Category Archives: Bloomsbury Recipes

Bloomsbury Lettuce Soup

I have returned to my Jans Ondaatje Rolls’ Bloomsbury Cookbook and decided this time on lettuce soup. I have never had lettuce soup and thought it sounded bland and boring. I had to try it. This is a recipe from Francis Partridge’s collection.

Frances worked in David Garnett’s London bookshop and met many of the Bloomsbury Group as a result. She was very close to Ralph Partridge (and married him) and to Lytton Strachey. She went to Cambridge and earned her titular degree (she was a woman so she couldn’t get the full degree). She became an author with the publication of her diaries which earned her a CBE for her outstanding literary achievement.

I assume that she liked lettuce soup.

Here are the ingredients:

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Lettuce, butter, double cream, chopped onion, black pepper, salt and thyme. That’s it.

The method was vague with no quantities and no timing. So, I just guessed.

Take the leaves and cook gently in butter. Add water, cream or milk. Add thyme and chopped onion. Season and put through blender.

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I decided to fry the onion first. Then I added the lettuce leaves. Then the thyme and the cream.

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Then I blended and served. Easy. Delicious.

I was really surprised. Instead of it being the colourless and flavourless soup that I expected, it was a lovely mottled green with a very fresh flavour and a nicely thick consistency. It was very nice; much nicer that I thought it would be.

Grace’s Algerian Omelette

My three Bloomsbury Cookbook recipes to date have all been sweet so today I thought I would make something savoury. In her cookbook, Jans Ondaatje Rolls tells how Lydia Lopokova (John Maynard Keynes’ wife) had,

‘a passion for an omelette that Grace prepares; today I had it twice’.

I was intrigued because, to be honest, it didn’t sound that nice. A bit boring I suppose.

These are the ingredients:

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Eggs, onion, rice and stock cube. The tomatoes are for the sauce to serve it with. Nothing that tasty really. I was really beginning to think that Lydia lived on mashed potato if she got so excited about an onion.

The first steps were to slowly fry the onion in butter until soft, then add the rice and ‘1 cup stock’ and simmer for fifteen minutes. If you look at the metal cups, in the photo above, the largest one is one cup. That’s what I used. I used wholegrain basmati rice which said to cook for 25 minutes so I knew that my rice would take longer than the fifteen minutes stated in the recipe.

Well after half an hour the rice was still hard. I was beginning to wonder whether I should have used pre-cooked rice as the recipe is not at all clear. However, I am not a fan of reheating rice and it did say to simmer for 15 minutes as you would with uncooked rice so I was almost sure that my method was right.

I kept having to add more water, and more water and it was still hard 45 minutes later. I kept trying it and it tasted very nice but wasn’t getting soft enough to eat. I kept thinking … just ten more minutes.

The recipe says to ‘serve on a hot oval dish, surrounded with tomato sauce. That’s it. No sauce recipe so I had to make it up.

My ingredients: small plum tomatoes, tomato puree, olive oil, Oregano and Thyme.

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I just heated the above ingredients in a pan and it turned out very well. The herbs that I chose were ones that were stated in the cookbook in other recipes so I assumed they would have been freely available.

Still waiting, and testing for softness, so much that I feel I have eaten a portion already. More water, higher temperature and hope for the best. At last, after about an hour things are softening up. The flavour is very intense in a strong savoury sort of way. That can’t be just down to one vegetarian stock cube can it? Must be because there isn’t a lot of other stuff in there.

Time for the omelette and the spreading of the onion/rice mixture on top.

And the verdict? Well it tasted very nice and wasn’t bland as I thought it would be. I was really fed up by the end with it needing so much simmering but perhaps that was my choice of rice or not enough water. Anyway, the top and bottom of it is: NO, I would not make it again, but YES I would eat it if someone put it in front of me already made but I wouldn’t want it twice in one day like Lydia did, or even twice in one month. Nice but not that nice.

Gingernut Biscuits

In Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Mr Ramsay offers his daughter,

… from his own parcel, a gingerbread nut, ….

Ginger biscuits are my personal second favourite biscuits and it seems that they were favourites of the Bloomsberries as well. Jan’s Ondaatje Rolls, in The Bloomsbury Cookbook, provides the recipe. I can imagine the members of the Thursday evening Bloomsbury Group passing round the biscuits to facilitate their debating and discussion.

This recipe makes six biscuits. So, compared to my previous Bloomsbury baking experiences, where the cake recipes were sufficient to feed a football team, this wouldn’t even sustain the fairy on my Christmas tree.

These are the meagre ingredients:

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The stuff in the glass is Golden Syrup. In the dish are baking soda, ground ginger and a pinch of salt. The other ingredients are flour, sugar and butter.

I rubbed the butter in to the dry ingredients and then added the golden syrup to make a dough. As you can see, the amount was tiny. I wondered if this would actually be enough to make six biscuits.

Going in to the oven for ten minutes, cooling, and …. six perfect ginger biscuits. I was having friends around later that day and we all had one each and they were absolutely delicious.

That’s not all I gave my friends to eat by the way.

Seed Cake

This is my second cake from Jans Ondaatje Rolls’ The Bloomsbury Cookbook.

My first cake used Brandy, honey, cinnamon and cloves. This one uses candied peel and caraway seeds.

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Another huge cake! I felt like I should cut it in half across and put some filling in it to stop it from being, well, just all that cake. All in all, these were very nice cakes, just a bit boring. My husband used the words ‘dense’ and ‘fragrant’.

Honey Cake

Apparently Virginia didn’t have a clue about preparing food but she and  Leonard were ‘foodies’, enjoyed sweet things and were often guests at Charleston for afternoon tea in the garden. There would be gossip and laughter, a gentle stroll round the garden, a perfect cup of tea and a second slice of cake.

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The Ingredients

I have chosen a recipe from Jans Ondaatje Rolls’ The Bloomsbury Cookbook that would have been baked for the Woolf household by the family cook.

The hardest part was working in 1lbs and ounces and what on Earth is 1/4 cup? I had to get on the internet to learn that it is 60ml. 60ml of brandy! That is more than a double pub measure. Then I had to figure out if there was a difference between ounces and fluid ounces as the measurement for the honey said ‘ounces’ and with it being a liquid I thought it should say ‘fluid ounces’.  I was keen to make this cake as I have never put as much brandy in a cake before (not even in a Christmas cake). Also, it contains cloves and I was intrigued by the flavours. In the photograph. The darker liquid is the brandy. The paler liquid is the honey … and look at all that butter!

The cake went well, and the kitchen survived without needing to be redecorated or anything.

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It was easy enough to make. The only thing was when I added the brandy to the hot melted honey and butter it started to rise like boiling milk does and I thought it was going to overflow. But it didn’t.

I doubt whether Virginia’s cook would have used Lakeland’s fluted tin liners but I can live with that. Not sure about electric hand mixers either.

Anyway, the cake came out very well. I have just googled why the cake might have cracked on the top and Mary Berry says that if the cake is too near the top of the oven, or if the oven is too hot, the crust forms too soon, the cake continues to rise and the top therefore splits. A science lesson for me.

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Ta Dah! This cake is HUGE! It says that it serves eight but that would include that second slice, surely?

Chris, sorry about the Soberano x

Bloomsbury Food

I have bought The Bloomsbury Cookbook by Jans Ondaatje Rolls.

This gorgeous book ‘invites us to dine’ with the Bloomsberries. All the recipes that I refer to have come from this book which tells the story of the Bloomsbury group with the help of an insight into their ‘lingering breakfasts’ and ‘painting lunches’. We can image them having breakfast at Monk’s House and lunches at Charleston and dining and debating all through the evening.