cheese, history,, humour, new books, ponderations, writing

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers – a guest post from D W Bradbridge

I should like to welcome my good friend D W Bradbridge, who writes the popular mysteries set in Civil War Cheshire featuring Constable Daniel Cheswis.

DW Bradbridge was born in 1960 and grew up in Bolton. He has lived in Crewe, Cheshire since 2000, where he and his wife run a small magazine publishing business for the automotive industry. 
Daniel Cheswis, on the other hand, lives in Nantwich and is a respectable cheese-merchant, as well as the local constable. Everywhere Master Cheswis goes there seem to be murders and mysteries abounding. It’s all very exciting, but I suspect Hollie is glad he doesn’t live any nearer to Cheshire. It’s a wonder there’s anyone left standing!
By the late 17th century “Cheshire Cheese” was a byword for quality. In the space of little more than twenty years it had become the main cheese eaten in London and the name had become a “brand” in the modern sense of the word.  Its growing market share was reflected in the number of eating establishments naming themselves after it. Indeed in 1678 Samuel Pepys is recorded as visiting The Cheshire Cheese, an establishment close to his home near the Tower of London. 
But why did Cheshire cheese become so successful and so quickly? After all, before 1650 there were no specialist dairy farms. Farmers produced largely for their own consumption with excess production being sold off at markets to people who did not keep their own cattle. 
However, there is plenty of evidence that Cheshire cheese was relished in London, having been brought to the capital in small quantities by the gentry and well-to-do merchants. Unfortunately, at this time it was too expensive to send it by cart in large quantities. However, during the 1640s a couple of things happened (apart from the Civil War, that is), which opened up the market. Firstly Suffolk, where most of London’s cheese came from, suffered terribly from floods and cattle disease, which made the price of Suffolk cheese double. Secondly, an increased demand for butter led Suffolk farmers to skim off the cream from the milk for butter production before make the cheese, thereby reducing the quality of Suffolk cheese. 
The result was boom time for cheese farmers in the North of England. At the time, Cheshire Cheese became a generic name for cheese from Staffordshire, Shropshire, South Lancashire and parts of Wales too, partly because of the fame Cheshire Cheese had gained for itself, but also because between 1650 and 1670 all cheese from these areas was shipped from Chester. Eventually Frodsham also became a major port for cheese ships and other shipments ended up being sent from Hull, having been transported from South Cheshire along the Trent. 
So if Cheshire Cheese was the UK’s favourite cheese at the turn of the 18th century, why did the market eventually fade? The first reason was the development of canal system, which made it easier for cheesemakers from other parts of England to service the London market. This worked the other way too, as it also opened up other regional markets for Cheshire farmers. A further reason was a reduction in sea trade after the war with the French started at the end of the 1680s. This meant that cheese began to be transported by land again, which significantly increased the cost. 
But let us go back to 1650. The first recorded shipment of Cheshire cheese took place on 21 October that year by one William Seaman, a London merchant from a Cheshire family.  
“Wait,” I hear you say, “I’ve heard that name before,” and you would be right. William Seaman makes an appearance in A Soldier of Substance as Daniel Cheswis’ cheese merchant friend from Chester. History, unfortunately, does not record Cheswis’ involvement in the first shipment! Cheswis is a fairly modest chap, so he probably wanted to keep his name out of the limelight. 
 The Cheswis books are currently available on Amazon UK:
Or of course if you happened to be passing the National Civil War Centre in Newark, they are available in the shop there!

Babbitt, cheese, drinks, Fairfax, food, history,

Mistress Babbitt’s Closet Unlock’d – random recipes from the series

You may, should you, in some moment of insanity choose to follow the fortunes of Babbitt’s troop of horse, be moved to curiosity about some of the food mentioned.

Being somewhat fascinated by what food people ate in many periods, I do actually try out Mistress Babbitt’s menus on my simple menfolk. We are great admirers of ember tart – please note, however, that ember tart is strictly speaking a medieval cheese flan, dating back to the 14th century. Although such recipes didn’t change much. However, the other thing to remember about the Babbitt household is that Rosie himself is a Lancashire boy – lovely, creamy, crumbly cheese – married to an Essex girl and living in rural Essex – salty, tangy sheep’s cheese, as like as not. I have something of a partiality for “new” cheese, a bit like the man himself who will go a long way for a bit of new cheese: that is, the softer, crumblier stuff before all the whey’s been squeezed out and it’s matured. If you come across real crumbly Lancashire cheese, not the pre-packaged supermarket stuff,  leap upon it with both hands.

All that being by the by, and a matter for another post, but on a cold, wintry night like this it’s tempting to imagine our 17th century family settled at home for the night around the fire, working at bits of mending that don’t require too much elegance – worn-through stockings, torn shirts, missing buttons. Worn harness, the stitching on reins or stirrup leathers fraying. Catching up on the day’s events, what’s happening in the world. Who said what to whom in town, who thrives, who struggles, who’s sleeping with whom and more importantly – will they get found out.

Buttered ale is Het Babbitt’s drink of choice for such evenings.

It is as it says on the tin – buttered, sweetened, spiced beer. Get the wrong beer, anything too bitter or dark, and it is truly vile.

To make Buttered Beere. Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloves beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.
(The Good Housewife’s Jewell, T. Dawson, 1596)

Failing that –
3 pints of real ale, but be careful which you choose 🙂
5 egg yolks
1/2 lb demerara sugar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ginger

Bring to the point of boiling, and then add butter. If you taste it before you add the butter, you may find you want less – to offset the richness of the egg yolks – or more, if it’s bitter.

Drink warm, and raise a toast to Black Tom Fairfax and his lads, who on this day in 1644 were probably well in need of a few, having only the day previously fought in the battle of Nantwich in fairly sodden and wretched conditions!