The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day.

"THANKSGIVING DAY.—When shall it be? The last Thursday in November falls on the 29th.  We petition each and all the State governors to appoint that day for our national rejoicing.  Then all the land will be glad together and union among the people would be a sure pledge of heart-thankfulness to God, who has given to us, as a nation, such wonderful prosperity, such universal blessings.
The readers and friends of the “Lady’s Book,” that is, a large majority of the people of these United States, agree in our petition.  Let us have a national day of Thanksgiving on Thursday, the 29th of November."  Godey's Lady's Book, October 1855.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Regency recipe: Shrewsbury Cakes.

Homemade Shrewsbury Cakes.  Elizabeth Urbach.
San Jose's South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild recently enjoyed afternoon tea at their Regency Tea and costume workshop, with a menu that featured recipes from Jane Austen's lifetime.  Afternoon tea as a codified meal wasn't known in her day, but tea was a very popular beverage just the same.  It was served in the morning with breakfast, after an early dinner at 5 (as part of evening entertainment), or with a late supper (after a ball or late night party).  Antique cookbooks mention many recipes as "good to eat with tea" so these were featured for the tea guild's menu.  While some flavors are an acquired taste today, here is one item that tastes as good to our palates as it did to Jane Austen's: Shrewsbury Cakes.

“To make Shrewsberry Cakes.—Take two pounds of fine flour, put to it a pound and a quarter of butter (rub them very well) a pound and a quarter of fine sugar sifted, grate in a nutmeg, beat in three whites of eggs and two yolks, with a little rose-water, and so knead your paste with it, let it lay an hour, then make it up into cakes, prick them and lay them on papers, wet them with a feather dipt in rose-water, and grate over them a little fine sugar; bake them in a slow oven, either on tins or paper.”
-- from Project Gutenberg's English Housewifery Exemplified, by Elizabeth Moxon (1764)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Regency recipe: Seed Cake

Mrs. Raffald's Rich Seed Cake.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
This is the Georgian/Regency version of the Victorian Seed Cake recipe in an earlier post.  I made a half recipe of this cake for the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild's Regency Tea this month.  Here is the text of the recipe as I received it: it's been slightly redacted for modern cooks.

Rich Seed Cake
Caraway seeds were enormously popular in the later eighteenth century.  This rich cake would be eaten at breakfast or afternoon tea among the gentry and middle classes.  It was thought the longer cakes were beaten the better—Mrs. Raffald recommends beating this cake for 2 hours.  Modern baking powder was not invented until the mid-nineteenth century, so the success of a cake like this lies in its very careful technique.  All ingredients and bowls must be slightly warmer than room temperature.  Assemble all the ingredients before you begin, prepare the tin and preheat the oven.

8 oz. plain [all-purpose] flour
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 oz. caraway seeds
8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. caster [granulated] sugar
4 eggs, separated, tepid

Line and grease an 8 inch diameter, 3 inch deep cake tin.  Sift the flour and spices into a bowl, and add the caraway seeds.  Make sure your mixing bowl is big enough, and slightly warm.  Cream the butter and sugar in it very thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl.  In a warm jug, beat the tepid yolks very well, then add to the creamed mixture gradually, beating very well after each addition.  With a scrupulously clean beater, beat the whites stiff but not dry.  Using a metal tablespoon fold the beaten whites and the flour into the creamed mixture, about a fifth at a time; fold in by slicing the spoon edge gently down the middle, lifting and turning as lightly as possible, at the same time turning the bowl slowly with your other hand.  The flour should be shaken in from a height.  Stop as soon as the mixture appears amalgamated.  Empty gently into the prepared tin and fork roughly level.  Bake in the middle of the oven at 325 degrees F for 1 ½ hours.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack and remove the papers.  The cake will be delicately crisp on the outside, and inside will have a light crumbly texture.
-- source: The Experienced Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (18th century), re-printed in Food & Cooking in 18th Century Britain: History & Recipes by Jennifer Stead, English Heritage, 1985.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A delicious Victorian recipe: Seed Cake.

Mrs. Beeton's Seed Cake.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
This recipe is from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management from 1861, but it has its roots in the 18th century, at least.  The ingredient that makes it Victorian is the self-rising flour: chemical leaveners (baking soda/salaratus, cream of tartar/pearlash, baking powder) were not fully understood until well into the 19th century, and were not available to the home cook until then.  Similar recipes for seed cake exist in 17th and 18th century recipe books, but they are leavened by one of two methods: the addition of yeast and allowing the dough to rise as for bread, or the addition of beaten whole eggs or egg whites, folding them into the batter at the end.

A Very Good Seed-Cake.
1 lb. butter [soft]            1 lb. self-rising flour
6 eggs                           3/4 oz. caraway seeds
3/4 lb. sifted sugar         1 wineglass brandy [1/4 cup]
mace and nutmeg to taste [1/2 tsp. each]

Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, mace, nutmeg and caraway seeds, and mix these ingredients together.  Whisk the eggs, stir to them the brandy, and beat the cake again for 10 minutes.  Put it into a tin lined with buttered paper, and bake it from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  This cake would be equally nice made with currants, and omitting the caraway seeds.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Regency Tea, fit for Jane Austen herself.

The Republic of Pemberly.
Jane Austen, one of the most famous female authors of the western world, has many fans in the United States and England.  She kept diaries and wrote many letters, as well as her well-known novels, and her writings record her love for tea and the fact that preparing breakfast and tea for her family was part of her domestic chores every day.  She also wrote that she bought her family’s tea from Twinings in London, when she visited her wealthy older brother in town, which means the modern Jane Austen fan can drink almost the same tea she did! 

Since many recipe books were written and published during Jane Austen’s lifetime, there is a wealth of information about the kinds of food that people would enjoy with their tea.  Google Books is a really good source for these antique cookbooks, and although the recipes need some re-working for modern use, they are still capable of producing delicious results.  The South Bay Ladies’ Tea Guild is preparing to have their own Regency Tea later this month, featuring some of these period recipes:
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)