Another delight from Persephone Books to add to the kitchen bookcase is the
reprinted How to Run Your Home without Help, by Kay Smallshaw (£10;
1-903155-52-5), which joins some veteran Faber cookbooks from the same era.
Full of useful information for those who read novels of that era of rationing
and domestic depression for the now-servantless housewife (and it would have
come in handy for the titular heroine of another recent Persephone reprint, the
astonishing novel Miss Ranskill Comes Home), it explains about "points"
and the nutritional advice handed out by the government of the day. Plus ça
change . . .
It also — along with once quaint and funny advice about coping with storage,
laundry, fuel, and so on, which now seems less funny if you believe all the
dire warnings about imminent hard winters, unreliable energy supplies, and
water shortages — tells you how to cook with the minimum of effort and
ingredients to the maximum satisfaction of your husband (naturally) and
children. Not quaint at all, this bit. I read, marked, learned, and inwardly
One of the tips was to prepare cake ingredients in advance. You won’t, thank
goodness, need to "clean" dried fruit, but you can find and weigh out the dry
ingredients for cakes and pastry in advance, in all your spare time. For
instance, Sunday cakes or pastries would be nicer if freshly baked, and that’s
possible if you can weigh out and rub in the fat and flour in advance, together
with other dry ingredients.
So that takes me back to the old rock cakes and jam buns we used to make in
student days when space, tools, and money were short. They are good when time
is short, too.
1lb plain flour
¼ teaspoon salt
8oz mixed fruit
3 teaspoon baking-powder
a little milk to mix
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, and cut in the butter with a knife
until you have quite small pieces. Then rub the fat in lightly until you have
something the consistency of fine crumbs or sand. Add the sugar and baking
powder. You can leave this, covered in a cool place, overnight or until you are
ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F or gas 7). Beat the eggs and
add to the mixture, adding a little milk also until you have a stiff dough.
Grease a baking sheet and make about two dozen little rocks on them. Make
more, smaller ones if you are thrifty — but cook them for a little less time.
In any case, they should take only about 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven
— or they will be known as my granny’s rock cakes always goodnaturedly were:
"rock by name and rock by nature".
My husband was a demon at jam buns, another forgotten favourite. Use the
same mixture, without the dried fruit. On the baking sheet, make a hole in the
centre of each (with a floury finger), and insert a little jam. Seal up the
hole, glaze with a little milk, and bake.