Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Old-fashioned cakes stand test of time

I am the temporary custodian of my grandmother's cookbook. It's been passed around my mother and aunts and has now come to me. It's a tatty old A5 book, its brown leather cover held together with a strip of floral contact paper. Page after page is filled with my grandmother's copperplate writing, interspersed with recipes clipped from old newspapers and magazines. There's a leaflet from the White Wings National Bake-off competition. First prize for 1965 is "crunchy amber cake" (butter cakes sandwiched together with a custard filling and iced with a spiced meringue topping browned in the oven), while the "seafood banquet pie" took the honours in 1963.

Grandma's cookbook is filled with recipes for puddings, cakes, biscuits and slices. There's a short "savouries" chapter, mostly for casseroles. Surprised by the amount of sweet recipes, as I tend to think of dessert as being a luxury in the thrify past, I asked mum why there were so many. She explained that savoury cooking was quite plain, often meat and three vegetables, so there wasn't much need for recipes, as most housewives had a repertoire they'd acquired growing up. There was more scope with sweet food, hence the number of recipes.

Robert Drewe wrote in The Age on 23 December 2006 about finding his nan's cookbook, which contained recipes for 54 puddings, 41 cakes and 35 types of biscuits. "It's contents highlight the single biggest change in Australian eating habits since [nan's] cooking heyday: the sad passing of puddings and cakes," he wrote. "Apparently her family ate these delicacies all the time. If so, mystery of the ages, family albums show that they were all thin."

I haven't counted the number of puddings or cakes, but Grandma's book is full of delightfully old-fashioned recipes: flummery, strawberry float, junket ice-cream, blancmange, treacle cakes, sago treat, refrigerator biscuits, marshamllow cake or slice, and cream puffs (at least three recipes, one marked "unsatisfactory - too thin a mixture").

There's the evocatively named ruby cakes, topsy cake, dark cake, johnnie cakes, rock cakes, golden wattlecake, "slice using cake crumbs", Rickety Anns (sultana biscuits), Commando Tarts (butter biscuits topped with jam and meringue), Coconut Belles, Luncheon Cake, Fiesta Cookies, Chinese Chew, Fairy Biscuits and "Economy Biscuits by the Lady Mayoress of Melbourne".

I chose to make the intriguing "Bible Cake", mostly because of the novel way that the recipe is written. For those who haven't got Bibles at hand, luckily the recipe provides a "translation" (I've also converted from imperial to metric). It makes a large cake, a cross between a very light fruit cake and a pound cake. It's extremely moreish and is a great match with a cup of tea.


Take (1) 250g of Judges 5:25; (2) 250g of Jeremiah 6:20; (3) 1 tablespoon of 1 Samuel 14:25; (4) 3 of Jeremiah 17:11; (5) 250g of 1 Samuel 30:12; (6) 250g of Nahum 3:12 (chopped); (7) 60g of Numbers 17:8 (blanched and chopped); (8) 500g of 1 Kings 4:22; (9) season to taste with 2 Chronicles 9:9; (10) a pinch of Leviticus 2:13; (11) 1 teaspoon of Amos 4:5*; (12) 3 tablespoons of Judges 4:19 - the last clause.
* 'Leaven' is equivalent to baking powder

Mixing instructions: Beat 1, 2 and 3 to a cream, add 4 one at a time, still beating. Then add 5, 6 and 7 and beat again. Next add 8, 9, 10 and 11 (having previously mixed them), and last of all add 12. Bake in a rather slow oven (170 degrees) for not less than an hour and a half.

(1) butter
(2) sugar
(3) honey
(4) eggs
(5) raisins
(6) figs
(7) almonds
(8) flour
(9) spice
(10) salt
(11) baking powder
(12) milk


The Old Foodie said...

Hello Melinda; this is a great post; how wonderful to have such a wonderful family heirloom. I have seen this recipe before, sometimes it is called Scripture Cake. I dont know much about its history, it has certainly been around since the late nineteenth century. I have an idea it originated in America. It is wonderful that you actually made it.

Melinda said...

Hi - thanks for the information! I was intrigued to make the cake to see if it worked and wasn't just a gimmicky way of writing a recipe. I was pleasantly surprised by the results and will definitely make it again.

Lucy said...

Fantastic post, Melinda.

I've got my grandma's recipe book. I love having it with me, though she is long gone.

Bible cake...will try this over the weekend!

Marjie said...

Hi Melinda - I found your blog by searching for Ginger Fluff Sponge recipes! I, too, have very old recipe books and cuttings as my dear mum was a wonderful cook - cakes, desserts and biscuits were always baked! However her writing in the latter years deteriorated hence the need to find the ingredients for Ginger Fluff!Many thanks - will add you to my Favs!

Melinda said...

Thanks Lucy and Marjie. I love old-fashioned recipes and the links they provide us with loved ones from our past. Good luck with your baking and I'd love to hear your results!