Thursday, 28 August 2014

Finding Private Barry

The centre name of the above photo is that of my Great Grandad William John Barry, he was born in 1874 and died sometime in late 1916 aged 42, his name here is inscribed on the memorial at St. John the Divine Church at Lytham St. Anne's to honour those that lost their lives in WWI. The thing is my Great Grandad doesn't appear to have left the UK, he was discharged from the army in 1916 as being 'no longer fit for service', but there is no grave for him in St John the Divine, my Great Grandma is there, but not my Great Grandad. So where was he buried?

I knew very little about my Great Grandparents on my Dad's side of the family and only recall a little about my Great Grandad Rowe, my Mum's Grandad. It was the 100th anniversary of WWI that set me looking for him after I came across the photo I'd taken back in 2006 when I went to find the house that my Nanna grew up in as a girl in Lytham St Anne's. To be honest having a relative in WWI never really registered, I knew my Grandad had served in WWII but I had no 'connection' with WWI or very little knowledge about it come to that, which is odd given that the event happened just 50 years before I was born.

I have a lot to uncover yet but so far the little I've discovered has been rather interesting, he was 5ft 5", had light brown hair which faded to grey as he got older and he had grey eyes. That was a eureka moment, for decades I've been teased by my father that I was "the milk man's" because unlike the rest of my family and my grandparents, I have light hair and grey-blue eyes, everyone else is dark haired and brown eyed. So I was elated to discover that my Great Grandad is the reason I have light brown hair and grey eyes, no more teasing Dad, its genetics :p

With the help of a facebook friend who has access to some WWI archive material I've found GG Barry's war pension allocation to my Great Grandma, using census records I discovered that my Nanna had an older sister, and brother that we didn't know about who went to live in America after WWII. I also learnt that for some reason the army 'lost' Great Grandad Barry when he was being discharged! How he died remains a mystery, I know it was sometime in the 4th quarter of 1916, I've ordered his death certificate and when it arrives I'll know when and where he died and hopefully, what he died of. I did attempt researching family history a while back and was given a bag of photos and documents and when I dug them out at weekend to reinvestigate I discovered a photo of Great Grandad Barry in his uniform, what a dashing man he was.

Finding the photo has made my Great Grandad more than a name, I can see my Nanna and me in him and when my youngest brother saw the photo he declared he's inherited his ears lol! It's amazing to think that he's a part of my family line and without him I wouldn't be here today, but until recently I knew very little about him. I'll be posting more about him as I find things out and about the voyage to discover the rest of my family tree, made a little progress on that when I found the grave of my Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother the parents of my Dad's dad, my Grandad Webster. I'm hoping that my searches will find extended family and that they may have some pieces of family history to share, you never know, I may get lucky! For now I'm happy with what I've discovered so far and I'm looking forward to the death certificate turning up to give me more clues. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

WWII Eggless, Fatless Gingerbread

Eggless, Fatless Gingerbread
A couple of years ago I got inspired by the BBC programme 'Wartime Farm' to try out some recipes from the WWII era, the whole plan was to grow veggies and try to live a 1940's lifestyle, sadly I found that my life wasn't wholly compatible with the 1940's, cooking everything from scratch required a lot of effort and after just a few months, my efforts bit the dust, along with the blog I set up. However it's still there so I thought I'd take what posts were still relevant and add them to my "warts an' all" blog, then I'm going to delete the WWII blog.

The problem I have found is I have a lot of hobbies and interests, the primary one is herbs which will never change, I've started blogs for my love of France, for crafting and even slimming, they all start out well, but with so many interests their isn't time to keep them all going and do the day job and look after the home, hubby, cats and garden. So slowly but surely French posts will be culled from the French blog, diet recipes may end up here but herbal stuff will always go on my herby blog. If I have almost everything in one place, I have more to write about which means I can blog more often when my work schedule allows ::whispers to self 'Good luck on that!'::

So lets cast our eyes - and mind if you've a half a mind to - to 28th September 2012 and look at my Eggless, Fatless Gingerbread recipe that I made when my copy of Wartime Farm arrived, I'll add some [bracketed annotations] to the text if things worked or didn't....

My copy of Wartime Farm arrived at the beginning of the week and I began reading it with relish, I'm fascinated by the herbs used during the wartime information that's in the book although for a true herbaholic like me the section could have been bigger, but more of that in a later post as I've been doing some research on the WWII herb gatherers, what they gathered and they used the herbs for.

Watching the Wartime Farm series has kindled in our household a desire to do more for ourselves [honestly it did, we did try to be more self sufficient for almost 4 months]. Mr C announced last night he wants to learn how to make furniture, in particular bookshelves, we've been coveting a pair that would cost us almost £1,000 they're oak and rustic looking, something Mr C reckons he could achieve himself for a lot less money [he got as far as buying chisels and a few technique books!]. Don't get me wrong he's a dab hand at lots of things, he can fix plumbing and electrical problems and he's made me raised beds, potting benches and the like for the garden, but they are a little 'Heath Robinson', he wants to learn how they made furniture "in the old days", my comment that they probably took lessons from Heath Robinson met with Mr C's classic 'pickled onion' face lol!

So he's decided that as he doesn't know how to do dovetail joints and that kind of thing, and as there are no surviving family members to teach him, he's off to do a woodworking night class [never happened, we took French classes instead!]. He'll go for a 10 week course, downside is he's missed the start of the September course and has to wait until the next one starts in January! He's disappointed, shades of the allotment here, I said no allotment, until he proves he's willing and able to take it on, so a delay for his grand scheme there to. On the plus side if all goes to plan he'll be able to build a shed on the allotment when we get it lol!

Luckily not everything has to wait, well at least not very long anyway.... The picture of the Gingerbread Cake in Wartime Farm looked so yummy I just had to make it, the fact that it's a fatless and eggless recipe was an added bonus. I had to do a double take though, I thought there had been some cheating going on for the photo because in my mind, no way can a cake be that spongy without fat and eggs! I looked at the ingredients and I had everything in the store cupboard to make it, super thinks I, cake for Mr C's pack up tomorrow.

So I assembled the ingredients...

1/2lb Self-Raising Flour
6oz Golden Syrup
2 Tsps Ground Ginger
1 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1/4 Pint Tepid Water

I also added....

2 Tsps Milk Powder

Making the cake is simple, you put the flour and syrup in a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients in a jug and then pour the jug contents into the flour and syrup mix until you have a nice creamy batter, you can see the effect of the bicarb almost immediately the batter starts to become foamy, that's the bicarb doing it's egg substitute thing, bicarb is a natural raising agent and that makes the cake light and airy or spongy.

The next step is to turn the batter into a greased tin they say 11" x 7" in the book, but I didn't have one so I used a 9" x 9" tin instead. Next bake the cake in a moderate oven (gas mark 4, 180 degrees Celsius, or approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit) and leave it there for 45 mins to 1 hour, check it after 45 mins to see if it's done or not.

The final stage is very important to note when you want a cake for serving after tea or for the hubby's pack up the following day... Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in a tin and do NOT cut for 2 days!!! There's logic in that instruction, when the cake first comes out it's a bit dry looking, leaving it to stand for a couple of days lets the syrup work its magic and make the rest of the cake turn into the sweet sticky texture we know and love when we think of gingerbread.

Taste test.... Gingerbread when all said and done is supposed to be more bread like and less like a cake in texture, so don't expect a sponge cake. We couldn't wait and did cut some and eat some an hour or so after it came out of the oven, it tasted okay but a bit 'dry'. By the following morning it was moister and tasted a lot better! In all honesty I can 'taste' the bicarb of soda in the cake, but it isn't unpleasant so don't be put off.

As for the over all taste next time I think I'd add 5oz golden syrup and 1oz of treacle, this gingerbread was a little 'pale' for my tastes. I think I'd also pop in a little cinnamon or mixed spice as well. But overall it's a hit especially when you take into account that WWII housewives could save their precious egg and fat rations and still have cake! Mr C took a slice in his pack up today and we have gingerbread for the weekend with a nice cup of tea, bonus! Just need to remember to make it a few days before we want to eat it in future lol!

The cake cuts into 15 slices doing the maths on the calories in the syrup and flour it works out at just 90 calories a slice you can check the calorie values in other WWII recipes here.

August 2014 Addendum: As this blog evolves I'll be making and sharing recipes from not just WWI and WWII but from other periods in history, some will be authentic, some will have a modern day twist. One thing we did learn from our short WWII cooking adventure in 2012 was that some of the food was not to our modern day tastes, somethings we couldn't eat, others were pleasantly surprising. The whole point of doing this is to save money, and whilst I appreciate that my Grandmother and Great- Grandmother and their families had no choice but to eat the food that was put on the table, today because of their sacrifice I can chose to eat what I want and if it tastes like wallpaper paste and looks like frogspawn I'm NOT eating it, sorry Nanna!

My aim is to make more things for the home, get back to basics and cook from scratch and generally make do and mend, eat with the seasons and revisit old school methods. I'm not going to start wearing a pinny and hair rollers and listening to the Andrew's sisters or Al Jolson, and I know some of my friends do live 'retro' lifestyles, they're happy and I learn lots from them, but I'm a 20th century girl and no amount of mock duck will change that. So onward and upward...

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

1914 - 2014 Trench Stew

I know its been ages since I wrote anything for this blog, work and herbal things have been keeping me busy. Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of England going to war with Germany in WWI and around the country people held candlelight vigils, their were ceremonies and services and people remembered the those men and women who sacrificed their lives to build a better future.

My hubby and I watched the BBC2 programme 'World War One Remembered' it focused on honouring a lost generation, which were silenced for ever amid the hellish cacophony of the WWI battlefields, and were remembered on the 100th anniversary of Britain’s First World War declaration.
War is never glamorous or pretty, but when you look back it does fill you with awe, battles were fought overseas and here to keep food on the table and some semblance of normality going for those left behind.

I wanted to do more than just watch the programme and light a candle so I decided to cook a WWI inspired menu for our tea yesterday. I chose a dish that was called 'Trench Stew', it evolved to be called Corned Beef Hash where I grew up in Manchester, with additional ingredients and flavourings. In the days of Thai Green Curry and an array of world cuisine foods that we eat on a weekly basis, in many ways basic cooking and English recipes have been left behind in our house.

I made a few dumplings to go in the stew, although I'm sure the soldiers in the trenches didn't have those, I made a simply suet pastry and turned 1/3rd in to dumplings and the rest into a jam roly poly that we served with custard. It was made all the more special because the jam in our roly poly was a homemade jam or 'Dark Red Plum' that had been made by my hubby's auntie and gifted to us along with a lot of other homemade jams and jellies. How I miss making chutneys, pickles and other yummy and tasty homemade items, I think last night has reawakened the urge to get creative in the kitchen again, watch this space!

As we're trying to pay off our mortgage faster and save for a rainy day plain, simple meals seem logical as they make economical sense. I worried about the use of lard and butter for example in wartime dishes, but then realised my parents and grandparents ate them and turned out just fine, so over the next few months I'm dusting off my wartime cook book and seeing what I can find to feed me and my darling hubby that will fill our bellies without emptying our bank account!

I have to say that as I chopped vegetables, mixed everything together, stirred my pan of bubbling stew and watched the dumplings and pudding rise, my thoughts kept turning to wondering what people were thinking that night back in August 1914, hours before the country went to war at 11pm? My Great Grandmother, Sarah Jane Webster could have been making stew for her 4 sons and 3 daughters none of them older than 8 years of age, so safe from drafting but not safe for the perils and dangers that war could bring.

This morning I woke up to my two cats, not a care in the world beyond making sure the days work got done and my article was submitted to the garden magazine I occasionally write for, what a contrast to what my Grandmother woke up to 100 years ago, I've seen films, read newspaper articles and books but nothing compares to the reality.  I find that I cannot celebrate what happened but yesterday did make me realise just how incredibly lucky I am today. To everyone who made a sacrifice, no matter how great or small I am humbly in your debt and eternally grateful!

1914 - 2014 Trench Stew

  • 3 Medium Potatoes (1914 - 1 Turnip), peeled and chopped
  • 2 Medium Carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 Medium Onion, peeled and chopped
  • ½ Tin Corned Beef, cubed into 1" pieces
  • 2 Beef Stock Cubes (1914 - I'm not sure if they would have had access to stock cubes in the trenches, our great grandmothers would have made their own stock and adding stock to this stew certainly improves the flavour.)
  • A few generous dashes of Worcestershire Sauce (1914 - I think the same applies here as stock cubes, I would hazard a guess that the soldiers used whatever they could obtain to add flavour to their food.)
  • Salt & Pepper to season
  • 1 Pint of Cold Water

The method is simple, add the potato, carrot and onion to your pan of water along with the stock and Worcestershire sauce and bring it to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer the stew until the vegetables and cooked through and tender. 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the corned beef and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want to add dumplings add them at the same time as the corned beef.

Serve in bowls with pickled beetroot, cabbage or onions.