Curious about the daily life of the Edwardian expat in Athens? Days in Attica is the book for you. Published in 1914, it's the work of Ellen Sophia Bosanquet, the Oxford-educated wife of the British School at Athens’ fifth Director Robert Carr Bosanquet.
Ellen Hodgkin and Robert Carr Bosanquet were married in 1902, two years into his term at the School. She went with him to Greece after their marriage, and lived there with him during the rest of his tenure as Director (1900-1906). Days in Attica is Bosanquet’s memoir of her life in Greece, a travel guide for leisured tourists, and a record of Athens and the surrounding landscape of Attica during a seeming calm before the storm of regional and world war.
It’s a fascinating read, partly because Bosanquet weaves tales of Greek myth and ancient history with references to specific objects, sites and excavations in a Greece that she clearly knows intimately in her own way. But the way she captures the domestic space is the most relevant for this post. In her chapter “Home Life in Attica” she describes the various characters who populate her household as servants. That’s where I came across a passing reference to “Cleopatra Pudding”.
The reference is part of a reflection on the characteristics of the Athenian cook. Bosanquet salutes a certain spirit of innovation in the face of (understandable) ignorance of British cuisine.
If I order ‘Cleopatra pudding’ the cook will set to work to make what he imagines ‘Cleopatra pudding’ ought to be rather than confess he has never met with it.”
I imagine many of us are guilty of such behaviour, at one time or another.
Challenge accepted, the World Wide Web delivered: “The Week’s Best Recipe prize winners” on page 36 of the Australian Women’s Weekly for 12 January 1935 - bless Internet Archive. One of the recipes submitted, awarded a consolation prize of 2/6 - that’s two shillings and sixpence - was Cleopatra pudding. Eureka.
Miss M. Reynolds of New South Wales’ version of Cleopatra pudding calls for biscuit crumbs, desiccated coconut, eggs, sugar, milk and stewed apples. I can’t for the life of me see how these ingredients suggest ancient Egypt, but perhaps the link is in another version of the recipe. (If anyone has a clue, please tell me!) Nonetheless I had found what I was looking for, and invited some chums round to help me make it.
Here’s what we discovered for those of you who may want to try this at home...or abroad.
We used stewed apples rather than peaches or apricots, which were the suggested alternatives. Not favouring overly sweet desserts I made these beforehand using six Granny Smith apples, a tbsp of honey, and a tsp or so of vanilla. If, like me, you like your apples tart, look for the GSs with darker green skin and lighter green freckles.
A few helpful hints:
- Use 1 ½ cups of biscuit crumbs (or try large crumbs rather than small). We used McVitie's Digestives.
- Add another 2-3 tsp of coconut.
- Oven temp should be 180-190°C.
The result was actually quite tasty - a sort of spongy apple cake with a slight crunch from the coconut. Some of my guests added single cream on top.
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The copy I acquired is a first edition, printed in 1914. Days in Attica was published in the spring, by the autumn Britain was at war. So it was a poignant moment when I discovered my book was inscribed with a name and a date, thirteen days before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
Bosanquet, E. S. 1914. Days in Attica. London: Methuen & Co.
N. B. I couldn't have done this without my fantastic guests; thank you LH, AF, JW, RKD!