Larkrise Hamlet Food (and what it taught me)

With wedding bells just a few days away for my younger sister, this has been a busy time for my family, though I didn’t mean to drop off my blog completely last week! I am scurrying around in the kitchen as usual, and have many posts to bring to you soon. Stay tuned!

I was introduced to the book, Lark Rise to Candleford(authored by Flora Thompson) by the BBC version of the book. Having watched some of the series I knew I had to read the “real thing”. Flora Thompson description of growing up in a hamlet at the turn of the century is full of both dirt and beauty. I found these down to earth, joyful, non-sentimental people intriguing and I loved the descriptions of their cooking as well. I found much to admire and learn from these strong-limbed people.

But before we get to the food, let me briefly introduce you to the people and their life.
A Tough Group

The hamlet people were full of joy of life even though they were a half step away from poverty with no hope of ever getting ahead. They were the type of people who would drop everything to help a neighbor with a new baby. They didn’t want to “flinch” in life, but face it courageously. And they expected their children to do the same. The women would put their toddlers outdoors, running noses or not, and let them fight, play, and wander the daylong. It was a rough and tumble upbringing for sure, with sweet games of play, and flying fights, kicking feet and even cruel games.

It Was Better in the Past

These hardy people were the remnants of past traditions before the new world of machines and the Industrial Revolution. But they didn’t have it as well off as their grandparents and parents who had access to common ground, where they could raise animals and plant crops. The older houses in that Hamlet showed some of the prosperity of that former time with fine furnishing. In that day, all of the common land and been plotted off and now the men, instead of working for themselves, were paid a small amount to work for the farmer who owned the land.

With not as much freedom to raise crops and animals for themselves, these bright eyed, strong-armed, white teethed people managed to feed themselves. Here’s how.

A Garden

“ The men took great pride in their gardens and allotments and there was always competition amongst them as to who should have the earliest and choicest of each kind. Fat green peas, broad beans as big as a halfpenny, cauliflowers a child could make an armchair of, runner beans and cabbage and kale, all in their seasons went into the pot with the poly-poly and slip of bacon. Then they ate plenty of green food, all home-grown and freshly pulled; lettuce and radishes and young onions with pearly heads and leaves like fine grass.”

They depended on their garden to survive and it sounds like they were quite successful at it as well. The main meal of the day was full of freshly picked garden produce. Every night, after working all day on the land, the men could be found working their garden. Or perhaps, hanging over the fence watching the beloved pig with a neighbor.

The Pig

Every household had a pig. It was the main source of protein for them, and extremely important. They may not have common land anymore to raise a wide variety of animals, but they still had room a few feet away from their windows, for a pigsty. Its stench would make its way into the house at times, but they called it a “healthy smell” because for them it was. It was food to nourish.

Feeding the pig was a family affair. Everyone took part in gathering and feeding that family pig. All of the kitchen scraps would be given to the pig, and the children on the way home from school would gather armfuls of wild greens, acorns, and snails which the pig relished.

Once the pig was slaughtered, the fresh meat was shared among the neighbors and enjoyed in celebration in the house and the wife would get to work.

“Hams and sides of bacon were salted, to be taken out of the brine later and hung on the wall near the fireplace to dry. Lard was dried out, hog’s puddings were made, and the chitterlings were cleaned and turned three days in succession under running water, according to ancient ritual.”

Wild Food and other Foods

While the common ground was gone, they still had access to enough wild food for the children to pick and enjoy wild greens on the way to school (it was, after all a mile and a half long). And the mothers would pick wild berries to make into jams and wines for the yearlong. I would imagine then, that these housewives bought sugar to make their jams.

Eggs would sometimes to be found in their diet as well, if they were lucky enough to have their own fowl, or when egg prices were the cheapest in the year. While some families made a point to buy milk for their growing children, many did not. In fact, many did not even taste it, from the point of weaning until their death!

A heavy expense on their budget was bread, which they bought. But the women and children would glean the fields for wheat for making their own “Roly Polys” and such.

Their Daily Meals

Their one hot meal of the day generally consisted of a bit of bacon, green vegetables and potatoes from the garden and “Roly-Poly” a type of steamed bread, from what I can gather. Not everyone had an oven, so it was all cooked in one pot, the different cooking times accounted for by having each food cooked in separate nets and cloth and added at the appropriate time. The author claims that this did produce an appetizing meal, though so different from how we cook now.

For other meals, they often ate bread spread with butter on occasion or, more often, rosemary scented lard, which they relished. Sometimes the men would spread their serving with mustard as well, while the children would get a bit of treacle or dark brown sugar.

What I learned from the Hamlet People

While so much of that culture is long gone, there is still much I can learn from the Hamlet people. For example: 1) A joy in life, regardless of finances. 2) The fact that without computers, TV or Netflicks, one can spend the evening in the garden and have food to show for it. 3) Pigs are good for eating scraps and turning it into meat (but they are stinky).4) Simple food is okay.

I love learning about people (and in their food) in history. Thank goodness for books!

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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Comments

  1. says

    What a delightful post! I too love reading about people and their food in history. Two of your final points really hit me:

    1) A joy in life, regardless of finances;

    2) The fact that without computers, TV or Netflicks, one can spend the evening in the garden and have food to show for it.

    I love number 1. How important it is to be reminded of this every now and then. Appreciate what we have, enjoying our families and pets and just relishing in the beauty of every day life can make any place special.

    I remember once when I was growing up – my Mom and I were driving through a poor neighborhood. I commented to my Mom how glad I was that we didn’t live there. She looked at me and said, “Oh it wouldn’t be so bad. A good coat of paint on the house, a garden out back. And most important we’d be together.” It really hit me when she said that. My mom lived an affluent adult life – but she never forgot those times growing up during the depression when most everyone struggled. But the house was neat and clean and there was always food from the garden. She often recounted those times as some of the best in her life.

    Oh and number 2! How true! We make a point of having a family dinner together almost every night – no electronics. We laugh and talk and then clean up together (I like the help!). We do some last minute prep for the next day and then wash up for the night. Then we all gather in the same room and read. When we do this, I sleep so well! When we forget and get distracted with the computer or the TV it changes the family dynamics and we get to bed later than normal and are cranky in the morning!

    Thank you again for sharing this wonderful story. It is so important in more ways than one. It reminds us to not only re-connect with our food (and where it comes from!) but to re-connect with our families.

    Love,

    Mary

  2. Jean says

    Love this post! I want to pick up this book and read it now. Thanks for introducing it to us; I will be borrowing it from the library shortly.

    I love learning about peasant diets! It definitely makes me thankful for the bounty we experience today and it makes me very thoughtful over the choices we make in food these days.

  3. Eleni says

    We still eat Roly Poly pudding in our half English half greek house in Athens (Greece)! It is one of the most common steamed puddings, economical, surprisingly light and very filling. It is made with flour, not bread. It is a traditional nursery pudding for children, which adults hanker for, so is popular in the men’s clubs in London.

    Below is the recipe for Roly Poly, and a recipe for Bread Pudding (delicious!). I am using English measurements.

    Jam Roly Poly

    6 oz (150g) self-raising flour
    pinch salt
    3 oz (75g) shredded suet
    1/4 pint (150g) cold water
    8 oz (225g) jam – raspberry, damson, strawberry, blackcurrent -strong flavours and colour to contrast with the pastry

    Stir together the flour, salt, suet and mix to a firm dough with water. Roll out to a rectangle 8″ x 12″ and spread thickly with jam. Roll up firmly and put on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 425 F or 220 C for 40 minutes until golden brown.

    Bread Pudding

    8 slices bread
    1/2 pint (300g) milk
    12 oz (350g) mixed dried fruit
    2 oz (50g) chopped mixed peel
    3 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar
    2 tablespoons dark orange marmelade
    1 1/2 oz (40g) self-raising flour
    2 eggs
    Squeeze of lemon juice
    1 tsp cinnamon
    4 oz (100g) butter

    This can be eaten hot with or without custard, or cut into squares to eat cold as a cake.
    Break up the bread, including crusts, and soak in the milk until soft. Beat well with a fork so that it becomes a soft cream mixture. Add the dried fruit and peel. Grate the apple with its peel and add. Stir in the sugar, marmalade, flour, eggs, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Melt the butter and pour half into the bread mixture. Beat well and put into a greased roasting tin 11″ x 8″. Pour the remaining butter in a thin stream to cover the surface. Bake at 300 F, 150 C for 1 1/2 hours, and then at 350F, 180C for 30 mins.
    Cut into squares and eat with hot custard.
    Some people prefer to leave it cold, then sprinkle thickly with icing or caster sugar and slice it as a cake.

    When the English were in charge of the greek Ionian islands in the 19th C, they left behind a love of cricket, ginger beer (‘tzinzta bira’) and bread pudding (‘poudinga’), all of which are enjoyed there today!
    And after the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, the belgians also adopted this recipe, which they call Boudine.

    Both are extremely humble sweets, compared to the American desserts we know here, and perhaps might not be considered sweet enough? But my sweet-toothed 14 year old boy recently told me he likes these much better because they are LESS sweet and more satisfying. I was thrilled to hear this!

    Good luck to your sister for her wedding! XRONIA POLLA (‘many years!’!
    But I hope that the Nourishing Gourmet
    This pudding may be boiled or baked

    • says

      This is wonderful! Thank you for posting these recipes. My children love Beatrix Potter but I never understood the story of the Roly Poly Pudding. Now I do 🙂

  4. Jeannie says

    Hello Kiki. I need help please. I have tried a number of times to make yogurt using raw milk. My latest try was using the exact recipe from Nourishing Traditions. I set my dehydrated at 95 degrees for 8 hours and when it was done my Melkite had a bit of a sour smell and it was still milk not thicker like yogurt. Any tips? I am afraid I will have to revert back to making yogurt using regular organic milk. If I do, does the bacteria change it to being healthier. Thanks for any help you can give me. I LOVE! LOVE!! Your blog. Thanks!

  5. Jeannie says

    Hello Kiki. I need help please. I have tried a number of times to make yogurt using raw milk. My latest try was using the exact recipe from Nourishing Traditions. I set my dehydrated at 95 degrees for 8 hours and when it was done my Milk had a bit of a sour smell and it was still milk not thicker like yogurt. Any tips? I am afraid I will have to revert back to making yogurt using regular organic milk. If I do, does the bacteria change it to being healthier. Thanks for any help you can give me. I LOVE! LOVE!! Your blog. Thanks!

  6. says

    I love hearing these “old” stories about how people ate.
    @Eleni, Wow that recipe looks gooooood and I can’t wait to try it out!

  7. says

    Hey Kimi! This is awesome! I just got through reading Lark Rise to Candleford as well- and because we fell in love with the BBC mini-series! I love Flora Thompson’s descriptions of hamlet life. She’s very honest. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  8. brooke says

    I adore this book! Such interesting reading…..I found it interesting that milk was purchased to feed the hog. Thanks!

  9. says

    I’ve been watching the series as well. It’s definitely inspiring, but it’s also a reminder of how good we have things today as well. It would have taken women days to do the laundry back then. I did some research on it. I saw a piece on Larkrise of Laura’s ma and Queenie doing the laundry and I just had to know more about it in case I would ever lose my washing machine functionality. Well, the process required big pots of hot water to be moved by the women, lye soaps (which they probably made themselves), and lots and lots of back breaking effort either with the washer on a stick or with the washing board (or both) and then great strength with the wringing out. It was just one more reason you’d better be on good terms with your neighbors so you didn’t have to do it alone!

    I am grateful for the modern amenities I have, but I too love many of the simple things of the past. There’s not much better in the food world than a properly roasted chicken and root vegetables.

  10. says

    What a great post! I haven’t seen the TV series, but have read the book (several times). It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve read and a fascinating account of how people lived – survived – in a world devoid of our modern conveniences. Tough life, but they certainly managed, and certainly sounded happy!

    I am so fascinated by their diets back then – true peasant food. I often roll my eyes at how unhealthy traditional English food is (I’m a Brit) but their diets were really so wholesome, and so abundant vegetables (fruit too, of course, though less exotic… the part where Laura buys as orange and takes the peel to school to chew on for the flavour, because it was such a rare treat in unimaginable to me…) and with very very little dairy and the smallest amount (what was it, like the equivalent of a finger?) of meat per day. And they were, generally, strong and healthy people. She describes one woman as having black hair into her eighties, and still living a strong and physical lifestyle as an old peasant woman!

    Anyway… you can see I’m very passionate about this book… and everything we can learn from it! So, thank you for this post, I’m SO glad to find it, and see that you’re sharing the Larkrise wisdom! 😉

  11. says

    What a great post! I haven’t seen the TV series, but have read the book (several times). It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve read and a fascinating account of how people lived – survived – in a world devoid of our modern conveniences. Tough life, but they certainly managed, and certainly sounded happy!

    I am so fascinated by their diets back then – true peasant food. I often roll my eyes at how unhealthy traditional English food is (I’m a Brit) but their diets were really so wholesome, and so abundant vegetables (fruit too, of course, though less exotic… the part where Laura buys an orange and takes the peel to school to chew on for the flavour, because it was such a rare treat in unimaginable to me…) and with very very little dairy and the smallest amount (what was it, like the equivalent of a finger?) of meat per day. And they were, generally, strong and healthy people. She describes one woman as having black hair into her eighties, and still living a strong and physical lifestyle as an old peasant woman!

    Anyway… you can see I’m very passionate about this book… and everything we can learn from it! So, thank you for this post, I’m SO glad to find it, and see that you’re sharing the Larkrise wisdom! 😉

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