Mudlarking finds that are literally good enough to eat
By Claire Ferguson
Biscuit art by Ella Hawkins
During the pandemic, Ella looked for creative ways to keep busy. She tried making pastries, tarts, and gyoza from scratch, eventually settling onto biscuits (cookies), because she could easily send the finished product to her friends and family. Her early biscuit sets were inspired by the recipient, designed around what she thought they would enjoy seeing—and eating—and her creativity sparked from there. She has now created around 25 incredibly intricate, edible biscuit sets inspired by museum collections, art history, historical dress, costume design, and more.
Victorian ruby lustreware tile found by Jason Sandy and biscuit art by Ella Hawkins
Ella has a background not only in cake decorating but also academia, studying performance and theatre, with a PhD in Shakespeare Studies. Her recent research has expanded into costume design, dress history, and material culture. She currently is a Teaching Fellow in Early Modern English at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham in the UK. During the week, she lectures and leads seminars on early modern drama, the history of performance and poetry, and on the weekends, she bakes!
Pottery found by Florrie Evans and biscuit art by Ella Hawkins
Ella turns to her academic work for inspiration. She created several biscuit sets based on Elizabethan and Jacobean fabrics, portraits, and books. She has also made sets inspired by other periods of design and literary history, costume, and scenic design for theatre, film, and television. She has made cookies inspired by William Morris patterns, Tiffany glass, Jane Austen, Ancient Greek pottery, medieval manuscripts, and TV shows Game of Thrones and Outlander. Some of her favorite designs were developed in collaboration with heritage organizations including Jane Austen’s House and the David Parr House. “The stories, objects, and places cared for by organizations like these are endlessly inspiring,” Ella says.
Roman coin found by Florrie Evans and biscuit art by Ella Hawkins
In December 2021, Ella made a biscuit set inspired by mudlarking finds on the River Thames with pieces found by Tom Chivers, Florrie Evans, and Jason Sandy. Each biscuit recreates a specific artifact as precisely as possible: Victorian stoneware and transferware, seventeenth-century Westerwald pottery sherds, Staffordshire slipware, a Victorian ruby lustreware tile, a fragment of a Bartmann medallion, and a Roman coin all feature in the set. Ella used a sgraffito technique for the aging effect making the cookies practically indistinguishable from the original finds. The attention to detail demonstrates a sophisticated level of craftsmanship and artistry, with Ella bringing each small piece of history to life.
Biscuit art by Ella Hawkins
For her process, Ella first researches the chosen theme, carefully composing a combination of colors, textures, and patterns that will work together as a set. Next, she bakes the biscuits. Her favorite flavors are orange, cardamom and vanilla, but she will match the flavor to the design scheme if she can. For example, she incorporated rose into her Jane Austen set and sea salt to her mudlarking set. Finally, the decoration stage takes around two days for a full set of eight biscuits (around one to three hours per biscuit). She’ll either paint the designs onto a flat layer of royal icing using food coloring gels and vodka, or she’ll create a 3D effect by piping patterns on top of the icing surface.
The results are stunning works of art, rich in flavor and history, and almost too beautiful to eat!
See more at ellahawkins.com and on Instagram @ellamchawk.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2022 issue.