If rumour proves to be correct, the seventh series of the Great British Bake Off is due to appear on our screens towards the end of August. Fans of the show who were hoping for a repeat of the pattern of previous years will be forced to wait an extra couple of weeks this year because of the Olympics. Do not despair, however. This blog post will whet your appetites by taking a brief tour around our rare books and archives for unusual recipes and cooking anecdotes.
I personally love browsing old recipes. I find it fascinating to stumble across weird and wonderful ingredients that I’ve never heard of and to imagine the challenges of adapting recipes from the past to the high-tech kitchen gadgetry of today.
Take, for example, Rebecca Dixon’s recipe book from the early 19th century (MS 27). Her recipe for “Shrowsbury Cake” feels horribly reminiscent of one of Paul Hollywood’s technical challenges with its minimalist approach and seeming lack of crucial detail like oven temperature, thickness of the paste, or how long to bake for. If anyone does give this a try, do let us know how you get on!
Take ¼ of Butter washd in Rose Water 3oz of Sugar 1 Yolk of an Egg beat with one spoonful of cream, put it in a bowl & work to a stiff paste with flour, rowl it out then cut them with Glass bake them on Tin Sheets.
I can also imagine Sue Perkins making an acerbic comment about Rebecca’s instructions “To Ice a Cake”. Does it really say “Beat it two hours”? Without a food processor? Or an electric whisk? Not sure it would make great television but full marks for elbow grease and perseverance!
To Ice a Cake
Take Three Pounds of Tribble Loaf Sugar, and the Whites of Ten Eggs, with Two or Three Spoonfuls of Orange Flour Water, Beat it Two Hours, when your Cake is Bak’d Take it out of the Oven and Scrape it Smooth on the Top, then Spread the Iceing all over the Top with a Knif and sett your Cake into the Oven Aga[in] and let it Stand a little While
More recently, the star of the Special Collections Bake Off has to be none other than Adrian Mole himself. “Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years” sees him as a celebrity chef in his own show – “Offally Good”- with a book deal spin-off around the corner. The Sue Townsend collection (ST) is a fascinating source of information about how Sue went about researching the background to Adrian’s career as a TV chef and includes a copy of “A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes” by Charles Elme Francatelli (ST/1/10/1) from which she drew some of Adrian’s signature dishes. The lurid descriptions of Baked Sheep’s Heads and people’s reactions to the recipe are told with Sue Townsend’s characteristic humour. Adrian’s 3 year old son, William, “screamed when I produced a sheep’s head from underneath the worktop, and he had to be taken out by my father when I cleavered the sheep’s head in half” while Pandora, who is now a New Labour MP, tells Adrian that “Offally Good” is the “talk of the Commons … with sheep’s heads selling like hot cakes”.
I think in this case I’ll say that if you do give this one a try, the Special Collections team is quite happy to forego the details!