I once did a talk at a medical practice for a group of patients. There’s no way that I would claim to be a healthy eating specialist but since sugar is the arch enemy of the health police, it’s worth noting that cooks in Grandma Abson’s time often enhanced the flavour of their baking with natural spices, such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, and used less sugar in their recipes. As a result, Grandma’s bakes are not sickly sweet.
Waste not want not
Grandma also belonged to the ‘Waste not want not’ brigade and I’ve inherited this mantra when it comes to using up leftovers. I hate food waste so spotting that I still had some leftover homemade mincemeat in my cupboard, I hastened to use it up pronto for my turn to bake homemade cakes for our choir rehearsals.
These quantities make two x loaf 450g/1lb loaf tins below.
What you need
6oz/150g soft brown sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
(add more dried fruits e.g. cranberries or apricots if necessary)
10oz/275g self raising flour
(or use a mixture of self raising and whole wheat flour to give a denser texture)
5-6 tbsps milk
apricot jam to glaze
How to bake
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Mark 3. Grease and line the two loaf tins with baking paper or use a loaf tin liner. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs gradually and then stir in the mincemeat and flour. Add enough milk to give a moist mixture. Divide the mixture between the two tins and smooth over. Decorate the top with the nuts. Bake in the oven for about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Allow to cool slightly for 15 minutes then brush the top with an apricot glaze made with apricot jam and water.
- If you use entirely wholewheat flour, add a tsp of baking powder.
- It’s a very easy recipe which can be adapted to half quantities.
- You can serve it on its own or as a tea bread with butter.
- This cake keeps well for seven to ten days in an airtight tin.
Food in times of shortage
Back at the patients’ group, I talked about how Grandma had baked in times of shortage and had to keep a close eye on the household budget. I showed the group the various food charts which were produced in times of rationing and the poster campaigns for Dig for Victory in World War 2, when foods were often hard to come by. The struggles to get food on the table were titanic and cooks were very inventive with ingredients for their cakes. Yet, despite all these hardships, there was a clear government strategy to get the population eating as healthily as possible.
Grandma had always been used to using fruit and vegetables in season to make succulent jams and chutneys as well as fruit pies (with no added sugar) and puddings so this came as second nature. We all agreed we should still enjoy a homemade treat now and again – including on Blue Monday – and that it’s the portion size which matters – always in moderation!
So, what will 2024 bring?
My passion for the simple delights of home baking from around the world and desire to pass on these amazing family recipes is as strong as ever. And, as the Latin poet Juvenal says, ‘mens sana in corpore sano’. We still look for a bit of comfort or a treat to cope with all life’s difficulties, so sharing a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of homemade cake is a therapy in itself. It only remains for me to wish you happy and blissful baking in 2024 and a big thank you to Yorkshire Bylines!