Cooking in the 1930's
Beth, House Steward, works with our volunteers to plan, write and deliver our Living History and Cooks in the Kitchen days. Here she shares the work of our living History cooks who brilliantly bring the 1930’s Basement Kitchen to life by preparing a wide range of period appropriate dishes and filling the servants’ quarters with evocative smells from the past.
Tell us about the role of the volunteer Cooks in the Living History team.
We have six volunteers who work as cooks in the Living History team. On Living History days they are rooted in the year 1935 and therefore do not interact directly with visitors; there is also very strict hierarchy in the Kitchen reflecting what it would have been like in the 1930’s. The Head Cook will often oversee or help prepare the food which is destined for the family ‘upstairs.’ The Second and Third Cooks will support the Head Cook in preparing the ‘upstairs’ dishes; on Living History days they are also in charge of preparing the servants lunch. The food for the servant’s lunch is a fairly basic fare and often includes a vegetable soup, soda bread or scones. On Living History days you can often find the servants tucking in to their soup in the Servants’ Hall or in the Senior Servants Sitting Room. On very special occasions the Cooks prepare a celebration tea for the servants. Most notably this takes place at the Jubilee Celebration Living History event which is where all the servants celebrate the Silver Jubilee of George 5th. At this event the trolley is laden with delicious cakes, sausage rolls and sandwiches and one of the tables in the Servants’ Hall is beautifully laid with the willow pattern crockery.
As well as the Cooks there are also a number of other servant characters which you might come across in the Kitchen, including the Woman from the Village and the Scullery Maid. The role of these characters is to support the Cooks in preparing basic dishes as well as doing the large amounts of washing up. The Woman from the Village role was one that developed as a result of the oral archive research which took place as part of the Ickworth Lives project. As part of the project interviews were undertaken with local people who worked at Ickworth in the 1930’s. They stated that often ladies from the village of Horringer would be drafted in to help in the Kitchens when the family where hosting dinner parties. You can pick out this character because she often looks a lot less formal than the Cooks who wear smart green dresses.
Where do the historic recipes come from?
The starting point for compiling recipes came from the research which took place as part of the Ickworth Lives project. Through examining the oral testimonies of people who worked at Ickworth in the 1930’s, and with help from the food historian Ivan Day, the team were able to pick out a number of themes relating to the types of food that would have been produced in the Rotunda. For example we know that lots of game was eaten during the shooting party dinners which were held in the Rotunda. We also know that the family used to enjoy asparagus as a separate course. Therefore the themes of ‘feeding the shoot’ and ‘celebrating asparagus’ were developed. Several period recipe books were consulted which inform the recipes the Cooks use. These include The Gentle Art of Cookery by Mrs C.F. Leyel and Miss Olga Hartley originally published in 1925, and Senns Century Cookery Book by Charles Hermann Senn published in 1862. The dishes the Cooks choose to make on Living History days depend on the theme of the day which is often based around the seasons or what would have been happening at Ickworth at that time of year. Recently they prepared delicious dishes for a summer picnic which included; smoked salmon mousse, stuffed quail eggs, cheese and herb palmiers and bouchées.
What makes a Cooks in the Kitchen event different from Living History?
On Cooks in the Kitchen days the Cooks are not in character and there is no hierarchy in the Kitchen meaning that visitors can freely ask questions about the dishes they are preparing. As well as chatting about the techniques they use to prepare 1930’s dishes, the Cooks also share stories about the Basement and the servant’s lives in the 1930’s, thereby giving visitors a real insight into what life in the Kitchens would have been like. During Cooks in the Kitchen events the Cooks prepare a range of different dishes under the same theme. Past themes include Breads and Butters, Celebrating Easter and 1930’s Baking. Generally the Cooks in the Kitchen events take place on Wednesdays in the school holidays and it’s lovely to see children and families chatting to Cooks and getting inspired by the cooking that’s taking place.