Dogs in Art

TibsChristina here. I’ve always been a dog lover so when I finally had some of my own, I wanted them immortalised in a painting. This was the result and I love it! Turns out I’m not the only dog owner with that idea though …

Last week I went to see an exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London which was all about dog portraits. It is the first ever exhibition to explore our wonderful relationship with dogs through art. Right up my street and I wasn’t disappointed! The first sign showed a quote which I totally agree with:-

“The Dog is the most faithful Animal in the World, and beloved by Men.” (Iconologia or Moral Emblems, by Caesar Ripa, English Translation 1709)

Read more

Victorian Opulence at Osborne House!

Osborne houseNicola here. A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days on the Isle of Wight in a cottage that is situated on the Osborne House estate. Although I knew that Queen Victoria had built Osborne as a summer holiday home (more on that later!) I knew very little about it or its history so it was a fascinating trip. When I say that we stayed in a cottage, it was actually the gatehouse to the estate, known as Sovereign’s Gate, which was the entrance through which Queen Victoria and her family would have approached the house back in the day. Now transformed into a holiday home over three levels, it’s a fabulous place to stay. These days the Sovereign’s Gate is locked but Angus was happy to pose for a photo to show it off! Inside the gatehouse has many of its original 19th century features, including these fabulous windows with movable sashes on a pulley system.

As the house and grounds were closed, we had the place largely to ourselves. This was an enormous privilege enabling us to explore IMG_7017
the acres of gardens, park and beach (as long as we told the security detail that we were going out – it was rather like having bodyguards!). It also meant that I got a personalised tour of Osborne House itself, which was brilliant. I was allowed to use the  “ministers’ door”; there were five different entrances at Osborne, one reserved for the monarch only, the second for the royal family, the third for ministers, the fourth for titled visitors and members of the court and the one round the back for the servants and tradesmen!

Read more

The Art of Dunking (A Biscuit)

220px-Dunking_a_biscuitNicola here with a classic post from a few years ago that I originally posted on the UK Historical Romance Authors Blog. It got such an interesting response then that I thought I would update it and share it here because I was keen to hear what the Wenches and Wench readers thought of it.

So here goes. Do you dunk? I’m using the word “dunk” in the British sense of the word which means “to dip a biscuit or some other food, usually baked goods, into a drink, especially tea, coffee, or milk." Dunking releases more flavour from confections by dissolving the sugars, while also softening their texture. With the UK/US differences in language I had no idea about the basketball definition of dunking until I looked it up!

It turns out that dunking is an ancient tradition but it’s also a divisive one. Apparently in a recent survey done by the Great British Bake-Off TV Programme, 52% of people said they wouldn’t dream of dunking a biscuit – they never had and they never would!

Read more

Away to the Highlands

Braemar castle signNicola here. Last week I was lucky enough to be on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, staying in a historic cottage above the town of Braemar. There aren’t many things that I have in common with the Queen, but for a few days we were within 20 miles of each other as Braemar is just down the road from Balmoral Castle! Our cottage however, whilst very comfortable indeed, was a lot smaller than the royal residence although just as interesting historically. Braemar too is an absolutely fascinating little town with a hugely interesting history and I had the treat of taking both an exclusive tour of the town and of the castle with two different but equally knowledgeable guides, and I thought I would share some historical snippets here.

Read more

Regency Twelfth Cake!

Twelfth-Cake-with-feathersNicola here. It’s Twelfth Night today, marking the end of the Christmas festivities (assuming that you count the twelve days from Christmas Day. Some traditions start counting on 26th December meaning you can keep partying until the 6th!)

There are a number of different ways in which Twelfth Night has been celebrated through the centuries. In the Georgian period they were keen on baking a special cake to mark the occasion. The Historic Food website has some fascinating information on this.

The earliest printed recipe for an English Twelfth Cake appears to date from 1803 and was Queen for the nightrecorded by John Mollard in his cookery book of that date. Originally the Twelfth Cake contained a pea and a bean and whoever found these in their slice were elected as King and Queen of the Twelfth Night festivities. In the early Victorian period, this tradition developed into “Twelfth Night Cards.” All the guests at the party would be invited to choose a card from a special pack illustrating the different “characters” of Twelfth Night. Along with the King and Queen these might include Sir Bob Bergamot the fop, Fanny Farcical the actress, Priscilla Passion… Well, you can imagine her profession! You then had to act in character for whichever card you had picked until midnight. Allegedly, Queen Victoria eventually banned the Twelfth Night parties for fear they were getting out of hand!

Partying may be banned at present as well but at least we can still eat cake. So if you fancy baking up a slice of Twelfth Cake, the original 1803 recipe is below:

Twelthnight-cakeTake seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.

From John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).

There is a more modern recipe on the National Trust website.

Alternatively, you may prefer a different sort of Twelfth Night feast? What would your choice of special sweet or savoury treat be to celebrate the last night of Christmas?