Friday 20 September 2013

Quince and Walnut Garibaldis, Call the Midwife and Alphabakes

In which I make old fashioned biscuits, Gaibaldis, with an old fashioned fruit, quince.  These biscuits were considered post-war treats in Call the Midwife tv series and demonstrate just how life has changed since then.

Television show: Call the Midwife, historical medical drama, UK,

What does it mean to me?
Call the Midwife is one of those British dramas that make me slight at the beautiful photograph, poignnant stories, compassionate characters and insight into another time.  It is based on true life memoirs from the 1950s about young midwives living in a convent and serving the mothers and babies in the improverished suburb of Poplar in London's East End.

We could argue that it is about more innocent times.  At times this is a gentle and joyful innocence.  Home midwife visits, home births, baby shows, and babies left outside in prams because the mother knew the neighbours.  At other times it is a cruel and harmful innocence that forgets humanity when it sees a darker coloured skin, that doesn't understand a mother's grief, that fears the pill and insists women suffer the physical and financial hardship of being frequently pregnant rather than take the pill.

I have a particular fondness for Twentieth Century history.  It is a time of such rapid change.  That it is still remembered firsthand by many among us means we have such rich details and understanding of this change.  Unlike a lot of history, this is a different time and yet it feels within reach.  I can almost touch it.  So you might not be surprised to know that the two history theses I did at university were both focused on the Twentieth Century.  One on 1920s Paris literary history and one on the history of a Melbourne welfare organisation that had homes for unmarried mothers, babies, wayward boys and girls with venereal disease.

Seeing Call the Midwife, often brings back images from the welfare history I wrote as part of my Masters thesis.  Cast iron cots, chubby innocent baby cheeks, nurses in starched linen and many good intentions.  If you want to find out more about the history of childbirth in Melbourne, I can highly recommend Janet McCalman's book, Sex and Suffering: Women's Health and a Women's Hospital.

Quinces - a bit past their best but at least they survived a few weeks in the fridge
Food moment:
The show explores the implications of many changes.  New standards of hygiene, TB x-ray programs and replacing bicycles with moterised scooters.  In the last episode of Series 2, the nurses main character Nurse Jenny Lee meets a photographer, Alec, who helps to fix one of the new scooters.  As he tinkers with it, he is sent out a cuppa and a garibaldi biscuit by the head of the convent, Sr Julienne (played by the ever-lovely Jenny Agutter).  Jenny and Alex talk about how they used to call them 'fly cemeteries' when they were young and how welcome they were during rationing.

These biscuits bring together Jenny and Alec who have already been out on a date.  Food is like that.  It represents nurturing, shared memories and time to relax and laugh.  Food also reflects our society.  In the 1950s these biscuits were regarded as a treat by people who had been through food rationing during and after the war.

It is a sign of the times that these biscuits don't inspire joy in the same way that they once did.  When I mentioned to E that I had made them, he commented that garibaldis were biscuits that disappointed because they weren't chocolate.  Bee Wilson of the Telegraph describes them as "a dry and dusty taste of Victoriana".  Then there is the description by Uncyclopedia: "Garibaldi biscuits continue to turn up in the bottom half of pensioners' biscuit barrels where they mature to stale sogginess over the years beyond their sell by date before being offered to and inadvertently eaten by a visitor, usually the local vicar,"  How spoilt we have become since the days of Call the Midwife.

[Food can also divide because we don't all have shared memories so I shall pause to note here for my American readers that these biscuits would be called cookies in America.]

Recipe notes:
Garibaldis, named after the Italian general, were invented over 150 years ago in 1861 by Peek Freans in Bermondsley, London.  These 'revolutionary biscuits' are a traditional British creation of currents sandwiched between two thin biscuits.  I did not grow up with garibaldi biscuits so I am still a little unsure about how crisp or soft they should be.

I think we had a similar biscuits in Australia but haven't been able to find a name that rings a bell (any suggestions welcome).  I have some memories of the strip of 5 biscuits that had to be pulled apart and apparently Peek Freans exported to Australia.  (My memory of the brand name Garibaldi in Australia is the ill-fated Garibaldi Smallgoods who were closed down after a food poisoning outbreak in the 1990s.)

Initially I intended to follow Choclette's lead and make chocolate garibaldis.  Everything tastes better with chocolate.  Then I remembered the quinces that had sat in the fridge for a weeks and finally been poached.  They are quite gritty and not quite edible by themselves.  So I mashed some up with the currants and added a few walnuts too.  While they weren't overwhelming me with the heady quince perfume, there was a nice fruity notes that I enjoyed.  Apple or pear could be used instead of quince in this recipe.

We all enjoyed the biscuits.  Even E was pleasantly surprised and found them a good snack to take to work.  They were soft rather than crunchy but held their shape well.  There was far more biscuit than filling. I wasn't sure if they had enough filling.  And while I enjoyed them, I think I might even prefer a chocolate version.

Random notes:
I was relieved to finally getting around to baking these.  I have had them on my to-do list since I saw the last episode of Call the Midwife which I think was in May.  I wanted to make them to take on our recent holiday to Port Fairy but just didn't have the time.  I finally made them in the evening this week just before dinner.  Not great timing.  Sylvia was intent on snatching biscuits warm off the rack before dinner.  They were lovely but there were vegies to be eaten.

I was so excited to make them that I wanted to post about them straight away but finding time to write this post has been a struggle to find time.  I would have written the post last night but I had to wrap Christmas presents.  Yes, you heard correctly.  It has been a busy week of Christmas shopping to get the presents ready to send to E's family in Scotland.  Today is the Australia Post cut-off date when they guarantee sea mail parcels will arrive in time for Christmas. 

A quick note about the top photo.  I was experimenting with an idea that I stumbled across recently (not sure where).  I sat a plate on top of an upturned cup.  The old style cake stand that resulted seemed quite right for these old fashioned biscuits.

I am sending these biscuits to Caroline of Caroline Makes who is hosting September AlphaBakes.  Caroline and co-host, Roz of The More than Occasional Baker, choose a different letter each month and challenge bloggers to bake something either with ingredients or a recipe starting with that letter.  This month the letter is Q so Quince and Walnut Garibaldis fits it perfectly.

More vegan biscuits (aka cookies) on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Quince Garibaldi Biscuits
Adapted from Chocolate Log Blog and Passionfruit Garden
Makes about 20-24 squares

75g mashed poached quinces
75g currants
25g walnuts (5 unshelled wlanuts), finely chopped
280g flour (half white, half wholemeal)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
50g brown sugar
110g butter or margarine (I used nuttalex)
6 tbsp syrup from poached quinces, or as required

Preheat oven to 180 C and line two baking trays with baking paper.  Mix quince, currants and walnuts.  Set aside.

Place flour(s), baking powder, salt, sugar and butter in food processor and blend til it takes on the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.  Add quince syrup 1-2 tbsp at a time until the dough comes together into a ball.  (If you look at my method photos you may notice that mine wasn't actually quite a ball but it shaped into a ball when taken out of the food processor.)

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface until it is about 0.5cm thick.  Try and shape it into a rectangle as much as possible.  Cut in half and spread one half with quince mixture.  Place other half on top, shape a little so there is no overhang if possible.  Roll out again to about 0.3cm thick on a well floured surface (mine stuck slightly because I didn't use enough flour).

Cut into squares and place on baking trays with about 1-2 cm between each square.  Mine were about 5-6cm squares but I think I would do them smaller next time.  The ragged trimmings can be scrunched up and rolled up again or, as I did, just place these odd shapes on the tray.  Prick with a fork (I forgot but it looks better).

Bake for 15 minutes until lightly coloured and looking cooked.  Cool on a tray and keep in an airtight container at room temperature.

On the Stereo: 
The Definitive Collection - June Tabor

This post is part of Vegan Month of Food September 2013.  This year for Vegan MoFo I am cooking recipes inspired by favourite tv shows - and veering off topic occasionally.  Go to my Vegan MoFo list for more of my Vegan MoFo posts. 


  1. These look gorgeous! Love the show too :) quinces are very underrated I find!

  2. These look great! The only fruity biscuit things I remember were called (I think) Fruit Slice. When my dad was working, he'd 'accidentally' bring home a packet of biscuits from the canteen. We used to get Jam Fancies, Kingstons (WHAT a treat) or the Fruit Slices. And when we got the Fruit Slices we'd be all ohh... it's Fruit Slices again. Poor dad never got the hint when they'd be sitting there uneaten.

    Hmmm, Fruit Slices doesn't seem right. A quick google brings up 'Full O' Fruit' but that doesn't really ring the right bell either. Anyway, your biscuits look fab and I've bookmarked them :) I really enjoyed Call the Midwife, though I've only seen the first series.

    1. Thanks Veganopoulous - the fruit slices look like the one I was thinking about - I don't remember the name but I remember the biscuit - loved Kingstons - agree with E that garibaldis would disappoint me because I would prefer chocolate bikkies

  3. Garibaldis! So many childhood memories associated with them! I actually think the store-bought ones might be vegan but I haven't checked...
    Your version sound delicious. I've only eaten quinces poached with pears but they are so so tasty like that.
    I've never watched "Call the Midwife" either although I know it's very popular. I don't have a tv so haven't really seen any of the more recent programmes.

  4. oh my word, I've been thinking about garidbaldis a lot recently (maybe I need to get out more?!) but I've been craving them for ages, and never got around to making them. Thank you for the recipe - I need these in my life!

  5. The biscuits look amazing, and your step by step pictures make the whole process look completely do-able!

    I read the book that The Midwife is based on and some parts made me cry and cry. Beautiful narration, though.

  6. Sorry love; I had to skip reading this post because Call the Midwife is next on my to-watch list, now that I've finished (sob) Bomb Girls!

    1. @hannah - never heard of bomb girls but call the midwife is amazing - I hope I haven't included spoilers - let me know if you love the series as much I did

  7. I'm not familiar with this show either and I don't think I've eaten anything that involves quinces before. These biscuits reminded me of the Full O Fruit biscuits too although I couldn't think of the name until I saw the comment from veganopoulous. One of my grandparents was fond of these bikkies but I don't recall them having nuts in them.

    They look impressive!

    1. @mel - they don't usually have nuts - I just added them because I had walnuts about and I love them - would add them if making these again

  8. I LOVE Call the Midwife!! Such a great show.

    Kind of want to snack on these while I devour the newest season!

  9. I am really glad that you found a way to post this. I cannot tell you how much I love quinces. I think I ran out of ideas what to do with them, so this is perfect. Those biscuits look super delicious!

    1. @Mihl - I have a few quince recipes in my blog - my mum always got them from a friend when I was little so I find they make me nostalgic - they are great in cakes and fruit crumbles

  10. I love your impromptu cake stand and absolutely love the look of these biscuits. Like others have noted, they remind me of Full o Fruit biscuits but seem immeasurably better!

  11. I really like your post - I do something similar where I bake inspired by books and films, I hadn't thought about TV shows but that's a good idea! Thanks for entering Alphabakes.

  12. These look fabulous Johanna and the inclusion of quince is far more adventurous than my chocolate. Thank you for linking to that. I'm thinking it's about time I went out and bought another packet of Garabaldi biscuits!


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