The Great Lacock Bake Off

on Monday, 17 August 2015. Posted in Archives

I am an addict. Not alcohol or drugs, but cake is my particular addiction – coffee and walnut being my favourite. Along with millions of others I am also addicted to the BBC TV show ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ (which has recently started again) so you can imagine my delight at being able to combine my twin loves of cake and archives in our recent HLF-funded Lacock Unlocked ‘Food and Friendship’ public participation event.

This took place on 29 July 2015 at Lacock village hall and took the form of talks about the history of food by experts Sally Macpherson and Deborah Loader, together with the opportunity for the public to taste those recipes, made to perfection by Alison Williams and Nancy Newman of the Lacock Women’s Institute.

Expert Deborah Loader demonstrates a modern ‘ice house’ for keeping ice cream cool to the author of this blog.

Nancy Newman with an apricot and apple tansey.

Sally Macpherson and Alison Williams with the spicy Duke of York’s cake (delicious with butter!)

Interspersed with these talks and tastings artist Sue Steel taught us how to make friendship bracelets using a form of simple weaving which kept everyone’s fingers busy while they listened to the talks!

Sue Steel demonstrating friendship bracelets.

The combination of food and craft was a winning one and we estimate that over 70 members of the public attended the event. Visitors were also able to enjoy a display of facsimiles of archives which tied into the themes of the day, such as this recipe from Mrs Birch modestly titled: “To make the best cheese in the world!”

The Lacock archives are a treasure trove for local and family history, but they also contain several recipe books which are important for anyone studying the history of food and cooking in England. Indeed, food historian Sally Macpherson feels that they are of national importance in this regard, and she used many recipes from the Lacock collection in her new book: ‘The Royal Heritage Cookbook’ published by The History Press Limited this year. Sally kindly donated a copy of her book to the History Centre at the event. Recipes include both sweet and savoury dishes although for our event we focused on just four: the Duke of York’s cake, blackcurrant ice cream, apple and apricot tansey, and raspberry and ginger cake.

In the course of compiling her new recipe book Sally had help from a team of volunteer chefs who tried and tested the old recipes, and helped her adapt them to modern needs. (Few of us today will invite twenty guests to a dinner party, for example!) What was really impressive to me was how old some of the recipes are – 1685 is the earliest recipe book in the Lacock collection – but of course individual ingredients such as cheese cake have an enormous history going back 4,000 years.

There was a wonderful buzz of chatter and laughter throughout the event which was a living embodiment of how food and craft can foster friendships. Our thanks go to everyone involved for making this event such a great success especially Sally, Deborah, Ali, Nancy, and Sue, as well as all the public who joined in so willingly, and last but not least, my volunteer helper Mikala Narlock who kindly took these photographs. If you are reading this and feeling annoyed you have missed out, please don’t despair – Sally’s book is available at all good book shops and has wonderful photographs to drool over while you’re waiting for the next episode of ‘Bake Off’ to start!

Claire Skinner, Principal Archivist

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