Tag Archives: treacle

Treacle Tart

A classic British nursery pudding, the treacle tart is much-loved. It is probably the ultimate child’s dessert because it is so unbelievably sweet; it makes my teeth hurt just looking at one! That aside, I have never really lost my sweet tooth and I love treacle – meaning golden syrup of course in this case (see here for a post on treacle). Treacle tart was very popular with poorer families – the two main ingredients being bread and treacle – no expensive fruits and spices here.

The pudding itself as we know it has only been in existence since the late nineteenth century since golden syrup was invented in the 1880s. However, the earliest recipe I have found for a treacle tart actually dates to 1879 – before the invention of golden syrup! The recipe is by Mary Jewry and is a tart made up of alternating layers of pastry and treacle. The treacle here is black treacle, and this highlights the problem in researching the origins of this pudding; treacle meant any viscous syrup that was a byproduct of sugar refinery and specifics are not always pointed out, even after golden syrup became popular. The other problem is the recipe Mary Jewry gives is nothing like the beloved treacle tart from our childhood.

 The terrifying Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

coaxing the children with shouts of  “treacle tart! All free today!”

Shudder.

Prior to the 17th century, treacle was used as a medicine; it was considered very good for the blood and was therefore used in antidotes to poisons. It starts cropping up in recipes for gingerbread in the mid-18th century. Jane Grigson mentions a gingerbread recipe from 1420 in her book English Food where spices and breadcrumbs were mixed together with plenty of honey to make a gingerbread that seems pretty similar a modern treacle tart, but without the pastry. Heston Blumenthal in his book Total Perfection also mentions a 17th century ‘tart of bread’ where bread and treacle are mixed with bread, spices and dried fruit and baked in an open pastry shell. Then just to complicate things further, Jane Grigson mentions that the predecessor to the treacle tart is the sweetmeat cake – again a 17th century invention – that uses candied orange peel, sugar and butter as a filling and no treacle or bread whatsoever!

All this confusing history waffle is giving me a headache. Here’s the recipe that I use for a treacle tart. It is adapted from Nigel Slater’s. I like it (and I have tried several recently) because it has a lot more bread in it than most other recipes – treacle tart should be chewy with a hint of   and must hold its shape when cut, many recipes fail in this respect. I use brown bread crumbs – it gives a good flavour and increases the chewiness level a little further.

There’s a pound and a half of golden syrup in this tart so the sweetness really needs cutting with some lemon juice and zest, and if you like, a tablespoon or two of black treacle; it’s not just a nod to treacle tarts of the past, its bitterness really does tone down the sweetness. This tart makes enough for ten people I would say. Be warned – if you go for some seconds, you may fall into some kind of sugar-induced diabetic coma…

For the pastry

4 oz salted butter or 2 oz each butter and lard cut into cubes and chilled

8 oz plain flour

3 tbs chilled water

For the filling

1 ½ lbs golden syrup

2 tbs black treacle (optional)

juice and zest of a lemon

10 oz white or brown breadcrumbs

The pastry is a straight-forward shortcrust. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips, a pastry blender, the flat ‘K’ beater of a mixer or blitz in a food processor. Mix in two tablespoons of water with your hand and once incorporated, add the last tablespoon. The pastry should come together into a ball. Knead the dough very briefly so that it is soft and pliable. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to have a little rest for 30 minutes or so.

Now roll out the pastry and use it to line a 9 inch tart tin. Put back into the fridge again – you don’t have to do this step, but sometimes the pastry can collapse a bit when it goes in the oven at room temperature.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, get on with the treacle filling. Treacle can be a tricky customer: weigh it out straight into a saucepan on tared scales and then pour the golden syrup straight in. Add the black treacle if using. Place the pan over a medium heat and stir until it becomes quite runny, then stir in the lemon juice and zest and the breadcrumbs.

Pour this mixture into the lined tart tin and bake in the oven at 200⁰C (400⁰F) for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰F) for another 15 or 20 minutes.

Best served warm with cream, ice cream or custard.

treacle tart

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Filed under baking, bread, Britain, Desserts, food, General, history, Puddings, Recipes, Seventeenth Century, Teatime, Uncategorized

The Treacle Mines of England

Recently I wrote a post on the history and invention of golden syrup and black treacle in the 19th and 20th centuries. Prior to the mass production and refining of sugar cane in the West Indies, the only way to get hold of treacle was to mine ‘natural molasses’ in treacle mines. As far as I know treacle is the only mined foodstuff though I could be wrong there (I often am).

Natural treacle is very viscous

Treacle mines are rare and appear in just five regions of England: Yorkshire, Lancashire, Kent, the West Country, with the most significant mine being in Wymsey, Cumbria. Having a treacle mine in your town was a huge benefit to the inhabitants. The folk living in these areas were particularly healthy, especially the miners themselves. It was noted by William Cobbet in 1816 when visiting the Cumbrian village:

This place I found to be a fair and healthy place, the women and children well fed and happy. Most menfolk were at work upon the Land but that evening in the excellent Crown and Thorns Inn I was surpassingly surprised to see many men brown of hue. On enquiry I determined that these were miners of Treacle and what a jolly crew they turned out to be. That night I repaired to my bed thanking our maker that there was at least one happy parish in the land.

Black unrefined treacle forms from fossilised beds of sugar cane rather like oil or peat and has a tendancy to seep and rise to the surface of the ground. This run-off is useless, but what makes the regions mentioned above unique is that the treacle is surrounded by a layer of non-porous rock that keeps it contained.

Treacle mining goes back to pre-Roman times, in fact there was a healthy trade between England and Rome via Roman-occupied Gaul. In fact it was the main reason why the Romans wanted to conquer the unbearably cold and harsh British Isles. Why else would they want to take over an island that was inhabitable to them?  A floor mosaic from AD 77 was unearthed depicting treacle mining and refining.

Demand was so high, that any new sites had to be kept secret. The site of the mine in Pudsey (my home town, nestled between Leeds and Bradford in West Yorkshire) is so closely-guarded that only a very few individuals know the location and those that are told have to have been born and bred within the boundaries of Pudsey.  The site of the famous abbey at Kirkstall was chosen by the monks that built it because it was thought a tributary ran from the Pudsey mines through Kirkstall. Unfortunately it seems they were wrong – no treacle had ever been found there.

Pudsey Parish Church

There has been no significant treacle mining in Britain since the nineteenth century because industry had made sugar and its by-products cheap and accessible. However, it was on its last-legs already; most of the mines were completely dry and no new sites were found. The last working mine eventually closed in the 1930s during the Great Depression. There are no plans to excavate any of mines and it is a shame; it would be great if we could draw attention to this almost forgotten part of our food history.

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Filed under Britain, food, General, history

“Out of the strong came forth sweetness…”

Can there be anything else that sums up British baking as much as Lyle’s Golden Syrup? If you are not British then you might not have heard of it and it is rather difficult to compare it to anything else. It looks like honey, but is viscous like a syrup such as corn syrup and yet it tastes like neither. The taste is more like butterscotch or caramel. It is also commonly called treacle. I absolutely love the stuff and manage to get hold of it here in Missouri to go on my porridge or pancakes of a morning. Oddly, it was never intended to be a commercial product, but thank goodness it became one. I remember as a child, my Dad always used to make us a treacle sandwich after our Sunday baths whilst we dried in front of the fire, soggy towels wrapped around us.

The story of golden syrup starts in 1881when the Scottish businessman Abram Lyle set up a sugar-refinery in London on the Thames with his five sons, processing sugar cane into sugar loaves. In those days, sugar was bought in large tapering mounds that had to be pounded or grated by hand at home. One byproduct of the process was a thick, gloopy syrup that with a little more refining through charcoal was very delicious. So he sold it to his workers from large barrels (Lyle was originally a cooper) and the syrup quickly was anointed with the nickname “Goldy”. Soon, Goldy became popular outside of his workforce and everyone wanted some. Just two years later, in 1883, Lyle’s Golden Syrup was born.

It is the tin the golden syrup that comes in that is the icon of both British cookery and Victorian entrepreneurship. Famously, on the front is a drawing of a dead lion peppered with swarming bees. Abram Lyle was a very pious man, and used the story of Samson in the book of Judges in Old Testament as the inspiration for the design. Quite a while before his fateful haircut, Samson got attacked by a lion which, through His power, Samson was able to rip open, killing it. Later he sees that bees have built a hive within its carcass and he takes some honey to his family and friends and they have a feast. He didn’t tell them about the lion and had them guess how he came about all the honey, presenting them with the poser:

And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.

Judges 14:14

Tins were first produced in 1884 and unbelievably have not changed at all in their design since. In fact, the recipe for the syrup has never changed either – making Lyle’s Golden Syrup the oldest brand in the world. “You’d be mad to mess with Goldie.” The only slight change is to the weights written on the tin: gone are the “1 lb” and “2 lb” marks, their replacement being the “454 g” and “907 g” marks, to keep in line with EU rulings. Another change occurred during the Second World War when, because of tin shortages, Lyle had to make the ‘tins’ from cardboard instead.

For over 125 years, it has been indispensable – it was even taken on Captain Scott’s fateful trek to the Antarctic. He wrote a letter to the Lyle family:

“Your Golden Syrup has been in daily use in this hut throughout the winter, and has been much appreciated by all members of the expedition.”

In 1950, the Lyle Company brought out a second iconic product: Lyle’s Black Treacle. It is very similar to molasses, though it is considerably thicker and stronger tasting. For any recipes that ask for black treacle, you can substitute molasses instead with no problems.

In the American classic The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, there is a recipe for Cornish Treacle Tart (which is actually made from Golden Syrup). In that recipe it asks for three-quarters of a cup of dark corn syrup. Do not on no account ever, ever, substitute golden syrup for corn syrup. The two are incomparable. So, I urge the American public: if you use a recipe that asks for Golden Syrup and you cannot get hold of any, don’t bother making it. Do you hear me? Good, then we understand each other. Amazon’s grocery section stocks it, so you can always get it online.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Black Treacle are part of so many wonderful recipes, I would be crazy listing them all, but here are what I reckon are the important or interesting ones. As I add recipes, I’ll add links. If you know of any that I have missed off, please let me know. Here goes:

Treacle tart

Flapjacks

Pancakes

Treacle sponge pudding

Mrs Beeton’s rolled treacle pudding

Golden syrup cake

Aunt Nelly’s pudding

Malt loaf

Jamaican ginger cake

Parkin

Ma Buttery’s crunch

Bonfire toffee

Christmas cake

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Filed under General, history, Nineteenth Century, Puddings, The Victorians