Posts Tagged ‘cakes’

Things I have learned about myself in the kitchen

1. Sometimes, I can spend all day doing things but somehow, when I get to the end of the day, I feel like I haven’t done anything.

2. Every so often, I spend a whole day burning things.

3. When I feel something might not turn out well, I need to trust that feeling, rather than going “I’m sure it’s going to be fine.” Often, it is not going to be fine and I curse myself for not listening to my instincts.

4. I can be grumpy in the kitchen. Boy, can I be grumpy! I’m sure you were all under the impression that I am quite lovely and bright as a daisy and Mother Earth-y. Weren’t you?… Weren’t you? Well, it appears, I’m not. I’m as shocked as you are, readers. I’m as shocked as you are.

5. I can spend hours washing leaves and drying them. Sorrel is probably my least favourite thing to wash because it doesn’t respond well to being spun. If you separate each leaf out and lay them on some paper towel to air dry, they are happier but it takes f o r e v e r.

6. I didn’t know that eggs are classed as ‘raw meat’ in the kitchen. That’s not really something I’ve learned about myself but it’s still an interesting kitchen-related fact.

7. I do not drink enough when I work in a kitchen. I think it’s because I’m spending less time by the coffee machine. Usually, making drinks for other people will prompt me to think of making myself a cup of tea or getting some water. But in the kitchen, I’ve got out of that habit. Sometimes I’ll get to the end of my working and realise I’ve drunk nothing all day.

8. I don’t like a cake to go out untasted. Because that would just be careless. What kind of cake baker would give the public something they hadn’t tasted? And so I eat a lot of cake. Some people might say it’s just greed because, really, if the same batch of cake mix made 6 carrot cakes, does each individual cake need to be tasted? A lot of people would say no. I would say that you can never be sure so it’s best to taste them anyway.

9. If it is quiet, my Fast Mode doesn’t quite kick in. I can hear a voice in the back of my head telling me to start cleaning and get a head start on it all so I don’t have as much to do at closing time. So I look around and see bits of lemon icing splatted on the surfaces and scone mix all over the Hobart mixer and scraps of stuff on the floor and I’ll be like, “Hmm, what needs doing? Nope, nothing. It looks fine in here.” Then I get to the end of the day and I’m like “Omygoodness there’s sooooo much to do.”

10. The little paper hats you have to wear in the kitchen always make me feel a little sailorish. Or Thunderbirdsish. Let’s go with Thunderbirds. And it is a known fact of life that everything is more exciting if you pretend you are in Thunderbirds.

A day in the life of a scullery maid

I’ve been volunteering at Ham House for a few weeks now so I thought I’d give you all a little insight to a typical day in the kitchen there.

I spend an hour or so in the morning, testing the recipe I’m doing that day so I’m prepared for any potential disasters. Depending on if I have spotted any, I will pack my bag of stuff to take and include things which may prevent anything going wrong, eg, a palate knife to save me fighting with a biscuit stuck on a tray in front of the visitors.

I walk to the river and take the pleasantest half hour commute I’ve ever known, alongside the Thames.

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When I get there, I’ve already worked out what I’ll need from the cafe kitchen so I head there, pick up my eggs and butter, leave my stuff in a locker in the main house then put on my apron and get a head start on my baking before the house opens to the public.

As the kitchen is at the end of the recommended walk around the house, I have 45 minutes or so to get my first batch done.
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During this 45 minutes, the other room guides and demonstrators will have followed their noses to the kitchen to try the biscuits/cakes and have a little chitchat.

Once the first visitors come downstairs to look around, I’m in it then. The questions are constant.

“What are in these biscuits?”
“Where did you find the recipe, they’re really good.”
“When would these have been eaten?”
“What would they have been eaten with?”
“How many servants would have been working in the kitchen?”
“Would they have eaten at this table too?”

And I love it. I totally get in the zone. I tell them the answers when I do know them and speculate on the possibilities when I don’t. Long discussions arise, about how much wine they drunk, whether they had a small digestive biscuit after dinner, whether they brewed tea in the dining room or whether it was brewed in the kitchen then taken up because surely it would have been cold by then and etc, etc.

And people say fabulous things before they leave the kitchen, the best being a variation on, “This really brings the history alive.” I love that I’ve taken part in a kind of ‘living history’ thing, where people become more interested or understand better the history of where they are because of something I have done or said.

The baking and the tasting and the chatting continues on for a few hours, when it starts to die down. As the remaining visitors walk around, I start packing up my stuff. Once the house is officially closed, I take everything back to the tea room except the butter and eggs, which I take to the cafe kitchen.

When I return from the cafe kitchen, everyone else has gone. There are only a few volunteers left upstairs, tidying things up for the evening. As I walk through the downstairs section and all the lights are off, I feel like an actual scullery maid from 1650 staying awake to keep the fire stoked overnight. I imagine what my life would have been like 400 years ago and what it was really like to work in a house like this.
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Some time after this, I stop daydreaming, change my smart clothes for comfy ones and walk home along the river. It is around this point that I realise what I brilliant day I have had and need to share it so Facebook something like, “What a brilliant day.” I’m so imaginative.

And that, my friends, is my typical day as a scullery maid in the Ham House kitchen. I would’ve done fabulously in Downton Abbey times. I wouldn’t be surprised if they called and asked me to be in the next series actually.