Get the lowdown on one of history's strangest eras ahead of tonight's Great British Bake Off episode. The Victorians are responsible for so much more than just sponge cake
For this week's episode, The Great British Bake Off has gone back in time to the Victorian era. Naturally, that meant we had a trawl through the odder delicacies that time in history had to offer. From beefy puds and jellied meats to everything that could possibly wobble, here is our thoroughly unscientific ranking of Victorian dishes.
Prepare to be amused.
9. 'Meat' pies
Thought Sweeney Todd was pure fiction? Nope. The legend of the demon barber who baked his victims into pies was actually based on the murky Victorian habit of food adulteration. That doesn't mean engaging in heavy petting with a bowl of trifle – sex wasn't invented until the 1920s, of course – but bulking out food with chalk, dust, plaster, sawdust, alum and other inedible extras.
One of the biggest sources of fear was the 'penny pie', which mysteriously remained 1p for decades despite the rising cost of meat … yuck. Offal isn't even the word.
8. Actual mincemeat pies
This might not come as a huge shock, but there was a time when the sweet mince pies we scoff at Christmas were made with actual mince. Meaty mince. Legendary cook Mrs Beeton recommended beef suet for her mincemeat, while Eliza Acton preferred shredded ox tongue suet along with her fruit, sugar, spices and brandy. It's almost enough to put you off your Quality Street.
But as the generation who invented the bacon brownie, we can hardly turn our noses up.
7. Sheep's trotters
Marrow is all the rage these days, so how big a leap can chewing on a trotter really be? Victorian street vendors would sell these to hungry punters who would chew the sticky meat and fat off the bones.
And at the end you'd be left with … the trots? No, that can't be right.
Correctly pronounced, as we all know, 'bleurgh-mange', this classic pile of wobbly Victoriana is the answer for anyone who's ever eaten jelly and said, "Yes, but how can we make it milky, too?"
Like the anaemic ghost of a proper pudding, blancmange has almost all but disappeared from UK menus these days while the Italian version, panna cotta, steals all its thunder. It's definitely due a high street revival, though. Pret A Blancmanger, anyone?
5. Plum duff
Plum duff (stop it) was just another name for a rich, suety plum pudding – but you’d never get over the joy of clearing your plate, wiping your mouth and declaring to your hostess, "What a duff pudding!" would you?
The Victorians didn’t have a lot to amuse them, remember.
This hot, starchy beverage had been around since the 1600s but it really hit its stride in the Victoria era when street vendors would ladle it out to warm-up cold, tired workers. Made from ground sassafras bark and sweetened with milk and sugar, it’s basically an artisan coffee shop trend just waiting to happen.
It’s hard to rank saloop as we don’t actually know how it tasted, but if the name is onomatopoeic then we’re guessing gloopy.
3. Jellied eels
A street food dish so authentically cockney it’s practically singing Knees Up Mother Brown, jellied eels have tried to make a few hipster comebacks over the years.
‘Tried’ is the operative word, though. No matter how hard you try to convince modern east Londoners that boiled eel served in cold, fish-flavoured jelly is a taste sensation, it’s never going to look great on Instagram.
2. Spotted dick
Generally regarded as the funniest pudding in the world. There is nothing more inherently hilarious than the idea of a spotty pudding – imagine! If you're lucky, you'll keep laughing long enough that you don't notice you're chewing your way through the stodgiest thing since the unabridged version of Bleak House.
1. Bread and butter pudding
Bread sauce, bread pudding, brown bread ice-cream … those Victorians loved putting bread in places you don’t expect bread. You know, like we do with Nutella today.
Bread pudding gets an honourable mention, as does the amazingly lazy 'bread and milk' – it's just bread, in a bowl, with hot milk poured over the top – but the ultimate stale loaf vehicle from the era has to be bread and butter pudding. A dish so comfortingly stodgy it makes the cronut look like a fresh fruit salad, it's crisp and crunchy on the top while squidgy and custardy underneath. This is one soggy bottom we'd welcome any day of the week. Well done, chaps.
Enjoyed this? Want more? Read these:
- The definitive ranking of ice-creams and lollies
- The definitive ranking of all the greatest crisp flavours
- The definitive ranking of custard (in all its forms)
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