Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Calling Card

 Use of the Calling or Visiting Card in Georgian/Regency England

In the 18th Century a very necessary addition to a lady’s reticule or a gentleman’s pocketbook were their calling cards. All ladies and gentlemen of our era carried them to be used to announce their arrival/departure or to show they had been to visit while someone was out; a calling card was essential in conducting oneself in polite society.

The calling card, also referred to as a visiting card, was made of of sturdy paper stock, measuring a modest 3 inch by 2 inch for a lady’s card and slightly larger for a man’s card. A person’s name and their direction (residence details) were engraved, or written on the card so the that recipients may return calls with confidence. Cards varied in style, some more ornate than others but the same basic information was shown.

A calling card was a convenient way of letting friends and acquaintances know you had arrived in town for the season or had returned home from a journey. This little gesture allowed those you sent your card to know you were available to call upon. If your footman or maid carried out this task for you, the cards were delivered as is, but if you delivered the card personally, the corner was turned down to indicate it had been given by you. Your card was also used as a devise to announce you were leaving a place. You would send your card with the phrase “pour prendre conge” which roughly translates from French “to take leave.” The back of the card was blank and was often used to write a few words to clarify the reason for the visit, or to leave a message.

Cards were given to housekeepers and butlers to announce one’s visit as well, the card, usually presented to the lady or gentleman of the house on a silver salver making it terribly formal. If the lady or gentleman of the house was not at home or otherwise engaged at the time one paid their call, the cards from those who visited were all kept on the tray and inspected when one returned home. Should someone have a guest staying with them who accompanied them on their morning calls the name of the guest would be written on the card in advance to let the recipient know the guest had also paid a call so they may be included in the return visit or letter.

Today, business men and women give their card by way of introduction and to establish contact and this has carried over from earlier use. Visiting cards began as simple cards with engraved information and over time evolved to include boarders and flourishes just as business cards today have become more colourful and eye-catching.

The calling card in the 18th century allowed a person to make their presence known in a variety of ways and was essential to polite society.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Stir Up Sunday


Good Afternoon M’dearies,

Now that November is upon us and we are looking towards the festive season I thought I would share a recipe with you for a very nice Christmas Pudding. The Christmas Pudding was once called the Plum Pudding, probably because raisins were referred to as plums and there are raisins aplenty in this receipt. Many years ago this pudding was a savoury affair which included meat but over the years it became more and more of a sweet treat to finish off the Christmas feast.

I remember many a Stir Up Sunday with my granny counting the ingredients and mixing them in a bowl that was almost as big as I was, but oh, the result is worth all the effort and when it is brought to table alight tis a sight to behold.

Now you may think Stir up Sunday refers to the stirring up of the cake, but no, Granny taught me the true meanings of the receipt and it is connected to the Collect in the Book of Common Prayer which is the Sunday before Advent begins and happens to be the day all good cooks prepare their Christmas Pudding so that it has time to mature for the holiday. The Collect for that day reads: "Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

The recipe itself has changed through the years, things added and taken away according to tastes, but should retain 13 ingredients. “Why?” I’d always ask Granny. “My Dearest, she’d reply tenderly, these 13 ingredients are very important because they represent Jesus and his 12 disciples. I adored my Granny and thought she knew everything. I was in awe of her kitchen knowledge and hung on her every word. She would tell me histories of many of the things we took to table at her house. I was always eager for more and as we counted our ingredients into the large bowl, she’d tell me it was time to stir, and to stir a long while until all things were mixed together, BUT, she’d say, you must stir from East to West. She saw me pipe up ready to ask Why? and continued by telling me that East to West is the direction the Magi travelled that wondrous night so we stir East to West to honour them.

Baking was always an educational event at Granny’s house. She’d tell me the whys and wherefores of everything we made and I loved knowing the histories of all our receipts. My daughter Fiona and I still prepare our Christmas Pudding in just the same way Granny and I did for so many years. The smell of the spices brings those days back to me in an instant, happy days of auld lang syne as Robbie Byrnes says in his poem.

Once the stirring was finished the steaming began, so many hours, but that time was important to the taste and texture of the pudding. The kitchen filled with steam and it was sometimes too hot to stay there but the water must be watched so that it doesn’t boil dry. After the steaming was complete, we would store them so they were ready to be steamed again for Christmas dessert.

On Christmas we’d hold our breath as we turned the pudding on to the plate, hoping it would keep its shape, and it always did. Granny was the best baker I have ever known. We’d arrange the pudding on a pretty plate to take to table, the final touch being a sprig of holly “As a reminder of Jesus’ crown of thorns.” Once that was placed on top, she’d pour a measure of brandy over the pudding and set it alight before we carried it to the dining table. The blue light of the flame mesmerized me and I’d follow her wide eyed staring at the pudding trying to hold tight to the brandy butter we’d serve it with.

Now there are many folk who put coins and trinkets into their pudding but Granny never did that. She said the pudding was beautiful as it was and needed no trinkets and I have served it as Granny did all these years. Those days are still etched in my heart and every year on Stir up Sunday my memories of Granny in her kitchen are vivid with every step of the receipt we follow. I hope you are inspired make a lovely dessert to finish off your Christmas feast. I have written out Granny’s receipt for Christmas pudding below; it is a bit of hard work but worth all the effort you put into it.

Christmas Pudding


½ lb. Fresh breadcrumbs 

 1 pint stout

½ lb. Brown sugar

 3 eggs beaten

½ lb Flour

 The rind and juice of a lemon

The rind and juice of an orange

1 lb Chopped Suet

½ lb mixed peel (candied)

 1 grated nutmeg

1 lb raisins

 4 oz. Chopped almonds

1 lb. Currants and sultanas


Stir the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Add eggs, fruit juice and stout and mix very well. Cover with a cloth and let stand overnight. Stir again in the morning making sure all the liquid has been absorbed. Wrap in a piece of muslin and tie tightly. Steam for eight hours, topping up the water in the bottom pan to ensure it does not boil dry. Let cool and store in a bowl covered tightly. To serve, steam the pudding for one hour, unwrap and place on a platter, drizzle brandy over the top and set it alight. Once the brandy has burnt off, the pudding is ready to cut and serve with a nice dollop of brandy butter.

To make the Brandy butter, to ¼ lb of very soft butter add ¼ lb pounded sugar and 3 or 4 tablespoons of brandy. Mix until creamy and spoon onto warm pudding.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Lady Elizabeth's Salon


The afternoon of November 13th saw a gathering of ladies meet at the assembly rooms at the Rose and Crown for Lady Elizabeth Marlowe’s Salon. The ballroom had been set with many tables for the ladies to sit and enjoy their tea and conversation which adorned with vases of autumn flowers and small branches of colourful leaves which made beautiful accents adding to the general air of Autumn. Ladies arrived from the surrounding villages, friends were met and news exchanged, giving the room a general feel of camaraderie and expanding Amberleigh’s social circle. Lady Elizabeth happily drifted from table to table welcoming the ladies and explaining they must circulate and join in other conversations to make the most of the afternoon.

The cooks at the Rose and Crown along with Mrs. Pym and Eva Broome supplied a delightful repast to be enjoyed while the conversations ensued. There was a splendid buffet set up to one side of the room consisting of three tables laid with linens, china and silver; looking very elegant indeed. There were table lustres with fruit atop them which accentuated the autumn theme to the day. Each of the three tables was designated its own array of savouries, sweets and tea and the central table held a three tier cake decorated in autumn colours with leaves created from sugar paste made to look like they were falling from the small tree atop. Behind the tables stood smiling staff happily waiting to assist, dressed in crisp white linens and hats.

As the ladies arrived they began sitting at the tables and talking, until all the tables were full and a low din of conversation filled the room. Lady Elizabeth, now big with child and looking bonnie, moved around amongst the ladies, speaking with all and bringing topics from one table to the next to encourage further conversation. She had a happy countenance and was greeted kindly by all.

While Lady Elizabeth was making her rounds, Miss Jane Meryvale was doing much the same, sowing the seeds of promoting education among women and introducing the Bluestocking Society’s values. She was seen to have several heated discussions in her quest to visit each and every table. Meanwhile her mother met with friends and was introduced to others, finding the afternoon quite enjoyable.

Lady Hazelmere was not impressed with Miss Jane Meryvale’s crusade as she referred to it, saying to Lady Elizabeth that the ladies should not be importuned with these outlandish ideas in this way. Lady Elizabeth spoke to Lady Hazelmere and smoothed her feathers then skilfully changed the subject to one Lady Hazelmere was champion of; music. A trio of musicians had been procured to soften the mood of the afternoon and were immediately asked to play Lady Hazelmere’s suggestions.

As the afternoon drew to a close, the ballroom slowly emptied, a sense of happy animation went with all the ladies and the day was considered a great success by all.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

What Does a Cottager do all Day?

Living in Georgian England was very different from our life today in modern times. Imagine not having electricity, heating or fresh running water. These three things make modern life comfortable, but to a cottager who had none of these, life was busy from the moment they arose in the morning until they retired to their beds in the evening.

Water is all important for bathing, cleaning and laundry. Larger houses had their own wells but cottagers visited the public well to draw their water; a laborious task. Keep in mind one person can carry two buckets of water at a time but these two buckets are not enough to get through the day. Once you have filled your kettle, cooked and washed up your dishes with these two buckets of water, you would most likely have to return to the well. Laundry would be washed in large copper tubs, boiled and then hung to dry requiring several more trips to the well, but before you could even begin doing your laundry, you must make your own soap. It was tiring work and those who could afford it would enlist the help of the local char woman. The weather dictated when you may do your laundry and rainy spells that lasted for more than a week were a frustrating setback indeed. Many did not have tubs for personal bathing and were limited to a bowl and pitcher for their toilette, however, should you own a tub to bathe in, it would require a lot of water to fill and so a nice long soak was not something one indulged in more than once a week and on those occasions each in turn in the household would often bathe in the same water.

Cottagers as well as those who lived in larger houses would have kitchen gardens in which their vegetables were grown. Every inch of garden would be utilised, front and back. Flowers were a luxury and often the only place left for them to grow was close to or in vines on the cottage. Things were eaten in season and also preserved for winter when the garden was not producing. Vegetables were salted, kept in root cellars or pickles and chutneys were made. Fruit was dealt with in the same manner and all of these tasks took time. It’s safe to say that a good portion of your week was spent in your garden sowing, weeding or harvesting. The garden also had to be nourished and “put to bed” in colder months, ready for the spring sowing.

Not everyone was able to visit the market or the shops for their groceries; many kept chickens for eggs and meat, pigs whose meat may be smoked or dry cured and put by, their diet was also supplemented with rabbits that were brought in by the men. Because the woodland was owned by the estate, hunting in the wood for deer, or game birds was not permissible, and poachers were severely dealt with. Chickens and pigs must be fed and kept in good living areas which meant cleaning the chicken coops, keeping fences in good repair to deter the fox and maintaining pig sties was also added to the list of your daily chores.

Cooking was done over a fire or small stoves and was fuelled by wood. Coal did not become readily available for household use until the Industrial Revolution. In order to cook, one must have wood to stoke the fire that entailed sourcing, chopping and stacking wood. This is time consuming work for those not lucky enough to have the funds to purchase wood from the local woodsman. Wood was also required for warmth, making it doubly important. Small cottages had one fireplace in the common area. When one retired to bed, the sheets may be warmed with a bed warmer or hot stones wrapped in cloths as there was no fireplace in the bedroom. Extra bedclothes were put on the bed and often siblings would share beds for warmth.

Your cooking was all done from scratch and this included the making of your own butter and bread. One did not have the convenience of looking in the refrigerator for dinner, meals were made from the things you preserved or harvested and were made each day as there was no way to keep food fresh. Herbs were grown and dried to add flavour to meals, but cottage fare was generally simple, consisting of things such as porridge, soups or stews.

The clothes you wore were most often made yourself. Nothing was wasted, clothes were handed down when they could be and repurposed when they could not. When they were too shabby to wear, they were used as rags for cleaning.

In addition to all of these daily chores, cottagers usually had what were known as cottage industries. Basket weaving, sewing and dressmaking, taking in laundry as a char woman, carpentry, making pins or nails ( hence the term pin money,) spinning and weaving or fattening up geese for the festive season were just a few of the ways a cottager may earn money. Some form of income was needed to purchase those things which you could not easily make such as candles and shoes which were very necessary.

All of this is very daunting and tiring work, but it was complimented by community. People helped one another, for example, some banded together to buy a pig to fatten to benefit several families. When someone was ill, others pitched in and helped. Skills were shared and things bartered for when there was no money to buy them. Quilting bees meant many hands produced a quilt in much less time. The Baker often allowed the villagers to put their Sunday roasts in the ovens while they were still hot, once the bread had been made. The tuck box went from house to house and items for the poor which were sewn, filled the box allowing the vicar to distribute these much appreciated things to those in need. Living in a village meant everyone looked after one another, something which is sadly missed today.

The day of a cottager was often filled with many tasks; routines were often employed to ensure time was being used efficiently so there may be leisure time also to meet with friends and family and attend church. Children would be given chores to do, girls being taught at a young age to sew to help with mending and the making of clothes. Boys would source wood, tend animals and help in the garden. Everyone had their part to play and together they endeavoured to keep house and live as comfortably as they could manage.

Foraging with Old Mary

  Hello, My Dears, As you know, I like nothing better than to meander around the Ackley Wood, foraging for herbs and wild flowers to use i...