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Cakes And Ale

( Originally Published 1924 )

Eating and drinking occupy a considerable amount of special concern, especially at Christmas-time, and it might interest some persons, especially younger members of the family, if the question of collecting, or at least bringing together, with various articles of food received some attention with local connections. There would be geographical interest ; in some cases an interest connected with folk-lore ; and often there are scraps of local history that account for the fact that we give to certain foods the names of certain places.

For example, Durham mustard is an accepted title in grocers' lists, because of the fact that in Durham mustard was first of all prepared; but I am inclined to think that there is no mustard made in Durham now, but practically it all comes from either Colman's or Keen's.

There are numberless cakes, however, that are always identified with their place of origin, and our tea-table could be well spread. There are the "Maids of Honour" coming from Richmond, Eccles cakes, Shrewsbury cakes, Grantham biscuits, Banbury cakes, Dundee cake, Guildford manchets, Bath buns, Bristol gingerbread, Nottingham buns, Bath Olivers, Scotch bun and Scotch shortbread, and probably there are many more.

The Bath Oliver is always said to have had its origin when Bath was a place to which the fashionable world went, and something in the way of a biscuit was desired to eat after the draught of unpleasant water had been swallowed. Hence it is said that Dr. Oliver invented this delightful biscuit, which is still made, I believe, from his original receipt, and can only be obtained from his legitimate successors.

Supposing, for example, the meals for a whole day were planned on lines of something of this sort, and that we started at breakfast time with Cambridge sausages, obtained perhaps at Harrod's and having no connection with the University city ; but just remembering that sausages are constantly a favourite Sunday morning meal, because when they were first made near to Cambridge they were brought into the city for Saturday's market and purchased for Sunday morning. In lieu of these we might, perhaps, purchase in London Bologna sausages (hence our word Polonies) or German sausage, and could feel sure that neither of them had even a remote connection with the places with which they were first associated.

We should very likely have on the table Vienna bread and French rolls. We might have a Melton Mowbray pie, that very probably would have come from the place where they were first made and where there are still a large number of manufacturers of them. We would have some Yarmouth bloaters that probably came from Yarmouth, and perhaps a slice from a Bath chap, finishing up with a little Dundee marmalade.

Then, when we came to the midday meal or evening dinner, we could have Canterbury lamb or Ostend rabbit, Dover sole or Greenwich whitebait ; and amongst our vegetables we might have Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokesthe last absolutely misnamed, the word simply being a corruption of an Italian word which refers to the plant turning round towards the sun ; there might also be Spanish onions over which we would put a little Cayenne pepper, although possibly none of our Cayenne pepper comes from the place from whence it was first of all introduced, but from some other place in South America; and we could have Irish stew and Yorkshire pudding (both made in London), or a Norfolk dumpling, and a little later on, a Welsh rarebit, which has had no connection with Wales; and then various kinds of cheeses, such as Dutch cheese, or Stilton cheese (which has nothing to do with Stilton, but used to be sold in Stilton market by the farmers who lived in the neighbouring towns), or we could have Colwich cheese, or a Bakewell pudding; and then, perhaps, as a sweet, a Norfolk biffin, an apple delicacy hardly known out of that county.

For our dessert there are Brazil nuts, which we do still import from Brazil, Jordan almonds, which certainly have nothing to do with the River Jordan now, whatever they may have done in the past, Carlsbad plums and Smyrna figs, and either Tunis or Tafilat dates, with Blenheim Oranges, which were certainly first grown at Blenheim, but I am told there are no apple-trees left of the particular class in the place now.

A tea-party has already been referred to, but there are many other Scottish buns or scones that come from the Land o' Cakes that could be added to our list, notably the Pitkeathly bannocks, a kind of shortbread baked in thick cakes in which pieces of orange peel and almonds are put, and which certainly originated in the little village in Perthshire which has a reputation for a mineral spring. Then we could add those cubical chunks of plain gingerbread or treacle cake, which are still called Chester cakes ; and there could be Parleys, or Parliament cakes, a kind of gingerbread or ginger biscuit baked in long rectangles with scolloped edges, and of which children have always been very fond. There is Somerset apple cake, there are the saffron cakes of curious yellowish colour baked at Saffron Walden, and there are all kinds of odd Cornish cakes, many of them also yellow from the use of saffron, and there is Swiss roll and that delightful rich gingerbread known as Yorkshire parkin, while, if we were having tea in Cornwall, there is almost sure to be on the table some kind of pasty, because it is said that Cornish people put anything and everything into a pasty, and the legend runs that the Devil himself dare not cross the boundary into that county, lest they put him in too!

On the tea-table we could also have Mocha coffee, which very likely came from Brazil, and China tea which quite probably was grown in Ceylon. Our Demerara sugar very likely came from Jamaica, and the oranges may be called St. Michael and have come from the Canaries, and the raisins Malaga and have come from Greece.

Children would delight in Everton toffee or Harrogate toffee, and then there is Edinburgh rock, and the big pink and white rock that one finds on sale in every seaside place, and which, in Southend is called Southend rock, and in Brighton, Brighton rock-in each case, as a rule, having the name of the place introduced into the appearance of the sweetmeat itself.

One of the oldest sweetmeats in England is that known as a Porrifret cake, first made and still prepared at Pontefract from the locally grown liquorice plant-a large-sized black lozenge, well known to all children in that particular district. Other children would very likely have what they would call Spanish liquorice, which originally was introduced from Spain but now almost always comes from Italy; and they might have various dishes made of Indian corn, grown in the States, certainly adding to their pleasures that of a box of Turkish delight, which they would very likely get from Selfridge's and which would have been made on their premises.

As for drinks, there would be an almost unlimited choice; but, if we only wanted those which were produced in the place, the name of which they bear, we could have Burton ale or Dublin stout, Devonshire cider or Plymouth gin.

It would surely be an interesting subject for investigation, the origin of many of these local foods. Probably some sort of ecclesiastical origin is concerned in some of the cakes-for example, the Cloth-workers' Company in London still give away, at their Corpus Christi feast, a large spiced sponge-cake, known as the Corpus Christi cake, which is made from some special and favourite recipe, and which is mentioned far away back in English history, and, in fact, I think Pepys alludes to obtaining this particular cake at Clothworkers' Hall. Chaucer alludes to the manchet. Whether he means what is now called in Surrey the " lardy roll " is another matter, but the whole subject is of interest, and, in many instances, the more or less remote origin is important from a folk-lore point of view.

We use very many words now that have lost their meaning. Our meal would very likely be served in a room covered with a Brussels or Kidderminster carpet, neither of them having any connection whatever with the place the name of which they bear, and it is, moreover, very doubtful whether any carpet was ever woven at all at Brussels. Perchance, however, there might be a Turkey carpet on this floor, and that might have been made in Asia Minor or Anatolia, and the chairs covered with Morocco leather that has never had any connection whatever with the Moors, but has been prepared in London.

The blinds of the windows are very possibly called Venetian, the Oxford grate was perhaps made in Birmingham, and the so-called Dutch tiles made in the Potteries, while some of the chairs may be called Windsor and have come from High Wycombe ; the table may be polished with French polish in London and blocked with Norway pine from Scotland, while perhaps the curtains of the room will be of Lyons silk and the chairs covered with Genoa velvet, both substances woven at Braintree ; and on the table may be Irish linen made in Cumberland, Venetian glass blown at Stourbridge, and the delightful dish of Devonshire cream perhaps came up from Cornwall.

Still, there are the words and the names, telling us a good deal if we chose to investigate them, concerning history and origin, and though the original meanings may have perhaps passed away, the story of these words is worth investigating, and there is plenty of interest to be gathered from doing so. We know that our German silver did not come from Germany, we are pretty sure that the Sheffield cutlery had nothing to do with Sheffield, but in words like these are embodied little bits of history, and investigation yields many an interesting result.

Email Note:
Following your comment on “Durham Mustard”, just to let you know that we make the mustard to the original recipe. Our village is right on the old Durham – Northumberland Border before Tyne & Wear were created as a county, it is called Wylam the home of the railway pioneers. In all we make about 16 different mustards all to the original recipe and in those that ask for it we actually use wild horseradish vinegar.

(Wynbeech Homemade)
Check the Northumbrian Larder Web for details.