Home » For the Coffee table.The Best of British and, Did King Harold really burn the cakes?

For the Coffee table.The Best of British and, Did King Harold really burn the cakes?


Did King Harold really burn the cakes?


Did King Harold really burn the cakes?

Well as a matter of fact, he didn’t,it was “Alfred the Great”.

I’m sure that many of us remember the Legend of King Alfred, who, in 879, and on the run from the Viking invaders, was offered refuge by peasant woman in the village of Athelney in Summerset. At the time the woman was unaware of whom she was hiding, but the story goes on to say that she had instructed the King to keep an eye on the cakes, which were cooking gently next to the fire, whilst she went out to milk the cow. Alfred, being understandably preoccupied with affairs of the state had forgotten, and the cakes burned. Upon her return, and seeing the charred remains, she roundly berated the King of England for not taking more care, and the legend was born.

Today it’s thought that the cakes were in fact; loafs of bread, never the less this, 12th century legend is one of many that refers to the food of the time, and gives us some idea of the importance attached to it.

The British Isles has been well known for its food since the middle Ages. Crusty home baked breads, Steamed puddings, cakes and desserts featured amongst some of the finest fare. Closer to modern times, the Victorians; enjoyed a fabulous range culinary delights, dinning in such elegant, and luxurious surroundings’ as the “Ritz.” or “The Strand Palace, to name but two, there were of course, many other exotic venues.

The Victorian Chefs of the period, were without doubt masters of their art, and were held in high esteem by the gourmets who followed them. Alexis Soyer, a French Chef was to become the most celebrated, whereas, Auguste Escoffier became a pioneer; changing forever the way we approached food; by simplifying French Cuisine and, as a young student of the Culinary Arts myself, was instructed vigorously by a Great Chef from the renowned Glen Eagles Hotel, who in turn, had been taught by a Master Chef who had served directly under Escoffier. Even today, many years later, my most treasure possession is; Escoffier’s “A Guide to Modern Cookery”, first published in 1907, it was the standard Cook book for my studies at college, and is still a great source of inspiration to me, together with  “The New Larousse Gastronomqique”, which was first published in 1938.

Escoffier had a particular habit of placing a hand on his hip when conversing, or studying an item of interest, a trait that seems to have affected many of the chefs who followed his regime. As a commis chef I was told; that nothing would leave the kitchen until the Head Chef had passed it fit for the restaurant and, there was a strict protocol to be followed when inviting the Chef to taste my soup, for example. It went something like this. As soon as I deemed the soup to be ready, I would call out in French; “S’il vous plait Messieur “and having said that, I was to stand to attention next to the range, and wait patiently for him. As to his speed in responding to my request; depended entirely upon my competence as a chef, in his eyes, and also served as an indication to the other commis’s, as to whether or not, I was in favor that day.

Fortunately, I never did have to wait long before he presented himself, dressed immaculately in stiff, starched whites and apron, a tall Chefs hat set at slight angle upon his head. Then placing his left hand on his hip; À la manière de Escoffier” (In the style of Escoffier).he would bend slightly forward, and using his right hand, would slowly waft the steaming vapors from my soup towards him; inhaling deeply as he did so and saying; either one of two things, Très bon Messieur, vous pouvez le servir,( Very good ,you may serve it.) or, Pas assez de sel Messieur”(Not enough salt) Which left me in complete awe, convinced that only a Great Chef could perform such magic. It wasn’t until much later on that I understood the latter to mean; in his own quite way, that my soup lacked a good wholesome smell, but rather than say so, he would say, Pas assez de sel Messieur”…

James A Bresco,

For the Coffee table.


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