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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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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A Loverly Bunch of Coconuts

Coconut wikijoanna here,

“I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts
There they are a'standing in a row
Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head
"Give 'em a twist, a flick o' the wrist,”
That's what the showman said!

“I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts
Every ball you throw will make me rich
There stands me wife
The idol of me life
Singing, "Roll up, bowl a ball, a penny a pitch!"
1944 song

The song celebrates the coconut shy, a traditional game at funfairs and fêtes. The mark – that is to say, the customer –  throws a wooden ball at a row of coconuts balanced on posts. Typically a player buys three balls and wins each coconut he dislodges.

My knowledge of this game is based on the cynical warning from Midsomer Murder’s Chief Inspector Barnaby that the shy’s coconuts will be far too old to eat.

Wiki commons

The "coco" in coconut might come a word for "head" or "skull"




While we thus know coconuts were common in the UK in 1944 – edible or not – we may be unsure as to exactly when they did show up.

Are they a Regency treat?
Can our Regency ingenue be delighted by her first taste of crisp, sweet coconut flesh?

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An English Breakfast (and one that isn’t)


Wench eggs

Breakfast … sometimes eggs are all you need

Joanna here.

I’m about to sit down to breakfast at the hotel. Nothing too fancy. Generally speaking it’ll be toast or a bagel, some kind of egg, and some bitty piece of meat which might come in the form of a bacon slice or two. Possibly some sausage. And coffee. Lots of coffee with a healthy leavening of half and half.


So I’m asking myself how this would be different for my Regency protagonist — assuming my Regency protagonist was a middling sort of person like a merchant’s daughter or a member of the petty gentry or the offspring of a prosperous yeoman farmer. The Vicar’s daughter. The apothecary’s kid.

 Picture my intrepid heroine sitting there, stoking the fires for a long day of being kidnapped and fighting her way free from some sordid den of thieves with nothing to aid her but a folding penknife and her native sneakiness.




Wench family breakfast 3

Family at breakfast with tea and what looks like scones maybe

My young woman’s probably eating at a table with a half dozen other folks. The solitary breakfast in bed would be less common for my middling sort than for richer, more leisured, aristocratic folks. Jane Austen (and her Elizabeth Bennet) probably ate breakfast in the dinning room with her family instead of sending the poor kitchen maid running about with trays.

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The Little Matter of Chocolate Pots


Wench The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield

The Chocolate Maiden carrying water and hot choc

Joanna here, talking about chocolate pots in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century, which is a small and very specific topic, but it possesses a certain naïve charm.

The whole sweeping history of chocolate is a huge ocean upon which I do not feel ready to embark when I am still (endlessly) in the midst of moving household. So we’re just going to look in at one of the tiny islands in that sea. If Georgian chocolate drinking were Homer’s Odyssey, looking at chocolate pots would be like visiting Calypso’s Isle. A manageable bite, as it were, and we don’t meet the Cyclops or get turned into pigs, which makes it a good day by anyone’s calculation.

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