Being lucky enough to be blessed with a good set of grandparents meant I also learned to cook and bake at their elbows- timeless, stick to your-ribs, homely cooking based upon what they grew in their garden and bought locally (alongside M&S apricot roll cake- a particular weakness of my grandmother). Evening meals were strictly rotated- the Sunday roast provided a mini roast on Mondays and Wednesdays with meat leftovers being added to freshly cooked vegetables. Tuesdays and Thursdays were beans or cheese on toast and Fridays were the day for fish and chips in the evening, eaten at home in the winter and in the summer, on our laps in a nearby beauty spot, Rodbridge Corner.
Ducks from the nearby river crowded around our feet as we threw the odd chip at them and licked our salt-encrusted fingers before getting back into the car, chip wrappers neatly stored away in one of the many plastic bags stored in the glove compartment. In those days, Getting The Car Out was a big deal and woe betide any greasy fingerprints smudged onto the Ultrasuede seat covers but the day came when the car met its end at the hands of a long drive after two strawberry ice creams and a bout of travel sickness. No amount of valeting eliminated the lingering perfume.
Doctor Who dictated Saturdays- we ate around the TV with our salads balanced precariously on our knees or we’d move the table into the sitting room. Daleks rained death and destruction upon the good Doctor and his sidekick as I peered through my fingers or around the cluster of bottles on the tabletop- salad cream, Branston Pickle and great grandmothers picalilli. The crowning glory of these meals were what I found in the cake tin; a retro Bakelite beauty stored in the highest wall cupboard, or inside the fridge-freezer. Great slabs of home made pastry were baked off and frozen on a weekly basis to be thawed out later and popped back into the oven until they were golden and crisp. They were served with stewed fruit (or in today’s middle class terminology, a compote) or a scoop of macerated strawberries in the summer and my grandfather liked his berries liberally dusted with black pepper.
The glories of the Be Ro Baking Book gave grandmother the inspiration for her boiled fruit cake and this slim narrow volume with time-torn, food-stained pages was THE cookbook of the sixties, packed with day-go bright drawings of battenburg cake, rock Cakes, victoria sponge and other ageless British cakes and breads. I have no idea what happened to the original copy although the Bakelite cake tin and child-sized knife with pale green bakelite handle are safely stored away. Boiled fruit cake recipes are thankfully not hard to find in other cookery books either; I have tried Julie Duff’s version and it is a decent replacement for the recipe of my childhood, giving a cake that is slightly smaller and not so moist. If you like a drier fruit cake then it will suit you.
This is THE Uber recipe though, the one used by my grandmother and provider of a darkly tanned and rich sugared crumb and retaining its juiciness via a generous hand with the dried fruit. It is large enough to keep a family fed for several days.
225g / 8oz sultanas
225g / 8oz currants
225g / 8oz raisins
50g / 2oz mixed peel
175g / 6oz butter
175g / 6oz soft brown sugar
350g / 120z self raising flour
Generous teaspoon of mixed spice
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 150c/300f/Gas mark 2. Place the peel, fruit, butter, sugar and spice into a large saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Boil very gently for two minutes and keep an eye on it then remove from heat, stir and let it cool down.
Sift flour and salt into another bowl and making a well in the centre, pour the lightly beaten eggs into the well of flour. Now pour the fruit mixture onto the flour and eggs then beat them with a wooden spoon until this mixture is thoroughly combined.
Spoon into a greased and lined 18cm/7 inch round cake tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 2- 2 and a half hours or until the cake is firm to touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly.
Cover with a clean cloth and allow to cool in the tin.
Lovely with Wensleydale cheese and an apple.
If you want to soak the dried fruit overnight in rum or brandy don’t let me stop you. The cake tastes great with that hit but it isn’t the cake that I made as a child and it is this which I wanted to celebrate.