Lemon Cheesecakes

This recipe is from page seven of Harriet’s cook book and so is likely to date from 1902 or 1903. There was no making them look any nicer than they do in this photograph. They were a disaster. Welded to the baking pan and yet not properly set. One day, one of Harriet’s recipes will turn out well but today was not that day.

‘Lemon Cheesecakes. 1/4lb butter. 1lb lump sugar, 6 eggs. The rind of two lemons & the juice of 3.’

Really, this was just a list of ingredients. There was no suggestion of how they should be combined or cooked or what the result should be. It certainly did not sound like any cheesecake I was aware of. I decided that I couldn’t hope to produce anything edible from Harriet’s book and so I went in search of Lemon Cheesecake recipes from the same era, in the hope that they would give me more of a clue. I found the answer in Harriet’s copy of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book:

This edition was published in 1910 and purchased, according to a stamp inside, from G. Wray, Bookseller etc. Scarborough. So, Harriet didn’t get the recipe from this book as 1910 is a few years after her handwritten book. However, this seminal cookbook had been around for fifty years and this was something like its 41st edition, so it’s likely that Harriet copied the recipe from someone else’s book or saw it in a newspaper. However, although recognisable as the basis for Harriet’s scribbled recipe, Mrs Beeton’s has one big difference:

Recipe for Lemon Cheese Cakes, bottom right

Mrs Beeton’s recipe (as well as adding candied peel, no thank you very much) also bakes the cheese cakes in short crust pastry. I decided to follow suit. Whether they would have turned out any better if I hadn’t, we will never know.

The elephant in the room when it comes to Mrs Beeton’s cakes is that they contain no cheese and bear no resemblance to what we would call a cheese cake, with its sickly base of cream cheese. Yorkshire is famous for its curd tarts, traditionally made for Whitsuntide with the ‘beestings’, the first, rich milk that cows produce for their newborn calves. But this recipe is no relation to those. ‘Cheese’ in this case probably refers to ‘fruit cheese’, where fruit is simmered with sugar to produce a preserve. The addition of eggs, butter and sugar results in what we would these days call lemon curd. Or, in this case, it results in a big sticky mess that demands soaking the baking tin for a long time.

Having explored the lives of Harriet’s parents and grandparents, before I marry her off, I wanted to find out what happened to her surviving siblings. Altogether, Harriet had three sisters, six brothers and one half-brother. However, only five survived to adulthood. Some are easier to trace than others!

Harriet’s older brother, John Blakelock Ibson, was born in November 1872. By this time, there were already two older boys, Thomas and James, and a half-brother, William (born to their mother before she was married). John was eight years older than Harriet. In 1881, he was living at Salamanca with his parents, widowed grandmother and four of his siblings. He is recorded as a ‘scholar’ and so probably attended the same village school in Kirby Underdale that Harriet and her younger siblings are later on the records of.

As I’ve written before in several posts, the next decade was difficult for the family. By the time John turned seventeen he had seen five of his siblings die, as well as his mother, Eleanor; most of them succumbed to tuberculosis. In 1891, he was working as a farm labourer, living slightly north of Kirby Underdale with the Jefferson family at a farm called South Brown Moor. His older brother, James, was living nearby at North Brown Moor and was also a farm servant.

Three years later, at the age of 24, John married Rebecca Mary Johnson. Rebecca was also 24 and had been working as a domestic servant in Hovingham, some 20 miles away. The industrialisation of rural Yorkshire around this time saw a mass movement of workers from agriculture to other employment, and John was no exception. By 1901, the couple had moved to Swinton, near the large market town of Malton and John was working on the railways. The website Ryedale on the Net talks of Malton station’s growing importance throughout the Victorian era:

From 1890 to the 1920’s Malton Station prospered and became one of the most important stations on the North Eastern Railway. It’s hard to imagine today all the activities taking place at that time. Engine whistles sounding, wagons shunting, and the clanking of couplings being the norm until midnight on most days.’

The couple had two sons by this point, Edward Henry and Thomas William and, over the next decade, three daughters followed: Eleanor Mary, Hannah Lilian and Alice Annie. Alice Annie was born in 1905 and died in 1991. I knew her as ‘Auntie Alice’ and I was a teenager when she died. She was my grandmother’s cousin and the two stayed close all their lives, so John (Alice’s father) must have stayed in touch with his sister Harriet (my grandmother’s mother).

Sadly, not all of John Blakelock Ibson’s children were to live long lives. On the 27 May 1918, their eldest son Edward Henry, known as Harry, died during World War One (although his gravestone, in Vendresse British Cemetery has the date as 27 March). Harry was in the fourth battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (the ‘Green Howards’), in the Machine Gun Corps. The website First World War describes the Third Battle of the Aisne, which was to claim Harry’s life:

The attack was launched early on 27 May with a ferocious heavy artillery bombardment of 4,000 guns across a 40 km front, against four divisions of IX Corps.  Owing to the heavy concentration of primarily British troops in front-line trenches, casualties from the bombardment were severe; IX Corps itself was virtually wiped out.  The bombardment was accompanied by a gas attack, designed to disable defensive gun crews, after which 17 divisions of German infantry, under Crown Prince Wilhelm, began their advance through a 40 km gap in the Allied line.

Private Ibson was just twenty years old. His body was never recovered.

By the time Harry died, John Blakelock and Rebecca were living in the town of Malton itself and John was working as a platelayer. This would have still been with the railways. A platelayer was responsible for laying and maintaining tracks. Men would have worked in gangs, responsible for a particular length of track. The Railway Museum says that ‘Railway work was incredibly dangerous in the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly if you were a shunter or platelayer.’ Working among moving trains meant that men needed to be watchful. Unlike today, track sections were not closed when repairs were needed; platelayers had to make repairs in between the rumbling of the steam trains. Fatalities were common.

John Blakelock Ibson, Harriet’s brother (on the left)

In 1921, John was still a platelayer, working for the North Eastern Railway Company. He lived with Rebecca in Pocklington, some 20 miles south of Malton. Two daughters, Hannah and Alice, were still living at home, although working as domestic servants. Thomas, who would have escaped serving in WW1 by a matter of months, was working as a labourer in Middlesborough, although he returned to Pocklington to get married in 1925. By 1939, John was retired at the age of 67 and still living in Pocklington. By then, he had at least seven grandchildren.

Rebecca Mary Ibson nee Johnson

John Blakelock Ibson died in 1950, at the age of 77. His wife Rebecca died three years later, at the age of 80. They were buried together in Pocklington Municipal Cemetery and, at the bottom of their gravestone it says: ‘Also of their beloved son, Edward Henry Ibson, killed in action 27th May 1918, aged 20 years.’

13 thoughts on “Lemon Cheesecakes

    • Yes, indeed. When I Googled the date to find out what happened on that day, the stories of so many men who had been killed on that one day came up. Just awful.

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  1. Those First World War deaths still have the power to shock, 100 years on. You really have discovered an extraordinary amount about your family’s past. Your efforts to dish up a tasty meal or treat from those days seem less successful!

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    • There is so little information to go on from her recipe that it’s hard to know what she was making. But yes, it’s possible she baked it in a separate case, as per Mrs B’s recipe. Still not sure how she got it to set though – oh well!

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