By the eighteenth century Britons had developed a wealth of old-fashioned bakery: not only game and meat pies but plum cakes, yule cakes, Madeiras, ginger, chocolate, cherry, and marmalade cakes , jam roll, beer cakes and seed cakes. Besides these were an almost infinite variety of curranty buns, shortcakes, gingerbreads and little cheesecakes such as Richmond Maids of Honour.
Many celebratory cakes were linked to the seasonal calendar, such as harvest-time, Saints’ days and festivals. Their common origin was a medieval spiced pastry filled with currants known as Banbury Cakes (said to be brought home by the crusaders from the East), with variants as Eccles and Chorley Cakes, Cumberland Currant Pasties, Coventry Godcakes, and Mrs Raffald's Sweet Patties shown below. All around the British agricultural calendar, special cakes were made to use up surpluses, such as the Flead Cakes of Kent, made after rendering.
Then again, like most of history, baking is about constant renewal. Recipes, however well loved, are updated. Recently, in an attempt to revive the autumnal delights of Taffety Tart (a much loved Georgian pastry of apples, quince and spices) I devised a Taffety Cake. My recipe, featured in The Clandestine Cake Club's new collection, A Year of Cake, uses the modern inventions of ready-made quince jam and fragrant rosewater. It seems to me both comforting and wise economy to bake by season, so with apples bending the branches of our village trees, it is a pleasure to bake nature’s bounty.
My Best Receipt for Taffety Tart
Lay down a peck of flour and work it up with six pound of butter and four eggs and salt and cold water. Roll and fill with pippins and quinces and sweet spice and lemon peel as much as delights. Sweet Spice is cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinammon, sugar & salt. Close the pie and strew with sugar. Bake till well enough.
Martha Garland her best receipt writ on a butter-marked scrap of parcel paper, 1758
Martine Bailey’s debut historical novel, AN APPETITE FOR VIOLETS, is available in paperback and as an eBook from Hodder & Stoughton. Find out more by visiting Martine Bailey’s website and by following her on Twitter.