"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Memories of My Grandmother and the Christmas Cake making

In Memory of the first Elizannie who was born on the 9th December 1890 in Southwark.

I really loved my 'Nan'. So much so that when my first grandchild was born and I was asked what I wanted to be called it was obviously going to be called 'Nanny', shortened as soon as the baby could speak to 'Nan'!

My Nan was a strong woman, the eldest of seven sisters - all strong women! - and one brother. The were born in around London, Nan was born in Southwark, and although her father was a skilled man and had served an apprenticeship [he was a 'journeyman engineer'] he had to take whatever jobs he could get. Stories abound about her early life and one is how often the large family had to do 'moonlit flits'. When money ran out because Great Grandfather was put out of work and the rent could not be paid the family would have to leave their lodgings in the middle of the night. Times were hard not only for the tenants but their landlords then who were often working people themselves and forced to let a room or two to supplement their income. Moonlight flits affected them too. However this sort of poverty seemed to have kept the family close to each other and in later life they always helped each other out without thought.

Six of the sisters survived into old age and those not living close by would write to each other regularly - we children and grandchildren would call them the 'Bronte sisters'! But most of the sisters lived near to one and another and their children and grandchildren played together and at times as a child I was never sure which child belonged to which aunt or cousin!

Luckily we still keep quite close and the internet aids that - last year I found lots of cousins on facebook, some I with whom I had lost contact and others who had been born and now had children of their own since I had last been in contact with their parents!

Obviously I am thinking of my Nan especially today. And I thought today would be a good day to make a Christmas cake - the first home made one for many years! - and this reminded me of my childhood and the Christmas cake making process.

My Nan would arrive at our house to assist with the process, which I think also included the making of Christmas puddings and it seemed to take days. Although the fruit had to be washed by hand and 'picked over' to remove the stalks. And then dried by laying on trays with tea towels under them. I used to try and sneak the odd handful but a clip round the ear was the reward if caught! The whole almonds had to be skinned by immersing in hot water and then 'popping' - my job because I would never eat the almonds! - and minced up in the spong mincer clamped to the kitchen table. My mother was so strong with this it used to make the mincer rebound! When the whole amount of ingredients were finally dried and assembled they were mixed together in one of those large earthenware bowls now only seen in museums with a massive wooden spoon. Everyone in the house had to have a stir and a wish. The house seemed to smell of the cooking for days - delicious but unobtainable. To me as a child the real start of the Christmas excitement! But the Christmas cake was always worth waiting for!

My Christmas cake making was much quicker today but a bit eventful too. No need these days to wash and dry fruit and one can buy almonds already ground - although I decided to omit them from these year's recipe as youngest daughter is pregnant and I am not sure if they are allowed or not. Also ommitted booze from recipe for same reason but once I have checked I can add that to the cooked cake [if it turns out OK - I have my doubts!] by feedin it.

So here is my schedule of cooking. I used the old standby recipe by Mrs Beeton [another Victorian Eliza] but don't blame her for the results....

1. Fall at the first post as I can't find the baking tin for large cakes, it is so long since I made a really big one. Eventually find it is right at the top of one of the kitchen cupboard. Climb onto a kitchen chair but still can't reach it [if @Lauren Moore is reading this she will emphathise] Six foot plus Other Half is out. Employ a long handled kitchen spoon to 'grab' it. Just catch it along with another baking tin and a pyrex dish. Rather pleased about the pyrex dish as I had completely forgotten I had it and rather like it.

2. Decide that whoever put the baking tin away years ago did not wash it properly and it is not nice. However the pyrex dish is lovely and decide to use that.

3. Start putting dry ingredients in mixing bowl. No baking powder but do have cream of tartar and bicarb of soda. Go on to google to find how to make baking powder from these ingredients. Write down 'recipe'. Go back to cream of tartar and bicarb of soda and find that the recipe for baking powder is written on those canisters. Swear.

4. Attempt to mix dry ingredients but cannot find mixer blades. Wonder if dough blades would work? Turn out cutlery drawers and big pot holding cutlery. Find proper blades.

5. Start sorting fruit. Whilst weighing start eating fruit especially glace cherries. Start feeling sick.

6. Put mixture in pyrex baking 'tin'. Hadn't realised it is shallower than baking tin. Now so fed up couldn't really care less. Put in oven.

7. Look around the devastation that is my kitchen. Leave it and get back to the computer.

8. Realise that perhaps Other Half had the right idea when he bought a Christmas Cake after I announced my intention of making one. Perhaps cooking is not my forte.

9. Wonder if Mum, Nan and her sisters are up there laughing at me! I hope so! Happy birthday Nan!

If you would like to read more about my lovely Nan please go to my previous blog at:
http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/search?q=bracelet If you click on this blog title it should take you straight there!

The picture above is of my Nan on a family day out at the seaside in the 1960s.


  1. Great bit of family history, Elizannie. Love it.

    The making of food was such an important social aspect of the family and helped bind a family together. I remember my grandmothers ginger wine .We called it ,"fire water."It was great for colds and ailments like that. Her fudge was delicious and her Christmas cake too.

    I loved my grandmother's fudge. I've always thought bought fudge had a bland taste compared to hers.

    I hope you and your family have a great Christmas Elizanne.

    All the best,

    PS I couldn't live without the INTERNET. You are right, nowadays it is so important for keeping people in contact.

  2. Thank you again Tony.

    I love the story of you family ginger wine although in all honesty I don't like anythign tasting of giner. My mother seemed to make wine out of anything, I even remember potato peelings playing a part. No fancy equipment then - old stockings, well washed of course, were used as strainers. They seemed to hang for days from the overhead airing racks in the little galley kitchen of the 1930s built house dripping the juice of whatever fruit they contained into a receptacle to be made into a wine. I remember going to Epping forest to gather wild fruit [probably blackberries] for this purpose. Probably illegal now or at least against the countryside code.

    I would have loved your fudge but knowing me have eaten it until I was sick. Never have had the sense to stop sooner. My mum used to make toffee apples with her own home made toffee. Mmmmmm.

    I hope you all enjoy Christmas too and don't get snowed in, my worry at the moment!

    The internet is great, had an email from a cousin in America re this blog yesterday which thrilled me to bits!