Tarts, Pasties, and other Georgian Delights



Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
(Traditional English Nursery Rhyme)

After all the posts on social media, I expect that most of my readers are aware of International Pi Day, which occurred on March 14 — or 3/14. This annual observance celebrates the mathematical constant of pi. While often abbreviated as 3.14, pi has an infinite number of digits beyond the decimal point, starting with 3.141592653.

Last year’s Pi Day was a special one to celebrate since it was 3/14/15, matching perfectly the first numbers past the decimal point of pi. Last year, hardcore math fans even started celebrating the day at exactly 9:26 a.m. and 53 seconds. This year, math enthusiasts celebrated what they are calling “Rounded Pi Day” since rounding pi to the ten-thousandth (that is four numbers past the decimal point) comes out to 3.1416, matching this year’s date — March 14, 2016.

So, what does all this have to do with the Georgian Era? Certainly, the Georgian Era had its share of mathematicians, but pi was a well-established value long before the Hanoverians came to power in England. Around 150 AD, Greek-Roman scientist Ptolemy, in his Almagest, gave a value for π of 3.1416, which he may have obtained from Archimedes or from Apollonius of Perga (Boyer, 1968). What all this talk of pi did do,however, was to get me thinking of another type of pi – pye or pie – a sweet or savory filling encased in a pastry crust! Continue reading

Christmas Pudding

A flaming Christmas Pudding

Hallo! A great deal of steam!  The pudding was out of the copper.  A smell like a washing-day!  That was the cloth.  A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that!  That was the pudding!  In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered-flushed, but smiling proudly-with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

“Oh, a wonderful pudding!” Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage.  Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour.  Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family.  It would have been flat heresy to do so.  Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (1843)

Traditions are tricky things; we like to think that they have been observed forever, but when we start tracking them we often find that they do not extend as far back in history as we thought.  One Christmas tradition in the UK, and in much of the United States until the late 19th century, is the Christmas pudding.  How old is this tradition and how has it changed over the years?  Let’s take a look and see if we can uncover the truth about the ghosts of Christmas puddings past. Continue reading