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 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)”. (more…)
Shrewsbury 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.