Unlike some TV shows one could mention, The Great British Bake Off seems to have enriched our community lives. Families sit down together to watch the show itself; my cousin’s wife told me how her circle of friends go to the house of one of their number each week and the home bakes come out as soon as they get to the Technical Challenge. My daughter has organised colleagues in her office so that each person is allocated a contestant and when that person leaves the tent they have to bring in cakes (or Steak and Ale pie, as one colleague is promising!).
What does this have to do with family history? Well, coincidentally, October’s issue of Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk has a great article by Rachel Bellerby entitiled ‘A taste of the past’. As she so rightly states “food and cooking play a big part in your memories”. In common with many families, mine have had regular gatherings for as long as I can remember, often at Christmas, where everyone contributes food. I can remember as a child making pink meringues to take to Aunty Mary’s now legendary Christmas parties. In no small part due to her parties, that side of the family has remained in contact. Once we had moved back within range of the rest of the family and had enough space, we instituted our own Christmas parties, knowing we could rely on Mum to bring the mushroom vol-au-vents.
Rachel Bellerby’s article highlights how precious a handwritten family recipe book can be. At a recent visit with my daughters to my Mum’s house, the subject of baking came up, and out came her mother’s handwritten recipe book. “Treat it like a form of autobiography” says Food Historian Dr Annie Gray www.anniegray.co.uk : clippings from magazines tell you what people read and names attached to recipes give you a clue to other relatives and friends. Well, Granny’s recipe book has clippings from The Lady, a recipe for a Mother’s Union sponge cake (“very good”) and Mary’s recipe for something and Auntie Winnie’s recipe for something else. The Mary in question is likely to be Granny’s friend Mary Moreley, who also lived in Croydon in the 1930s. The recipe for Dandelion Wine reminded Mum of an occasion when she was a young child when her mother announced when she came home from school at lunchtime that it was a perfect afternoon for picking dandelions! Off they went on the bus to Mitcham Common to pick the flowers, but Mum felt so guilty that she was being made to miss afternoon school! It’s strange to think of my Granny encouraging truanting, but then she came from a rural community where staying off school in the 1890s to help with the harvest was the norm.
I am ashamed to say that my own recipe book mostly consists of scraps of paper which I have never got round to writing up properly. But, in a similary manner, you can tell which magazines I’ve read and who recipes have come from. I still use Vicky’s mince pie recipe (she was a university friend) and Aunty Elsie’s biscuits are a firm family favourite. Now you need to understand that I’ve never had an Aunty Elsie – she was an aunt of my Mum’s cousins’s husband! Well I guess that indicates that one of these days I should write up these recipes properly and identify the provenance – as far as I can – before the likes of Aunty Elsie are totally unidentifiable.
On your marks, get set – bake!