This recipe is at the bottom of the first page of Maimie’s recipe book. As with the recipe above it, Cold Fruit Pudding, it is difficult to date it exactly but I would estimate it to be from the mid-1880s.
For many British people of a certain age (i.e. 45 and over…) it’s impossible to hear of ginger beer without thinking about Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five. Written in the 1940s and 1950s, the series of books feature a group of four children and their dog, off on adventures which invariably involve uncovering criminal gangs on islands, moors or beaches. Food features heavily in the stories and, in particular, hard-boiled eggs and ginger beer accompany them everywhere.
This recipe predates Blyton’s output by more than half a century but Maimie certainly grew up in a Blyton-esque setting. Not long after her parents’ marriage, they moved to Newby Bridge House, at the foot of Lake Windermere, on the River Leven. The house had been built in 1793, one of the first great houses to be built on the shore of the lake. Its builders and owners, the Machel family, had been friends with Wordsworth, who dedicated a poem to their daughter. Two centuries later and long after my family had left, the writer Arthur Ransome, is said to have stayed there. Family photographs show an idyllic setting, described on the back as ‘the family landing’:
There are only austere portrait-style photographs from when Maimie was growing up, so I can’t say for certain what kind of childhood she enjoyed. Certainly, family photos of Maimie’s daughters and their cousins, when they visited their Grandpa James at Newby Bridge, feature rivers, lakes, boats, hills and ponies, so I hope she too was able to enjoy the freedom of the beautiful landscape around her – perhaps with hard-boiled eggs and ginger beer!
The ingredients required for Maimie’s ginger beer are few:
I can already see that ginger features heavily in these recipe books. As a spice, it was not often used by the Romans and so it’s unlikely that they popularised it amongst the Brit peasants when they occupied our lands. However, it was certainly popular by the Middle Ages; French historian Bruno Laurioux states that ginger was found in a quarter of all medieval English and French recipes. Ginger beer is believed to originated in the mid-1700s in Yorkshire. Corked inside earthenware bottles, it could be exported as far afield as the US and Canada.
This ginger beer is certainly fizzy but I’m not convinced by the yeasty taste of it. I’m also unnerved by the fact that I don’t know how alcoholic it is – various websites tell me it could be anything between alcohol-free and 11% – so I don’t want to be merrily downing it during daylight hours. If Maimie and her siblings were drinking wine-strength ginger beer, that would have certainly made for some interesting family picnics.