Bonito Pudding

This recipe is from Maimie’s book and follows the recipe for Tinned Tomato Soup. The pages in this book are not numbered and the dates jump about, as if notes and clippings were all written up at a later date. Whereas the soup recipe dates from 1896, this one goes back in time a whole decade, to 1886. It is attributed to the ‘Manchester School of Cookery.’ A pencilled note next to the recipe title suggests ‘Rather less sugar.’

‘Bonito Pudding. 3 eggs. Juice 2 lemons. Grated rind half a lemon. 1/2lb caster sugar. 1/4oz islinglass melted in half a tumbler of hot water (gelatine will do if care is taken to melt thoroughly) – Cream the yolks and sugar, add lemon juice rind & isinglass – mix well in a…’
‘…glass dish. Beat the whites to a stiff froth & stir them in slowly. Leave the mixture to stiffen and when set pour whipped cream overall. This is best made some hours before wanted. Also the cream is most satisfactory if whipped the day before it is used and left all night to drain on a sieve. Manchester School of Cookery, 1886.’

Bonito Pudding is not a dessert that has stood the test of time in the UK; I had never heard of it. Isinglass was also not an ingredient I was familiar with. Research tells me that it is also known as ‘fish glue’ and comes from the membrane of the swim bladders of certain kinds of fish. Over the centuries it has been used in everything from medicine to art conservation, as well as brewing and – as is the case in this recipe – as a pure form of gelatine, to set desserts and the like. ‘Bonito’ is a kind of tuna-like fish and so I wondered if the fish link gave the pudding its name. But it seems more likely that it comes from the Spanish word ‘pretty’.

The Pudding was easy to assemble. As it set, the egg yolk and sugar mixture sank to the bottom, to leave a layer of fluffy egg white under the cream. I’m not sure if this was supposed to happen but it tasted good, very like a lemon meringue pie.

Maimie would have been 19 in 1866. The Manchester School of Cookery first appears in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser in February 1877:

The first of a course of twelve demonstration lessons, under the auspices of the Manchester School of Cookery, was given yesterday afternoon in the lecture-hall of the Young Men’s Christian Association, Peter-street. The Chairman alluded to the importance of the subject in which they were engaged that day, and said that it was not only the man who worked hard with his hands who required good food. The man who worked with his brain also needed good food. Mrs. Handbury then proceeded with her lecture, in the course of which she cooked and explained the making of the following: Soup maigre, lobster cutlets, haricot mutton, potato croquettes, and Venoise pudding.

It seems then that the School of Cookery was squarely aimed at the middle classes! Over the next few years, participants could learn to cook other delicacies such as Carmelon of Beef, Sole a la Tartare and Bourbon Pudding. But it wasn’t just for young ladies. Another article outlines how gentlemen planning to ‘travel or settle in wild parts of Africa or Australia’ were taking lessons ‘so they may be able to bake bread and cook for themselves.’ The lessons took place on a weekly basis. I can’t be sure if Maimie attended in person, although it is possible, as the family were not far from Manchester by train and her uncle Alexander and his wife Jessie were by this point living in Salford, just two miles from the city centre.

When I first researched Althea and Maimie, my methods were fairly random and often relied on census data to establish family members. I quickly discovered that Maimie had a sister, Edith, and two brothers, James and Charles. The four siblings also appeared together in family photos in the early twentieth century, including one for their father’s eightieth birthday. It was a surprise therefore when I came across the following little snippet during a search of newspapers:

Who was little Edmund? Had there really been a younger brother and what had happened to him? I took a more methodical approach, consulting the scribbled and much-copied Harrison family tree that had been amongst my late father’s effects. And, sure enough, there was Edmund Walter, the baby of the family and perhaps a surprise, born 14 years after Maimie and eight years after Ethel, who I had previously thought the youngest:

So, Edmund was born on 8 August 1881 and died on 9 June 1889, which was why I hadn’t found him on any censuses. I did find a lone, faded, and framed baby photo amongst my inherited items and I wondered if this was a keepsake, to remember the lost child. But dating of the photograph put it at decades earlier and so it wasn’t the case. It is only in his sister Edith’s little diary, previously mentioned here and here, that a glimpse of Edmund remains:

On 29 November 1884, Edith writes ‘Baby left off his white dresses.’ Edmund would have been three-and-a-half and it was obviously time for him to leave his baby attire behind and become a boy. On the same page, there is an entry in February 1885 that states ‘Baby had 6 teeth out all at once’. Poor Edmund! Edith’s diary is sporadic at the best of times. Although she took the time to number the pages right up to 121, her final lengthy entry is dated March 1889 and concerns her schoolfriends. On page 34, it finishes mid-sentence and there are no further entries. But then, there is a random collection of notes on pages 93-94, including this:

Edith writes ‘Read “The Hunting of the Snark” to Teddy. So, it seems baby Edmund had shed his dresses and become Teddy. This seems likely, as the diary tells us that the family were fond of diminutives: Mary became Maimie; James was known by his middle name ‘Kay’; and Charles was called Charlie.

I ordered Edmund’s death certificate to find out what had happened to him. On the other side of my family, at around the same time, several of Harriet’s siblings had died from tuberculosis and so I was expecting something similar. But the certificate revealed something quite different. On 9 June 1889, Teddy had died at home, with his father at his side, from ‘glioma of the orbits, six or seven years’, essentially a slow-growing brain cancer affecting the eyes.

Twenty-first century medical literature tells me that gliomas are benign tumours that typically affect children under ten and, these days, have an excellent prognosis. Sadly, the outcome of Teddy’s tumour was dictated by the times in which he lived and a glioma which would these days be effectively treated grew unchecked until it killed him. Cancer treatments were still in their infancy at the time. The world’s first operation to remove a brain tumour had been just five years earlier, in 1884 and, although surgeons had successfully removed the mass without damaging the brain, the patient died from a post-operative infection.

The death certificate makes it clear that the effects of the glioma had been apparent since Teddy was only one or two years old. We cannot be sure how the condition affected him but, typically, patients might experience vision loss, headaches, convulsions and hormonal problems that affect growth and development. It must have been a sad and worrying time for the family. For Althea, in particular, the change at Newby Bridge House would have been profound. In the 1870s, the house was full of small children, all born between 1867 and 1873. By the following decade, Kay and Charlie were away at boarding school and Ethel’s diaries indicate that she attended her aunt’s school in Blackheath, London or often stayed with relatives in Shropshire, so her older sister Maimie was probably absent too. The house must have been a quiet and sombre place for Althea with only her gravely ill son to care for.

There is nothing much left to remember Teddy’s short life, other than a record on a family tree and his sister’s diary entries. But I can imagine (and hope) that he found some joy, love and laughter in life, such as when his sister Ethel read the nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark aloud to him.

4 thoughts on “Bonito Pudding

  1. What an affecting tale of poor litt;e Teddy. My eye was caught by the reference to little boys wearing dresses while very young. My mother was born in 1910, and her brother Arthur maybe three or so years later. I have a picture of the two of them together, taken when my mother must have been about six, and Arthur is wearing a dress. This seems quite late for this particular custom, but I guess the West Riding of Yorkshire wasn’t very cutting edge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have a similar photo of my grandfather and his three older sisters, taken at about that time – it seems the East Riding wasn’t cutting edge either!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s