BACK in Yorkshire with Mrs Simkins (Traditional Yorkshire Cooking with Mrs Simkins, Dalesman, £5.99), there are some good traditional-but-different recipes for cakes and puddings for the Christmas and New Year season.
There is a Christmas tap-room loaf: a fruity, spicy yeast bread which appeared in a Womens’ Institute publication of 1957. There is nothing in here for the health-conscious, but I find that coconut sugar is an excellent substitute for brown sugar; Xylitol for white sugar; and Dove’s Farm self-raising wholewheat flour is excellent for cakes.
Even from the kitchens of Harewood House, there is a waste-not-want-not Steamed pudding that uses up “stale penny rolls” and leftover mincemeat. Mrs Simkins gives directions for baking it in the oven, which is more useful these days than steaming puddings in a pressure cooker.
2 morning rolls or similar cut into ½-cm slices
150ml (6 fl. oz) and 75ml (3 fl. oz) milk
450g (1 lb) mincemeat
1 medium egg, beaten and strained
1 level tablespoon golden caster sugar
6-7 glacé cherries
Butter a 1-litre pudding basin and line the bottom with baking paper. Dip the bread into 150ml of milk, gently squeezing out the excess. Layer the mincemeat and bread into the basin, beginning with the mincemeat, and press down gently. Whisk the remaining milk with the egg and sugar. Prick the top of the pudding, and slowly pour over the mixture. Leave to stand for an hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4, and cover the pudding tightly with a pleated (to allow for expansion) greaseproof paper tied with string. Stand the pudding in a baking dish filled with water, and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out virtually clean. Remove greaseproof for final 5-10 minutes for a crisp, firm bottom. Turn it out carefully, and decorate with cherries.
Another Victorian recipe made all over Yorkshire was Old wives’ cake: “a biscuity shortcake . . . with the most beautiful flavour”.
110g (4 oz) butter at room temperature
110g (4 oz) golden granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
110g (4 oz) currants (or raisins)
225g (8 oz) plain flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
plenty of ground nutmeg
generous squeeze of lemon juice
½ tablespoon milk
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm brownie tin. Cream butter and sugar, stir in currants. Combine flour and bicarb, and stir in. Stir in nutmeg, lemon juice, and, lastly, milk. Press into tin and smooth top. Try to push as much fruit below the surface as possible, as it can become dry and hard in the heat of the oven. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes until just pale golden on top, and cut into squares.