Plum cake for Nana

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.

Yield: 8-10

Nana Russell's plum cake

A slice of plum cake

A simple plum cake that highlights the beauty and flavour of plums.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • 60 g butter, at room temperature
  • 112 g sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 170 g self raising (cake and pastry) flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 5-6 plums, halved and pitted
  • caster sugar for sprinkling on top of the plums.


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Butter and flour an 8" square baking tin.
  3. With electric beaters, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest.
  4. Add the eggs one at time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Add half the flour and continue to mix with a wooden spoon.
  6. Add half the milk gradually and continue to mix until just combined.
  7. Add the rest of the flour and mix well.
  8. Add the rest of the milk and mix until well combined.
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin.
  10. Place the plum halves, cut side up, on top of the cake batter.
  11. Sprinkle the plum halves with a little caster sugar.
  12. 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.
  13. Serve warm.

did you make this recipe?

please leave a comment or review on the blog or share a photo and tag me on Instagram @eatlivtravwrite !

 Was it “Nana’s” recipe? Not quite but very close. Happy birthday, Nana xox


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41 thoughts on “Plum cake for Nana”

  1. Aw, happy birthday Nana! You’ve painted a lovely picture of her, Mardi, and this cake looks gorgeous. I’m fortunate enough to have my Nanna still with us, but being many hundreds of kilometres away from me I haven’t eaten her baking for a long time! I am still yet to eat a scone that beats hers.

  2. Oh, joyeux anniversaire, Nana! You know, even if you’d had her EXACT recipe, it STILL probably wouldn’t have tasted the same. But I’m sure she’s up there somewhere eyeing that cake with a gleam in her eye.

  3. That looks drop dead gorgeous….plums take baking to another level…they impart an amazing color to cakes 🙂 couple of weeks back i made these plum cupcakes and they were looking so pretty….your cake reminded me of ’em 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing the recipe AND your lovely memories! I just purchased all the ingredients to try it! I hope your day is sweet….

  5. Yes, Nana is easy to remember. My main memory of her was that it did not matter how many people visited unexpectedly or at what time of day or night, she somehow always managed to conjure up something to eat. Even when, at first appearances, there appeared to be nothing to eat. And the plum cake was gorgeous – always with a dollop of cream. Nice post Mardi.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your recollections of your grandmother. What a warm way to remember her on what would have been her 100th birthday. You certainly did justice to the memory of her wonderful plum cake with your re-creation of it here. Looks beautiful Mardi and no doubt she is beaming with pride at you from above.

  7. Happy birthday to Nana. She is smiling at you; I am sure of it. I have fond memories of going to my great grandmother’s home, every afternoon for coffee and cookies. Well, mine was more like milk with a splash of coffee. Still a wonderfully warm memory.

  8. What a lovely post, and a beautiful way to remember your Nana! I have gotten lots and lots of plums from our fruit CSA this year, and I was running out of ideas to use them all. I have a few left, and I think I will have to give this beautiful cake a try!

  9. Made this today and loved it. Soo light and the plums add just enough moisture to it. Thanks for the recipe.


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