Christmas Traditions Short History
It is hard to believe that most of the Christmas traditions in the UK were actually invented, popularised or appeared during the Victorian times. In the early 19th century, Christmas was not a two day holiday with a Christmas tree, family gathered around a festive table and with presents under the tree.
Thanks to the industrial revolution, mass produced toys or Christmas cards were becoming more popular and affordable, while growing affluence allowed people to celebrate it in more festive way and longer. Not only that, Queen Victoria beloved husband, Albert, brought a Christmas tree tradition from Germany.
English Christmas Pudding
Even traditional Christmas puddings went through transformation in the 19th century. Plum pudding became enriched and more fancy with all the spices and ingredients from around the world available in London, the capital of the British Empire.
I like reading old recipes, which often are more about the chemistry of baking, knowledge when things are right and where ingredients’ quantities are up to the cook’s experience. Not only the ingredients mattered, but techniques and secret know-how of putting things together in a proper way. Those recipes are about time, elbow grease and appreciation of special treats prepared for a special time of the year.
Christmas Ginger Cake
My Big Son loves baking and cooking and he relishes the challenges of time consuming old recipes. He does not get deterred by a length of time or work to put in to recreate old flavours. For a couple of years now, every Christmas, he bakes us Victorian gingerbread cake from the recipe we found in Audley End house. It comes from the Mrs Crocombe’s cookbook from 1880s.
This recipe follows roughly a pound cake formula, which at our first attempt turned out to be a bit of a flop. My son did not measure the ingredients right, which we found out later as after an hour in an oven the batter was still like a jelly. We managed to save it and we discovered an amazing gingery, sticky richness of this cake.
As it is with the old recipes, the ingredients list or rather quantities are given liberally, for a cook to adjust accordingly. This is when experience in baking comes in handy, 2 or 3 eggs, medium or large?! How hot should be an oven? What they mean: bake until it is done?! I simply love it! It is not a follow_instructions_to_the_letter kind of thing. You feel like you are embarking on a little baking adventure with a result or a cake, balancing on your skills and feels.
Put soft butter in a bowl and with some elbow grease, start working it with a wooden pestle until it is pale and fluffy. Then you can add sugar and ginger. Now incorporate 3 eggs, one at a time and beat it. Next add runny honey and combine it well. Next step is to add flour, but you need to fold it in gradually. In a small bowl, mix carbonate of soda in a table spoon or two of milk and add this mixture into the batter. Now transfer the batter into a big tray, lined with a parchment paper and smooth it with a spatula. Put the tray in an oven, gas mark 5, for about an hour and check with a stick if it is baked thoroughly.
Serve the gingerbread cake with clotted cream for a real Christmassy treat. This cake stores well in an airtight container for up to a week, which is amazing as we love to indulge in it over the 12 days of Christmas.
1/2 lb of butter
1/2 lb of coarse brown sugar
1 lb of flour
1 lb of honey
1/2 oz ground ginger
2 or 3 large eggs
1 tsp of carbonate of soda
2 tbsp of milk