Ok, anyone who loves feeding people knows that, illogically, you feel that when people praise your food they are, by default, also praising you. I think that might be why I like feeding people so much.
Last Sunday, when I had my first day at Ham House, another volunteer who’s been there for 15 years was talking about his oven being broken. He said he would normally bring a cake in every Sunday to put in the tea room for when the volunteers have their breaks.
A ha! thought I. I see an opening for a new cake-baker and, potentially, a new most-popular volunteer.
With my sights set on one day inheriting Ham House (who wouldn’t want this as their holiday home?)…
…and becoming the 3rd Countess of Ham (I’m sure that’s a thing), I thought I’d become temporary cake-provider.
Now, the night before, having made my fabulous plan, I went to my kitchen to bake a cake…. And found I was out of sugar. What a loser. Who lets themself run out of sugar?! So I made a loaf of bread with loads of different spices and seeds and took along one of the chutneys I made at the farm.
When I got to Ham House, I dropped the goodies in the tea room with a note before going to bake for the visitors.
I headed to the kitchen with the volunteer baker for that day, who I would be shadowing. We baked two different types of biscuits, using 17th century recipes that we didn’t change at all (apart from baking them in an electric oven, of course).
One was a carraway and coriander biscuit. And could I stop calling it carrot and coriander when speaking to visitors? No, of course not! And they’d go, “O, carrot and coriander biscuits? Interesting!” And then I’d be like, “O no, sorry. Carraway and coriander.” And feel silly.
The other was called a knot biscuit, because of how the dough was rolled into strips and twisted or knotted together. They had carraway, ground mace and fennel seeds in them.
Here’s a close up of my prettiest knotting attempt.
The baking smells brought visitors and other volunteers down to the room, following their noses. Although it was a much quieter day than the previous Sunday I had worked, we still had a decent amount of people come and linger, chatting about the history of the kitchen.
Every so often, I brushed a stray bit of flour off the beautiful elm wood table which, they think, has been there since the early 1600s and I’d think of the people who had worked at this table before me and think how interesting it would be if the table could talk.
Once we’d finished baking, we stayed to the end to talk to people about the recipes and what 17th century food was like. It was good fun because food is a thing most people can connect with because most people cook so I ended up having some quite in-depth discussions, speculating on the occasions when the biscuits might have been eaten and what with and were they dipped into a hot drink or eaten after dinner as a digestive, etc etc.
When I popped to the tea room at the end of the day to check on the bread and chutney situation, the loaf was now a few crumbs on some napkins and the chutney was half empty. One of the gardeners was in there and she asked if I was the one who baked the bread and said the gardeners had loved it! They snaffled half of it in about ten minutes and loved the chutney! Even the lady I was shadowing on the baking said she had tasted it and enjoyed it!
So I think that means they love me too, surely? Isn’t that what that means? What to bake for next time though? Suggestions please.
Signing off, Laura Maisey, (future) 3rd Countess of Ham and Lady of the Manor at Ham House.