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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Love. . . Baking

My old recipe book
A well-worn page from my first ever recipe book, in my own handwriting
If you've had much of a browse through this blog then you have probably already realised that I love baking! I very much like cooking in general, but I absolutely LOVE baking!! This all began as a very small child, "helping" my mum bake cakes and scones, biscuits and pastries, with a finger stuck in the batter here and a stir of the mixture there, followed by the pleading request:"Can I lick the bowl, mum?!" At eight years old, in 1979, I realised I wanted a recipe book of my very own. By this time, I didn't live with my mum any more, but with my dad who was (and still is!) an excellent and inventive home cook. But my mum was more of a baker, and I wanted to be too! So one day when we were staying with her on holiday, she bought me a small notebook and I set about decorating the cover and then writing in some of my mum's tried and tested recipes: Nanna Parker's potato cakes, Ginger snaps, Idiot biscuits, Chocolate brownies, Daphnes sticky bread and Nanna Parker's fruit scones were the first entries in the book. 
Ginger snaps
Ginger snaps made to the recipe above
Back home again in Wales with my dad and brother, it became my self-appointed duty to bake something every Sunday afternoon. In those days we always had a big Sunday lunch, not necessarily a Sunday roast, but always a big substantial meal with main course and pudding, that dad would cook for us and have on the table about 1 pm. Once the meal was finished, it was his chance to sit down and put his feet up while my brother and I took charge of clearing the table and washing up the dishes. Finally it was my favourite part of the day and I could bake something for "Sweet Tea". This tradition came from my dad's parents and meant that each Sunday teatime we just had bread and butter, and a selection of cake, scones, crumpets, toasted teacakes etc. No "proper meal" on Sunday evenings, as the theory was that we had had such a big meal at lunchtime we wouldn't need it! Needless to say, that was my favourite meal of the week, and I loved baking something different each Sunday afternoon for Sweet Tea, a tradition that carried on well into my teenage years, even once my dad had re-married and we became a much larger "blended" family.

Recipe book shelf
One of our recipe book shelves in the kitchen
These days, my absolute go-to baking books are both by Alexa Johnston. "Ladies, a plate" and "A Second Helping" are the most well-used recipe books on our kitchen bookshelf, and if you check out this link you will find a wealth of free recipes from those two books! Of course, we do far more savoury cooking than sweet baking at home, but in most cases the main meals are made without recipes, whereas the alchemical mysteries of baking require a more precise approach. Two years ago I went to the "Writers and Readers Festival" at Founders' Park in Nelson and heard Alexa speak. She was so thoroughly entertaining and engaging, that when I heard she was coming to Nelson on 2nd September to promote her latest book "What's for Pudding?" I knew I must be there!

As ever, she was a delight to listen to, and as part of our ticket price we were offered two puddings from her new book: Lemon sago (pictured below) and Semolina halva. I have never had sago before, and lets just say it was "interesting" - I can certainly see why it is often referred to as "frogspawn"! 
Lemon sago (Alexa in background)
But there are plenty of very appealing recipes in this cookbook, and as in both her other books, Alexa has meticulously researched the genealogy of these old classics and trawled through countless old community cookbooks and other vintage recipe books to bring us these recipes, sometimes with a modern twist. I love how each recipe is preceded by some social history notes about its origin and development over the years. If you like the sound of apricot ice cream (1940), pistachio and cardamom kulfi (1959), melon and pineapple salad (1950s), cup custards (1861), sticky date pudding (1980s) or flaming baked Alaska (1967) this could be the cookbook for you! If you would like to read a review of the book (including a couple of recipes for Simple Orange Jelly and Chocolate Fudge Pudding, click "Why Pudding Still Matters." Thanks to KathyR from ravelry for the link.

As Alexa said on Friday, "Nobody NEEDS pudding. But by making a pudding you are showing love to those you make it for, and if anyone makes a pudding for you, you can be pretty sure they love you!"


  1. Gosh I miss Sweet Tea!!! But for just the two of us it seems a little pointless :(


  2. Yes, I used to love Sweet Tea too! But despite that, I haven't continued the tradition either, and I sometimes wistfully long for a Sweet Tea tradition of our own. Maybe it's time to re-invent it?!

  3. Sounds like a good idea! Also, having had a look at the recipes on Alexa's website I totally need copies of all her books! *adds to Amazon wishlist* Thank you for the heads-up about these!