Have you seen the “Did You Know” posters that we had up earlier this year?
Did you know – we bake all our own bread for toast and sandwiches?
Did you know – we cook all our own meats including ham, chicken, pork for use in our lunches?
I’ve always cooked. When I was a teenager I started doing re-enactment with my sister (a complete history buff). The first attached photo is me in my first kitchen job. For a week each summer, I would work in the kitchen in the Tudor period. I learnt to make sweet shortcrust using my hands as measuring jugs, and I decorated dishes by collecting salad, herbs and flowers from the walled gardens over the moat. There was a central fire on which to boil, fry and spit roast, and then smaller stone areas where you could take coals and gently make a sauce. What I liked about these events was the sense of time, no watch on your wrist, meant that you weren’t being held to a deadline. My sister was more likely to be found with the Gentry, so she could dance, play music, and talk politics, which wasn’t for me at all; each year I’d have to ask, so who is on the throne?
The Bakehouse, which baked my shortcrust pastries, was in a different building, and the experience of those working in that area was amazing. The fire goes into the oven, to burn hot and fast to warm up the stones, then the fire is swept out, and you must first cook your bread, then your heavier pastries, before cooking sweet pasties and tartlets when the oven has started to cool down. The term ‘upper crust’ comes from these times, when the lower crust might still have some residual charcoal left in the bottom of the bread!
As the years went on, and the kitchens developed, and the spice trade expanded, I learnt new recipes, and different cooking/baking techniques. I spent a few summers in a Napoleonic kitchen, which actually had a spit-jack and water pump, and there was a smoking cupboard in one of the other walls too. By this era, more recipes have been written down, and there are more ideas of quantities ‘a handful of’ ‘weight of 2 eggs’, so you can explore more ideas. This time I learnt to bake my own bread, and there is nothing better than freshly baked bread, spread with real butter and a slice of a slow boiled ham (all things that you’ll find in the Black Cat Cafe).
Even today, the smell of wood-smoke is like coming home.