A Victorian cook who worked at a stately home in Essex has become an unlikely YouTube sensation with millions of views more than 130 years after she served the Lord and Lady of Audley End House.
The recipes of Mrs Avis Crocombe have been recreated for YouTube and dishes such as cucumber ice cream, Roly Poly Pudding and Victorian curry proved a hit with the millennial audience.
As well as her recipes, Mrs Crocombe’s no-nonsense advice on frying with ‘delicious’ lard and stern peering over her glasses when something displeases her have won the hearts of fans, who have described her as ‘so precious’.
Mrs Crocombe was head cook to Lord and Lady Braybrooke at the stately home near Saffron Walden from 1880 to 1994 and documented her recipes in a handwritten book, with many inspired by Eliza Acton’s 1845 book Modern Cookery for Private Families.
Her cooking journal was rediscovered in the back of a drawer eight years ago by her great-great-nephew, Robert Stride, from Southend who donated the book to English Heritage
English Heritage has recreated the recipes of chef Mrs Avis Crocombe more than 130 years after she served the Lord and Lady of Audley End House in Saffron Walden, Essex
Mrs Crocombe cooking breakfast the Victorian way. The chef’s recipes have attracted millions of views on YouTube
‘I felt it was only right that my great great-aunt’s cookbook should be returned to the place where she relied on it most,’ he told The Saffron Walden Reporter.
‘Many of the pages are marked with the sweat and grease of the kitchen and I can just imagine her pausing, wiping her brow and checking a detail in a favourite recipe.’
Showing no hint of the Victorian era’s famed prurience one of her recipes insists that the secret to a good trifle is ‘not to skimp on the alcohol’.
Her recipes also include dishes not only for the Lord and Lady of the manor, but for those below stairs too, such as bacon and onion roly poly pudding.
Mrs Crocombe documented her recipes in a journal, which was rediscovered in a drawer by her great-great-nephew, Robert Stride, eight years ago
Mrs Crocombe making cucumber ice cream, which was popular as a palate cleanser in Victorian times
‘It’s a cheap, savoury pudding and ideal for the servants’ hall,’ she explained. ‘Some people call this shirt sleeve pudding because they make it in old shirt sleeves.
‘I’ve even heard people call it dead mans leg,’ she added, peering over her glasses to indicate disapproval.
‘You could serve the puffing hot straight away but here at Audley End House we servants like it fried. You can fry it in butter or for a really delicious taste use lard.’
She even shares her tips for making the perfect cup of tea, explaining: ‘I like my milk to go in second, but Mary-Anne, the kitchen maid, always puts her milk in first.’
Mrs Crocombe serving kedgeree for the Lord and Lady of the manor’s breakfast, which was a popular way of using up leftover fish and rice
The videos have proved a huge hit with viewers with one describing them as ‘so relaxing to watch’ while another added: ‘This woman is so precious and has to be protected at all costs.’
The real Mrs Crocombe was born in Devon in 1838 and started her career in service when she was 13-years-old.
She became cook to Lord and Lady Braybrooke in 1880 on a salary of £50 a year, less than half what the outgoing French male chef received.
In 1884, she left to marry Benjamin Stride, a lodging-house keeper in London and she died in 1927, aged 89.
Mrs Crocombe’s Cucumber Ice Cream
Pinch of salt
1/2 pint water
2 small glasses of ginger wine
1 pint double cream
Sugar (to taste)
Green food colouring
Cucumber ice cream requires cucumber, salt, sugar, water, ginger wine, green food colouring, sugar and double cream
Peel and deseed a cucumber, salt lightly and drain in a colander. Rinse, put in a pan and add 4oz sugar and 1/2 pt water. Simmer until tender and then puree (the Victorians would have passed it through a sieve).
Allow to cool and add a small glass of ginger wine. Add 1pt double cream and sugar to taste.
Freeze in an ice cream maker, or use ice and salt packed around a freezing pot as Mrs Crocombe would have done.
You can also add a little green food colouring.
Although unusual to modern tastes, cucumber was frequently cooked in the past. It is refreshing and light, intended to lift the palette after a heavy meal.
Although cooked cucumber might sound like an unusual idea, this light ice cream was intended to lift the palette after a heavy meal
Mrs Crocombe’s recipe for Roly Poly Pudding
200g plain flour
75g suet (vegetarian alternatives are available)
Generous pinch of salt
Bacon or ham
1 small onion
Mrs Crocombe wrapping up a roly poly pudding in a clean cloth, ready to be boiled. She explained that cooks would sometimes use an old shirt to do the job
Combine the flour, suet, salt and add a small amount of water a little at a time until you form a dough which is supple but not sticky.
Set aside in a cool place.
Dice finely the bacon, onion and mushrooms and mix them together.
Roll pastry out with lots of flour.
Spread with filling leaving about 1cm at the edges.
Seal the pastry at the ends well, and at the long join, with a bit of water.
Wrap the pudding in a clean cloth which has been well floured.
Put it in a pan with boiling water and leave it for upwards of 1.5 hours.
It is fairly forgiving, and can be left for an extra half an hour or hour without much of an issue.
Leave the pudding to cool, then carefully unwrap it.
You can then slice it and eat as is, or fry in lard for extra flavour.
Roly poly pudding can be eaten warm, but Mrs Crocombe explained that the servants preferred to have it fried, preferably in lard