The Bloomsbury Group has fascinated me for years. I like to imagine that one day when I step into that magical chalk pavement picture I will to end up in Tavistock Square in London before the Great War. I will, of course, have an English accent, an impeccable university first and I will be tall, whippet thin, and terribly clever. My best friends will be those Stephen girls, Virginia and Vanessa, before they married.
We will paint pictures, write books, we will throw our stuffy middle class manners aside, we will enjoy elaborate costume parties, and we will dine well. We will go skinny dipping in Grantchester with dons, writers, painters, critic, economist, and poets. Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry will sit at our knees. Rupert Brooke won’t die during the war, and our tow-headed offspring are now good-hearted and talented thinkers and artists.
Virginia Woolf wrote about food often in her novels, (though in real life she simply could not eat) but the idea of recreating some of her meals without using her live-in cook is daunting. Boeuf en daube in the middle of this heat wave was not something I cared to tackle for this week’s Food Friday. https://yummy-books.com/2011/08/15/to-the-lighthouse-boeuf-en-daube/ But I will file the recipe away for a future column, preferably in the depths of winter, when three days of food prep will seem like a pleasant way to fritter away some time.
Kate Young, a writer for the Guardian, has cooked and photographed dishes from fiction in her weekly column Little Library Café. She has tried her hand at Harriet M. Welch’s tomato sandwiches, fried chicken from To Kill A Mockingbird, and prepared another dish from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, https://www.theguardian.com/books/little-library-cafe/2016/may/05/food-in-books-sole-with-white-sauce-from-a-room-of-ones-own-by-virginia-woolf This is not the sort of dish the Bloomsberries would have had at a summer tea party, though. It was a patronizing and demeaning dish served in a women’s college, while the college men were enjoying Bacchanalian quail’s eggs and Champagne. I want to have something more festive and summery.
What would we serve the Bloomsberries for tea? Honey cakes, madeleines, strawberries and cream?
Honey Cake (Bees were kept at Charleston, Vanessa’s country house)
This recipe is adapted from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (An indispensable guide for living)
1 pound self-raising flour
5 ounces soft brown sugar
6 ounces clear honey and 3 tbsp for glaze
8 ounces butter
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ cup brandy
Boil the honey and sugar together, stir in the butter, cinnamon and cloves. Remove from the fire, add the brandy and leave to cool for 10-15 minutes. Beat the eggs and stir into the mixture. Sift the flour and add to the contents of the stew pan and stir well. Pour into a 20 cm buttered/floured cake tin, and bake in a preheated 150 C oven for approximately 1 hour. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.
Heat 3 tablespoons honey and spoon over the cake to glaze.
Angelica Garnett’s Cherry Tart
Angelica was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (Angelica went on to marry Bunny Garnett, who had been Duncan Grant’s lover. It is a very complicated family…)
9 ounces flour
Pinch of salt
2 ounces sugar
3-4 ounces lard
Yolk of one egg
2-5 tablespoons cold water
4-5 cups Morello cherries, pitted
2 ounces sugar
One egg white, beaten
Sprinkling of sugar
Sieve flour into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt or 2 ounces sugar. Mix with the lard, make a hole in the middle and stir in egg yolk and water; enough to make it stick, but be careful to leave it as crumbly as possible. Form into a ball and leave for one hour.
Pre-heat oven to 190 C, roll out the pastry and fill a round tin with it. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and then fill the half-baked pie crust with cherries, covered with the 2oz sugar. Lower to 180 C and bake for another 25-35 minutes.
When cold, if desired, add the egg white on top, beaten to a froth, with a little sugar.
I am yearning for something light and lemon-y. I am going to stick with a good American summer pie recipe since I won’t be able to pull off an English accent for long unless that Champagne flows copiously. I think for once we might persuade Virginia to nibble a little bit, and Vanessa promises we can paint the leftovers. I must go change my frock for tea. Lemon Icebox Pie: https://gardenandgun.com/blog/southern-summer-dessert
“A good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”-Virginia Woolf
Read more of Kate Young’s fabulous literary food columns here: