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Sweet Little Lies: The Curious Sally Lunn

In Antoine Careme chef, baked goods, Baking, baking nostalgia, Borwick's baking powder, Boston Bun, Chelsea Bun, Classics, Finger Bun, Kiwi Classics, Lane's bakery, London Bath Bun, Marie Byng-Johnson artist, Sally Lunn, Solange Luyon baker on January 30, 2013 at 10.46

boston bun

Sally Lunn aka Boston Bun, image courtesy of and © Full Little Tummies blog.

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A friend turned up to stay for a couple of days, toting a pile of goodies for me – including a stack of early 1970s Woman’s Weeklies. In between reminiscing over the ads – the conversation quickly turned to fondly remembered baked goods of yesteryear – in particular from the Lane’s bakery chain including the classic crescent rolls and of course the ubiquitous Sally Lunn. (Lane’s was founded in the 1900s and, based around the central and north area of Auckland – had stores in Takapuna, Milford, Devonport, Browns Bay, and Greenlane – going out of business around 1979, according to records). I wondered out loud if the Sally Lunn was as uniquely New Zealand as I assumed it was – and imagined that like most of these classic Kiwi things from the Boomer and X generation I investigate – there wasn’t going to be any documentation on the actual origins to be found. Before I knew it my curiosity was piqued. DARJEELING SALLY LUNN Evening Post  26 November 1881 Page 4 edit copy - Copy

 The earliest publishing in a paper of the recipe for Sally Lunn. Evening Post, November 1881. I don’t know what is particularly “Darjeeling” about this bizarre styling of the recipe or what “burra consomah” means ( or even what language it is, one could assume it is Bengali, but apparently not). Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Was there an interesting story there, or any story at all? And was Sally Lunn actually ever a real person ? Most importantly, was it a Kiwi creation we could claim as our own? Well, sort of to the first question, likely no to the second, and it seems a yes to that last one. The traditional Sally Lunn actually has its origins in Europe (likely France), and the “official history” is surprisingly well documented in that it is repeated in slightly different variations all over the place. In fact the house with the original bakery where it was supposedly created, going back to 1482, still stands in Bath, as a museum and eatery. Pink Boston Bun copyright Leigh C Russell, Rushleigh The At Home Chronicle 1

Pink Boston Bun, courtesy of and © Leigh C Russell, Rushleigh The At Home Chronicle blog.

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However the Sally Lunn that we are familiar with today has absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to what is considered the rather humble, genuine and quite particular British one. The original Sally Lunn, aka the Bath Bun, is a large, plain, almost saucer size bun (it looks a lot like a Wimpy burger bun to me) and similar in texture to brioche – which makes sense since apparently Solange Luyon was a French Huguenot refugee whom, escaping protestant persecution in her home country, arrived to Stuart period Britain in 1680 and found work at the bakery in Lilliput Alley (now North Parade Passage) – starting as a street hawker for the business. Soon enough her creation became a popular delicacy eaten with sweet or savoury accompaniments and she was relegated to the bake-house full-time to do what she did best. Pak N Save Boston Buns copy

Boston Buns in a Canterbury PAK’nSAVE. Image courtesy and © testpatern on Flickr.

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Anyway, opinion from historian quarters seems to be that this story – and the one about her original recipes being found hidden in a secret cupboard during renovation – is a bunch of hooey and there’s no proof that Sollie or her stashed scribblings ever really existed. Stories coming out of the museum wildly differ . One is that the secret recipe is locked away with the original house deeds. Another is that they were conveniently lost by an owner when the need arose to produce them. Not to mention that the cast iron stove they claim she cooked on – would not have existed – and therefore have not been in use until around 1800 when they were invented. It is suspected that the whole thing may be no more than a fanciful story created by artist Marie Byng-Johnson to create a bit of publicity (and ergo, cash) when she bought and renovated the building in the late 1930s and relaunched it as a business. In other words, “totally bogus” as my friend with the Woman’s Weeklies would offer. rmballde flickr retouch desat

Sally Lunn’s House and Museum. Image courtesy and © rmballde on Flickr.

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Another part of the apparent saga is that French chef, Antoine Careme who was the Prince Regent’s chef for a short time in Britain , cosied up to Sally and stole off with her bun recipe, transformed into a teacake which he renamed and presented in his home country as the Solilemme. Now I really think this one is nonsense. I doubt the French would steal gastronomy from the English! However the Solilemme, or Soleil et Lune (Sun and Moon Cake), does sound a lot like “Sally Lunn” when called out – so you can imagine that, in a similar fashion to my story a while back on how Hokey Pokey got it’s name through verbal distortion, it became what it is today via bad pronunciation, laziness, and lack of attention to detail. When in doubt – dumb it down. FAMOUS FOODS HISTORIC DELICACIES SALLY LUNN Auckland Star 8 July 1933 Page 14 edit edit copy

The Dalmer version of the Sally Lunn story – in which she’s never mentioned as being French. Auckland Star, July 1933.Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Regardless, the variation of the story with the poor put-upon foreign émigré and her white cloth-covered basket trolling the alleys is the most popular and has now entered common vernacular as “the real deal” well and truly – there is no going back. Sally undoubtedly had perky buns, but for all the tale’s persuasive cutesy charm she may have been an unattractive, foul-mooded old harridan – and possibly even the very individual that locked the baker apprentices in a cupboard (according to a museum sign). And maybe not French at all. EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT A SALLY LUNN IS Wanganui Chronicle27 January 1912 Page 11 Dalmer Story

The Dalmer version of the Sally Lunn story – in which he writes a song about her that becomes popular and makes a fortune off buns and music royalties. Wanganui Chronicle, January 1912. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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To prove a point – the histories of her and her tasty creation I found in early New Zealand newspapers even wildly differed by a century. However in my experience, there’s usually a scrap of truth nestled in the origins of a ludicrous-sounding story somewhere. Like most legends that get passed from one source to the next they change dramatically in the re-telling and are embroidered upon or adjusted for maximum palatability until they barely resemble the original (basically, the main theme of this whole article). All that aside, as Diana Vreeland was known to have said – “it is permissible to lie if it makes the story more interesting.” I can’t see a problem. Sally Lunn's house Lilliput Alley

Old Lilliput Alley sign in Sally Lunn’s House and Museum.

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From my research this story was being perpetuated in print in New Zealand as far back as the 1870s that I can find – disproving the theory that Byng-Johnson came up with it, at least – on her own – but no doubt gave it an almighty shove. However it is not the only story around if one cares to look into it a bit more. The bottom line is that a reference to the Sally Lunn did not appear until a century after they say she started making them (Dickens then mentions them in a short story in 1812), and published recipes following from the 1830s. By the 1870s the treat had been immortalized in song in the comic opera “The Sorcerer”“Now for the muffins and toast, now for the gay Sally Lunn… the rollicking, rollicking bun…” So how did it metamorphisise from a fairly plain roll into a frosted, baroque fruit bun, more reminiscent of Easter on steroids – and more to the point -why? Sally Lunn - Clutha Leader - 16 May 1890 - Page 3 copy

Sally Lunn recipe, Clutha Leader, May 1890. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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The very earliest actual recipe I could find published in a New Zealand paper named “Sally Lunn” was in 1881. I am sure there are no earlier ones, since the first Aotearoa-published cookbook was 1887. Telling is a recipe given of April 1882 which begins by stating – ” The original and only genuine Sally Lunn is made thus…” insinuating that the tradition had already been corrupted by then. Another in the Otago Witness of October makes mention of the use of baking powder in the “so-called “Sally Lunn ” having little in common the genuine article…”  Certainly through the 1870s the Borwick’s company were captalising on the new-fangled chemical cooking assistance – by recommending use of their product to make them. By the 1910s the traditional Lunn seems to have fallen by the wayside. A newspaper recipe of 1916 describes it as ” a very old world dainty, now scarcely ever seen on our tea tables”, denoting that the original version had truly gone out of fashion by then. By the 1930s and on they are considered a retro curiosity, an Australian article of 1947 now describing it as a “food oddity.” Like New Zealand, there was a history of recipes along similar lines of the traditional version in that country – as well as in the U.S. where Sally Lunn was published as a recipe from 1845 onwards – first adopted by the Quakers and eventually the bread with a slight modification, became a somewhat Southern tradition. A New Zealand recipe of 1882 mentions it as “(the) genuine (recipe), as made in Virginia kitchens”, insinuating it originated there. At least they got it right in that it was the correct, traditional recipe even if their geographical history was shonky. Sally Lunn co Jocelyn at wwwmamasstylecom copy

Home-made Sally Lunn. Image courtesy and © Jocelyn at Mamas Style blog.

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In summary, in not one recipe between the 1840s and the 1940s – anywhere in the world – are dried fruit, coconut or even icing mentioned. And at no point has someone taken a look at the (now considered classic) New Zealand version, stuck their hand up and said – “hey, this thing is NOT a real Sally Lunn”, except for Virgil Evetts who wrote along similar lines in his entertaining article “Sally Lunn, Moon & Sun”  here, questioning just about all the same things that I am now. The New Zealand version is a doughy fruit-studded round or log with thick white or sometimes pink icing spread generously over the top – finished with lashings of desiccated coconut. Sometimes food colouring is even added to the dough to make it pink in hue. At the tuck shop they were usually shaped in long finger buns for individual serving convenience. Something similar – iced, coloured and flavoured was known as the London Bath Bun and had developed in England over a number of decades – except in New Zealand of my youth it was called a Chelsea Bun and was quite a separate thing from the Kiwi Sally Lunn – being a flat, sweet spiral with currants and pink icing glaze. It was flavoured with cinnamon , and there was no coconut. The description, noted by the late 1970s at latest, sounds in theory very similar to the Sally Lunn of Aotearoa we are familiar with from our youth – yet is not the same thing side by side at all – the classic British iced finger bun is more similar to the New Zealand Sally Lunn as we know it. THE REAL AND GENUINE SALLY LUNN Otago Witness - 8 April 1882 - Page 28 - Home Interest edit

Original and genuine Sally Lunn recipe, Otago Witness, April 1882. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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I was really hoping that the Sally Lunn was something that Aotearoa had taken from England and run with – but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of any relation. It’s more likely that it is simply what is called a Boston Bun – ” a large spiced bun with a thick layer of coconut icing, prevalent in Australia and New Zealand. Traditionally the bun contained sieved potato, and sometimes raisins. It is served sliced, to accompany tea. The origin of the name is unknown. In New Zealand they’re often called a Sally Lunn, especially in the North Island…”, according to ever-reliable source Wikipedia. SALLY LUNN SONG ALICE MAY IN OPERA THE SORCERER   Auckland Star 17 January 1878 Page 3 1

Sally Lunn song from the comic opera “The Sorcerer.” Auckland Star, January 1878. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Many of the recipes include mashed potato, which was frequently used to bulk out baking during the years of war time rationing. I started to develop this tenuous theory around war time restrictions in effect having to do with the modifications to the Sally Lunn that stuck, and compensations that were elaborated on – but doesn’t really account for the addition of sugar (of which only half the usual amount could be used by commercial enterprises at the time), dried, fruit, coconut, and heaps of butter, or even vegetable fat – all which would have been considered hard-to-get and/or luxury items that were limited as late as 1950. That said I could not find a single reference to the Boston Bun before the end of WWII. Pink Boston Bun copyright Leigh C Russell Rushleigh The At Home Chronicle 2 copy

Pink Boston Bun, courtesy of and © Leigh C Russell, Rushleigh The At Home Chronicle blog.

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All the contemporary recipes for Boston Buns I found do actually accurately resemble the Sally Lunn we know today (sugar, raisins, currants, icing, coconut) more than the British article ever even vaguely did. The Boston Bun has no relation to Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States that I could find, (I checked with a U.S. born and bred chef friend who has a penchant for the trashy and pop and she had never heard of such a thing) nor does there seem to be any association with Boston, Lancashire, anything in the history to hint at it, or a recipe for a British “Boston Bun” . However I did find some references to Australian recipes and I will make an assumption that the Boston Bun actually IS unique to Australasia and was probably developed in the 1950s or 1960s. Who came up with it and why they named it as such – we will likely never know. SALLY LUNN TEA CAKES Maoriland Worker 28 June 1916 Page 3 copy

Food fashion of yesteryear: Maoriland Worker, June 1916. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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The curious Lunn; a beguiling bun. In summary it turns out it is essentially not much more than the Boston renamed – probably because it sounded cute to school kids and rhymed with its namesake. Intrinsically Kiwi? It seems so, as long as you can ignore the fact that someone with a complete failure of their imagination named it after something that already existed and which had no resemblance to it – which is just irritating and rather stupid, not to mention misleading. And not so much “old school” it seems, if you are prepared to look further back than a couple of generations. So you can lower your napkin to half mast on the great history of the old treat. Regardless, it still brings back fond tuck shop memories for many though. wwwfoodloversconz virgil evetts copy

Sally Lunn, courtesy of and © Virgil Evetts, foodlovers.co.nz.

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Update, mid June 2015: A major breakthrough in the post 1940s  Sally Lunn story reared its  coconut-sprinkled head in the form of  some recipes from  one of the many  tomes issued by Maude Basham over the years. The ‘Aunt Daisy’s Favourite Cookery Book’ which was first printed 1952 by Whitcombe & Tombs (and re-issued for a number of years following) contained two recipes. One was ‘Sally Lunns with Baking Powder’ and the other was ‘Sally Lunns – Real.’  I haven’t seen the actual recipes so I have no idea what the difference was between them. Also, there was no recipe provided for  ‘Sally Lunns – Unreal’, which  is, ironically, a truthful statement, and may also have provided more clues. 

But more significantly, this advert dated  December 1952 from the Pahiatua Regent Theatre Film Schedule , which was printed regularly and distributed to every home in the district, funded by the local business advertisements within, shows that  the local home cookery had probably been making them for some time. We can assume this was before  Aunt Daisy got around to it in an official capacity by putting the recipe in print. 

Pahiatua Regent Picture Theatre film schedule   printed on card  posted to every home Paid by these ad placements Dec 1952

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a All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

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Edmonds: Taking The Cake

In Acto baking powder, Allen and Sons, Allen's confectionery, Architecture, Baking, Bird's custard, Biscuits, Borwick's baking powder, Cakes, Classics, Custard, Desserts, Edmonds, Fielder's Cornflour, Goodman Fielder, Jellies, Jelly Crystals, John Thomas Edmonds, Moa baking powder, Philanthropy, Sharland and Co, Sure To Rise Cookbook on January 31, 2012 at 10.46

I suppose that eventually I had to get around to doing a post on Edmonds. I mean, it’s so obvious a brand that I almost don’t know where to start -when I look at my collection of images I literally have over 150 advertisements, tins, boxes, and cookbook pages to choose from to illustrate an article. No doubt I’ll do at least another three posts over time on Edmonds in different categories given the volume of material I have.
Even though I’ve always been in love with the Edmond’s baking powder package design (which has changed very little from inception, that’s a big part of its charm) I’ve been putting it off .

A chemist, Ron, who worked at the Edmonds factory remembers these “Slip over” labels being glued on thousands of cans which were left overnight on long tables to dry. He kept one and donated it to Kete Christchurch. Later they were made redundant as the design was printed straight on the metal (previous picture, can probably dates from late 1960s- mid 1970s, and is from my personal collection).

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This is because it  always seems almost pointless given that when people think of Kiwiana -the images that come to mind are the ubiquitous Buzzy Bees, Pavlova, Jandals, Ches and Dale, Kiwifruits, gum boots,  fish and chips,  and more often than not Edmonds baking powder is chucked in –  so well-known is it as one of  New Zealand’s most popular and enduring Brands.  In fact at one time Edmonds were so aware of this that they were even using the slogan “part of New Zealand’s heritage” on the packaging.

“Kiwiana” stamp set issued by New Zealand Post in 2008.

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It’s even been featured as a stamp design more or less intended to be recognised by the font alone – just by the letter E. But I guess my modus operandi has from the outset been to cover the obvious as well as the obscure. So here we go.

Back is inscribed”Thomas Edward Edmonds selling baking powder door to door”. I am assuming this is a simple error with the middle name. Kete Christchurch. Probably the early 1880s.

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Thomas John Edmonds (1858-1932), was born in Poplar, a suburb of London, and had the  previous background of having worked for Allen’s,  the well-known confectionery company which like Edmonds  has stood the test of time and is still going today.
He arrived in Lyttleton, Canterbury on the sailing ship Waitangi as a twenty year old  in 1879 having just married his wife Jane . He didn’t waste any time and immediately  established a grocery business in Woolston, Christchurch  (the site is now the south-west comer of what is now Edmond and Randolph Streets ) where he began by manufacturing sherbet.

Edmonds advertisement, Evening Post  8 March 1937.

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It wasn’t long before he was carefully listening to the complaints about other products on the market such as the unreliability of the available baking powder brands (it was first invented by chemist Alfred Bird of Bird’s Custard fame in 1843 from a mix of sodium bicarbonate, cream of tartar and cornstarch for his yeast-allergic wife).

Edmonds advertisement, Colonist, 9 November 1910.

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Looking around for ideas to boost business, and thinking he could most likely do better, he started experimenting out the back of his shop to create a superior product to others that were on the market – amongst them Borwick’s, Hudson’s , Hudson’s Balloon Brand, as well as Sharland and Co’s Moa and self-named brands ( Surely it couldn’t have been any worse than what was on offer from Sharland here in my favourite story by Lisa Truttman at Timespanner – ” A jam roll death in Freeman’s Bay”  http://tinyurl.com/6pta9xt ).

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A rare bulk Edmonds baking powder tin. I’ve never seen another.

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Edmonds advert circa 1907, Printed Ephemera Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library (Ref: Eph-A-VARIETY-1907-01-centre]

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It wasn’t long before he presented his own product with the first 200 tins going on sale before the year was out. The story goes that upon being questioned whether his powder would be as good for the job he confidently (and probably a little tartly, the way I imagine it) replied “Madam, it is SURE to rise”, and thus gave birth to an instantly recognisable slogan and subsequent “sunray” trademark which has been in use now for more than 130 years.

Tea Ohou Journal, Spring 1953, National Library NZ.

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He was a man of astuteness when it came to marketing techniques; and full of innovative ideas. Initially he tackled the low demand for his product by going door-to-door with sample-size tins to spruik his product and offering to take back any that were not met with satisfaction.
Next he offered a free cookbook to any housewife that wrote in asking for a copy. The famous Edmonds  cookery book was first issued in 1907. It started life as the “Sure To Rise Cookery Book” , with only fifty pages of recipes. Only two known copies of the first edition survive making it a very rare item.

Egg powder made an apparently brief appearance in the scheme of things, in comparison to other Edmonds products – lasting only between the 1880s and 1910s. Courtesy of the NZ Electronic Text Centre.

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As of 2008, with a 60th  edition issued, it has been in print for over 100 years.  At one time it was “sent unsolicited to every newly engaged couple in New Zealand” whose commitment appeared in print. A little presumptuous and risky –  but ultimately good publicity I guess,  as it has now sold well over three million copies and is the country’s bestselling book  of all time. Full of no-fail recipes for everything  from chocolate fudge to bacon and egg pie, It’s now apparently considered a sort of Kiwi rite of passage  to receive a copy from your mother when you first leave home.

The Guthrie-designed building of 1922 which has become an iconic image.

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Small printed metal Acto tin, probably mid 1960s.

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Eventually with his clever strategies to publicise the product, demand grew to the point that by 1912 he was moving one million cans a year, and by 1928 – two and a half million.
During the depression years he was the first to introduce a forty hour,  five day week to his workers, changing the face of employment in New Zealand irrevocably. He even helped his workers with their mortgages.

Tinted powder seems to have been a somewhat superfluous Edmonds product in the late 1940s-early 1950s, hence didn’t have a robust lifespan.

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In the early 1890s he was becoming fairly established and built a large wooden shed for manufacturing in Ferry Road, not that far away from the original grocery shop. In 1922 Edmonds  replaced this building with his landmark Guthrie brothers-designed  “Sure to Rise” factory and expressed his great interest in botany with its elaborate circular gardens; hothouses on the grounds were filled with imported tropical plants were open to the public and employees alike for their enjoyment. Always at the forefront of cutting edge ideas, Edmonds prescribed to the early 20th century European “Garden City Movement” of which the main concept was that “factory owners should provide recreation facilities for their workers, and beautify the surroundings of their factories”

Large printed metal tin which probably dates from the mid-late 1960s, from my personal collection. This design was also on a cardboard box, and was still in use when I was a child in the early 1970s.

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The iconic building is the one that has been featured on the covers of the cookbooks ever since. In what is considered quite a controversial and rather stupid move, it was demolished in 1990 and the gardens destroyed . So much for “part of New Zealand’s heritage”. The land to the west was bought by the Christchurch City Council the following year and Bluebird Foods Ltd donated the money required for a recreation of the gardens in 1992 – again an attraction.

The former 1929 Band Rotunda is now a restaurant honouring Edmonds’ name.

The couple were great philanthropists and the Edmonds family substantially funded or donated many landmarks in Christchurch city including parks, the Theosophical Society building in Cambridge Terrace, the Radiant Hall (now the Repertory Theatre) in Kilmore Street, and for the fifty year anniversary of their arrival they donated the Band Rotunda (now the Thomas Edmonds Restaurant) in Cambridge Terrace, the clock tower and telephone cabinet in Oxford Terrace – amongst others.

A cake baking powder tin that probably dates from the late 1950s-early 1960s. (I’m not sure what differentiates this product from Acto or the regular Edmond’s product).

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Edmonds maize cornflour ad, Tea Ohou Journal, Spring 1954, National Library NZ.

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Fielder’s  cornflour box from my personal collection, late 1980s-early 1990s

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Apart from the perpetual baking powder product range (Edmonds , Sure To Rise, Acto , Cake Baking Powder, and briefly coloured Cake Baking Powder in the late 1940s), Edmonds have also produced custard powder (“Sure To Please”) since at least 1907 in several varieties from raspberry to banana cream, as well as being famous for their jelly in many flavours. Fielder’s Cornflour, Edmonds maize cornflour and wheat cornflour have been a range staple for many decades. The 1960s and 1970s saw instant drinks and desserts like Tang and Jiffy Jel added to the brands’ products, along with the Prima pasta range, Coat’n’Cook for baking and frying, cake and pastry mixes, and instant meals like boxed risotto.

Edmond’s Jelly box, early 1970s.  Photo courtesy of  courtesy of Mike Davidson (Kiwigame on Flickr) . Below baking powder tin dates from the early 1950s, Object number CT78.283, photo from the collection of Owaka Museum Wahi Kahuika The Meeting Place “a rest on your journey”.

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Today the brand is a division of  Goodman Fielder Ltd and the company currently produces nearly 60 products from dressings to bread baking mix.

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Thomas John Edmonds is now considered one of New Zealand’s top 100 most influential people of all time, all because of a couple of dud cakes.

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Addendum early January 2013:

thoms edmonds band rotunda destroyed By shelby-dog flickr EDIT

Unfortunately the Thomas Edmonds Rotunda was badly damaged in the Christchurch quakes and is set to be demolished, if it hasn’t already been done. The ruins are at the least fenced off but it doesn’t look like there is any hope of saving it at all. The above photo shows the wreckage of this lovely example of public architecture – almost  like it has been sheared off with a gigantic knife. Image courtesy of and © all rights reserved by shelby-dog on Flickr.

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Edmonds 1st edition 2nd printing mith & anthony 1909 2 EDIT

A 1st edition, 2nd printing published by Mith & Anthony in 1909 turned up for sale on Trade Me in December. Bidding was extremely fierce for this very rare item and it went for around the $750.00 mark. The following week a 2nd edition, 2nd printing went for around $450.00. In five years these are the only ones I have seen for sale publicly.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2012. All rights reserved.

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