Sunday, 11 May 2008


We go round to D's grandparents' house nearly every Sunday. We'll sometimes do some shopping for them and then take it round, put it away and sit with a cuppa. D will often have a cornetto. It's a nice way to spend an hour or two on a Sunday.

Of course, a couple of weeks ago I dropped a tin of soup on his grandma's foot, which to cut a very long story very short, necessitated an ambulance coming out to patch up her foot. I was horrendously embarrassed, but she seemed to forgive me before it'd even stopped hurting.

Today, we sat eating coconut macaroons that I'd seen in the supermarket and had a yearning for. That started a discussion about coconut haystacks, as discussed by the lovely Caroline here. (We've decided that coconut haystack is a regional term for them, by the way.)

This reminded D's grandma of something and she suddenly disappeared into her bedroom, which she does fairly regularly. She appeared a couple of minutes later, brandishing three Be-Ro recipe books. One of them, the newest, was the red one on the right hand side of that link. That was the 24th edition. The next oldest is the 11th edition. The oldest is so old it doesn't have an edition number, but unfortunately it's also missing its front cover, so I doubt I'll ever be able to work out exactly how old it is.

I spent ages flicking through them. The first two don't have anything so accurate as temperatures to bake at - they have to go with high, moderate or low as oven temperatures. One even talks about 'ordinary coal ovens'. Coal ovens?! I suppose bakers had to use something before domestic gas was piped to houses, but I'd never thought about it before.

The books are filled with line drawings of women and little girls and exhortations to teach your daughters to bake.

There's nothing so crazy as marzipan to go on your fruitcakes. Instead, the baker needs to make up 'almond icing' as the first layer to go beneath the royal icing.

'Coconut' is spelled 'cocoanut'.

In one of the books, someone has costed up all the ingredients for the Xmas cake (Xmas cake, not Christmas cake, which surprised me). I can tell you that when the 24th edition was out, it would have cost 19 shillings 6 pence ha'penny.

Just before we were going, as I was taking my mug into the kitchen, his grandma followed me out and asked if I would keep them and not give them away to anyone, and I told her I would love to keep them. I think they're probably worth a bit, especially the middle one, but I wouldn't sell them unless she actually wanted me to. 'The others wouldn't be interested,' she said. D's dad and his brother have married women who don't really 'do' baking. I don't bake much, but I love it when I do. Tonight I'm making fairy cakes for a friend's birthday tomorrow in lieu of a present.

Baking is one of those underrated skills. Because it's seen as a woman's 'thing' - like knitting before its recent resurgence - it's looked down on and scorned. (One of my cousins used to love baking when he was a kid, but his dad wouldn't let him continue with that hobby. I often wonder how differently his life would have turned out if he'd been encouraged to bake. As it happens he drifted for a long time before settling down with a lovely girl.) I think it's important to pass these skills down, to boys and girls. I plan to learn to knit again before D and I have kids. To learn to use a sewing machine. And to pass these skills down through the generations, to boys and girls.

As I was getting into the car to go home with D, I realised that I've just received my first family heirloom from D's family. I feel honoured that it's also a little piece of social history.

If the writing ever falls through, my plan is to start a little tearoom somewhere. Maybe if that happens, I'll use some of these recipes.


minxlj said...

I LOVE old Bero books! I remember my nanna having one from just before the war I think, and the recipes just seemed so curious to me. I treated it with kid gloves, which is why it was given to me when she died, along with her old books from the 1920s/30s. Absolutely fascinating stuff. She never measured any recipe, she could do it all by guessing - something I still don't trust myself to do!

I've also got one of my mother's Bero books from the early 80s, and a new one from a year or two ago. 3 generations and a lot of the recipes are still the same! Classic stuff :-)

Baking a good cake is definitely a skill to be treasured. I haven't done it in a while with moving house and all but I'm getting the urge again!

B said...

I'm so glad someone appreciates the Bero books! I was so excited to get them - still am. So fascinated to see how they have changed over the years. Apparently my nanna has some old recipe books in her garage that were destined to be thrown out. Now my mum has heard how much I love them they are coming to me - yay!

There is a recipe for milk fadge in the books - I hadn't got a CLUE what it was till I asked his grandma :)

I suppose that for a long time people didn't have accurate scales at home, any more than they had a temperature gauge on their oven!