Colchester, a gentle man, and some toffee

Miss Reeve’s mother died shortly after childbirth.  Miss Reeve’s father brought her up by himself – although I imagine that she had a nurse as a child. For Miss Reeve’s father, Edward, was a school master and would have worked full time.  In Miss Reeve’s papers, I found a school magazine/journal called ‘The Colcestrian’ and, in it, was an entry which, as I read it, I found to be written in an old-fashioned tone but, despite the formality, the force of the affection in which he was held shines through.  See what you think:

The Retirement of Mr E Reeve

All O.C.’s [I assume that stands for Old Colcestrians] who have known Mr E Reeve will deeply regret that, owing to ill-health, he has been obliged to relinquish his duties at the School, and is now resting, in the hope of regaining his quondam vigour. [Latin lovers will know that means ‘one time’.]  He was 1st House Master of Dugard’s from September 1907 until his retirement last December, a period of over 17 years and had been senior science master during the last 12 years of that period. He was 2nd master from September 1914, was the popular games master, and had charge of the shooting range.  His breakdown will be deplored by all his many friends, and it is our sincere hope that with an interval of complete rest from the strain of work, which was responsible for his unfortunate collapse, he may be speedily restored to health.

The following letter has been sent to Mr. Reeve, on behalf of the O.C. Society.

Dear Mr. Reeve,

At a meeting of the Committee of the Old Colcestrian Society last night, the fact of your having ceased to serve on the Staff of the School was mentioned.

The following resolution was proposed, seconded and carried unanimously:

‘That the committee had heard with regret that Mr. Reeve had resigned from the Staff of the School after seventeen years’ devoted service, and resolved that the heartiest best wishes of the Committee be extended to Mr. Reeve in whatsoever new work he might undertake.’

We feel we are losing a very valued member of our Society, and as a small token of appreciation we beg to invite you to accept the position of an Honorary Life Member of the Society.’

The letter was written on 4th March 1925.  How times have changed – today lawyers (as I once was) would never allow an employer to in any way hint at the cause of a breakdown being the employment!  Do you agree that it is a charming letter? I believe so.

I don’t know the cause of Mr Reeve’s breakdown but I shall endeavour to do some research. Family history relates that his wife died in childbirth, Miss Reeve would have been 3 or 4 I think when he retired.  I wonder to what extent his wife’s death, bringing up a child alone, and having a job contributed to that? I feel a project coming on to find out more about him. I do know that Miss Reeve always referred to him with respect, fondness and she often said that he was a very gentle man.

Anyway, I have introduced you to him now. And regular readers of this blog will know a little about Miss Reeve.  And her (for me) challenging recipes which give very little in the way of instructions.  So it was very amusing for me to find her recipe for toffee, ‘Father’s Toffee’ as she calls it, with the words ‘No instructions!’ writ underneath!

The good thing about having no instructions however is that I have to research. This is good.  I try her other books first (many of her books are published cookery books by professional chefs) and then I resort to … Google.

Below is the recipe – with my notes added to help you if you are making this toffee. I am not usually a toffee person and this recipe always turns out brittle (I like it that way) but if you take it off the heat a little earlier than I do (I set out below when to do that), you can get quite a nice chewy consistency. Mind your teeth!

The recipe (or rather, the ingredients!)

Miss Reeve shows her frustration!

Miss Reeve shows her frustration!

My recipe (how to make it!)

1. Lay out all your ingredients first:

The recipes I choose tend to have only a few ingredients with which to trouble my small brain!

The recipes I choose tend to have only a few ingredients with which to trouble my small brain!

1/2 lb butter – I use unsalted butter as I am aware that salted butter can add a bit of sharpness to sweets and I don’t like salt  much nor sharpness to my sweets.  1/2 lb of butter is 8oz OR 226.80g.

1/2 lb demarara sugar – again 8oz or 226.80g

1/2 lb white sugar – I use caster sugar for sweets. It is basically granulated sugar but ground down even further! I use it for sweets and cakes as it leaves a smooth consistency.  4oz or 226.80g

1/4 lb grated chocolate – I loathe dark chocolate but that is what I make it with as it has a better taste in sweets. The type I use is 85% cocoa.  Make sure you use fairtrade chocolate (Please see this link about slavery in the cocoa manufacturers’ supply chain) or Rainforest Alliance chocolate.  I use one of the 100g bars of chocolate. It works out as slightly less than 1/4 lb but it is strong so I am happy to use less.  4 oz or 108.86g

Cup of cream.   What sort of cream? I use single cream.  I guess you could try double or whipping but I think the consistency seems fine.  That was the first type I used, and I have stuck with it.

Cup of golden syrup.  I had no idea what is meant by ‘cup’ (in the US it has a specific meaning of measurement but I doubt very much Miss Reeve would use an American measure!). I think the main point is that whatever you use, the golden syrup and the cream needs to be the same amount.

2. Take two baking sheets and put a little oil on them – I use sesame oil as I like the nutty taste but you could use a flavourless oil.  Do this before you start cooking because you need to concentrate on the mixture once you start heating it.  You mustn’t leave it alone to sort the baking sheets.

3. Prepare a small bowl of cold water and a teaspoon.  This is what you put the toffee in to see if it is ready.

4. You will need hot water in which to plunge your pan when you wash it up.  I have seen recipes where they say cover it in cold in the sink once the mixture has been poured out but I find that, although it goes brittle and you’d think you could just snap it away, it doesn’t.  Hot water keeps it soft.  So either boil a kettle or make sure you a have hot water from the tap – our hot water takes an age to arrive in the kitchen tap so I make sure it is there, ready for use!  If it does stick on any surfaces, I put bicarb of soda and white vinegar on it. It froths for a while, I leave it for about 5  minutes, and then it just wipes away with a bit of encouragement.

5. Put it all into a pan at the same time.  Slowly heat it up.  So, start with it on midway on your dial and then it will heat itself to boiling point.  I find if you take it straight to boiling on the highest, it can burn on the bottom. Keep stirring  until boiling point.  Once it boils, leave it. Except for the odd stir to stop it sticking.

I find it takes about 15 minutes of boiling.

6. Then, take your spoon, dip it into the middle of the pot so you get the true temperature, pull it out with some toffee mixture on it and then drop that mixture into the bowl of cold water.  It will be quite fluid if too early,  fairly chewy if you like it chewy once done,  and hard on the outside but chewy on the inside if you like it chewy but firm!  I like it to be  hard in and out so it is like cinder toffee so I leave it.  But you need to keep dipping your spoon and testing your dollop every few seconds after the 15 minutes.

7. Then…

Pour it onto your baking sheets.  It doesn’t pour over the place which is good but make sure it doesn’t go over your baking sheets or you’ll have toffee on your surfaces for weeks! Unless you clean it off as I’ve already suggested but there is something nice (remarkably greedy and unhygenic though) about lifting and eating the odd bit from the surface until it is all gone!

8, I leave it for about 5 minutes and then I score it with a knife – very lightly – just to help you break it when it’s ready later.  After about 15 minutes, you can lift the edges. If the edges/mixture is ‘bendy’ leave it. It is when it breaks off that you can start to break it all.

Just lightly score it

Just lightly score it

How it turns out

The end Result

The end Result

What it tastes like

I like it.  Even when it is sometimes a little more chewy than others, I like it.  Creamy and chocolatty. Not bitter either.

I think that is how Mr Reeve liked it.  It probably gave him some comfort as he recovered from the trials of his life.  So we have a recipe, from I am not sure when, but I like to think this gentle man ate it at least from 1925 on his retirement.  Nearly 90 years later, I eat it too. The past reaching into the present.


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