A Gothic Cookbook – Daphne Du Maurier’s Afternoon Tea

When Ella Buchan, the co-author of ‘A Gothic Cookbook’, contacted me and suggested that we collaborated on a post that combined Cornwall, gothic literature and cakey tea there was no way I was going to say no!

And on the lead up to Halloween the idea just seemed perfect! Over to Ella to tell you more . . .


Oh, and look out for the exclusive discount code at the end of this post!

A guest post by Ella Buchan, co-author of A Gothic Cookbook – including a recipe inspired by the afternoon tea spreads served at Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca

Few writers are so intricately and deeply connected to Cornwall, and particularly its wildly beautiful coastline, than Daphne du Maurier. That connection extends to her delicious descriptions of food, too.

I’m the co-author of A Gothic Cookbook, which celebrates food in the gothic genre through a blend of literary discussion, recipes and hand-drawn illustrations. Each of the 13 chapters focuses on a different novel or short story, teasing out the edible imagery and themes before sharing recipes inspired by the text. This includes a section dedicated to Du Maurier’s classic ghost story, Rebecca.

Illustration by Lee Henry from ‘A Gothic Cookbook’.

While some authors describe food rather prosaically and others bury sinister subtext beneath heaps of jellied meats and inside pretty boxes of bonbons, Du Maurier manages to do both. Sometimes food can seem incidental, indicating a sadness, fear or distractedness in the scene or a character, often however it is decadently described and used as cleverly as any of her prose.

The novel’s grand setting is widely believed to be inspired by Menabilly near Fowey, Cornwall. Du Maurier apparently became fixated with the coastal estate as a young woman and eventually persuaded the owners to allow her to rent it with her family.

In Rebecca, the head housekeeper Mrs Danvers jealously controls what happens in Manderley, particularly what food is served and when. This includes, of course, a traditional Cornish afternoon tea, served at “half past four” on the dot, with a frigid fuss and formality that overwhelms the second Mrs de Winter and brings a chilling contrast to the toasty and typically comforting baked goods on offer:

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, floury scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier cousin, bursting with peel and raisins.”

A Gothic Cookbook
The Very Special Gingerbread, illustration by Lee Henry from ‘A Gothic Cookbook’.

In the cookbook, we’ve recreated every element of that afternoon tea, starting with historically and geographically typical recipes and thoroughly testing and tweaking so that they’re as delicious as Du Maurier’s writing.

Among the dishes that make up the lavish spread is “that very special gingerbread”. Du Maurier doesn’t elaborate on what makes it so very special, so we’ve based ours on the classic Victorian loaf style, brightened it with a crisp, brisk lemon icing and elevated it with a glug of rum.


Recipe: That Very Special Gingerbread

Makes 1 medium loaf (around 10 slices)


400g plain flour

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tbsp ground ginger

125g unsalted butter

200g soft brown sugar

250ml black treacle

Zest 1/2 a lemon

2 medium eggs, beaten

50ml rum (or you can add 1tsp rum flavouring or lemon extract)

For the lemon glaze: 

50g icing sugar

Zest 1 lemon

Juice 1/2 lemon (plus a little more if needed)

A Gothic Cookbook

1. Butter and line a medium loaf tin. Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4.

2. Add the butter, brown sugar and treacle to a small saucepan and melt over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth (around 5 minutes). Tip: place the pan on the scales and re-set the scales to zero before measuring out the ingredients; it’ll save on mess, waste and washing up.

3. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the mixture from the saucepan along with the rum (or extract) and lemon zest. Beat with wooden spoon until combined. It should look smooth and silky, like melted toffee.

4. Beat in the eggs, working quickly to avoid scrambling them (as the batter will still be warm).

5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake, testing after around 45 minutes with a wooden skewer. If it comes out almost clean (you still want a little stickiness), it’s done. If not, pop it back in for another 5-10 minutes, covering loosely with foil if it already has a crust.

6. Leave in the tin until cooled enough to touch, then tip onto a wire rack to cool completely.

7. To make the icing, mix together the icing sugar and lemon zest, then gradually add lemon juice until you have a smooth, slightly runny icing, adding more juice if needed. 

8. Once the loaf has cooled completely, drizzle over the icing. Don’t worry if it pools around the loaf – it will thicken as it cools, and you can scoop up any that’s escaped. Allow to set before slicing, to serve.

Supporting A Gothic Cookbook & Exclusive Discount Code!

A gothic Cookbook

A Gothic Cookbook, by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino and illustrated by Lee Henry, is crowdfunding via Unbound Publishing. You can find a synopsis, a list of recipes, author biographies and excerpts from our Frankenstein and Rebecca chapters here: https://unbound.com/books/a-gothic-cookbook/ 

If you would like to support this project and have your name included in the back of the book pledges start at £25 but . . .

**Readers of The Cornish Bird Blog can use the code CORNISH10 for 10% off until midnight on October 30th 2021.

Further Reading:

Daphne du Maurier at Menabilly, Cornwall

Review: The Cornish Cook Book

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