Historical Food Crazes

This is a cronut!

Nicola here. The latest food trend has passed me by until now but at the weekend I read about something called a “Crookie.” The crookie was preceded by the cronut and the cruffin, which for those readers like me who are clueless of food fashions, is croissant dough crossed with various other sweet foods: cookies, doughnuts and muffins. I haven’t tried any of them but I’m told they are delicious.

The fashion for trying out new things in food is as old as the human race, according to food historians. When the Romans came to Britain, they brought with them fruit such as grapes and figs and herbs including coriander, which must have been an eye-opener for British-Romano cuisine. More spices entered the British diet after the Norman Conquest of 1066, with cinnamon, cloves and saffron from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern trade.

Can you imagine the excitement in Tudor England when both tomatoes and turkeys appeared on the menu (though not necessarily at the same time?) The Italians had tried the tomato out first and weren’t too keen to start with, having munched on the leaves and pronounced them inedible (they are actually poisonous in large quantities.) Nor was the potato initially welcome. The Spanish introduced them in the second half of the 16th century. The Histoires de legumes by Pitrat and Foury states that the first written mention of the potato was a receipt for delivery dated 28th November 1567 when they travelled from Las Palmas in Grand Canarias to Antwerp. Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to England in 1588 but initially they were treated with suspicion and considered no better than animal feed. As one of my favourite meals is a baked potato with cheese, I can only be grateful that eventually they caught on. And where would we be without chips/fries?

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The Sign of the Signet

Nicola here, and today I’m talking about a specific type of jewelry. Apparently, the signet ring is having a fashion moment. The popularity of TV shows such as One Day and Saltburn, where some of the main (male) characters have worn signet rings has drawn attention to it as a signifier of power and status, as well as an accessory.

The signet ring has been a considered a sign of wealth and status in British society for hundreds of years. A traditional one would be engraved with your coat of arms, family crest or initials. The picture shows the one that was given to me when I was born. I’m not an aristocrat but my parents thought it would be nice for me to have one. It’s tiny though, so it doesn’t fit me now, but it has a sentimental value.

The signet ring was originally designed not only to mark the wearer’s bloodline but also to seal documents with wax. The metal design would leave a permanent mark in soft wax or in clay and so was used on a multitude of legal documents. In its day, the stamp of a signet was considered more authentic than a signature, which could easily be forged. Seals were used as early as 3500BC and it was the Ancient Egyptians who attached a seal to a ring as a joint sign of prestige and legal power. The first signet rings were made from stone or from ivory but the Bronze Age was the beginning of the metal signet ring as we know it today. (The picture is an Egyptian Finger Ring from the Walters Museum.)

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The Attempted Theft of the Crown Jewels!

The Other Gwyn Girl by Nicola CornickNicola here, delving into a historical mystery behind my latest book The Other Gwyn Girl. A number of people who have read the book have asked if the attempted theft of the Crown Jewels really happened or whether it was novelistic licence. Well, I can confirm it really did happen although the involvement of Rose and Nell Gwyn is my imagination filling in the gaps in history.

Here’s the story. In May 1671 a most extraordinary attempt was made to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Never before or since had anyone attempted such an audacious theft although over the years various parts of the collection had been lost, sold or destroyed. King John had lost some of them in the waters of The Wash in 1215 (that’s another story!) but the most notable loss was in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell ordered them to be “totally broken” as a symbolic step after the execution of King Charles I. Some items were sold off, others melted down and only the 12th century coronation spoon remained from the medieval period.

When King Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, he commissioned a whole new set of regalia from the royal goldsmith Robert Vyner for his 1661 coronation. As now, the Crown Jewels were stored in the Tower of London and people could view them by paying a fee to the custodian. In 1671 the Master of the Jewel House was 77-year-old Talbot Edwards whose domestic quarters were right next to the jewels in the Martin Tower (pic by Ethan Doyle White, Wikimedia).

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A Taste Of Marmalade!

Nicola here. I have a new timeslip novel coming out in a few weeks’ time, The Other Gwyn Girl. It tells the story of Rose Gwyn, the much less well-known sister of Nell Gwyn, actress, orange-seller and mistress to King Charles II. It’s also a fun co-incidence that this is the perfect time of year to make Seville orange marmalade, so this week I’ve been busy making some celebratory “Gwyn Girl” marmalade using my grandmother’s fabulous jam pan. I have to admit that I’s a bit of an irony but I am the only person in my family who doesn’t actually like marmalade! Everyone else is very keen and the Scots ancestors have a marvellous whisky version that is even more popular.

First, a bit of marmalade history, as I always like to research these things! The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelada, which means “made of quince.” The first fruit preserves were made by the Greeks, who discovered that quinces cooked with honey would “set” when they were cool. Both the Greeks and the Romans made preserves out of quince with lemon, rose, apple, pear and plum. In 1524, King Henry VIII received a gift of a “box of marmalades” from a Mr Hull of Exeter. This was probably quince paste, as was the “marmalet” that was served at another Tudor wedding feast. It was said that “marmalado” as it became known, was a favourite with Anne Boleyn.

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New Arrivals

Guide dog puppy Baden

Nicola here. It’s January 2nd, a new year and a new month have just arrived and it’s often a time when people look forward to what the future might hold. It’s not always a time to make changes or resolutions; it could be equally nice to embrace and continue the good things about the old year. I have no specific resolutions for this year but I do know that it is going to bring big changes, the first of which is arriving on Thursday. Yes, it’s time for our next guide dog puppy to arrive and 10 week old Wren is joining us in two days! We’ve been busy puppy-proofing the house and garden, preparing her cosy bed and choosing some toys for her. Rainbow is briefed on her role as guide dog mentor and we are set to go. Out of the dogs we’ve trained, three have qualified as guide dogs so far and we are hoping she will be the fourth.  (The photograph is of Baden, who qualified last year.) We’re going to give Wren’s training our absolute best shot and we can’t predict what will happen but we’ll do our best. Which is a pretty good metaphor for the year, really. There will be tough times (the experience of trying to wrestle a dead rabbit from the jaws of an over-excited puppy in full view of hundreds of people is one memory that will stay with me forever, as is the one of the puppy who “sang along” at the theatre) but that’s how it goes. So very best wishes to all of us for any resolutions, changes and new arrivals that may be coming our way in 2024!