Tamsin Constable

Emma Darwin’s Cheese Straws

Charles Darwin married Emma Wedgewood in 1838. And what a woman she was! She copy-edited On the Origin of Species for him, while running a household of 12 servants and giving birth to 10 children in 17 years. She kept a meticulous domestic budget, which included categories for things such as meat, candles, soap, loaf-sugar (sugar in a block), tea, eggs and bread. And she grew masses of vegetables (though with 12 servants, her nailbrush probably didn’t get much use).

Emma, basically, facilitated Darwin. Thanks to her, he was able to pursue his career as scientist and author. She may even have kept him alive, according to Dusha Bateson, co-author of Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book (2008), a compendium of updated recipes from Emma’s own, partially leather-bound, hand-written cookbook. “Darwin had a lot of illnesses,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of evidence that suggests he wouldn’t have survived without Emma being there to prop him up and keep him going.”

So I simply can’t think of any better way to celebrate Darwin’s birthday than to go off right now, turn the oven on, think imperial, imagine an army of servants to do my bidding, and eat Emma’s cheese straws.

Cheese Straws
1 ½ ounces parmesan, finely grated
1 ½ ounces plain flour
¾ ounce butter, cut into small cubes
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a little salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whiz the first 5 ingredients in a food processor until nicely blended. Add enough milk so that, with the machine running slowly, the pastry shows signs of coming together. Pour the mixture onto a floured surface and knead quickly into a ball. Roll out the pastry until it is very thin. Cut into strips – about ¼ inch wide and 3 inches long. Place on baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Carefully transfer onto a wire rack and leave to cool. They will become crisp and easier to handle as they cool. Store in an airtight tin. Makes about 40.

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