What Food Was Commercially Available to Buy in East London between 1848 – 1913? – Chapter 1: Jewish Bakeries.

“. . . These delicatessens marinated beef briskets for close to a fortnight with a pound of common salt, half an ounce of saltpetre, and a pound of brown sugar. After the marinade, these briskets would be boiled in a pot of water with a mirepoix. . .”

Chapter 1: Jewish Bakeries from 1850 – 1874

One of the largest of these migrant groups identified as traveling towards East London was Eastern European Jews, who were fleeing ‘state-sponsored persecution and anti-Semitic attitudes from Central and Eastern Europe, or from even as far as Russia.[31] From 1850 onwards, many of them settled in the slums of East London into areas such as Stoke Newington, but predominantly Whitechapel. These areas became known as ‘Jewish territories’, or the called ‘Jewish ghetto’ as the number of Jews flourishing in these poverty stricken areas grew into entire communities.[32] Many of these people were traditional skilled labourers, bringing with them specific trades such as culinary skills such as baking. To make a living, they started using their skills to sell their trade, converting shops into bakeries. The number of these ‘bakehouses’ soon started to become established, with over 250 in East London alone, as recorded in the Post Office’s London Commercial and Professional Directory for 1852.[33] Primarily, these bakeries appealed to their own community, but they soon became popular throughout the local neighbourhood.[34] The bread sold from these would be brown, wholemeal or rye, or rye mixed with wheat flour.[35] They specialised in Hebrew style loaves such as sweet challah, and dry rye breads, and the Jewish variant of the bagel.[36] These loaves were boiled before being baked, giving them a unique taste, and selling them as the ‘beigel’.

Another result of the Corn Laws abolishment was a rise in British beef, leading to a dramatic decrease in price.[37] For Jewish bakeries, this meant that they could prepare a speciality; salt beef joints. And while meat can be kosher, blood is not.[38] This required a special preparation to desiccate and dehydrate the meat joints till all the blood was drawn out of it.[39] Recipes for salting and brining meats at this time were printed in such manuals as The Jewish Manual, or Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery (1848). These delicatessens marinated beef briskets for close to a fortnight with a pound of common salt, half an ounce of saltpetre, and a pound of brown sugar.[40] After the marinade, these briskets would be boiled in a pot of water with a mirepoix: onion with carrot and celery, a traditional French-Italian root vegetable mix as well as herbs and spices like clove or pepper.[41] Slices of this beef would be served with wedges of gherkins and a spread of mustard in the Jewish ‘beigel’. Given the now relatively cheap price of wholesale beef in London, these were cost-effective opportunity to commercially sell. Fresh, still warm salt beef beigels were a favourite in the area, as they were a fast meal to eat, but also were cheap and easy to create.[42] Additionally, these bakers also traded with Jewish butchers, leading to them to use specialised meats from their respective countries; the Ashkenazi Romanians brought the recipe of preserved pastrami briskets, and the Sephardi Polish brought smoked salmon and pickled herring.[43]

This preparation made a ‘happy accident’, a perfect mix of coincidences, with the mix of kosher prepared beef from British cows, Jewish baking of beigels, with pickles and English (Coleman’s) mustard, made a perfect blend of multicultural food. A hybridisation. This innovation appealed to the local population for two reasons; it was either a piece of their indigenous homeland or a tasty novelty, which would have been different to the roast beef that was popular throughout the time. The convenience would also be a unique selling point: A loaf of bread would be the easiest thing to eat, but when the bakeries started selling their traditional Jewish beigels, the salt beef, or salmon, herring, or pastrami they had their own little business selling a convenient snack.[44]

Raymond’s Bakery, 15 Arnold Street, in Shoreditch. Circa 1890.[45]

Throughout the years of 1850 to 1913, these bakers expanded in parallel to the Jewish population, which was on its way to tripling its number at the end of the century.[46] These ‘bakehouses’ became so popular that towards the end of the century, in the Aldgate and Whitechapel areas started working through the Sabbath to keep up with demand and expanded their opening times to twelve to nineteen hours a day.[47] With journalist Arthur Morrison reporting: On Sunday morning a smell of cooking floats round the corner from the half-shut baker’s, and the little feet trot down the street under steaming burdens of beef. . . [48]

While most of these shops, like Raymond’s on Argyle Street, were centred around Whitechapel and the ‘Jewish ghetto’, however; they started to spill out into areas such as Stoke Newington and Stanford Hill, before expanding into areas such as Moorgate, Mile End, Islington and even as far as Dalston.[49] These bakeries were famous enough to be reported in London daily newspapers by 1893 and were so popular that a reporter in The Graphic wrote in September 1874 that these Jewish bakers’ ubiquity in East London ‘made competition impossible’.[50] Reports and recipes spread out from London, commented in London Daily News, before into places like Leicestershire and Lincolnshire editorials.[51] One reporter from the Leicester Chronicle commented that the workers laboured in eighteen-hour shifts and through the Sabbath to keep up with demand.[52] These contributions to British cuisine were so important that these recipes found their way in the Jewish Cookbook which was published in Britain in 1896.[53]

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