What was it like to live in the Tudor age or the 1940s? Would you rather “watch” the answer or “read” it? Well, you can do both with these popular BBC historical documentary series and their companion books.
Ruth Goodman is known to BBC watchers as the woman who brings history to life in several documentary series. They’re all re-creations of rural life in a certain time period: the Tudor era, Victorian era, Edwardian era (which many of us know better as the Downton Abbey era) and even World War II. All of the series have episodes you can watch on YouTube for free. A couple of them also have companion books that give you the nitty-gritty–sometimes literally–in print.
Time for a little binge-watching (or reading!)! Below, you will find a sample episode from each series, along with the companion book and a link to watch more episodes on YouTube.
Tudor Monastery Farm
Tudor Monastery Farm is the official companion volume to the series. You’ll follow Ruth and her co-stars “as they discover how to build a pigsty, brew their own ale, forge their own machinery, and keep a Tudor household. Scrupulously researched, totally authentic, and with its own contemporary narrative playing out within an accurate reconstruction of Tudor England, this is a fantastic glimpse into history, as it was lived.”
Ruth’s more scholarly How to Be a Tudor riveted me–and I didn’t expect it to. My historical imagination doesn’t generally extend that far back in time. Ruth captured the little things that are so big like what it’s like not to bathe, how the food tastes, and how itchy the clothes are. When she waxed rapturous about studying a suit of clothing that was several hundred years old and falling apart in an archive, I felt an almost primal connection. I get that way about old documents. I’m just saying.
How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life is another critically-acclaimed “manual for the insatiably curious” by the “historian who believes in getting her hands dirty.” This time she reveals Victorian life (the mid and late 1800s) from daybreak to bedtime. Again, the devil and the delightful are in the details: how they got dressed, how and when and what they ate, and what work they did. I’m guessing nobody skips the chapters on the trip to the privy or “behind the bedroom door.”
“If variety is the spice of life, then Edwardian rural life has proved to be one heck of a curry.” -Ruth Goodman
In this series and the Edwardian Farm book, Ruth and her intrepid co-time-travelers live in England’s West Country as if it’s the turn of the twentieth century. At the time this was “a commercially prosperous region—a stunning rural landscape encompassing rolling farmland, wild moorland, tidal river, coast, and forest, which supported a vibrant and diverse economy.” The hosts spend a year “restoring boats, buildings, and equipment; cultivating crops; fishing; rearing animals; and rediscovering the lost heritage of this fascinating era as well as facing the challenges of increasingly commercial farming practices, fishing, and community events.”
During World War II, Britain couldn’t import much produce or other foodstuff as they were accustomed, so residents had to grow it themselves or go without. The series and the book Wartime Farm reveal “how our predecessors lived and thrived in difficult conditions with extreme frugality and ingenuity. From growing your own vegetables and keeping chickens in the back yard, to having to ‘make do and mend’, many of the challenges faced by wartime Britons have resonance today.”
This recipe for a Victorian fruit cake skips the poor-quality candied fruit that gives some pre-made modern fruitcakes a bad reputation (especially in the US). Instead, fresh coconut, citron and almonds fill this cake to bursting with natural flavors and textures.
This holiday season, Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author Sarah Chrisman is helping us celebrate all things Victorian, especially recipes! Keep reading to find links to the Victorian holiday recipes we’ve shared recently. In this post: a fruit cake that lives up to its history as a rich, flavorful dessert that’s worthy of the season.
Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.
Sarah Chrisman shared this recipe for a white fruit cake with us, along with this picture of her cracking a coconut in preparation for making this dish:
“Stir to a cream one pound of butter and one pound of powdered sugar. Add the beaten yolks of twelve eggs, one pound of flour and two teaspoons of baking powder. Grate one coconut, blanch and chop one-half pound of almonds, and slice one-half pound of citron and stir into the stiffly beaten white of the eggs and add to the batter. Put in pan lined with buttered paper, and bake slowly two hours.” -By Mrs. W.S. Standish, Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. pp. 56-57.
Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to blanch almonds:
What is citron? It’s a citrus fruit that is something like a lemon. According to this blog post on using citron in fruitcakes, it’s not always easy to find fresh citrons, but you can ask at your best local markets for a supplier near you or look for high-quality prepared citron that can be shipped to you.
Victorian expert Sarah Chrisman shares her adaptation of a classic “figgy” pudding recipe, a holiday staple in Victorian times. Don’t be fooled by its inelegant appearance: there’s a reason carolers sang, “We won’t go until we get some!”
This holiday season we are sharing Victorian recipes, in celebration of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author, Sarah Chrisman. Sarah lives her life like it’s the late 1880s. She’ll join us on the Genealogy Gems podcast and Premium podcast in December to tell us all about it–click here to learn more. Meanwhile, enjoy her delicious recipe for a classic fig pudding and a tutorial video that demonstrates making it the old-fashioned way.
“Figgy Pudding” Recipe
“One pound of figs cut fine, imported ones are best but dried domestic ones will answer, one and a half pounds of bread crumbs, one-half pound chopped suet [vegetarian alternative: 8 oz coconut oil, melted and mixed into bread crumbs], twelve ounces moist sugar [brown sugar], a little nutmeg [1 tsp.], two eggs, one teacup of milk. Mix all together and steam four hours [in a pudding bag].” –Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. p. 86.
Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to prepare a “figgy pudding” recipe in the old-fashioned way:
Hard Sauce for Puddings
“Beat one egg and half a cup of sugar until very light, then add two tablespoons of softened butter; beat until it will stay piled on a plate; grate in a little nutmeg and put in a very cold place until served.” –Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. p.98
Sarah Chrisman shares a favorite Victorian holiday recipe just in time for baking season! These “coasting cookies” bring to mind the cold-cheeked fun of sledding in the chilly air of winter.
This holiday season, we’re celebrating all things Victorian with our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author, Sarah Chrisman. She and her husband Gabriel live like it’s 1889–and have become first-hand experts on Victorian life. Here, Sarah shares a favorite Victorian holiday recipe for “coasting cookies” and the story behind it. The original recipe appears below, edited to a modern recipe format, along with Sarah’s notes (in parentheses) on adapting the recipe for modern cooking.
Victorian Holiday Recipe: Coasting Cookies
Image (and closeup image above) courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.
1 pound flour (3 1/3 cups)
8 oz butter (1 cup, softened)
1/2 pint molasses (1 cup)
1 Tbsp (baking) soda, beaten very hard in the molasses
1 Tbsp coriander seed, pounded in a mortar
(crushing whole seeds retains more flavor)
1 Tbsp (whole) carraway [sic], pounded in a mortar
(yields about 1 3/4 Tbsp when crushed)
ginger to taste (1 Tbsp powdered ginger)
1. Soften the butter.
2. Stir in the molasses, ginger, seeds, and flour.
3. Roll thin and cut.
4. Bake in a quick oven.
Sarah’s updated Coasting Cookies instructions:
1. Crush the caraway and coriander together,
add the ginger and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the molasses and baking soda 2-3 minutes; it will turn a very pretty pale caramel color as the alkaline soda reacts with the acid in the molasses.
3. Add the butter and flour and mix well.
4. Bake 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees.
The Original recipe appears in In the Kitchen by Elizabeth S. Miller. (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1875), p. 365.
Ladies’ Toboggan Race, Kiandra, c. 1884–1917. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with citation.
Sarah explains the story behind “coasting cookies:”
Gabriel was attracted to this recipe because the word ‘coasting’ in the name put him in mind of bicycles. However, it turned out to be a sledding reference, as seen in this excerpt from an 1877 short story:
“‘Coasting’ and snow-balling were the bloom and glow of those long, icy months; and the very thought of my youthful exploits in these cold Vermont days makes the blood tingle in my veins… [T]here were lots of ‘fellers,’ small boys, so utterly extinguished beneath their big caps and mufflers, that, to the uninitiated, it would seem necessary to dig them out, like potatoes out of a hill, before they could be recognizable. Well, these ‘fellers’… had glorious times together, and considered it the great business of life in winter to coast, and skate, and fire snow-balls, being somewhat apt to resent such interruptions as going to school, doing ‘chores,’ or eating regular meals.”—Church, Ella Rodman. “A Story of “Doughnuts,” Petersen’s Magazine, July, 1877, p. 65.
Although they were originally named for the sport of sledding, Gabriel and I found them to be equally delicious after cycling expeditions. Consequently, in my Tales of Chetzemoka cycling club series, these cookies are special favorites with the club members. Here’s a fun excerpt from Book Two, Love Will Find A Wheel:
…”You’re all coming here afterwards, aren’t you?” She asked the club in general. “My sewing circle ladies will be here again.”
Mr. Goldstein leaned on his fifty-inch wheel and laughed. “Since my wife will be here I won’t get much peace if I don’t come!”
Felix and Ken exchanged put-upon looks, then a thought seemed to occur to Felix and his face brightened. “Are you going to be making those coasting cookies again?” He asked Mrs. Brown.
She smiled indulgently. “I already made them. There’s five dozen of them on plates in the pie safe, just waiting.”
“Only five dozen?” Ken whined in mock disappointment.
Felix punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll save you half of one—if you’re nice to me.”…
Victorian lifestyle expert and author Sarah Chrisman shares favorite–and authentic–recipes for tangy homemade cranberry sauce (served hot or cold) and a hearty vegetable hash.
Sarah Chrisman, who lives every day like it’s Victorian times and writes about it in several books, is the current featured author for the Genealogy Gems Book Club. She’ll join both the Genealogy Gems podcast and the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast in December to talk about Victorian-style holidays and her books, including This Victorian Life.
In the coming weeks, Sarah will share her favorite mouth-watering, made-from-scratch Victorian recipes here on the Genealogy Gems blog. Some of her recipes come straight from cookbooks of the time period, and others she has adapted for modern kitchens and tastes. Below, she shares a simple recipe for tangy cranberry sauce, simmered from whole, fresh cranberries, and a hot, hearty vegetable hash side dish, which Sarah calls “a good way to use up leftovers after the holiday!”
“Pick over and wash two cupfuls of fine cranberries. Put them in an earthen dish, pour over a cup of sugar, add a cupful of boiling water, cover, and cook gently nearly an hour. Serve hot or cold.”-From Catering for Two, by Alice L. James. G.P. Putnam’s Sons: New York and London. (n.d.) p. 178.
Note: the above edition of Catering for Two isn’t dated, but a first edition found online is dated 1898.
Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.
“Chop rather coarsely the remains of vegetables left from a boiled dinner, such as cabbage, parsnips, potatoes, etc., sprinkle over them a little pepper; place in a saucepan or frying-pan over the fire; put in a piece of butter the size of a hickory nut; when it begins to melt, tip the dish so as to oil the bottom, and around the sides; then uput in the chopped vegetables; pour in a spoonful or two of hot water from the tea-kettle; cover quickly so as to keep in the steam. When heated thoroughly take off the cover and stir occasionally until well cooked. Serve hot. Persons fond of vegetables will relish this dish very much.” –The Capitol Cook Book, 1896, p. 188
More Recipes for a Very Victorian Holiday Season
Click here to see last week’s Victorian-era recipe for a rich roasted turkey with chestnut stuffing and gravy. (We even included a quick how-to video tutorial for trussing the turkey!)