was comparable to ours, taking into account the higher infant mortality rate in the mid-19th century.  But infants died due to disease, not malnutrition–one child in five died in its first year, one in three before the age of 5.  Today’s UK working and lower-middle class men live to about 72, and women to about 76.

The working class diet involved stone-ground wholemeal breads made daily, fresh meats and fish, and 8-10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. They ate what was in season, usually grown themselves–apples in the fall and winter and lettuces, peas, beans, and cherries and other fruits in the summer–and because it was fresh it had more nutrients. Daily vegetables included what we consider superfoods today–onions, watercress, cabbages, and beets. Portions were smaller. They arguably had stronger immune systems due to more natural yeasts in their diet–from the bread (including the moldy bits) and the large amounts of beer they drank. And no, this is not incompatible with the statement I made earlier about drinking less. Their beer had less alcohol in it to begin with, and was often watered down.  They ate cheaper cuts of meat on the bone–often boiled with vegetables, resulting in greater nutrition and flavor. Their work involved long hours in the fields or in the house, and often required them to walk long distances to and from home in order to get to their jobs. Most people, unless they were carried off by disease, enjoyed robust health into their 70s.

Starting in the late 19th century, the same industrial factors that led to an increased quality of life–easy travel, cheaper goods–also led to a decrease in overall health. Work became less physically demanding, so people began to expend fewer calories every day. That coupled with the advent of processed wheat flour, cheap sugar, and mass production of inexpensive, high salt, high sugar foods led to a decrease in nutrition and a rise in obesity which only gets worse with each passing year.

 

 

 

 

So don’t think Dickens, poverty, and squalor when you think of the Victorians. Think of fresh fruits and veggies, tasty bread and meat, and lots of walking, and then consider eating more like they did.

 

 

 

 

Sources for more reading:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3317096/Forget-Paleo-try-VICTORIAN-diet-Eating-onions-cabbage-beetroot-cherries-meant-19th-century-people-healthier-today.html
https://chriskresser.com/what-mid-victorians-can-teach-us-about-nutrition-and-health/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672390/
http://health.spectator.co.uk/forget-paleo-go-mid-victorian-its-the-healthiest-diet-youve-never-heard-of/
http://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/health-wellbeing/diet-nutrition/nutrition/healthy-eating-victorian-style.aspx#

New Blog Series! Victorian Food

So lately I have been watching the early seasons of The Great British Bake-Off.  Of the five seasons aired so far, only the last three made it to network TV in the US, but the first two are available on YouTube, and they are so worth the watch. Each episode contains historical snippets about particular foods. Several of the classic items featured on the show have Victorian roots, and it gave me an idea.

I am a reasonably competent cook, but my baking efforts have been hit or miss at best. Baking is far less forgiving of the “oh, just throw in some extra [insert food item here–usually garlic]” method I typically employ in my cooking. Nevertheless, the show has inspired me to learn to be a better baker, and since Victorian food plays a part in every one of my books, I thought I might share that journey with you. So once a month (give or take), I’ll feature a Victorian era recipe and my efforts to recreate it. My husband thinks I’m a lunatic for even trying this (probably because he’s been forced to sample a hockey puck biscuit or two), but what the hell.

So I am off to gather recipes from various sources–primarily websites and Victorian era cookbooks–and to wait for the summer heat to die down so I can fire up the oven.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this picture of the glorious Victoria Sandwich I made for the launch party for my first book.  IMG_2374The recipe appeared in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861, and was reportedly named after Queen Victoria because it was one of her favorite cakes.

Queen Victoria, 1856

VICTORIA SANDWICHES.
INGREDIENTS.– 4 eggs; their weight in pounded sugar, butter, and flour; ¼ saltspoonful of salt, a layer of any kind of jam or marmalade.
Mode.– Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour and pounded sugar; stir these ingredients well together, and add the eggs, which should be previously thoroughly whisked. When the mixture has been well beaten for about 10 minutes, butter a Yorkshire-pudding tin, pour in the batter, and bake it in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Let it cool, spread one half of the cake with a layer of nice preserve, place over it the other half of the cake, press the pieces slightly together, and then cut it into long finger-pieces; pile them in crossbars on a glass dish, and serve.
Time.– 20 minutes.
Average cost, 1s. 3d.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.

You can find a more modern recipe, which is the one I used, here.

I’ll delve more into other recipes, as well as terms that make an American baker scratch her head (what is a moderate oven anyway?) in later posts. If you have a recipe you’d like to share in a guest post, or you have a burning curiosity about a particular topic, email me at marin@marinmcginnis.com.

Sources:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8753182/The-great-Victoria-sandwich.html
http://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2011/08/queen-victoria-womans-institute-famous.html
http://teainengland.com/2012/12/the-victoria-sponge-its-history-and-a-recipe/
http://www.picturebritain.com/2012/05/cake-fit-for-queen-victoria-sponge.html

Summer Vacation, Victorian-Style, AND Two Giveaways!

We’re starting our weekend early at the blog today, just because–it’s summer! I always think of summer as a lazy, quiet time, with long evenings spent on the patio with a glass of wine, vacations in locales exotic, familiar, and somewhere in between, and schlepping the kid to day camp. Naturally, his favorite camp is a 25 minute drive.

I tend to think of Victorian era summers as similarly lazy and quiet, although I have no idea if they truly were. I’ve written before how affordable train travel revolutionized the way middle-class Victorians spent their leisure time, and summer was a popular time to take that vacation they’d saved for all year. Victorians traveled a lot, including women on their own, and their travels took them not just to the Continent, but to the Middle East, Asia, India, Australia, and America.

Brighton, Frederick William Woledge. 1840.

But for those less adventurous souls, a trip to the seaside was just the thing. For those who wished to stay fairly close to London, Brighton was only fifty miles away, easily accessible by train. Sometimes called “London-by-the-Sea,” Brighton was a mini-London without the smog. Bradshaw in his 1863 Railway Handbook writes of the traveler’s first view of Brighton from the train station: The twang of saltiness that greets the lip, and the freshening invigorating tone of the breeze, are agreeable proofs, on your first entrance, of the bracing bleak atmosphere that characterises the climate, though in various portions of the town, more shelter, the air will be found adapted to the exigencies of the most delicate invalid. The panoramic view that first bursts upon the eye is so striking of itself, that it may be worth while glancing at it in detail, for the benefit of the visitor’s future peregrinations.

Brighton, from the Pier, ca 1890. Source: Photochrom Print Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He also notes,

Bathing establishments, too, are almost as numerous [as accommodations], whilst, for amusements, there is no provincial town in the kingdom that can offer such a variety of assembly and concert-rooms, libraries, bazaars, and other expedients for slaughtering our common enemy–Time.

The more things change…

Blackpool Promenade, 1898

 

 

 

Brighton, of course, wasn’t the only seaside destination. For those in the North, a popular resort was Blackpool, on the northwest coast. When the cotton mills in Lancashire closed for a week every  summer, the town was inundated with factory workers seeking a respite from their usual lives.

Southend Pier, date unknown. By Snapshots Of The Past (Wikimedia Commons).

 

 

On the east coast, holidaymakers sought their summer break in Southend-on-Sea, situated at the mouth of the Thames in Essex, famous for its pleasure pier and miles of sandy beaches. Currently the longest pleasure pier in the world at over a mile long, in 1848 it was the longest pier in Europe at 7,000 feet long. Our friend Mr. Bradshaw notes of Southend in 1863, “The company that assemble here in the season will be found more select than at Margate, but it suffers severely in its climate when an easterly wind prevails…[Its pier] forms besides a pleasant promenade for those who love to enjoy the salubrity of the sea-breeze…”

 

Woman in bathing suit, 1893.

There were countless other resorts dotting the English coast–Margate, Ramsgate, Tynemouth, Dover, etc.–and at most of them you could find the ubiquitous bathing machine. These cabanas on wheels would be pushed out in the water, where bathers could descend into the sea, modesty intact, via a set of stairs.

Many of these resorts remain popular today–minus the bathing machines.

What’s your favorite summer vacation spot? If you comment below, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $10 Amazon gift card OR an autographed copy of one of my books, your choice. (I will use a random name generator to pull the name of a commenter on July 31, when the Summer Blog Hop has concluded!)

And now that you’ve finished taking the seaside air with me, click here to visit my fellow Wild Rose authors on their summer blogs. Each blog offers another glimpse at summer–and possibly another giveaway–so be sure to check them all out. You can also enter to win a Kindle Fire from Wild Rose Press using the Rafflecopter below. Thanks for visiting and happy Summer!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/seaside_01.shtml
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackpool#Arrival_of_the_railways
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southend-on-Sea
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southend_Pier
Bradshaw’s Descriptive Railway Hand-Book of Great Britain and Ireland (1863).

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