Friday, May 31, 2019

Venice Preserved at the RSC

We've had a pretty good run at the RSC so far this year with excellent performances of The Taming of the Shrew, The Provoked Wife, and As You Like It, so we were probably due something we weren't going to be so enthusiastic about - and this was it.

I did a bit of homework about Thomas Otway and Venice Preserved beforehand so had an idea of the plot and how influential the play had been in its day, along with some of the political context behind it. Which turned out to be a good thing because the more or less 80's cyberpunk inspired setting strips  a lot of that context away.

The play opens with Jaffeir confronting his father in jaw, the senator Priuli. Priuli has not approved of his daughter, Belvidera marrying Jaffeir to the point that he's engineered their financial ruin. When Jaffeir realised he's going to get nowhere with Priuli he turns to his friend Pierre, and is quickly convinced by his talk of revolution.

Pierre seems to be motivated by the circumstances of his mistress having a transactional sexual relationship with another senator, Antonio. When he takes Jaffeir to meet with his co conspirators they demand that he hand over Belvidera as collateral. Later Belvidera reveals that the leader of this group, Renault, has tried to rape her leaving Jaffeir with seriously torn loyalties. Eventually he betrays the rebels, but it precipitates a mental breakdown for both him and Belvidera followed by a stage full of bodies.

This production chooses to draw out the submissive elements in Jaffeir's relationship with Pierre, which echos the kink that Antonio employs the courtesan, Aquilina, to satisfy for him. Jaffeir is a decidedly beta male in this scenario, his motivation for joining the rebels a mix of petulance concerning Priuli's actions and presumably hero worship for Pierre.

A contemporary audience would have understood this in terms of Catholic/Protestant struggles within the strict codes of male honour. In those terms Pierre and Jaffeir's decisions make sense - their personal grievances being the last step towards radicalisation that's presumably based on religious affiliation. The cyberpunk setting is stylish but it really didn't work for us, largely because it doesn't help explore the idea of male honour, and neglecting that robs the second half of the play of most of its tension.

It's hard to believe that this Jaffeir (who seems more incel than insurgent) wouldn't just clear off with Belvidera, it's also hard to see why Belvidera is so smitten with him (the audience consensus on the
way out seemed to be that she should have known she could do better). Nor is there the neccesary chemistry between Michael Grady-Hall and Stephen Fewell as Jaffeir and Pierre to make me believe these are friends who would die for each other.

Les Dennis as Priuli on the other hand was a revelation. He was totally convincing as the powerful man bent on pursuing a petty spite, and then the repentant father (although by now his low opinion of Jaffeir feels justified). Jodie McNee is a mesmerising Belvidera too, but the really memorable performances are John Hodgkinson as Antonio, and Natalie Dew as Aquilina.

Her disgust for the elderly lover she's obliged to entertain, and his enjoyment of that disgust, is masterly. Hodgkinson, squeezed into fetish ware raises easy laughs, but his obvious enjoyment of Aquilina's anger and disdain exemplifies the frustration of anyone on the receiving end of harassment. At least when she seems to snap at the end of the play it's all too easy to understand why.

Monday, May 27, 2019

All Among The Barley - Melissa Harrison

It's hard to believe that it's more or less 4 years since I read 'At Hawthorn Time' and fell for Melissa Harrison's writing, but so it seems to be. 'At Hawthorn Time' was one of those books that has really stuck with me, and partly because I liked it so very much I've been hesitant about reading 'All Among the Barley'.

I was always going to wait for the paperback anyway (not a hardback fan) but even when I bought it (more or less the moment it hit the shelves in my local Waterstones) it made me a little nervous - which is the downside of keen anticipation.

Set in East Anglia across the high summer months between hay and harvest in 1934 the book is told from the point of view of 14 year old Edith. Just finished school, she is clever, bookish, the baby of the family, sheltered, isolated, and caught between child and adulthood.

Meanwhile between the continuing agricultural depression, an increasing pace of change towards mechanisation, and the country's inter war flirtation with fascism (Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green was published in 1935 and is an interesting comic counterpoint to some of the events in this), as well as the farmers annual anxiety about weather and harvests tensions are building.

I have a bit of a prejudice against books set in the past - it's not everybody who can make it work convincingly, but Harrison does. This is partly because of the focus she puts on describing the farm and its wildlife, which is both pure Harrison and also very much part of a contemporary trend in the 1930's.

Dorothy Hartley is specifically referenced, but it's impossible not to think of Adrian Bell if you've read Corduroy/Silver Ley/The Cherry Tree, or the work of Claire Leighton. I don't think I've read all of Vita Sackville-West's 'The Land' (worth following the link to listen to the clip of her reading from it though, even if just to hear her diction) but she's part of this tradition too. Lolly Willows and Tarka the Otter are also mentioned amongst others - Lolly Willows signposting where Edith might be heading, Tarka more of a warning about Constance FitzAllen.

Initially Constance seems like she might be working along the same lines as Dorothy Hartley or Claire Leighton, or even Adrian Bell - keen to record an England on the cusp of disappearing. But it becomes increasingly clear that her interests go far beyond recording and into creating a specific sort of propaganda.

The brilliant thing about this book is how nothing is overstated. Edith is utterly convincing, and whilst it's clear something is going wrong it's not entirely clear what, or how serious it actually might be. Constance Fitzallen is a catalyst in the midst of tensions that were already present and again utterly believable. The dramas are both profound and banal - the fear of bankruptcy, old age and infirmity, war time losses leaving an absence of men to work the fields, alcoholism, not knowing how to say no to something you don't want, and so on.

All of them go to build towards a conclusion that's both shocking and inevitable. It's also a book that speaks clearly about the dangers of nostalgia and an idealised vision of an imaginary past in our own era, and again it's done with a lightness of touch which makes it all the more powerful.

Basically this book really is as good as everybody has been saying, and you should absolutely read it.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Myth and Materiality in a Woman's World Shetland 1800-2000 - Lynn Abrams

Books have their own serendipity. I've had this one on the shelf for years, it's presence more about good intentions than serious ones, but between anticipating Roseanne Watt's Moder Dy and reading the bibliography for David Gange's The Frayed Atlantic Edge (which I'm also keenly anticipating) it suddenly seemed long past time to read it.

It turned out to be a good choice giving me specific things to think about whilst reading Moder Dy, and also making an interesting companion to Melisa Harrison's 'All Among the Barley' and another translation of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

If you don't have a specific interest in either Shetland, or Women's history this probably isn't the book for you, but if those things do interest you it's excellent. Geography and economic circumstances made 19th century Shetland fairly unique. The majority of men had little choice but to go to Sea (initially either because it was part of their croft tenancy arrangement, or they were in the navy, went to the whaling, or later went to the herring). Loss of life was not infrequent, and even when all was well absences could run to years. It meant that on land women outnumbered men by a considerable margin.

It also meant that women were left to run the crofts - which mostly did not produce enough to live off without a man to fish, and make what money they could from knitting. It was very much a subsistence life but it also meant that women were routinely economically active as producers.

Abrams explores the mythic status of the crofting woman (and she does have a mythic status, one that it's hard for contemporary women to measure up too) along with the reality of women's lives, particularly as they can be found through court records. She also reflects on how Shetland's heritage industry is mainly packaged for local consumption.

The book was first published in 2005 and I think that's changed slightly in the interim, especially through events like Wool Week and the growing popularity of knitting and textile based tourism. But generally it's still true, and something else that's unique about Shetland, at least in a Scottish/British context.

Abrams raises a couple of interesting questions about emigration and the barter truck system too. Men emigrated in larger numbers than women, despite there being larger numbers of women than men, and how hard it was for single women to make a living. It's not clear why they stayed but it suggests to me that whatever reasons were motivating individuals, they're somewhat more complex than the picture generally painted of clearances and economic necessity.

Barter Truck was an undoubtedly iniquitous system which allowed merchants to exploit women by forcing them to accept goods instead of cash for their knitwear. Worse yet the goods were often things like tea or haberdashery which had to be bartered amongst other women for the actual necessities of life. It's generally (and rightly) presented as a very bad thing. It also continued in Shetland more or less until the Second World War, long after it had officially been banned.

Abrams work is making me wonder why it persisted so long. She shows that Shetland women were ready to go to court for a variety of other reasons, and there is the example of The Hoswick Whale case to show that tenants were prepared to face down landlords at least by the 1880's. Again it's the suggestion of a more complex picture that I find interesting here. It's a book that's shaken up some fairly lazy assumptions on my part - and I'm always grateful for that.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Outdoor Cooking - Gill Meller

River Cottage Handbook No. 17. I love this series which is fairly evenly divided into books I use a lot, books I daydream about using a lot (whilst I choose to forget how much hard work running small holding is) and the ones like this which provoke quite an emotional response.

The ongoing problems with drains in my building (most of the year without a properly working kitchen) feel like more or less the final straw. Flat life in a city centre has less and less to recommend it. I want to live somewhere with a sense of community again, have a garden, and a real fire.

Reading 'Outdoor Cooking' brings back childhood memories of beach fires, barbecues, bonfires, and the open fires all the houses I grew up in had. It's also intensifying the desire to live somewhere I could build a wood fired oven for the fun of working out how to use it. I'm on the fence about spit roasting, but everything else in here is a siren call, and I've been reading through this book with the same enthusiasm I had for Enid Blyton way back when. Probably because whatever else might now be problematic about Blyton, she was excellent on the allure of campfire cooking.

Meller's writing about food and cooking is always a delight to read, but I particularly like the format of these handbooks. They're a generous pocket size, with robust covers that make them good traveling companions. The space constraints don't allow for to many tangents - it's mostly direct and helpful instructions on whatever topic is to hand, with just enough personality coming through to make the books feel friendly.

Especially after the recent moor fires it's good to see that the first chapters are strict on fire etiquette and ethics. It is not okay to build a fire wherever you like, safety must come first, and you can't just pick up whatever wood you like (Scotland has different laws about right to roam, and I guess as long as it hasn't obviously been claimed, driftwood is fair game either side of the border). After that there are plenty of instructions for how to build different sorts of cooking fires, and going right back to basics - just how to build a fire, which is almost certainly a vanishing skill.

And then it's the recipes - which all sound great. Unexpectedly for a book about outdoor cooking it's the fruit and vegetable things which I'm really craving as I read this. I don't even particularly like Brussels sprouts, but the idea of wood roast sprout salad with apple and celeriac has my mouth watering. As does the grilled cabbage. The Cider and Fennel Toffee Apple not only sounds good, but Gavin Kingcome's photography makes it look magical (the hard caramel trails from the Apple looking for all the world like a golden flame).

Beyond that there's all sorts of projects here - fire pits and earth ovens, things baked in clay, bread twists baked around sticks, the sort of slow barbecuing that the Americans do, spit roasting anything from a whole hog or deer down to a chicken, and of course wood ovens. Most of it has the back garden in mind, and just aboutvall of it demands a bit of time and planning.

It might not be a lot of planning or time, or it could be that a whole weekend is taken up with preparing and making, but as a big part of the philosophy of food like this is to be able to share both the making and the eating of it, the anticipation that time and forethought create is part of the seasoning.

I wonder if I post my father and stepmother* a copy now, will it be a big enough hint about possible holiday entertainment next month?

*Bo, my stepmother is a cook, and has more than enough to do through the summer without somebodys bright ideas about standing her over a fire for hours at a time when she's not actually at work. On the other hand she also has valuable experience doing reconstructions of Viking era cooking... although her recollections of that sound more like horrified flashbacks of being smoked like a kipper rather than precious memories. It's a dilemma.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Moder Dy - Roseanne Watt

Where Transport for London gave us poems on the underground, Shetland has Bards in the Bog - if you find yourself using a public toilet, chances are there will be a poem in the back of the door. The Bards in the Bog project called for original works from local contributors and I'm thinking about it now because it says so much about the continually evolving relationship with dialect and language that places like Shetland have.

When I was growing up in Shetland the oil industry was in its early days, it was bringing prosperity, but the pace of change was relatively slow, and I suppose the traditions of crofting life were something that could more or less be taken for granted - and for many something to escape from.

Dialect was widely spoken, but in our village from a child's point of view it was not the language of authority. My teachers were mostly mainland Scots, as was the minister, and the Doctor, and his wife. My parents were incomers too, so I never picked up an accent, and I have a sense that the use of most dialect words was discouraged at home. The exception to that was perhaps in bird and other wildlife names.

Malachy Tallack talks about the twin pillars of accent and ancestry in Shetland society in '60 Degrees North' which particularly resonated with me, because of you don't have both (and neither of us did) you remained an outsider. As an outsider dialect was harder to pick up because of the Shetland habit of Knapping - modifying dialect to be easier to understand to non native speakers (Watt defines this as "to speak in an affected manner, a Shetlander attempting to speak 'proper' English).

By the time my younger brother and sister where at school (1990's) attitudes towards dialect had changed to the point that they were actively encouraged to collect words. Shaetlan as a language is predominantly a mix of old Norn, lowland Scots, and English, which more or less reflects the history of the islands. The Moder Dy this collection takes its name from refers to the mother wave - an underswell that's meant to always travel in the direction of home and which you could steer by when you were out of sight of land.

Some of the poems here are written entirely in Shaetlan, they come with 'uneasy translations' - sister poems - they are close to each other but discernibly different. (There's a glossary to consult if you want a more direct translation of specific words). Other poems mix dialect with English, some don't use dialect at all, but it's a continuous thread throughout the collection, which makes language, where it comes from, how it evolves, and how we use it a consistent theme.

That it's taken me almost 3 hours just to write this much about one aspect of this collection is probably as good an indication as I can give about how much there is to it. I've been reading through it for days, slightly desperate for someone to share my enthusiasm with. Especially for Nesting Faerie Ring, which takes 14 words to sum up a thousand + years of folklore warnings about Faeries, whilst summoning a vivid vision of the thing itself, and creating an unsettling momenti mori. In 14 words.

But then every poem has revealed something, and continues to give more with each reading. They've stretched time whilst I've read them on tea breaks and bus journeys - a scant quarter of an hour turned into a profound pause in my day, and provoked a whole range of emotion which has sometimes been uncomfortable.

I really can't overstate just how damn good I think this collection is, how rich it is, or how much I want everybody I know to read it. I am absolutely in awe of what Roseanne Watt has done here, hers is a voice to follow.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Anne Eunson's Lunna Mitts

The pattern for these mitts is in the 2018 Shetland Wool Week annual, and I like them so much I've knitted 3 pairs so far.

I like small projects that can be finished quickly, I love the Print o the Wave openwork pattern, and I particularly like to wear mitts that don't have finger holes, so the Lunna mitts ticked a lot of boxes - ill almost certainly end up knitting many more pairs (and have been daydreaming about what yarn shades I might want to get with them in mind). 

The first pair I made for a friends birthday using a circular needle that I thought would be easier to use than double pointed needles. It wasn't, there weren't really enough stitches and the yarn kept snagging on the bit where wire meets point. They were fiddly to hold as well - so much for shortcuts. I followed the pattern, and was happy enough with the result (my friend says she likes them a lot), especially the way the yarn defined the pattern. (It's Jamieson and Smith Heritage Auld Gold, a slightly thicker yarn than the pattern asks for, but nice and soft, and definitely the colour I wanted).

The finished mitts felt a bit long for my hands though and I wanted a pair for myself so made some in grey. (Jamieson's Ultra in Shaela, also beautifully soft, and the recommended weight) but moved the thumb placement down a bit. The yarn is lovely, but the colour didn't bring out the pattern as much as I wanted, and the hand part still felt a bit longer than I wanted - I liked the extra length on the wrist though. I ended up giving these away too, and starting a third pair.

I made these a repeat shorter at both ends, and as I'd finally ditched the circular needles, a little bit smaller. The yarn is Jamieson and Smith Heritage in Berry Wine and they're exactly what I wanted. That's another great thing about small knits - it's no great investment of time and effort to make them over and over with any small variations that occur.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert

The drain situation seems no nearer to being resolved and I'm finding it increasingly stressful. I really, really, want to be able to use my kitchen again properly, and really, really, don't want to be worrying about what I'll find every time I come home.

Under these circumstances it's increasingly easy to imagine how someone might be driven to committing a murder...

'Smallbone Deceased' is the second of the British Library crime classic Gilbert re issues I've read, it has absolutely confirmed my enthusiasm for him, and I am very happy to know that they're looking at more of his books. The biggest mystery here is how he managed to fall out of favour.

Horniman, Birley, and Craine is a legal firm that's both respectable and fashionable (in that it has an extensive aristocratic client list in an era when the aristocracy seemed to have occupied the same sort of celebrity position as today's reality t.v stars). The firms founding member (Horniman) has recently died and Henry Bohun has just been bought into the company.

When a large deed box is opened to reveal the remains of an unpopular client in a state of advanced decomposition it's a nasty surprise all round, especially as it pretty much has to be an inside job. Henry Bohun is the only member of the firm who looks to be off the hook as the body has clearly been there longer than he has. He's also a friend of a friend of inspector Hazelrigg who sets him to snoop around a bit.

One of the things I really enjoy about Gilbert is that he clearly knows the world he's describing. The petty office politics and procedures ground the plot in an unassailable atmosphere of reality. This makes the discovery of the body both easier to swallow, and more ridiculous. Gilbert's sense of humour is another thing I really enjoy. Both together mean a book that you might want to read over and again, never minding that you know who, how, and why, the crimes have been committed.

I've been saving the third Gilbert (Death in Captivity, loosely based on his War time experiences) as a treat, I think I might start it tonight to stop me brooding about the drain situation.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Round Up post

I've had a couple of holiday days this week, and had planned to read a lot and catch up with a few posts. I've done neither, spending a lot of time waiting for workman to turn up and do their thing instead (fire alarm guys, when you say you'll be on sight from 9am but don't turn up until 11.43 and then complain about parking you're not making any friends). At least I've had time to listen to lots of podcasts. Mostly that's been Emma Smiths undergraduate lectures on Shakespeare and his contemporaries. That's nothing like as worhy as it sounds, find them Here.

On Saturday, as well as seeing The Provoked Wife at the RSC (still excited by how good that was, it's absolutely worth making the effort to see) we went to Coughton Court. It's the home of the Throckmorton family, managed by the National Trust and has a collection of stunningly pedestrian portraits. Architecturally it's more or less a mix of Tudor and gothic revival, and as romantic as you could hope for.

The portraits are interesting precisely because so many of them are not old masters. It's no bad thing to realise how much very ordinary art covered the walls of the rich and powerful. It's also interesting because it's very much a National Trust house, set up for people to look around and to take the relative beating of all those welly booted feet crossing the carpets. The rooms the public see are stage sets for whatever story the Trust wishes to tell on a given year - which is a great thing in its way, because you can collapse into chairs and enjoy the setting. On the other hand those carefully set rooms with a minimum of things that can be damaged feel a bit dead to me.

On Sunday we went to Deene Park in Northamptonshire - it's part of the Historic Houses association, completely family owned, and open to the public between 2-5 on Sunday afternoons between April and September. Deene Park has a long history (interesting architectural links with nearby Kirby Hall) a lot of very good art, and is very much a living house. It came out of the Second World War in a pretty poor state but the parents of the current owner set about rescuing it, and he and his wife are carrying that project on.

It's definitely worth a look if you're ever in the area when it's open. There was a particularly well preserved tapestry in one room, gardens with teapot topiary which are charming, guides who are more than ready to give their honest opinion about what a shit the 7th Earl of Cardigan was (the charge of the light brigade one, and possibly the best known previous owner). It's also really beautiful inside and out.

I've had some luck in Leicester's charity bookshops. I found a Maria Edgeworth I hadn't heard of - 'Ormond' - which sounds like fun, and 'Female Playwrights of the Restoration' five comedies. Whoever had it before has made copious notes on Susanna Centlivre's 'The Basset Table' and nothing else which I find very intriguing. As a good deed I took a Scottish five pound note as change for these, the oxfam volunteer was unconvinced that it was legal tender, and visibly surprised (also totally unconvinced) when I promised her she wasn't ripping me off because it was actually worth £5 and that there's no sort of exchange rate.

Not in a charity shop I finally bought Angela Clutton's 'The Vinegar Cupboard' which I'm very much looking forward to reading properly, and the new River Cottage handbook on Outdoor Cooking. Living in a city centre flat and not driving creates very few opportunities for outdoor cooking, but a person can dream, and at least I'll know where to turn if I ever find I need to spit roast something.

Finally, just in time to cheer me up prior to tomorrow's return to work, the latest edition of Elementum arrived today. I'll write about this properly when I've read it, but honestly, it's glorious. The theme is Hearth which ties it quite nicely to Outdoor Cooking.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Provoked Wife - Vanbrugh at the RSC

I've had a bit of a thing about Sir John Vanbrugh (soldier, spy, playwright, architect, and who knows what else besides) since student days when I first learnt about him in the context of his architectural achievements (principally Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace - which are perhaps even better pieces of theatre than his plays - which is saying something).

The 1995 production of 'The Relapse' at the RSC was on at the time I was studying him, it absolutely cemented my Vanbrugh fan status (it was an excellent production as well, one that really made me fall in love with both theatre generally, and the RSC specifically). I've been waiting for an opportunity to see another Vanbrugh play ever since, so you can imagine how excited I've been.

To add to the personal investment, this is only the second time in 12 years that I've managed to get my partner to see a play with me. He's not much of a theatre fan, and the only other thing (almost exactly a decade ago) that I got him to watch was a really bad Salome at Leicester's Curve theatre. It was so bad that he's been able to legitimately hold it against me ever since. Happily his interest in architecture made the lure of a Vanbrugh play to much to resist.

I'm not sure that he enjoyed it quite as much as I did, but I enjoyed it a lot, and we've finally agreed we can put Salome behind us. I did wonder beforehand if this performance could possibly live up to the expectations I had for it, but it exceeded them, and I'm really hoping that I might manage to see it a second time.

Lady Brute has married her husband for his money and position, he married her because he fancied her and she was too well connected to rape. Two years later they can't stand the sight of each other, his attraction has worn off, to be replaced by aggressive irritation. On the back of this she's inclined towards having an affair with her husbands friend, Constant, who fell in love with her when he saw her on her wedding day, and has been perusing her ever since. Constant's friend, Heartfree - a younger son of little fortune, and professed woman hater, has been flirting with Lady Fancyfull, but drops her when he meets Bellinda, Lady Brute's niece. Bellinda returns his interest, but neither are sure about marriage, and meanwhile Lady Fancyfull is bent on revenge...

There's a lot going on here, the first half is played mostly for laughs,  the second half is much darker though, going beneath the obvious jokes about marriage to show just how awful it can be to find yourself tied to someone you really dislike. Lady Brute is her husbands property, she cannot leave him. He cannot get rid of her, and Bellinda who has a frontrow view of this toxic relationship has to try and decide what her own future should be.

Vanbrugh presents marriage as a tremendous risk for both parties, and leaves it like that. Sir John might be every bit the brute his name suggests, but it's hard not to feel some sympathy for him. It's easy to feel sympathy for Lady Brute in the face of her husbands actions, but hard to forget that it was vanity and greed that got her into this mess (she wanted a rich husband and assumed she had charms enough to govern him). Constant appears more as the serpent in the garden than salvation.

It's a beautiful production to look at, and the way music and song are used is tremendous as well, and there's any number of excellent performances. The one that really stood out though was Jonathan Slinger as Sir John Brute who just when he's been his most repellent finds the pathos in the character too.

See this play if you can.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

National Trust Book of Puddings - Regula Ysewijn

One of the first cookbooks I ever bought (after Claire Macdonald's 'More Seasonal Cooking', but not long after) was a National Trust publication. I was still at university, and somewhere along the line it disappeared. All I really remember about it now was that the cover had copper pans on it, that it had a good apple cake recipe, and was big on comforting food.

There is nothing more comforting than a pudding, and this pocket sized book capitalises on that. Regular Ysewijn is a pudding expert (her Pride and Pudding book is a magical combination of design and historical research - her photography is stunning - and the whole thing a work of art.) and she was a particularly good choice to write this book. She loves and understands her subject, and doesn't get buried in nostalgia.

That's quite a trick to pull off when you're discussing Spotted Dick, figgy pudding, treacle pudding, cornflake tart, jam roly-poly, and so on. I probably have several recipes for all of those already, and not all of them particularly appeal to me (the figgy pudding does - it would work very well as a Christmas pudding, or for any other wintery dinner party). Jam roly-poly and spotted dick were not parts of my childhood though.

Eve's pudding was - but not this version which suggests using dried barberries soaked in Cointreau (the version I remember from school was nothing much more than an apple sponge - it was good though). I was also momentarily excited by something called a fudge tart. My mother used to make a tart filled with something like fudge and raisins - it's a lost recipe now, we think it might have come from a can of condensed milk. It must have been incredibly unhealthy and was a rare treat, but my god was it was good.

This fudge tart doesn't sound quite like the one I remember and was apparently a school favourite. It does sound good though - but probably best only made for large gatherings and to be eaten in small portions.

I really like the sound of autumn hedgerow pudding for which I would need to make an elderberry jam (I'm here for that), a St George's pudding, Wet Nelly (it's a bread pudding, and I've actually been looking for a good recipe for this for ages), and the Latvian Rye and cranberry trifle amongst others.

Basically these 50 recipes are the perfect mix of antique, familiar, classic, and curious. All the things I would expect and plenty that I did not. Some of them have been tweaked to make them more appealing to contemporary tastes, others (like tipsy pudding) give the opportunity to explore your inner Victorian pastry chef (happily we have more reliable ovens). It's a handy little book to have.