Friday, October 26, 2012

Queen Victoria’s Hallowe’en, 1879

The Morning Post (London, England) of November 4, 1879 described the show put on for the royal family at Halloween a few nights earlier.

Last Friday night the old Scottish festival of Hallowe’en was celebrated at Balmoral with more than usual display. The preparation for its observance had been going on for days beforehand, and the result was a spectacle that for weird effect has seldom been witnessed in the Highlands. Her Majesty, Princess Beatrice, and the members of the Court remained out of doors the whole time the demonstration lasted, and almost as soon as the sports closed, the weather changed and became bitterly cold, with heavy showers of rain and snow. Just as darkness set in a procession, numbering over 300 torches, paraded the lawn in front of Castle-hill, meeting another large number of torch-beareres approaching from the west. Both bands united, and all turned back and marched to a huge pile of wood and other combustible material which had been stacked in front of the Castle. Lights were applied, and the monster bonfire was soon blazing furiously. Presently a band of quaintly-dressed figures was seen coming from the royal stables. They were dressed in white robes, with masks, like hobgoblins, and were preceded by a band of pipers. In the centre were four figures more grotesquely dressed than the others. They carried a large fir tree instead of the banners which were borne by the rest. Then followed a masquer dressed in robes of office to represent the sheriff. Behind him came a car drawn by a fierce looking dragon, and seated in the car was an effigy of the witch whose trial was about to take place. The car having been drawn several times round the bonfire, a court was held to decide as to the punishment the witch should receive on the charge of witchcraft. It was decided by the court that penalty should be death by burning. Sentence of death was then passed by the sheriff, and the effigy was dragged from the care and tossed into the flames amid the shrieks and howls of the assembled demons. The preconcerted escape of one of the witches into the woods and a hunt with torches, rockets, and separs, which followed, were the cause of intense amusement to the large crowd of spectators, and when the Royal party appeared, they seemed not the least interested and delighted. Refreshments were served to all and sundry. The scene was very effective, and will be long remembered on Deeside by those who saw it. The number of persons present is estimated at over 500. Next day a snowstorm set in with much severity, and by night the ground was covered to a depth of several inches.

The reporter was clearly very enthralled by the event, but also just as clearly assumed that his readers would not have been interested in the exact nature of the refreshments served. I feel reasonably confident that gingerbread would have been amongst them, however, as it is very much a tradition in the north at Halloween. Hence, I give you a very delicious-sounding recipe for what we would probably call gingersnaps today, from an old Scottish cookery book.

Honeycomb Gingerbread.
Half a pound of flour, half a pound of the coarsest brown sugar, a quarter of a pound of butter, one dessertspoonful of allspice, and double that quantity of ginger, half the peel of a lemon grated, and the whole of the juice. Mix all these ingredients together, adding about half a pound of treacle, so as to make a paste sufficiently thin to spread upon sheet tins. Beat it well, butter the tins, and spread the paste very thinly over them. Bake it in rather a slow oven, and watch it till it is done; withdraw the tins, cut it in squares with a knife, the usual size of wafer biscuits, and roll each round the fingers as it is raised from the tin. This paste, put into a jar, and covered closely, will keep for a month; but the biscuits will be found best when newly baked.
The Practice of Cookery, Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life, (1830) by Mrs. Dalgairns.


Lapinbizarre said...

Related to brandy snaps?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Lapinbizarre - yes, I think they are a brandy-snap concept. I must look up 'brandy snaps' and see how early the phrase comes up. pretty recently, I would think.