My Nana Russell would have been 100 today. This post is for her.
Nana’s was the generation who lived through the war, those people who are careful with food and spending, making every penny count and never ever throwing away even the tiniest scrap of leftovers. With four children to feed, Nana had to be smart about what she cooked and served and even when her children grew up and left home, she continued in that habit. What I remember about Nana is that she was outspoken (gee, I wonder where I got that from), and she loved to gather people around a table for a meal. Even for the simplest meal, we would sit at the table. There was always a hot meal served with bread and butter and a dessert of some sort. Certainly Nana was no gourmet cook but she knew how to feed a crowd. She also knew how to shop – I distinctly remember summers spent at her house where my sister and I were tasked with reading through the various supermarket leaflets and noting down the week’s bargains. I loved doing this and in fact, when I lived away from home during University (and later in Paris), it taught me to look around and compare prices, something I don’t imagine comes naturally to a lot of young people.
Some of my earliest memories are of going to Nana’s for morning or afternoon tea. Not “a coffee” but serious “teas” with biscuits and cakes and all sorts of goodies (yes, Nana was a sweet tooth, to which I attribute my own). And yes, we sat around the table. And drank out of cups with saucers. Some of these said goodies were store bought but if we were lucky Nana would have baked a cake. I don’t remember many home made baked goods at Nana’s (those were the days when store bought meant “fancy”) but etched in my memory forever is her plum cake. She had a plum tree in her enormous yard and we spent many a summer’s afternoon as kids picking (and eating) plums (“Don’t eat too many, you’ll get a sore tummy” she’d say!). Then if we were lucky she’d make a plum cake. Golden cake studded with rich plums and their sweet juice. I’m not sure why I have not attempted this before now but I felt what would have been Nana’s 100th would be a good time to try.
But what was the recipe? I called Mum and we had a comical exchange in which my mum told me to “Google plum cake” or “use one of your hundreds of cookbooks” to which I replied “But it won’t be NANA’S cake”. Mum insisted that that she didn’t have Nana’s recipe (she has a ton of old recipes but apparently not this one..) and finally came up with a recipe for a plain cake in her 1953 Manual of Domestic Art (Education Department of South Australia) from which I adapted this recipe. All sorts of oddness in ye olde cookbook such as 10dl of milk (this is 100mls) and, well, no pan size. Going on memory, I made this with an 8″ square pan.
- 60 g butter, at room temperature
- 112 g sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 eggs
- 170 g self raising (cake and pastry) flour
- ¼ cup milk
- 5-6 plums, halved and pitted
- caster sugar for sprinkling on top of the plums.
- Pre-heat oven to 350˚F.
- Butter and flour an 8" square baking tin.
- With electric beaters, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest.
- Add the eggs one at time, beating well after each addition.
- Add half the flour and continue to mix with a wooden spoon.
- Add half the milk gradually and continue to mix until just combined.
- Add the rest of the flour and mix well.
- Add the rest of the milk and mix until well combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin.
- Place the plum halves, cut side up, on top of the cake batter.
- Sprinkle the plum halves with a little caster sugar.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the cake is golden brown on top.
- Serve warm.
Was it “Nana’s” recipe? Not quite but very close. Happy birthday, Nana xox
Other goodies on the go right now…
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