Let them eat CAKE… Please

My mother would have felt an overwhelming sense of shame if her cake tins, biscuit tins and a slice tin or two, were not filled with deliciousness. The cake tin was always filled with two types of cake, one would have been a fruit cake (sultana or mixed fruit) and the other a plain cake, that was Dad’s fave, a chocolate, orange or lemon. Complex cakes were not usually the province of the home cook, even things like Napoleon Slice or a rolled sponge were left to Tommy Digby.. he did them better. Mum made a ripper Lamington and they were my favourite.




125g butter

3/4 cup castor sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup SR Flour

2/3 cup milk

1 tspn vanilla


Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, add eggs one at a time. Add flour alternatively with milk. Pour mix into a greased lamington slab tin, 11 inches by 7 inches and bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes. After it’s thoroughly cooled cut into four centimetre by 4cm pieces. Wrap cake in foil and put in the freezer.



3cups icing sugar

1 tspn butter

1 tspn vanilla

1 tbspn cocoa

Put icing ingredients in a double boiler, over boiling water.  And mix until smooth, adding a dash of hot water.



Then put a lamington on a fork and ladle icing over the top until covered, hold it while it drips then roll in fine coconut.

Dry on cake rack with greaseproof paper over the top of it, or underneath to catch the coconut.

When transporting Lamingtons put extra coconut at the bottom of the container to prevent sticking to the bottom.


The gig was…

Family – a slice of cake for morning or afternoon tea, no supper in our house, it just didn’t happen. Maybe it was because Dad started work so early, the house was often put to bed by 9 pm.

Visitors – a pot of tea, until Mum discovered Turban coffee essence and thought it unbelievably posh, after that coffee was offered, but only in the morning. A plate of cakes, home made biscuits, slice or what ever was the go for the week was produced. Scones were a huge favourite for afternoon tea, so too buttered ‘pikelets’.


Mum’s Plain Cake… so easy and so tasty

250g (8oz) butter

250g (8oz)  sugar

4 eggs

1/2 cup (65gr or 2oz)plain flour

1 1/2 – 2 cups(200gr to 250gr or 6 1/2oz to 8oz) self raising flour

1/2 cup milk (approx)

pinch salt

vanilla essence or the grated rind and juice of one lemon (just add milk to make 125 mil)

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time beating well.  Add pinch of salt and vanilla essence and mix.  Alternately mix in flour and milk.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c/360°f for 30 – 40 minutes or until when tested skewer comes out clean.  Turn out of tin and allow to cool.


People ate cake. Today, we seem not to. I am mystified. There are a number of possible explanations… Can’t bake anymore! Time Challenged! Calories! Confusion!

We have forgotten how. Baking was always considered one of the house wives main duties, (It should be said that many men also took great pride in baking and entered competitions and shows) she took a lot of pride in keeping the tins filled and even entered shows and competitions with the results of her kitchen. The CWA (I love the heading on the CWA book on Cakes ‘ Traditional Tempting Tried and True’.) was the main support along with the PWMU and the dozens of local auxiliaries of various things who proudly produced local recipe books that were attributed to great local cooks. My mother collected recipes and swapped them, her hand written recipes books are filled with swapped recipes. Jennifer’s mother (Annie Belle) was an avid collector of recipes and hand written recipe books and I have them all.

But why? Why was life different then, so different that it is hard to even start to compare. Looking back I can see the changes starting. In the early days of marriage and family, we did keep a cake or two in the cake tin. We did not often make biscuits, a slice maybe but rarely. As the family grew and started to need things like school lunches, cakes became more important. Daughter Seryn was one of the family bakers and joined her mother and me. Jennifer was an exacting baker who liked to do things by hand, there is little doubt that cakes made this way are superior, the main problem was she was a reluctant baker. I was more inclined to toss it all in having read the recipe, I always wanted to innovate. Seryn fell somewhere in the middle, she liked to follow a recipe, yet innovate. Her innovations and particularly when she doubled a recipe on the odd occasion got messed up and the results, amusing. But I can say, my family was raised to enjoy cake. And still do.

Time is something that we have blamed too much for many of our shortcomings of the kitchen. Its time to stop and take a good hard look. Are we simply lazy? Are we overindulged, spoiled for choice, served by many to make our eating lives happy? Its true to say that in the past, women were not expected to work once they had started a family, but that certainly did not mean they worked less, it seem true that often women worked much harder and longer hours than they do today. And they had to cook much more than they do today. Grocery stores in the past were much different places. My mother would shop for.

*Flour: 3 types SR and Plain and Cornflour

*Sugar: Normal, Caster or Icing sugar

*Cleaning Aids: Floor wax, Velvet soap (used for all soap needs including washing the dishes)


*Toiletries were purchased from Olive Powell’s pharmacy, soap and toothpaste.

*Cheese and Butter. Mum had two cheeses only and butter was often not needed since Dad would get some milk from one of the farms and mum would make her own butter, the butter milk, the residue was great for baking.


*Eggs, always from our own chooks, I don’t think my family would have ever bought eggs.

*Sauces Chutneys and Pickles, along with Mayonnaise were always home made, never ever bought.

*Incidentals.. custard powder, vanilla essence, vinegar, jelly crystals, desiccated coconut, mustard powder, spices, tea. *Tinned foods were just a few, Condensed Milk, Rosella Tomato soup, Heinz Baked beans and my Mum’s fave, sardines. The occasional canned salmon.





*Sweet biscuits in great moderation and these would have come from large tins in the grocer’s shop.


*Meat from the butcher; chicken was unheard of as something you could purchase ready to cook. Fish was caught by Dad and when we lived down near the wharves, a few bits of flake or some of my favourite, couta bellies. *Fruit was grown and preserved or turned into jams in the summer, every house had a vegetable garden and grew a lot of their own needs, for the rest it would be Edgar Egan for vegetables and fruit we did not grow.

The number of products to be found these days in Grocery shops (now called Supermarkets) is astounding. It started with the addition of toiletries, then with amazing speed started to include delicatessen and butchering lines, the rest is a seemingly endless array of new product all designed to get us into the space and keep us there… insurance seems to to be the latest.

Calories are those unseen things that are in every bit of food that passes into us and have the ability to make us fat or thin. Water is calorie neutral. In the past they were also not something that was thought about, today with the advent of sales people selling weight loss, weight gain, long life and every other aspect of living, we are reminded over and over of there great relevance in our lives.

Calories intake in the 1950’s and 60’s are listed for Australian at about 2000 (+ or – a bit) and todays intake average for women is 2500 and for men 3000. Its also of some importance to note that obesity and even a great preponderance of overweight was not a major issue in the 50/60’s. The same cannot be said for today where the issues of body weight, world wide (except for the third world) are of major concern.

Since we are dealing with the why of not eating cake, it must be said that as a calorific food, cake has not had good press, it is regarded as a weighty item in the intake of foods, 60 grams of plain cake has a calorie content of about 197. Other cakes that have a higher fat content with cream, sugar coating have a much greater count. But by way of comparison a Big Mac hamburger has 560 calories and if you have it with a medium sized bag of chips, then a further 380 calories can be added. A really good roast dinner with all the trimmings, beef, potatoes and at least three vegetables and gravy, 600 calories, up to 800 should you be like my Grandfather and demand fat on your roast. You can have a great roast dinner, a slice of cake (think steamed jam pudding as a desert cake for 360 calories) for the same amount of calories consumed if you eat one Big Mac and a medium bag of chips – 940 calories.

Its dazzling how the youth of today would even begin to choose a Big Mac over a roast dinner. So perhaps it is that the cook in the house simply won’t cook a roast because it may interfere with some social occasion or god help us, a trip to some shopping centre to max out the credit card.


It’s not calories. Its simply not.

Confusion then? We are completely and utterly bewildered. We have lost the plot and have a lot of trouble finding our way through the food maze. Many possible explanations, I suspect that we are offered too much choice, we are goaded into believing that we must cook from a new country every time we enter the kitchen, that the super star chefs must also shoulder some blame I think is true, they have turned food from hearth and heart into entertainment.

I am as guilty as the next foodie, I run all over Melbourne and beyond to get my grubby fingers on foods that I consider either tastier, better or more interesting. I run all over the place to get a loaf of white bread that is crusty and moist inside, I chase meat growers to get the best cut, I am always in search of the cheese that will make my ears tingle like it did when I was a kid. I drive to any market in any place to get my hands on the best fruit and vegetable. And yet I wonder if this is the right way. Is it possible that the growth in home grown vegetables and fruit are heralding a turn of events and that the ways that I look back nostalgically on are returning?

Napoleon Cake


5-3/4 lb. self-rising flour

1-3/4 lb. butter, room temperature

14 oz. white sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp. water

Raspberry jam


1-1/3 lb. butter (room temperature)

1-1/3 lb. white sugar

2-1/4 lb. self-rising flour

2 tbsp. milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

Strawberry frosting

Shredded coconut


Cream butter and sugar. Blend egg yolk with water; mix with butter and sugar mixture. Blend in flour. Roll out very thin. Line a grease lamington tin with half of the pastry. Prick well and spread with a good layer of raspberry jam.


Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Fold in flour, then milk and vanilla. Pour this mixture into the pasty case, making a slight hollow in the centre. Roll out the remaining half of the pastry; spread with raspberry jam. Place on top of cake with jam side face down.

Bake in moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF for 35-40 minutes, or until pastry is browned and sponge cake is done. Turn onto a wire rack to cool. When cold frost with strawberry flavoured pink frosting, then sprinkle with shredded coconut.

~ by peterwatson on May 16, 2013.

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