As some of you know, my aunt passed away a few weeks ago. What you might not know is just how much of an influence she was on my life.
When I started this blog, I told you how I had spent a lot of my life not cooking. I ate, obviously, but I got other people to cook for me. I didn’t need to cook as I lived on my own and anyway, I was always travelling. I ate in great restaurants and had a marvellous time.
I come from a family that always celebrate things with a family meal. Every occasion was marked with a get together. My mother and my aunt used to swap occasions… Christmas Day, one of them would cook, Boxing Day, the other would do it. Whoever did New Year wouldn’t do Easter. Everybody’s birthdays were a reason to come together as a family and eat.
My aunt was a great cook and always made the most superb cakes. Her Christmas pudding really couldn’t be beaten and, since I started cooking, I always used to ask for some to take home with me so I could use it in Christmas Pudding Icecream. She always believed that a person should be able to cook and, more to the point, be able to cook well.
She was so pleased when I started cooking and asking her how things were done. I used to ring her from my car as I drove the thousands of miles I used to do on motorways in my other job. She would tell me how I was supposed to make things and patiently go through the shopping I would need to get in order to make whatever it was she was helping me with. I would stop in some far away town, get my ingredients and carry on driving home. Then, when I got there, I’d ring her again and check I had everything right in my head.
She was the one who taught me how to cook ham properly….. she taught all of us. My brother adapted her recipe and came up with Gingery. Which is, in our eyes at least, possibly the world’s most delicious roast ham. Her daughter, my cousin, has been baking for years and is the maker of the world’s most delicious chocolate cakes which pleases her sons and her nephew no end. My aunt was never happier than helping people learn – she was a teacher all of her life. She even taught my postman when he was a little boy and whenever I saw him he would always send his best wishes and tell me that my aunt and uncle were the best teachers in that school.
Anyway, while my cousin and I were sorting things out at my aunt’s house, she dragged me to a bookcase and said she had found this….
………An ancient copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
My cousin said she wanted me to have it, tattered though it was, because it was something my aunt had had for years. It’s falling apart, as you can see and the covers are hanging off. I wish I’d asked my aunt about the book … who it belonged to before her and what she had learnt from it….anyway, I have it now and it is on my cookery bookshelves. You never know, it might get picked on the next round of Cookery Lotto! How proud she would have been to think that I was even contemplating cooking something from it.
The very first cake she taught me to make was her simple and delicious Lemon Drizzle cake. I found the recipe in my cook book, scrawled on a piece of paper. She will have dictated that to me as I, no doubt, sat in the car at some motorway services, parked up in the rain.
I think she chose that as it is the simplest cake in the world to make and if she was going to entice me into the world of baking, she would need to make sure that I could manage. I think she was reckoning on a small cake, emerging triumphantly from the oven, would be the first in a line of cakes.
And, I suppose, in a way, it was. I decided, this weekend, to bake the Lemon Drizzle cake because it reminded me of her.
The ingredient list was simple and concise – 4 oz each of soft butter, caster sugar, self raising flour and a couple of large eggs. How hard could that be? And some lemons for the lovely drizzle to be poured over the top.
My note did say to cream the butter and sugar together and I’m certain she meant doing it with a wooden spoon… but you see the Kitchen Aid mixer? She bought me that as my wedding present. I have to use it, then, don’t I? I think she realised by the time I eventually got married that I was turning into a cook and a Kitchen Aid was going to be far more use to me in my married life than some standard wedding present of crystal or maybe bed linen. It was an incredibly generous gift, from an incredibly generous aunt.
A couple of the brilliantly golden-yolked free range eggs turn the mix into a vibrant yellow. Finely grate some lemon zest in there – you will be using the lemons later. Just remember to make sure you used unwaxed lemons and if you don’t, give the lemons a good scrubbing first.
That 4 oz of flour (she told me to sieve it) was folded in and then everything put into a lined loaf tin.
Those silcone paper tin liners are an absolute godsend. No more snipping about with pieces of greaseproof paper or baking parchment… the hours they must save across the world!
And into the oven for about 30-40 minutes at 140-150 degrees.
Now to make the lemon drizzle…
That too, is simple…. Just the juice of one and a half lemons and some icing sugar – a good 2 ounces.
(I know that whenever you see chefs on the TV they squeeze lemons in their hands but I always use that glass lemon juicer. I don’t think you need to get your fingers covered in juice and besides, the pips will always drop in whatever it is you are making. Anyway, you get far more juice out of the lemon or the lime with one of them than you do by just squeezing. Maybe my hands aren’t strong enough? )
Heat it gently in a pan until the icing sugar dissolves.
At the end of the cooking time, take the cake out and peel back the paper to let it cool for ten minutes or so.
Once that’s done, take a fork and prick over the surface of the cake
This will let the lemon sugar syrup sink in when you gently drizzle it over the surface.
And there you have it.
The simplest cake in the world… but also one of the most delicious.
Golden cake with a lovely, sweetly sharp lemon drizzle. The first cake I made and one that will always remind me of my darling aunt.
Thanks for everything, Maggie.