Post Memories: History in the Baking
- Credit: Archant
Baking is having something of a renaissance lately, what with TV show The Great British Bake Off whipping and kneading the nation into a frenzy.
Contestants’ extravagant bakes and sometimes peculiar blend of flavours is nothing new, we’ve been at it for centuries.
History in the Baking at Eastbury Manor House, Barking, has been teaching those with a taste for the past how to prepare meals from different eras – the Tudor period and rationing during the Second World War.
During both periods sugar was a rarity and its absence made for some interesting improvisation, explained Eastbury Manor House learning and engagement officer Kate O’Connor.
During the Tudor period, which spanned the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, sugar was a status symbol and was only eaten by the rich having been shipped at great expense from abroad.
Under the austerity of war-time Britain however, sugar was one of the many foodstuffs rationed – typically to just 8oz a week per person.
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Enemy ships targeted merchant vessels, preventing the delivery of vital supplies from reaching the UK.
“Because egg and sugar were rationed along with meat, people were more creative with what they did have,” said Kate.
“Carrots are quite prominent. People were encouraged to grow fruit and vegetables in their garden allotments. Campaigns like Dig For Victory saw people growing food anywhere they could – even on roofs and railway embankments.”
At the most recent sampling session, residents were treated to wartime dishes.
These included an egg-less sponge with carrot jam, carrot cookies, corned beef fritters, cheese soup and handmade Scotch eggs. Some dishes, such as corned beef hash, still survive to this day while others have been consigned to the annals of history.
Tudor food typically involved a lot of meat and pies for those who could afford it.
Where sugar was available, a sweet dish called March Pane would often be laid out in gilded platters at the banqueting tables of barons and tasted similar to modern day marzipan.
One thing we still share in common with our ancestors is the use of spices.
“They used a lot of spices in their cooking but perhaps not in quite the same way that we do today,” said Kate.
But, she added: “There was a prominence of herbs in their cooking which there is still today.”
The diet of the poor was vastly different. They could rarely afford meat and often mixed what little they did have in with other ingredients to create an all-round meal.
A favourite was pottage, the mixing of frumenty – a grainy dish – with various meats. Again, vegetables that people could grow themselves were a staple diet.
The foods that we enjoy baking today in our ovens is less constrained in terms of the range of ingredients available to us but certainly no less creative.
Kate said: “I think things like the BBC’s Great British Bake Off have inspired people and encouraged them to be more adventurous.
“I think baking is maybe more fashionable now because of TV programmes but it has always been popular.
“I don’t think it ever went away.”
•• History in the Baking at Eastbury Manor House offers people the chance to taste food eaten in different eras. Still to come are the Civil War, Georgian, and Victorian eras. Tickets cost £3 per adult, £1.50 for concessions and £1 for children. Family tickets are also available at £6. Call 0208 724 1002 to book.