As you might know, I've always been fascinated by traditional sweets. Probably because our house is victorian I wanted to dive a little deeper into the history of victorian sweets.
In Victorian times, everything seems possible! It was the time for great inventions, connecting the whole countries with new amazing technology (called the steam railways!) and also time for everything proper!
Standing in front of the fridge in despair, prodding a very runny jelly? Running out of time for your jelly pudding to set and wonder what to do?
Yes, I know, I've been there too...
With party guest arriving any minute and you worry whether the jelly dessert will set in time, it should be served.
So, how long does jelly take to set?
I'm sorry to be the bearer of a bad news, but most jellies take at least 2-4 hrs to set in fridge (which is set to about 5C). But some large jellies (say if you use one of those lovely oldfashioned jelly moulds) might take even longer. If you have the time, just make the jelly the day before you needed and it will always set fine.
The 1920s & 1930’s was an era of extremes. Great wealth and borderline poverty. First there was the swinging jazz scene of decadence and excess of a generation who survived the first world war and were determined to enjoy themselves. But it wasn’t to last and the stock market crash of 1929 led to a great depression and world wide economic crisis. Soon the frenetic whirl of the Charleston was replaced by the slow shuffle of hobnail boots in the dole queue. The Lindy Hop for some and the Jarrow March for others.
Although I like winter, I can't wait now for the spring to arrive. The other day, I suddenly realised, that it is colder now, then it was around Christmas! And, that is really not fair! Christmas is the real winter for me, so once we move over to February I'm expecting spring to arrive. It's England after all, not a Czech Republic...
So, I thought that regardless to what the thermometer outside says, I can bring spring to my home.
To continue with the 'Spring theme' I decided to bake some Blueberry & Vanilla Macarons to take to friends house for dinner.
This recipe for salted caramel sauce is one of the easiest recipes with sugar I've ever made. And not just that - it's also very versatile - pour it on top of your favourite pudding, ice cream, use it as a filling or just dive in with a spoon!
There are really just four basic ingredients:
200g granulated sugar
90g salted butter
120ml double cream
1 teaspoon salt
And here is what you do to make your salted caramel sauce:
Before we get to our list of wartime sweets, lets have a bit of a background. Sweet and chocolate rationing started on 26 July 1942, only finishing 5 February 1953, nearly eight years later. The amount of sugar and therefore sweets which you were allowed fluctuated during the war, ranging from 16oz a month down to 8oz (227g) a month.
Despite the decision to ration the sales of sugar in January 1940, as late as the summer Cadbury's were still able to advertise that their teatime biscuits were available in 'all Woolworth stores'.
Here is my favourite recipe for traditional Christmas candy cane sweets and since I made these during Christmas holidays, it gave me the chance to take some detailed photos to show you how relatively simple this recipe is. This recipe is a version with UK measurements. <blog_break>
Candy Cane Recipe - Ingredients
To make about 12 candy canes you'll need:
50g liquid glucose
75 ml water
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
1-2 teaspoon of peppermint extract
Red gel food colouring paste
Candy Cane Recipe Making Equipment
To make this candy cane recipe, you'll need:
medium size pan
non-stick mat or marble (with oil on top)
palet knife (or dinner knife, that you don't normally use) - oiled
stainless steel scraper (can come in handy, when things get sticky)
heat-proof gloves (or at least latex gloves with another pair of winter gloves underneath or just your bare hands oiled)
wooden skewer to mix in the colour
First of all mix all the ingredients (apart from the colour and peppermint extract) in to a medium size pan and put on a very low heat.
After few minutes the sugar starts to dissolve, but if you test it with a wooden spoon, you can still see sugar crystals that are not fully dissolved. Keep it on very low heat and wait a little longer until all dissolved.
Make sure that they are no sugar crystals on the side of the pan, by brushing them down with pastry brush dipped into hot water.
Test the sugar again - this time the spoon is much clearer and the sugar liquid is fairly transparent. Leave it for couple more minutes and then bring the mixture to the boil and carry on boiling on a medium heat. Don't be tempted to steer the mixture, it would crystallise it.
Bring the mixture to about 150 C (145-150 depending on the humidity in your kitchen), take off the heat and add your flavour. In this case, since we are making candy cane recipe, I've used traditional peppermint flavour. Depending on the type of your peppermint flavour you might need to add 1-2 teaspoons of the extract. I've added 2 teaspoons and the flavour was fairly minty, but not overpowering.
Now pour the mixture on to a marble slab (or other non-stick, heat resistant surface), which has been covered with oil, to prevent the mixture sticking.
I've divided the mixture into two parts - one - large one for the white element of the candy cane and smaller one for the red stripes.
The smaller puddle of the sugar mixture needs to be coloured with red gel colouring. You only need tiny amount, which still gives you strong red colour. The large puddle of the sugar mixture is not being coloured, but if you have white gel colour, you can use that.
You can see that the mixture is not quite white and whilst it gets lighter as you pull it, it doesn't get brightly white. This is mainly because, whilst trying to take all the photos and make the recipe at the same time, my sugar syrup has been slightly caught by the heat and started to caramelise. Make sure that when you make yours, the sugar doesn't get to the stage where it starts to turn yellow in colour.
Start by pulling the lighter sugar mixture. You can see that at the beginning the mixture is see-through, but as you carry on pulling and twisting the rope, it gets more and more opaque.
If at any point the mixture becomes too hard to handle, put it in a microwave for few seconds or to a preheated oven (about 200C) for about 30 sec at a time. Make sure that you oil the microwave plate a little with an sunflower or vegetable oil, otherwise it sticks!
Repeat the same with the red mixture, only this time don't pull for so long, otherwise the red becomes too opague and gets little too light in colour.
Now comes the fidley bit - pull both sugar syrup mixtures to a rope of a same length and start gently rolling and twisting at the same time. Decide on a thickness of your candy cane (about 0.7 cm) and cut to length (about 10-15cm).
If you want to keep them for a short while, wrap them in a cellophane first, twist the ends of cellophane to seal and then gently bend the ends to create the hook. If you don't wrap your candy cane sweets straightaway, the moisture from the air will start to make them sticky.
If you get bored with making candy canes (like I did...) you can also turn them into a little strippey pillow sweets. The trick here is to make a thicker rope (about 1.5 cm in diameter) and then cut them (about 1.5 cm) whilst turning the rope. This makes them into 3 dimensional pointy pillows and I think they look pretty impressive!
And here is the final peppermint candy cane and peppermint candy pillow sweets. By the time we got to this bit, the natural light was pretty non-existent, so it's not the best picture, but hopefully it gives you idea how cool these sweets can look like.
After the declaration of war in September 1939, three groups of food were initially rationed in January 1940; sugar, bacon and butter. This was followed by meat, fish, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit. Many factories were converted into making munitions for the war effort.<blog_break>
Wartime sweets rationing
Sweet rationing came into effect in 1942. There was an Allowance of seven ounces (200 gms) for everyone over five years old. This was the equivalent of just one sweet a day for most products in the Woolworth’s range. By the following year, sweets were becoming scarce and even having sufficient coupons was no guarantee that there would be enough sweets in the shops to buy.
In summer 1940, Cadbury’s were assuring customers that their chocolate biscuits were available in all stores. Three years later, they ran adverts in Picture Post magazine, saying that supplies were severely limited and asking customers to remember that growing children needed the nutrition from milk chocolate the most.
As raw materials were in short supply, chocolate manufactures were forced to substitute products and improvise ingredients. For instance, Cadbury Dairy Milk as withdrawn in 1941 when the government banned manufacturers from using fresh milk. In its place there was Ration Chocolate, made with dried skimmed milk powder.
The ration chocolate bar
In ‘A Child of War’, written in 1987, the author George Macbeth reminisced that sweets were the great loss and had his own firmly held views on the dubious taste of Ration Chocolate.
‘There was no longer an everlasting, teeth-spoiling fountain of sherbet and liquorice, or of Boy Blue cream whirls, or of Cadbury's Caramello. Sweets were hard to come by, and then limited to a fixed ration.
One of the worst casualties was chocolate. The traditional division into milk and plain disappeared, and an awful intervening variety known as Ration Chocolate was born, issued in semi-transparent grease-proof wrappers, and about as appetizing as cardboard. In spite of a lifelong sweet tooth, I could never eat it.’
What production of chocolate that did occur was strictly on a geographical basis due to transport restrictions and the need to ration petrol supplies. So, if you liked something made by Rowntrees of York and you lived in London then tough luck.
Chocolate bars on the home front & in the war
So much for chocolate and the lack of it on the home front. You were more likely to get your hands on a bar of chocolate, however variable its quality, if you were in the army. The US army, to be more precise. Yes, those WW2 films of Yanks in battledress, chewing gum, and wooing the local land girls with supplies of chocolate and sweets not found in the British shops are largely true.
However, like some of their other promises, it appears that the chocolate didn’t always live up to expectations…
D ration chocolate bar
The “D ration bar”, was a blend of chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk powder and oat flour, made by Hershey. It was an essential part of the emergency rations issued to US troops as part of the D day invasion of the beaches of Normandy. It weighed four ounces (112 grams) with 600 calories, was designed to be high in energy for mobile field operations and was manufactured to withstand high temperatures. Due to the fact that the recipe didn’t allow it to liquefy sufficiently, Hersheys had to design and make special chocolate moulds.
All of which made it difficult it eat and with a taste that isn’t fondly remembered by most.
Reports are that the mix of fat and oat flour made the chocolate bar a dense brick, and the sugar could not hide the extremely bitter taste to the dark chocolate. Designed to withstand high temperatures, the bar was difficult to bite into. Soldiers resorted to slicing off shaving of chocolate with their field knife.
For those of you interested in the actual ratios of ingredients, the formula for a large batch of the D chocolate ration bars, was 160 parts chocolate, not less than 54 percent cocoa fat, 160 parts added cocoa fat, 30 parts oat flour, 20 parts dry powdered skim milk, 70 parts vanillin crystals, and just enough sugar to make it palatable. There also was one-sixth part vitamin B1, which may have been healthy but didn’t add to the overall flavour.
Chocolate bars had a waxy or greasy taste which may have due, in part to the increase in the melting point from 92 to 120 degrees. Bars came with instructions that they were to be eaten in small quantities over a half hour period, (which was perhaps just as well) or could be dissolved in boiling water.
In fairness to Hershey, one of the US army’s other stipulations was that the chocolate bar should taste ‘a little better than a boiled potato!’. It seems that the army wanted a bar that didn’t taste so good that it was eaten as a treat and therefore not conserved for emergencies. No wonder US troops used to refer to it as ‘Hitler’s Secret Weapon’.
However, the combination of ingredients and taste requirements did have one unexpected benefit. The Tropical bar, specially designed to withstand the intense heat of the tropics and the desert, came into its own as practically the only foodstuff that soldiers in the Far East could eat when they were ill with dysentery.
The sheer scale of chocolate production for the military is staggering. By war’s end, Hershey had made while around 40.2 million 2-ounce and 4-ounce D Ration bars, and 380 million Tropical Chocolate Bars – that’s a lot of cure for dysentery.
The war may have ended in 1945 but chocolate and sweet rationing didn’t. It was to be another long eight years until 5 February 1953 before the 12 ounces a month ration was finally abolished. Sugar itself was not de-rationed until September 1953.
Suddenly, there were more queues but this time without the need for coupons.
How a generation of post war children finally got sticky fingers and sweet teeth and their parents war time dreams finally came true is the subject of our next blog – Chocolate and Sweets in the 1950s.