Birmingham is a city located in the English West Midlands, a general damp weather gives a certain glow to the hundreds of beautiful Victorian industrial buildings.
The foundational part of the city is located in what is now known as the Digbeth District, there were two other settlements around two parishes and those are: Aston, famous for its university and business school and Deritend within the city. The first modern settlement dates back to the 7th century.
We happen to be lucky enough to live next to the very famous pub: The Old Crown, the oldest secular building in Birmingham.
Another very distinctive building –and foodie landmark- is the Custard Factory, just across the street from the Old Crown.
Custard is a creamy and sweet sauce infused with vanilla and can be served warm or cold with puddings. Traditionally is made with egg whites, milk, sugar and vanilla, other alternatives include corn starch as a thickening agent and other flavourings such as whiskey, orange or cinnamon.
But let’s go back to the exiting Victorian times when all sorts of inventions from transport, to industry, food and communications transformed our lives forever.
Alfred Bird, a former Etonian boy from Gloucestershire was a very successful chemist who had settled his business at the centre of Birmingham, the largest and wealthiest cities of England back in the day.
Mrs Bird (Or Mrs Custard as I like to call her) loved custard like any respectable person would but had a terrible allergy to eggs.
So Mr Bird diligently worked on a formula that would give the closes result possible in both: flavour and consistency and although the result might seem surprisingly simple even innocent to us it was a revolutionary invention.
By mixing corn starch, a bit of food colouring to compensate for the yolky colour and vanilla essence he was able to provide his wife with a safe and equally nice alternative to custard.
Although the custard wasn’t initially meant for commercial purposes it was almost evident that there was a market for convenient mixes that only needed adding water and sugar saving time and money to busy housewives so it hit the shealves with great sucess in 1837.
But there’s still more we owe to Mrs Bird’s allergies, she also suffered from an acute sensitivity to yeast and so in 1843 Alfred came up with another game-changer invention: Baking Powder. The formula creates a chemical reaction between powdered carbonate and bicarbonate that substitutes the leavening process when naturally fermenting a dough with yeast
Bird was not content to revolutionise custard but went on to invent a baking powder in 1843 so he could make yeast-free bread for his wife. This formula for baking powder is essentially the same as used in modern baking powders.
Although it is mostly used in pastry and cake making, soda breads and baking-powder leavened breads are also easy to make.
Nowadays the beautiful industrial buildings that were part of the custard factory –unlike most architectural heritage in Birmingham– has been restored but remains almost empty except for a handful of cafes, shops and boutiques which is of course shame as it is an amazing space full of possibilities. If only this building was in Shoreditch… as MrD’d say!
So there you have it, two –edible- Brummie inventions, here are just some amazing contributions:
- The Industrial cotton spinning machine
- The lovely Baskerville serif font created in 1757 by John Baskerville
- The freaking Steam engine!!
- Cadbury’s chocolate bars, tea and coffee were produced/processed in Birmingham
- Pen Nibs that were proudly produced here and had 75% of the world’s pen nib’s market
- Skateboard wheels (write that down you hipsters!)
- Brylcreem for that lovely greasy and shiny hair
- The electric kettle
- HP Sauce
- The ever so necessary bicycle bell
- The method for finger print analysis
It is still astounds me why the city is so neglected, after all Birmingham is the cradel of the Industrial revolution. I am nonetheless thrilled to be in a city that has for sure, shaped our modern lives in so many ways. Thank you Birmingham!