The Cantering Caketacular Queen of Bakes – Suffolk, 1822
Up until 1840 baking was a difficult business and most large country estates relied on trained cooks to create a never ending supply of goodies. Finding a good cook though was filled with pitfalls but in 1822 a mysterious note no bigger than a parcel tag wrapped around a small ornate key was found wedged down the back of an old bureau purchased at an auction in Suffolk. The letter was a recipe, unusually precise it gave accurate measurements on how to make the ultimate jam tart but used a method of measurement not recognised, the half hoof. The key however fitted no locks on the bureau.
Its finder was one Eliza Acton and the bureau was purchased to help write her beloved poetry. It immediately intrigued Eliza’s ordered mind as she read, why was the recipe so accurate and just what was a half hoof? Turning the key over in her hand she wondered at its significance when from the corner of her eye she noticed a wisp of smoke from the back of one of the drawers. Carefully removing it she found to her astonishment a small key hole, the ornate key fitted perfectly and as she turned it the back of the bureau swung open.
The smoke had come from a small chimney stuck in the top of a wooden box the size of a small suitcase that was carefully placed inside the bureau, very slowly she lifted it out; it was warm to the touch. A small handle on the side beckoned to be pulled and pull it she did. The front swung open to reveal what you see in this painting, a miniature kitchen complete with the smallest Cantering Caketacular baking a cake.
Dubbed the Queen Of Bakes this spectacular creature had no equal in the kitchen, not only did it know how to bake but it also built great baked sculptures such as the Totemcake, six different cakes balanced one on top of each other decorated with a large heart shaped Victoria sponge.
The Cantering Caketacular Queen of Bakes lived with Eliza for many years and over time revealed its secrets including the elusive half hoof measurement. Eliza turned from writing poetry and started to catalogue each and every detail the Queen of Bakes revealed just like in the note she found. The half hoof was eventually turned into the table spoon measurement and then added to the first ever collection of recipes aimed at the domestic reader rather than chefs with the inclusion of weights and cooking times, a format that survives to this day.
Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton was published in 1845 and inspired the Book of Household Management published in 1861, Isabella Beetons formidable tome for the Victorian household.When Eliza passed away in 1859 the bureau and indeed its Queen of Bakes could not be found, what did survive though was a small heart shaped cutter thought to be the original one to cut out the distinctive shaped tops of the Totemcakes, replicas of which can still be bought today.