Publication day is almost here. The Convalescent Corpse sets out on its journey on Tuesday, 20th November. Actually, that’s the ebook, the paperback is already out there. I’m so pleased the powers-that-be at Crooked Cat Books, aka Steph and Laurence Patterson, liked my book and decided to publish it. It’s a story that’s been entertaining me for almost four years now, since the idea dropped into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone.
Like other middle-class girls, the two elder Fyttleton sisters ‘put their hair up’ at eighteen, or in other words they stopped letting it hang loose or in pigtails, and pinned it up into a bun or a pompadour hairstyle. This signalled that they were now grown up. Working-class girls, of course, had to grow up a lot earlier and upper-class young ladies were presented as debutantes and thrust on to the marriage market. Not being wealthy, Alix, aged nineteen and Christabel who is eighteen, both have jobs and Adelaide, the youngest, is fifteen and still at school. The story begins a few months after the death of Alix’s twin brother Bertie who, as a young officer in the army, was killed on his and Alix’s nineteenth birthday.
I’d been thinking of doing some kind of photo shoot with the aid of my granddaughter Fliss, a keen photographer, when the arrival of a cousin, accompanied by her nineteen-year old daughter, inspired us to go back in time to Spring 1918. The girls in the book have a hairy brown dog called Bobs and, (not by coincidence) so does my daughter, so here he is – fresh from being immortalised in print – with Rosalie (who is in period, wearing a smart straw boater).
At the same time I decided to cook some of the dishes I’d found in an ancient pull-out supplement from Home Chat magazine dated March 1918 – in essence they’re hints on how to make cakes and puddings with mud, sawdust and tears – or in other words whatever you could find now that shortages and rationing were really biting.
This recipe for Syrup & Potato Pudding is one I didn’t use in the book, but it sounded too unappetizing to miss it out. Here it is, exactly as offered to hard-pressed cooks a hundred years ago – I made it so you don’t have to!
Syrup & Potato Pudding (If you are very short of fat you can, in any of the recipes for boiled or steamed puddings, use less fat and add just a little baking powder.)
Half a pound of mashed potatoes,
Four ounces of flour or substitute
Two ounces of chopped fat (any sort)
Two ounces of stale breadcrumbs
Half teaspoonful carbonate of soda
Three tablespoonfuls of treacle, or syrup, or jam
A little water or fruit juice
Mix the flour, fat, crumbs and soda. Lightly crumble in the potato.
Mix the syrup with three tablespoonfuls of water or fruit juice, and stir it in, adding as much more fluid as needed to make it drop heavily from the spoon.
Press into a greased basin, and cover with a greased paper. Steam for three hours.
Or make the mixture rather slacker, turn into a greased deep baking tin and back for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
I opted for the latter method, not having a pudding basin these days and anyway, I’m far too impatient to hang around for three hours. Here’s a photo of the finished masterpiece, served with a watery custard that’s also in the recipe pull-out.
As always, The Resident Engineer came to my rescue when nobody wanted to taste it – though Fliss kindly photographed it.
Verdict? ‘Edible and filling, but heavy-going.’ Which is probably what the magazine readers thought at the time, but also what was needed then too.
More authentic recipes to come in my next post. Fried porridge, anyone?
It’s available at only £1.99 (ebook) and £6.99 (paperback) An ideal Christmas present, if I do say so, for the relative or friend who loves gently funny histories and mysteries! Here’s the Amazon UK link https://amzn.to/2OskEpV