Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sugar and spice

This week I have been enjoying my last days of museum teaching until January. The Geffrye Museum is looking gorgeously festive and is heaving with visitors. They all want to see the best of Christmas past; its rooms adorned with the winter decorations of bygone Londoners. Despite the crowds, everyone seems to love it - my school groups included.

I haven't been able to take my two children this year, but that hasn't stopped us from trying out a few festive making and baking traditions from the olden days.

We made Victorian Christmas tree decorations - bonbon filled cornucopia - as pictured above. These were very simple to recreate: the children cut gold doilies in half and then we folded them into cone shapes. After securing with a piece of sticky tape we attached shiny ribbon so they would hang like little baskets from the branches of our tree. And then came the most popular part - filling the cones with fruit jellies and pastilles. Beautiful.

We stepped back another 300 years to the winter celebrations of Elizabethan England and tried our hand at making sweetmeats. Authentic recipes would have used vast amounts of sugar - a real luxury then - in almond paste, milk jelly and crystallised fruit. These delicacies were flavoured with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Many sweetmeats were beautifully crafted into novelty shapes, and Marchpane was also popular. This looked rather like a flat marzipan cake, and was usually decorated with gold leaf.

Using marzipan for the base of our sweetmeats, we dusted our boards and rolling pins with snowy icing sugar and then had huge amounts of fun making our own novelty shaped celebratory treats.


  1. What a great idea - love exploring old traditions with the kids - not sure how long those cornucopias would stay on our tree though :)

  2. Our cones are mysteriously depleted most mornings - I confess I am as tempted as the children to help myself to a sweetie as I pass the tree!

  3. Ah history and tradition ... both such wonderful things!
    Donna :) :)


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comment here.