The Tiffany Efffect

NamesNicola here! As readers and writers we all know the importance of a character’s name. The right name can fit perfectly with our view of that person; the wrong one can completely pull us out of a story. With historical fiction it’s even trickier because not only do names have to fit the character but they also need to be historically correct. Nothing breaks my enjoyment more than a Regency heroine called Tiffany.

And that is where I am wrong, as I discovered a couple of weeks ago when I heard about “The Glasses Tiffany Effect.” The Tiffany Effect is the belief that something is more modern than it actually is. So, for example, central heating could be an example of The Tiffany effect if you thought it was a modern invention and not a technology originally introduced by the Ancient Greeks and Romans . Or glasses, which were first worn in 1290.

TiffanyI thought that the name Tiffany simply had to be a 20th century introduction, popularised in 1961 by the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” which was based on the book by Truman Capote.  I vaguely knew that Tiffany had been a surname before that – Tiffany & Co. the jewellers was founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany.  So I thought I was clear on the timeline. But it turns out I was wrong because the name Tiffany was recorded in 1200 as a first name, traditionally given to girls born on 6th January, the Feast of the Epiphany.  The spelling in Old French was “Tifinie” and it derives from a Greek word, Theophaneia, which originally mean “manifestation of god.”  By 1600, the name Tiffany appears in English. By this time it was also the name for a light, gauzy sort of material (like the one in the picture) as well as a first name and a surname.

Read more

The Return of English Saffron

SaffronNicola here. Today I am talking about one of my favourite spices, saffron. I absolutely love saffron flavouring in my food and when I read recently that saffron was being grown in England for the first time in 200 years I was quite excited. English saffron tastes different from imported saffron. It has a honey sweetness and scent that offsets saffron’s slightly bitter under taste. This adds a very distinctive flavour to all sorts of recipes from those involving fish to cakes and even potatoes.

 Saffron is obtained from Crocus Sativus and it was once
a flourishing industry in England. In 1597 Gerard wrote in his Herbal "Saffron groweth plentifully in Cambridgeshire, Saffron Walden and other places thereabouts as corne in the fields". 

Read more

A Taste of the Diamond Jubilee

Tower BridgeNicola here. It's been a wonderful week for pageantry in the UK with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II. We've had the biggest flotilla of ships on the River Thames since 1662 and a stunning chain of celebratory beacons lighting up the night sky across the country and the world. Here in my country village there have been fetes, afternoon tea parties and barbecues. All the emphasis on food – apart from making my clothes feel quite a bit tighter this week – made me think about trying out a few historical recipes and I thought I would share a few of them here.

For our first course at the village fete we had Jubilee Chicken Mousse and Coronation Chicken with salad. Neither of these recipes is particularly old although they are absolutely delicious. Coronation Chicken was invented in 1953 to be eaten at the Queen's coronation banquet. In 2002 a new updated version was created for the Golden Jubilee with orange, saffron and cinnamon flavours which I think tastes even better than the original. (I do have sme photos but for some reason Typepad won't let me upload them. The chicken mousse looked beautiful and very summery!)

But now for the recipes. First we made Queen Cakes.

These are individual sponge cakes, enriched with currants or sultanas. Recipes date from the 17thJubilee cup cakes century. In the past, the mixture would sometimes be baked in heart-shaped tins and would then be called heart cakes, which were eaten accompanied by a glass of wine or cider.

To make Queen cakes:

Get a mini muffin tin tray or metal fluted cake tins and brush with melted butter and dust with flour. Beat together 4 oz butter and 4 oz sugar and mix in the zest of one large lemon.  Beat the mixture until smooth and then add two eggs, one at a time and beat those in too. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking powder in 2.5 fl oz of cold milk and stir into the mixture. Add 1 oz of ground almonds and sift in 8oz of plain flour and fold through.

Divide the mixture between the cake moulds. Press a layer of currants or sultanas on the surface and bake at 180 C/350F/gas mark 4 for 12 – 15 minutes until risen and set. Remove from the tins, sift with extra sugar and allow to cool.

Queen cakes appear in confectioner's advertisements from the 18th and 19th century.  "Seymour's Coffee and Jelly House… Royal queen cakes at 2 d.” From the Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser, October 16th 1756. In the Victorian era they were very popular and Maria Rundell in “ New System of Domestic Cookery” (1806) calls for them to be made in smart porcelain cups.

GingerbreadMy husband's favourite sweet was Queen's Gingerbread. This recipe originated at the court of Queen Elizabeth I where it was considered a “sweetmeat.” It is a dark slab of gingerbread with lots of spices and should be served after dinner with brandy. Recipes for gingerbread are centuries old but it is said that Queen Elizabeth was the first to serve gingerbread men!

To make Queen's Gingerbread:

Line the base of a 8 inch square cake tin with non-stick paper. Heat the over to 180 C/350F/gas mark 4. Place 1lb plain flour, 5 tsp of ginger, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of mace, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a bowl. Melt 5 oz of unsalted butter in a saucepan then remove from the heat and add 8 oz caster sugar, 5 oz runny honey and 5 oz black treacle, stirring until gently warmed. Pour into the flour and spices, add 3oz of chopped dried apricot and 3oz of chopped glace ginger and mix to a dough. Press the dough evenly into the tin and smooth the flat top. Cut 3oz of almonds in half lengthways and press into the top. Bake for 25 minutes.

 I thought I should also create a bit of balance in the blog piece by including a couple of recipes from theCookery book time of Cromwell's Commonwealth. Despite Oliver Cromwell’s famous disapproval for anything that smacked of fun, this was the era when the first coffee houses opened in Oxford. It was also the period when drinking hot chocolate was introduced so it wasn’t all bad. In 1657 London’s very first Chocolate House was advertised: ‘In Bishopsgate Street, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called Chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time and also unmade at reasonable rates.’

Here are two recipes from the 1650s. Carp Pie:

"After you have drawn, washed and scalded a fair large carp, season it with pepper, salt and nutmeg, then put it in a Coffin with good store of sweet butter and then cast on raisins of the sun, the juice of limons and some slices of orange peels, then sprinkling on a little vinegar, close it and bake it."

To make an Oatmeal-Pudding:

"Take a pint of Milk, and put to it a pint of large, or midling Oatmeal, let it stand on the Fire till it be scalding hot, then let it stand by, and soak about half an hour, then pick a few sweet Herbs, and shred them, and put in half a pound of Currans, and half a pound of Suet, and about two spoonfuls of Sugar, and three or four Eggs; these put into a bag, and boyled, do make a very good Pudding."

Do you have any recipes that you particularly enjoy for special occasions?