Blackmore Vale Magazine

Great great grandmother’s cooking genes have come out in 21st century Victoria

WE often say that something must be “in our genes” and sometimes the intergenerational connections are obvious – a bookworm’s passion comes from an aunt or a grandmother. A talented footballer follows in the boots of his father or uncle.

But Victoria Straker-Cook didn’t know where her culinary enthusiasm came from until early 2012 when she discovered that her great great grandmother was a cookery writer and novelist, who had written many books and worked for the government during the First World War.

Mrs Dorothy Peel – whose husband was a descendant of the family of the former Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel (founder of what was to become the police force) – had a remarkable career that culminated in her becoming one of the first women to be awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Victoria writes a food blog, drawing on her own culinary skills and creativity and on her newly discovered treasure trove of Victorian and Edwardian recipes, and also offers cookery classes for small groups in the kitchen of her old stone farmhouse.

Dorothy – known as Dot – was born in 1872 and lived through a period of massive change, which included the struggle for votes for women, the First World War, and the social upheavals of the 1920s. She died in 1933.

She won a competition run by the Daily Mail, and started writing on culinary and domestic matters for the newspaper and other publications, including Hearth and Home. In her autobiography, Life’s Enchanted Cup, she comments that she “discovered how easily money may be wasted by bad kitchen management.”

She went on to work for the Ministry of Food, and became joint head of the women’s service section in the Food Economy Division, advising on healthy and sensible eating during the years of rationing.

She was awarded the then new honour of the Order of the British Empire in January 1918. She was proud of the award, but she wrote: “Housekeeping is the world’s basic profession and the better we keep house the better people we shall be. Yet no-one showers OBEs on worthy women who stay at home and bring up families or upon those equally worthy women who go into service and give not only the work of their hands but often the love of their hearts to those for whom they toil.”

Dot wrote many books, including a series of basic cookery guides, historical novels and the autobiography, which, like some of the cookery books, is still in print.

Since Victoria learned about her great great grandmother’s writing career, she has tracked down many of the books in second-hand bookshops, and is trying out her recipes – many of which work very well. They reflect the practical approach Dot must have brought to her war work, her dislike of waste, and the limited choice of seasonal ingredients (no strawberries in December!).

Victoria was particularly amused by “Using Up The Pieces” from My Own Cookery Book, which offers a recipe for “an excellent, fairly substantial savoury” made from left-over cooked meat, brown sauce, cooked peas, a portion of a rice pudding, “not enough to serve again,” a few spoonfuls of mashed potato, some cold boiled potatoes and a small piece of cheese.

Another thrifty idea is to add cooked cabbage, prunes, bacon, potted meat and stewed fruit to left-over cold porridge!

Perhaps those recipes are not entirely to modern tastes, but Dot’s concern not to waste food will chime with many people – like her great great granddaughter – who are appalled at the amount of good food which is thrown away every day in this country.

In her books, Dot also talks of saving energy and using a haybox. As Victoria says: “It is amazing how 100 years pass, and our concerns are the same.”

Victoria will be sharing some of Dorothy Peel’s recipes in future classes, but here is a delicious and easy taste of the delights in store from this practical Edwardian cook –

Feather Tart

225g self -raising flour

55g sugar

110g unsalted butter

1 egg

1tsp of rum or almond essence if you like

a pot of jam

Mix all of the above apart from the jam, together. Do so with a light hand as it is, afterall, a ‘feather’ tart.

Roll out half of it into 20 cm cake tin. Spread jam thickly over the top.

Break off little pieces of the remaining mixture and put them on top of the jam. This creates a light ‘feathery’ effect.

Bake in the oven at 190 degrees C for about 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool in the tin a bit before turning out onto a wire rack.

It is like a smart jam tart. Very yummy!

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