Glimpses of Girton: Puddings and Recipes c. 1900


Girton Archive holds three menu books which provide a glimpse of life in Girton between 1896 and 1903 (archive reference: GCAR 5/3/2/4/1-3). The books were updated daily with menus for each meal served, showing that students and research staff at the College enjoyed several hearty meals every day: breakfast was always cooked and typically consisted of ham, eggs, and fish. Meat featured heavily in student diets, being served for both luncheon and dinner, and the menu books also contain lists of meat cooked each day, as well as meat currently hanging and on order. Ingredients which have gone out of fashion today, such as sago, were firm favorites, with Sago Pudding, Steamed Sago, Sago Shapes, and even Sago Soup, occurring regularly.


A page from Girton College menu book covering the period from 1896 to 1899 (archive reference: GCAR 5/3/2/4/1).

Dinner at Girton was always served with a pudding: Apple Charlotte, Cabinet Pudding, Crimean Pudding, Nottingham Pudding, Baked Tapioca, Capital Pudding, Castle Pudding, Winchester Pudding, Nottingham Pudding, and Vermicelli Pudding, among many others. Some, such as Vermicelli Pudding, still have recipes readily available. Others are less common today: for example, it is difficult to find a recipe for Crimean Pudding, even in nineteenth-century recipe books. The pudding is briefly described in a book by George Buchanan, entitled Camp Life as Seen by a Civilian, published in 1871, as an unappealing mixture of ‘boiled rice, rum and sugar’![1] Quite what Patriotic Pudding consisted of – served to Girton students in the early 1900s – is equally perplexing.


Recipe for ‘Amber Pudding’, from a cookery book dating to 1893, which belonged to Marion Greenwood (later Mrs Bidder), who came up to Girton as a student in 1879 and returned as a researcher in the 1880s (archive reference: GCPP Bidder 6).

Some puddings, such as the aptly-named Amber Pudding, sound more appetizing: a recipe for Amber Pudding survives in book owned by Marion Greenwood (later Mrs Bidder), who came to Girton as a student in 1879 and then returned as a staff member (archive reference: GCPP Bidder 6). Marion pinned a recipe for Amber Pudding – published by the Norwich School of Cookery – into her personal cookery book and annotated it: when the recipe stipulates simply candied peel and marmalade, Marion has added in her own hand ‘luscious, dry lemon and apple instead of marmalade’. This, with egg yolk, gave the pudding a warm, amber colour, and must have been a welcome sight for hungry students in the cold Cambridge winters.


Another recipe book held in Girton Archive, dating to the late nineteenth century, contains a miscellany of handwritten recipes, and gives us an idea of how the puddings served at Girton tasted (archive reference: GCRF 10/1/1). For example, it includes instructions for Cabinet Pudding, which was baked almost weekly at Girton:


‘Butter a mould thickly, stick it over with stoned raisings, line it with sponge cakes cut in halves – first soaked in sherry. Fill the mould with cold custard, tie a buttered paper and floured cloth close over and boil 1 hour. Turn out carefully and pour over cold custard.’


The menu books bring to life photographs of the pre-1900 dining hall, now known as Old Hall (archive reference: GCPH 2/7/5/1) but by the time they fell out of use in 1903, meals were being served in the current Hall, which was completed in the Lent Term of 1901.  Photographs from 1902 show what was then the new dining hall ready for use (archive reference: GCPH 2/8/1).


The Old Hall, which was built as part of the original College buildings,  served as the dining room at Girton until 1901 (archive reference: GCPH 2/7/5/1).

The menu books are also a testament to the College staff and the work that went into preparing the meals: the books are handwritten by many different people, who carefully updated and cared for them. Slips of paper containing corrections have been stuck onto pages, careful amendments made to entries, and details neatly inserted. The books also document the dinners eaten by staff: mutton, dumplings, salt beef, cutlets and sausages appear frequently, followed on most days by a pudding. Staff must have been somewhat disappointed one Thursday in March in the 1890s when they were simply served ‘Plain Pudding’! Crimea Pudding was eaten as often by staff as by students so, whatever it contained, it was clearly popular.


Girton’s College’s Dining Hall, completed in 1901. This photograph was taken in 1902 and shows the tables, including the High Table, laid for dinner (archive reference: GCPH 2/8/1).

The menu books were practical, workaday records but the care and precision with which they were kept, and the details they contain, conjure up a unique image of daily life at Girton in the years around 1900.


Published: 22 August 2017


[1]George Buchanan, Camp Life as Seen by a Civilian: a Personal Narrative (Glasgow, 1871),p. 203