This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Rich Chocolate Cake, a Victorian Recipe.

I don't know exactly how old this recipe is but it was certainly being used in the mid 1800's.     However old the recipe, the resulting cake is a chocoholics delight.

 No need for a dollop of cream or fancy embellishments,  it was perfect as it was.

The chocolate frosting was not part of the original recipe, although almond or chocolate icing was suggested.     

I used my all-time favourite chocolate icing recipe, which is taken from an old book entitled, Tea with the Bennets of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Margaret  Vaughan.  

The cake recipe, just as it is written in my book:

Four ounces of butter, six ounces of sugar, eight ounces of flour, two ounces of ground chocolate, two large eggs or three small ones, half a teacupful of milk, one teaspoonful of baking powder, half a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla.   Beat the butter and sugar to a cream, add the eggs well beaten, with a little flour, mix thoroughly; dissolve the chocolate in the milk on the fire, add to the other ingredients.   Bake one hour, or until quite firm.  This cake is much improved if iced with almond or chocolate icing.

I used some really good quality cocoa powder which I had been given, in place of the ground chocolate, and mixed it with 150 ml of boiling milk, making a stiff  paste.  I also substituted self-raising flour for plain but I still used the teaspoonful of baking powder.   I used two 8" cake tines with baking parchment lining the bases.   I baked them at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, but do check your cakes and use your own judgement.

Allow the cakes to cool and then sandwich together with a good layer of jam, or if you are really into chocolate, you could use more chocolate icing.

Now, that chocolate icing - dark, full of chocolate and exceedingly easy to apply - even for someone like me.  It takes the stress out of icing and yet gives a great finish and an excellent taste.

3 oz icing sugar
1 oz cocoa (use really good quality cocoa)
1 1/2 oz butter
2 tbspns water
2 oz castor sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a basin.  Put the butter, water, caster sugar and vanilla into a saucepan and stir over a low heat.  Just bring to the boil and remove from the heat at once.   Pour into the middle of the dry ingredients and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Leave to cool, stirring occasionally.

Ice your cake and tuck in.

Another Victorian Chocolate Cake - tried it and it is even better than the first one.

8 oz flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz dark chocolate
8 fl oz milk
5 oz butter
10 oz soft brown sugar *
3 eggs
1 tblsp black treacle
1 tsp vanilla extract

* I didn't have enough soft brown sugar, so I used half soft brown and half molasses sugar.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.   Put the milk and chocolate to warm, stir, when melted and set aside to cool.   Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time and beat well.  Add flour and egg alternately.   Mix well then add the chocolate and milk, you will end up with a thick batter.   Pour into tins and bake.

I used two 8" tins and baked the cakes at 180 degrees.

Cool on a wire rack. 

Cover with that amazingly easy and totally delicious chocolate icing (above).   
Scrumptious, but then my family always demolish chocolate cake.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Foraging - Wild Garlic

Foraged from our small woodland
wild garlic leaves, primroses, rosemary.

A few years ago my friend Dominic, of Belleau Kitchen fame, was kind enough to tell me where there was an enormous stretch of wild garlic growing locally.    It was alongside, and running up, a small hill, on a leafy little loop of road which I rarely use.  It was a revelation and so pretty with the white flowers and pungent with the smell of wild garlic.

Max and I decided that our little patch of woodland would probably be ideal for cultivating some of our own, so we obtained a few bulbs, planted them, protected them from our free-ranging hens, and then hoped for the best.

Success!  The wild garlic is now happily growing in several parts of the wood.   Luckily for us our hens do not seem inclined to sample it, garlic flavoured eggs just wouldn't be good, especially in a chocolate cake...or egg custard.

Wild garlic has the same medicinal properties as garlic but the taste is much milder, but I love the flavour and the colour in food.

I picked a basketful and decided to make some wild garlic bread with it.

I added a good handful of finely chopped garlic leaves to my bread dough and continued as normal.

The result was superb.   A herby, slight garlic flavour permeates the whole of the loaf.   It makes a wonderful base for a sandwich, excellent toast and flavoursome croutons.   A delicious seasonal treat.

Bread is my greatest weakness, I can resist chocolate, cakes, biscuits, crisps - please note that I said 'can' not 'do', but good bread is definitely my absolute favourite food, and this one is a winner.

Nettle and spinach soup with wild garlic bread.

I dried a basketful of leaves in the lower oven of the Rayburn.  By the following morning they were crisp and crunchy and ready to be finely chopped and then put into tiny spice jars, wild garlic salt.

Useful for sprinkling on savoury dishes to give some colour and a tiny hint of garlic flavour.

Did I mention how wonderful the garlic bread was when toasted?  Just a hint of garlic not overpowering but a definite flavour.

I made garlic bread croutons, they disappeared almost before I could take a photograph.

Just one more thing - don't forget to add wild garlic to your scones.   A good handful of finely chopped wild garlic, along with some grated parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper and some good English mustard powder and the resulting scone is light and full of flavour.

So good that people came back for seconds and thirds.

My dear daughter finally conceded that I make better scones than she does, for today anyway.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Lady Arundel's Manchet

Lady Arundel's original recipe, 1676: "Take a bushel of fine wheat flour, twenty eggs, and three pounds of butter..."

An updated, down-scaled, version from 1932* is the one I used.

2 lb fine wheat flour
1/2 oz salt
2 oz butter
1 egg
1 pint of warm milk
1 oz compressed yeast (I used one sachet of fast action yeast)
1 tsp castor sugar

Make the dough in the usual way, "...then let it lie the space of half an hour to rise so you may work it up into bread, and bake it and let not your oven be too hot."

It is really just an enriched dough and, although it is not stated, it should be kneaded for ten minutes before being shaped into small flat round cakes about 3/4 inch thick and 3 1/2 inches across.

Mark them with lines to form diamonds 1 inch in length.

Put them to rise for 30 minutes and bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for about 25 minutes.

The manchets turned out to be very nice indeed, not as wonderful as a good crusty roll, but perfectly acceptable as a lunch-time bread to have with soup...nettle soup, more of that another day.

The following day they were still fresh and good to eat which was just as well because our grandchildren wanted to have a picnic in Owl Wood.

Merry and Hector took it in turns to drive their little green car around Owl Wood, showing us how skillful they have become at reversing.

They faced some very stern critics - the hens!

*The updated recipe was found in 'Good things in England' by Florence White.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Lemons and Spice and All Things Nice

Normally at this time of year I would be thinking of light and fresh tastes to go with the lighter days.   Just lately, however, it has been cold and wet, which has made me want to return to warmer foods and flavours.

A recipe which seemed to fit the bill was the one for this Lemon and Ginger Cake.    The recipe calls for lemons, brandy, lots of ground ginger and quite a heap of Cayenne pepper.   Just reading the recipe warmed me and also made my taste buds tingle in anticipation.

(I forgot to add 2 eggs to this photogaph)
The recipe reads thus:

Grate the rind of 2 or 3 lemons, add the juice to a glass of brandy.   Mix the lemon peel into a pound of flour, a teaspoon of carbonate of soda, 1/2 oz of ground ginger and 1/4 oz Cayenne Pepper (if approved).  Make a hole in the middle and pour in 3/4 lb black treacle and 1/2 lb melted butter, the lemon juice and brandy and mix.   The cake may be much improved with the addition of two eggs.  So I added them.

No baking instructions at all - which used to worry me, now I simply use my common sense.

I baked it in a moderate oven until it was done!  Just for fun I bake it in a Bundt tin as I thought I could have some fun decorating it.

This particular book has countless recipes for ginger cake, honey ginger cake, ginger nuts, gingerbread, hunting nuts, etc.  Ginger was definitely a favourite spice.   The addition of cayenne pepper was unusual enough to get my attention and soon had me thinking about spice routes and sailing ships.

Some people like spice shops, I always avoid them.   I like the smell of individual spices, but I find the combination of myriad spice smells really offends my nose.  Weird, but true.

No such problem with just the two spices.

The cake has a deliciously warm background note, provided by the Cayenne pepper, with a good strong ginger flavour which is enhanced by the brandy and ginger.   I was delighted with the result.   My only problem was that the cake was slightly dry - not a real problem because I had some ginger syrup left over from a previous bake.

I mixed it with a another splash of brandy and spooned it all over the cake.

Topped with tiny bits of lemon, candied zest and slivers of candied ginger, we were ready to tuck in.

It was really good, but yet again I find myself wanting to tweak and slightly change the recipe.  

An experiment for later in the year, perhaps.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

As We Like It - Rhubarb and Custard Cake

My version - much more rhubarb and custard.

We have finally been treated to some warm Spring-like days.  Bliss!

This kind of weather makes me want to clean the house from top to bottom and to trim and tidy the gardens and Owl Wood as my energy levels rise.  So I did, and it was while I was mowing the side lawn that my eye was drawn to ... the rhubarb patch.

I realised that it was badly in need of picking, some stalks were getting alarmingly thick and I didn't want them to become tough and inedible.     Rhubarb crumble was made and put into the freezer but I still had plenty of of rhubarb left and decided to make rhubarb and custard cake again, tweaking the recipe this time, to see if it would work in a way more suited to our taste.

I originally wrote about Rhubarb and Custard Cake here*

The original bake was really nice but I felt it lacked any real rhubarb taste and had too little custard.  Time to experiment.

A tall and still attractive cake/pudding but much more taste and zing.

I increased the amount of custard by half, so I used 3 tablespoons of custard powder, 375 ml milk, etc.  and I also used older rhubarb; the pink and pretty stalks look wonderful, but I wanted that rhubarb acidity and taste to balance the custard.   I piled as many cut and trimmed stalks as I could (in a single layer) on the top of the cake.

The wait for it to cool in the tin was a bit of a test of my patience.   I wanted to know whether it had worked.

Cutting into it and taking out those first few slices was a little scary, I didn't know whether the cake would hold up with all the extra custard in there...it did, and it was just as we had hoped.

This is a cake which improves over a couple of days.   Keep it in the fridge between times and it just gets better and better

or so my cake-eaters tell me.

I suppose it all depends what you want, a pink and pretty cake which has a little flavour or a cake which celebrates rhubarb and custard!  

Message to myself:   Play around with recipes, don't always follow them slavishly.  Make your food something which you really want to eat.

Later in the year I plan to begin working through some of the (very) many recipes there are for gingerbread, in my old Victorian journals.    One of them will really work for our taste buds, others may not.   It will be fun working through them.

Every school-day afternoon Dobson (dog) and I wait at the gate for the school bus.    Hector comes to Gran and Grandpa for a couple of hours and is always hungry.

How could I be so cruel as to have the kitchen smelling so wonderfully of cakes baking, and not have something ready which I knew he would enjoy straight away...I couldn't, so I also made a batch of his favourite chocolate brownies.

He ate his tea, eggy-breads, made with eggs laid by his favourite hen, then managed to eat four brownies.

An afternoon well spent.  It was worth the extra effort of making them to see the boyish delight on his face.  

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Do Not Try This at Home!

This set of ingredients looks innocuous enough and the recipe intrigued me enough to want to bake it.

A Seventeenth Century Recipe for Cauliflower Pudding.

Well, given all the hype about cauliflower, I simply had to try it out, especially as all the ingredients were to hand.

Cauliflower, milk, cream, sherry, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and eggs, sounded ... interesting.

It came out of the Rayburn looking like a slightly lumpy baked egg custard, or rice pudding,  with a promising wobble and the slight aroma of nutmeg and spices.

It was disgusting.   The worst pudding I have ever tasted.

I got Max to sample it, after all, it could just have been that it was not to my taste.    He was not impressed, to put it mildly.  

The hens and wild birds made short work of it though.

More next time.

ps It was so disgusting that I haven't bothered to write out the recipe but if anyone would like to try it just drop me a line.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Rhubarb and Cake

The rhubarb keeps growing and growing.      I'm not complaining, but I do try to find new things to do with it, although Max would quite happily eat rhubarb crumble every day of his life, as long as it came with lashings of custard.

My beautiful old books have plenty of recipes for rhubarb, but I really didn't want to make jam, preserve, or vinegar from it, well not this early in the rhubarb season.  

So I trawled the internet and found a recipe for Rhubarb and Custard Cake which appealed to me and I thought it would suit Max, too.

A cake with a layer of custard and rhubarb held within.   It looked amazing, it spoke to me.

The recipe came from The Australian Women's Weekly, though I found it on Eat Little Bird Blogspot.

Rhubarb and Custard Cake

200 g butter
110 g caster sugar
2 eggs
185  g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
40 g custard powder
20 g butter
4 tsp granulated sugar

(for the custard)
2 tblsp custard powder
55 g caster sugar
250 ml milk
20 g butter
2 tsp vanilla extract

I hold my hand up and admit that eat little bird's cake was much more beautiful than mine has turned out, so it is well worth checking out her blogspot on the link above.

First make the custard, mixing the custard powder, caster sugar and a little milk, into a paste.  Then heat the rest of the milk, mix it into the paste and stir well, returning to the pan until it thickens.   Remove from the heat then stir in the 20 g of butter and the vanilla extract.    Cover with cling film by pressing the cling film onto the surface of the custard, this will prevent a skin forming.

Heat the oven to 180 F,    Grease the sides and base of your 20 cm cake tin, line the base with parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well together.   Sieve the flour, custard powder and baking powder together and stir into the mixture, it will be fairly stiff, but persevere.

Put half the cake mixture into the cake tin, spread it round, then add the custard.   It takes some time to get everything spread around evenly, stick at it!   Then top with another layer of the cake mix.

The rhubarb gets cut into strips and placed on the top in a star shape.

Brush the top of the cake with melted butter and sprinkle generously with the sugar.  Bake it for about one and a quarter hours.   Allow it to cool in the tin.

I was so excited, could hardly wait to sample the cake.

Time passed, the cake cooled.  Time to do the taste test...  I was disappointed, it was nice, but unexciting.   I'll make it again, with more custard and certainly more rhubarb needs to be put in there, somehow.    

I will definitely have to work much harder on the presentation - eat little birds cake looked sublime.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

A Simple Meal

Last night I began making a loaf of bread; I followed an old favourite recipe in my Dan Lepard 'Short and Sweet' book.   It was a very simple white loaf which required me to make a sponge starter and leave it in the fridge, overnight.

I woke up and knew that I wanted to change horses half-way through, I wanted to bake it using the Jim Lahey method, baking it in a cast iron pot in a very hot oven.   I've only done that once before and the result was a crusty and wonderful loaf.

I dithered and dathered, but in the end I decided that I was being ridiculous, if it didn't work it wouldn't be the end of the world, I would just have to get a loaf out of the freezer instead.

I baked it covered, for 30 minutes, then uncovered for another 15 minutes.   The result was a very pleasing loaf with a very crisp crust and full of flavour.

We had a slice as soon as it was cool enough, but I had plans for the rest.  Toast!   Nothing beats toast made from real bread.   The better the bread, the better the toast.

Our six hens have been laying well, so that was teatime sorted.

Boiled eggs and soldiers.  Simple and delicious.  

Nursery food perhaps, but sometimes that is all that you need.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Potato Pudding-Pie

Potato Pudding-Pie - sounds rather stodgy and dull, doesn't it?


  • 1 lb boiled potatoes
  • 6 oz butter
  • 6 oz sugar (I used 5 oz and it was sweet enough)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 of a nutmeg, grated
  • Brandy, to taste (I used a tablespoonful)
  • Pastry - (
  • I used shortcrust, because I had some spare, but the recipe calls for puff )


Mash the potatoes with the butter, beat well together.  (The mix will become unctuous and creamy.)
Add the sugar - and suddenly the mixture becomes much slacker.
Whisk the eggs well (I used my mixer) then beat them into the mixture adding the nutmeg and brandy as flavouring.

Line you dish with pastry.   The recipe simply calls for you to pour in the mixture and then bake it in a quick oven until it is set.

I decided to bake the pastry case for ten minutes before adding the mixture.   I baked mine for approx 30 minutes at and checked on the wobble.   (I suggest a heat of approx 180 C, but you know your own oven.)

This was the result.  A Pudding-Pie which cuts like an egg custard tart and tastes like an egg custard tart.    

It was superb!

I dressed it up a little for my afternoon tea guests.    

Yet again, no one guessed at the main ingredient.  They all thought it was a delicious egg custard and came back for second slices.

My bedtime reading has become old recipe books, the history of food in England,  English food in India (Culinary Jottings for Madras), etc.   

A few weeks ago it would have been mainly Scottish detective stories or biographies!

I am getting used to the minimal directions, the lack of large and glossy photographs.   I'm finding these little forays into old recipes as relaxing as I find cooking with my Rayburn.   No expectations or pressure, but if it works (and they all have, so far) then I am delighted.   So are my friends and family - my ever-hungry friends and family.

ps  This recipe was found in 'Good Things in England' by Florence White.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Take 40 soup bones, 50 hens and...

I thought I would share this recipe with you - for those days when you feel really hungry.   It will make 300 gallons of soup, so you will need your largest pot!

As well as my collection of beautiful handwritten recipe books I also have some very scruffy, and extremely grubby, small ones.

The book I am referring to today, is the beige one, bottom left-hand corner.

It has been used and abused, suffered damp and mice nibbles; to be honest, I am surprised that it has made it this far.

One of the delights on offer is this soup.   You will need:

40 soup bones
50 hens
40 lbs bacon
40 lbs beans
30 lbs rice
15 gals onions
15 gals corn
15 gals tomatoes
15 gallons potatoes

That's it, no method, just follow your instincts as a cook.

As I type this, the heavens are raining hailstones, it is gloomy, cold and very wet.

A soup day, perhaps - but not this one.  Strictly vegetarian for me.x