The federation of a certain womens’ gatherings that I belong to has just celebrated 50 years locally and 100 years up in the next village and at our county headquarters. It’s easy to imagine the start up of this august institution – back in Canada, in an attempt to co-ordinate ideas and aid for those poor souls affected by the devastation of WW1. It was a brilliant idea to bring together all the women to pool resources and dig deep to help comrades. We still have a speaker of sorts every time and we’ve been addressed on every subject you can imagine over the years. The popular ones involve food – and the speakers do know that about most federations – it’s never a waste of time baking hundreds of pieces of cake for the masses! Cake, jam and jerusalem is how they used to be nick-named. Well the cake and the jerusalem are still much in force at our local fed. At our birthday bash last week we had over 21 cakes donated and we happily mnched our way through a massive section of them too!
I was watching a brilliant documentary the other lunchtime. I like to break off from writing to look at old things now and then. Great form of inspiration. This particular one was on the big gamble of booking a seaside holiday. The gamble being whether the weather would be sunny and dry or wet and windy. The clipped upper crust accent was perfect for the commentary as the narator mimicked one or two of the parties being canvassed for their opinions. We followed three or four families throughout the week and saw what the standards had been the norm back in the 1950s. Without exception, each family was having a wonderful time, the weather was fantastic and there were thousands on the beach every day. We saw various meals being served – by austere looking landladies. But another matter that was constant – the need to serve the meals on plain but perfect china or earthenware. No disposable plastic for these – it hadn’t been developed then. My word how quickly we must have adopted it when it did come along!
Mid summer has come and gone already. It just doesn’t seem in any way possible that only a few short weeks ago I was mentioning the christmas period and how we were hoping for a calmer approach to the summer hols. Isn’t it just crazy how quickly life whizzes by. Summer having duly arrived, brought weddings and family gatherings with it. I’ve had some wonderful afternoon teas too. Lots of calorie laden fare too. Not so good. But one thing I have been able to take on board since the spring, is the very rapid movement away from plastics for everything. At one time you’d go to a social gathering and there would be plastic cutlery, plastic beakers for cold drinks and cardboard plates. When you think back to the number of functions you went to last year, and then multiply that by every family and society in the land, then it is pretty terrifying how many plastic items have been thrown away rather than us using the usual stainless steel cutlery and china crockery. All for the sake of not having to have someone washing them up.
When we think of vintage baking, it’s usually with just the shabby chic pink and pastel coloured china cookware that has been around for some years now. Can look all a bit twee when the whole kitchen is overloaded with one idea. I know one tea room that has recently changed over completely from that style – everyone was jumping on the band wagon apparently. So with her new scheme she has gone back more to family favourites, a touch of nostalgia and a nod to the early days of high tea in the front parlour. So we have been out there collecting all kinds of achived recipes from grandparents and relatives of friends. Ou favourites have been road tested in a somewhat more modern kitchen it must be said, many times for reliable results. The old favourites remain – Victoria Sponge Sandwich with vanilla butter icing and jam filling; Dark Sticky Gingerbread with lemon glace icing on top; Light Spicy Fruit Cake; Chocolate Flavour Sponge Sandwich and Coffee too with appropriate flavoured butter cream filling and icing sugar sieved on top. Ahh memories!
There are lots of really pretty little tea shops opening up in my immediate area. Tea rooms had been off the menu for many years. The advent of Wimpy bars and then the mass of coffee houses taking up the spare room in high streets and entertainments area meant the humble tea room had been found old fashioned. That is no longer the case and small cafes and farm shops are proving very popular because they bring back very happy memories for several of the older groups that still live here. I was talking to a group of lady pensioners who were out on a ‘jolly’. They were reminiscing about their weddings – all seemed to be on bright sunny days in June. All remembered pretty china tea sets, matching table linens. Online sites that can provide vintage ware, china sets that bring back feminine pretty things are doing a deservedly roaring trade. This reminder of happy vintage days makes folk feel comfortable that the world’s alright!
This is a really spectacular time of the year – living near farmland, we see March hares abounding. My social groups all like to lunch out even more at this time too – we sit there in the sun, venturing towards the outside tables and chairs to have our first coffees and cake of the season. Hardy folk we are – and completely bonkers, it must be said! But today the range of attractive vintage coffee shops opening up is wonderful. We’ve found some real beauties on our rather limited travels. It’s heartening to see such enterprise. I like the way the owners throw themselves in wholeheartedly to the themes. Matching crockery, table linens and decor. It brings back many happy memories for my older pals, who recall life the delights of Lyons coffee houses and Wimpey coffee bars of their youth. I have helped a couple of owners to source their stocks from this wonderful vintage crockery site.
I have some quite senior pals these days – having rejoined a couple of local social groups – to ensure I keep active in mind and body, and to support the efforts of the organisers and committees. We have a break with cups of tea or coffee and some sort of edible ‘treat’. Over the years this has become standard form – no one to my knowledge has turned around and suggested that we ought not to indulge. In the old days apparently, it would be standard practice for the ladies of the group to take it in turns to bring in home made cakes and buns. This observations was the starter for one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve enjoyed there – about all the different types of cakes families used to enjoy. Flapjacks, rock buns, queen cakes, butterlfy cakes, madeiras, dundees, treacle tart, gingerbread. The list went on for a full hour with much joyful reminiscing!
When I was invited over to stay with relatives for Christmas, it was with great joy that I accepted. I don’t like doing all that cooking and cleaning up for one person so it’s a joy to join a group of others. As the festive season approached, we were issued with emails – laying out a game plan with notes for what each guest was asked to contribute towards the various meals. I thought this was a brilliant idea – that way the hostess is not trying to run round being a super cook, nurse maid and housekeeper all at the same time. My own ist was blessedly short and sweet. I was given mince pies and lots of vegetable for the Christmas & Boxing day meals and for the new year family bash, apple pie and small chocolate gateaux to make. Good, all absolutely within my grasp, thinks I. Thank heaven. Back to domestic heaven for me, now for that pastry . . . . . . .
I have recently been involved in batch baking for a fund raising event. It’s years since I did any such activity. When the family was at home, I used to bake one cake every Sunday and it would be sliced up to add to our daily lunch boxes. The choice was limited – I had one recipe that never failed, it could be varied with coconut, cocoa or coffee and sometimes I pushed the boat out and add dried fruit and glace cherries . . so essentially it was anything that could be made out of 4 eggs, 8 oz each of butter, sugar and self raising flour. It sounds a lot but to make a decent sized victoria sponge sandwich in two 9 inch tins, it needs a double load. Anyway, these little tricks stayed with me for the batch baking and as if by magic, I produced a dozen each of coffee, vanilla and chocolae buns and some divinely dark sticky gingerbread……
I simply love darting around a very old building – especially one that still has artefacts and household effects around the rooms. There is something truly personal and almost tragic about seeing hairbrushes and combs on dressing tables in the bedrooms. Gloves left limply on a hall table suggest the owner has simply popped out for a half hour break and we expect them back at any time! I really do love the museums that offer a handy means to look back to earlier eras and imagine how elegant the ladies looked in their carriage riding finery.
Another thing about the old buildings is looking out for the old linens and fabrics of the day. Seeing the pretty tray cloths that adorned Madame’s afternoon tea tray when entertaining – it would be prestine white and inviting. As would the pretty china cake plates and crocker sets. So elegant.