by Naomi Peach
Volunteer and History Graduate
As a keen baker and recent history graduate, the idea of trying my hand at some recipes from the East Riding Archives seemed right up my street. After perusing some of the recipes on the blog, I decided to give Mrs Wilson’s Gingerbread (1907) (archive-ref DDX1882/1) a go! From the recipe it was unclear whether this recipe would produce a gingerbread cake or biscuits, so I was improvising as I went along!
I began by researching what a cup measurement was in 1907 and upon searching the internet I discovered that an imperial cup measurement was significantly bigger than the modern size we use today. Using cups for baking was much more common in the earlier nineteenth-century. They have gone out of fashion in the UK because weighing ingredients is more accurate, although American recipes often still use them. From my baking experience I knew that the proportions of flour/sugar to fat (the lard in this recipe) can really matter, so when measuring out the flour and sugar I made sure to use a modern cup measurement and then add a little more so as to account for the changes in cup size.
(I also didn’t have any lard in my house, so I substituted it for butter which worked just fine!)
Once I had measured out all of the ingredients, I then had to decide which order to put them in! Mrs Wilson’s recipe gives no instructions so I looked up some other modern gingerbread recipes to see what they did (is this cheating? I like to think it’s just good research skills!). After reading every gingerbread recipe I could find, I decided that the best course of action was to first add the flour, bicarbonate of soda (the recipe calls for this to be dissolved in a drop of boiling water – I tried this and it didn’t really make much difference, so if you give it a go you can decide whether to bother or not!) and ginger. After this I added the butter and mixed it until it looked like ‘breadcrumbs’ (I put this in inverted commas because I don’t personally think this looks very much like breadcrumbs, but it’s what all the professional recipes tell you to do!).
Then I added the egg and treacle, which at first did not look very promising…
But after I mixed it for a few minutes it looked much better – persevere and it eventually looks like a ball of brown dough-y mixture! At this point it became clear that this recipe is for gingerbread biscuits. Yummy!
Then I rolled out the dough onto a floured surface until it was around 1cm thick and used some cutters to make shapes. Since this is gingerbread, I couldn’t help but make some little gingerbread people! I had a bit of mixture spare, but I think this recipe makes around 12-14 round biscuits, although it’s much more fun to make shapes like gingerbread people!
After placing these on a lined tray I put them in the preheated oven. Now, Mrs Wilson just instructs that the biscuits be baked in a “quick oven”. I have absolutely no idea what this means, so I decided to put them in at 180˚C and set my timer for 10 minutes, making sure to check them regularly to make sure they didn’t burn. I used the time they were in the oven to wash up – I had made quite a bit of mess! I took them out after 10 minutes when they were a lovely golden colour and they made the whole kitchen smell like Christmas!
And there we go! I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of gingerbread, but these were yummy, and my family definitely enjoyed them too. This went much better than I had expected, and I would definitely make these again – though maybe nearer to Christmas time and not in the middle of summer! I hope Mrs Wilson would be proud.
This recipe and others can be found on the Recipes page of this blog.
by Naomi Peach (Volunteer, and History Graduate)
Instagram: Heritage Adventurer