This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Mrs Birrell's Marvellous Cake, and an Appeal

I have no idea who Mrs Birrell was, but her cake obviously made a big impression on the woman who wrote it into one of my books.   It appears twice.    Of course, I had to give it a go.

A short list of ingredients, no instructions other than to bake it in a slow oven - not usually a problem with a Rayburn!

"1 lb flour
1/2 lb sugar
1/4 butter
4 oz Lemon Peel & Citron Mixed
1/4 lb raisins
1/4 lb currants
2 eggs
2 teaspoonsful baking powder
1 teacupful of milk

bake in a slow oven"

Well that doesn't sound so bad.

Starting this blog has taught me many things, one of the most valuable has been how much easier it is to cook and bake if you have all your ingredients weighed and measured before you begin.  

I only started to do this because I wanted to photograph them, but it saves a lot of time, especially when you have a big kitchen, and the pantry is in the Boot Room.   Quite a trek.   These days it has become almost second nature to prepare things beforehand - even when i am not cooking for the blog.

There was no method given, so I simply creamed the butter and sugar until it was light and fluffy, then I added the beaten eggs, a little at a time.      I had already added the baking powder to the flour and I sifted them into the creamed mixture,  added the dried fruit and the milk and gave it a good stir. I had to add another tablespoonful of milk because the consistency wasn't quite right.

No cake tin measurement - I used an 8" fairly deep, loose-bottomed tin, greased and also lined at the base.

The Rayburn was showing 150 degrees when I put it in.

I went out to do some work in our little Owl Wood - planting some more wild garlic, picking fallen branches, chasing our granddaughter around in endless games of hide and seek.

I went indoors a little over an hour later to find that the Rayburn had become a little hotter - it had crept up to about 170..

The cake looked fine, phew!   I tested it with a skewer, it was fully cooked.

Can you see that darker outer ring - the extra heat had overcooked the outside, not burnt it, but it is a bit dry, darn it.     That is one of the problems with a  wood-fired Rayburn, they like their little jokes.   Never mind, Rayburn, I still love you!

The taste test:    I was very surprised, ignoring the hard outer edge, not Mrs Birrell's fault, the cake itself is light, fruity and really lovely.      I am so used to heavier fruit cakes, this one is quite a revelation.

We both enjoyed a slice.   The next test is to see how well it keeps.

ps  Max and I Love this cake.    It has instantly gone to the top of the must bake again list.

Over on my other blog I have put out an appeal for someone who would be willing to have a go at knitting up a pattern from this book.

This is the book which contains Mrs Birrell's Cake.   About half of the book is dedicated to recipes, the other half to knitting patterns.

I like experimenting with the recipes, but I am not a knitter.

I wondered whether there could possibly be someone out there who would like to have a go at knitting up an old fashioned pattern - I've listed some of them over here.  Siberian Cuffs, Baby's Bonnet, Ladies Under Cap, Opera Cap, to name but a few.

I don't have links to any keen knitters - do you?

This is a just for fun project, there is no money in it, no pressure, no hassle.


  1. The cake looks delicious, Elaine! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  2. Thanks, Linda. My husband wasn't expecting to enjoy it, but he loved it.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  3. looks so lovely and how amazing to have that old recipe. This is the kind of cake that my grandma would have served at tea time slathered thickly with salted butter.

  4. Thank you Dominic! It is a really nice cake, with or without butter, well done Mrs Birrell - and the woman who wrote it down in her book.

  5. When my wife bakes either cakes or biscuits, I always ask her to leave it in the oven for an extra 10 mins so that the exterior has a 'well cooked' look. Your cake, for me, would probably have been perfect.

  6. Hello Cro, It is a lovely cake - hard crust and all.
    Talk about forward planning, but we have already decided that this will the recipe we'll use for our Yuletide cake this year.

  7. The cake looks absolutely delicious. Thanks for visiting my blog. We have 2 little girls next door and they love playing in the snow. It's supposed to warm up for a few days, above zero so hopefully some of the white stuff will melt!

  8. Hello Janice, You will be glad to see the back of it and then all your spring flowers can come through. I hope it happens soon.