Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Sedgemoor Easter Cakes and Many Good Books

Mary Norwak's Farmhouse Kitchen, which is becoming a book I turn to again and again, has a whole chapter on what she calls Festival Food. The recipes in the chapter include Pately Fritters, eaten in Yorkshire on Ash Wednesday, Creed Wheat and Frumenty, eaten in Wiltshire on Mothering Sunday or in Lincolnshire to celebrate sheep clipping, to Bedfordshire Wigs, traditionally eaten on St Katherine's Day. Today the children and I made Sedgemoor Easter Cakes, using a recipe I adapted from Mary Norwak combined with a HFW recipe first published in the Guardian.
Here's Norwak's recipe, with my adaptions in brackets.
8 oz plain flour (I committed a baking sin and used SR)
4 oz butter
4 oz caster sugar (another baking sin committed, I used granulated)
4 oz currants (yes, I used sulatanas!)
1/2 tsp mixed spice (didn't have any in the cupboard)
1/2 tsp of cinnamon (used 1/4 instead)
1 egg
2 tablespoons of brandy (I used rum!)

Rub the butter into the flour and stir in the sugar, currants, spice and cinnamon. Beat the egg with the brandy and mix with the dry ingredients. Roll out half-an-inch thick, cut into rounds and bake at 305F, 180C, gas mark 4 for twenty minutes.

We cut our biscuits into egg-shaped rounds, just as a bit of Easter fun! Also, we did as HFW advised and glazed them whilst still warm, which makes them quite sweet, but nice looking. It seems to me that traditional regional cookery differs by simple ingredients - the difference between Parkin and Yorkshire Parkin being extra oatmeal here, less ginger there. I suppose the ingredients were what came to hand and many folks improvised, just like I have today. Perhaps I should re-name the cakes Warwickshire Easter Cakes. Anyway, they are very, very moreish and taste like a rich, flat scone or an extra light shortbread, but in a boozy, spicey way. It says on the Guardian site that traditionally they were given away in threes, to symbolise the Trinity, which is a jolly nice baking tradition we seem to have in many parts of Britain.

So onto books. I've read some great books just recently that I really want to recommend before I go back to the world of paid employment. First, Marjory Sharp's The Nutmeg Tree. I bought this book because of fits cover: a lovely piece of 1930s design, not deco, but gloriously womanly and frivolous. And it turns out that you can judge a book by its cover. If you were a fan of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, then you'll love this book - it's both light-hearted and warm-hearted. Marjory Sharp is perhaps more famous for her Rescuers children's books and Cluny Brown, and she deserves to be republished...I should write to Persephone Books, they'd love her.

I've also been reading Georgette Heyer, both the mysteries and the romances. I'm not quite sure what to make of her. The mysteries always rollick along quite nicely until the abrupt and disappointing endings and although the romances are superbly detailed, they are a little over-written and irritatingly snobbish. I am a real fan of 1930s literature and am well aware of how the working classes and "foreign types" were portrayed in many of these books, but Heyer's outright antipathy to the "lower orders" is at best irksome and at worst repulsive. She is very much of her time: her Georgian heroines are flappers and her rakish fops are Bright Young Things: and this is what fascinates me so.

I have returned, yet again, to Elizabeth Taylor. I think she may be the most underrated British novelist of the twentieth century. I've just finished reading A Game of Hide and Seek, it is finely nuanced and she shows remarkable clarity in her characterisation and a generous empathy for the people she creates. A wonderful, sad book about love and highly recommended.

Next up, Barbara Pym's first novel Crampton Hodnett. I like curates, Lions Tea Rooms and Fuller's walnut cakes in my novels. I also like spinsters, romantically thwarted dons and High Church snobbery. I shan't give away anything of the plot of Crampton Hodnett, but suffice to say it is typical early Pym and an absolute joy. Here's an extract.

"Hullo, Mr Latimer, going to take evensong?"
The bright, almost chirpy, tones startled him, and Mr Latimer turned round to see Mrs Wardell standing by the vicarage gate, with a trowel in one hand and a young plant in the other.
"Yes, I am," he said shortly. It was surely obvious that he was going to take evensong. Where else could he be going, with a cassock slung over his arm and a face as long as a fiddle...

When he got to the church he found the usual weekday congregation there. Miss Doggett and Miss Morrow, old Lady Halkin, the Misses Grote, Mrs Allonby, Miss Nollard and Miss Foxe, Mrs Jason-Lomax and Jim Storry, a feeble-minded youth who did odd jobs in the church such as fetching vases and putting up wire frames for the ladies when they did the flowers.

Yes, this was the Church of England, his flock, thought Mr Latimer, a collection of old women, widows and spinsters, and one young man not quite right in the head. These were the people among whom he was destined to spend his life. He hunched his shoulders in his surplice and shivered.

I am hoping there are a fair amount of walnut cakes, curates and spinsters in Mrs Tim of the Regiment. I haven't started it yet, but it looks very good. It's one of those Bloomsbury re-issues, and amongst The Brontes Go to Woolworth's as a bit of a bloggers' favourite. I shall post on it when I next get the time.

Well, you've probably realised that I am now fully rested and well fed and well read and am extremely unlikely to go embarrassing myself in front of Ed Balls (who was that masked woman...?) I hope you all have had a happy and peaceful Easter. Until Anon!

PS. For a Simnel Cake recipe go here and here.
For Hot Cross Buns go here.


GretchenJoanna said...

What a fun and useful cookbook that appears to be. I like the image of you sitting down with your good cakes and good books.

Angela said...

Oh I MUST get back into Pym - I read them when Liz was a tiny baby in thhe early 1980's and now she is a grown up English graduate, who recently said "Mum, isn't Barbara Pym great? why didn't I read her before?" and I feltso guilty!! thanks for the nudge.
cakes look great too!!

Zillah said...

Ah, buns and books. Lovely.

I need to read more novels and try different buns.

Thanks for the puff!


Anonymous said...

Glad that you're well rested. Ed Balls is most disappointed though. :)

Nan said...

I'll have to get that Pym. I've read a few others and this one sounds perfect. Living there, do you think the description of the CofE parishioners still fits? :<) I read the Mrs Tim books all one right after the other a few years ago and loved them. (and is this fellow really named Balls???)

Nan said...

Me again, I just ordered a copy! I read that a character from Jane and Prudence is in CH. I loved that book.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Gretchen Joanna
It's a great book and easy to find on Abe.

Hi Angela
Pym is a joy. I'm glad your Liz likes her too!

Hi Zillah
There's nothing like a slightly different bun and a slightly different novel to bring comfort.

Hi Sarah
Never fear! Let us see what the summer term brings!

Hi Nan
I read that bit out loud to my DH, who often goes off to sing at choral evensong - with a cassock over his arm and a face as long as a fiddle! I'm sad to say Pym's description of the average C oc E evensong/weekday service still fits! I hope you enjoy Crampton Hodnett.

maryanne said...

I love Barbara Pym too and am about to reread "Jane and Prudence".Have you read "A Very Private Eye";her letters and diaries, which reveal her to be quite different to her main characters?!(Though why I should have expected her to be like one , I'm not sure.)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if Labour lose this election you could perhaps cheer him up by leaping from a birthday cake or something! :P

Sue said...

I have had mary Norwak's book for years and never made anything from it. Shame on me. Those Easter cakes sound a bit like a baked Welsh cake and just the sort of plain baking I need to fuel my teenaged boys. I do like these old-fashioned recipes, simple, adaptable and not dependent expensive ingredients. So many modern baking recipes are 'over-egged' in my opinion. I'm thinking of Nigella Lawson in particular.

I've never read Barbara Pym, though have heard her books on Radio4 years ago. That extract made me laugh so I'm off to track down a copy of Crampton Hodnett.


Gumbo Lily said...

I loved Miss Petfigrew Lives for a Day so I'll have to look up The Nutmeg Tree. All your books and baking look scrumptch!


Left-Handed Housewife said...

Oooh, that Barbara Pym novel sounds good! I've only read one of her books (and now I can't remember the title, though I want to say it has the word "Four" in it, as in The Four Quartets or The Four Seasons), and I enjoyed it immensely. Time to read another!

I was so happy to stop by and see you back on the blogs. I've missed you!