Recipes from the 1930s Kitchen

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The kitchens in the basement of Ickworth House (a National Trust property in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk) have been carefully renovated to reflect what life would have been like for cooks and other kitchen staff in a big house during the 1930s. During Living History events and the ‘Cooks in the Kitchen’ events the kitchens come to life. Volunteers, having been trained in inter-war cooking techniques, make the most amazing dishes using traditional methods and recipes. From personal experience I can say that these dishes smell and taste fabulous – a little taste of life as dinner guest at a great house in the 1930s.

We have now collected hundreds of recipes from the 30s at Ickworth and I will share some of these with you here on this blog.

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Braised Pheasant

October welcomed shooting season on large estates like Ickworth House in the 1930s. Beaters, like hall boy John, and gamekeepers prepared the ground for large shooting parties hosted by their masters – hundreds of game birds could be collected in a single day. The birds would be hung in store rooms and then prepared by kitchen maids and, sometimes, scullery maids for a grand feast celebrating a successful shooting party. Sienna’s October edition of the Scullery Maid’s Diary illustrates this. Here is a recipe for braised pheasant – a dish for those ‘upstairs’.

Ingredients:

1 Pheasant

Slices of fat bacon

1 or 2 veal slices

Salt, pepper and sweet herbs

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Prepare and truss a Pheasant as for boiling

Line a stew pan with slices of fat bacon and one or two thick slices of veal

Put in the bird, seasoning it well with salt and pepper

Add a few sweet herbs

Cover with more slices of bacon and veal

Cover the stew pan down perfectly air-tight, and put it into a moderate oven and cook it for two hours

When done, put the bird on a hot dish

Strain over it some of the gravy that will have run from it whilst cooking

Garnish it with sliced lemons, and serve

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Oatcakes

A more down-to-earth recipe – served both upstairs and downstairs

Makes about 18 biscuits

Ingredients:

8ozs medium oatmeal

2 tsp. plain flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp. melted butter or bacon fat

About 4 fl ozs warm water

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Preheat oven 375 F (190 ‘C / Gas mark 5)

Lightly grease 2 baking trays

Mix together the oatmeal, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda

Stir in butter and about 6 tablespoons of warm water until a firm dough is formed

Turn out a knead lightly until smooth

On a lightly floured board roll the dough to the thickness of a penny

Cut into small discs or triangles

Bake for about 8-10 minutes until lightly coloured and crisp

Cool on a wire tray

Serve cold

The Hall Boy’s Journal

A Walk in the Park

I managed to get all of my responsibilities done by mid-afternoon. What a rare occasion! Especially during shooting season. Usually I am at the beck and call of the odd-men and gamekeepers but I haven’t really seen them at all today. Jim rushed passed me towards the east corridor so quickly that he had to shout back a “morning John” and I had no time to reply at all. I suppose I was quite put out at first, you can always rely on Jim for a good laugh, but he must have had something particularly important to do in the Round house. Perhaps the boilers are playing up again. They are always playing up – but far better to have boilers to heat up the water than me with a kettle on the stove.

Finding myself with nowt to do I made an effort to busy myself in the servants’ hall – perusing through books, making boats out of the housemaids’ letter paper, that sort of thing. Miss Edgeley, the head housemaid, managed to sneak up on me – which is quite something as the sound of Miss Edgeley’s footsteps marching down the corridors have become legendary. She does it on purpose, stamping as hard as she can on the flagstone floor, so the housemaids know she is coming and can get back to their duties and stop their gossiping.

“Mayhew! Why are you moping around and cluttering up my servants’ hall?’

I jumped as I hadn’t heard her approach. She put on a stern voice but her face and her eyes were smiling – she is always smiling. I just gave a sheepish grin in reply, shrugged my shoulders and told her that I had nothing to do. After she scolded me for shrugging (with a smile, of course) she suggested I take a walk in the park. Quite why I hadn’t thought of that myself, I don’t know. I suppose I am so used to being in the basement that I forget there exists a world outside.

It was perfect weather for a walk too! Clear and crisp, the morning fog having completely cleared. Any leaves that still hung on the trees were dripping with dew and the birds were making a right royal chirping chatter all throughout the estate. I walked down past passed past the pond, the Church and the walled garden – keeping clear of the gardeners just in case they enlisted my service. My mind was on the trudging adventure through the park that lay ahead of me, and I didn’t want to waste this opportunity to explore because a gardener needed help dead-heading and the like.

The feeling of freedom that went through me this afternoon as I stood alone on the edge of the canal, surrounded by fields and woodland! You would have thought I had never seen a tree, a duck, a meadow of grazing sheep, before. I’m a Suffolk boy – I knew of these things before I was even born. They were just mundane objects of everyday life – now they are things of beauty.

Oh Lord, I do hope I’m not turning into one of those creative sorts, all dickie-bows and poetry. Pa will have a fit. He has no time for all that. He is all facts, figures, and the daily grit of life. But, really, to not be moved by the parkland surrounding Ickworth, especially in late autumn, you would have to have lost all your senses!

Luckily I had thought to bring my sketchbook and a pencil when I left the House so I could make some attempt at capturing what I saw. I have enclosed two sketches of a sparrow and a woodpecker I saw in the woods to the left of the walled garden. The woodpecker, in particular, was a right poser. I may have added a few inches to his waistline. I’m still a little sketchy at drawing – a little pun there – but I don’t think I am too bad at it.  I have pinned a few pieces on the wall of my bedroom in the House and they certainly give a bit of character to the dull little room.

Sparrow

Woodpecker

All the birds were out today – all but the game birds. They seem to know what’s good for them at this time of year! I even saw a huge great hawk circling right above my head. You’ve got to feel sorry for the four-legged creature he had his eyes on. There is no escaping the might and strength of that bird!

I didn’t venture too far from the canal. I didn’t want to get lost and miss tea or be late back for my evening chores, plus I am never too sure how the tenant farmers feel about people roaming on their land. I walked to up to the Fairy Lake – and not a fairy in sight; surprise, surprise! There were three lovely swans commanding the water though, and several noisy moorhens popping in and out of the reeds. I cannot wait until the winter properly sets in. Sam, one of the gamekeepers, has told me that all the boys who work on the estate skate on the lake when it ices over. No skates, of course, just the worn-down soles of old boots and a good deal of balance on your pins – sorry, legs – Ma hates it when I use slang. “That’s what comes of reading too many penny novels”, she tells me.

Well, I’m going to sign off now. I seem to have rambled on for long enough – another walking pun there! Till the next time I am inspired to put pen to paper,

John Mayhew

Hall Boy

A Scullery Maid’s Tale

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October 1935

It is my half-day off tomorrow. I’m not quite sure what to do. Sometimes I see James at the farm and other days I walk down to the Fairy Lake and sit peacefully. Being in the kitchens is so hectic I usually just want to sleep. But I must be getting used to the chaos of it all, because tomorrow I feel like going somewhere. Doing something. Some of the housemaids are going to the pictures in Bury to see Top Hat, but I don’t want to waste an autumn day indoors. Even though the weather is blowing and raining, the forecast tomorrow is for sun.

Cook told me that the housemaids always go to the pictures in the autumn, when it is too cold to sit and gossip in the Abbey Gardens. I asked Lily about the Abbey Gardens, and she said it is a public park that used to be a monk’s monastery before King Henry the Eighth burned it down. I thought it sounded quite interesting – I have never been to a ruin – so I have decided I will go there tomorrow.

Earlier today Jim brought in the pheasants which the upstairs guests shot down this morning. The shooting season has well and truly begun – I was plucking pheasants from noon until supper today, all the fluff floating around and making me cough and sneeze. Maggie whispered to me that these feathers sell well at a market, so maybe I should keep some and try to earn a little more money!

I’ve never been squeamish about plucking birds or animals – less so than James, who is three years older than me – and Lily shied away from the task immediately. I felt quite superior, plucking away all those feathers from the pheasant. Even Mrs Finkle made a face at the dead birds, and of course all the housemaids were complaining about the smell. But I scrunched up my nose and ignored it. I cannot wait for my half-day off tomorrow!

***

I had such fun on my afternoon today. I went on the bus to Bury with all the others, there were six of us all together. I spoke quite amiably with Milly on the way, and a couple of the housemaids seemed nice enough too. Of course, I could never speak to them in the servant’s quarters. They wouldn’t want to speak to me. But when we were in the bus with no uniform, all wearing similar clothes and all chattering about similar things, it seemed as though the barriers had been dropped. And Laurence was there too – getting on very well with Florrie.

The housemaids, Laurence and another footman Martin, went off to the pictures while I strolled through Bury to find the Abbey Gardens. It was so beautiful, especially in the low glowing October sun. The grass was still damp from yesterday’s rain and drops of silver moisture glimmered on the emerald grass. The path wove through like a ribbon, lined with trees which were gradually turning to dusky fire-side orange. The actual ruins of the abbey were strange – memories made of stone. Some were low mounds but others were tall walls with gaps that looked as though windows had once peered through.

I spent a pleasant few hours drawing and observing the park. Pleased with my sketches – I will probably send one to Mama with my next letter – I returned on the earlier bus than the housemaids and footmen. Of course the gardens were pretty, but they could not compare with the grounds of Ickworth.

“Enjoy the Abbey Gardens?” Maggie has just asked me.

“Yes,” I replied. “It was a lovely afternoon, but nice to get back here.”

“Did you know the first Marquess of Bristol owned the Abbey Gardens? Quite interesting, isn’t it.”

I was surprised at that. To think that the man who used to own the Abbey Gardens also owned the estate where I now work – the place I now call home.

Goodnight.

The Hall Boy’s Journal – entry No 1

*Written by Eleanor Betts, inspired by the character profile written by Richard Terrington

I have never written a journal before, nor anything else much either, except maybe a letter or two. I always hated writing at school. My schoolmistress had a real challenge on her hands trying to get me to write my lines. I am more of a numbers man.

Anyway, all the girls seem to be writing their life stories at the moment so I thought I might have a go at it myself. Why not?! I heard Rose reading a bit from her diary to Florrie a few days back, and I think the new girl in the scullery keeps a journal too. She always seems her happiest after jotting down something in a little leather bound book she carries around with her.

Of course, the girls don’t know that I know they write diaries. They try and keep these things from me. I suppose secrets and their hopes for the future are safest shared amongst themselves, or so they must think, but the way the housemaids gossip I reckon they have got that wrong. Still, I know pretty much all that is going on in the house – below stairs, at least. I’m no gossip. Far from it. I am actually quite shy, but as hall boy I am everywhere, all the time, flitting in and out of everyone’s lives without being noticed. I am the servant’s servant – though I don’t like that turn of phrase! I am no worse off than anyone else here. We all come from, and are heading towards, similar places.

I suppose I should start my journal by introducing myself properly. When I asked Jim what a journal was he said it should be a record of everyday life. I groaned when I heard this – how boring! – but then I came to think about it and changed my mind. It might be quite interesting to read what I did this day, and how I thought about this and that, in a few years’ time. So – a record of my life…

My name is John Mayhew and I turned fourteen some three months back. I was born, and spent my childhood, in a little Suffolk village called Horringer. Most in the village work on the nearby estates. There are three large houses nearby, the largest being a manor called Ickworth House. It belongs to the Marquis of Bristol and he lives there with his wife. They are very generous members of the local community and have a good reputation as the landlords of many villagers. I have been working as hall boy under their employ for nearly eight months now and I have become used to the way things work. I live in the great house, in a little room in the basement, but it is not like living in a normal home at all. How could living in such a large building, with so many corridors and passageways be so? Still, all the other folk who work here – and there is a fair few of us – are all jolly nice. I suppose we do all get along like one big family.

My actual family live only a stone’s throw away. The Mayhews have lived in Horringer for, well, for a very long time – a hundred years at least! Pa runs the butchers on the main street, as did my Gramps before him, and my older relations before that. I have no interest in working in the shop. Luckily my older brother Geoff has taken on that role – the son in Mayhew and Sons. He is married and everything! All settled down and all before he turns 20.

My wish is to travel far from here. Not that I don’t like Suffolk. I like nothing better than strolling through the rolling fields, taking time to sketch the farmed landscape and all the birds that live in the hedgerows. I just have this really strong desire to see more of the country, to see more of the world.

When I was younger my plan was to enlist in the army. I still dream that I am a soldier fighting for my King and country – standing tall and proud in my uniform clutching an Enfield in my hand. Of course, Ma was having none of it! She lost her two brothers in the war and Pa didn’t cope so well after he returned from France. Poor Pa. He seems at rest when he is engaged in the daily routine at work but nights are terrible. He hardly ever sleeps and I have often been woken by him crying. What a strange noise it is to hear your own Pa crying hisself to sleep. I suppose Ma just wants to protect me from all that.

It was she who got me this job. She marched me down to the House for an interview with the estate manager and the butler and the next thing I knew I was packing my bag and leaving home for good. I guess the army will just have to wait for me. Until that day comes I will work hard at being hall boy – perhaps I will then rise the ranks to footman, and even, maybe, valet.

Mr. Fox, a valet to Lord Macclesfield, one of the Marquis’ friends who visits regularly, told me that he has travelled to eight different countries as part of his employment. His most recent expedition was to India – the land of spices, or so Cook says. He saw so many wonderful things, the best being, in my opinion, an elephant. They ride them like horses! A sight I wish I can see one day.

Look at me going on! I thought I would be terrible at writing a journal and now it feels as though I have written an entire book! A slight exaggeration perhaps, and I bet most of what I have written doesn’t make any sense at all. I won’t read through it, just in case I get put off writing again. I have found this whole process surprising enjoyable! I wonder if I can keep it going? Finding time each day to jot things down, and keeping up the extra expense of paper. Perhaps Rose will lend me a few sheets if I ask. She is always at it, scribbling away.

Well, signing off for now,

John Mayhew,

Hall Boy

Autumn 1935