My Great-Grandmother, Chocolatier and Pantry Queen

Not so long ago I was raking through my Mum’s cookery book cupboard, and I came across an old, unassuming book.  It was very plain on the outside, and definitely an aged book.  I never really gave it a second thought until the next time I stumbled across it, and I decided to look inside:

The curiosity in the cupboard.
The curiosity in the cupboard.

Mrs Arthur Webb's Economical Cookery, Sam Loves Cake

When I looked at the back page, I saw penciled handwriting of a name which I didn’t recognize, but a surname that I did.  This book clearly belonged to someone in my Mum’s family.  And then, I found on the inside of the front page, details of where and when the book was bought, in 1930.

My Great-Grandmother's book.
My Great-Grandmother’s book.
On the inside cover of the book my Great-Grandfather bought for my Great-Grandmother.
On the inside cover of the book my Great-Grandfather bought for my Great-Grandmother.

So I asked my Mum who the owner of the book was, and she told me it belonged to my Great-Grandmother (born 1889), who was called Jane, but known as ‘Jean’.  I asked my Mum about her, and was thrilled to hear that she was a confectioner, specifically a chocolatier!

My Great-Grandmother and Great Grandfather, Jean and William.
My Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandfather, Jean and William.

I found her story really interesting, and I would have loved to have met her.  As soon as she finished school, Jean worked as a confectioner in Glasgow, making and selling hand-made chocolates in the city while her father worked as a tailor.  They were fortunate enough to have lived in one of the nicer Glasgow tenements.  This is a picture of Glasgow c.1905 looking down Sauchiehall Street [from Glasgow History].

Jean stopped working as a chocolatier when the first world war began.  At this point, she chose to go and work in a munitions factory as part of the war effort.  This is a picture of women working in a Glasgow munitions factory in 1915 [from the Glasgow Digital Library]

After the war, Jean married my Great-Grandfather and they moved to my current hometown.  My Mum lived with them with her parents until she was five years old.  From this time, and from later visits, my Mum was able to tell me a few of the things she could remember about Jean.  She described how Jean was a prolific jam maker, and had a pantry cupboard full from top to bottom of homemade jams and chutneys.  My Mum can remember Jean making jam in a room with a rocking chair.  She used to pull a sort of muslin cloth over chair legs.  This was used to strain the jam into a bowl below!  So I looked at jam section in Mrs Arthur Webb’s Economical Cookery and look what I found:

Jam making methods in Mrs Arthur Webb's Economical Cookery.
Jam making methods in Mrs Arthur Webb’s Economical Cookery.

Mabel Webb clearly recommended this method of straining jam!  My Mum also mentioned a dumpling that Jean made for my Mum’s cousin’s sixteenth birthday, and how it was so incredibly delicious.  I wonder if it was one of the dumplings in this book?

My absolute favourite thing about this book however, is the penciled in notes that Jean made at the back of the index.  Even just to see her handwriting is wonderful, but it’s her thought process and treasured recipes that she has made that have been penciled into this book and I will certainly be trying them out, even if just to taste what my relatives were eating in the early 1900s!

The notes I found tucked at the back of my Great-Grandmother's cookery book!
The notes I found tucked at the back of my Great-Grandmother’s cookery book!

It turns out that on my Dad’s side of the family, my Great-Grandfather came over to Glasgow from the Isle of Arran, and was a baker!  His specialty was breadmaking as far as I know.  I don’t particularly believe in the thought process that having a family member that was good at something instantly makes you destined for it or even capable of it.  A lot of people said they baked with their mothers since they were two.  That’s great, and yes it probably has made you a decent baker today, that is if you are still interested in it. The same goes for musicians  (with great-aunts who were singers) and painters (who have an uncle who paints portraits) and poets (who were somehow related to Byron!). I just think it’s wonderful to see that other family members had the same interests and passions that I do now.  And just for the record, I rarely baked with my Mum when I was a child.  I tended to hover in the kitchen and disappear when I had licked the bowl!  But truth be told, as I watched her, I picked up a lot of the basics and a few tricks that I use now that I have become a baking fiend.

So with the words Mabel Webb chose to open her book:

The verse on the first page of Mrs Arthur Webb's Economical Cookery.
The verse on the first page of Mrs Arthur Webb’s Economical Cookery.

So I have a new challenge now – to bake a few things from the past!  But in the meantime, I have a few other bakes underway, including a mint-chocolate Mother’s Day Cake for tomorrow.  But here are some chocolate and vanilla cakes I made yesterday:

Chocolate Cake, Sam Loves Cake Vanilla Cake, Sam Loves Cake Chocolate Cake, Sam Loves Cake

I wonder if my Great-Grandmother would approve!

Happy Baking!

Eve x

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