Reading the Recipes

By Val Hewson

In this Heritage Open Days blog, I find that a vintage recipe book unlocks my memory.

I am no cook. I enjoy food but am not particularly interested in the art of preparing it. There are people who read recipe books just for pleasure. Their favourites are worn – loved? – with wrinkled, stained, torn pages. Recipe cards, cuttings from magazines, scraps of paper fall from them. My recipe books sit, clean and mostly unused, on their shelf. But there is one which, though I don’t have a copy, is a stop on my reading journey: Be-Ro Home Recipes (Thomas Bell & Son Ltd, 1957).

My mum had a copy of the Be-Ro book when I was a small child. Where it came from, I don’t know. It was one of the few books in the house, perhaps one of the first I ever saw, and I suppose this is why it is so clear in my mind. The solid Be-Ro logo. The recipe titles in a font that mimics handwriting. Black and white illustrations of cakes, biscuits and pies. Line drawings of women pouring, mixing, beating (and, I see, the only man to feature, shown sitting back, relaxing, as his wife or girlfriend unpacks a picnic basket). Clearest of all to me, the cover photo of a young woman, smiling in her blue blouse and red and white checked apron. Her pose is awkward, half-turning, the Be-Ro book in her left hand and a mixing bowl, measuring jug, cake tin, eggs and, of course, Be-Ro flour on the table in front of her.

Thomas Bell & Son was a Newcastle firm, and this somehow made it special to me as a Geordie. The name came about from a shortening of ‘Bells Royal’, the original name for the company’s self-raising flour and baking powder. In the 1920s, Bells produced the first of their recipe books and distributed them free. This proved to be a brilliant way to establish the brand. There have been about 40 editions over the last hundred years – with updated ingredients and recipes but similar in format – and the name Be-Ro is still familiar.

At least, in my experience, the name is familiar in the north of England and in the Midlands but much less so in the south. When I mentioned it to my Sheffield neighbours, all of a certain age, all northerners, they nodded.

Be-Ro!

I’ve still got a Be-Ro book.  

It helped me learn the basics – making pastry or a sponge cake and that sort of thing. Techniques. And then you could make other things.

Regulo. Do you remember Regulo? My grandkids don’t know what I mean. They laugh.

My mum was a very good cook, who served an excellent Sunday lunch and had a light hand with cakes and pies. She made the best egg custard I’ve ever tasted. But she was not a great one for cookery books. Be-Ro is the only one I remember. My dad liked the food he had always known so there was little call for innovation or experiment. My mum’s skill came from long practice, handed on from her mother or elder sisters. At least, I suppose they taught her. She never said and I never asked.

I do know that our Christmas Cake recipe came from Be-Ro, although my mum always added extra cherries, because I loved them. She never iced the cake, which Be-Ro suggested, as none of us liked icing much. Once made, the cake was put away in a tin until Christmas. A second cake was usually made for my birthday a few months later. Plain fruit cake, perhaps with a slice of cheese, is still my cake of choice.  

Christmas Cake

12 ozs Be-Ro self-raising flour

One teaspoonful mixed spice

4 ozs ground almonds

8 ozs currants

8 ozs sultanas

8 ozs raisins (optional)

4 ozs cherries (halved)

4 ozs peel (chopped)

8 ozs butter

8 ozs caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten with

8 tablespoonsfuls milk

1.   Clean and mix the fruit.

2.   Mix flour, spice and ground almonds.

3.   Beat butter and sugar to a cream in a warm bowl.

4.   Beat eggs and milk together.

5.   Stir in (alternately a little at a time) the flour mixture and eggs and milk, with the butter and sugar.

6.   Add the fruit last.

7.   Mix thoroughly. If a darker cake is desired, add one teaspoonful of gravy browning.

8.   Use a large round cake tin (8” in diameter) lined with greased paper.

9.   Bake about 4 hours, the first hour in a moderate oven (350°-375° F. Regulo 3-4) and then a slow oven (250°-300° F. Regulo 1-2)

Be-Ro Home Recipes (1957)

As I turn the pages, other recipes from 1957 look familiar: scones, drop scones, girdle cakes (‘griddle cakes’ in our house), ginger cakes, sly cake, jam tarts, mince pies, rock cakes, custard tarts and maids of honour. Until I started reading, I had forgotten that my mum used to make all of these. With changing fashions, most of them have disappeared from more recent editions, replaced by carrot cake, lemon drizzle cake and banoffee pancakes.

When she was baking, I was usually allowed to press down the edge of the pastry on the tart my mum was making and to make neat airholes with a fork. She used to let me have some pastry to play with. Kneeling on a chair to reach the table, I would roll the pastry out and turn it and roll it and turn it, until it was grey and sticky. It would be a ‘cake for the birds’, we pretended.

I don’t know what happened to my mum’s Be-Ro. Perhaps it fell apart with use and was thrown out. Or it got lost when she moved house. In her later years, she no longer cooked much, and in any case, after so long, she must have had the recipes by heart.  

Perhaps I should have a go.

Three Rules for Pastry Making

1. Handle it lightly.

2. Keep it cool.

3. Bake it in a HOT oven.

Cool hands, a cool slap, and water as cold as possible help you to produce the best results. Use the finger-tips, as they are the coolest part of the hands. Always mix with a knife. Add the water gradually, using as little as possible, as the pastry should be very stiff. After adding water, avoid adding more flour, as this spoils pastry.

Pastry requires a HOT OVEN. Bake on the top shelf, as this part is the hottest. 

Be-Ro Home Recipes (1957)

Thanks to Lizz Tuckerman for lending me the Be-Ro book, which you can see on display during September at Sheffield Central Library in our Heritage At Home exhibition. The Be-Ro story can be found here.

Fresh from a WW1 Field Kitchen: a Palatable Recipe from Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1928)

By Chris Hopkins

For our fourth Heritage Open Days blog, Chris Hopkins, Emeritus Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University, looks at food in a German novel which was tremendously popular in Britain.


Dust-wrapper from Putnam’s Cheap Edition, 1930, scanned by the author from copy in his collection.
 

Erich Remarque’s novel about the trenches was first published as a newspaper serial in Germany in 1928 and grabbed public attention both because it remembered a war which many people did not wish to talk about openly at this point, and because it was seen as vehemently opposed to war (leading to the work being denounced by Nazi newspapers, and later being banned and burnt when the Nazis came to power). It very soon appeared as a book, quickly became a best-seller in Germany, and was translated swiftly into some twenty-two languages. The English version by A W Wheen was published in 1929, with the German title, Im Westen nichtes Neues translated as All Quiet on the Western Front (rather than the more literal, ‘Nothing New in the West’.) This equally became an immediate best-seller both in Britain and the USA. Many readers and critics (though by no means all) who were veterans of the trenches saw it as capturing trench warfare for the ordinary infantryman with astonishing accuracy, often leading to a sense that whichever side one had fought on, the war was a shared experience of futile agony. The American film-version (directed by Lewis Milestone, produced by Universal Studios, 1930) was also a critical and public success, and both novel and film have been written about extensively ever since.

Still from the 1930 film: central character Paul Bäumer with a French woman (actress uncredited), when his platoon is behind the lines, and with his ‘gift’ of bread and sausage prominent. Though in both novel and film, this incident is relatively romanticised, the relationship is clearly in the nature of an exchange of scarce food for sex. Image from the Realart Pictures theatrical re-release of the film between 1948 and 1966 (scanned by the author from his collection).

Food might not seem the most central topic in a war book, but in fact there is a great deal of reference to food in All Quiet on the Western Front and it plays an important part in the book. The young men in the trenches (most schoolboys only months before) are hungry nearly all the time, and food is one of their few sources of pleasure and comfort, but ‘our provisions are generally bad’ (Vintage kindle edition, translated by Brian Murdoch, 1993, location 1272). A German veteran, Karl von Clemm, interviewed in Episode 2 of the excellent ‘People’s Century’ documentary, The Killing Fields: 1914, (BBC 1, first broadcast in the UK September 1995) recalls that they were often issued with soup made of dried vegetables, which was nicknamed ‘barbed wire’, because it was so hard and tasteless, unless you could find some meat to add. He says that a horse freshly killed by gunfire would be quickly stripped completely of its flesh by passing infantry so they could improve their meals (a YouTube copy covers French, British and German trench provisions from16.55 to 18.36 minutes in: People’s Century Part 02 1914 Killing Fields – YouTube). Poor food was common in British trenches too, and of course, delivery of hot, varied and nutritious food to the front-line was difficult, but the German situation became increasingly bad as the allied blockade of German ports had a major impact on food supplies for both civilians and soldiers.

All Quiet begins with a meal. It is the first thing the central character, Paul Bäumer, tells us about:

We are in camp five miles behind the line. Yesterday our relief arrived; now our bellies are full of bully beef and beans, we’ve had enough to eat and we’re well satisfied. We were even able to fill up a mess-tin for later, every one of us, and there are double rations of sausage and bread as well – that will keep us going. We haven’t had a stroke of luck like this for ages.

All Quiet on the Western Front, location 30.

The great stroke of luck the company has had is that they have been sent huge quantities of food – enough to satisfy even their hunger. It is, though, as Paul, says all a mistake (‘the Army is never that good to us’). When they were sent into the front trenches, there were one-hundred-and fifty men, but a British artillery barrage has caught the company badly, and seventy men have been killed. This is the good luck – Paul and his comrades have been sent seventy extra meals, which they do their best to eat. Of course, part of the point of this opening incident is to make clear, without ever having to state it, how much the war has desensitised these boys, has made the grossly abnormal, normal: they have no time, nor will, to think about seventy dead men, but are glad to eat their fill. The extra food is still at least a bodily and mental comfort, whatever outrage delivered it to them.

There are dozens of references to food in the novel – mainly to beans, potatoes, turnips, bread and beef, which are the most common rations (the beef is usually bully beef, and Paul says that when they can, they take enemy corned beef from captured trenches because it is so much better tasting). The turnips are fine as turnips, but have bad associations because the overall German food situation is so bad that the authorities have had to resort to ersatz foods. A new recruit reports, perhaps sarcastically, on his food in the barracks before being sent to the trenches: ‘Bread made out of turnips for breakfast, turnips for lunch, and turnip cutlets with turnip salad in the evening’ (location 392). They seem rarely to be given other vegetables (not even dried), but they do crave them (‘we want fresh vegetables’, location 2456) and they steal potatoes, peas, carrots and cauliflowers from the farmers’ fields when they can. We get a few references to Army meals: in the barracks there is ‘a watery rice soup’ (location 2015) with miniscule strips of beef, and there is one reference to luxurious sausages with red cabbage being served in the hospital, but the staples seem to be hashes or stews of corned beef cooked with potatoes or with beans, the last being most popular with the men.

German soldiers at a field kitchen in World War One (F7PHM6) (copyright History World Archive/Alamy Images and reproduced with their kind permission).

Sometimes, the men think of favourite meals from home (‘buckwheat pancakes with bacon’ in one case), but ironically in fact such meals have disappeared: food for the Army is prioritised and the civilians are starving. When Paul goes home, he is given by his mother the great treat of potato pancakes with cranberries, but this is now a rare thing. Anticipating the situation, he has managed illicitly to obtain some army supplies for his family, and empties from his pack: ‘a whole Edam cheese … two Army-issue loaves, three-quarters of a pound of butter, two cans of liver sausage, a pound of lard and a bag of rice’ (location 1720). When his mother asks him if he has enough to eat ‘out there’, he says they manage. One night at the front, when the men are occupying a ruined factory and have nothing to eat, and cannot sleep for hunger, the character Tjaden (unhelpfully?),

Describes his local specialty, broad beans cooked with bacon. He is scathing about people who try to cook it without the right chopped herbs. But the main thing is that the ingredients all have to be cooked together – the potatoes, beans and bacon must not, for God’s sake, be cooked separately. Somebody grumbles that he will chop Tjaden into the right herbs if he doesn’t shut up at once.

All Quiet on the Western Front, location 424.

I am not saying that other dishes named in the novel might not be worth trying (those buckwheat pancakes, and no doubt miracles can be done with corned beef and potatoes, though not keen on the horse-meat …), but Tjaden’s favourite recipe is actually one I recognise and have often cooked and eaten, so it is my suggestion if you would like to try some food craved by these trench-dwellers, if not actually produced by a field kitchen. The dish is usually called Hanoverian Hot-pot and the way I make it is to fry onions, bacon and potatoes in rapeseed oil, then add stock and sliced carrots, and a sliced cooking apple. When the potatoes and carrots are not quite done, add broad beans, and green beans. Also add at this point two bay leaves, a bouquet garni, and chopped fresh dill (or dried if necessary) – which I can only hope are the right herbs according to Tjaden. Cook until the vegetables are all done and the apple has collapsed into the stock, thickening and flavouring it (if you like quantities and more precise timings here is a more professional recipe, with some minor variations from my method: Hanovarian bacon hotpot recipe | Schwartz). I hope it is palatable – a meatless version is good too – enjoy!

I’m not sure if Tjaden would approve of either of these versions of his dish (I do not cook everything together quite, and the apple seems essential and distinctive to me). I realise that my blog has had a slight change of gear towards the end, turning from lit crit to cookery, but the serious point about All Quiet on the Western Front remains. Food is important in the novel partly because it satisfies (for a while) a craving for the comfort of body and mind, but also at the same time shows that the lives of these soldiers are reduced to the basics. If they can sleep and find food, and stay alive, they can, in this abandonment of all other ambition, ask no more. Food in the novel is strongly linked to theft and lawlessness – the odd ‘lucky’ slaughter of comrades apart, it is the only way to get good food – but also to self-reliance: it is one of the few things the men can influence themselves and use their skills, knowledge and ingenuity on. They care nothing now for the nation-state they are supposedly fighting for, or for any larger social structure: they are set down in a world which makes little sense, and they must make their own way in it. The novel somehow simultaneously lets us understand the losses (including notable moral losses) brought about by being reduced to the basics, but also lets us appreciate how important those basics are. The comrade Paul most admires is Katczinsky, known as Kat, largely because of his food-gathering skills. The night when they cannot sleep for hunger in the ruined factory, and after Tjarden shares his recipe, Kat saves them by actually delivering real food:

Kat appears … he is carrying two loaves under his arm, and a blood-stained sandbag full of horsemeat in his hand …Kat has the knack of cooking horse-meat so it is really tender. You mustn’t put it straight into the pan or it will be too tough. It has to be parboiled in a little water beforehand. We sit around in a circle with our knives, and fill our bellies.

That’s Kat … he can find anything – camp stoves and firewood when it is cold, hay and straw, tables, chairs – but above all he can find food. No one understands how he does it … his masterpiece was four cans of lobster. Mind you, we would really have preferred dripping instead.

All Quiet on the Western Front, location 439.

What most satisfying and sustaining – sophistication or the most basic things? Depends on your situation. Lobster or dripping for you?

The Recipe Books of the Countesses of Arundel and Kent

By Lisa Hopkins

For our third heritage Open Days / Edible England blog, Lisa Hopkins, Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University, has written about two 17th century recipe books. Throughout September, you can see a facsimile of these books in our Heritage At Home exhibition in Sheffield Central Library.

A Choice Manual of Rare and Select Secrets (1653) and Natura Exenterata (1655) are both collections of recipes and remedies with a special connection to Sheffield. A Choice Manual proudly announced that it was the household book of Elizabeth Talbot Grey, countess of Kent. For Natura Exenterata no author is named, but there is a portrait of Alethea Talbot Howard, countess of Arundel, opposite the title page, and it appears under her name in the Arundel Castle library. There is also a small piece of internal evidence for her authorship, for one of the recipes, for ‘a Water called Maids-milk’, observes that ‘This Water is good to make the skin nesh’, a word I had never heard until we moved to Sheffield in 1990. There were not many female aristocratic authors who were equally at home transcribing Latin and calling things nesh, but Elizabeth and Alethea were two of the three daughters of Mary Cavendish Talbot, countess of Shrewsbury, whose mother was Bess of Hardwick. They grew up in Sheffield, and since they had no brothers their father’s vast possessions in the city passed to Alethea’s husband, Thomas Howard, whose family name and titles of earl of Arundel and Surrey (and later Duke of Norfolk) are all remembered in the names of streets and squares. 

Elizabeth (née Talbot), Countess of Kent after Unknown artist
line engraving, mid 17th century, 2 7/8 in. x 2 in. (72 mm x 50 mm) paper size
Given by the daughter of compiler William Fleming MD, Mary Elizabeth Stopford (née Fleming), 1931
Reference Collection
NPG D22796
Aletheia Talbot, Countess of Arundel, by Wenceslaus Hollar, after Sir Anthony van Dyck
etching, 1626. 10 1/2 in. x 7 3/4 in. (267 mm x 198 mm) plate size; 10 3/4 in. x 8 in. (272 mm x 203 mm) paper size
Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Pilgrim Trust, 1966
Reference Collection
NPG D18366

The sisters’ two books were among the earliest household manuals published, though they had been written even earlier, around three decades before. The reader of A choice manual is assured that ‘it may be justly deemed as a rich magazene of experience’; ‘magazine’ has a different tonality in the seventeenth century – the sisters’ cousin Jane Cavendish called her great-grandmother Bess of Hardwick ‘the very magazine of rich’, and Jane’s stepmother Margaret Cavendish called her own brain ‘a Magazine’ –  but Lady Kent’s book does indeed have something of the feel of a modern lifestyle magazine, offering us privileged glimpses into her lovely kitchen and enviable life. Some of the ingredients are decidedly exotic, including ‘English Tobacco’ , spermaceti, and ‘Tutty of Alexandria’ (zinc oxide). ‘A Medicine for the falling Sickness’ requires a pennyweight of gold, six pennyweights each of pearl, amber and coral, eight grains of a bezoar, half an ounce of peony seeds, ‘some pouder of dead mans scull that hath been an Anatomie’ (if the intended recipient is female; if he is male it needs to be a woman’s skull), and endive water. The first of two ‘Receipts for Bruises, approved by the Lady of Arundell’ requires pulverised jet, and ‘An approved Medicine for the Plague, called the Philosophers Egge’ starts innocuously enough with ‘Take a new laid Egg’ but then demands ‘five or six simples of Unicorns horn’, though it does concede that hartshorn will do as a substitute. In this surely lay the appeal of the book at the time of its publication. Even if you had been able to obtain a substance that you called unicorn horn before the Civil War broke out, you would not have been able to do so once it had started – the royalist garrison at Pendennis Castle in Cornwall was reported to be eating horseflesh – or, if you were royalist, after it had finished, since so many of the king’s supporters were living in poverty and exile. Elizabeth’s book peddles a fantasy, offering poignant reminders of a time when people had leisure and energy to trouble themselves about trivia such as cutting Florentines in the shape of virginal keys and never using anything but silver dishes to dry peaches on.

It would certainly have been safer to use the books as aids to nostalgia rather than practical cooking manuals. In Lady Kent’s book, the preface ‘To the reader’ warns that

if any, or perchance many unlook’d for mistaks, for want of a due application, bids thee entertain contrary thoughts, the effect not answering thy curious expectation, upon a more serious reflex, know, that nothing is absolutely perfect, and withall, that the richest and most soveraign Antidote may be often missapplied.

The cautionary note is justified, because some of the recipes are frankly terrifying. A recipe ‘For hot Eyes and red’ begins uncompromisingly ‘Take slugs’ and ‘A Receipt for the Plurisie’ advises ‘Take three round Balls of Horse-dung, boil them in a pint of white Wine till half be consumed, then strain it out, and sweeten it with a little Sugar’ (sugar is a major ingredient in both sisters’ books: a recipe for boiling a duck enjoins the cook to add ‘as much Sugar as will lye upon it’). In Alethea’s book, the advice ‘For a Strein’ orders starkly ‘Take Pisse’, and ‘For the Jaundice’, ‘Take in the morning fasting if it be a man, lice out of a females head, and drink them with white Wine and Sugar, and a little Nutmeg.  And take in the evening pouder of wormes as much as will lye upon a groat’. A recipe for ‘A Vomit to cleanse the stomach’ begins ‘Take three roots of yellow Daffadillies’, which could lead to serious poisoning. Some of the remedies in particular show that even an aristocratic lifestyle was not always glamorous: for cataracts, ‘Take two or three Lice out of ones head’, and the instructions for making ‘a slipcoat Cheese’ include ‘if you find any Mouse turd wipe it off’. There is also a recipe for ‘Pills for the Gonorraeha’ and one for viper wine contributed by family friend Sir Kenelm Digby, who had made it for his wife to cure her headaches (she died, though possibly of a brain haemorrhage rather than of the wine). The two sisters’ books, then, allow us to glimpse a number of things about their world: the interconnectedness of aristocratic families and the value they placed on hospitality and domestic ceremony, but also the shock of the Civil War and the pains and perplexities to which even the most privileged households might be subject, along with a belief that appropriate recipes and remedies could alleviate those.

Dickens and More Wittles

By Sue Roe

For today’s Heritage Open Days blog, it’s back to Dickens.

Dickens was a bit of a foodie himself. His favourite dish was lamb stuffed with oysters and to drink, he relished a glass of Smoking Bishop or Gin Punch. He loved entertaining and held regular dinner parties. A convivial host, he had an ample wine cellar: his 1865 cellar lists a 50 gallon cask of ale, 18 gallon of gin, 18 dozen bottles of port, four dozen bottles of champagne and sundry others. He clearly was no fan of the Temperance Movement – he thought the working class deserved some enjoyment. After the forced separation from his wife, his sister-in-law Georgina acted as housekeeper. Here is one of her menu cards.

Menu card for dinner, probably at Gad’s Hill in the 1860s, with Charles Dickens’ cest (Charles Dickens Museum)

His wife Catherine was a foodie too: she published a cookery book of her recipes, What Shall We Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons (1852), under the pseudonym Maria Clutterbuck. It included many of Dickens’ favourite recipes but was not just a cook book. Catherine focussed on menu planning, and included some recipes which the author claimed were commonly ‘misunderstood’. Books on household management and etiquette were becoming increasingly popular as the rising middle class looked for guidance in order to avoid social faux pas.

Bill of Fare for Two to Three Persons, from Catherine Dickens’ cookery book, What Shall We Have for Dinner?

Despite his wife’s skills as a cook, the depiction of women in the kitchen reveal something of Dickens’ attitude to women. Dora, David Copperfield’s child-like first wife, and Bella Wilfer (Mrs John Rokesmith) in Our Mutual Friend (1865) share an ignorance of even the simplest culinary skills. They are an interesting contrast to Peggotty, the kind hearted cook in David Copperfield (1850), or Mrs Joe, Pip’s sister, in Great Expectations (1861), who runs a very tight ship in her kitchen!

In David Copperfield our eponymous hero and his wife, Dora, seem to be at the mercy of butchers and other tradesmen:

I could not help wondering in my own mind, as I contemplated the boiled leg of mutton before me, previous to carving it, how it came to pass that our joints of meat were of such extraordinary shapes – and whether our butcher contracted for all the deformed sheep that came into the world; but I kept my reflections to myself.

David Copperfield, chapter 44.

Our Housekeeping by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Image scan and text by Philip V Allingham.

On the same occasion Dora had ordered in a barrel of oysters (one of Dickens’ favourites):

… we had no oyster-knives – and couldn’t have used them if we had; so we looked at the oysters and ate the mutton.

Bella Wilfer has a similar lack of skills, though she does try to improve them. On one occasion she informs her family ‘I mean to be Cook today’ (Our Mutual Friend, chapter 4), much to the shock and surprise of her mother who does instruct her. However she is not very successful. Of the fowls she has cooked she comments:

‘But what makes them pink inside … is it the breed ?’ ‘No, I don’t think it’s the breed, my dear,’ returned Pa. ‘I rather think it is because they are not done.’ ‘They ought to be,’ said Bella. ‘Yes, I am aware they ought to be, my dear,’ rejoined her father, ‘but they – ain’t.’

Later, as the newly married Mrs John Rokesmith, she was:

fast developing a perfect genius for home… Such weighing and mixing and chopping and grating … and above all such severe study! For Mrs J R, who had never been wont to do too much at home as Miss B W, was under the constant necessity of referring for advice and support to a sage volume entitled The Complete British Family Housewife.

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 5.

This book seems to bear comparison to Yottam Ottolenghi, with both recommending hard to source ingredients – in the former case a salamander!

Behaviour at mealtimes is not forgotten. When Pip goes up to London on coming into his Great Expectations, he lodges with Herbert Pocket who tutors him on table manners:

… in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth, – for fear of accidents … Also, the spoon is not generally used over-hand …

Great Expectations, chapter 22.

Mealtimes are also worthy of note in Our Mutual Friend: the Veneerings are a nouveau riche couple:

“… bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new … they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby.”

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 2.

They give excellent dinners .. or new people wouldn’t go!

Dickens doesn’t spend much time describing what is eaten at these dinners – he is more interested in the table decorations, a display of conspicuous consumption:


The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and the company. Reflects the new Veneering crest in gold and eke in silver, frosted and also thawed, a camel of all work. … and a caravan of camels take charge of the fruits and flowers and candles, and kneel down to be loaded with salt.

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 2.

The Veneering Dinner, by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Lady Tippins is on the left behind one of the camels; the man in the background with the champagne bottle is probably the Analytical Chemist (the butler)!

Champagne was served with most courses after a sherry. The culinary similes continue: Lady Tippins, a regular visitor to these dinners, has ‘an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon’ (Our Mutual Friend, chapter2).

In Our Mutual Friend we are even given an idea of what might appear in a small Victorian kitchen. The solicitor Eugene Wrayburn and his friend Mortimer Lightwood have taken new offices together and the former takes Mortimer on a tour of ‘This very complete little kitchen of ours’ (chapter 6).

‘See!’ said Eugene, ’miniature flour-barrel, rolling-pin, spice-box, shelf of brown jars, chopping-board, coffee-mill, dresser elegantly furnished with crockery, saucepans and pans, roasting jack, a charming kettle, an armoury of dish-covers. …

In his exploration of food and drink, mealtimes, household management, there is often unwitting testimony to the changing habits of the different classes. He and Catherine initially would have served meals at their dinner parties à la française where all the main courses are displayed on the dining table. He would surely have relished playing mine host, carving the joint, serving his guests.

However in 1843, Catherine wrote to a friend that the dinner is in ‘the new fashion’. This was service à la russe where food was served to guests in courses – often ensuring much hotter meals but necessitating more servants and tableware.

Dickens even saw training in domestic skills as a way out for homeless women; he worked with Angela Burdett-Coutts to set up a home, Urania Cottage, for ‘fallen women’ where they were taught household skills including needlework and cookery. He took an active interest in the running of the project, personally interviewing all the applicants.

Dickens despite his fame and wealth clearly had not forgotten those ‘in misery and despair’ (letter to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1846). The experience of childhood poverty and the ignominy of working in the blacking factory seem never to have left him.

Here, from Dinner with Dickens, by Pen Vogler, is a recipe Dickens would surely have enjoyed.

Mutton Stuffed with Oysters

SERVES 6-8

2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped savoury

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

6 oysters, cleaned, shucked, and chopped, reserving the liquor, or 6 finely chopped anchovies

3 garlic cloves, minced (I think garlic is better than onion in this dish, but if you prefer to follow Catherine, use one very finely chopped shallot)

leg of mutton (or lamb if you cannot find mutton), approx. 5½-6¾ lb/2.5-3kg

2 teaspoons all-purpose/plain flour

1¼ cups/300ml lamb or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C/Gas 7. Chop the herbs as finely as possible – a meat cleaver is useful for this. Bind them together with the egg yolks, oysters (or anchovies), and garlic (or shallot). Using a sharp knife, make about 6 indentations in the fleshy part of the leg of mutton (or lamb) and push in the mixture. If you make the indentations at a slight angle, you can pull the fat back over the cut. Place the meat in a roasting pan and roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325°F/160°C/Gas 3. Baste the joint with the fat and juices in the pan and continue roasting for 15-20 minutes per 1 lb/450g. When the meat is done, remove it from the oven, cover with foil, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Make the gravy by mixing the flour with the fat in the roasting dish over a low heat, and slowly adding the stock and the oyster liquor. Skim the fat off the gravy (putting it in the freezer helps it coagulate on the top) and serve as it is, or add to the Piquant Sauce ingredients.

Piquant Sauce

1 shallot, finely chopped

a little oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped gherkins

1 tablespoon finely chopped capers

4 tablespoons good red wine vinegar

1 anchovy fillet, pounded

Sweat the shallot in the oil until it softens, then add the gherkins, capers, and vinegar. Simmer for 4 minutes. Make gravy from the joint, add the oyster liquor (to make about 1¼ cups/300ml), the shallot mixture, and the pounded anchovy. Simmer for a few minutes before serving in a gravy boat.

Bibliography

Charles Dickens: Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, Great Expectations.

What Shall We have for Dinner? by Lady Maria Clutterbuck [Catherine Dickens] (Bradbury & Evans, 1852).

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens, by Pen Vogler (CICO, 2017).

‘Dinner Is the Great Trial: Sociability and Service à la Russe in the Long Nineteenth Century,’ by Graham Harding, European Journal of Food Drink and Society: Vol 1: Iss 1, Article 4 (2021).

Dickens and Wittles

By Sue Roe

Here is the first of our blogs about literary food. We’ll post one daily throughout Heritage Open Days 2021, and maybe a few afterwards, as there is plenty to say about the subject.

Dickens was one of the most common authors mentioned by Reading Sheffield interviewees. Sometimes their parents had subscribed to a newspaper like the Daily Herald to get a complete set, like Frank and Eva. Some loved the length and detail of the books though some found them too wordy. Florence found that they ‘bored her to death’. However the majority found them inspiring, especially his depiction of the suffering of the poor.

Food plays an important part in many of the novels of Dickens – this is not surprising given his childhood experience of poverty and insecurity. Despite his subsequent rise to fame and fortune, he doesn’t seem to have forgotten his time in the blacking factory or his family’s time in the debtors’ prison. In his books there are feasts, snacks, impromptu dinners. References to food help to highlight social ills and reveal internal turmoil.

The treatment of the poor and the unwanted was a subject dear to his heart. Oliver’s desperate plea is well known:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.

Oliver Twist (1838), chapter 2.

Oliver asking for more, by George Cruikshank, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Similarly the dosing of the boys of Dotheboys Hall with brimstone and treacle gives Nicholas Nickleby an early indication of how Mr and Mrs Squeers run the school.

The Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall, by Hablot Browne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Food or the lack of it can highlight even the plight of the convict on the run from the hulks.

When Pip meets Magwitch in the opening chapter of Great Expectations on Christmas Eve, the convict quizzes him on the two necessities:

‘Do you know what a file is?’ … ‘And you know what wittles is?’

The terrible stranger in the churchyard, by F W Pailthorpe. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

There is a cannibalistic flavour to this cross questioning – Magwich threatens to have Pip’s heart and liver if he doesn’t deliver – they will be ‘tore out, roasted and ate’! When he gets home he resorts to hiding his slice of bread and butter for the convict down the leg of his trousers in case he can’t find anything else. That gets him into more trouble with Mrs Joe: she doses him with tar water for ‘bolting’ his food. Getting up early he proceeds to rob the pantry:

Some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat … some brandy from a stone bottle … a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork pie.

Great Expectations (1861), chapter 2.

All this he duly delivers to the convict. On Christmas Day there was a splendid dinner planned:

… a leg of pickled pork and greens and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince pie had been made … and the pudding was already on the boil.

Great Expectations, chapter 4.

Pip’s larceny is about to be revealed when he is rescued by the timely arrival of the militia who need Joe’s skills as a blacksmith. Fortunately for Pip when Magwich is re-captured he confesses to the theft of the food and drink.

Dickens was clearly fond of pies. In Our Mutual Friend (1865) Mr Boffin has invited the unscrupulous Silas Wegg home to read a series of history books to him. Alas Boffin can’t read. Wegg spots a pie on the shelf:

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that object up there a – a pie? It can’t be a pie.’ … ‘It’s a veal and ham pie,’ said Mr. Boffin. … ‘And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is a better pie than a weal and hammer,’ said Mr Wegg …

‘It would be hard to name a pie that is better than weal and ham … and meaty jelly … is very mellering to the organ. Mr Wegg did not say what organ…”

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 5.

Sam Weller makes a similar observation in The Pickwick Papers (1837):

‘Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens…’

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 19.

Food often serves as a sombre metaphor – who can forget the tragedy of Miss Havisham with her wedding feast being devoured by mice and shrouded by cobwebs, a reflection of her broken heart and diseased mind. She asks Pip:

‘What do you think that is?…that, where those cobwebs are? …  It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’

Great Expectations, chapter 11.

She continues:

‘On this day … long before you were born, this heap of decay … was brought here … The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than the teeth of mice have gnawed at me.’

Pip and Miss Havisham, by Charles Green. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Dickens had certain professions in his sights: lawyers, politicians, the clergy and medical men. In The Pickwick Papers he satirises two hard drinking medical students: Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen. They have taken an apothecary’s shop in Bristol which is sinking into bankruptcy. They can still entertain Mr Winkle however:

… Bob Sawyer’s return was the immediate precursor of the arrival of a meat-pie [again!] from the baker’s, of which that gentleman insisted on his [Mr Winkle’s] staying to partake.

After dinner, Mr Bob Sawyer ordered in the largest mortar in the shop, and proceeded to brew a reeking jorum of rum-punch therein, stirring up and amalgamating the materials with a pestle in a very creditable and apothecary-like manner. Mr Sawyer, being a bachelor, had only one tumbler in the house, which was assigned to Mr Winkle as a compliment to the visitor, Mr Ben Allen being accommodated with a funnel with a cork in the narrow end, and Bob Sawyer contented himself with one of those wide-lipped crystal vessels inscribed with a variety of cabalistic characters, in which chemists are wont to measure out their liquid drugs in compounding prescriptions. These preliminaries adjusted, the punch was tasted, and pronounced excellent; and it having been arranged that Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen should be considered at liberty to fill twice to Mr. Winkle’s once, they started fair, with great satisfaction and good-fellowship.

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 38.
Conviviality at Bob Sawyer’s by Phiz (Hablot Browne). Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Yet food can also be a source of joy and celebration, as it is in A Christmas Carol (1843) despite the misanthropic start. When Scrooge first meets Marley’s Ghost he dismisses him with a food -inspired joke:

‘… A slight disorder of the stomach … You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you …’

A Christmas Carol, Stave 1.

However with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present his room is transformed and food plays a key part: a veritable cornucopia:

Heaped on the floor … were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch …

Scrooge’s Third Visitor, by John Leech. Public domain, via WikiArt.

The Spirit takes him to the home of Bob Cratchit, his clerk, where he sees all the Cratchits involved in preparing the Christmas Eve Dinner:

Mrs Cratchit made the gravy … Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce …

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3.

Their oven was too small for their goose so it was cooked at the baker’s as was the custom at the time. When it was collected:

There was never such a goose. … Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.

This was followed by the pudding which had been steaming in the copper in the backyard.

… Mrs Cratchit entered … with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball … blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly …

The Wonderful Pudding, by Sol Eytinge. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

The end of A Christmas Carol is well known. Scrooge is reformed; he sends the Cratchit  family the biggest turkey in the poulterer’s, and he raises Bob’s wages:

… I’ll raise you salary … and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop …

A Christmas Carol, Stave 5.

The Reformed Scrooge with Bob Cratchit, by Charles Green. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

In fact some credit Dickens and A Christmas Carol with inventing Christmas as we know it: plum pudding was common at that time of year but Eliza Acton was the first to name it Christmas Pudding, two years after the publication of the book.

In The Pickwick Papers food appears regularly: dinners, parties, picnics: all occasions of great conviviality and good humour.

Pickwick meets the Wardles when he is chasing his hat blown off by the wind.

Mr Pickwick in chase of his hat, by Robert Seymour. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

The members of the Pickwick club are invited to join their picnic which is unpacked from a large hamper by Joe the fat boy:

Now, Joe, knives and forks.’ The knives and forks were handed in, and the ladies and gentlemen inside, and Mr Winkle on the box, were each furnished with those useful instruments.

‘Plates, Joe, plates.’ A similar process employed in the distribution of the crockery.

‘Now, Joe, the fowls. Damn that boy; he’s gone to sleep again. Joe! Joe!’ (Sundry taps on the head with a stick, and the fat boy, with some difficulty, roused from his lethargy.) ‘Come, hand in the eatables.’

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 4.

On another occasion the Pickwick Club travel down for a wedding and to spend Christmas at Dingley Dell with the Wardles. Pickwick has purchased a huge cod-fish and half a dozen barrels of real native oysters for the festivities. There are wedding breakfasts, dinners, music, dancing, story-telling and games of Blind Man’s Bluff and Snapdragon.[1]

… and when fingers enough were burned with that and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a might bowl of wassail …

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 28.

Christmas at Mr Wardle’s, by Phiz (Hablot Browne). Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Here, by way of a conclusion, are two recipes for Smoking Bishop, a favourite of Dickens.  

Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon, stick cloves in the incisions, and roast the lemon by a slow fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, cloves, mace, and all-spice, and a race of ginger, into a saucepan, with half a pint of water; let it boil until it is reduced one half. Boil one bottle of port wine; burn a portion of the spirit out of it, by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan. Put the roasted lemons and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. Rub a few knobs of sugar on the rind of a lemon, put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon, (not roasted,) pour the wine upon it, grate some nutmeg into it, sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it.

Oranges, although not used in Bishop at Oxford, are, as will appear by the following lines, written by Swift, sometimes introduced into that beverage. ‘Fine oranges Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup, They’ll make a sweet Bishop when gentlefolks sup’.

From Oxford Night Caps: A Collection of Recipes for Making Various Beverages in the University (1827), by Richard Cook.

And a modern version from Punchdrink:

Ingredients: 750 ml ruby port; 750 ml red wine; 1 cup water; ½ cup brown sugar; ¼ teaspoon ginger, freshly grated; ¼ teaspoon allspice, ground; ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated; 4 oranges; 20 cloves, whole. Garnish: clove-studded orange slice.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash and dry oranges. Pierce and stud each orange with five cloves.

3. Place oranges in a baking dish and roast until lightly browned all over, 60-90 minutes.

4. Add port, wine, water, sugar and spices to a saucepan, and simmer over low heat.

5. Slice oranges in half and squeeze juice into the wine and port mixture.

6. Serve in a punch bowl, and ladle into individual glasses.

Bibliography

Charles Dickens: Pickwick Papers; Nicholas Nickelby; Our Mutual Friend; Oliver Twist; Great Expectations; A Christmas Carol.

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens, by Pen Vogler (CICO, 2017).


[1] Snapdragon was a popular parlour game often played on Christmas Eve. Raisins were dropped into a bowl of heated brandy which was then set alight. The point of the game was to pick out the raisins, and the winner was whoever amassed the most.

Heritage At Home

By Val Hewson

It’s been a while since our last post, and the reason for the silence is that we’ve been working on an exhibition for the 2021 Heritage Open Days festival. The theme this year is ‘Edible England’ and so our exhibition is of vintage recipe books. Sheffield Libraries and Archives have been kind enough to host it for us (and to contribute three wonderful books). The exhibition can be visited at any time during opening hours in the Central Lending Library on Surrey Street until 1 October.

Our Heritage At Home exhibition of recipe books illustrates the everyday, private and individual heritage we all have. A heritage which is easily overlooked but which, when we examine it, makes us each think about what we carry from the past into the future.

Many of the books were collected simply by asking around in Sheffield. Some came from local charity shops, and a few via eBay. Most people we spoke to – even those who claimed to be uninterested in cooking – turned out to have recipe books tucked away. Enthusiasts had whole bookcases. We didn’t set out to find classics or to cover different cuisines or periods. We wanted random, not representative. What had survived? How and why?

The variety is surprising. Most of the books are dated between about 1890 and 1970. There are instruction manuals for stoves; booklets given away by food manufacturers promoting their products or as gimmicks by newspapers; domestic encyclopaedias of the sort presented to brides; and books by the Delias and Nigellas of their day, now almost forgotten. (The exception is Mrs Beeton – her book turned up more often than any other, in reprint editions.) Perhaps most interesting are the homemade books, in which recipes have been handwritten or typed or cut from magazines or food packaging.    

 

Many of the books are worn – a few almost to destruction – and this may be not so much the effect of time as of use. There are mysterious stains where something has dripped or overflowed and pages still gritty with flour, sugar, salt. Occasionally scraps of paper are tucked inside, presumably snatched up to mark a page and then forgotten. In the margins there are handwritten reminders, explanations, comments. And there is the personal – names and addresses and sometimes inscriptions, for example, from the husband who gave his wife a Mrs Beeton: ‘’To my wife on this final sign of our getting a home. 1.10.27. LHS.‘

The books tell us about the societies which produced them. They all address themselves to women, whose vocation is unquestionably homemaking. Men appear only occasionally in illustrations, happily consuming delicious food. Class is apparent too: the books range, in terms of style, ingredients and price, from the humble, through the aspirational, to the superior.    

And there are fashions in food. The older a book, the more pudding recipes it seems to have. The 1950s was clearly a time for fantastically decorated ‘occasion cakes’ (calling for skill and time), while in the 1960s food becomes more ‘adventurous’. Ingredients too change over time: lard is a staple; sugar and salt are liberally used; and fruit and vegetables are both traditional and seasonal.

There are some recipes for curry and spaghetti, but on the whole cuisines from other countries do not feature. There is only one vegetarian recipe book, dating from the 1930s and using the somehow unattractive term ‘non-flesh cookery’.    

The design of the books is revealing too: Arts Nouveau and Deco; the decorous 1950s and the bolder 1960s; line drawings giving way to indistinct black and white photography and then often garish colour plates, which are the beginnings of ‘food styling’. 

What we cannot see in the books are the memories they bear. Hand a few books round a group and they readily recall tastes, smells, textures – and then incidents and people. When we collected books from people’s homes, we were sometimes told that they are still used, and sometimes that they just sit on shelves, but either way in memory of a life that is past.

When you visit Heritage At Home, you’ll find cards on which you can leave a favourite recipe or a memory about food.

During the Heritage Open Days festival, from 10 to 19 September, we will be posting blogs about food in books – in the work of Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell and P G Wodehouse, in school stories with midnight feasts every term and in detective stories where you really cannot be sure what is in your dinner. And we will tell you about the very special recipe books of Priscilla Haslehurst and the Countesses of Arundel and Kent.

In the meantime, here is a recipe from Over 120 Ways of Using Bread for Tasty and Delightful Dishes (Millers’ Mutual Association, 1934).

Reading Agatha Christie today

By Amelia Finley

Amelia is the last of our guest bloggers from Sheffield Hallam University, and she has chosen to write about Agatha Christie.

Though I had not until now ever read one of her many works, I can’t recall a time in my life that I was unfamiliar with Agatha Christie. The televised versions of the adventures of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple always seemed to be airing on television in the early afternoon throughout my younger years, though my first real introduction to the illustrious author likely came via one of my other childhood interests: Doctor Who. The 2008 episode The Unicorn and the Wasp, features Fenella Woolgar starring as Christie and the episode chronicles a mystery similar to that which you would find in one of her own novels. Truthfully, many of my preconceptions of the author stem from this fictional portrayal of her and the many references to her life and works throughout the episode. Woolgar’s portrayal was that of a shy but brilliant woman struggling with her impending divorce and pressure of fame. Through my research I found that this was largely accurate, Christie’s obituary in The Times newspaper reads: ‘She was a shy person: she disliked public appearances: but she was friendly and sharp-witted to meet.’ (1976, p. 16). My next encounter with Christie’s infamous tales came in the form of the 2015 BBC miniseries And Then There Were None, an adaption of the novel of the same name. It was after watching this series, that was said to be the most accurate adaption of the novel ever made, that fully ignited my interest in Christie. I went on to watch and adore both Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974) soon after, though I still had not personally read any of the source material. When I discovered that Christie was on the list of authors we could choose from to study for this module, I was quick to select her and begin my research. Christie’s large cultural impact and her novels’ abilities to be relevant decades after their publication and be reimagined in so many different forms remain fascinating to me.

And Then There Were None is widely perceived to be Christie’s most successful novel, reportedly having sold over 100 million copies since its publication in 1939 (Grabianowski, 2009). However, the book and its author are not without its controversy. The novel was first published under the name Ten Little N***** Boys in the United Kingdom, a reference to the poem that the plot of the novel takes much inspiration from, with each character dying in a similar manner to one of the ‘boys’ in the poem’s narrative. The poem was originally published in 1868 as a counting rhyme for children, used in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows were a form of American entertainment which relied on the deeply racist donning of blackface by white performers who would portray black people as ‘lazy, easily frightened, chronically idle, inarticulate, [buffoonish]’ (Pilgrim, 2000) in the name of comedy. The novel was never published under this name in America due to perceived sensitivity surrounding the poem and the racial slur, instead always going by And Then There Were None, in reference to the final line of the poem. Over the years the novel has had many name changes to remove the slur, replacing it with ‘Indian; or ‘soldier’, in the name of censorship. Though I have mixed views on censorship overall, I think the removal of the slur from the novel is a perfect example of using censorship to protect readers and better the source material. In this instance, the slur is in no way central to the novel like it may perhaps be in a narrative that directly concerns itself with themes of racism, therefore its removal has no damaging affect on the story or its message and avoids the use of harmful racist language. Furthermore, the title And Then There Were None, in my opinion is far more fitting in tone for a mystery thriller novel than any of the variations on the ‘Ten Little’ names are, creating more of an atmosphere of foreboding. Fortunately, the controversy doesn’t seem to have affected the success of the book nor any of its many adaptations, censorship in this case working to enhance the experience rather than take away from it, with the book reportedly being the sixth best selling novel of all time (Grabianowski, 2009).

Agatha Christie (Creative Commons Licence, National Portrait Gallery)

Bibliography

Grabianowski, E (2009) The 21 Best-selling Books of All Time. Retrieved from: https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/literature/21-best-sellers.htm

Pilgrim, D. (2000) The Coon Caricature. Retrieved from: https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/coon/

Christie, A. (1939) And Then There Were None. Retrieved from: http://pustaka.unp.ac.id/file/abstrak_kki/EBOOKS/And%20Then%20There%20Were%20None.pdf

Harper, G. (2008) The Unicorn and the Wasp [Television programme]. United Kingdom: BBC.

Viveiros, C. (2015) And Then There Were None [Television Series]. United Kingdom: BBC.

Hamilton, G. (1982) Evil Under the Sun [Film]

Lumet, S. (1974) Murder on the Orient Express [Film]

(1976) Obituary: Dame Agatha Christie. The Times. January 13th, page 16.

Amelia’s Reading Journey

By Amelia Finley

Amelia is the last of our guest bloggers from Sheffield Hallam University. Here she tells us about what reading means to her.

Hi, my name is Amelia Finley and I was born and raised in Leeds. The village that I live in is a stone’s throw away from the city centre and is a historically working-class area due to being known for its fabric mill however in recent years it has seen an influx of young middle-class families moving to the area. I have been an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction books for as long as I can remember. Most of my immediate family share my love of reading so I was read to and encouraged to read from a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of being taught to read by my family, I vividly recall reading A Visit from St. Nicholas (though we always called it ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) every Christmas Eve with my Mum. As a young child I was always drawn to fantasy stories about magic or any story primarily about animals, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C S Lewis comes to mind as one of my early favourites as it was a perfect combination of the two. I would often be caught awake with my bedside lamp on reading past my bedtime or even wide-awake listening to audiobooks on loop played from my old stereo, typically Roald Dahl novels like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I would frequently spend birthday money or gift cards in Waterstones for new books but my favourite way of finding new reading material was going to car boot sales with my grandparents. Aside from being able to spend precious time with my grandma and grandad, I enjoyed hunting for books on my wish list and finding affordable books that I’d perhaps never heard of before. Now in my early twenties I still enjoy shopping sustainably and second-hand for books for the same reasons, I often frequent the charity shops near my university house and online vintage shops for new reads.

Although I enjoy reading new books, I must admit that I have the tendency to reread old favourites instead of exploring new stories. Since picking up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time in primary school I must have read the Harry Potter series at least ten times over, if not more. I imagine that this is because I find familiar stories comforting, and enjoy the nostalgia of revisiting particular books that I have fond memories of reading. I also love revisiting old favourites over the years as I find my opinions on certain characters or plot points often change over time as I grow up, I find that new perspectives can reinvigorate my love for each novel and allow me to enjoy it in ways I couldn’t in my youth. I find myself frequently drawn to young adult fantasy or sci-fi novels like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, especially throughout Year 7 and 8 of high school, largely because I was lucky enough to have friends that shared my love of books and popular franchises were accessible and intriguing to all of us.

As I entered my GSCE years in high school I developed more of an interest in exploring novels outside of the current trends and delving more into classic literature. As someone with a late October birthday I frequently had Halloween themed parties and loved anything spooky so I naturally started with what is now probably my favourite book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This not only sparked my love of Gothic fiction as a genre but also other early literary icons like Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. My love of these works also seems to transcend from the page of the novel into other forms of media, one of my favourite bands being named for Angela Carter’s Gothic short story Wolf Alice and several of my favourite films being adaptions of classic literature, probably most notably Clueless as an adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma. I find it fascinating that such old texts manage to maintain relevancy in the 21st century and hope that they continue to do so.

I first became interested in reading works of non-fiction when I was introduced to National Geographic by my grandad at a young age due to my obsession with wildlife. I often read his copies of the magazine when I could and later started my own subscription. Reading National Geographic and hearing my grandparents’ stories from their many travels definitely inspired me to become more interested in travelling myself to as many places far and wide as I can imagine. I also think it’s fair to say that this was also probably my earliest introduction to the world of politics outside of fiction which I have become quite passionate about in later life, going on to study Government and Politics at A Level alongside History and, naturally, English Literature. I’m also deeply interested in feminist and queer theory, that non-fiction genre that occupies most of my bookshelf today. I tend to gravitate more towards anthologies such as I Call Myself a Feminist that contain a series of essays or thought pieces from the perspective of women and gender non-conforming people from all walks of life. When looking through the Reading Sheffield site I came across the Reading Journey of Florence Cowood. Florence’s story stood out to me as, although we were born almost 80 years apart from one another, our journeys and relationship with books share some similarities. A large portion of the books she recalls reading in her childhood also happened to be favourites of mine – in her interview she mentioned Black Beauty by Anna Sewell that was one of the earliest books I remember reading to myself and thoroughly enjoying. Interestingly, she also mentioned What Katy Did, a 1872 children’s book that I only became familiar with a few weeks ago as I am currently studying a Jaqueline Wilson retelling for my Writing for Children module of my degree. Though she had lived in Sheffield for most of her life, Florence was born in Huddersfield and had close family in Leeds – two places I am very familiar with. Florence says that it was her grandfather, a headteacher living and working in my hometown of Leeds, that encouraged her to read and provided her with money for books, reminding me of my own grandparents who I have always associated with my love of reading. One difference I did note however is that though Florence and myself cite receiving books as gifts from family members as a key source of our reading materials in our youth, Florence and many of the other Reading Sheffield interviewees often talk about going to the library for books. In her interview she said “my idea of heaven, if I had to be shut anywhere, would be a library full of books,” and I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with her, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember the last time I had read a library book for fun. Out of curiosity I asked a few of my friends when the last time they visited a public library and it transpired that that neither me nor any of my peers had checked a book out of a library for leisure in at least ten years, if not longer. Although university libraries still garner heavy footfall during term time, it seems that public libraries seem to be becoming more of a thing of the past, which in truth I find quite sad. Recently I came across a trend online where people posted the subtle and often overlooked kind things that humans do that reminds them that humanity is really not all that bad, an example that comes to mind is a TikTok user that said they loved it when people waved or smiled at babies to make them smile even if they didn’t know them, and it made me think immediately about libraries. There’s something about borrowing a book for a short time and passing it on again so a complete stranger could have an opportunity read a story and feel what you felt seems very innocent and selfless. I think especially now, when many things are needlessly mass produced and the ongoing pandemic has put a strain on many people’s sense of community, it’s easy to look back on something as simple as borrowing a library book and almost begin to feel melancholic. Though the small library in my village has been closed for quite some time now thanks to the ongoing pandemic, I was happy to discover that for several many months now a small team of people have been designing and building miniature libraries and putting them up around Leeds. They encourage people to walk to their nearest ‘little library’ to pick up a book and leave one of their own they no longer have use for in its place. There happens to be one in the middle of my village that I intend to visit, I think it’s a wonderful project that promotes sustainability and a great sense of community especially in such uncertain times. I hope to see it replicated in more places.

Popular fiction: Georgette Heyer

By Lauren Hurst

For her review of an author popular with our first interviewees, born in the mid-20th century, Sheffield Hallam student Lauren Hurst has chosen Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer began her writing career in 1921 with The Black Moth, originally written at the age of seventeen as entertainment for her brother (The Times, 1974).  She is recognised today as the creator of the Regency genre of historical fiction, having over fifty published books.  After finding out which of Heyer’s books were most popular, I decided to begin my research by reading her first published novel and I must admit I was disappointed.  It seemed from what very little I knew that her novels were quite popular, but I felt that this book was lacking substance and I was unable to connect with the story.  My following research proved that opinions on Georgette Heyer are mixed.

After her writing debut with The Black Moth, Heyer’s name appears frequently in various newspapers (including The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Aberdeen Journal) advertising her newly published books, suggesting that her novels were widely read and commendable from the 1920s onwards.  In various articles throughout the ’20s, her writing is praised for its historical reconstruction.  One article promoting her new novel Simon The Coldheart in 1925 commends it as ‘a well-written and most interesting medieval fiction’ (Daily Mail, 1925).  The Times Literary Supplement describes the same novel as ‘above the average of the former class of romance,’ and praises Heyer’s talent for reconstruction of past times withal (Falls, 1925).

An article in The Literary Times Supplement, 1929, compliments Heyer’s Pastel as a pleasant novel however goes on to say, ‘the book remains readable to the end but as soon as we begin to suspect the author’s disinterestedness our belief in the story wavers’ (Bailey, 1929).  Overall, in the first decade of her career, Heyer’s books were a success, praised for their enjoyability and delicate reconstruction of the past.  They did not, however, receive acclaim for sincere or influential content.

In most newspaper articles, Heyer’s novels are advertised as readable stories but never as thought-provoking masterpieces.  It seems that her novels were enjoyable as a consumable product and not valued as anything more than trivial stories.  For example, The Sunday Times called Heyer’s novel The Unfinished Clue a ‘stereotype’ and ‘vain,’ but noted that it was still an enjoyable read as ‘good writing would often carry a poor plot’ (Sayers, 1934).  While Heyer’s novels were well-written and pleasant, she failed to inspire her readers further.

Fortunately, Heyer’s writing improved with time; her 1935 novel Death in The Stocks was described as ‘refreshing’ in The Times Literary Supplement (Hayward, 1935). The Sunday Times also described this new novel as ‘a great advance in plausibility’ upon her earlier novel The Unfinished Clue (Sayers, 1935). Furthermore, Regency Buck received praise, ‘another careful piece of reconstruction for those who enjoy escaping from the present to the novelist’s past’ (MacKenzie, 1935).  Again, Heyer’s talent for creating historically accurate fictions is noted.

Fourteen years after Heyer’s first publication, the reviews still echoed the same sentiments.  The Literary Times Supplement recognised that Heyer always had an ‘attention to accuracy which is admirable’ in the creation of her historical backdrops.  However, her novel ‘flags’ and ‘there is the feeling that the novelist has changed places with the social historian’ (The Times Literary Supplement, 1935). This feeling I relate to, as when reading Heyer’s novels I found that they concentrated more so on historical accuracy than the building up of an intriguing plot.

By the mid-1960s, Heyer had become a global phenomenon, going on to write eleven detective novels and, whilst they might be an improvement upon her earliest romances, I don’t think I will be reading any more of her works. On the Reading Sheffield website I found that opinions were mixed, Rosalie Huzzard enjoyed reading Georgette Heyer whilst Joan C says, ‘I didn’t like Georgette Heyer, she was too frivolous’ (Reading Sheffield).

Jennifer Kloester, writer of the 2013 biography on Heyer, believes that her novels ‘continue to inspire readers and writers around the world,’ (Bartlet, 2012) and whilst I agree that critics and those with a particular interest in the Regency period of literature may take interest in her work, I would argue that younger readers will not continue this tradition.

Georgette Heyer was not a bad writer; in her time, she entertained many readers, ‘from all levels of society,’ (The Times, 1974) with her historically accurate fiction.  However, without any consequential content, her novels have failed to stay relevant and encapsulate readers outside of her own generation.  Readers of today find that her writing is too stylised and her plots insubstantial.

Bibliography

Bartlet, K. (2012). Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer [Review of Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer]. Library Journal, 137(17), 76–. Library Journals, LLC.

Cabbage as an Entree about the New Books. (1925, October 20). Daily Mail, 15.

Falls, C. B., & Falls, C. (1925, November 19). Simon the Coldheart. The Times Literary Supplement, (1244), 770.

Bailey, R., & BAILEY, R. (1929, June 13). Pastel. The Times Literary Supplement, (1428), 472.

Sayers, D. L. (1934, April 1). Crime Methods in Contrast. Sunday Times, 9.

Hayward, J. D., & Hayward (AKA). (1935, April 18). Death in the Stocks. The Times Literary Supplement, (1733), 256.

Sayers, D. L. (1935, April 21). Pleasant People in a Crime Novel. Sunday Times, 7.

Mackenzie, C. (1935, September 19). Novelist Calls a Spade a Spade. Daily Mail, 4.

Other New Books. (1935, September 26). The Times Literary Supplement, (1756), 597+.

Mr. Punch’s Staff of Learned Clerks. (1935, October 2). Our Booking-Office. Punch, 189(4948), 390+.

West, D. (1936, May 28). First White Woman in a land of Desert Wars. Daily Mail, 20.

Kennedy, M. (1936, May 31). A Dram of Poison. Sunday Times, 9.

Miss Georgette Heyer. (1974, July 6). Times, 14.

Lauren’s Reading Journey

By Lauren Hurst

Now it’s the turn of Sheffield Hallam University student Lauren Hurst to write her reading journey for us.

My mum always provided me with lots of books from an early age.  She would read to me and my brother every night before bed and always encouraged us to join in and read to her aloud.  Every birthday or Christmas she gave me at least a couple of books to encourage me to keep reading.  We also had lots of books that were hers when she was young, such as an extensive collection of Ladybird books and a very tattered illustrated copy of The Magic Finger which I remember fondly.  Thus, growing up, we had a library full of books, new and old, so that we always had plenty of things to read and inspire our imaginations.

Upon asking her of her reasoning for this encouragement, my mum told me that she thought reading was an integral part of my education and development, and that it would help me in my future.  I feel very fortunate to have been brought up in this way, particularly after learning from others’ blogs that this was not the experience of many fellow readers in past generations, whose parents did not read to them or take them to the library.  For me, these experiences were a key bonding time between me and my mum.

On car journeys we would always listen to audiobooks.  The glovebox of my mother’s car always kept a collection of children’s stories on cassette tapes.  I have lived in Sheffield all my life and, from around the age of two, my mother regularly took me and my brother to our local library at Greenhill where we held special membership cards.  We were free to roam the children’s section which was sizable and nearly always free of other children.  Here I read lots of Jacqueline Wilson books from which I learned a lot about topics that were not normally commented on in children’s literature, such as eating disorders and divorce.  Later, I graduated to the adult section which was four times the size, although perhaps prematurely as I did not enjoy the experience of the library as I had before; the space was less colourful and didn’t feel as welcoming.

In primary school we had a system in which our reading was recorded in reading logs, this included every session of reading we did, reading to teachers’ assistants during school time and to our parents at home.  We could pick the books we read from allocated shelves in the school library, though I never had much interest in any of the books there.  Having to choose from this selection and thus spending all my reading time on books I didn’t enjoy prevented me from reading the books that I used to pick out at my local library.  This did create for me a somewhat negative experience with reading.  At this age I also spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house and even lived there for a while and, whilst they had their own bookcase and could have read to us from the books they had, my grandad chose to make up his own stories.  He was very inventive and came up with some very strange tales to tell me and my brother.

As I got older, I procured an affinity for poems; the first time I knew I loved poetry was after being read The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes in school.  I remember thinking I had never heard anything like it. I loved The Highwayman: the way it sounded, the way it flowed, the imagery it used and the way it was darker than anything I had been able to read before. 

In secondary school I stopped reading as many books as it was not conventional amongst my peers to read in one’s spare time.  However, I always found the time to read a few young adult novels in the summer holidays and, at the age of fourteen, I took up reading as a hobby again.  I had a hard time in school and reading was great escapism for me.  After looking at the other blogs on Reading Sheffield where some readers have described growing up without the ease of access to books that I was fortunate enough to have, I regret having pushed my love for reading aside. 

English literature was my favourite subject in school and unlike my friends I enjoyed reading the set texts, particularly Romeo and Juliet.  I enjoyed learning about the context of the literature and looking closely at the meanings of the texts.  Whilst studying English literature at A-level, I was surrounded by others with the same interests as well as enthusiastic teachers, and I found a whole new passion for literature.  This was the first time I could share my like for reading with others.  My A-level teachers introduced me to many new books such as Movern Callar by Alan Warner and The Secret History by Donna Tartt which really helped further my interest in reading outside of school. Since beginning my A-levels at age sixteen, I have enjoyed scouring second-hand bookshops and building my own personal library of vintage and preloved books.  Some novels that really inspired me were Lolita and A Clockwork Orange; I was immersed in these writing styles and intrigued by the taboo subjects.  Now my favourites are Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, who inspire me to write my own private poetry.