Posted on

Banbury cakes

Many food items are named according to their birthplace, such as Bath Buns or Yorkshire Pudding. Banbury was a market town which also gave it’s name to the phrase, “A Banbury story of a cock and a bull”. Made famous in Regency circles by Georgette Heyer, it dates to at least the 1600’s and is mentioned in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Gros. Its most common meaning is “A far-fetched and fanciful story or tale of highly dubious validity“. It is also sometimes shortened to “a Banbury tale” or simply “a Banbury” and most often “a cock and bull story”.

A Banbury cake is a spiced, currant-filled, flat pastry cake similar to an Eccles cake, although it is more oval in shape. Once made and sold exclusively in Banbury, England, Banbury cakes have been made in the region to secret recipes since 1586 or earlier and are still made there today, although not in such quantity. The cakes were once sent as far afield as Australia, India and America.

banbury

Banbury cakes were first made by Edward Welchman, whose shop was on Parsons Street. Documented recipes were published by Gervase Markham and others during the 17th century. These recipes generally differ largely to the modern idea of a Banbury cake, in terms of their size, the nature of the pastry, and how the cake is made. In the late 19th century, the notorious refreshment rooms at Swindon railway station sold “Banbury cakes and pork pies (obviously stale)”.

A drawing of the original bake shop from "A History of Banbury".
A drawing of the original bake shop from “A History of Banbury” by Alfred Beesley, 1841.

Besides currants, the filling typically includes mixed peel, brown sugar, rose water, rum, and nutmeg. Banbury cakes were traditionally enjoyed with afternoon tea.

According to The History of Banbury by Alfred Beesley (1841),

“If the fame of Banbury Cheese has so nearly departed, that of Banbury Cakes, recorded from the days of Philemon Holland and Ben Jonson (in 1608 and 1614), has continued till the present time. Mr. Samuel Beesley, the proprietor of the cake shop which in the last century was conducted by the White family,8‘ sold, in 1840, no fewer than 139,500…

It is probable that the Banbury Cakes of the present day are made pretty nearly the same as those of the time of Holland and Ben J on son. The present Mr. Dumbleton (who was bom in 1765) remembers this sort of Cakes as being considered an antiquated production in the days of his youth; and he states that his father, who was born in the year 1700, spoke of them in the same way. The importation to this country of those small grapes which are the “currants” of commerce, and which are used in the manufacture of Banbury Cakes, was much earlier than this period. Ben Jonson (in his ” Bartholomew Fair **) writes of the Banbury Puritan, a baker and cake-maker, as having “undone a grocer here, in Newgate market, that broke with him, trusted him with currants, as arrant a zeal as he.”

The Cakes are of an oval, but rather diamond-shaped, figure: the outside is formed of rich paste, and the interior consists of fruit, &c, resembling the contents of a mince pie.

This 1615 recipe from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman is probably quite close to the original recipe. For a modern version, though, try Dan Lepard’s “Jacobean Banbury Cakes“. Elena Greene offers a more modern (1825) version on her blog, Risky Regencies.

 recipe

 Historical information from Wikipedia.com

Posted on

Shrewsbury Cakes – A history and the recipe

Shrewsbury cakes

Maria rundellShrewsbury Cakes – The history 

Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell is famed for her New System of Domestic Cookery. As the forward to her work claims, her purported goal was to offer assistance to the middle class housekeeper and wife, as many of Jane Austen’s heroines would wind up being:

“As the following directions were intended for the conduct of the families of the authoress’s own daughters, and for the arrangement of their table, so as to unite a good figure with proper economy, she has avoided all excessive luxury, such as essence of ham, and that wasteful expenditure of large quantities of meat for gravy, which so greatly contributes to keep up the price, and is no less injurious to those who eat than to those whose penury obliges them to abstain. Many receipts are given for things, which being in daily toe, the mode of preparing them may be supposed too well known to require a place in a cookery-book; yet how rarefy .do we meet with fine melted butter, good toast and water, or well-made coffee! She makes no apology for minuteness in some articles, or for leaving others unnoticed, because she does not write for professed cooks. This little work would have been a treasure to herself when she first set out in life, and she therefore hopes it may prove useful to others. In that expectation it is given to the Public; and as she will receive from it no emolument, so she trusts it will escape without censure.”

A Shrewsbury cake or Shrewsbury biscuit is a classic English dessert, named for Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire. They are made from dough that contains sugar, flour, egg, butter, and lemon zest. Shrewsbury cakes can be small in size for serving several at a time, or large for serving as a dessert in themselves.

The playwright William Congreve mentioned Shrewsbury cakes in his play The Way of the World in 1700 as a simile  (Witwoud – “Why, brother Wilfull of Salop, you may be as short as a Shrewsbury cake, if you please. But I tell you ’tis not modish to know relations in town”). The recipe is also included in several early cookbooks including The Compleat Cook of 1658. First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams brought this recipe to The White House, when her husband, John Quincy Adams, son of American President, John Adams, became President of the United States in 1825.

Continue reading Shrewsbury Cakes – A history and the recipe

Posted on

Lavender Shortbread

Lavender has been traced back to ancient times, and while it was known by many names (including the Biblical “Spikenard”) it was the Romans, who used the flower to scent their baths, who first called it “Lavender” from the Roman (Italian) word lavare, which means, “to wash”. Used in jellies and other foods, as a perfume, aphrodisiac (Cleopatra is said to have used its scent in seducing both Caesar and Mark Anthony) and insect repellent, it is a plant that traveled with the most civilized societies, from the Egyptians, to the Romans to the French and English, eventually finding it’s way to the new world. Today most commonly associated with southern France (i.e. Herbes de Provence) and English country gardens, its sweet fragrance evokes a sunny summer day in a simpler time.

When cooking with lavender it’s important to use only organically grown herbs, or those purchased specifically for cooking, from a reputable market or health food store.

lavender shortbread
Find Kelley Epstein’s recipe for these gorgeous shortbread cookies on her blog, www.mountainmamacooks.com

Kelly Epstein writes for the food blog,  www.mountainmamacooks.com. Click the link below to find her fabulous Lemon and Lavender Shortbread recipe:

Printable Lavender Shortbread Recipe

Enjoy these delicious cookies with a cup of tea or glass of milk…or pair them with our Lavender Marmalades and Jams.