Like lots of things in life, many recipes just seem to come and go. Like the strange fashion choices we make, they fleetingly enter our lives and are just as swiftly removed from our repertoire (prawn cocktail anyone?). But others are keepers. I like flicking through people’s recipe books and noticing the pages that have been loved more than others, spatterings of oil or batter marking the repeated hours of attendance and care over a favourite meal, cake or whatever it is that has been so lovingly chosen time and time again.
My close friends all know what an amazing cook my mum is, in fact our kitchen became almost legendary for all the treats she offered to visitors over the years. But if myself or my sisters ask for a recipe the stock answer something along the lines of ‘oh it’s so easy! You just throw some of this and a bit of that and it’ll all turn out fine’. The recipes have become so engrained in my mum’s mind that she no longer needs to turn to those spattered instructions to be able to turn out the family favourites that are so important in making us feel at home.
In my memory there has always been a boiled fruit cake like this one snuggled in grease proof paper in a tupperware somewhere in our kitchen. My mum made it for coffee mornings, fetes and school gatherings, it was offered to guests who passed through and eaten by us with a hot drink from a flask after long muddy walks. I’m not sure I even tried another type of fruit cake until quite late on in my life and was quite disappointed by the lack of fruit and dense, pale sponge. So: this is a boiled fruit cake recipe, but it’s more than just a fruit cake recipe. The recipe page for this cake is so well loved it might as well have been put in the oven and been baked as well. I know, however, that it has probably been years since it’s even been read (apart from by me) because the number of times that my mum has made it guarantees that it is committed to her memory.
I’ve meant to bake it myself many times but have to admit that this is the very first time I have done it. I had to use my intuition to try and fathom the vague instructions (2 or 3 eggs?!). And of course the one I made isn’t a scratch on my mum’s version and never will be. Feel free to interpret it as you wish, I’m sure it’s the kind of recipe that experience improves over time.
Lets face it, it may not help you to win the Great British Bake Off but its a lovely, easy cake to make, perfect for afternoon tea in the garden and hopefully you’ll enjoy it just as much as we all have over the years.
250 ml cold water
500g mixed dried fruit (get the luxury type that includes some cherries, or add some if it doesn’t – they make all the difference, it’s such a treat to find one)
250g caster sugar
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3 medium eggs
Grease and line a 28 x 18 cm rectangular cake tin (or similar).
Preheat the oven to 180°c
Put the fruit, water, sugar and butter in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
Sieve the four, bicarb and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl.
Add the boiled fruit mix to the flour and stir well. Pour into the lined tin and bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack.
This cake keeps well in your favourite cake tin!