Quaintly ready

02 November 2006

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 digested.

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

6oz butter

4oz sugar

8oz mixed fruit


3 teaspoon baking-powder

2 eggs

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.

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