Wednesday, 26 March 2014

What Would You Do With A Wafer?

As this is the final post (for now!) and Edward Lear has not yet made an appearance, take a look at this nonsense poem of his:

Mrs Jaypher found a wafer
Which she stuck upon a note;
This she took and gave to the cook.
Then she went and bought a boat
Which she paddled down the stream
Shouting, 'Ice produces cream,
Beer when churned produces butter!
Henceforth all the words I utter
Distance ages thus shall note - 
From the Jaypher Wisdom-Boat.' (448)

The link between food and home is clear: Mrs Japher finds this biscuit and immediately takes it to her cook upon a note. It brings us a sense of the relationship between staff and house-owner in the Victorian times and, inevitably, the trust they place on each other to maintain the smooth flow of the household. However, it subsequently shows the distrust of each other: if we assume that the note is about food (because it was given to the cook on a biscuit) then this displays the lack of faith that Mrs Japher has in her cook's abilities. Why can a hired cook not be knowledgeable enough for Mrs Japher? This "fear" of staff and the threat they place upon a household is touched on by Mrs Beeton in her chapter "Domestic Servants," where she asserts that even the best treatment of house servants will only result in a tolerable staff member: 

"The sensible master and kind mistress know, that if servants depend on them for their mean of living, in turn they are dependent on their servants ... and that, with a proper amount of care ... and treating them like human beings ... they will ... be tolerably well served." (392)

Do Mrs Japher's eccentric ideas about food that emerge from her "Wisdom-Boat" make sense? Does beer produce butter when churned? No. But, reading Lear's nonsense poem about food provides great entertainment for us when we are sat in an armchair at home, dipping digestive biscuits into a tea with milk and one sugar... (after this blog you wouldn't want to sweeten it too much!) The poem itself provides entertainment and therefore comfort and projects it onto us, instead of a character contained within the writing. 

This project as a whole has looked at how the novels and poems of the Victorian era have conveyed the sweet foods as an extension of safety, comfort and homeliness. It is true that a feast of goodies lets us imagine a sense of warmth and comfort, and inversely a lack of such things will make us readers think of neglect and cold. What I believe this relationship reduces down to is a whole concept of comfort food: the association with taste and home combined with the satisfaction and safety of eating. It has become an intrinsic value of food to provide health and happiness, then from there has spread to incorporate social functions and therefore social competition. This has led to progression of food and has produced much of what we eat today.

Thank you for following this blog so far and keep posted for more writing in the near future. Now go and feast!


Beeton, Isabella. Household Management. Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2000. Print.

Lear, Edward. The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse. London: Penguin Classics. 2006. Print.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The "Plump unpeck'd cherries" of Slavery

Unlike the other posts in this blog which focus on the comfort of food or toil of the absence of food, this post looks at how food is used to represent the discomfort of history and slavery which preceded the Victorian era.

“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together

"Goblin Market" is one of my favourite poems. The beautiful descriptions of the fleshy, vivid and juicy fruits are extremely enticing and Christina Rossetti incorporates a sense of danger into the poem, arguably making the fruits even more attractive. Much of the poem's criticism that has emerged focuses largely on the sexualization of Lizzie, a transgressive female figure. Alternatively, I want to concentrate more on the fruit and veer fully away from women and sex:
In his CityOfGod blog, Ian Clary draws attention to how Rossetti, "though not a Nonconformist (she was affiliated with the Tractarians) ... was opposed to militarism. She also spoke strongly against the slave trade and animal abuse." (5) This will form the basis of my post, blending the fruit of the poem with a colonial reading, involving the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Initially, I suggest that the fruit of the market stalls is, in a metaphorical sense, the "fruits" of labour of the African slaves. We are therefore immediately set up with a structuralist binary opposition of black vs. white, creating a tension between the "white man" figure of Laura and Lizzie, and the goblin men who are described as "racialized" by Lise Sanders (765). This racialization of the goblin men mean they bear an otherness, and this is something which emerges in the second stanza when Laura warns Lizzie, "We must not look at goblin men,/We must not buy their fruits:/Who knows upon what soil they fed/Their hungry thirsty roots?” The language is extremely suggestive of an unfamiliar land; one from which the goblin men are from and also a land of a racial disgust to a white man, which both the white sisters cannot and do not want to face. 
In addition to this, the goblin men are dehumanized in much the same way that white men dehumanized the slaves. With animalistic descriptions, like "cat's faces," "whisk'd tails" and "tramp's like rats" (3) there is a parallel drawn between the slaves and the trope of a "work mule." In the picture below, the representation of the goblin men are animal like creatures with dark skin.

The easy availability of slaves to both middle and upper classes, and Lizzie, is shown by the simple cutting of a lock of her hair in exchange for the "fruits" of their labour. This loss-of-self is a portrayal of the damaged conscience the white man should arguably feel when part of the trade of slaves. 
It is at this point which the reading of the poem transforms from colonial to post-colonial: Lizzie "suck'd and suck'd and suck'd more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;/She suck'd until her lips were sore." (9) As a pivotal point in the shift between critical approaches, this bodily pain can be read as the guilt of the white man's slave abuse epitomizing itself upon her lips; the mouth can be seen as the most tender and vulnerable constituent  of the body, as it is a gateway for healthy life and sustenance. Again, fruit has been used as a vessel for the consequences of slave labour. When Lizzie and Laurie return the next day there is a clear change in roles of the two parties, where they daren't face the product of the trade in which they have been indulging (the slaves), and so the goblin men have an authority over them:

"I hear the fruit call but I dare not look/You should not loiter longer at this brook" (13)

The fruits of labour are growing rotten...

This point in the poem marks the introduction of the Abolition of Slave Trade (in 1807) and note how true to history, it is not the labour that is absolved here, but only the trade, for Laura "never caught the goblin cry:/"Come buy, come buy" (15). But still, the goblins (slaves) overlooked upon them, laughing as an outside force, and rejoicing in their freedom that is soon to come in the final emancipation act in 1833. The trade has dissolved, but the slaves themselves have not.

In the final stanzas of the poem when both sisters are wives, Laura describes to her children the "The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,/Their fruits like honey to the throat/But poison in the blood" (24) The retaliation of the goblin men should be the burden of the white man as it is shown here, due to the colonisation and domination of the black slaves. Post colonially, the fruits which seemed so attractive at the time have become a bitter stain in history, such as the slave trade in the history of England and Africa. 

Finally, I would like to draw attention to a last line, "For there is no friend like a sister" (24) and the undeniable echoes it brings to the anti-slavery logo "Am I not a man and a brother?" The two sisters have unconditional love, and this anti-slavery caption asks for a sympathetic and condition love between the two races; to see them as equal and to dispel the domination of one over the other.

The fruit in "Goblin Market" is used as a tool relevant to the slaves and their workload they can provide to the white man. Simultaneously, the same fruit is later representative of the same workload, but becomes sour and hurtful when attitudes change and abolition laws are introduced, in the shift from a colonial to post-colonial attitude.
The reason I have decided to include "Goblin Market" into my blog was because of how beautifully tasty the fruits appear to look, but only visually. We know that Lizzie's lips were scorched and she was almost irreversibly corrupted. 
Looking at the tasty food in Rossetti's poem as a discomfort, it only seems fitting to apply a discomforting topic of the slave trade as a critical reading. In addition to this, motivation for writing this post was Rossetti's own interests in the politics and the fact that I have never stumbled across such an interpretation before.


Shapiro Sanders, Lise. "Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women's Writing." Victorian Studies 51.4 (2009): 765-766. Print.

Clary, Ian. "Christina Rossetti and Women's Suffrage"cityofgodblog. City Of God, 8 March 2013. Web. 25 March 2014.

Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market. Online: Poetry Foundation, 1862. Print.

Alice in Wonderland: The Disgust of A Woman's Hunger

Alice in Wonderland wouldn't be the story as we know it without the huge amount of references to food. In particular,what I find interesting is the relationship between women, hunger and appetite. This trio interplays to produce some disturbing results.

Lewis Carroll had eccentric eating habits. For example, in Carina Garland's essay "Curious Appetites," she outlines how Carroll "often only ate a biscuit and some sherry for his main meal and never ate lunch." (25) Child guests in his company would have "meticulously planned times and quantities of food" with treats like coca, jam and sweets. (26) We can look at this behaviour as relevant to his attitudes of Alice's eating habits, and furthermore, because Alice was a character based upon a real-life 9 year old that Carroll was transfixed upon, Carroll's own habits permeate through his writing.
           If, as Garland argues, "Little girls were idealized by Carroll whereas appetites and eating disgusted him," then "the immature female and appetites are opposite in Carroll's world" (28) and one would become the figure of idealization and the other one of disgust.
Throughout Alice in Wonderland there is a clear male authoritativeness and this renders Alice as a passive object of Carroll's desire: the only point which we explicitly see Alice's hunger is during the trial of the stealing of the tarts. Even then, she is denied the pleasure of actually eating them:

"a large dish of tarts: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them - "I wish they'd get the trial done," she thought, "and hand round the refreshments!" (110)

Looking at both the EAT ME and DRINK ME cake and potion, Alice eats neither of them with the intention of satisfying craving. With the drink, "she found a little bottle ... and tied round the neck was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed in large letters ... wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry ... However, this bottle was not marked 'poison,' so Alice ventured to taste it" (20-1) 
          Similarly, she finds a "very small cake, on which the words 'EAT ME' were beautifully marked in currants. In much the same way as the previous potion, Alice responds in a way where she has no real input to the outcome: Carroll has forcefully directed her to consume items with no hunger or thirst.

Hunger can be representative of desire and so, when expressed by young girls, "made them impure and undesirable by [Carroll's] perspective." (28)

In the novel, food and hunger is used as a catalyst for the Queen of Heart's anger, who is a total inversion of Alice. She is mad, like everybody else in Wonderland, but Garland demonstrates how this extent does not reach full capacity until her tarts are stolen; "Her lack of food (and the subsequent presumed presence of hunger) turns her into a monstrous being." (31) 
          It is this disgusting desire which lays at the heart of Carroll's novel, and he consciously preserves Alice's innocence. At the one point that Alice displays hunger (and therefore sexual desire) she does not become an untamed sexual beast such as the Queen of Hearts, but instead "began looking at everything about her to pass away the time." (110) 

We want and need Alice to stay as the passive and cute girl, otherwise our whole conception of the Alice books and her young naivety would be disrupted. The most effective way that Carroll has maintained this image is through Alice's distance from food.

Helen Bonham-Carter acting as the Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton's adaptation of the book:


Garland, Carina. "Curious Appetites: Food, Desire, Gender and Subjectivity in Lewis Carroll's Alice Texts." The Lion and the Unicorn 32.1 (2008): 22-39. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Toronto: Airmont Publishing Company Inc., 1965. Print.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Iced Bourgeois Balls

In 1913, domestic refrigerators and freezers were invented by Fred Wolf. Iced desserts in the Victorian era, then, were a difficult treat to store and serve.

Look at the picture below, taken in the South-East London town of Brockley. This Victorian street ice-cream cart was a method for working class districts, such as Brockley, to have access to the sweet treat that was otherwise difficult to transport:

In Mrs Beeton's household management (2000 edition), she gives a method of home-making this type of ice cream using a freezing pot:

When the ice-tub is prepared with fresh-pounded ice and salt, the freezing pot is put into it up to its cover. The articles are then poured into it and covered over; but to prevent ingredients from separating and the heaviest of them falling to the bottom of the mould, it is requisite to turn the freezing pot round and round by the handle, so as to keep its contents moving until the congelation commences. (304)

The method is labour intensive with constant attention needed. Alternatively, an easier dessert could be crushed ice that is compounded into moulds with flavoured syrups added to them to create a "flavoured ice." This is essentially a sorbet and is much easier to make, although a lot more intricate. 
          This YouTube video shows TV personality chefs The Hairy Bikers attempting to recreate these iced desserts, with their chubby fingers demonstrating how delicate the ices actually were. Victorian balls would have displayed ices such as these ones for aesthetic value - and they do make a beautiful table centre-pieces! 

The first written record of ice cream being served, as it is now known, is in  Kate Colquhoun's book, Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking (2007). She claims that "a single sweetened cream ice was served to Charles II at the Garter Feast of 1671 at St. George’s Hall."
     Because of the technicalities of preserving the ice in its frozen state, "James I had snow pits dug for storing ice cut from lakes and rivers in winter.  Two brick-lined pits were constructed at Greenwich in 1620 and another at Hampton Court five years later."

The process of storing the iced desserts in out-building icehouses meant that it was a rare treat, served only in balls such as the ones in Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan and Eliot's Adam Bede. It was for this reason that they became so associated with extravagent displays; the flavoured ice signified wealth and good taste. Since the introduction of electricity and domestic chilling, however, we can now enjoy a whole pot of Ben and Jerry's Karamel Sutra from just one arm's reach away...


Beeton, Isabella. Household Management. Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2000. Print.

Colquhoun, Kate. Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007. Print.

Friday, 28 February 2014

"Plain Jane" (2): Caraway Comfort

Having invited Helena and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, she got up, unlocked a drawer and, taking from it a parcel wrapped in paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good size seed-cake.
   "I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you," said she; "but as there is so little toast, you must have it now," and she proceeded to cut slices with a generous hand. (Jane Eyre, 86)

There is some intrinsic bond between cake and comfort, especially when it is home-made. In Jane Eyre, Miss Temple is an influence of femininity and homeliness over the Lowood girls, and so it is apt that it is her who invites the two girls to her room for tea and cake. Of course, their "feasting" is a constituent of the wider evening in which they were "guests," and a part of; sitting in arm chairs next to a good fire is the ultimate comforting setting. (83) This Caraway seed cake is the most significant emblem of Miss Temple's goodwill and so I have recreated it as accurately to the novel as possible (with the help of Delia Smith.) Read on to see how the baking went, and I have given a recipe for you to make your own!


4 ounces of cooking butter
4 ounces of caster sugar

2 eggs
4 ounces of self-raising flour

1 ounce of ground almonds
2 heaped teaspoons of Caraway seeds

2 teaspoons of milk
*1 optional splash of brandy

1. Preheat the oven to 180'c.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar together into a fine paste with a wooden spoon, in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat two whole eggs together into a bowl.

4. Add the eggs to the mixing bowl and whisk together. The consistency should become smooth.

5. Into a separate bowl, stir together the flour, almonds and Caraway seeds. (Although I recommend two heaped teaspoons of seeds, add them to taste - be generous!)

6. Gradually fold all the flour into the cake mixture.

7. Add a few drops of milk into the mixture, and if you have a taste for brandy some of that too - it should end up as what Delia Smith refers to as "dropping consistency" (look at the photo above for guidance, as mine was near perfect...!

8. Butter a non-stick cake tin that is the shape of a loaf, and dollop in the cake mixture, flattening the top with a wooden spoon.

 9. Put the mixture onto a mid-shelf on the oven, and wait! It should take about 35-45 minutes.

10. Don't open the oven until you think it's done. At this point, stab a knife into the cake and if it comes out clean... the seed cake is cooked! Enjoy with an authentic Jane Eyre cup of tea

The flavour is something I have never tried before, with the Caraway seeds giving it a strong unique essence somewhere in between mint and aniseed.
    I was a little unsure of this new flavour, however, but I gave some to my Grandma to eat and she was a big advocate of the cake and seed flavour combination. It suggests that for an older generation, this food encapsulates universal memories of the homely and domestic family place that is not just seen in Brontë's novel.


Smith, Delia. "Old-fashioned Seed Cake - Unlive". DeliaOnline: NC Internet. 2009. Web.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print.

Acknowledgement to Pip Raven for photography.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

"Plain Jane" (1): Hunger and Libido

Instead of looking directly at sweets from the offset, I want to start this post with essentially nothing (in terms of what's edible), and build from there. Looking at food within Jane Eyre, there are two aspects: simply, the presence of food and the absence of food. For this reason, I will break the two apart and post them in two separate entries. Here, we are looking at the lack of food - things which aren't available to eat, and Jane's subsequent hunger. In addition to this, we will see how this hunger is not only literal, but also encompasses passionate feelings towards her employer, Mr Rochester, as her appetite does not always signify cravings for just a meal.

At Gateshead, staying with the Reed family as a young child, her aunt made it clear that Jane "ought to beg, and not eat the same meals we do" (9). From the outset, then, exclusion from eating casts her out from the family circle and initiates a relationship (albeit negative) between love, care and food. 

This theme is dragged through to her time at Lowood School: Mr Brocklehurst, an ultimate figure of tyrannical power, withholds food from the girls in order to "mortify the flesh." However, mortifying the flesh is such an abstract statement that we cannot begin to understand his logic; "a mug of coffee and half a slice of brown bread" (60) most definitely does not constitute a substantial evening meal and it is clear that the lack of food is an offspring of his greed and non-compassion. The girls' poor diet is rounded off by perpetual bowls of porridge, often burnt. Jane comments that the portion sizes are "so small, how [she] wishes it had been doubled! (61) 
          At Lowood, the only form of "comfort food" (and emotional comfort) comes from Miss Temple. We can look at this in the next post.

Porridge: from

The next stage of Jane's life and eating habits is at Thornfield, where she settles as Governess for Adèle, a young French girl, being provided with food and money. As she has a stable and plentiful diet, this is where there comes a shift in the situations where she does not eat. The reasons for her hunger now stem from her emotional attachment to her employer, and lover, Mr Rochester. There are two significant events which are useful to draw upon and validate this argument:

  • Jane first realises her feelings for Mr Rochester in Chapter 16 when she explains how "I was beginning to feel a strange chill and faintness at the heart. I was actually permitting myself to experience a sickening sense of disappointment" at his leave (189) She is told my Mrs Fairfax that if Rochester continued his travels immediately, he may be gone for any time up to one year. We soon discover, however, that three days later he has returned with a large party accompanying him - including his potential wife, Lady Ingram.
    As soon as they begin to dress for dinner and less than an hour after entry into Thornfield, Jane has to sneak into the kitchens and steal food for Adèle. A governess and child are interlinked - Adèle is a mini "extension" of Jane. So, on Jane's disappointment of losing Rochester to Lady Ingram, we cannot be surprised that it is her who scavenges for food for Adele, and therefore signifies a lack that relates to Jane herself: "Threading this chaos, I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made hasty retreat" (195)

  • Jane runs away from Thornfield and nearly dies of starvation and again we see her love/food relationship (and therefore no love/no food). This event is much larger in scale compared to the previous: it isn't just that Rochester will be staying away from the estate, but Jane cannot marry him because of his mad (current) wife: "Mr Rochester was not to me what he had been; for he was not what I thought him." (341) This seems to be a finality that they can never be together. The repercussions of this are disastrous; Jane is brought to the level of a beggar, going into a bakery and "Almost desperate, asked for half a cake; she again [was] refused" (378). Later that evening, she saw "a little girl about to throw a mess of cold porridge into a pig trough" and actually asked for it in desperation. (379) The mother reinforces the image of Jane as a bedraggled mess, by consenting to give it to her "if she's a beggar" for even "T' pig doesn't want [the food]" (379). In the hierarchical order of animals within society, Jane has put herself below that of even a pig via the medium of food. 

The latest Jane Eyre television adaptation, showing her wandering the moors, starving and hysterical.

The dynamic between food and love begins as a correlational link and, throughout the story, transforms itself into a causal link. Bronte's use of food as a device that is representative of her characters' relations is firmly ingrained within the novel. It is an extremely effective shadower of the wider structure of love/lust/emotional care and from what I have explored in this post, we can see that at any one point when Jane is eating, desiring food or abstaining from food, there is always an event which this is a reflection of.

Watch out for "Plain Jane" (part 2) which will actually focus on tangibly delicious food!


Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print.

Gilbert, Sandra. "Plain Jane's Progress." Signs 2.4 (1977): 779-801. Print.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


I am a Victorianist with an immensely sweet tooth. I also believe that these two things can go hand in hand, and so in this blog, I will devour the sweet treats of the Victorian era. 

We frequently see food represented in that time as absent: think of Jane Eyre struggling through country ditches at night, hysterically starving, and Gaskell's Mary Barton, with the working class fighting for money and food. These images contrast to Alice with her wonderland dreams, fittingly initiated by an EAT ME currant-cake. Her dream has pebbles that turn to edible cakes, a mad hatter's tea party and a judicial trial of missing jam tarts. The very fact that Lewis Carroll's story fantasizes about these food draws attention to how obtaining these foods is actually an impossibility; children only dreamt of a spread of sweet treats like that.

Desserts are undeniably married to comfort and pleasure. Cinnamon-apple crumble and custard warms us after a winter family meal, and a frozen lemon sorbet melts in our mouths on a summer afternoon. The speciality of desserts is the focus here, and what may appear as a simple food item in a novel may actually represent a whole lot more: I will explore to what extent desserts in the literature of the 19th century are synonymous with a domestic and homely setting and the effect they have on the characters in the novels and you, the reader...

I hope you enjoy reading my posts as much as I will enjoy making, baking and recreating your treats!