One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. This hasn’t always been the case. I fell truly in love with his classics as I reread them with my kids as they were reading them for their English classes in Junior and High School. One of my sisters called a few weeks ago to see if I would be interested in teaching a class to a couple of students that are having a semester of home school English devoted to the novel, David Copperfield. I jumped at the chance to have a “Dickens’ Kitchen”.
One of the things I enjoy about Dickens’ writing is the high contrast between good and evil, happy and sad and in his description of food we can find the same thing, huge contrast. The very poor in his books live on a meager menu, even the description often comes off sounding gray and dull (think gruel here) in small portions. Where the well off seem to have an abundance of food dishes with color, variety and flavor (goose, chestnuts, puddings, raisins, etc).
In class we talked about the history of “plum pudding”, the process of how it is made and the interesting traditions that accompany this dish. I do have a recipe for a plum pudding (which has no plums in it), but it takes much effort to make they way they would have made it in 1835. It is interesting to note that in England, at least at one time there was an official day called “Stir-Up Day” on which Christmas puddings are made. Each person in the family would take a turn stirring in a clockwise direction, with eyes shut while making a secret wish. Silver charms were also traditionally used in the pudding. The baker would place them in before the steaming process later to be found by the guests. The charms were of a variety of shapes and gave a specific message for the future. A thimble might mean spinsterhood, a silver sixpence a good fortune, a boot for travel, a ring for an impending marriage, the wishbone for granting of one wish, etc. I would love to get my hands on a vintage set of these charms, I find them well, charming.
The Treacle Tart on the other hand is not fast, but it is tasty. I have been hearing about this dessert for sometime, but never had the pleasure of trying it until this class. I used a recipe from Emma of Poires Au Chocolat who had this tart growing up as a child. I followed her recipe exactly, using Golden Syrup as suggested (found at a local market, a bit pricey but worth every cent). It was delightful and the clotted cream on ours was made from 3 parts mascarpone cheese, 2 parts whipping cream, a bit of vanilla extract and powder sugar to taste. It got wonderful reviews from all who tried it, including my fabulous students.
If you want to step back into time, try one of these recipes while picking up your favorite Charles Dickens novel up. Which book is your favorite?