Sweet Christmas memories

Do you have any heirloom recipes?

You know, those recipes that have been in your family for years, tried and tested, never let you down and you keep on using them, although you may make a change or two to give it a more modern feel (or because you simply haven’t got those ingredients in your cupboard today).

Pork Belly has a whole book of them – with contributions from his grandmother, mum and sister.  The strangest are the ones written during the war years when so many ingredients we take for granted now were hard to get and substitutes had to be found. Some of those dishes have stood the test of time but others don’t sound that appetising.

My prized possession is at the other end of the scale; a book of recipes for home made sweets which belonged to my grandma.

Nell Heaton’s Home-Made Sweets was published by Faber and Faber in 1949 and was bought for the princely sum of 6 shillings from the long-gone John Beal and Son, booksellers in East Street, Brighton.

Nell Heaton's 1949 book Home Made Sweets © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
Nell Heaton’s 1949 book Home Made Sweets

It’s small and of simple construction, a spiral-bound cardboard cover and pale, slightly yellowing, pages. No photographs of course, just line drawings in an appendix to initiate the novice into the ‘everyday tools of the confectioner’ and the mysteries of fondant working, pouring and dipping. Just opening it transports me back to an age of innocent childhood.

In the foreword Nell hopes it will ‘appeal particularly to students, children and novices in the kitchen’ although to a 21st century audience used to every possible labour-saving device some of her processes are complicated and time-consuming.

Truffles, coconut ice and peppermint creams © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
Truffles, coconut ice and peppermint creams

The book is a treasury of delights that pays no mind to rationing or any new-fangled ideas about the dangers of too much sugar. But then it was only ever intended to be used for special occasions and the resulting treats were beautifully presented in very small boxes.

And those pretty little boxes – which Nell’s instructions say give ‘scope for artistic ingenuity’ – were one of the most anticipated gifts of my childhood Christmases, containing each grandchild’s special favourites along with a tiny pot of home-made jam – just for them.

Tucked away in the pages of the book, in my grandma’s own rather spindly hand-writing is a list of treats she was planning one year: “Marzipan – choc coated, Fudge, Coconut ice, Peppermint cream – choc halved”.

Nell Heaton recipes and grandma's hand written notes © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
Nell Heaton recipes and grandma’s hand written notes

Also tucked away is Grandma’s personal toffee recipe. No fussing with thermometers for her, just ‘boil 20 minutes and test’. The sight of her in her tiny kitchen dropping teaspoonfuls of hot toffee into a bowl of water is one of my abiding memories and the smell of fudge gently cooling in a tray meant Christmas was really on its way.

I don’t think even Pork Belly can rival my grandma’s sweet-making skills, but every Christmas we get the book out and pore over the pages (which are admittedly a bit sticky now) and decide what to make.

Vintage icing tube and nozzles © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
Vintage icing tube and nozzles

Most of us can no longer boast of having a caramel cutter, dipping fork or marble slab to hand and yet Nell’s words of wisdom have stood the test of time. It was written when rationing was part of every cook’s life, but still she aspired to the best. Her recipe for Forty Minute Fudge states:

“….put one third of the margarine (of course butter would be better) into a large, thick bottomed pan….”

She paints a lovely picture of the forties family when explaining the universal appeal of sweet-making.

“Fathers who would not boast of their skill in boiling potatoes cannot resist describing their flair for toffee-making. Mothers who have really seen quite enough of the kitchen will return thither to make peppermint creams with hardly a word of protest. And many a boy has burnt his first saucepan in the noble cause of fudge-making for the family.”

I agree. Christmas is the one time of the year that I actually enjoy faffing about in the kitchen and, thanks to Nell and my grandma, I make a mean coconut ice and a pretty decent peppermint cream.

Coconut ice from a recipe by Nell Heaton © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
Coconut ice from a recipe by Nell Heaton

But I leave the truffles, fudge and toffee to Pork Belly.

Peppermint creams

Swiss Toffee recipe

Cinnamon cappucino fudge

Coconut ice

How about you? Are you fascinated by the history of food?

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