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Glemsford Local History Society shares historic recipes of years gone by in new book Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice compiled by Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill



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Delicately flavoured with rosewater, drizzled with honey and decorated with flower petals... it’s no wonder ‘Fine Cakes’ were a favourite at the court of Henry VIII.

The king no doubt enjoyed them with all six wives, although given his gargantuan appetite the queen might have needed quick reactions to get her share.

And 500 years later they are no less delicious, cooked not in a Tudor palace but in a kitchen in Suffolk.

Fine cakes, which we popular at the court of Henry VIII. Picture by Richard Marsham
Fine cakes, which we popular at the court of Henry VIII. Picture by Richard Marsham

Fine Cakes – they have the texture of a soft, slightly crumbly shortbread – are one of the recipes in a book just published by Glemsford Local History Society.

Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice has been compiled by society member Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill. Some recipes date back centuries.

There are more modern family favourites too, either her own or contributed by society members and friends. Several dishes are specific to Suffolk, and the mix is seasoned with a sprinkling of history.

Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill who has written an historical recipe book titled Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice. Picture by Richard Marsham
Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill who has written an historical recipe book titled Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice. Picture by Richard Marsham

So whether your taste buds are tempted by Bury Old Simnel Cake from the early 1800s, or a more familiar lasagne, the book should appeal.

She also includes hints and tips from times past... some of which would raise eyebrows today like the advice that ‘petrol is excellent for cleaning gentlemen’s clothes’.

But at least the quoted household expert, who suggests applying with a small piece of flannel, does add ‘do not use near an open fire as it is very flammable’.

Experimenting with old recipes, Steph discovered some adapt very well to today’s needs.

Spices, and even sugar, would have been ground in a pestle and mortar in the 16th century
Spices, and even sugar, would have been ground in a pestle and mortar in the 16th century

“Fine Cakes are very practical because they freeze very well, you can batch cook them so they are good for modern living too,” she said.

“They’re very subtle. There’s rosewater in there. It can be quite strong so you only need a very small amount.

“Sugar was very, very expensive, and only for those in high society. It came in hard cones.

“Before you could do anything you had to break off chunks then grind it up in a pestle and mortar. But in a castle full of servants the amount of work wasn’t a worry.”

Some of Stephanie's food, including fine cakes (front) which we popular at the court of Henry VIII. Picture by Richard Marsham
Some of Stephanie's food, including fine cakes (front) which we popular at the court of Henry VIII. Picture by Richard Marsham

Sugar was imported to Britain in the 16th century from cane grown around the shores of the Mediterranean. It would have been similar to the demerara we know today.

In Henry VIII’s time it was crafted by the court confectioner into magnificent table centrepieces, Steph explains.

But first, she says, it had to be boiled up by a more lowly servant – a very dangerous job.

Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice book cover. Picture by Richard Marsham
Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice book cover. Picture by Richard Marsham

Not that being able to afford sugar did the upper classes much good. Higher status people suffered far more tooth decay than poor people like farmworkers.

Steph’s recipes from long ago include capon with oranges and lemons, a chicken dish combining meat and fruit which Steph says is a Middle-Eastern tradition brought to England by the Crusaders.

Tart of cheese, from the 16th century, is recognisable as a forerunner of a modern quiche.

God’s Kitchel Cake (see recipe) dates back at least to the 14th century... the kitchel is mentioned by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales written in 1386.

An illustration of an old recipe book called Cookery for the Middle Classes, from Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill's book Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice. Picture by Richard Marsham
An illustration of an old recipe book called Cookery for the Middle Classes, from Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill's book Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice. Picture by Richard Marsham

From Sudbury comes a late 19th century sweet called Sheet Lightning – bread, sometimes fried in butter, spread with golden syrup and topped with whipped cream.

Other recipes include Haverhill Flan and Newmarket Cake, as well a Suffolk farmhouse favourite, Potato Pudding, which was very popular in the 19th century.

And to wash it down, how about a warming draught of Buttered Beere – an ancient drink for wintry evenings.

Wartime dishes include trench cake, which was sent to soldiers in the First World War, and spam hash and mock cream which made the most of rations in World War Two.

“It’s nice to remind people that it doesn’t all have to be celebrity chefs, with tastes from a simpler era,” said Steph.

Recipe for plum cake handwritten by Steph's husband Patrick's great, great aunt.
Recipe for plum cake handwritten by Steph's husband Patrick's great, great aunt.

“With older recipes most of the ingredients have endured over the centuries, and we have them in our kitchens, not like some modern recipes where some of the ingredients you have probably never heard of.”

She and her husband Patrick Hemphill, who have been married for six years, are both members of the history society.

“I have loved history since I was a very small child,” said Steph, who also looks after her 95 year-old mother who lives in Newmarket.

“My mum is a fabulous cook and always encouraged me in the kitchen. I used to help as kiddies do.

“She’s Irish and used to make things like potato cakes bread, the likes of which we will never taste again. We never had shop-bought bread."

Steph is modest about her own culinary skills. “I wouldn’t say I’m a good cook but I will have a go,” she said.

Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill author of Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice working in her kitchen. Picture by Richard Marsham
Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill author of Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice working in her kitchen. Picture by Richard Marsham

“Oddly enough at school I hated cooking. Everything I cooked was an absolute disaster. I remember making fairy cakes and my friends and I gathered around the oven and watched them all explode like little volcanoes. I still don’t know what I did wrong.”

She has a lifelong connection with books, but with printing and conserving rather than writing.

She was apprenticed in the printing trade, then got a job with Cambridge University Library book binding department, specialising in book sewing.

There she could indulge her love of history because conservation colleagues would call her to come and see what they were working on, including ancient manuscripts. While there she went to adult classes and gained a history diploma.

Handwritten recipe for almond paste, from the book
Handwritten recipe for almond paste, from the book

Some of the more up to date recipes in the book, including chocolate brownies, come from friends from the university.

“A lot of the old recipes come from my research,” she added. “I have a vast collection of books, and Patrick’s family archive to draw on.”

Generations ago Patrick’s family lived in Ireland in a house they owned for 220 years, and he has a lot of documentation including recipe books.

The instructions for plum cake, handwritten in beautiful script and reproduced in the book, came from his great, great aunt Ruth.

Other old recipes originated closer to home. Rowland Hill, from Glemsford, and his son James, provided several family favourites.

They include Sunday salad – made with corned beef, potato, sweet pickle, grated carrot and salad cream and garnished with beetroot and hard-boiled egg.

Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill author of Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice working in her kitchen. Picture by Richard Marsham
Stephanie Prythergch-Hemphill author of Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice working in her kitchen. Picture by Richard Marsham

The book is dedicated to Rowland. “It is so sad because both he and his son died before the book could be published,” said Steph, who is on the committee of the history society.

Patrick, who has lived in East Anglia for almost 40 years, is a long-time member of the society and has been involved in its previous publications which have focused on Glemsford.

Steph came up with the idea for her book, which was designed and laid out by Peter Coote, when the society was seeking ideas for its next literary venture.

“I said how about old-fashioned recipes, hint and tips, and they said, ‘good, when are you going to do it?’

“I accumulated a lot of material in 2020. Lockdown was an excellent time to start looking and trying the recipes, and giving myself time to work through it.”

She also hopes the book’s lighthearted approach will bring a smile. “The idea was to try and produce something interesting to people who like history, and those who like cooking, and to lightly combine them both.”

Money raised from sales will go towards a much-needed updated and expanded heritage centre at Glemsford Village Hall to exhibit artefacts and documents belonging to the society.

Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice is available from the Glemsford Local History website – glemsfordhistory.co.uk, and their Facebook page, in Glemsford at Hunts Hill Stores, Willow Tree Farm Shop and the library, and at Sudbury Heritage Centre.

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