Victorian cooking

Victorian Family Recipes From Christmas Past

Do you think that most families have favourite recipes that make an appearance, like Marley’s ghost, at Christmas? Recipes that have been tweaked down the years, but are basically the same as when first concocted way back beyond memory?

During our mammoth unpacking we came across family recipe books dating from the Victorian period and later. These books would be brought out on occassion to be raided for old favourite dishes, the preperation of which would be accompanied by stories of the women who wrote them. Some of the recipes – all hand written – had been passed from one generation to the next. Many originated as a result of trial and error in the kitchens of Georgian wives; a few predate even those.

Here, my husband’s great-grandmother, Ethel Chapman, aged 20, records a few favourite recipes in a little book dated 31st January, 1876.


Gingerbread – aunt B’s

Melt 1/2lb butter in 1 lb of treacle

then add one pound flour, 1oz ground

ginger, (1/2oz carroway (sic), 1/2 oz corriander seeds, a little nutmeg) (crossed out)

3 eggs & a teaspoonful of carbonate

of soda. Bake for 2 hours in a

well papered tin in an oven

almost cold at first, heating gradually.


Christmas baking: going traditional

That’s the mixed fruits and candied peel ready for Christmas baking. A couple of weeks ago, the raisins, currants, sultanas, chopped dates, peel, ginger, orange zest, and glace cherries were washed and packed into big preserving jars. A concoction of brandy and spices (LOTS of spices) was then poured over the fruit, the jars sealed, and the whole lot left to steep. This is then ready for all sorts of recipes: I can add suet to make mincemeat or kept just as it is for the family version of stollen, or as a vital ingredient for apple and fruit pies. The smell of citrusy spices is intoxicating.

I used a jar of the mixture for the Christmas puddings I made last week, and another for the traditional Christmas cake, the recipe for which was passed down to me from my grandmother and from her’s before her, so is at least 130 year’s old.





Unlike my grandmother I remove my wedding ring before baking. Many decades ago, she lost the same ring while making her famous Christmas cake. Mourning its lost (it was the only ring she owned) my grandmother never thought to see it again until my aunt took a bite of cake on Christmas day and discovered the errant ring.

Now instead of a ring, I put a silver thruppeny bit in the cake (and £1 coins in the puddings) with a health warning before serving it up to the family.