The Politics of Cake: Recipes from the Thatcher Era

3rd August 2018 in Archives Centre, Our Collections

We’ve been indulging in a spot of 1980s baking using recipes from the ‘favourites’ files kept by Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock.

Tom's Welsh cakes collage

 

Neil Kinnock’s ‘Welsh Cakes’, made by Tom Davies. To be served ‘as they are or buttered with good Welsh honey’.

One of the files which made the headlines after the 1987 release of Thatcher’s personal papers contained a series of the Lady’s ‘favourite’ recipes, kept for reference by her Political Office along with her Desert Island Discs, favoured prayers, and even some of her New Year’s resolutions. The recipes cover both entertaining and everyday cooking, and feature the dubiously named ‘Mystery Starter’ — tested out bravely by the Guardian last year with somewhat mixed results. Together with the all-important information on Thatcher’s beloved teddy bears, the file must have come in useful at a time when concerted attempts were being made to soften her public image, a phase which saw her insert the word ‘caring’ fourteen times into a single speech.

Foodies will spot an eclectic variety of references in Thatcher’s culinary repertoire – from the restrained ‘Cold Chicken Veronique’ with sherry-infused sauce and tarragon rice salad, lifted from Elizabeth David’s Book of Mediterranean Food, to the fussy ‘Courgettes Maison’ (calling for one finely-chopped shallot and six ounces of decorative prawns); not to mention the positively decadent ‘Coffee Butter Cream Cake’ containing ‘salad oil’ and topped with coffee ‘Frosting’, perhaps adapted from a North American recipe book.

Heidi tried out her ‘Orange & Walnut Cake’, a rather Thatcherite spin on a Victoria Sponge involving the grated whole rind of an orange and some bitter mixed peel, to celebrate the recent 1988 Thatcher papers release. (She swapped the warmed orange water icing for some orange blossom buttercream to bring this cake into the 21st century).

Heidi's orange walnut cake

 

THCR 2/6/4/44

 

Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Orange and Walnut Cake’, made by Heidi Egginton. [THCR 2/6/4/44]

The equivalent file of ‘favourites’ kept by Neil Kinnock’s office in the same period presents the Labour leader as a down-to-earth and health conscious cook, with a series of the obligatory ‘Welsh’ family recipes, such as ‘Feiser Nionod (Onion Cake)’ and a Welsh spin on a Sunday roast. In a list of his food likes and dislikes Kinnock declared himself averse to ‘anything oily or overgarnished’ [sic] and ‘food too elaborately presented’, along with ‘any cheese that isn’t British’. Nevertheless, his favourites did include some more complicated dishes, such as a roulade with smoked fish and frozen spinach, of which Kinnock admitted he was ‘better at eating this starter than making it!’

After seeing the great efforts of some of our Twitter bakers, Tom tried his hand at making Kinnock’s Welsh Cakes. Judging by how quickly they disappeared in the Churchill Archives Centre tearoom it’s easy to see why this recipe was one of the politician’s favourites!

KNNK 22/3

 

The file of biographical information kept by Kinnock’s Private Office from c.1984-1994 also contains a number of ‘favourite’ recipes, some of which are signed by his wife Glenys Kinnock [KNNK 22/3]

Both these recipes get the thumbs up from us! We’ll be testing out some more historical food & drink from the collections over the next few weeks, so do look out for new recipes – or join in with some retro archival baking of your own – on Twitter at the hashtag #ChuArchivesBakes.

— Tom Davies and Heidi Egginton, Archives Assistants

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