This month I have mainly been immersed in Georgian England in preparation for a special food history workshop at South Ormsby Hall with Heritage Lincolnshire. The hall and estate, has a fascinating past, steeped in history and heritage. This beautiful hall, nestled in the Lincolnshire Wolds was purchased by Sir Drayner Massingberd in 1638, younger brother of Sir Henry Massingberd of nearby Gunby Hall. The brothers both fought in the civil war of the mid-17th century, on the side of Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarian forces. Fortunately for the family, after Cromwell’s death and Charles II restoration to the throne in 1660, both brothers received royal pardons for their roles in the civil war.
Thirty years later, Samuel Wesley was the rector at St Leanord’s Church at South Ormsby Estate between 1690 and 1694. He was the father of John (b1703) and Charles Wesley (b1708), the founders of Wesleyan Methodism. It is said that John visited Horncastle every couple of years during his later adult life, up to his death at the big age of 83.
I recently had a wonderful opportunity to view rare documents relating to the estate, held at The Lincolnshire Archives. Amongst them we found Samuels Signature on a record of births, marriages and deaths. Also found, was a list of household items held in the kitchens – 3 Tablecloths, 9 fine forkes, 3 drippin pans, , 1 Chopping Block……..these glimpse of the past, really bring history to life.
The hall was largely rebuilt between 1752 and 1755, overseen by the architect James Paine. From a food history perspective, this mid-18th century period was a time of great kitchen innovations and inventions and a time when consumer demand for the latest “must have” kitchen gadget kicks in with gusto.
The Georgians loved to display food stylishly and they were especially fond of taking inspiration from the natural world for their dishes. This recipe for “Snowballs” features in at least half a dozen mid Georgian cookbooks and was deemed an appropriate pretty corner dish for supper or dinner. Although there are several processes involved, none of them are difficult and it is a delightful way to recreate a tasty historical dish that has the real wow factor.
· 4 large cooking or eating apples (cooking apples will go fluffier and are not as sweet, eating will be a firmer texture and a bit sweeter)
· A filling of your choice, such as marmalade, mincemeat, jam, salted caramel, dried fruit, nuts or just sugar. You don’t want anything too wet though.
· 1 kg Shortcrust pastry.
· 2 egg yolks lightly beaten for glazing
Rose water Icing
1. 500g Icing Sugar – sieved
2. 2 egg whites, lightly beaten to frothy
3. 2 TBSP Rose water
Decoration -You can leave plain or decorate. The original calls for edible flower petals scattered over it, which would look pretty in spring or for Easter. A glace cherry and angelica make for a Christmassy look.
• Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
• Preheat oven to 180c fan/ 190c/gas mark 5/375F
• Divide pastry in to 4, roll out to a sufficient size to cover each apple.
• Peel apple and remove the” bit” at the bottom, but don’t cut too far in.
• Core, leave approx. a 1 cm at the bottom, otherwise filling seeps out into pastry.
• Fill with your choice of filling.
• Wrap pastry around your apple, gathering at the top. Cut this surplus pastry off with scissors or the pastry will be too thick.
• Work pastry around the apple, be careful not to stretch or tear it, otherwise you might have a hole underneath. The pastry will likely try and form pleats, you need to try and smooth these out and keep cutting the excess off with scissors.
• Another method of covering your apples is to place a smaller round of pastry underneath apple and work it up to the middle and then place another round of pastry on the top and work it down the top half of the apple and join the pastry in the middle. If using this method, seal the join well with egg yolk. This has the advantage of avoiding bulky bits of pastry and the pleating, but it does run the risk of your apples bursting through the seam at the middle when they bake. There is less danger of this if you choose to use eating apples, rather than cookers, as they don’t fluff up.
• When apple is evenly covered, place on baking tray. Repeat for all of the apples.
• Glaze with beaten egg yolks Bake top shelf 25 – 40 minutes. Time depends on size of apples.
• Should be golden brown, test if the apple is done by inserting a thin skewer into the top. There should be just a little resistance when done.
• Remove from oven and ice.
• Whilst your apples are baking, make your icing.
Method for Rose Water Icing
• Sieve Icing Sugar into large sturdy mixing bowl.
• In another bowl, beat egg whites until frothy, but not to meringue point, they still want to be liquid.
• Add rose water to sieved icing sugar and mix, it will be very stiff, then start to gradually work in egg white. You have to keep beating it until it is glossy and a workable icing that is still stiff enough to hold its shape.
• When baked, cover apples, with icing.
• Have a jug of boiling water to hand, you can dip knife in when it gets too sticky, this will help you spread the icing over.
• Unlike modern day recipes, you can ice your apples when they are still hot, as quite often the icing was baked after it was applied. You don’t have to do bake the icing, but it doesn’t matter that you are icing them hot.
• When covered, decorate how you wish and leave them somewhere dry and warm to harden.
• Enjoy hot or cold. Eat within one day of making. Snowball fights not advised!
Sadie Hirst works with many community groups, heritage and history societies, historic homes, museums and schools with food history and historical cookery presentations, workshops and demonstrations. If you would like to discuss booking Sadie for your organisation, you can contact her at Follow on Twitter Sadie Hirst@sadiemhirst and Instagram Sadie Hirst@sadiehirst