February 3, 2015

The Secret Recipe to Mantel Mania


British investigative journalism reaches its peak.

British investigative journalism reaches its peak.

Back in 2010, a well-respected author named Hilary Mantel wrote a new novel. She called it Wolf Hall. It fell into the genre known as historical fiction, but as critics and readers soon pointed out, Mantel had finally made the genre respectable, literary even. A flurry of press attention followed. Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize. A flurry of press attention followed again. In 2012, Mantel published a sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. There was, as might be expected, a flurry of press attention. This novel also won the Man Booker Prize. And, you guessed it, there did occur a flurry of press attention.

All of this was to be expected. Mantel is now one of, if not the, leading novelist in Britain. But for those of us who thought that news outlets had exhausted every possible angle on Thomas Cromwell and Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies, we were dead wrong. As dead as Anne Boleyn after her beheading (spoiler alert!) and as wrong as Cardinal Wolsey was to Henry in his final days.

For it did not occur to us to consider the onslaught that television fame would bring.

Since the BBC’s excellent adaptation of Wolf Hall began two weeks ago, British journalism has strained every possible investigative muscle to bring readers original related stories. There have been fresh career round-ups, features on how the Tudors were really just like us (only, well, bloodier), think pieces on who Thomas Cromwell really was, think pieces on whether Thomas More was a feminist, comparisons to Game of Thronesdefences of intelligent television adaptations of intelligent novels, as well as property pages dedicated to places that look like scenes from the TV show.

But the winner of best new Wolf Hall angle goes to the story of the Original Maids of Honour tarts. I’m talking about custard pastries. As both the Evening Standard and Daily Mail report, Newens teahouse, a family-run bakery in London’s Kew, claims to be the only one in the world to possess the secret recipe to the Portuguese tarts that Henry VIII so loved.

According to the Daily Mail:

It’s said the King, then still married to Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon, was introduced to the delicacy by Anne Boleyn.

Anne, who was then the queen’s lady-in-waiting, was sharing a plate of the tarts in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace with her maids of honour.

The King was so taken by the simple pastry tart, which is made using rennet, he ordered the recipe – and Anne’s Maid of Honour who baked them – to be locked up at Hampton Court.

They were released only to produce the Maids of Honour tarts for the king and his court.

It’s believed that the recipe was kept a Court secret for 200 years until a palace cook divulged the details to a local baker, who began making the tarts, and the recipe was then passed on down the generations. Newens teahouse now reports that it has seen a sharp rise in demand for the pastries since the TV show began. The current owner of the bakery told the Daily Mail:

We’re already doubling our production of Maids of Honour because we’re expecting a big rise in visitors after the success of Wolf Hall.

You know Mantel mania really has swept the nation when people are ransacking local bakeries just to get their hands on a tangential Portuguese pastry: hearts, minds and stomachs have been well and truly captured. And in a twist to this tale, I too readers have sampled the Original Maids of Honour. A whole box of them in fact. They were good enough to make you lose your head.*



*I’m not sorry.




Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.