A triumph of nostalgia over necessity

All expats miss something – or many somethings – about their homeland.

If they claim not to, they prevaricate. Certain things are so deeply embedded in the formation of one’s character, tastes and preferences that their absence can become disproportionate. Perhaps I’m over-dramatising, but….  I don’t miss much, myself, but those things I do miss are tied to remembered happiness and pleasure. It was necessary to leave behind some particular pleasures, but there are always niggles. Who knew, 50 years ago, how memorable a particular kind of cake was going to be to this nearly 60-year-old living so happily in her adopted sunny land?

I’m talking about the King of Sunday tea-times, more gorgeous and satisfying than any fruit cake, delicate Victoria sponge or buttery upside-down cake. McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake. Gingery, sticky, chewy, and that m-word that everyone hates. It was always a disaster when it was finished, but there was still the bliss of the paper-scraping, when you could ease up from the paper case all those super-sticky bits that had been left behind, and which were somehow the ultimate delight, the bonus of this cake.

You can’t buy them in Australia. Oh, that’s not strictly true… you can get them at British Food specialty shops, online, or from Amazon in Australia. But they’re stale and nasty. They’ve sat in containers for weeks, in warehouses for more weeks, and in the hands of Australia Post or couriers for still longer. They are a travesty.

So ultimately, the only solution was to make my own. Over the years, there have been lots of trials and errors, perfectly pleasant gingerbreads and nice-ish cakes, but none that fit the bill, that rang the bell of memory. Until now.

See that shiny, sticky crust on top? And mine is bigger, too!

Yesterday, I hit the jackpot. I’m giving the recipe below. Writing this post is proving to be a good way to prevent myself cutting a third thick slice… for now.

Jamaica Ginger Cake
300ml/10floz whole milk
120g/4oz packed soft dark brown sugar
120g/4oz treacle or molasses
120g/4oz golden syrup*
230g/8oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
2 tblsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
120g/4oz salted butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F and grease and line a large, heavy loaf tin with baking paper.
Measure the milk in a glass measuring jug, add the sugar and warm in the microwave for about a minute. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and set aside to cool.
Melt the treacle, butter and golden syrup in another pan together over a low heat until runny but not hot.
Sift together the flour, bicarb, ginger, cinnamon and allspice
Pour first the milk and then the syrup mixtures into the flour and beat hard with a whisk until smooth – a wooden spoon will not get rid of all the lumps. The consistency should be of pancake batter. Add a little more milk if necessary.
Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool completely in the tin.
Once cooled, turn out and wrap with paper and foil. Leave the cake wrapped for at least 1 day before you tear into it. This is what makes the top deliciously sticky. Do not be tempted to unwrap earlier, or the top will be normal and boring, although still perfectly delicious.

*Golden syrup is not the same as corn syrup. It is thicker, darker and has strong caramel overtones. You could substitute with dark corn syrup, but the flavour is not the same. There are recipes on the internet for a pretty good home made version using nothing more fancy than water, sugar and lemon juice.

You can obviously make substitutions if you want to, but this recipe is designed to mimic as closely as possible the cake of my childhood. It’d probably be really nice with chopped crystallised ginger in it, or maybe dark chocolate chips. I’m not going there, I don’t want to 🙂

This recipe is egg free. You could probably also make it dairy free by subbing unsweetened almond milk and dairy-free margarine, although flavour will be affected. I’m not sure how it’d go gluten free; it’s already pretty dense, so I’d recommend against using too much almond meal. Try a quality gluten-free brand (like White Wings Gluten Free in Australia, or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour in the US). Disclosure: I don’t get paid anything for mentioning these two, I just want your recipe to turn out well.

Now, excuse me. I have a date with a cake…

A hazard to sitting

Screen shot 2014-06-28 at 4.49.19 PMWhen I emigrated to Australia 1o years ago, I left behind me the vast majority of my worldly possessions.

I reasoned that it would cost more to ship my furniture, bookshelves, fridge and washing machine than it would to buy new ones here, more suited to the climate and my living conditions. I was right, but it was a spartan beginning. I had 5 cubic metres of stuff. Most of it books, pictures, lamps, household linen, rugs, mirrors, china and glass; all the things that makes a place yours. I brought exactly two pieces of furniture, one easy chair and one Regency mahogany swivel top card table that had belonged to my mother and without which I wasn’t going anywhere. I’d done my homework on that table, eaten off that table, played games on that table. It was coming too.

The result was the Shopping Trip of All Time, when I finally moved into the house I bought the day after I arrived, and subsequently spent 6 weeks renovating. A bed, chests of drawers, tables, chairs, pots, pans. The whole kit and caboodle. But the best buy of the lot was my sofa. It’s handsome, comfortable, sturdy, elegant, has washable covers, and best of all, it came flat packed. Yes, my friends, it came from Ikea. Anyone turning up their nose and making disparaging remarks at this point may go and play quietly in the corner.  It has done sterling service, and continues to do so. But it tempts me to bad habits.

Screen shot 2014-06-28 at 4.49.57 PMWhich brings me to the title of this post. Bear with me, this really is going somewhere. I’m doing a lot of hand sewing at the moment. “No, really?” you cry. That will be quite enough sarcasm, thank you…. I have to change thread colour on a reasonably regular basis, and am surrounded by the tools of my activity: small scissors, papers, fabric, two reels of thread, needle threader, two needles, etc. On two separate occasions in the last week, I have lost a needle in the sofa, due mainly to my bad habit of parking them in the arm of the sofa whilst not in use. And I rediscovered them later. Painfully. In the part of me that does the sitting. Hence the title…

Screen shot 2014-06-28 at 4.50.10 PMI have a pincushion, but it it’s not very exciting. It’s also a bit barrel shaped and rolls about annoyingly. It was time for a more satisfactory solution. One of my many scrap boxes produced the materials, I took a break from embroidery, and suddenly the needles are coralled, my hinder end is safe and I can once again hurl myself into the depth of my lovely sofa with a peaceful mind.

Back to the embroidery hoop, then.

Words Under Pressure #17

Every migrant knows that no matter how wonderful the new life, the new home is, there are some things which still tug at the heart’s memory.  Here are some of mine.

And I Miss…

English spring mornings, fresh and green,
The first primroses, honeysuckle blowing gusts
Of lavish perfume under my night-time window,
The triumphant morning song of blackbirds,
The tender baby-gold of new oak leaves,
The promise of release from daytime darkness.

Ease of body on warm summer afternoons,
The haze of bluebells in the cool scented woods.
Wild roses and raspberries in the hedgerow,
Pimms with strawberries and cream.
Sun without scorching, dry without drought,
Endless childhood summer days.

Blackberry baskets loaded, then jars of jam,
Late apples picked from September trees,
The shouting, glorious gold of beech trees turning,
Squirrels in the walnut tree, starlings swarming,
The high V of geese heading south, distant honking.
Nature tucking herself into bed.

Christmas in wintertime, log fires, apple scented.
A sleeping world snug under a thick white blanket.
Flannel pyjamas, cosy woollen socks.
Stark-black trees laced with frost against grey sky,
Deer running in car headlights, early lambs.
The sun at rest, the world restoring itself.

Tomorrow, we’ll be on the road. I’m taking the new camera in the hope that something in the next 6 days will be worth a photo or two, but I’m not holding my breath, the weather’s a bit sordid. Anyway, I’ll post again when I get back.  Meanwhile, I’ll be eagerly reading your posts, so get cracking!