Tag Archives: recipe

Gingerbread from the Radolphus Ayres “Cook Oxford” Recipe Book, 29th August 1721 – Reference MS. Don. e. 89

As someone who has always enjoyed baking and has a love of all things historical, finding old recipe books is one of the most exciting things about working in archives. I love when cooking shows explore what people of the past would have eaten, and the different ingredients they would have used to create what we now consider modern classics. Working on the retro-conversion of the Bodleian Libraries New Summary Catalogue since September (you can read about our project here) has allowed me to discover a fair few recipe books, with some of the treats far more enticing than others… After some deliberation, I chose this 18th century recipe for gingerbread – a tried and tested festive favourite. I wanted my colleagues to actually taste it and thought it might be slightly more appetising than the vast range of pickles, a 14th century recipe for the plague, or mince pies that were made with veal hearts and tongues (that one I vetoed pretty quickly myself). Gingerbread seemed like a safe option, and I also thought dried ginger might perhaps be easier to source than “dragon warter” – weirdly Tesco didn’t have any in stock when I asked.

So here’s what I had to work with:

Before attempting this slightly vague bake (and figuring out how/if I was going to dip the cake in a mixture of “boyling watter and ale”), I decided to do a bit of research into the history of gingerbread. When did this delicious treat make its way into our lives? The important stuff.

So, ginger root was first cultivated in China, where they used it for “medicinal and magical” purposes. Ginger is still used today in medicine to help things like travel sickness – something anticipated by John Baret in his Alvearie or triple dictionaire of 1573-80, and Henry VIII even thought it might help build up resistance to the plague in the 16th century. In Roman times, the spice was known as “zingiber” from the Sanskrit “sringavera” and was used for cooking and medicinal purposes as it travelled in from the Silk Road from the 2nd century AD. Caravans came from China full of silk, ginger and cinnamon to a meeting point in central Asia where the Romans would be able to barter for these luxury items. They loved ginger so much that a pound of the spice was worth the same as a sheep!

Ginger supplies dried up after the fall of the Roman Empire when trade routes crumbled but the spice was then reintroduced freely across Western Europe. This was supposedly with returning crusaders, or through the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century – there is quite a bit of ambiguity here. The Germans, Austrians and Hungarians were the first to develop honey and spice flour based doughs, adding candied fruits and nuts, and in France they used a simple spice recipe called “Pain d’espice”. In Medieval England, gingerbread simply meant “preserved ginger”, with the spice being used to cover up the taste of preserved meats in the winter. By Elizabeth I’s reign, between 1533 and 1603, gingerbread was eaten by wealthy aristocrats. The queen is even credited with inventing gingerbread men by asking for the biscuits to be decorated as important members of her court for a celebration.  By the 17th century, gingerbread was being sold at fairs and for special occasions in England but it was nothing like the gingerbread we love now. Valerie Barrett explains how it was “made from stale bread, honey, pepper, aniseed, with saffron or liquorice for colouring, and ginger… mashed together, moulded or shaped and dried until hard and brittle”. Doesn’t exactly sound appetising! Treacle was introduced later in the 17th century and the recipes began to change into the biscuits and cake we know today.

Gingerbread recipes travelled to America with the first English settlers, where they swapped the sugar for golden syrup. There are many variations of gingerbread, from the decorated gingerbread men and houses (popularised after Hansel and Gretal was published in 1812), to Yorkshire Parkin or American Hot gingerbread. If you want to explore the multitude of recipes I would definitely recommend The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett, The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf and The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (all available to read at the Bodleian Libraries, references below). Although gingerbread is now made mostly at home or bought in supermarkets, it remains a part of the European Christmas tradition.

Now that I have explored gingerbread and its roots (however ambiguous), I can unveil my 18th century creation:

Although most of the ingredients were easy to acquire, I had to settle for candied mixed peel instead of simply orange peel after checking 4 different supermarkets. I also didn’t complete the last step. Unfortunately dipping the cake in ale and water made the bake soggy and un-transportable… not ideal when I needed opinions from my colleagues! The recipe itself was questionable, with the mixture not actually coming together at all until I added some warm water, though I put this down to the ingredients probably being slightly different and also the recipe being quite vague.* Either way, it got into the oven and made the house smell like caraway and coriander seeds for quite a few days!

My colleagues all agreed this was “interesting”, something I definitely agreed with. Many thought it was almost savoury in flavour and was quite dry and dense, though most enjoyed it enough to eat a whole piece and some even went back for seconds! My favourite reviews have to be “first time I’ve been unable to finish a baked good, 1/10” and “pleasingly festive, surprisingly spicy, 6/10”.

Overall rating: 6.3/10

If you want to explore the original Radolphus Ayres cookbook, you can find and request it here on the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts website. Look out for some more interesting things found in the Summary Catalogue conversion project in the New Year, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!


The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett (The Apple Press, London, 1992)

The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf (Charles Letts and Co ltd, London, 1991)

The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (Ebury Press, London, 1984)

John Mariani’s American Classics: Gingerbread” in Restaurant hospitality, October 1998, 82:10, pg. 86

PBS Food “The History of Gingerbread” by Tori Avery, 20 Dec 2013, URL: https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/

The Guardian “A Brief History of the Gingerbread House” by Antonia Wilson, 22 Dec 2018, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/dec/22/a-brief-history-of-the-gingerbread-house

* I found out at a later date that the recipe book was published in 2006, Ralph Ayres Cookery Book edited by Jane Jakeman (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2006), and this would’ve made the recipe conversion a lot easier!

The Friedmann-Brauns: Chocolate cake, and the story of a family

Berlin,  August 1927. Gerhard Braun, the eldest son of Felix and Gertrud Friedmann-Braun, marries Anneliese Finster. Amongst the wedding presents was a little red book: a recipe book Gertrud (a good mother-in-law, or just making sure her son gets fed properly?) had written for her new daughter-in-law.

'Kochbuch' - Gertrud and the recipe book

‘Kochbuch’ – Gertrud Friedmann-Braun and the recipe book

The recipes partly reflect the Friedmann-Brauns’ status as part of the upper middle class in Berlin, with finer cuisine like roast hare or crayfish soup, but also home-cooking favourites and old family recipes like dumplings and pancakes.

There are no entries in the ‘Salads’ and ‘Vegetables’ section, but there are, luckily, an eclectic variety of cakes, pastries, flans and puddings – the family clearly had a sweet tooth.

…And so have the archivists at the Bodleian Library. The plan of cooking and tasting one of Gertrud’s sweet recipes, all in the name of archival science, suggested itself. We went for Schokoladentorte – chocolate cake:

'Schokoladentorte', 1927

Recipe for Gertrud’s ‘Schokoladentorte’, 1927

The recipe (once deciphered! Oh, the old German handwriting…) translates:

“Mix 1/2 pound of butter with 1/4 pound of sugar, then add 4 egg yolks one at a time, then 100 grams of flour, 3/4 pounds of grated chocolate, some vanilla or vanilla sugar, and finally 3 beaten egg whites (keep back one of the egg whites). Take a small, but tall cake pan and bake the cake approx. 3/4 hours. It is not big. If one needs a bigger one, one takes a double portion. At the end the cake gets covered in chocolate or couverture.”

NB: 1 pound = 500 grams

I used 250g of dark chocolate and 125g of milk chocolate, and baked at 180 Celsius. The cake took slightly longer to bake than expected,  I left it in the oven for one hour (use a wooden skewer to test if it is baked). It is very dense and moist, almost like a brownie.

This is what a 1927 chocolate cake looks in 2015:

The archival cake

The ‘Archival Cake’

The recipe was written down in 1927, but it is probably much older.

Gertrud Friedmann-Braun was born in 1870 in Berlin as the daughter of the judge and national-liberal politician Leonhard Lehfeldt (1834-1878) and his wife Therese, née Lehmann. In 1891 Gertrud married Felix Friedmann (1861-1934), a lawyer and senior judge (Landgerichtsdirektor ) at the provincial court in Berlin. They had four children, Hildegard, Gerhard, Konrad and Johannes. In 1911, Felix Friedmann adopted his mother’s maiden name Braun, changing his and his wife’s surname to Friedmann-Braun, and their children’s surname to Braun.
Hildegard Braun (1892-?1944) became a professional singer and music teacher. Gerhard Braun (1893-1946) studied medicine and became a gynaecologist. Konrad Braun (1896-1969) was a lawyer and judge at the Berlin Court of Appeal (Kammergericht ). Johannes Braun (1900-1942) was an actor with engagements at theatres nationwide.

The Friedmann-Brauns: Family life in Berlin

The Friedmann-Brauns were part of the well-educated and well-established Prussian-German middle class. The family enjoyed a rich cultural and social life. From their correspondence and other documents we know they frequently had relatives and friends around in their large flat in Nürnbergerstrasse 66 in the centre of Berlin near Kurfürstendamm, for entertaining, meals and family get-togethers.

Quite likely music was involved – after all, Hildegard was a professional singer, and all siblings played musical instruments. Gerhard was an accomplished pianist; Konrad had a string quartet with friends from school. Even more likely, humorous verse written by family members were recited – composing witty poems and all sorts of pen-and-paper games were very much part of the family culture. The Friedmann-Brauns were well-read, had a substantial library, and admired the literary classics, most of all Goethe.

At a family reunion, after Kaffee und Kuchen – afternoon coffee and cake – did someone quote the ‘Lehmann-Lehfeldt Familienchronik’ – a family chronicle written by Gertrud’s aunts Franziska and Agathe and privately published by her uncle Felix Lehmann in 1906 – (in)famous in the family, for all the little stories and the gossip about the extensive Lehmann-Lehfeldt clan?


The Friedmann-Brauns, c. 1931: Gertrud and Felix Friedmann-Braun with granddaughter Ruth, at the back Konrad, Hildegard, Johannes, Anneliese and Gerhard Braun

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Lehmanns, Lehfeldts, Brauns and Friedmanns, living mainly in Berlin,  were successful in business, the professions, government service and regional politics, and extensively involved in literary and artistic circles, such as Die Zwanglosen society.
Joseph Lehmann (1801-1873), Gertruds maternal grandfather and friends with Heinrich Heine, was editor of the literary magazine Magazin für die Literatur des Auslandes, and his son-in-law Leonhard Lehfeldt followed him in this post. Joseph Lehfeldt (1804-1858), Leonhard’s father, was a publisher and co-owner of the Veit & Co. publishing company. The painter and art professor Paul Meyerheim (1842-1915) was part of the family, and so was Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider (1891-1990), Felix-Friedmann-Braun’s niece, who studied physics and philosophy in Berlin in the 1910s and was in touch with Max Planck and Albert Einstein.

1933 and the consequences: Persecution, emigration and the Holocaust

However… the Friedmann-Braun family had Jewish ancestors, which made them face discrimination and persecution under the Nazi regime.

Gerhard Braun, after losing his posts in the public health system and seeing his practice limited to private patients and later to Jews only, was arrested in the course of the Reichspogromnacht  (Crystal Night) in November 1938 and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was detained for five and a half weeks. He was released in December 1938 on condition that he emigrated, and was able to come to England with his wife Anneliese and adopted daughter Ruth.

Konrad was, after the Nuremberg race laws, forced to retire from his position as Kammergerichtsrat  by the end of 1935. When the police came to arrest him in November 1938, he was in England, studying at the Quaker Study Centre at Woodbrooke in Birmingham. From there, he was able to organise the emigration of his wife Hildburg, and his 3-year-old son Thomas, who left Germany via Switzerland and arrived in the UK in February 1939.


Konrad Braun’s passport, 1937, marked ‘J’ for ‘Jew’ and with the compulsory name ‘Israel’ added by the German Embassy in London, 1939.

Johannes was arrested by the Gestapo in spring 1942 and brought to a concentration camp (probably Trawniki) near Lublin where he was reported to have died of Tuberculosis in July 1942. At about the same time his mother Gertrud suffered an attack, possibly a stroke, after which her health deteriorated steadily and she was dependant on her daughter Hildegard’s care.
From 1941 Hildegard was deployed as a forced labourer to the pharmaceutical company Riedel-de Haën in Britz on the outskirts of Berlin.

Konrad’s and Gerhard’s desperate attempts to find a way for their mother and sister to emigrate from Germany ultimately failed. Gertrud and Hildegard were fetched from their flat in Kurfürstenstrasse on 12 December 1942 and brought to a ‘collection point’ (Sammellager ), probably in Gerlachstrasse, where Gertrud died. Hildegard’s fate is unknown. She is on the list of names on a transport from Berlin to Auschwitz and there is uncorroborated evidence that she worked as a nurse in Theresienstadt and died there, or after being transported on to Auschwitz in 1944; but she was not officially recorded at either camp.

From Berlin to the Bodleian Library:
The Braun Family Archive

The little red recipe book came to England with Gerhard and Anneliese in 1938/1939.
It is now part of the Braun Family Archive, which was donated to the Bodleian Library by Christopher Braun, Konrad and Hildburg Braun’s younger son, in 2010-2014, together with a grant towards preservation and cataloguing of the collection.

The archive consists of over 200 boxes of correspondence, personal and legal papers, diaries, memoirs, eulogies, articles, memorabilia, occasional verses etc., dating from before 1800 to the 2000s, and includes family trees, secondary literature and other material accumulated by family members over the years.  In spite of  grievous losses inflicted by Nazi depredations and allied bombs, this remains a substantial archive of a family which can be traced in Berlin and in the Northeast of Germany in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and to Jewish roots reaching back to 16th-century Prague and Vienna.


Gerhard Braun’s memoirs describing his detention at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, 1938.

The archive also includes the personal papers and writings of the classicist Thomas Braun (1935-2008), who spent an academic career of over 50 years in Oxford – as a student at Balliol College, 1955-1959, and Merton College, 1959-1962, as Fellow and tutor in ancient history at Merton College from 1963, as Dean of Merton College from 1974, as Senior Research Fellow from 1999, and as Emeritus Fellow after his retirement in 2002.

The subjects touched on include the history of Berlin and northeast Germany in the 19th and early 20th century, the role of the Jews and the process of assimilation, publishing, literary artistic and musical movements in 19th-century Germany, especially Berlin, the 1914-18 war on the German side, the Nazi oppression and the holocaust, emigration from Germany, the life of German refugees in Britain, the internment of enemy aliens in Britain during the 1939-45 war, the Quakers in Germany and Britain, and academic life in Oxford in the 1950s-2000s.

A substantial autograph collection, bringing together 19th and 20th century letters and other documents from artists, writers, musicians, politicians and other ‘celebrities’ family members were in touch with over the decades, complements the archive.

Thus, the collection not only tells the eventful story of a family throughout more than two centuries, but also touches on a broad range of subjects in 19th and 20th century German and British history – which makes it a rich source for biography, social and cultural history with a great potential for use in research.

The main part of the Braun Family Archive is now available to readers, with the catalogue online at the Bodleian Library Special Collections Archives and Manuscripts Online Catalogues website.

-Svenja Kunze