In late August as the agricultural cycle slowed, people needed an opportunity to let their hair down after three months of hard work and not many holidays. There are lots of pictures of Bartholomew Fair including a famous one by Hogarth of Tiddy Doll the gingerbread seller who moved from his usual spot in London's Haymarket (a famous red light district) to Smithfield for the duration of the Fair. Gingerbread as a traditional fair food, was made in a number of different ways. It was sometimes cut into fantastical shapes which were then gilded or stamped with an image appropriate to the occasion or the season. Gingerbread could also be a deep sticky cake or a hard biscuit made with breadcrumbs and honey, which when sold in broken pieces was called a ‘snap’. Whichever sort of gingerbread it was; it had by law to be made by a bona fide gingerbread maker, and it was sold on the streets of London from hot carts until well into the nineteenth century.
The 24th August is also the traditional day for bee keepers to harvest honey, the bees are dozing in the summer heat having made the honey and filled their combs. The hives in the picture belong to my friend Barbara who keeps bees in a hidden valley near the Helford.
Here's my recipe for Beekeeper's Cake. The recipe I used is similar to a traditional Jewish cake called 'Lekash’, which is often made for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I've adapted it from from Denise Phillip’s book ‘New Flavours of the Jewish Table’. I’ve gingered up the spice mix a bit, so its gingerbread by another name really.....
175g plain flour
75g soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100ml vegetable oil
225g clear honey
Zest of 1 orange
100ml orange juice
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/ Gas mark 4.
2. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin or a 7" loose bottomed cake tin
3. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda.
4. Put the oil, honey, zest of orange, eggs and juice in another bowl and beat together until smooth.
5. Fold all together gently until all the flour is combined
6. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin.
7. Bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake mixture comes out clean.
8. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out and wrap tightly in foil. Store for 2-3 days before serving to allow the flavours to mature.
Decorate with glace icing or edible glitter. I printed the bee stencil out from the internet, cut it out, laid it on the cake and then stippled it with edible gold powder.
Joan Trash: 'Why what stuff are they made on? Nothing but what's wholesome I assure you.'
Leatherhead: 'Yes stale bread, rotten eggs, musty ginger and dead honey...'
Joan Trash: 'Buy any gingerbread, gilt gingerbread!'
From Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson (1572-1637)