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Sally Lunn


(also Lund, or Lun) Large, round, very soft, yeast-raised white wheatflour bread buns made with added egg and butter. Originally usually served as a breakfast item and now especially associated with the town of Bath.

Sally Lunn Buns
Image: www.botham.co.uk

The name appears to be simply a corruption of 'solilem', a brioche type of cake from Alsace. Indeed, Eliza Acton's 'Modern cookery for Private Families' (Acton 1845) refers to "Solimemne - A rich French breakfast cake, or Sally Lunn".

The name is known at least since a poem printed in 'The Caledonian Mercury' on 9 August 1776 which says of Dublin; "Sally Lun and safron cake are there".

The first known published receipt is a delightful verse version;

Original Receipt from from 'The Monthly magazine' (v2, p5) of 1796;

A well-known cake at Bath
Written by the late Major DREWE, of Exeter

NO more I heed the muffin zest
The Yorkshire cake or bun
Sweet Muse of Pastry teach me how
To make a Sally Lun.

Take thou of luscious wholesome cream
What the full pint contains
Warm as the native Mood which glows
In youthful virgin's veins

Hast thou not seen in olive rind
The wall-tree's rounded nut
Of juicy butter just its size
In thy clean pastry put

Hast thou not seen the golden yolk
In Chrystal shrine immur'd
Whence brooded o'er by sostring wing
Forth springs the warrior bird?

Oh save three birds from savage man
And combat's sanguine hour
Cush in three yolk, the seeds of life
And on the butter pour

Take then a cup that hold the juice
Fam'd China's fairest pride
Let foaming yeast its concave fill
And froth adown its side

But seek thou first for neatness sake
The Naiad's crystal stream
Swift let it round the concave play
And o'er the surface gleam

Of salt more keen than that of Greece
Which cooks not poets use
Sprinkle thou then with sparing hand
And thro the mass diffuse

Then let it rest disturb'd no more
Safe in its steady feat
Till thrice Time's warning bell hath struck
Nor yet the hour compleat

And now let Fancy revel free
By no stern rule confin'd
On glittr'ing tin in varied form
Each Sally-Lun be twin'd

But heed thou west to lift thy thought
To me thy power divine
Then to the oven's glowing mouth
The woud'rous work consign

Original Receipt in 'The Cook's Oracle' by William Kitchiner (Kitchiner 1830)

Sally Lunn Tea Cakes
Take one pint of milk quite warm, a quarter of a pint of thick small-beer yeast; put them into a pan with flour sufficient to make it as thick as batter,-cover it over, and let it stand till it has risen as high as it will, i.e. about two hours: add two ounces of lump sugar, dissolved in a quarter of a pint of warm milk, a quarter of a pound of butter rubbed into your flour very fine; then make your dough the same as for French rolls, &c.; and let it stand half an hour; then make up your cakes, and put them on tins: when they have stood to rise, bake them in a quick oven.
Care should be taken never to put your yeast to water or milk too hot, or too cold, as either extreme will destroy the fermentation. In summer it should be lukewarm, in winter a little warmer, and in very cold weather, warmer still. When it has first risen, if you are not prepared, it will not hurt to stand an hour.

The story of the cake's fame seems to be that, around 1775, an enterprising baker, whose real name we don't know, started making the cakes and hawking them through the streets of Bath, where, from her cry of 'solilem' she came to be known as 'Sally Lunn'. A Mr Dalmer, "a respectable baker and musician", noticed her, bought her business, and made a song of her cry and set it to music, ensuring her lasting fame.

The story of Sally Lunn
Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 23 December 1826

The song may be this one, found in 'The Gentleman's Magazine' (vol48, p431) of 1778 and in the 'Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette' on Thursday 2 July 1778

A General Invitation to Sally Lund in Spring Gardens
že Beaux and že Belles, who resort to the Wells,
Come to Bath, your loose guineas to fund;
One and all I invite, free from envy or spite,
To feast upon sweet Sally Lund
etc ...

Valetudinarian's Bath Guide of 1780 (OED) has "I had the misfortune to lose a beloved brother in the prime of life, who dropt down dead ... after drinking a large quantity of Bath Waters, and eating a hearty breakfast of spungy hot rolls, or Sally Luns."

Thackeray's 1849 'Pendennis' has "A meal of green tea, scandal, hot Sally-Lunn Cakes, and a little novel-reading."

It is known from news reports and advertisements that bun shops calling themselves 'Sally Lunn's House' appeared in Weymouth, Gillingham and Wincanton from the 1920's. The building now housing the 'Sally Lunn Eating House' at North Parade in Bath was acquired around 1937 by Marie Byng-Johnson, an artist who had made something of a name for herself with rather charming paintings of a romanticized Georgian past. She operated the house as a tea-room specialising in Sally Lunn buns, promoted with a little self-illustrated booklet speculating on the origin of the Bun, subsequent printings of which expanded a story that she had discovered an ancient document in a secret cupboard explaining that Mlle. Sally Lunn was a young French Huguenot refugee who brought the receipt to Bath around 1680, she would even show off the actual iron range on which she cooked. More recently, it having been pointed out that 'Sally Lunn' is not a French name, the proprietors have taken to calling her 'Solange Luyon', though they still (2000) don't seem to have spotted that iron cooking ranges weren't invented until Flavel's of around 1800 or that, while French, neither Solange nor Luyon are Huguenot names.

The 'solilem-Mr Dalmer-song' story of Sally Lunn occurs in writing dozens of times from the 18th Century onwards. But the Bath shop and its 'Huguenot Maid' story is only known since Marie Byng-Johnson in 1937. When asked to provide earlier evidence for it, the Sally Lunn Eating House explain that they have "lost" the original priceless manuscript, and, funnily enough, never made a copy.

A soda-raised bread cake and a pudding of the same name are found in the French parts of the Southern United States.

See also:
Sally Lunn Pudding
Bath Cakes,
Marlborough Buns
Bath Buns

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