I dedicate this post to the men and women of the military who will be far from their families this Christmas.
The perpetrator of today’s story is one ‘Tommy Atkins’ who is not, in fact, a real person. ‘Tommy Atkins’ (sometimes known simply as ‘Tommy’) has been a generic name for a common soldier of the British Army since about the middle of the eighteenth century. In the story I give you today, Tommy Atkins is a British soldier in South Africa during the Second Boer war (1899-1902), and his story is told in the English (Middlesex) Church Weekly of January 17, 1902.
“The following recipe from the veldt by Tommy Atkins’s chef, and suitable for Christmas fare, have been sent to friends in Coventry from a Yeoman in South Africa, who takes life very cheerily in very uncheerful circumstances.
Trek-ox Stew. – Take an ox about fifty years old, belonging to someone else, kill it if it is not already dead, and cut it into four or more parts. Boil it in a pot of muddy water over a green wood fire, and when done, pull it out and wait for a sandstorm, then serve it up. This is thought an excellent dish.
Sponge Cake. – Take a few handsful of Indian meal, and sufficient dirty water to make it into a stiff paste. Put it on a piece of tine or shovel over a fire. Ready for use when warmed through.
Porridge. – Take a few handsful of Indian corn and put it in a bully-beef or other old tin. Fill up with water and boil till soft. Put in a little salt if you are lucky enough to be able to steal a bit. One feed of this will last all day.
Beverages (Tea or Coffee). – Fill up the dinner pot with water (no need to wash the pot as the sand in the water cleans that), and put it on the fire for fifteen minutes. Then throw in a handful of tea or coffee, and serve up in mess-tins that you have just used to fry bacon in. This is a most refreshing drink.”
The recipe for the day – for in all fairness I could hardly allow the above, even if you do have access to trek-oxen (is there such a thing?) or Indian meal – is a real sponge cake from the era.
A Sponge Cake.
Take the weight of five eggs in sugar and half their weight in flour; add the grated rind and juice of one lemon. Mix the flour with the yolks, lemon, and sugar; add the beaten whites last. Care must be taken not to beat down the whipped whites as the whole mixture should be very light and spongy. Time for baking, from 40 to 50 minutes, and the cake must not be moved or jarred during the process. A moderate oven is required at first, which should be allowed to get hotter gradually.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales) February 10, 1900
Quotation for the Day.
Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.