As a baking enthusiast, having supplies delivered conveniently to my doorstep has become second nature. But over a century ago, professional cooks relied on a similar service to stock their large country manor kitchens. Though times have certainly changed, it’s fascinating to see the parallels between how I order baking essentials today and how cooks procured ingredients in early 1900s England.
In grand English country estates, sourcing baking supplies took careful planning and coordination. Since many manors were far removed from villages and shops, cooks couldn’t simply pop into town to pick up extra flour or sugar. Instead, they worked closely with local merchants and farms to have fresh produce, dairy, and dry goods delivered regularly.
Catalogues Have Gone Online
Just as I scroll Amazon listings, scouring reviews and comparisons, cooks reviewed catalogues from trusted suppliers like delivery grocer F.E. Callow and the Army & Navy Co-operative Society, after placing orders by post or telegraph, deliveries of items like eggs, butter, and seasonal fruits arrived by horse and carriage.
While I tracked shipping notifications and eagerly awaited the arrival of my packages, cooks, too, needed to attentively time orders so that the pantries were well-stocked. Perishable cream and berries had to be carefully scheduled with faster adjacent farms. Spices from London warehouses took longer to reach remote estates.
Upon arrival, footmen would assist in moving heavy sacks of flour and barrels of sugar into vast larders. Just as I delight in unpacking shiny new baking pans and gadgets, cooks relish acquiring the latest helpful kitchen tools. New-fangled egg beaters and standing mixers increased baking efficiency.
Beyond everyday essentials, both modern and Edwardian cooks appreciate sourcing specialty items to elevate dishes. While I seek out exotic ingredients like matcha powder or edible flowers online, cooks of old coveted rare imported flavours like vanilla from Tahiti and citrus from the Mediterranean impress guests.
Convenience and Savings in Buying in Bulk
Another shared advantage is purchasing nonperishables in bulk for savings and convenience. Just as I take advantage of Amazon’s bulk prices on basics like chocolate chips, dried fruits, and nuts, country house cooks save by buying flour and sugar by the barrelful. Keeping ample stock freed cooks from rationing ingredients or weather-delayed orders.
Of course, the convenience of modern online shopping outmatches Edwardian mail order in both speed and simplicity. With NextDay delivery from Amazon, I can forget an item and still bake without delay. Cooks waiting on far-off suppliers had no such luxury. My packages also arrive with the click of a button; no horses are required!
Still, it’s intriguing to ponder how cooks 100 years prior also valued the efficiency of having ingredients come to them. Although limited by the transportation of the times, they recognized the benefits of having a well-planned pantry. With fewer trips into town required, more effort could be spent creating baked goods that wowed manorial guests.
In many ways, faithful home bakers and professional cooks of the past had the same goal – access to the best baking supplies delivered reliably and cost-effectively. Though our means vary greatly, our shared passion for the baking arts transcends the ages. Whether shopping online or by mail order catalogue, there’s satisfaction in letting others handle the shopping so we can get right down to baking.
My Favourite Amazon Brands
Yupik: I love this brand for dried fruit, nuts and chips for the price, and the thick bags make great freezer bags.