By Tallulah Maait Pepperell
Earlier this month, I was given a chance I would have been mad to pass up. A week before, Lisa Smith forwarded an email from Sean O’Hanlon from Love Productions, asking for recipe and food historians who would be interested in putting together some historical bakes and appearing on The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice. I was a little unsure, due the fact that I’m only a second-year undergraduate, and I wouldn’t call myself a food historian at all, but with some gentle encouragement and some serious Fear Of Missing Out, I applied.
I had never made a historical recipe before, but I had one on hand that I had wanted to try. A recipe for English Biskotts from the seventeenth century, it was easy enough to make in my student accommodation, but the measurements were so complicated that I spent half my time trying to work out what the end result would be. This was the perfect excuse.
Friday was a pretty frantic day of baking, trying to assemble a recipe that–perhaps–had not been tried for close to four centuries, trying to make it edible, tasty, and historically accurate at the same time. In the end I made two tin-loaves worth of what ended up like very strange, but also delicious, old English biscotti.
To entertain myself, I took a few of them into the university, asking for reviews from brave members of the History Department who were willing to trust my baking skills. While I did not find the biskotts very tasty, my willing guinea pigs seemed to enjoy them. The reviews came back positive: they reminded people of gingerbread, salted caramel, and evoked memories of Christmas.
I wasn’t expecting anything back from the producers but by the next week I had a reply; they were interested in having me on the show! I was asked to come to London on Saturday, 14th October, bringing with me my biskotts, my “Production Guest” ticket, and a stomach full of butterflies. I made my way to the ITV studios on London’s Southbank, arrived half an hour early, was told to come back later. I was finally given a wristband and escorted upstairs with all the other audience members and guests to watch a preview of the latest episode before filming.
In the studio, I was informed that sadly I was not going to be interviewed for the show, but they managed to fit me in the front filming audience instead of the background audience! I took my seat with two very lovely guests and settled in for filming. I was in the back row but still had the chance to see Jo Brand, Stacey Solomon, Joe Wilkinson, and Richard Osman do their thing. Filming is a tiring job, especially when you’re asked to fake-cry over Liam leaving (some of those were real tears though), clap until your hands hurt, and eat leftover cake! It’s a tough job, but I was glad I could help.
By the end of the day I was tired, aching, and full of cake, but it had been a day I was so glad I hadn’t passed up. There’s something special about being able to sit behind the scenes and watch a show come together, and even help in your own way. Thank you so much to Lisa for recommending I do it, Love Productions for inviting me on, and–if you look hard enough–you can maybe spot me in the background! (Hint: short hair, purple cardigan, looks a bit star-struck the whole way through, and if you need a clue check out the picture below).
Tallulah is a student at the University of Essex and worked as an assistant on our ‘What is a Recipe?’ Virtual Conversation in the summer of 2017.