Monthly Archives: November 2015

Wartime Christmas Cake Recipe

Christmas is fast approaching, but it’s not too late to make a Christmas cake if you haven’t already done so. We should consider ourselves lucky that we can bake a traditional rich, tasty fruitcake; during the Second World War that was not possible for the people of England.

January 1940 saw the beginning of rationing; by the end of August 1942 almost all food, apart from vegetables and bread, was rationed. The women of Britain became very creative in their cooking, producing tasty meals from simple ingredients. This frugality was carried over from the ordinary every day meals to celebrations. People hoarded their ration coupons before weddings and Christmas, both traditionally times of indulgence but, in the early 1940’s, times to ‘make do’. The government published recipes for all sorts of things, from hearty meals to cakes, which could be cooked using just the ingredients purchased with ration coupons.

The characters in my novel, ‘Heronfield’, would have baked a Christmas cake from this or a similar recipe.

Christmas Cake (makes about 10 portions)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons dried egg*

1/2 level teaspoon mixed spice

10 tablespoons milk

pinch of salt

8oz self-raising flour

3oz margarine

3oz sugar

8oz mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, raisins or prunes)

Method

  1. Sieve the flour, dried egg, spice and salt into a basin. Hold the sieve high to allow as much air as possible to get into the dry ingredients.
  2. Wash the currants and sultanas and remove any woody stalks. Stone and chop the raisins or prunes. If using prunes these should be soaked in cold water overnight.
  3. Cream the margarine and sugar together, and beat well to incorporate as much air as possible.
  4. Add the milk and sieved flour mixture together. Do this a little at a time to make the mixing easier. Beat well.
  5. Stir in the dried fruit.
  6. At this point, give the mixture a final stir and make a wish!
  7. Line a cake tin with greaseproof paper; brush the paper with melted margarine to prevent the cake sticking.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for one hour in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 4). Lower the heat and bake for a further 1 1/2 hours in a very slow oven (Gas Mark 1).

*People were allowed 1 egg each per week or one packet of dried egg, which was equivalent to 12 eggs

I wonder what people wished for when giving the final stir to the cake? The safety of a loved one? Peace? If you have made your own cake this year I hope that you, too, have made a wish.

And I hope that that wish will come true for you!

Christmas cake

 

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Do you know how to wear your poppy, and what it means?

The First World War ended at 11am on 11th November 1918. Each year we take time to remember those who died. Each year we buy a poppy to help support the work of the Royal British Legion.

But do you know why the poppy is the symbol of remembrance?

And do you know how to wear your poppy correctly?

Many know of the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae, written in May 1915 after his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, had been killed during the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem describes poppies growing between the graves of British soldiers.

The poppy was later chosen as a symbol of remembrance because it was the first of the flowers to re-appear on the battlefields, and because of the three colours in this simple, yet beautiful, flower:

  • the deep red petals represent the blood of those who gave their lives for their country
  • the black represents the mourning of those whose loved ones never returned from the conflict
  • the green leaf represents the grass which covered the graves, and also hope for the future – crops being grown in a time of peace, and future prosperity after so much destruction

But did you know that the leaf should be worn in a particular position? Imagine that the poppy is a clock face, the leaf should be positioned at 11. This is a reminder that the death and destruction of World War One ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

And did you know that, whilst men wear their poppy on their left, many people say that women should wear the poppy on their right side? This is because it has always been traditional for women to wear broaches on the right. Many women still feel they should wear the poppy on the right, but the British Legion say you can wear it anywhere, as long as you wear it with pride.

So much symbolism in such a small thing.

As the years pass, fewer and fewer remember the symbolism of the poppy. I hope that this year you will take a few moments at 11am on 11th November to think of the poppy and what it represents.

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields

Book Review – ‘Cavalier Queen’ by Fiona Mountain

Cavalier Queen by Fiona MountainMy Recommended Read for November is ‘Cavalier Queen’. It is the first book I have read by Fiona Mountain – but it won’t be the last!

The English Civil War is a fascinating period of history, but the focus is usually on King Charles, or Oliver Cromwell, or Parliament. This book has a different perspective, focusing on Queen Henrietta Maria, her arranged marriage to the king, and her support for him during the war. I previously had only a superficial knowledge of Henrietta Maria’s life and loves, but this book has brought her to life for me. She was a multi-faceted woman, strong and supportive, deeply religious, loving and caring.

Through her story of the queen’s life Ms. Mountain gives a good description of the reasons for the war, and Henrietta’s constant struggle to raise money and arms for the king. The raising of the Queen’s Army in the north, and its journey south to meet up with the king, is fascinating. The description of Charles’ Headquarters in Oxford is also very interesting, as is the link to France with its own political turmoil at the time.

‘Cavalier Queen’ is an incredibly well-researched novel. The care for historical detail is superb with cameos of the queen’s life, (for example meeting the daughter of Shakespeare) bringing the whole period to life. One of the key players in the queen’s household was Henry Jermyn, someone whom I knew little about but who is a key character in English history, and who also played a key role in moulding Henrietta Maria into the person she was to become. I found learning about his life just as fascinating as the life of Henrietta Maria herself. (Please remember here, though, that the book is historical fiction. Although there is plenty of primary evidence for the role that Jermyn played politically at the court of King Charles, we cannot know the details of his personal relationship with the queen.).

Ms. Mountain is a skilled writer. Her characters are sympathetically drawn and believable, her dialogue realistic. The descriptions of palaces are vivid, and one feels the discomfort of those who suffered through some terrible sea crossings. ‘Cavalier Queen’ is enjoyable on so many levels – history, romance, love and duty. This is a book you can immerse yourself in; and one which, I believe, you will find difficult to put down.

Fiona Mountain’s website

Cavalier Queen can be found on Amazon

You can find more of my Book Reviews here