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!