Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Along with countless others up and down the country, no doubt, we thoroughly enjoyed the Paddington 2 film.  As a child I loved the Michael Bond books and Paddington’s fondness for marmalade sandwiches,  though there was never marmalade-making on the scale seen in the prison kitchen in this latest film!

I have to admit that I have never made ‘proper’ marmalade – that is, chopping up Seville oranges and making it from scratch.  But I do enjoy the convenience of using the large tins of prepared fruit to make a batch every now and then.  It’s nice, but not quite as nice as my Mum’s home-made marmalade (“there’s nothing quite like Granny’s marmalade”, as my daughter put it the other day).

So January has come around and with it the Seville oranges on the market stalls.    Mum duly went off to buy some, but needed us to buy the jam sugar, which her local Co-op doesn’t stock.  I spoke to her on the phone earlier and I gather that she has already chopped the fruit and tomorrow’s project will be making the marmalade.  She doesn’t consume a huge amount herself, but it’s great that she still has the energy to continue making it, as her mother did before her.

In Granny’s 1937 diary the marmalade-making in Croydon seems to go on for days and days!  It started on Monday 18th:  “cut up oranges in the evening”.  The following day:  “made marmalade and cut up more oranges evening”.  Wednesday 20th:  “Dull and cold.  Made marmalade”.  Thursday 21st:  “cutting up oranges after tea”.  Friday 22nd:  “making marmalade and cakes morning…cut up more oranges after tea”.  Saturday 23rd:  “made marmalade”.  And then a two-day respite before Tuesday 26th:  “Did ironing, sitting room and shopping.  Cut up more oranges in evening”, and finally Wednesday 27th:  “very cold east wind.  Made marmalade”.  Phew!  I wonder how many jars she made and how long that lasted her family?  The 1938 diary, which I have just started transcribing, describes the marmalade-making in a similar vein and at much the same time.  Seville oranges are only available to buy in this country for a very short time, but apparently you can freeze them whole quite successfully, which would enable you to make marmalade at any time.

I suppose having risen to the challenge and successfully made my own Christmas cake for the first time there may well come a time when I might try my hand at ‘proper’ marmalade-making.  I think I should at some point…I might just need a week off work to do so!

Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Orange tree in Cordoba, Spain
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Seeing the old year out

I was intrigued by the entry in Granny’s diary for 31 December 1937:  “Alf and I saw the old year out.”  Intrigued, because these days we tend to talk about ‘seeing the New Year in’ rather than the ‘old year out’.

The turning of the year, however, has been celebrated since early times, with gifts being exchanged at New Year rather than at Christmas up until the nineteenth century.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the whole twelve days of Christmas (finishing on 6th January – Epiphany) were important, whereas today 6th January is fairly insignificant in this country, although in other countries the 6th January is the main day for the exchange of presents, mirroring the bringing of gifts by the Wise Men.  Although superstition has it that you must take your decorations down on or before 6th January, it seems that many people have done so a long time before that and seem to think you odd if you wish them a ‘happy Christmas’ after the 25th December!

Mum was recalling going to a New Year’s Eve function with my Dad at The Parrot pub in Guildford, possibly just before they were married.  Dad had a little Bubble Car in those days and she remembers it was very frosty when they came out.  Often we have either been to friends or had friends and family to us on New Year’s Eve.  At Christmas we were remembering the Millenium, just before my niece was born.  The long evening had all got a bit much for our 5 year old:  we woke her up at midnight so that she could see in the new millenium, but I’m not sure that she thought much of that idea at the time!

Unusually, this year we decided not to either see the old year out or the new year in, but we did enjoy the company of good friends who came to us for lunch on New Year’s Day, after we had watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna on the TV.  On the 1st January 1938 my grandparents also enjoyed the company of friends:  “Mary and Jack came to tea 5.30 and spent a jolly evening.  Rings and cribbage.  Left 11.45.”

I was curious to know how my grandparents spent New Year in other years, so decided to open a few more diaries.  At the end of 1938 I read  “Mary and Jack came to tea and saw the old year out with us”.  By that time the following year Britain was at war.  My Granny, Mum and Aunt stayed on in Cowfold following their summer holiday there, but returned to Croydon to spend Christmas.   “Saw the old year out together”.  By the end of 1941 the family had moved to Guildford, after the bombing became too much in Croydon.   “Alf and I sat up and saw old year out”.

I then picked up the 1975 diary.  Now aged 87, my Granny had been a widow for almost 3 years and earlier that year had had an operation to remove a cataract from one eye, which was not the routine procedure that it is nowadays.  I have to say that the entry for 31 December in this year brought a tear to my eye: “I left [Betty’s house] after a very happy Christmas holiday, with a thankful heart for all this past year had brought me…  Sat in my dressing gown and listened to a watch-night service, from Kingsbury London, and so saw the old year out and the new year in.  Thanks be to God”.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

 

 

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

A few weeks ago we travelled up to London to visit a museum I had never come across before: the Geffrye Museum.  Reading about it in Family Tree magazine inspired me to visit, especially since it is closing in the new year for a substantial refurbishment.

The Geffrye is housed in Eighteenth century almshouses in Hoxton and is wonderful for a social historian, depicting as it does the changing styles of home interiors through a series of period room from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

The Geffrye Museum

Currently they have a ‘Christmas Past, Christmas Present’ exhibition running through the rooms. We were fascinated by the decorations used and the type of foods consumed.

Twelfth night scarcely features on a modern calendar, except for the few who go wassailing and perform mummer’s plays. But in former times it had a greater prominence and I was interested to read of ‘Twelfth cake’ – a fruit cake made with yeast.  Originally this contained a dried bean or pea and the person finding it was then elected King or Queen of the night.  I quite fancy making a Twelfth Cake, but I think I might omit the dried bean!

Moving on to rooms from the nineteenth century, items of furniture became reminiscent of those in grandparents’ houses and the increasing popularity of the Christmas tree also became evident. Mum still has a tree decoration which her mother remembered being on their tree during her childhood in the 1890s.  Mum was talking about Christmas trees the other day:  during the second world war they did not have a tree and in the subsequent few years, when the family were sharing a house, there was no space for one.  It was not until they were able to move to their own home when Mum was in her late teens that they were finally able to have a Christmas tree.

1870 period room

Despite the increased popularity of sending Christmas greetings by email, Messenger or WhatsApp, I don’t think we have received fewer cards in the post this year. The custom of sending cards dates from the 1860s and it’s certainly a tradition I’m keen to maintain.  Reading my Granny’s 1937 diary I am surprised how last minute the Christmas preparations were:  cards were being sent out only a couple of days before Christmas.  “Wednesday 22nd December – busy day writing and doing up packets, then to Waddon Post Office after school”.  I guess with several collections and deliveries a day there was no worry about cards not getting to people in time.

But we have many things in common with the celebration of Christmas in my Mum’s family 80 years ago: going to Church, having turkey, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake.  They listened to George VI’s Christmas message on their brand new wireless; we will watch the Queen on TV.

This year the Father Christmas figure, now 87 years old, has once again taken up his central position on Mum’s Christmas cake; the little paper lanterns I made with my daughter when she was a child have been blu-tacked in their habitual place and the small plastic tree I bought in Woolworths in 1987 has once more been found a position.

The Geffrye displays brought back memories for us of paper chains, wrapping paper and board games and was a great way of learning about Christmas Past. The museum closes on 7th January, but I definitely recommend a visit. https://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/ .

Happy Christmas!

1955-65 period room

My mystery object

I mentioned in my New Year blog post that my recent write-up of the George family history had resulted in my Mum presenting me with a  small family-related artefact.

It was as a result of my discovery that Len Lansdowne, my Mum’s uncle, had worked for Dunn & Co in Croydon as a sales assistant in the early part of the 20th century.  She recalled, and promptly found, the item pictured here.   It is 2.5 inches/6 cm long, the lower part curves in both directions,  and it bears the inscription “Britain’s Best Bowlers by Dunn & Co”.  But what is it? I have to say, I am mystified!

I decided to post my query on the Norfolk Family History Society facebook page.  Family Historians are so helpful to each other and I was grateful and encouraged to receive a good number of comments and replies.  Suggestions have included a shoe horn (not big enough, and the two-way curve doesn’t work), a button hook (no hook), a ‘rounding jack’ for re-shaping a bowler hat (sounds plausible) or a smoking pipe ream (could also be possible). I googled ‘rounding jack’, but all the images are for a much larger implement.  Pipe reams seem to vary a lot in style, but I could see it might work in that function.

Someone else suggested contacting a hat museum, and lo and behold I found there is such a place in Stockport, so I have emailed them to see if they have any ideas.  The fact that it has the company’s name inscribed on it might suggest it was some sort of promotional item, but I do feel that the strange shape means it must have had a specific use.

I have also emailed the details to Family Tree magazine and gather that my query will appear in either the April or May edition, so I’m looking forward to any further suggestions that might generate.

Other than that I’m at a loss what to think about it, so if you have any bright ideas do leave a comment!  I continue to be intrigued by my mystery object.

Dunn & co mystery object
Dunn & Co mystery object

 

 

Advent

My Granny, Emily Eliza Mitchell, was baptised at Shipley, in Sussex, on Advent Sunday in 1888, 128 years ago.

I learnt that piece of information 24 years ago, when, following a fairly traumatic birth, we took our first baby daughter to Church on Advent Sunday for a Thanksgiving Service.  She is partly named after her great grandmother, and my Mum remarked on how appropriate the day was.

I do like Advent.  There’s something about all those great Advent hymns in minor keys (‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’, ‘Come thou long-expected Jesus’, ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ etc), the purple of altar frontals and liturgical robes and advent candles to light.  And of course Advent Calendars.  I remember as a child being thrilled when our neighbours the Madgwicks gave us an Advent calendar (no chocolate ones in those days!) and I still like to have one.  It brings out the child in me to count the days till Christmas!  When our children were small we made a large Blue Peter-inspired one which involved toilet rolls and lots of tissue paper, glue and paint.    It got re-used for a number of years.

Last Sunday being Advent Sunday it got me thinking about what my ancestors might have been doing during that period in years gone by.  Not counting the days with chocolate-filled Advent Calendars, that’s for sure.

David George, my earliest proven ancestor on my Norfolk George tree, married Elizabeth Jefferies on Sunday 7 December 1806 at East Dereham – the second Sunday in Advent, but only a year later they buried their first baby, Mary Ann, on 13 December 1807, the third Sunday in Advent.

David’s son John George married Emily White on Sunday 6 December 1840 – also the second Sunday in Advent.

His son David, my great grandfather, married Elizabeth Mayne in Croydon on a Saturday – the 29 November 1873 – the day before Advent Sunday.

On my Wakefield tree, my great grandfather William Wakefield married Annie Neighbour on 10 December 1893 in Newington, again the second Sunday in Advent.

Caleb Osborne, the cordwainer from Shipley in Sussex, married Mary Botting on the Tuesday after Advent Sunday in 1802 – the 30 November.

My Mitchell and Phipott ancestors, on the other hand, seem to have had a distinct aversion to doing anything like getting married or baptised during the back end of the year – apart from my Granny, that is.

I discovered  when Advent Sunday was in years gone by on this website: www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/first-day-advent , where you can also calculate all kinds of dates.

So Happy Advent!  I hope this season is not too frenetic for you and that you can find some space to welcome the coming light:

“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” 

Advent

 

Family Bake Off

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!

Recipes in my collection
Recipes in my collection
Granny's recipe for dandelion wine
Granny’s recipe for dandelion wine
Winnie's cake
Winnie’s cake

The runner bean

George

Runner beans

Well I guess that’s the start of winter then – we’ve taken down the runner beans!  They have been leaning at a precarious angle since we had all the strong winds, but now we’ve had the first frosts it’s time for them to be dismantled.

Last week we assisted my parents to dismantle their beans.  “I don’t know whether or not we’ll be growing beans next year”.  Really?  No beans?  This is the home I grew up in, where runner beans have been part of the yearly cycle for as long as I can remember.  Not grow runner beans?  Well, yes, I guess we have to face reality:  failing strength can mean accepting we can no longer do the things we used to do.  But bean-growing is the last remnant of a once-productive fruit and vegetable garden.  Well, I suppose there’s still the apple tree that I grew from a pip when I was about seven years old.  It had a bumper crop this year.

We love growing vegetables in our own garden, too.  Runner bean crops vary.  One year we tried climbing French beans instead, but there’s always a wigwam of poles; it wouldn’t seem right without.

I was fascinated, though, to learn from Monty Don’s series The Secret History of the British Garden, that runner beans were not to be found in a 17th century British vegetable garden.  Originating from Central America, runner beans were not grown for culinary purposes until the 18th century.  Funny to think that those ancestors who currently reside at the top of my various family trees probably knew nothing of runner beans!  Though Monty may be looking at the gardens of some rather grand houses, it gives one a fascinating glimpse into this area of social history and perhaps a clue as to what our ancestors did grow in their vegetable plots.  Because, even if they worked long hours as agricultural labourers for the local landowner, they undoubtedly grew their own vegetables, not mention keeping chickens and possibly a share in a pig too.

There may not be much room for a pig in our garden, but there’s room for beans.  Even our friend Elsie, who turns 100 today, still grows a few runner beans in a small parcel of earth.

Give up growing beans?  I hope not!

George
Garden in Croydon, possibly with my great grandmother Elizabeth George
George
Probably the same garden in Croydon with my great grandfather David George
Mitchell; West Grinstread
My grandmother, Emily Mitchell, in her family garden in West Grinstead, Sussex