I’ve just spent a snowy weekend in my friend’s country kitchen, elbow deep in flour, spice and all things nice. It’s for my vintage cake-spot. Here, I bake and blog, throwing some of the best and most well-loved cake recipes of the last century into the mixing bowl.
I mixed my ingredients for a classic marmalade pudding (sourced from The Constance Spry Cookery Book,1956) in a small, glass basin. After wrapping this in a clean tea-towel, I left it to gently steam on top of the Aga. Three hours later the pud was a picture of dome-shaped perfection; all steaming suet and glinting orange rind. This was going to be a good baking day.
Constance Spry, described as the ‘Martha Stewart of mid-century Britain’ joins a long list of bakers, homemakers and celebrated authors who’ve left a lasting legacy in the culinary world. As a girl who’s partial to the sweeter side of life, I became fascinated by one legacy in particular – the cake.
As writer for the Women’s Institute membership magazine, WI Life, my research began in earnest. Lunch breaks were spent in the national archives, dusting off leather-bound periodicals dating back to 1919. Economy cake, plum pudding, and gingerbread were just some of the suggestions listed in the H.H.H. (handy household hints); a modest few lines of recipes printed in the then WI membership magazine Home and Country.
By the time I’d test-baked a batch of spiced buns, my mind was made up. My good friend Camilla came on board as cake-spot photographer and we haven’t looked back. If I’ve got the nose for burning crumbs, she’s got the eyes to weigh up a perfect cake shot.
Baking, and blogging about it, is fast becoming my number one past-time – not forgetting the odd ‘tweet’ as part of the global PR cruise. Yes, I was inspired by Julie and Julia – who wouldn’t be charmed by a French-talking Meryl Streep? – but the vintage cake-spot is more than show and tell. These are real cakes using classic, trusted recipes. And they’re tasty, too.
The good news is, everyone loves cake. But while the red-velvet iced delights of Portobello Road still cause a stir for hungry Londoners, I must stay true to my recipe books. If a slice of dripping cake’s not to your fancy, look away now. This is no time for counting calories.
The blog has opened my eyes up to a new London. East-end antique stores and charity shops have taken on a whole new dimension, many harbouring the battered old cook-books held so precious for women now and during the last century.
Cake is one of life’s pleasures and I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to celebrate the fact. If my blog can inspire anyone to grab an apron, some pantry essentials and get baking, I’m a happy girl.
What Jessica likes:
Places: Whitby in North Yorkshire. It’s got high cliffs, a beautiful old abbey and probably the best fish and chips you’ll ever taste (www.magpiecafe.co.uk). There’s also a fun caravan site called La Rosa and you can get your fortune told in a little shack on the pier
Food: A nice fish pie (see above)
Drink: Chambord and lemonade, whisky macs
Website: Find delicate hand-picked teas and a very inspiring lady
Music: Blondie, Moloko, Pink Floyd, Jay-Z, the Doors
Shop: Hemswell Market in Lincolnshire. It’s an antiques wonderland. I also can’t resist cos on Regent Street for a bit of office-glam.
Antiques, cakes, charity shop, Cooking, craft, Creative Review, Creativity, Culture, cupcakes, Entrepreneurship, film, handicraft, handy household hints, Home and Country, Jessica Simmons, Meryl Streep, photography, vintage cake-spot, women
- Tea and Cake, illustrated by Emma Block: Book Review
- An interview with cake designer and alternative baker Lily Vanilli, a.k.a. Lily Jones
- Vintage Tea Party, by Angel Adoree: Book Review
- The Great Cake Escape
- The School of Life open day