Don’t Just Book It . . .

Thomas Cook It!

Sadly, no longer! One of the world’s best known holiday brands, since 1841 Thomas Cook, has taken millions of holidaymakers around the world, responding to and creating a growing market and an emerging hunger for foreign travel.

It created the way in which we spent our holidays exploring a bigger, wider world that the majority of people had only ever dreamed of.

Those of a ‘certain age’, spotting the once ubiquitous red and white logo will smile indulgently in recognition of the incredible family friendliness the brand continues to enjoy. To go into a local travel agent, pick up a few brochures, consult with the family and return to book a holiday was an event, a part of the complete experience.

When Leicestershire cabinet-maker Thomas Cook founded the business it was more for local excursions than foreign holidays but as a former Baptist preacher, he wanted to offer working class people a form of educational entertainment to divert them from drinking!.

The UK’s newly created railway system persuaded him to offer his first trip, from Leicester to Loughborough, at the cost of a shilling per head for the twelve miles round trip. Those travelling were so-called ‘temperance supporters’ and supporting the prohibition of alcohol. The visit was such a success that Thomas Cook repeated it over several summers on behalf of Sunday schools which laid the foundations for the business.

After having pioneered trips around the British Isles and to London’s Great Exhibition, in 1855 Thomas Cook set his sights across the Channel to Paris where the International Exhibition was being held. His commercial tour there, which fuelled an interest in easier access to other European destinations, was a huge success, and before long Thomas Cook was taking travellers to America, Asia and the Middle East. The company flourished, fuelled by the growing middle classes and their desire to travel. When, in 1892, Thomas Cook died his son, John Mason Cook took over running the company from his father.

It stayed in family hands, Thomas Cook’s grandsons adding winter sports, motor car tours and commercial air travel to its offerings during the early part of the 20th until suddenly at the end of the 20’s it changed hands for the first time when the grandsons unexpectedly sold the business to the owner of the Orient Express.

At the outbreak of World War Two, Thomas Cook was nationalised by the British government as part of British Railways, to save it from the Nazi occupation. The post-war years saw a holiday boom in the UK, taking holidaymakers on package holidays abroad but also to its holiday camp in Prestatyn, North Wales.

By the 70’s Thomas Cook had been taken private and expanded its network of High Street travel shops through a string of acquisitions beyond which it went global with its airline business coming into being in 1999.

But despite its swift and heady expansion Thomas Cook retained a dedicated UK following, ferrying some 20 million people on holiday each year. The end it would seem has been swift and ignominious. Stories of mismanagement of funds and enormous Executive pay-offs are rife in the press and on the news channels. I shall follow their fate as it rolls out but when it comes down to the brass buttons,  all’s fair in love and big business!

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Summer Sun For The Winter

The Preserve of Preserves

With the end of summer and the beginnings of a rapid slide into winter I thought I’d celebrate with a glass of wine! Except that the wine itself is not yet ready! It is a ‘work in progress’ as they say.

This particular vintage was made with three different fruits :
Loganberries, blackberries and plums.

The recipe (adapted) for this particular vintage comes from a semi-ancient volume dated around 1956 and I shall be posting some of the more interesting items there-from in the near future!

The history of wine is probably longer and more complex than that of food simply for the dedication involved and the unequivocal ‘euphoria factor’

But be that as it may! Some, especially chocoholics, may disagree but despite long years in the wilderness wine is now making a good showing in the UK. Later in the season (year) I hope to be making a drop of cider from gathered apples with the possible addition of sloes or a touch of elderberry!

It’s quite amazing what you can make a beverage from! If it ferments, it’s fair game!

But seriously, as the title suggests, wine is merely another way of preserving summers bounty. Like jams and pickles it is something for the larder, a pleasure to be kept for that ‘special’ occasion!

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Notions, Lotions & Potions

The link between the field and the pharmacy has been a part of everyday life for thousands of years.

Home remedies, herb-lore and housewives tales fuelled the researches, begun by the ancient Greeks and Romans, to become a pillar of medical therapy from antiquity right through the Middle Ages and on into the renaissance.

For the most part, medications were derived from the natural world, plant, mineral or animal, to produce results from the combination of different substances, each with their own specific properties and therapeutic effects.

From the plethora of information that ensued there arose a diaspora of knowledge, far and wide, informing physicians and apothecaries of the useful properties and therapeutic powers of natural remedies which led to the development of an immense quantity of literature, in both the West and the East.

Such a work, involving countless texts ranging from herbals, bestiaries and medical lapidaries as well as miscellanies including all three types of substance became a large and for the most part unwieldy source of definitive answer.

The process of reconstructing and refining such a broad work as the development of pharmacological and pharmaceutical literature in Greek, Arabic and Latin is complex and time consuming in itself, but much is still much to be done.

Add to that the fact that there is very little solid connection between the texts that were produced and how they influenced each other and the sheer timescales involved.

A collection of medical recipes describing nature and the therapeutical properties of natural elements, compiled in the 11th to 13th centuries known as the ‘Liber de simplici medicina’ (book on simple medicine) or ‘Circa instans’ was attributed to a certain ‘Platearius’, possibly a Salernitan physician.

The pragmatic, user-friendly structure of ‘Circa instans’ made it especially useful to medical practitioners. The collection provides a selection of about 270 natural substances derived from plants, animals and minerals. Plants are the most consistently represented category while the text is structured in alphabetical order, regardless of whether the substance is animal, vegetable or mineral.

The Medieval Period lasted from around 476 to 1453 AD, starting around the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The Early Medieval period began when invasions broke up Western Europe into small territories run by feudal lords which led to the majority of people living in rural servitude.

By 1350, the average life expectancy was a mere 30-35 years and 1 in 5 children died at birth. There were no facilities for public health or education and communication was poor.

People were also superstitious, the majority couldn’t read or write, and there was no schooling and the local apothecary (or wise-man/woman) would provide herbs and potions to maintain the general health of the local demesne.

So how does all this affect Granny Robertson and her early twentieth century world I hear you ask. Well, considerably more than should be expected I imagine.

She received not only recipes but holistic potions handed down through the family, mainly by word of mouth, but there were also the long held truisms from the most bedded down rural communities that, despite huge advances in medical treatment remained true.

She would not have approved of this, her world was closed. God, the church, education, respectful manners and respect for what had gone before were her watch words while medicinal chicanery and ancient herblore were as the saying goes, ‘kept under wraps’

How swiftly and consumately the world changes.


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Cake Making Secrets – The Balance


Traditional Cake

Good Cake Making

If the first rule of successful cake making is to find a good recipe and follow it to the letter then the second must be that,  if reducing or increasing the basic quantities, to maintain the correct ‘balance’.

Simply adding more baking powder will not produce a lighter cake.

Cake Making MethodsA really rich fruit cake, such as a traditional Christmas cake for example, will require far less baking powder than a luncheon cake since the balance of the Correct Balance 1ingredients will be sufficient to form the structure of the cake.

For fruit cake it is Incorrect Balancerecommended to use the best quality plain flour available to you and add baking powder relative to the amount of fruit to be used.

Angel Cake

Angel Cake

The illustrations above show how faults in balance can affect the end result.

At the time this article was published (some-when during the mid to late 50’s) the baking powder maker Borwick and Sons prepared the following guidelines for the correct use of their product in cake making.

Cake Making IngredientsFor a semi-rich cake, made with plain flour,



you will require:

For no fruit – 2½ level teaspoons,
For 8oz fruit – 1½ level teaspoons
For 12oz fruit – 1¼ level teaspoons
For 16oz fruit – 1 level teaspoon

For a rich cake, made with plain flour, you will require:

Rainbow Bundt Cake

Rainbow Bundt Cake

For no fruit – 2 level teaspoons,
For 8oz fruit – 1¼ level teaspoons
For 12oz fruit – ¾ level teaspoon
For 16oz fruit – No baking powder

Given that the balance of ingredients in the recipe are maintained, a favoured recipe can be adapted to give the optimum result. When considering the recipe balance it must be remembered that egg is a toughening agent while fat a shortening agent so they must stay in step. Any increase in eggs and fat will require a reduction in baking powder. If eggs and fat are to be reduced it must be done in step to prevent the cake collapsing.

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The National Loaf

The National Loaf was instituted by the government from 1942 onwards as part of the home front effort during World War II. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, Britain, with a population of around 50 million, was importing 70% of its entire grain requirement.

The bulk of that imported grain was wheat shipped from Canada across the North Atlantic. Though the ships travelled in protected convoys, they were vulnerable to attack and sinking by German submarines.

Government planners calculated that it would require thirty ships a year to import the quarter of a ton per year needed to permit every citizen a wholly inadequate daily bread ration of ½ oz (25 gm)!

And that was wheat for bread alone. (It didn’t include the wheat required for other food products) But shipping on such a grand scale cost money and resources that could be used elsewhere in the war effort therefore the less shipping space required for wheat would mean more space available for war materials.

But although numerous other food stuffs had been rationed since January 1940, the British government did not want to ration wheat or bread for if it could possibly be avoided. The daily bread then, as now, was not just a basic commodity it was the staff of life.

It fell therefore to the Ministry of Food to reduce the amount of imported wheat for bread in order to make the most of what did arrive, whilst continuing to keep bread freely available and ensuring that the population was receiving optimal nutrition value from their food.

In the spring of 1942 the solution they arrived at was to make the wheat they did import go further by the creation of a ‘National Flour’ to create a ‘National Loaf’

To cope with the reductions in the amount of wheat imported, more flour had to be extracted . It also had added calcium to prevent rickets. The loaf was dense with a dirty grey colour and was unpopular with a population used to white bread. It quickly gained the nickname ‘Hitlers secret weapon’. Unfortunately many people did not find its greyish colour appealing

Since white flour is generally around 70% extraction the higher 85% extraction rate would yield an extra 15 kg of flour from that wheat. And the population would have a nourishing wholemeal loaf with a high vitamin B content.

But although the initial extraction rate was 85% it varied over the years. After a short period during which the extraction rate for National Flour was raised to 90% it was in 1944 subsequently reduced to 85% and remained so until August 1950, when it became 81%.

This rate of extraction referred to flour as produced by the mills from the grist supplied. For issue it was usually mixed with a proportion (up to 20%) of imported white flour of lower extraction so that National Flour as delivered was comparable with 82-85% extraction flour.

White flour was still being produced and imported during this period, but it could only be obtained by food manufacturers for items such as biscuits, cakes or for mixing in small quantities into 85% extraction flour to make National Flour. Today, on average we eat less fibre than recommended. But a diet high in fibre has many health benefits. It may help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health.

Bakers were banned from making any other type of bread except the national loaf. The Federation of Bakers was formed, to assist in organising the wartime production and distribution of bread. Sliced bread was also banned as it was seen as a waste of energy.

A government wartime rhyme was:

“Pat-a-loaf, pat-a-loaf
Baker’s Man
Bake me some Wheatmeal
As fast as you can:
It builds up my health
And its taste is good,
I find that I like
Eating just what I should.

National Loaf recipe:

(Yields: 10 loaves)
Potato Flour – 1740 gm
Salt Sea Fine – 140 gm
Tap Water – 4740 ml
Vitamin C – 6 gm
Wholemeal flour – 5220 gm
Yeast – 210 gm

Mix all ingredients in spiral mixer for 3-5 min
Place dough in lightly oiled container, let rest for 45 minutes
Knock back and let rest for another 45 min
Scale at 1kg, first shape (round)
Rest 10-15 min, then second shape
Place bread in oiled baking tins, prove for 45-60 min at 28-32c
Bake at 208 c top 204 c bottom, with 5 second steam. Open vent after 25 min, bake for a further 25 minutes
Remove from tins immediately and cool on a rack.

The National Loaf was finally abolished in October 1956.

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‘Hoosier’ Friend (In The Kitchen)?

The ‘Hoosier cabinet’ was a type of free-standing kitchen cabinet that also served as a workstation, larder and preparation unit that first became popular in the USA in the first decades of the 20th century. Since most houses of the time did not have built-in kitchen cabinets of dedicated work-spaces.

The Hoosier Manufacturing Co of New Castle, Indiana, was one of the earliest and largest manufacturers of this style of product and the term “Hoosier Cabinet” became the generic term for this type of kitchen furniture. By 1920, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company had sold more than two million cabinets.

Hoosier cabinets evolved over the years to include more accessories and innovations that made life easier for the cook in the kitchen. Their popularity peaked in the late twenties and early thirties as homes began to be constructed with built-in kitchen cabinets and counter tops.

Many years ago my father aquired an example of a Hoosier from the garden shed of an elderly lady by the name of Ruby Barrow. Ruby was an old friend of Granny Robertson and I knew her as a boy in the company of Granny. About five years ago I re-discovered it in the shed, a dilapidated old thing that was part tool cupboard, part oil store, part paint store and part library.

And it became a project, an object from another generation, Granny Robertsons generation. It was not an original of course, it was a good home-made example made by Mr George Barrow, Ruby’s husband somewhen after the war for their new marital home.

First of all, I got it cleaned it up and washed it white.

It had originally been pale pastel colours so I went for a pale mushroom and apple green combination. Since my sister was going to be housing the finished product and she wished for gold garniture, I painted the garniture gold.

Some of it, the hinges in particular, were very ‘rough and ready’ but despite that I re-used them because they looked the part. I could not find another hinge that would have look any better or more authentic.

The vents were in good nick and after a bit of tarting up and a bit of WD40  worked nicely and looked pretty good.

The handles and catches had been quite badly twisted during its life as a general dogsbody of a unit but with a little bit of patience they straightened out quite well.

Unfortunately the fold-down table top had long since been removed so rather than attempt a replacement I prettied up the cabinet and left it as an open space.

I returned the egg trays and the paper catchers in the top doors until it looked something like smart. Something very much like this in fact.

It currently resides in my sister’s garage awaiting the re-vamp of her kitchen into a sort of retro forties look.

Once it is ‘in situ’ I shall post a photo of it in its new setting.

Watch this space!


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Pancakes are an ancient food that has been around since Neolithic humans domesticated einkorn wheat, (the earliest clear evidence of the domestication of einkorn wheat dates from around 8,650 BC) ground it into flour mixed with bird’s egg and goat’s milk and poured the batter onto a heated rock.

It happened long, long ago on a really nice sunny day, long before pots, pans and microwave ovens, when an ancient cook (he really wasn’t that ancient, probably somewhere in his mid-to-late twenties but there was no NHS back then) dropped a little gruel on a hot rock beside a roaring campfire that resulted in a cake that was tastier than the plain gruel cakes cooked directly in the embers of the fire. Unfortunately for him the name he gave them, gruel-baked-on-a-hot-rock-beside-a-roaring-fire never really caught on.

Imagine! All those billions in lost royalties!

But be that as it may, several millennia later following the iron age and the patenting of the first frying pan, the word pancake appeared in print as early as 1430. Because of this ancient lineage, pancakes have become associated with many rituals in many different countries – Shrove Tuesday, Candlemas, and Chanukah to name a few.

And it was from these rudimentary beginnings that a vast array of bread and pancakes burst forth to populate the crofts and cots of the world. The ancient Greeks used griddles to cook a flat loaf drizzled with honey called ‘kreion’ and cakes of soft cheese while the Romans, as revealed in the cookbook by the epicure Apicius made dishes similar to modern pancakes.

Medieval pancakes, most commonly made from barley or rye and lacking leavening, were pretty awesome affairs. They were quite different from contemporary fluffy or tender versions we know today. Pancakes prevailed as the household bread in homes with no ovens, only an open hearth.

Pancake Day is another name for Shrive Tuesday, from the custom of eating pancakes on this day, which is still generally observed. Shrive is an old Saxon word, of which shrove is a corruption and signifies confession.

The custom of dining on pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is Roman Catholic origin that on the day when all rejoiced alike in the forgiveness of their sins, all should equally feast alike on the same simple dish. Commonly known as “Pancake Day”, Shrove Tuesday was the day when, historically, perishable ingredients had to be used up before the fasting period of Lent. The pancakes were prepared, denoted by the ringing of the ‘pancake bell’ from the church tower.

And pancakes became an essential element of the classic American breakfast while in other parts of the world pancakes somehow evolved to become exclusively Sunday morning breakfast fare and, since they are so easy to make and there are so many different ways to prepare them, pancakes are a favourite hearty party food to cook for a crowd!

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