Friday, 18 January 2013

Hard Cheese!

I was interested to read in the EADT (16 January, ‘Make time for a traditional farmhouse breakfast this weekend’) that next week is Farmhouse Breakfast Week.  We are told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and plays a key role in helping tackle obesity and reducing heart disease and diabetes.

The “traditional breakfast” is often portrayed as the “full English breakfast” – eggs, bacon, mushrooms, etc.  But readers may be interested to know that workers in the Suffolk farmhouses of the mid-nineteenth century were eating something quite different.

During 1894 and 1895, the Suffolk Times and Mercury featured a series of articles entitled  “The autobiography of a Suffolk Farm Labourer: with recollections of incidents and events that have occurred in Suffolk, during the sixty years from 1816 to 1876”.  In his ‘autobiography’, the farm worker recalls his memories of breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen:

“... The meals were taken in the old-fashioned kitchen, which had an open fire-place.  During winter a large block of wood made the room comfortably warm.  Master, mistress, and servants were all in the same room, though not at the same table.  Visitors, who often dropped in sat with the family, but the conversation went on regardless of our presence….

For breakfast we had pork, bread, Suffolk cheese, and a pint of mild beer. 
Suffolk cheese has been a subject for much deserved satire.  An unimpeachable authority – Robert Bloomfield – describes a piece of it as

‘Too big to swallow, and too hard to bite.’
… I well recollect that the cheese we ate was cut in half by a hand saw; one half was at breakfast time placed on a “footman” with its face to the fire, till it began to “sizzle” and turn brown, then we cut off the cooked slice and ate it with fat pork.”

(NB: A footman is a piece of furniture made of brass or steel, similar in design to footstool, that was commonly used for keeping dishes warm in front of fires.)

Metal footman