Historic baking – Spanish puffs

The Spanish puffs recipe

On hearing about Lauren’s idea for a blog series based on trying out historical recipes, I was keen to sign up – as a lover of both history (which rather comes with the territory as an archivist…) and, well, food in general it seemed right up my street. After a week or two of procrastination I decided the time had come and I began to peruse Lauren’s selected list of recipes. Pausing over such intriguing options as ‘New College Pudding’ and ‘Gooseberry biscuits’, I came upon a recipe rather enigmatically titled ‘Spanish Puffs’ from the 1787 recipe book from the Maberley family archives. Quite what these were I had no idea, but my interest was piqued and I decided to venture forth into this thrillingly unknown territory.

My initial gung-ho attitude was tempered somewhat when I looked more closely at the recipe which sounded reasonably unappealing. My baking repertoire tends to revolve around simple cookies and cakes with the odd flapjack thrown in, all nice achievable stuff – anything more unusual and I’d normally rather watch the Great British Bake Off contestants wrestle with it than attempt it myself.

A plate of Spanish Puffs – but what lies beneath that crisp exterior? Read on!

The technique for Spanish Puffs involved boiling together water, butter and salt, before mixing in flour and eggs and deep-frying in ‘plenty of Hog’s Lard.’ Yum. I won’t deny that I had second thoughts about the wisdom of my choice, but reminded myself firmly that stepping outside my comfort zone was rather the point. Besides which, hog’s lard aside, the recipe was actually not really particularly far-fetched.

I decided against the ‘Hog’s Lard’ (not sure this is any healthier…)

Essentially this was a choux pastry type of recipe, although the deep frying suggested it might turn out more akin to a doughnut or beignet than a profiterole. I’d never actually made any of these things before but other people did and I hoped optimistically that it would turn out all right. I gathered my ingredients – albeit eschewing the instructed hog’s lard for a vegetarian-friendly substitute. I suspected these puffs would be the type of thing to eat freshly cooked and probably wouldn’t be fresh long enough to take in to the office, but I had my in-house testing team – in the form of my two sons – who I felt I could rely on to clean up.  ‘You’ll eat my weird puffs, won’t you?’ I cheerfully asked Jacob (age 10). ‘I will?’ was his alarmed response as he quickly made himself scarce.

Would you call this a paste?

The first steps of the recipe were pleasingly specific, with precise quantities given and clear instructions and I boiled the requisite butter, water and salt as if this was something I did every day. Then things became slightly less clear, as the recipe told me to ‘Stir in as much flour as will make it a paste.’ How much flour would do such a thing? A very small amount, it turned out. I added two heaped tablespoons to start, and suddenly the whole mixture had become a thick, gluey mass. Rather at a loss, I stirred in a little more then decided to assume this constituted a paste and continued with the instructions by mixing in what seemed to me a rather large quantity of eggs, and getting my ersatz hog’s lard ready to cook the puffs. These, my recipe informed me, should be made from a quantity of mixture ‘about the size of a nut’, dropped in with a teaspoon.

Spot the ‘tail’ which formed when batter was dropped into the oil

The puffs appeared to live up to their name, becoming crispily golden in the hot oil and mostly round-ish, apart from an odd sort of ‘tail’ which formed on one side as I dropped the mixture in. With no directions as to how long these should cook for, I had to rely on appearances, and once they looked vaguely ‘done’ I removed the first batch to a plate and was able to take a reasonably presentable looking photograph (see photo at top of blog).

Whilst, as mentioned, the recipe had begun with reasonable detail, this rather petered out towards the end and amongst other things, there was no sense of how these Spanish puffs might have been served. With no sweetening ingredient in the batter, I speculated that these might, like choux pastry baked goods today, have been expected to be eaten with some sort of sweet condiment and had intended to offer them to the boys sprinkled with icing sugar and with condiments such as honey or jam (such as could plausibly have been served with the original dish) as well as Nutella (not so much, but I thought bribery might be necessary). Before this, though, I felt obliged to test the puffs myself…

Deep frying in progress – but how long for?

It was probably lucky that I did. Exactly where I had erred I wasn’t quite sure, but I had to assume, unless the Maberley family had no taste buds, that something had gone awry. The promising appearance of the puffs gave way to an overly-eggy – and distinctly undercooked interior. Whilst there was an initial crispiness in the outer coating, there was also an unpleasant oiliness. I tried a further couple of batches, making the puffs smaller in size, and leaving them in the hot oil for longer, but all to no avail – the Spanish puffs just didn’t seem to want to become edible. By this time, with my kitchen smelling like a chip shop, and the oil in the pan beginning to look decidedly murky, I decided it was time to give it up as a failed experiment. Whether it was my inexperience with deep-frying, my failure to add sufficient flour, or something indefinably lost in translation in the 300+ years since the recipe was written, this was one historical dish which was perhaps better off left in the archives.

Jo McConville

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Queen Victoria Hospital Archive Project: Beyond McIndoe – staff at QVH


The name of Sir Archibald McIndoe comes – deservedly – to the fore in any retelling of the history of Queen Victoria Hospital. As this series of blogs has highlighted, there can be no doubt of his influence in transforming the fortunes of both the hospital and of a multitude of patients through his pioneering surgical work and sheer force of personality. On the other hand it should also be remembered that McIndoe was not working in isolation; the achievements at QVH both during, and following the war, were very much a collective endeavour, and so many others – nurses, orderlies, anaesthetists, as well as McIndoe’s surgical colleagues and trainees – all had crucial parts to play. Whilst there is not space here to tell the stories of all of those who participated in this great work, it seems worthwhile to highlight just a small number of those individuals – a little less celebrated than McIndoe himself, perhaps – who made a real impact both at QVH and beyond.

Sir William Kelsey Fry © The British Journal of Plastic Surgery

Sir William Kelsey Fry was a distinguished dental surgeon whose formative experience in his field was gained during the First World War where he worked as part of a team treating facial and jaw injuries first at the Cambridge Hospital at Aldershot and then at St Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup. The team included not only the surgeon and war artist Henry Tonks, but also a young Harold Gillies (who of course was later McIndoe’s mentor), then an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. Kelsey Fry and Gillies worked closely together, each learning and gaining from an increased understanding of the other’s specialism (Gillies in surgery and Kelsey Fry in dentistry), and their highly productive working relationship continued in the years following the end of the war.

Gillies and Kelsey Fry were pioneers of the discipline of maxillo-facial surgery and in 1932, the two were appointed by the Army Council to a committee reporting on these types of injuries. In 1935 they published a report making recommendations for treatment, and advising on the organisation of centres for this to take place which became extremely influential in the selection of maxillo-facial units prior to the outbreak of WW2. According to various sources, Kelsey Fry and Gillies were responsible for the choice of Queen Victoria Hospital as one of the the units; Kelsey Fry’s son was at the local Brambletye School and, anticipating the wartime rationing of petrol, he needed a reason to visit the area (whilst East Grinstead was conveniently situated for Gillies between London and his favourite gold club at Rye!).

Kelsey Fry played a crucial role in the work of QVH’s maxillo-facial unit during the war years and dedicated great attention to training those from the armed forces in the treatment of facial injuries, establishing QVH as a centre of excellence in the field.

Ross Tilley being presented with the air raid siren from East Grinstead (Tilley is on the left) © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission

Group Captain Ross Tilley arrived at QVH in 1941. As Principal Medical Officer (overseas) to the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was sent to treat the high proportion of Canadian airmen who had been injured in action and found themselves at East Grinstead.  Tilley, who had previously trained with plastic surgeons in Canada, quickly became one of Archibald McIndoe’s most trusted colleagues and the two were of the same mind in matters of treatment and their personal dedication to the care of their patients.

Tilley was influential in securing the backing of the Canadian government to build the Canadian Wing at QVH. This purpose-built facility was reserved during the war for the treatment of Canadian casualties, under the care of Tilley and his own team of specialists, but was subsequently given over fully to Queen Victoria Hospital for their own use, and formally handed over in a ceremony in September 1945.

Interior and exterior of the Canadian Wing © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission

Tilley returned to Canada after the war where he continued to have an illustrious career in plastic surgery. His memory lives on at Queen Victoria Hospital, where there is a ward named in his honour.

Sir Benjamin Rycroft © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission

Ophthalmologist Benjamin Rycroft arrived at Queen Victoria Hospital at the end of the Second World War to establish a new corneo-plastic department. The field of corneal surgery was one which was developing and growing in prominence but Rycroft’s progress in his work was initially hampered by a shortage of donor eyes, mostly because at that time in the United Kingdom it was actually illegal to donate body parts to the medical profession.  Rycroft (along with McIndoe) played a leading role in a national campaign to educate the public on the urgent need for donor eyes to enable sight-saving corneal grafts to be carried out. In 1952 the Corneal Grafting Act was passed by Parliament and became law, and the country’s first Eye Bank was established at Queen Victoria Hospital. Many hundreds of the QVH case files document the treatments and procedures undergone by patients who were able to benefit from Rycroft’s pioneering efforts in this field.

Joanna McConville, Project Archivist

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The NHS at 70

Royal West Sussex Sketch

Susie Duffin, Searchroom Assistant and former Midwife

The National Health Service (NHS) was introduced by Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health, on the ‘appointed day’ of 5 July 1948. It was born out of the ideal that good health care should be available to all, regardless of wealth. There were three core principles: that it should meet the needs of everyone, that it should be free at the point of delivery and that it should be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

Hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella organisation to provide services that were free for all at the point of delivery.

AM 592-7-221

AM592/7/221 King Edward VII Hospital (1935)

Before the National Health Service was created, patients generally either had health insurance or they were required to pay for their health care. Free treatment was sometimes available from Voluntary Hospitals, funded by charitable donations and endowments and run by boards of Governors.

Some local authorities operated hospitals for local ratepayers, a system originating from the Poor Law workhouses, particularly in the case of some specialist hospitals, such as Isolation Hospitals for infectious diseases. The family doctor service was funded by private health insurance schemes, such as provided by Friendly Societies and Trade Unions.

West Sussex County Times 2 July 1948

‘All Horsham Doctors Join New Service’ West Sussex County Times (2 July 1948)

The National Insurance Act (1911) was introduced by David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchesquer (later to become Prime Minister) whereby a small payment was deducted from weekly wages, with added contributions from employers and the government. In return for these contributions, workmen were entitled to free medical care (plus other benefits). This system of health insurance was one of the foundations of the modern welfare state. However, most women and children were not covered by this scheme. By the time of the Second World War there was already some consensus that National Insurance cover should be extended to include the family of the wage-earner, and it was argued that voluntary and local authority hospitals should be integrated.

An Emergency Hospital Service was established in 1939 in anticipation of expected war casualties. Hospitals were registered and then run centrally, which was the first step to creating a National Hospital/Health Service. After war was declared in September 1939, a national register of UK residents was introduced and National Identity Cards were issued.

Although Identity Cards were abolished in 1952, the identity numbers continued to be used for the National Health Service, ensuring each and every individual had a unique number. Initially, National Insurance contributions were made by the purchase of National Insurance Stamps and these included specific contributions for the National Health Service. The National Health Service Act, 1946, was passed to provide for England and Wales a complete medical service, free of charge at the time it is required, for every citizen.


CPS1472/4 Hospital Sunday at Chichester Cathedral (23 Oct 1962)

Not everyone welcomed this new National Health Service. There were critics and sceptics, especially among some eminent and influential Senior Clinicians and members of the Boards of Governors of the Voluntary Hospitals. Conversely, others took more positive views even if not strictly accurate. In the minutes of the last meeting of the Royal West Sussex Hospital Board of Governors, the Chairman of the Board, Mr R I Henty, was recorded to have said: “In many ways he had had an easier chairmanship than his predecessors, for in their day there was no bottomless Government purse upon which one could anticipate drawing”. (WSRO Ref: HC/RW 401A, p45)

Of course this wasn’t the case as acknowledged in the First Annual Report of the Chichester Group Hospital Management Committee in March 1950: “The National Health Service has now been in existence for twenty-one months and has grown up against a background of rising costs and financial stringency”. (WSRO Ref: HCH 2/1/1, p17)

MP6429 adjusted for printing

MP6429 Save St Richard’s Hospital campaign poster (2007/8)

Some of the difficulties experienced early on can still be seen today. As medical knowledge, technologies, and treatments increase, so more can be done for greater numbers of patients – more people are living longer and requiring increasing medical intervention. The NHS is continually evolving and has undergone some major reorganisations over the last 70 years. It remains a much treasured national asset and the core principle of free treatment for all based on need, not on ability to pay, is generally maintained today.

On display in the searchroom and visitor’s tearoom is a selection of images from our archives, relating to the history of the NHS in West Sussex.


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The ‘Sussex Declaration’ of Independence held at West Sussex Record Office

Low res declaration

Many of our followers will recall the news last year of the ‘Sussex Declaration’, an early copy of the US Declaration of Independence, and the only other ceremonial copy of the Declaration known to exist besides the signed 1776 copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Although the manuscript has been catalogued and stored here at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester since it was deposited in 1956, the significance of the copy was only investigated in the last 2 years, after two Harvard academics from the Declaration Resources Project located it via our entry on the National Archives catalogue. The media interest surrounding the Sussex Declaration was summed up in a previous blog post, and looks set to push WSRO into the limelight once again, with the confirmation of the Sussex Declaration’s authenticity as a contemporary parchment copy.

Following a year of non-invasive testing on the parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence housed at WSRO, Harvard researchers Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, in collaboration with West Sussex Record Office, British Library, Library of Congress, and University of York, have concluded that the results support the hypothesis that the document was produced in the 1780s, and is the only other contemporary manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence on parchment apart from the signed copy at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., known as the Matlack Declaration. There are other printed parchment copies and other handwritten copies on paper but the Sussex Declaration, as it has become known, and the Matlack Declaration, are the only two ceremonial parchment manuscript copies.

Although at 24” x 30.5” the WSRO parchment is on the same ornamental scale as the Matlack Declaration, which was signed by the delegates to Continental Congress, in contrast, the Sussex Declaration lists the signatories written in the hand of a single clerk.

Conservation scientists at the British Library, Library of Congress, and the University of York conducted multi-spectral imaging, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) capture, and protein analysis (DNA testing). The imaging revealed a date beneath a scraped erasure to the right of the document’s title. Beneath the scraping, researchers found a partially inscribed date, reading either “July 4, 178” or “July 4, 179”.

Add Mss 8981 West Sussex Record Office Recto Erasure

Red lines show the downward slope of the erased text (Courtesy of the British Library)

The erased date was written along a slight downward slant, indicating that the clerk made two errors in the initial calligraphy for the date: he (or she) erred with regard to the date itself, using (presumably) the year of production rather than the year in which the Declaration was enacted, and also failed to maintain a horizontal line. Imaging revealed that the inked lines establishing horizontal margins for the parchment, and the lining of the parchment used by the clerk to keep the rest of the text properly aligned were added after this failed inscription was scraped off the parchment. There is congruency in the iron gall ink used throughout the document, indicating that the initial titling, the corrected titling, the body of the text, the list of signatories, and the corrections within the body of the text were written in a relatively short window of time; in other words, the corrections were made almost immediately.

These discoveries support the date of the 1780s for the Sussex Declaration proposed by Allen and Sneff in their paper, “The Sussex Declaration,” forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Bibliographic Society of America this fall. The findings also support their hypothesis that the clerk was inexperienced.

In addition, through XRF analysis, the researchers discovered high iron content in holes in the corner of the parchment, providing supporting evidence for the use of iron nails to hang the parchment at some point. The protein analysis, or DNA testing, revealed that the parchment was prepared from sheepskin, rather than more expensive calfskin. Full copies of the technical reports from the testing are available the Declaration Resources Project website.

Whilst the parchment is currently housed at the West Sussex Record Office, having been deposited in 1956, it is believed to have been held originally by the Third Duke of Richmond, known as the “Radical Duke” for his support of the Americans during the Revolution. The parchment itself is, however, American and is most likely to have been produced in New York or Philadelphia. The team continues to work on the question of when and how the parchment moved to the UK.

Wendy Walker, West Sussex County Archivist, said: “We are extremely

Wendy and Lousie Goldsmith

County Archivist Wendy Walker with West Sussex County Council Leader, Louise Goldsmith, and the Sussex Declaration

excited to hear that Harvard’s research and the scientific analyses confirms the historical significance and importance of this archive. It is a fascinating document and it has been fantastic for us to work with colleagues at Harvard, the Library of Congress, the British Library and the University of York to find out more about the story that surrounds it.”

You can also watch Wendy speak to the BBC about the significance of the Sussex Declaration.

Images of the Sussex Declaration and contextual documents are available here. Please contact emilysneff@fas.harvard.edu for information about image credits.


For Harvard Communications, please contact:

Peter Reuell

Communications Officer, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138


Email: preuell@fas.harvard.edu


For West Sussex Record Office Communications, please contact:

Jo Steele

Senior Press Officer, West Sussex County Council

Tel: +44 (0)33 022 25979

Email: Jo.Steele@westsussex.gov.uk  



Lauren Clifton

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Historic Baking – Date and Walnut Cake

FullSizeRenderI decided to try the recipe from a pamphlet entitled ‘20th Century Cookery – how to cook by electricity’. As a recent convert at home from gas to electricity I was keen to give it a try. However the instructions were rather vague when it came to the temperature settings, referring to the initial oven temperature to be set to ‘Full’ but when you put the cake in to switch it to ‘Low’. I know ovens have become more sophisticated in recent times, in fact somewhat over complicated, to the extent that I always wonder if I’m using the best setting for what I need to cook. I did manage to adapt the recipe to what I thought were the correct temperatures but what really foxed me was the last instruction to ‘finish without current’! Was I to turn the oven off completely? It was supposed to take 1 ½hrs to cook. I decided to leave it on very low as efficient modern fan ovens also cool down quite quickly and would be stone cold IMG_11851 ½ hours later. I am pleased to say the resultant cake was cooked, if somewhat dry. Needless to say the Record Office tasting team didn’t seem at all reluctant to give it try and as long as you had a drink to wash it down, it seemed to get the thumbs up.

I however, will not be adding this to my own cake recipe collection. I’ll stick to a lovely moist date and walnut cake recipe handed down from my mum. She originally made it from a Jimmy Young Show recipe booklet. I’m sure all of you over a certain age will remember the catch phrase ‘what’s the recipe today Jim?’ from his daily radio show in the 1970s. This booklet too should become an archive, but I’ve made the same recipe so many times now I can just about do it from memory.

Clare Snoad


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Queen Victoria Hospital Archive Project: the Guinea Pig Club and the people of East Grinstead





Today’s post is a guest blog from Katie Kettle, a volunteer at East Grinstead Museum, who provides us with a special insight into the relationship between the Guinea Pig Club and the town of East Grinstead.

Archibald McIndoe was one of Britain’s few plastic surgeons at the beginning of the Second World War. Over the course of the war, the work he performed on airmen with severe burn or crush injuries made him famous. His patients created the Guinea Pig Club, one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, so named because McIndoe was often trying out entirely new techniques and operations as part of the process of returning them to ordinary life. East Grinstead became the home of the Guinea Pig Club, and the townspeople formed close and important ties with both McIndoe and his patients. This relationship earned East Grinstead the nickname of ‘The Town That Didn’t Stare’.

Interior of the Whitehall, set up for a dance © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission

McIndoe took over what is now Queen Victoria Hospital on 4 September 1939, a day after war was announced. From the beginning he raised the importance of the psychological recovery of his patients, not just the physical recovery. Many of his patient received “Airmen’s Burns”, full thickness burns to the face and hands, some of whom had been burnt to the point of being unrecognisable. He was determined that his patients should not be excluded from society and asked for the help of the townspeople – he talked about the work of the hospital and the situations of his patients to the townspeople he met, encouraged donations and gained the cooperation of the local police and publicans, the latter of which would play a large part in the recovery process. He encouraged the town to invite the airmen to local events – meals, dances, sporting fixtures – and visited all the shops in town to persuade the shop assistants not to react with horror at the first sight of his patients; to treat them as ordinary young men with temporary problems. His efforts to familiarise the townspeople with the work the hospital was doing meant that it was probably much easier for them to accept the patients into the local community.

Surviving members of the Guinea Pig Club at their last official reunion, 2007 © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission

The attitude of McIndoe and his staff at the hospital started the physical and mental recovery of the patients, while the camaraderie from the Guinea Pig Club meant they felt that they were not facing the consequences of their injuries alone. Combined this gave them the confidence to leave the hospital, but it was the acceptance into the town community, which encouraged the belief that they would be able to return to the outside world without being outcasts. This acceptance retained its importance even well after the war ended – many Guinea Pigs gladly returned to East Grinstead every September for the Annual Dinner until the last was held in 2007.

Exterior of the Whitehall, c1949 © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission

The acceptance of the townspeople was, unsurprisingly, not immediate, but swiftly developed over the first couple of weeks of exposure as the patients ventured out of the hospital and the trips into town helped build up the confidence of the airmen. In particular, the Whitehall complex on London Road became a haven for the Guinea Pigs. Bill Gardiner, the manager, gave pride of place to the Guinea Pigs when they came in to the Restaurant and was very quick to deal with protests from other customers. He became a member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Guinea Pigs (part of the Club made up of those who aided the welfare of the Guinea Pigs), and, for many patients, as soon as they were mobile, the first step to recovery was a trip to the Whitehall. Seats were reserved for them in the cinema, and there was a standing invitation for Club members to take part in the dances at the Rainbow Ballroom.

The relationship between the townspeople and the Guinea Pigs only grew closer following the bombing of the town in July 1943. The cinema, with a full audience for the afternoon matinee, took a direct hit, resulting in 108 deaths. McIndoe and the other hospital staff finished operating on casualties at eleven the next morning, and continued to deal with injuries days later. This event tightened the bond between the hospital and the town further as they worked together to deal with the aftermath.

In addition, the owners of large houses in the area opened their properties as convalescent homes, giving another place for the Guinea Pigs to meet the townspeople. McIndoe also encouraged the townspeople to come to the hospital, visit the wards and talk to the patients there, aided by the lack of formal visiting hours that were in place in other hospitals. Local ladies in particular were encouraged to visit the patients often and to bring fresh flowers to decorate the ward.

A Reader’s Digest article in November 1943 wrote that ‘’His face is the job of the hospital, but his will to live is a job that is in the hands of the townfolk’. The relationship between the patients and the people of East Grinstead was a lifeline to the patients, and enabled them to begin to reintegrate back into the society of the home front.

Katie Kettle, East Grinstead Museum volunteer

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Historic baking – 19th century cinnamon biscuits

When Lauren suggested a series of blogs based around historical recipes I went straight for this recipe for cinnamon biscuits from a book belonging to a Mrs Goacher of Jessops Farm, Ashurst, and dating from 1867 (Add Mss 14940). I love anything cinnamon flavoured and with only five ingredients this sounded like my kind of baking. Little did I know…

Recipe for cinnamon biscuits from Mrs Goacher’s recipe book, 1867 (Add Mss 14940)

The opening part of the recipe presented the first hurdle. Whilst the measurements in the rest of it were familiar (1lb, 1oz) the quantity of flour was a complete mystery – I’d never come across that particular notation before and still don’t know what it is. I assume it’s a measurement or abbreviation which has fallen out of use but if anyone can shed light on it please do let me know! Looking at ratios of sugar, flour and butter in similar biscuit recipes I decided that it must be roughly equivalent to the total weight of the sugar and butter i.e. 2 pounds.

The mysterious quantity of flour presented an early challenge

Realising that if I followed these measurements my colleagues and I would be eating cinnamon biscuits for weeks to come I took the early decision to quarter the recipe. The rest of the recipe required further decisions as it was somewhat light on details. What size glass should I use for the brandy or rum? How thin is very thin? What on earth is a ‘quick oven’? How long should the biscuits be baked for? How many biscuits should the recipe make?

Having made a few educated guesses I got to work. The end result was a pleasantly flavoured – you could really taste the cinnamon – crisp, sweet biscuit which was slightly layered inside. Despite quartering the recipe, and allowing for some wastage and ‘quality control’ testing, I still ended up with around 60 biscuits – as Lauren found in her previous blog post (https://westsussexrecordoffice.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/historic-baking-18th-century-sponge-biscuits/) these recipes seem to be designed for a substantial household! After making the decisions about quantities and timings they were also very easy to make.

The finished product

There was definitely a level of assumed knowledge in this recipe – presumably most of this would have been perfectly obvious to a 19th century cook. It became evident that many of these older recipe books acted more as aide memoires than the precise set of instructions as we would expect from a recipe today. I was also intrigued to find that the biscuit recipe sat alongside a method for removing stains and a treatment for coughs – maybe a challenge for one of my more adventurous colleagues!

Here’s the recipe I ended up using – let us know if you try this at home or about any historic baking you’ve done!

Cinnamon biscuits

Yield: approximately 60 small biscuits.


250g flour

125g caster sugar

125g butter (either slightly salted or unsalted should be fine)

1.5tsp ground cinnamon

30-45ml dark rum or brandy


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Mix together the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon – I ended up with a mix that resembled crumble topping.
  3. Pour in the rum and mix well until you have a dough – I found I needed around 45ml but would suggest pouring in gradually until you reach the desired consistency – you may not need this amount.
  4. Roll out on a well-floured surface to desired thickness (no more than the thickness of a pound coin).
  5. Cut out using desired shape and size of cutter and carefully place onto baking trays.
  6. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 9 minutes until golden brown – depending on your oven you may want to check after 7 minutes. Allow to cool – they will crisp up as they cool.

Jenny Mason

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