Meet the Vic­to­rian cook who’s a YouTube star

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

elec­tric­ity, in­clude roly-poly pud­ding, Christ­mas gin punch and even a Vic­to­rian take on curry. One video, which shows how to make cu­cum­ber ice cream (earthy, yet re­fresh­ing, with a glug of brandy), even beat that of a straw­berry ice cream recipe posted on­line by Jamie Oliver (who hails from nearby Claver­ing), with 1.6mil­lion views to his 1.4mil­lion.

This month, vis­i­tors will be able to join Avis Cro­combe and her kitchen maids as they pre­pare real sea­sonal dishes around the ta­ble, with in­gre­di­ents from the work­ing kitchen gar­dens, and us­ing her orig­i­nal pots and pans.

Of course, this isn’t the real Mrs Cro­combe – she has been brought to life by his­tor­i­cal re-in­ter­preter Kathy Hip­per­son. The vi­ral videos and the suc­cess of the kitchen demon­stra­tions have de­lighted Dr An­drew Hann, English Her­itage his­to­rian for coun­try houses, and Annie Gray, a food his­to­rian who adapted the recipes.

The way we con­sume his­tory is chang­ing, ex­plains Dr Hann. “Coun­try houses used to be cor­doned off to vis­i­tors,” he says. “It was all about be­ing wowed by the grand in­te­ri­ors and fine fur­ni­ture, but now peo­ple want the grit, to know what it was re­ally like to live there, and to em­pathise with the likes of or­di­nary peo­ple.

“Most peo­ple’s an­ces­tors weren’t aris­to­crats; they’re more likely to have been farm­ers or ser­vants.”

This is in ev­i­dence at Aud­ley End, not only down­stairs in the kitchen, but also in the nurs­ery up­stairs, where younger vis­i­tors can play with a Vic­to­rian doll’s house, fancy dress, flower presses and a rock­ing horse.

While the his­toric house was pre­par­ing to put on an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hi­bi­tion of the cook, her orig­i­nal cook­book – which Dr Hann de­scribes as “gold dust” – was dis­cov­ered in a drawer by her great-great-nephew.

A tal­ented cook and a ca­reer woman of her day, some of Mrs Cro­combe’s recipes are adapted from those of renowned cooks of the pe­riod such as El­iza Ac­ton and Agnes Mar­shall, while oth­ers are orig­i­nal. Hip­per­son and the rest of the “ser­vants” will re­turn in De­cem­ber, to il­lus­trate how Christ­mas was cel­e­brated in the Vic­to­rian way.

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing medium through which to learn about the his­tory of the ser­vice wing, to un­cover the of­ten-un­told but cru­cial sto­ries of the real peo­ple hid­den be­hind the scenes of Bri­tish stately homes.

It may also spark in­spi­ra­tion to bake Mrs Cro­combe’s Vic­to­ria sponge, per­haps in an elec­tric oven rather than over coals, or her dam­son cheese, and set off to ex­plore the rest of Aud­ley End’s other richly re­stored lay­ers of his­tory.

A Ja­cobean man­sion re­built by Thomas Howard be­tween 1605-1614, it was Aud­ley End that James I fa­mously re­marked to be too grand for a king, though fit­ting for a Lord Trea­surer (be­fore Howard was con­victed of cor­rup­tion, ex­tor­tion, em­bez­zle­ment and bribery).

With an op­u­lent crim­son 18th cen­tury great draw­ing room and gar­dens de­signed by Lancelot “Ca­pa­bil­ity” Brown, it’s not a bad day out, ei­ther.

Avis Cro­combe, as played by Kathy Hip­per­son, was a cook in the 19th cen­tury at Aud­ley End in Es­sex, be­low

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