To Preserve Pineapples

I have to admit, that when I set out to recreate Victorian recipes from a Lancashire cook book, tropical fruit were not at the top of my shopping list. But here we are, on page nine of Althea’s book, in 1868, preserving pineapples. Clearly, they were not being grown on the balmy shores of Lake Windermere in Victorian times but I had also assumed that such fruits would be difficult and expensive to obtain. It turns out I was wrong.

‘To Preserve Pineapples. Peel the pineapple just enough to take away part of the hard rind. Cut it into slices or half slices – quarter to half an inch thick. Make a thin syrup by putting 1lb of loaf sugar into one quart of cold spring water. Boil & skim it. Then set it to cool. When it is nearly cold put the slices of pineapple in. Boil 6 or seven…’
‘…minutes. Put the Pine & syrup into a basin till next day. Then boil it again 6 or 7 minutes. The third day pour all the syrup into the preserving pan & add 1lb more of loaf sugar to every quart of water you used at first. Boil the pine in this strong syrup a quarter…’
‘…of an hour. When cold put it into glasses or preserving pots for use. Mrs Harrison. Aug 4th 1868.’

This was not a difficult recipe to follow but even my sweet tooth balked at the amount of sugar that went into it. The resulting pineapple pieces had a texture that didn’t resemble fresh or dried pineapple; they were soft but with a bit of give, somewhat like preserved ginger. Predictably, they were eye-wateringly sweet. We ate them sparingly, in smoothies.

Althea had married into the Harrison family. More of them in later posts but, in a nutshell, they were yeomen farmers from Kirby Lonsdale, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, who had moved to Bury in the eighteenth century and profited considerably from the textiles boom of the Industrial Revolution. So, was it their wealth that meant they could afford a surplus of pineapples, to preserve for the leaner months? Well, apparently not…

Pineapples first appeared in Britain during the reign of Charles II, in the seventeenth century. However, difficult to import and tricky to grow in the temperate English climate, they remained the preserve of the wealthy and well-connected. It was not until the Georgian era that they were cultivated in Britain. Indeed, one of the first hothouses said to have produced them was at Orford Hall in Warrington – just 25 miles away from the Harrisons in Bury (although there’s no suggestion they ever got pineapples from there!)

The fruits were so labour intensive that each one was worth thousands of pounds. They were far too valuable to eat and so instead would be paraded around town, at various events and parties, like a prickly designer handbag. Poorer people could even hire a pineapple to take to special occasions. They began to pop up everywhere in designs, from clock cases and wallpaper to tea-pots and follies. Pineapples can still be spotted today, on gates, fences, railings and public buildings.

By the time of this recipe, in the 1860s, improvements in shipping meant that they could be more easily imported. Pineapples went from being an unaffordable luxury to a snack that could be bought on the streets. In 1864, in the Bolton Corn Market, Lancashire, pineapples were readily on sale amongst mutton, greengages and walnuts. In 1868, The Ulverston Advertiser wrote that ‘”Pineapple – a penny a slice?” is a sound familiar to cockney ears.’

This recipe is dated August 4th 1868 and is attributed to ‘Mrs Harrison‘. There are several relatives of Althea’s that could be ‘Mrs Harrison’ but I believe this one to be her aunt by marriage, as lots of other recipes in the book, including one from a couple of pages earlier, are attributed to ‘Mrs J Harrison, Singleton Park‘. This aunt was Jane Harrison, the wife of Thomas Harrison, who was the brother of James (Althea’s father-in-law).

Jane was born in Kendall, in about 1811, to Daniel and Betsy Harrison. I can’t find any obvious family connection between these two Harrison families but no doubt they were distant cousins somewhere along the line! I inherited a photocopy of the Harrison family tree, which looks to have been written in the late Victorian era and then annotated in the twentieth century.

It was this tree that told me that Thomas Harrison had married Jane. It also told me that Thomas was one of seven children born to Joseph. I have yet to track down the Harrisons and exactly what they did and where but suffice to say that they had done rather well for themselves through the manufacture of paper, and cotton and woollen mills in Bury. This was a family that had never been short of pineapples! And it was when I looked more closely at the tree that things got interesting…

According to the tree, Thomas’s brother John had married ‘Eliza, daughter of Thos Haslam‘ in 1834. Then, in 1836, John’s twin brother, Edmund, had married ‘Sarah, daughter of Thos Haslam.’ Then – as if twin brothers apparently each marrying a sister was not interesting enough – I noticed that older sister Mary had married a Samuel Holker Haslam (their brother) in 1819! Who were all these Haslams and why were the Harrisons seemingly intent on marrying them all?!

According to this website, in 1827, Eliza, Sarah and Samuel’s father, Thomas Haslam, was living in a grand house in Chesham Woods, on the edge of Bury, where he owned the nearby Hudcar Cotton Mill. Brothers John and James Harrison also owned mills, in the Heap area of Bury. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the Harrison siblings fell for their Haslam counterparts. Both families would have moved in the same local social circles, particularly once Samuel and Mary were married in 1819. Or perhaps the matches were not entirely based on affection but instead sought to consolidate the two manufacturing empires. We will never know for sure.

I looked further down the branches of the tree, hoping that the families had had the sense to keep their cousins away from each other! John and Eliza did not have any children, and Samuel and Mary apparently didn’t either. The final Harrison-Haslam couple, Edmund and Sarah, had three daughters, only one of whom married. In the case of Jane (who passed on this recipe to Althea, remember?) and Thomas’s many children, however, they appear to had found a new family to intermarry with! Daniel married ‘Frances Anne, daughter of Oliver Ormerod Walker of Bury, DL and JP‘ and his sister Jane married ‘Oliver Ormerod Walker of Bury, JP, sometime MP for Salford.’ Confusingly, the latter Oliver is in fact the son of the former Oliver – got it?!

Yet again, siblings married siblings. And, again, two prominent manufacturing families got together. Oliver Jnr, as stated above, became an MP for Salford, as well as Mayor of Bury and High Sheriff of Lancashire.

Prinsep, Valentine Cameron; Colonel Oliver Ormerod Walker (1833-1914); Bury Art Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/colonel-oliver-ormerod-walker-18331914-164326

Prinsep, Valentine Cameron; Mrs Oliver Ormerod Walker, nee Jane Harrison; Bury Art Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/mrs-oliver-ormerod-walker-nee-jane-harrison-164327

Mary, above, was therefore the cousin of Althea’s husband, James. She is my first cousin, four times removed! But, with this couple, the intermarrying power-play ends: although they had four daughters, none of them married, although they did all live long and fulfilled lives. A lovely photograph of the four ladies in their later years can be found on this web page, as part of a Bury exhibition that celebrated the Walker family and Chesham. For, if you remember, Thomas Haslam had lived in one of three grand properties in Chesham Woods – and so too, at various times, had Samuel Holker Haslam and his wife Mary (nΓ©e Harrison), Oliver Ormerod Walker and his wife Jane (nΓ©e Harrison) and John Harrison and his wife Eliza. Perhaps then, all the intermarrying had simply been a consequence of geography.

Chesham, Lancashire (house demolished in 1959). From https://prestwich.org.uk/history/places/chesham.html

10 thoughts on “To Preserve Pineapples

  1. I’ll pass on the pineapple thanks. But I’m waiting for the day when our families prove to be linked. There are so many geographical connections at the same period, though you have been able to go into your family stories in so much more detail.

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    • Wouldn’t that be funny?! Between the two sides of my family, we do seem to cover a lot of northern ground so you never know! Are yours Yorkshire Dales area?

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      • Nope. We’re more industrial West Riding, with a couple of forays into eastern Lancashire and Pateley Bridge, and even Ripon. That’s the maternal grandmother side. The other is Suffolk and London.

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