Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking is all about simple and tasty baking, a legacy from my Grandma's time as a cook-housekeeper in Edwardian times and a lifetime of baking.
As I was growing up, I watched her bake and cook, and acquired her expertise and passion for baking. Now I'm sharing Grandma Abson's traditional baking with baking devotees who remember it first time around and a whole generation new to baking. Enjoy!
Christmas celebrations in Georgian times featured this rich
fruit cake which was eaten on the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. But visitors to the
Georgian Christmas at Cusworth Hall Doncaster didn’t seem too keen to wait till
January to taste this scrumptious cake, so we had an early taste in the Great
Kitchen, along with other Georgian Christmas Baking treats. I’d adapted a recipe
from John Mollard’s 1803 edition of ‘The
Art of Cookery’ .
Twelfth Night Cake
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, cinnamon and ground nutmeg
225g/8oz each of raisins, currants and sultanas
50g/2oz chopped mixed peel
50g/2oz glacé cherries
50g/2oz ground almonds
the oven to 160℃/325F/Gas 3. Line
a 20 cm/8 inch round cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until light
and fluffy and mix in the treacle.Whisk
the eggs lightly and then add them gently to the creamed mixture, followed by
the flour and spices. Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel, cherries and ground
almonds and mix well. Then place the mixture into the cake tin.Bake in the centre of the oven for
about 1½ hours until the cake is firm and a cake skewer inserted into the
centre comes out clean.Leave the
cake in the tin until cool then turn out and cover with foil until ready to
decorate. The cake can be decorated with marzipan and royal icing or left plain
It looks and tastes a
lot like Christmas Cake but there’s an important difference. It was the custom to bake a dried bean and pea in each side of the
cake and serve the cake in two halves one for ladies and the other for the gentlemen.
Whoever found the bean and the pea became King and Queen for the night.
We had some
visitors from Spain who told us they had the same tradition with the bean in
their splendid ‘Roscon de Reyes’.
the magnificent ‘Galette des Rois’ which is an almond cake made with puff
pastry which also has a (ceramic) bean baked inside.
It was thumbs up all
round for the Georgian Twelfth Night Cake. I think the Georgians had the right
idea just like our Spanish and French friends to round off the Christmas celebrations
with this great tradition. Once the wrapping is recycled, the decorations taken
down, and the Christmas lights switched off, throw off the gloom of January with
a piece of Twelfth Night Cake. Good luck -you could be a King or Queen for the day!
Buns or Cakes are that curious relative of scones, similar in appearance and sharing
the key ingredient of dried fruit. Originally designed as a teatime treat, they
proved popular because the ingredients were fairly cheap to buy. The ‘rock’
refers to their rough surface rather than the texture.
were loved by soldiers in World War 1 amongst
from the Home Front and promoted by
the Ministry of Food in World War 2 days of rationing, as they could be made
with reduced sugar and fewer eggs than other bakes.
Many families had their own Rock Buns or Rock Cakes recipe and
ours was no exception. It was my Grandma’s sister, Emma who provided the
trusted family recipe for Rock Buns. It was her signature bake!
Emma, Jim, cousin baby Elaine and me
My great aunt Emma, seen here with her husband, Jim in their garden had a recipe for Coconut Rock Buns where 4oz/110g desiccated coconut replaced the dried fruit. I remember eating these and Rock Buns during the 1950s when we stayed with at her home in Manchester every summer holiday.
12oz/340g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
4oz/110g butter or lard
Pinch of salt
4oz/110g currants or raisins
1 teacupful of milk
Sieve the baking powder with the flour.
Rub the fat into flour and salt then add the sugar and the fruit. Beat the eggs
and add these to the mixture with the milk. Mix well. Put on a greased tin or
on greased baking sheets and shape into small rocky heaps with two forks. Bake
for 20 minutes in a fairly hot oven. (400F,
Mark 6, 200C)
Buns been around since at least Victorian times. They feature in Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookeryand Housekeeping book 1861 and The
Best Way cookery book 1907, not forgetting their starring role in the
station tearoom in the 1945 film 'Brief Encounter''.
Back in World War 1, Rock on, Tommy
- but is it a bun or a cake?
This recipe came from one of those cherished
family handwritten folders. Peggy Burton lived in Mansfield and her ‘Grandmother
Gingerbread’ was a popular treat for
family, neighbours and friends dropping by. I did wonder how the recipe would
turn out with so much black treacle but it proved a trusted formula for
Gingerbread Cake. I used half the sugar and omitted the salt in Peggy's
Peggy Burton’s Grandmother
level tsps ground ginger
level tsp cinnamon
soft brown sugar
tbsps vegetable oil
heat the oven to 180C/ Mark 4/350C. Mix all the ingredients together (Peggy
says for not less than 2 minutes!). Bake in a greased or lined cake tin (I used
a cake tin measuring 8 inch x 10 inch (21cms x 25 cms ) for between 1 and half to 2 hours.
Meryl says : This is a lovely
traditional recipe which ticks all the boxes for me – easy to bake, keeps well
and full of taste. The heat of the ginger is perfect to warm up those autumn days which herald the approach of the darker winter months ahead. Thanks, Peggy for a fabulous recipe!
I did some filming with a group of university
students studying for their media degrees so I was pleased to see the Kitchen Range
still proudly in place alongside display cabinets in its reconfiguration as a
Renewing your vows has been around in Italy for some
time and is a
way to celebratemarriage after any length of time 2, 5, 10, 25 or 50 years together.
You want the world to know you’d do it all over again. So, it called for a suitable
cake at the ‘We still do’ party afterwards. C and J left it to me to choose so I
baked one of my favourites, Grandma’s Orange Cake. It’s such a versatile
cake and fits any occasion.
Preheat the oven to 180°C, Mark 4, 350F. Line the
base of 2 x 25 cms /10 inch cake tins with non-stick baking paper. Cream the
butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs and add a little
at a time, adding a dessertspoonful of flour with each egg. Fold in the
remaining flour, orange zest and orange juice. Divide the mixture between the
cake tins and bake for about 25-30 minutes until it starts to shrink from the
sides and a cake skewer inserted into the centre comes away clean. Place on a wire
rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the rack and leave until
cool. Spread butter cream on the top of one cake and place the other cake on
top. Decorate the top with orange slices or sprinkle with icing sugar. I made
initials of their names cut out from stiff card to use as templates
for the icing for a simple but effective decoration.
was brilliant to see The Great Kitchen being put into use once again for such a
lovely occasion. And everyone likes a piece of cake to celebrate!
This is the 4th Georgian baking recipe
to mark 300 years following the birth of James Paine, architect of The Mansion
House in Doncaster. Macaroons or Ratafia Drops were a popular form of sweet in
18th century households. They would be served with tea or a glass of ratafia.
Here’s the recipe from The Cook and
Housewife’s Manual: A practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family
Management by Mistress Margaret Dods
Macaroons or Ratafia Drops
Blanch and beat, with an ounce of fine sugar and a
little water, four ounces of bitter, and two ounces of sweet almonds. Add to
the paste a pound of sugar, the whites of two eggs, and a little noyeau. Beat
the whole well, and when light drop the batter from a biscuit funnel on paper,
of the size of pigeons’ eggs, and bake the drops on tins.
There is a reference to bitter and sweet almonds. Sweet almonds are frequently used in cooking. Bitter almonds should not be eaten raw as they contain a toxic chemical which is dangerous to humans and animals.It is quite safe to use Almond extract or Almond essence, other than for anyone who has a nut allergy. I’ve used ground almonds and almond extract to bring this recipe up to date.
Macaroons or Ratafia biscuits
2 medium egg whites
175g /¾ cup caster sugar
175g /¾ cup ground almonds
½ teaspoon of almond extract
A few drops of rosewater
Pre-heat the oven to 325F / 170C / 150C
fan.Whisk the egg whites until they form
soft peaks.In a separate bowl mix together the
ground almonds and sugar, then fold into the egg whites, together with the
almond essence.The mixture needs to firm enough to roll
into small balls (about the size of a walnut). If it’s too wet, add more ground
almonds.Place the balls onto a baking
parchment, and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden-brown. You can top
with a sliver of almond. They should be crisp and crunchy on the outside, and
soft and chewy in the middle.
To accompany the Macaroons, Hannah
Glasse’s recipe for Syllabubfrom The Art of Cookery Made
Plain and Easy 1747may prove interesting to make at home …first
milk your cow!
Syllabub To make a
fine syllabub from the cow: Make your syllabub of either Cyder or Wine, sweeten
it pretty sweet, and grate nutmeg in, then milk the Milk into the Liquor; when
this is done, pour over the Top half a pint or pint of Cream, according to the
Quantity of Syllabub you make. You may make this syllabub at Home, only
have new milk; make it as hot as milk from the Cow, and out of a tea pot or any
such thing, pour it in, holding your Hand very high.
Here’s my updated version. It’s one of the
easiest desserts to serve.
oz/300ml double cream finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon ¼ pint/5fl oz/150ml white wine or a mixture of
sherry and white wine 2 oz. caster sugar
Slices of lemon peel
Place all the ingredients into a mixing
bowl. Whisk until light but not too thick. Place the mixture into
small glasses and refrigerate until required. Decorate with slices of lemon peel before serving.
The visitors lapped it all up at the Georgian celebrations at Cusworth Hallin Doncaster!
is the 3rdrecipe in the series of Georgian baking to mark 300 years
following the birth of James Paine, architect of The Mansion House in Doncaster.
Shrewsbury Biscuits or Cakes which are named after the town of Shrewsbury in
Shropshire UK are very familiar today. In Shrewsbury
Castle Foregate there is a plaque referring to Mr Palin’s unique recipe
in 1760, although some early recipes date back to the 1500s and throughout its history,
nutmeg, caraway and coriander seeds have featured amongst the ingredients.
These spices and others, such as cardamom, cloves and ginger were used
extensively in traditional baking to enhance the flavour of cakes and biscuits
(and reduce the need for sugar!).
adapted a recipe for these biscuits from the 1826 The Cook and Housewife’s
Manual: A practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by
Mistress Margaret Dods. She writes : Beat half a of cold
butter to a cream, and mix with it six ounces of sifted sugar, eight ounces of
flour, some pounded cinnamon, two eggs beat, add a little rose water. Roll out
the paste a quarter of an inch in thickness, adding a little more flour if
necessary, and stamp out the cakes of any shape or size that is liked.
my updated version for a modern oven :
110g/ 4oz butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg beaten 1 tsp rosewater
Pre heat the oven to
180C or 160C fan. Rub the flour and butter together to resemble fine
breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, rosewater and the beaten egg. (Add the currants to
the mixture at this point). Mix to a dough, and leave to chill for half an
hour. Roll out to ¼ inch thick, and cut out the biscuits. Bake for 12 minutes
or until golden-brown.
I find it fascinating that we still enjoy these recipes
from the past. Shrewsbury Biscuits certainly proved to be a 21st century hit with the visitors!
events continue at Cusworth Hall with a Georgian Family day with activities for
everyone to enjoy. In the Great Kitchen, I prepared favourite baking recipes from
the Georgian and Regency era for visitors to sample. Seed Cake proved as
popular as then. This recipe from The
Universal Cook written in1806
by Francis Collingwood & John Woollams, who
were principal cooks at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand, proves that
good recipes can stand the test of time.
I’ve adapted the
old recipe for modern ovens. The Georgian baker would use a Hoop which is a
round metal band without a top or a bottom but nowadays, an ordinary cake or loaf tin would be
225g/8 oz butter
225g/8 oz sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
225g/8oz plain flour
1 tsp baking
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tsps caraway
1 tbsp ground
Pinch of salt
A little milk to
1 tbsp demerara
sugar for topping (optional)
Preheat the oven to Mark 3, 170C.Grease and line
an 21cm/8 inch cake tin. Cream the butter and fat with the sugar. Add the eggs
gradually. Mix the flours, baking powder, mixed spice, salt and caraway seed
together. Fold these into the creamed mixture. Add a little milk to give a soft
consistency. Pour into the cake tin and sprinkle demerara sugar on the top if desired.Bake in a slow
oven for about one and a half hours.
It’s the caraway
seed with its distinctive anise taste which divides everyone on taste. Where do you stand on caraway seed – love it or
can’t resist this invitation to 'Come to Tea' from one of Sheila’s old recipe books. It’s an interesting teabread recipe for Orange Walnut Bread. The old recipe refers to cupfuls for most of
the ingredients so I’ve suggested metric and imperial weights and measures
where necessary. It’s a lighter teabread
than the usual ones with dried fruit so I think it would have been a popular
Orange Walnut Bread
5 cupfuls flour (550g/1lb 4oz)
1 cupful wheatmeal (110g/4oz)
6 tsps baking powder
1 cupful sugar (110g/40z)
½ cupful mixed peel (50g/2oz)
½ cupful chopped walnuts (50g/20z)
2 cupfuls milk (300ml/½ pint)
Pre the oven to 170C/Mark 3/325F Sift
the flour, wheatmeal, baking powder and sugar together. Stir in the mixed peel
and walnuts. Mix thoroughly, then lightly beat in the milk and egg. Turn into 2
greased or lined loaf tins. Bake for 45 minutes in a moderate oven.
Meryl says : This
recipe works very well as a teabread especially when spread with lashings of butter.
It’s a perfect addition to Grandma Abson's Afternoon tea repertoire!
This year marks 300 years
following the birth of James Paine, architect of The Mansion House Doncaster. A number of events are being held to commemorate this occasion and
it was a great delight to be able to try out some Georgian/Regency baking
recipes at an event earlier this month.
I adapted a recipe from the 1826 The Cook and Housewife’s
Manual: A practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by
Mistress Margaret Dods.
Gingerbread Two pounds of flour, a half pound of
brown sugar, a half pound of orange peel cut into bits, an ounce of ground
ginger, half an ounce of caraway seeds, cloves, mace, and some allspice. Mix
with these a pound and a half of treacle, and a half pound of melted butter.
Mix the ingredients well together, and let them stand for some hours before
rolling out the cakes. The paste will require a little additional flour in
rolling out. Cut the cakes, mark, the top in diamonds with a knife, and bake
them on tin plates.
Georgian Gingerbread proved popular with visitors today as
well as in the Georgian era. Here’s my version for a modern oven:
175g/6oz black treacle or molasses
50g/2oz light brown sugar
250g/9oz plain flour
50g/2oz orange peel/mixed peel
1-2 teaspoonsful ground ginger
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan oven. Warm the
sugar, butter and black treacle/molasses in a pan until melted. In a separate
bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Make a well in the centre of the dry
ingredients and add the sugar/butter/molasses mix. Mix well, then leave in the
fridge to cool for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm,
then cut into diamond shapes. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes.
black treacle made for a more intense flavour and a heavier texture than the
lighter Gingerbread we are more used to nowadays. What's your take on Georgian era baking?
recipes have always had fantastic feedback about their taste, texture and
simplicity but capturing all that in a simple photo has proved
more of a challenge for me than baking her recipes.
only have one photo of Grandma with a cake and that's the one on her ninetieth birthday but, since
starting to write Grandma Abson’s blog, I’ve amassed a wealth of photos of her
wonderful baking at talks and events to celebrate her legacy.
also learnt some tips and tricks about what works and what doesn’t in food photography by seeing what professional photographers do and looking
at food photos in magazines, cookbooks and websites to try to make
Grandma’s baking look just as inviting as the taste. My early attempts didn’t do justice to her recipes but I’d like to think that,
although I’m not a photographic genius, I’ve made some progress. Most of all,
the advent of the smart phone camera has made it much more accessible for me. Developments in cameras such as the ones thatLight
is coming up with for its new compact camera show see how far camera technology has come and what the future holds. So, here are my 5 ideas for perfect Food-tography:
Make the food look tempting You don’t
need to use the tricks of the professional food stylists but it’s worth cutting
into a Paradise Cake so it looks as if you are inviting the viewer to take a slice.
Balance the shot Arrange
the ingredients for Parkin so you are showing exactly what’s needed. You may need to move
the items around the board to draw the eye to a different angle.
Check the lighting Try to
use natural light and not flash unless necessary. It’s about creating the right
ambiance for these Flakemeal Biscuits so it’s not too harsh or dull.
Crop the first attempt This can
work if you are focussing down on a key element of these Yorkshire Puddings and may have included too much
detail in your first attempt.
Check the camera tools It’s well
worth checking out the other tools to edit your photos as they can turn an acceptable
photo into an exceptional one with the Easter chicks loving this Simnel Cake.
would have found it quite amazing to see how far taking photos of her
mouth-watering recipes has come. So just as we can’t resist the aromas and
tastes of home baking straight out of the oven, the same applies to making sure
it looks as good it tastes! Have you got more camera tips to snap that taste?
Abson was never too explicit about baking temperatures. The oldest recipes in
her collection were not precise with ‘cool, slow, fast, warm, moderate, fairly
hot, hot and very hot’ being common descriptors. Her early years cooking on Yorkshire black
leaded ranges had equipped her with that mysterious knowledge of what was just
the right heat for
In fact, much of her
expertise in baking was based on practice she thought was common sense such as
making sure the oven was heated up and getting the ingredients to room
temperature before starting to mix.
ovens have good temperature regulators and controls so we can preheat our oven and know when it’s ready to put in our bakes. Oven mitts and gloves provide
essential protection for our hands to take things in and out of the oven.
in Grandma’s early days as a below stairs cook for her employer, Mrs. Hick and her family, Grandma had
been told to put her hand in the oven to check the temperature. Thankfully, we
don’t do have to do this now. Although Grandma never said she hurt her hands,
the chances of a serious burn must have been high. Don’t do what Grandma did
but instead wear oven gloves or mitts at all times when putting bakes in and taking
them out of the oven to protect your hands from burns.
worked with coal, gas and electric ovens during her life and was always keen to
keep the oven clean. Fortunately, we don’t have to ‘black lead’ now but we do need
to keep our ovens and microwaves clean as
grease is a major source of fire in the home and half of all house fires start in the kitchen.Electrical Safety First has
care and follow these simple rules to stay safe in the kitchen. Grandma wouldn’t
want us to take safety in the kitchen for granted. It’s a piece of cake really!
Have you got a tip or a story to share for a safe pair of hands?