Cornflour based custard is now so common that, for many of us, it is more “real” than the version made with eggs. Alfred Bird (1811-1878) is the man we need to thank for it.
Alfred set up himself up as “experimental chemist” in 1837. I am not entirely sure what an experimental chemist was meant to do but Alfred’s investigations were influenced by his wife’s delicate digestion. Mrs Elizabeth Bird was unable to eat eggs or bread made with yeast so Alfred came up with alternatives. Initially his inventions were only used at home but he went on to manufacturer them on a commercial-scale. Custard powder was popular from the start. It was cheap, simple to make and tasted good. By the mid 1840s it was being sold throughout Britain.
Alfred embraced the new opportunities of industrial Britain, which helped his firm to grow. He put a lot of energy into promoting his products, which is reflected in the company motto,
“Early to bed, early to rise, stick to your work, and advertise.”
Later two of his sons joined the firm and more products were developed, including blancmange powder in the early 1870s and jelly crystal powder in 1895. The firm, Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd, was bought in 1947 by the General Food Corporation. Today the Bird’s brand is part of Premier Foods and the old Bird’s factory in Gibb Street, Birmingham is now part of an arts and media quarter called the Custard Factory.