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)
2 tablespoons dried egg*
1/2 level teaspoon mixed spice
10 tablespoons milk
pinch of salt
8oz self-raising flour
8oz mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, raisins or prunes)
- 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.
- 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.
- Cream the margarine and sugar together, and beat well to incorporate as much air as possible.
- Add the milk and sieved flour mixture together. Do this a little at a time to make the mixing easier. Beat well.
- Stir in the dried fruit.
- At this point, give the mixture a final stir and make a wish!
- Line a cake tin with greaseproof paper; brush the paper with melted margarine to prevent the cake sticking.
- 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!