Lockdown Recipes: Cornbread

I have noticed that during lockdown here in the UK, a lot of people finding it difficult to get hold of bread, or even the ingredients for making bread – yeast seems to be in particularly short supply. There are some wonderful ways of harvesting wild yeast, but if you aren’t confident enough to try that, how about a cornbread recipe? Cornbread is a little bit different from Hovis, I concede, but it’s delicious (especially warm from the oven, though it also freezes well) and best of all, you don’t need yeast (in fact, you can’t use yeast with corn!).

The history of cornbread reflects the deep cultural divide within black and white communities of the American Deep South. This Brit is making no claims about wading into that complex cultural heritage! But you might want to experiment with this recipe a bit to see which kind of cornbread you want to come out with – something sweet and soft, or something more savoury with a crunchy crust.

Now, you might look at the recipe below and say: “Rachel, how is this lockdown cooking? It’s got lots more ingredients than a basic loaf!” This is true. But in my grocery shops in recent weeks I’ve found it’s definitely not impossible to find food – it’s just that many of what British people consider to be staples are off the shelves. This recipe does not need strong bread flour or yeast, and instead uses cornmeal – if you can’t get that it is absolutely fine (even if it’s inauthentic!) to use polenta. Using polenta instead of fine-milled cornmeal (note: cornmeal, not cornflour – cornflour will not give you a bread at all! Leave it for your gravy!) will give you an interesting crunchy crumb that I have enjoyed in the past.

This recipe is adapted from one I found on Ocado years ago but which is no longer online. You can jazz it up by throwing in grated cheese, jalapenos, spring onions, bacon, ham, sweetcorn – really anything you like. But it is also delicious plain. And my four year old ate some today with a dollop of jam on top, so why not try it for breakfast too.


Cornbread muffins, with a lovely erratic crust provided by an enthusiastic four-year-old dolloping the mix into cases


125g cornmeal/polenta

125g flour – if you have self-raising, omit baking powder; if plain, use baking powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150ml buttermilk – if you can’t get this (though it’s not flying off the shelves!) try plain yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon juice and let it sit for five minutes

150ml milk – any kind is fine, in my experience

2 medium eggs

1 tablespoon of honey or brown sugar – optional

A generous pinch of salt

25g butter – optional – this makes it a little richer but I don’t usually bother

Heat your oven to 220C. Grease either a 1lb loaf tin, or a 9″ square tin, or a deep muffin tray – today this made 9 good-sized muffins. If you don’t have muffin cases, really do grease the heck out of the tray. This mix would probably make a dozen cupcake portions but I wonder if making them that small would dry them out. No harm in trying, though!

Mix all your dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and gradually add all the wet ingredients until just mixed together (no need to vigorously beat – it’s fine if it’s lumpy). Pour immediately into the loaf tin or muffin tins – the bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk start reacting so you want to get them in the oven straight away.

A loaf will take approximately 30 min to bake; a square tin 20 minutes; and muffins under 15 – I would check at the 12 minute mark.

Cool on a wire rack and enjoy! You can eat these straightaway. They do not keep very well for more than a day or two, so I suggest putting them in the freezer and popping a couple out when you need them.


Recipes: Spicy Chickpeas

This one is adapted from a BBC Good Food recipe. In general it has hot chilli notes to it but for families with young children you can tone down the levels of fire as I have done here.

It works really well as a hearty vegetarian dish because the chickpeas and cauliflower give it a ‘meaty texture’ but it also goes well with lamb and creamy chicken dishes.

As with the previous recipe it costs next to nothing and the ingredients last for long periods in the cupboard (even cauliflower which as vegetables go is pretty hardy in storage, but try to use this as fresh as possible of course)

You can add tomatoes and or roasted peppers if you like.


1 400g can of Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

I small cauliflower, broken into very small florets

1 red onion, chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp of cumin seeds

1 1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

250ml water

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then throw in the red onion and fry gently for 5 minutes to soften
  2. Add the cumin seeds, smoked paprika and turmeric along with the cauliflower, add salt and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently
  3. Add 250ml of water, bring to boil then simmer for 10 mins until the the cauliflower is cooked through and the sauce is reduced
  4. Add the chickpeas and cook for 2 minutes more
  5. Stir, serve and enjoy!

Recipes: Tuna Pasta

Following on from Drew’s soup here are a few of my store-cupboard favourites, beginning with Tuna Pasta. No pictures because I’m not cooking this tonight (actually I’m writing this while cooking something else).

I was given this recipe by a mate of mine from southern Italy in halls at university as an undergraduate. I was in self catered halls which was very popular with foreign students because they suspected, correctly of course, that the catering at British universities would be pretty dodgy and they wanted to cook for themselves. It has become my go-to recipe and I always have the ingredients ready in the cupboard.

The sauce serves about 4 people


80g per person of pasta (you can use anything but spaghetti, fusili or orichietta works best)

I can of Tuna Steak (this doesn’t work with fresh tuna)

1 400g can of plum tonatoes

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 brown onion

2 cloves of garlic

dried oregano

salt and pepper to season


  1. Chop the onions into small cubes and crush or chop the garlic
  2. Heat a medium sized saucepan on a medium heat and add the olive oil
  3. Gently fry the onions for 5 minutes until translucent
  4. Add the garlic for 2 minutes more
  5. Add the tuna, turn up the heat, add the oregano and fry for 2 minutes, stirring constantly
  6. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste
  7. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes
  8. Boil your pasta according to pack instructions, drain partially and reserve some of the pasta water
  9. Combine the sauce and the pasta and put in some water
  10. Add a small amount of parmesan (this works for fish dishes in small volumes, acting as a seasoning rather than a cheese flavour)
  11. Serve with some homemade garlic bread (lots of recipes online). If you have the funds try it with a soft red such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

This is the basic recipe but you can add other ingredients such as black olives, anchovies, mushrooms etc into the sauce

Enjoy! more to follow…

A pandemic in Boris Johnson’s ‘Land of Liberty’

The UK government is holding daily news conferences on the Coronavirus pandemic, and yesterday the Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to a question about further restrictions on the public – such as limiting public transport – like this:

We live in a land of liberty, as you know, and it’s one of the great features of our lives that we don’t tend to impose those sorts of restrictions on people in this country…

It was typically romantic rhetoric from Johnson, although it was an incongruous moment in a press conference dominated by scientific analysis and practical policy announcements.




The remark stuck out for me, since it is very reminiscent of the type of rhetoric I encounter when studying Britain in the eighteenth century. As I wrote about in my new book Citizenship and Gender in Britain, political culture in this period emphasised the liberties of the freeborn Englishman, and celebrated these rights as unique and enshrined in the ancient constitution. (This political culture was exported to the American colonies and ironically inspired the revolution against British rule: since this was the founding moment of the republic, this libertarian rhetoric retains an even greater purchase in the USA today than it does here.)

This was historically interesting, then, but arguably it sheds some light on British (and indeed American) responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, in contrast with other parts of the world. While many other countries closed schools and public buildings, stopped holding public events and required citizens to remain in their homes, they looked on with bafflement as Britain appeared to carry on as usual.

As late as last weekend, Britain carried out very little testing, imposed minimal restrictions, and kept pubs and schools open. Half-hearted free market solutions, such as using Deliveroo to take meals to older people, were floated. When on Monday the government changed tack after widespread public outcry, it issued advice to avoid pubs and cinemas – but did not require them actually to close.

In general, this bespoke a reluctance to tell people what to do. Even the government scientists’ own modelling took ‘behavioural fatigue’ into account: people tire of control measures, so if you start them too early then people will start disobeying them early too.

Historically, the British state has been wary of imposing anything on its citizens that could be seen to infringe their liberty. To take an issue that I have researched, the state has historically been reluctant to impose military conscription. The wars of the eighteenth century made huge manpower demands, not least because Britain’s primary rival France could always threaten to invade. But such was the horror of conscription, that the British instead relied on voluntarist initiatives and legal fudges to get men under arms. Naval impressment and the militia ballot were conscription in all but name, but gave the impression of community service and libertarianism. The remarkable thing about these responses was their effectiveness: while Revolutionary and Napoleonic France assembled huge conscripted armies, Britain got a similar proportion of its population under arms through largely voluntarist means. And it continued to avoid full conscription until things got really desperate in 1916.

The British model of citizenship tends to place the emphasis upon the citizen’s rights, whereas in many republican traditions abroad this is outweighed by the citizen’s obligations to the state. France, Italy and Spain are near neighbours facing similar problems, but their governments have had no compunction about imposing tight infection control measures, and enforcing them with their police services. It remains to be seen whether, as the situation worsens here, the British government will act in the same way.

Perhaps they won’t need to. It was striking how the government U-turned on Monday after their weeks of inaction prompted an outcry from the public and the media. People started to change their behaviour without being told to: sporting bodies led the way here, cancelling fixtures and tournaments, and fans accepted it. I’m not going to credit the government with doing this deliberately, but the public seemed happier doing something once they had made up their own minds, rather than because they were required to.

As a coda, Brexit Britain has been wallowing in Second World War nostalgia. Expect to hear a lot more about ‘the people’s war’, as plucky citizens do their bit in a time of national emergency. We’re all in this together, apparently. Except that recent scenes of panic buying have echoes of the black-marketeering, rule-breaking and looting that took place during the rationing regime of the mid-twentieth century…

Matthew McCormack

Comfort food always helps in a crisis, so here’s a very cheap recipe to keep you going.


Hello everyone.

As we struggle with the uncertainty and disruption to normal life that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought I thought it might be nice to share some basic ways to cope with isolation and a reduction in social interactions.

I am staying at home as much as possible but have stocked up (sensibly, not by panic buying) on the basics for everyday life. I love to cook and have been cooking since my teens but I recognise that quite a few of my students either don’t cook or can’t cook. When you are relying on takeaways and ready meals a crisis like this can look even more daunting.

So, starting today I thought I’d post a series of simple meals that anyone can make (so long as they’ve access to a kitchen that is!). If anyone else from the History team at Northampton wants to get involved and post their own recipes, the more the merrier! Who knows by the end of the crisis we might have enough for our own recipe book 🙂

Today’s is one of the simplest soups know to mankind – leek and potato. It is tasty, healthy, and super easy to make. It will take you 30-45 minutes so within an hour you’ve got a great healthy (and very cheap) lunch or light supper.

Drew’s Leek and potato soup 


You will need: 

One gas or electric hob ring.

A largish saucepan.

a chopping board and sharp knife.

A blender if possible (stick blenders like this one are ideal). NB don’t worry if you can’t blend your soup, it’s lovely as it is. IMG_2961

1 large leek

1 medium sized onion

1 large or 2 medium sized potatoes

About 1 litre of vegetable stock (made by adding boiling water to a veggie stock cube) – you can use chicken stock if you prefer but it won’t be vegan or veggie.

About a tablespoon of olive oil (you can use sunflower or vegetable oil just as well) and/or a large knob of butter. (Butter will make this richer but its not vegan).

Salt and pepper and (if possible) a bay leaf or two (these are easy to get from the shops and last for ages so they won’t go off).

Wash your hands !!!

Ok, to start with peel and roughly chop your onion . It doesn’t have to be too fine. Then slice the leek lengthways and separate the layers. You can now wash it under the tap holding on to the end where the root is. Make sure you get all the dirt out.

Now chop the leek in to slices about 1cm think. Again, don’t be too worried about perfection here!


Finally peel and chop the potato (above) into 1-2cm sized pieces.



You’re now ready to cook. 

Hate the oil and/or butter in the saucepan and quickly add your onion. Don’t have the heat too high, you want to gently soften the onion not burn it. When it is beginning to look a little translucent add the leeks. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until the leeks look nice and soft and have reduced down in the pan. Stir them from time to time so they don’t burn.

Now add the chopped potatoes, stir so everything gets nicely mixed together and pour in the stock.


Add some salt (a large pinch should do it), a grind of black pepper, and a bay leaf or two.


Bring to a gentle boil, turn the hurt down and simmer for about 20-25 minutes.

The idea is to make sure everything is cooked, the leeks and onion are soft, and the potato is beginning to break up. Test it with a spoon (right). IMG_2962

The soup is now pretty much ready to eat. You can taste it (be careful it will be very hot – potato really retains its heat – so wait a few minutes) and add some more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

Take out the bay leaf (you can eat them but they aren’t nice to eat!)

At this point you can ladle it in bowls and eat but I prefer it blended so take it away from the heat, let it cool for five more minutes and attack it with a stick blender.

Be careful that the head of the blender is always under the liquid or you will pebbledash your kitchen (and yourself) with hot soup!

Once you’ve blended it for a few minutes it will be mostly smooth but check for escaped potato cubes. If you want to be really fancy you can pass it through a large sieve for super smoothness.


Now all you need is a bowl (or two or three if you are feeding others), a spoon, and perhaps some bread. This recipe will make enough for 3-4 hungry people so you can either eat seconds or let it cool, cover, and keep it in the fridge and have for lunch tomorrow or the next day.



oh, and when you’ve done…wash your hands again.





Learning in Lambeth


Jim Beach reports on the second-year field trip to the Imperial War Museum.

IWM ART1257 (Convoy North Sea 1918) (002)

John Lavery, “A Convoy, North Sea, 1918.” Imperial War Museum

February’s weather has been fickle these past few years.  The First World War module’s visit to the Imperial War Museum has often coincided with snow flurries or clear, bright winter’s days.  But this year’s story was, on the way in at least, one of very heavy rain.

Because it was wet and the school half-term, the museum seemed more crowded than usual.  But this did not hinder the second years in reaching the entrance to First World War galleries at the appointed hour.  Then, primed by a short briefing and the promise of a debrief in the pub afterwards, they sallied forth into the melee of mums, dads, grandparents, and kids.

Although constrained by the relatively small footprint of its building in in Lambeth, South London, the museum has managed to pack a great deal of material into these galleries.  There is always something new to discover, and the displays reflect the quality and quantity of the IWM’s collections.

Our module’s field trip is deliberately timed.  By mid-February the students have covered three-quarters of the syllabus.  This means they know enough so not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information.  And pennies often drop as sections of the galleries reinforce material covered earlier in class.




University of Northampton, 10-11 September 2020

Across history people have used letters to communicate. Letters were used in the exchange of news, emotions and opinions; they constructed networks, formed and destroyed friendships and relationships. Personal correspondence has been intrinsic to human society, bonding and breaking links between individuals, family and social groups.

Historians have been alert to the value of the contents of letters for a wide range of historical perspectives. Similarly we have fixed our gaze on the letters as objects and as processes. Much of this work, however, has concentrated on specific and often quite short periods. The eighteenth century has dominated the field, although women’s letters in the early modern period have also focused minds.

In this conference and in the planned resulting edited collection we will for the first time chart the development of the English language letter and other personal correspondence, which we define loosely as correspondence sent from a named individual to other named individual/s. Papers are invited on any social, cultural, economic or political theme, and we welcome contributions that interpret the medium of “correspondence” creatively. From the gentry letters of the late medieval period through to the rise of the postcard in the mid-nineteenth century to the prison pen pal services in the present day, personal correspondence takes many forms in material, cultural and generic terms.

While we have chosen to focus on English language correspondence for this collection, we welcome contributions that represent history beyond the United Kingdom and North America, and would particularly welcome contributions that centre BAME, LGBT and women’s voices.  We warmly welcome contributions from postgraduate and early career researchers. We are applying for funding to support travel and registration costs for ECR/postgraduate attendees, though we won’t be able to confirm the details of that for a little while.

We invite abstracts of a maximum 200 words to be submitted by Friday 15 May. 

All contributions and enquiries should be addressed to Rachel.moss@northampton.ac.uk and mark.rothery@northampton.ac.uk



Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

It’s Snow Joke: History and the Media

Senior lecturer Mark Rothery writes about his recent interactions with the media, and what that means for historical research. Mark also discussed some of these themes on TALKRadio –select the 4:30-5:00 clip and go to three minutes in. 

On 4th February this year the new Times Online history correspondent published an article called ‘Snowflakes are not only a Modern Phenomenon’ (I won’t give this copy by including a link). This article, and the several others that followed, were based on my research with Professor Henry French, at the University of Exeter, into the male anxieties of younger sons of the landed gentry in eighteenth and nineteenth century England published in The Historical Journal last year.

It is flattering when people outside the academy are interested in your research. This particular topic of anxiety is, of course, the focus of public attention at the moment. Lots more people are talking about it and, perhaps, suffering from it than previously. I’ve commented elsewhere on this blogspace about the subject.

The trouble with this kind of dissemination, though, is the politicisation of interpretation. If you read our article (which I hope you will) you’ll see that we never used the term ‘Snowflakes’ and we certainly do not support the use of this term in reference to our research.


Finding Love: Researching LGBTQ+ Histories in the Archives

Senior lecturer Caroline Nielsen writes: 

What sources are available for historians interested in historic LGBTQ+ experiences?

The answer is that there is a surprisingly large amount of materials now available to us. We just need to know where to look and how to access it. So, please allow me to introduce some excellent introductory resources, and some tips on using them. Most of these collections focus on late 19th and early 20th centuries collections. I’ve tried to provide links for all.


“Love” by Shaira Dela Peña

Primary Sources and Key Movements               

Key national collections and research guides about LGBTQ+ activism in the UK include:







Call for Papers: ‘Innovations in Teaching Eighteenth-Century History’

Online workshop hosted by the University of Northampton, 25 June 2020


HogarthWanstead cropped

William Hogarth, ‘The Assembly at Wanstead House’ (c. 1728-32): Wikimedia Commons

In recent decades, the eighteenth century has been a notable growth area in historical studies and related disciplines. Since its study was long neglected, historians of the period tended to work with scholars from other disciplines under the banner of ‘eighteenth-century studies’, leading to a field that is often interdisciplinary and theoretically-informed. Research areas that currently receive attention include – among many others – the histories of colonialism, material culture, emotions, sexuality and ecology. Given that the eighteenth century is often regarded as a foundational one for the modern world, much of this research has an overt contemporary relevance.

The eighteenth century is now widely taught in UK History departments, but it also presents challenges. Students will typically not have encountered it as part of their school curriculum, they may have preconceptions that are offputting, and the source material can be appear longwinded or illegible. Much of this source material is now online, so students require digital skills to evaluate it. The theoretical and interdisciplinary nature of some of the critical writings can also make it challenging to teach, especially at undergraduate level. It can therefore be a tough sell, whereas academics of the period are keen to convey that this is a fascinating and important period to study.

This day workshop will therefore reflect on how we teach the history of the long eighteenth century, focusing on pedagogical innovation and current developments in the discipline. Themes could include:

  • Teaching the digital eighteenth century
  • Decolonising the eighteenth-century curriculum
  • Mental wellbeing and neurodiversity
  • LGBT+ history in the classroom
  • Pedagogy and the environmental crisis
  • Eighteenth-century studies and postgraduate learning
  • Teaching and learning with material objects

Please send 300 word proposals for papers or workshop sessions to matthew.mccormack@northampton.ac.uk by 20 April 2020.

UPDATE: due to the COVID-19 situation, we have extended the deadline for proposals, and plan to hold the workshop online. Please watch this space for further details.

The event is funded by the East Midlands Centre for Learning and Teaching in History. Participation is free of charge.

The event is organised by Matthew McCormack (Northampton), Ruth Larsen (Derby) and Alice Marples (Oxford).