Oct 162012

The third series of the Great British Bake Off draws to a close tonight leaving many viewers wondering what cakes, biscuits, breads, crispbreads and gingerbread artistry they can try their hand at. We decided to take a look through JISC MediaHub for inspiration and have found some fascinating bakes for you that not only reflect culinary but also cultural and social history.

Daily Bakes
Baking can be a thing of decadence and luxury but bread is the most fundamental of baked goods and an inexpensive essential staple of diets across the world. The logistics of baking can be tricky – even without Paul Holywood commenting on salt levels. So what happens when a lot of people need basic bread quickly in an unfamiliar environment? Well a little invention is required. This silent footage from 1916, shows British military baking facilities in Salonica, Greece, during the First World War. The bread itself may not win any prizes but the make shift ovens and baking arrangements make the Bake Off marquee look extremely luxurious.

British army personnel bake in make shift ovens in Salonica

British army personnel bake in make shift ovens in Salonica. (TOMMY’S NINEPENNY LOAF, Gaumont Graphic, 27-03-1916)

Pies are another staple not only of British home cooks and high streets but also celebrations. Two news clips from the Gaumont Graphic Collection, from 1923 and 1927, feature (then) newly revived ancient British pie customs. The first sees “Henry VIII and Queen Catherine” (presumably not the real ones) eating eel pie at Twickenham, the other features the Mayor of Mansfield tucking into a gargantuan gooseberry pie.

"Henry VIII and Queen Catherine" attack an eel pie

“Henry VIII and Queen Catherine” attack an eel pie. (ANCIENT CUSTOM RENEWED, Gaumont Graphic, 22-05-1923).

The size of these celebration bakes leads us to baking as business and the industrial processes of manufacturing baked goods.

Industrial Bakes
Some of the earliest cinematic footage captured industrial processes and scenes – sometimes real, sometimes reproduced – indeed the Lumière brothers’ first film “La Sortie de usines Lumière” (1894) shows workers leaving the Lumière factory. Film itself is a mechanised technological process so it is hardly surprising that filmmakers have remained entranced with industrial scenes, especially of repetitive processes and production lines, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) through to Playschool (1964-1988) and Sesame Street (1969-) taking the viewer on factory adventures, to the fragile production line imagery of Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Gung Ho (1986), and through to modern advertising campaigns imagining playful animated industrial processes for everything from dairy produce to Coca Cola. Food, particularly baking, is always a favourite topic, from production lines of all sorts of baked items from french bread to post-rationing hot cross buns to that baking essential ingrediant, chocolate!

Two boys eat hot cross buns

Two boys eat hot cross buns in a still from a 1919 Gaumont Graphic film about production beginning again after the end of rationing following the First World War. (HOT CROSS BUNS, Gaumont Graphic, 14-04-1919)

A man looks at a conveyer belt in the Bournville Cadbury Factory.

A man inspects the chocolate on the production line at the Bournville Cadbury Factory (100 Years Of Manufacturing At Bournville Cadbury Factory, Getty (still images) 25-02-2005)

Decorative Bakes
Industrialised baking may be how many of our baked goods reach us but some traditional bakers continue to work by hand. In Toledo the famous Confiteria Santo Tomo, create sweet almond pastries that have been enjoyed for hundreds of years and are still made by hand. The Gov Ed collection includes a series of images of how these traditional treats, which can be hugely decorative, are made.

A marzipan eel, a traditional marzipan treat made by the Confiteria Santo Tome, Toledo, Spain.

A marzipan eel (anguila de marzapan), a traditional treat made by the Confiteria Santo Tome, Toledo, Spain. (Confiteria Santo Tome_14, Gov Ed, 2008)

Of course a beautiful bake requires an appreciative audience. Unfortunately Tiny, the 75 year old elephant from Manchester Zoo, didn’t seem quite as taken with her 1928 birthday cake as the baker might have hoped…

Tiny the elephant enjoys her elaborate 75th birthday cake.

Tiny the elephant enjoys her elaborate 75th birthday cake. (“OH, TRY THOSE TIERS!”, Gaumont Graphic, 04-04-1928)

Extreme Bakes
The idea of baking to excess is hardly new but breaking records is a more modern obsession. In 1964 Denby Dale, known for baking gigantic pies since 1788, decided to bake the mother of all pies, expected to weigh in at roughly 6 tonnes of meat, potato, gravy and pastry and feed up to a quarter of a million fans attending their Pie Festival. The 1964 pie, the eighth pie of 10 extreme pie bakes the village has so far attempted, was baked to celebrate four royal births. History does not seem to have recorded the cost of the bake but trying to recreate the bake today would come in at well over £10,000 at modern supermarket prices. That pie was, astonishingly, reported to have been doubled in 2000 when a 12 tonne pie welcomed in a new millennium!

A sign previews the Denby Dale pie bake of 5th September 1964.

A sign previews the Denby Dale pie bake of 5th September 1964. (DENBY DALE PIE, ITV Early Evening News, 04-05-1964)

Royal Wedding cakes, whilst too classy to go for out and out records, have been some of the most famously grand and outsize of all cakes. And Princess Anne’s wedding cake in 1973 was no exception. Requiring 128 eggs and doused with 2 full bottles of brandy (of which Mary Berry would surely approve) the cake was an incredible 68″ (nearly 6ft) or 172 cm tall towering safely above the height of many bakers. It was built with military precision and decorated with intricate sugar flowers and crests as described in this video from the ITN News collection.

Princess Anne's nearly 6ft tall wedding cake.

Princess Anne’s nearly 6ft tall wedding cake. (PRINCESS ANNE WEDDING CAKE, ITV Late Evening News, 09-11-1973)

There are thousands more baking images and films in JISC MediaHub and we’d love to know your favourite – just leave us a comment below!

And finally, if you are desperate to attempt one of the recipes featured in this year’s Great British Bake Off take a look at the Lothian Health Service Archives blog where you will find the recipe for the rather wonderfully odd (but apparently very tasty), Invalid Fruit Tart as featured in episode 3 of this year’s Bake Off.

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