Cook like it’s 1899

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What in this day of uber-connected internet-obsessed fast-paced living, clearly what was required by my friends and I to calm down a little was a weekend living as one would have done in the Victorian era. Forsooth! With nary a network signal or electric plug in sight, we spent two days in a picturesque farmhouse cottage near Ludlow in Shropshire for a dose of hardcore Victorian living on the Acton Scott estate. With chamber pots and horsehair mattresses.

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Yes, this is the same cottage where they filmed the TV series ‘Victorian Farm’ on BBC2 – so there was no running water, electricity or flushing toilet in the house whatsoever (although we had a little outhouse with a proper loo and shower at the end of the garden), and all floors were linked by very steep rickety wooden stairs. We hung out, chatted, ate and read to the light of a coal fire and oil lamps. We were permanently covered in a dusting of soot, and grew giddy on fumes from the lamps. We extracted water from a well connected to a hand pump. The hardcore among us insisting on washing in the Victorian manner built a fire in the bathhouse to heat a cauldron of water to fill a coffin-shaped tin bath, which took at least two hours from start to finish, but created a magical sauna-like atmosphere. And most of all, we spent an extraordinary amount of time preparing food – everything took five times as long, from lighting the fire to figuring out how slowly or quickly everything was cooking (using Victorian cooking implements) in the dim lamplight. One morning I cheerfully waited for the kettle to boil for a cup of tea on the range; I waited one-and-a-half hours…

The kitchen and its implements were fascinating – much of the tools were similar to what we use now, such as cutlery and enamelware dishes, but some items were very antique and we had great fun using them. For example, the thimble sized wine glasses that had to be refilled over and over, and the pewter tankards to drink water from which had mysterious glass bottoms. The tool for whipping cream was nothing much more than a coil of wire stuck to a wooden stick, while the copper double boiler was an amazing implement in which to make custard.

The cooking range – Aga, eat your heart out:

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Whipping cream with a very effective wire coil:

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Drying tea towels by the fire:

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Fancy a brew? It might take about 90 minutes…

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Victorian washing up implements plus draining racks – everything done by candlelight:

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As luck would have it, the three friends we hung out with are all very accomplished chefs, so there was no danger that we would go hungry. Which gave me more time to sit in the corner, dose myself with laudanum and work on my sampler. Hurrah!

Preparation for crumble, in enamelware dishes:

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Apple and blackberry (picked from local hedgerows) crumble with Barbados cream (D’s awesome mixture of whipped cream, yoghurt and soft dark brown sugar):

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D’s amazing beef stew, with courgettes and runner beans from the outdoor veg patch:

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Scrambled eggs and garlicky tomatoes:

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My beetroot and cardamom spice cake, brought from home:

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M’s braised leeks in local cider:

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Victoria plums ready for roasting:

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Sausages from Ludlow food festival:

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Even though by the end of our two day break we were all slightly sooty with blackened lungs, and a bit crazed from laudanum intake, it was a wonderful way to get away from it all. I never managed to finish my sampler – the lamplight was just too dim. Typically, though, N managed to locate a cupboard where he could charge his iPhone to get the latest footy updates, so it’s not as though we were completely isolated! No matter – we managed to pick enough local sloe berries to fill a Victorian gin palace…so I will be shortly posting something about making lovely booze with the below…

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3 comments

  1. It all sounds fabulous! Apart from the wait for the kettle but…What a great way to spend time, and thank you for sharing.

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  2. It was such fun! Anne is too polite to mention the fact that we forgot to sugar the fruit in the crumble (Bramley apples and blackberries with no sugar – not to be recommended – but rescued by the Barbados cream), and I tried to make an experimental custard flavoured with bay leaves which tasted like bechamel sauce.

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  3. Actually, I quite liked the Bay Leaf custard! I had three helpings…

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