I love cake. I love tea. I love Victorian history…
So, when Helen Rogers, my LJMU colleague and editor of Journal of Victorian Culture, suggested a Victorian tea party for Comic Relief I was excited. Not only would I have an excuse to bake, but it would also be a great way to get students to think about the Victorians in an exciting and different way. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t nervous. Would anybody bake? Would anybody attend?
I don’t think I needed to have worried. As I entered the student zone I discovered that Helen and a few helpers had turned this space into an enhanced fairyland, a place where I imagine any Victorian vicar would have been pleased to hear the words ‘More tea vicar?’ The school room tables were transformed with tablecloths and flowers in vases. Yet it was the array of cakes that caught my breath. Here was Hannah Glasses’s pound cake, Mrs Beeton’s rock cakes, sponge cake, three lemon cakes, two coffee cakes, almond cakes, buttercream sponge sandwich, rosewater dessert biscuits…the list could go on. At the same time this room was altered by the divine smell of cake, reminding me of an old teashop and Christmas.
It was hard to know where to start. I was overwhelmed. Unfortunately for me I started with Helen’s pauper seed cake. Sorry Helen for what I now write; I was hoping for something sweet and yummy. Instead I was shocked at how much the beef dripping infused the cake. It was also a really tough cake. Thankfully Helen’s posh seed cake was nicer. Yet the pauper seed cake was not the only cake that my palate objected to: i had to politely spit out the Lemon Ginger Cake that included the addition of an intense and firey cayenne pepper.
Luckily, though, other colleagues like Mike Benbough-Jackson thought it was so good he ate several pieces in quick succession. The other cakes were, nevertheless, delicious.
For me the most enjoyable aspect of the tea party was the conversations we had around the cake table. I loved hearing about people’s shock at the lack of a good crumb, their dismay at reading the recipes, the joys of bakers relaying how long they had to beat their eggs for or how long the cakes took to bake. I wasn’t the only person thinking this. Scribbled on two ballot papers were the sentences ‘<3 this idea of a Victorian tea party. All the cakes looked amazing’ and ‘What a lovely idea and congratulations to everyone involved for all their hard work’.
Our winners were:
1st Prize: Hannah’s Plum Cake
2nd Prize: Meghan’s Lemon Cake
3rd Prize: Michelle and Amy’s Sponge Cake
All the runners up were rewarded with a Red Nose smiley face wooden spoon for their hard labours!
Thanks to everyone who participated. Special thanks to Beth McConnell who ran the event with all the aplomb of a formidable Lady Philanthropist and managed to find time to bake a carrot cake too! We raised an impressive £119.25 and more importantly had a chance to taste and experience some truly interesting Victorian cakes.