the horrible stuff

We were talking about school dinners between rounds at the quiz tonight as we enjoyed the delicious slices of homemade and complimentary pizza. This is something I wrote a few years ago about my first experience of school dinners when I was about six:

I love old recipes… here is one for a dessert which I don’t think is particularly popular any more… I confess, I hated it when I was a child. I went home for lunch, but once when my mum was ill with glandular fever I had to stay for school dinners. I was a good child and ate everything – except when it came to pink blancmange. I was kept in at playtime until I ate it, and I sat, tears dripping into my plate as I contemplated the horrible stuff… but that was school dinners! No doubt home made blancmange would have been much nicer!

Here’s a recipe from 1871…

Blancmanger — Thin milk set firm with a kind of glue, slightly sweetened, is what you almost invariably meet with for the above at the grand entertainments given in this colony. I wish to inform my lady readers how the real blancmanger should be made. Procure eight ounces of Valencia almonds, or, if you cannot obtain these, get the same quantity of Jordan almonds, and about twelve bitter almonds; throw, these for a moment, into boiling water, then strain them off, and rub them in a rough towel to remove the skins— technically termed blanching — pound these very fine in a mortar, with a little, orange-flower water, or a tablespoonful of plain water, and about half a pound of fine white sugar; place this creamy mass into a basin with a pint and a half of cold, clear water, and. let it stand for an hour or so; put two ounces of good Russian isinglass into this mixture for twenty minutes, when it will become perfectly soft ; then place in a clean saucepan, and stir it over the fire until the isinglass is melted (which will be long before it boils) ; when this is done, strain through a fine sieve, and place in a jelly mould to cool, and, when firm, serve. If you wish to make this dish extra rich add a gill of good double cream after you have strained it.

This really sounds rather complicated… here is the recipe written out in a modern way:


  • 8 oz Valencia or Jordanian almonds
  • 12 bitter almonds
  • orange-flower water
  • 8 oz caster sugar
  • 2 oz Russian isinglass
  • 1 gill (5 fl oz) double cream – optional
  1. pour boiling water over almonds, and after a couple of minutes rub off their skins
  2. pound in a mortar or blend with orange-flower water
  3. add sugar and mix well
  4. leave in a basin with ½ pint very cold water for at least 1 hour
  5. add the isinglass to the mixture and leave for a further 20 mins
  6. heat very gently stirring well to ensure isinglass has melted, but do not let it get anywhere near boiling
  7. strain through a sieve and add cream if wished
  8. pour into a mould and leave to set

Blancmanger, by the way, is an old name dating back to the middle ages; in those days it was a savoury dish, slightly sweet, made with chicken and almond milk and served with rice.

If after the blancmange/blancmanger your teeth feel in need of a clean , here’s how to do it, 1870’s style!

Care of the Teeth — The water with which the teeth are cleansed should be what is called lukewarm. They should be well, but gently brushed both night and morning, the, brush should be neither too hard nor too soft. The best tooth-powders are made from cuttlefish, prepared chalk, and orris-root commingled together in equal quantities

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