Audley End and Mrs Crocombe

Image of Audley EndHave you met Avis Crocombe? You really should. In the 1880s she was head cook to Lord and Lady Braybrooke at Audley End, a lovely old house near Saffron Walden in Essex. But 180 years after her birth she’s come roaring back to life as an internet sensation.

She was first reinvented 11 years ago by food historian Dr Annie Grey, working with English Heritage, who maintain the house. But she’s personified now by historical interpreter Kathy Hipperson, who portrays her in a series of cookery videos which have gone viral.

Mrs Crocombe is hugely popular in the United States and, as they say, big in Japan. Oddly, she’s less well known in her native country. Check out the videos, they’re very entertaining and more have just been filmed.

Image of Kathy Hipperson in the Audley End kitchen

Kathy Hipperson in the Audley End kitchen (not in costume today)

In a lovely twist to the tale, Annie and Kathy had been ‘doing’ Mrs Crocombe for about a year, mostly using Eliza Acton’s recipes, when a descendent of the man Avis married happened to visit the house.

He told them he’d been clearing out his attic and had found a book which mentioned Audley End. It turned out to be Mrs Crocombe’s hand-written recipe notes.

Image of kitchen dresser

They now form the basis of many of the dishes cooked in Audley End’s kitchens and have inspired a cookery book, currently in development, which English Heritage plans to publish in the autumn.

For a sneak preview of one of the recipes, re-interpreted by Annie Grey, zip to the bottom of this post. I haven’t tried it out, but if it’s good enough for Dr Grey, it’s good enough for me.

Image of the kitchen range

A top of the range range

Kathy is actually one of four Mrs Crocombes who work at the house and if you visit you’ll usually find one of them cooking with the help of a kitchen maid. Pop in and have a chat.

As you can see from the pictures, the service wing alone is worth a visit, but the main house and gardens are a big draw. The stables, service wing and gardens are open now. The main house (please check the website) is open to the public from April 1.

Image of the Audley End laundry room

The Audley End laundry room

Image of the Audley End pantry

The pantry

Image of saucepan above the range

Mrs Crocombe's Chocolate Pudding

  • Servings: I'm guessing 4-6
  • Print

“1/2 lb chocolate, 5 oz breadcrumbs, 1/4 lb caster sugar, 1/2 pint milk, 4 eggs & 5 oz butter. Put the chocolate, milk, crumbs and butter in a stewpan to thicken. When quite thick put into a basin. Divide the yolks from the whites & cook the yolks well up with the sugar & add to the other ingredients. Then well whip the whites & add. Mix all slightly, pour into a mould and steam one hour. Serve very hot with cream in a jug. It is very nice cut in slices & eaten cold as well as hot.”

Ingredients:

1/2 lb good quality plain chocolate

5 oz breadcrumbs

1/2 pint of milk, full fat or semi-skimmed

5 oz butter

1/4 lb caster sugar

3 eggs

Method:

Melt the chocolate with the milk and butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the breadcrumbs and simmer until thick. Put aside.

Make a custard by bringing the yolks and sugar to the boil, stirring all the time until thick. Add this to the chocolate.

Whip the whites until they form soft peaks and fold into the mixture. Pour into buttered pudding basins, cover the tops with greaseproof paper and foil (or a pudding cloth) and steam until they are hard to the touch. For a 1 pint basin this will take about 45 minutes.

Alternatively, you can bake them in a roasting tin filled with water.

Image of Kathy Hipperson

26 thoughts on “Audley End and Mrs Crocombe

  1. Haven’t been to Audley End for years. Love the sound of Mrs Crocombe but wish I could stop thinking of her in my head as Mrs Slocombe!

  2. Thank you Linda! I’m with my parents at the moment and my mum is binge watching these now. Always rely on you to keep us informed. ??

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  3. Thanks for introducing us to this series. It looks like a lot of fun. The setting is gorgeous and the production value of the videos is really excellent. I’d love to visit Audley Endβ€”though not today, apparently, since the website says it’s closed due to high winds… !

  4. Linda, this is my kind of stuff. Thanks for sharing the info on “The Victorian Way” series. I just watched the “How to Make Custard Pudding” and I’m hooked. What a fun place to visit. Wouldn’t you love to cook in that kitchen?

  5. oh yes i’m a huge fan of these videos. and i love annie grey, and kathy hipperson. i also love to watch the american historical cooking videos on youtube – the townsends. such fun. i love the way you already had to know how to cook in those days. recipes are so bald:) cheers sherry

    • Oh, I haven’t come across the Townsends, must look them up. Thanks, Sherry! And yes, such skill involved in cooking over open fires and when ranges didn’t have temperature dials!

  6. How fun! I’ll have to watch the videos at my office as our ultra-expensive and metered country internet makes it difficult. And, wow, what a pantry!

  7. Oooh thank you so much for sharing this~! I followed your lead and now I’m glued to my screen, watching these vids~! I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to historical recipes and everything that goes along with them πŸ˜€ Since Hubby and I are sitting right smack in the middle of a region which, littered with medieval castles and the magnificent residences of electoral princes, princesses, lords and ladies of ages past, is kind of a tourist-magnet, snooping around our own food history has always been an easy thing to do. With the massive increase of interest in all things Food, many of these historical institutions have put a lot of effort into the research. documentation and development of their food-related history in recent years and given their own edible history new life. sometimes in “modern” restaurants, sometimes even in the original castle kitchens and bakehouses that were once rumored to be fired by the dragons guarding the castle’s treasury… Getting to peek into the kitchens of the grand households of England really tickled the little, spoon-swinging kid in me awake πŸ™‚ Thanks again, must go watch more videos now, taaaa~!

    • Ha, I love the idea of dragon-fuelled kitchens. Would also love to visit your castle kitchens some time (well, not necessarily yours, but you know what I mean. Anyway, they should be yours, I’m sure). Glad you’re enjoying
      the videos, binge-watching Mrs Crocombe is a great way to while away a rainy afternoon. πŸ™‚

    • Have you watched The Townsends on youtube? also fabulous 18th century cooking but from an american perspective. i love them! cheers sherry

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