Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food - for thought.

Bread: a staple of our diet that comes in so many shapes, sizes and flavours that we are spoiled for choice.

But in the C18th the poor had no yeast. Instead, when making bread the housewife would set aside a lump of kneaded dough on a saucer and keep moistening it with water. After a few days, and by the time she was ready to bake her next batch of bread, this dough would have grown a fur coat of mildew. As for the smell - let's not go there. But it was still added to the new dough mix because there was nothing else.

In Cornwall, bread baked on an open hearth was either a “kettle” loaf, baked on a circular iron plate covered by another iron dome called a “kettle,” ( the one hung from the cross bar in the chimney for boiling water was always known as the "tay kettle") The other kind of loaf was a "manshun" (the Cornish version of the French manchet) This led to a wonderful misunderstanding by the famous miner evangelist, Billy Bray, who had chosen for his text the verse beginning; “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
“Just think of that, my friends,” the preacher cried fervently. “No more barley bread up there, no more sky-blue and sinker*, but pure wheaten manshuns for one and all, once we get up to Father’s house.”
We smile, but for the people to whom he was preaching, most of whom were desperately poor, the thought of plenty of fresh wholesome wheat bread – in contrast to the coarse dark barley bread that made up their staple diet – sounded like heaven indeed.

*Sky-blue and sinker: a breakfast dish. While a crock full of water was coming to the boil, a handful of barley flour was mixed in a basin with some “scald” milk (from which the cream had skimmed after scalding.) This mixture was added to the crock and simmered for a few minutes, then poured into basins on top of crumbled barley bread. As the bread remained sunk on the bottom, all that could be seen was the pale blue liquid – hence its name.

A true story from 1928: Three children arrived at school one morning looking so pale and cold the schoolmaster asked them if they had had any breakfast. They said yes. He asked what they had eaten. “Egg broth.” “Whatever is that?” he asked. “Please sir, bits of bread soaked in the water that father’s egg was boiled in.”
Jane Jackson.
Before I sign off: I've posted a competition on my website - the prize is an unabridged audiobook of my Cornish historical romance Bonded Heart. Why not have a go?


kate tremayne said...

An interesting post Jane. It brings home how difficult it was for the poor to even feed their family bread. As for the egg broth.... it brings a lump to your throat to consider it. Another ironic saying was having bread and pullit for a meal.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I enjoyed this - and I loved the Billy Bray misunderstanding; he offers his congregation a much more comfortable and familiar heaven than one with angels and harps where you'd have to be on your best behaviour all the time!

Jane Jackson said...

Kate, another classic description of dinner for the poor was "taties and point". (The scrap of meat was so small, Mother had to point to where it was so you would see it.)

Elizabeth, I do so agree!

Thank you both for your comments.