Sunday, 3 January 2016

Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night Celebrations

For many years Twelfth Night (normally the night of January 5th) marked the end of the Christmas festivities (as it represented the night when the three kings would finally arrive in Bethlehem). Many people, especially those working in rural areas, saw Twelfth Night as important as Christmas Day itself. It was the last night of the Christmas holidays and everybody had to return to work the next day. It was therefore a raucous affair with plenty of alcohol and general merriment. Twelfth Night also saw the last appearance of the "Lord of Misrule" when normal social conventions and status where turned their heads.

The celebration of Twelfth Night diminished as people moved out of the countryside into the cities and as the Victorians began to transform the Christmas period into a quieter, more respectable and family-orientated celebration. However, there is still a slight hang-over left as many people now wait until Twelfth Night to take down their Christmas decorations. To leave them up for any longer (when Christmas has 'officially' ended) is to invite bad luck.

Twelfth Night Cake

At the centre of any Twelfth Night celebrations is the Twelfth Night Cake. This is normally a simple fruit cake wrapped into a gold paper crown. Baked into the cake was one dried pea and one dried bean. As the cake was eaten whoever found them would be crowned the king and queen of the night and would direct proceedings until midnight. As the celebration of Twelfth Night diminished so did the cake. However, the Twelfth Night Cake simply transformed into Christmas Cake and the pea and bean was substituted with a silver coin.

Twelfth Night Cake Recipe

The recipe that I use to make my Twelfth Night Cake comes from Sara Paston-Williams' The National Trust Book of Christmas and Festive Day Recipes.

It's a really simple and rich fruit cake to create. All you need to do is add a dried pea and bean to the mixture and you're ready for your Twelfth Night celebrations.


225g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
3 tablespoons of brandy or rum
225g flour
1/2 teaspoon of allspice (or 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and cinnamon each)
225g currants
225g raisins
125g sultanas
75g flaked almonds


1. Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Grease and line a 25cm/10in cake tin with buttered greaseproof paper.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, Whisk the eggs with brandy/rum and beat gradually into the creamed mixture. Sift the flour and spices and add a little of the time to the mixture. Add the fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.

3. Put the mixture into the cake tin, smooth the top and make s slight hollow in the centre. Now add the pea and bean.

4. Bake for 3-3.5 hours. If the top of the cake looks like it is getting too brown then cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle come out clean.

5. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then complete cooling on a wire rack.

Serve the cake wrapped into a paper gold crown (to represent the three kings) and don't forget to warn your guests about the pea and bean.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Christmas Pudding (for Stir-Up Sunday)

Stir-Up Sunday

There are lots of traditions associated with Christmas and sadly it seems that many of them are falling by the wayside. I thought that I would make a small step to revive one of these traditions. It's Stir-Up Sunday.

This was the day when people would mix together the ingredients for their Christmas Puddings. It always falls on the last Sunday before the start of Advent. 

This year that's 22nd November. 

It's done on this date because, as the church-goers amongst you will instantly know, the collect for day in the Book of Common Prayer is:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works...
Presumably people heard the collect in church on that Sunday and, by association of ideas, remembered that the Christmas Pudding needed making.

Of course it's also good to make the Christmas Pudding well before Christmas Day itself to allow the rich and spiced flavours to develop.

Stir-Up Sunday is always seen as a family affair in which every member of the household is supposed to take part in the mixing of the ingredients. Everybody takes it in turn to stir the ingredients during which they make a wish for the year ahead. By tradition everybody should stir the mixture three times in anti-clockwise direction. This represents the three wise men travelling from the East to the West. 

Christmas Pudding Recipe

This is the Christmas Pudding that I make every year. I'd like to say that it was handed down to me from my grandmother and was written out on an ancient piece of paper with copper-plate writing using a fountain pen that I still have in my writing desk. I'd like to say that but I can't because it's not true. I cut it out of the BBC Vegetarian Food magazine years ago and stuck in my recipe scrap book. Anyway, here it is.

Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking: 8 hours
Serves: 10


100g sultanas
100g raisins
275g currants
25g blanched almonds (chopped)
25g pecan nuts (chopped)
100g butter
100g dark muscavado sugar
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
100g fresh breadcrumbs
175g self-raising flour
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 small cooking apple (peeled, cored and diced into small pieces)
200ml stout
2 tbsp rum or brandy

Also a 1.2litre/2lb pudding bowl


1. In a bowl, mix together the sultanas,raisins, currants, almonds and pecan nuts. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Gradually add the eggs into the butter/sugar mix. Add this mixture to the fruit and fold together gently.

2. Add the breadcrumbs, flour, spice and apple Mix gently. Add the stout and rum/brandy and mix together.

This is the moment when everybody in your house can stir the ingredients together if they're not helping with the rest of the recipe.

3. Leave in a cool place for at least 12 hours.

4. Lightly grease the pudding bowl and fill with the mixture. Press down and smooth the top with a wooden spoon. Place a piece of greaseproof paper over the top and then a piece of tinfoil. Tie together tightly with a piece of string.

5. Place the pudding in a steamer and steam for 6 hours. You'll have to top up the water occasionally.

6. Remove the pudding and allow to cool. Remove the tinfoil and greaseproof paper. Put the paper in the recycling bin and replace with some fresh greaseproof paper, then put the tinfoil back on top and tie it up again.

7. Keep the pudding bowl in the fridge and leave until Christmas Day.

8. On Christmas Day steam for 3 hours. Carefully transfer to a plate and serve. If you want that classic 'pudding on fire' effect (just how pagan can Chistmas get?) then add four tablespoons of heated brandy and ignite. Make sure the brandy doesn't come from a bottle that been open a long time. The alcohol would more or less disappeared and it won't catch fire.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Elderberry and Blackberry Cordial

I went on a foraging expedition on Mousehold Heath last week. I wanted to try a new recipe that somebody had sent me for an Elderberry and Blackberry Cordial, I knew that there would be loads of elderberries because of the vast amounts of elderflowers I had picked (and lots that I left undisturbed) several months ago. There were also some clearings where I knew that blackberries were growing in abundance.

Not only did I find lots of elderberries and blackberries but I also discovered vast amounts of rosehips and fennel growing as well. I'll be going back next week to pick some of that.

I thought that people might like the recipe for the cordial. There's huge numbers of blackberries (and elderberries) this autumn and this recipe makes a difference from the usual blackberry crumble and jam recipes. I've drunk the cordial with sparkling water and it's very refreshing. I also tried it with hot water as a warmer for the coming chilly evenings and that's pretty good too.

You'll need either a jelly bag or a muslin for this recipe. I used a muslin that was used with both kids when they were babies and is now used when I have to strain something in the kitchen. This recipe will stain the muslin quite a lot but if you put it into soak immediately with some washing powder then the stain goes away. 


350g of elderberries (Make sure the elderberries are fully ripe. If the clusters of berries are drooping with their own weight then they are ready. You can remove the berries from their stalks with the prongs of a fork)

350g of blackberries

Caster sugar (see recipe for quantity)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon of citric acid


Put the elderberries and blackberries in a large saucepan with 150ml of water. Heat and boil gently with the lid on for about 5-6 minutes. Leave to cool for about 5 minutes and then mash the berries with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon.

Strain the berries through either a suspended jelly bag or through a muslin-lined sieve into a clean bowl. You can squeeze or press the bag or muslin to get as much juice out as possible. Measure the juice and then add an equal quantity of sugar (so 500ml of liquid needs 500g of sugar).

Rinse out the pan and then pour in the juice/sugar mixture with the lemon juice and the cinnamon. Stir and boil for one minute.

Discard the cinnamon stick, skim off any scum from the surface, stir in the citric acid and then pour immediately into warm sterilised bottles. Seal, leave to cool and store in the fridge.

I poured one bottle of cold cordial into a plastic bottle and put it in the freezer so that we have some for Christmas.

Elderberry and Blackberry Cordial (some of it already drunk and some in the freezer)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Gooseberry and Elderflower Conserve

Whilst picking jam strawberries at a local pick-your-own to make into a sorbet, I also picked some gooseberries to make into a conserve. It's simple to make and it uses up some of that elderflower cordial that I recently made.

Here's the recipe:

900g (2lbs) of gooseberries
900g (2lbs) of granulated sugar (not jam sugar - gooseberries have loads of pectin in them already)
4 tablespoons of elderflower cordial
Small amount of butter

Put a couple of saucers in the fridge.

Take a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and smear the bottom with the butter. This helps to prevent any sticking during the rapid boil.

Top and tail the gooseberries and add to the saucepan with 150ml of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer slowly until the gooseberries have broken up and are tender (about 15 minutes).

Whilst this is happening put your oven on to a moderate heat (about 150oC)

Now add the sugar and stir well. Stir occasionally until you are sure that all of the sugar has dissolved into the liquid. This should take between 5-10 minutes. Now turn the heat up so that there is a rolling boil for 8 minutes.

Take off the heat. Put a small amount on one of the saucers. Wait for a minute or so. Whilst you are waiting put your jars on a tray in the oven. I made enough for 5 jam jars full.

Take the saucer and push the preserve with your finger. If it wrinkles then it is set. If not, boil for another 5 minutes and repeat.

Once it is ready, take off the heat, stir in the elderflower cordial and then leave to settle for 15 minutes.

Pour into the warm sterilised jars, seal with a waxed disc, put on the lid and leave to cool.

Here's a picture of my efforts.

I've also discovered this excellent website for making your own jam labels.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Strawberry Sorbet

This week sees the start of the pick-your-own season in Norfolk. There will be strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and loganberries in abundance for many weeks to come.

This weekend we went to my favourite pick-your-own at Swafield Fruit Centre. There is a lovely medieval church next to the Centre which is worth exploring while you're there. You can find information about the church here.

Swafield Church and the Fruit Centre 'office' on the right

It's still a little bit early for raspberries and gooseberries but there were strawberries galore. There were a few families picking away when we were there but it was not that crowded.

In case you don't know Swafield is a village about two miles north of North Walsham. You can find a map here.

Swafield Fruit Centre has two areas for strawberry-picking. One has normal eating strawberries and the other (marked by a red flag) has jam strawberries. This means that the strawberries are not suitable for eating but just for preserving and cooking. My wife went for the eating strawberries. I went for the jam strawberries and my son played in the long grass and dandelions.

Strawberry Fields Forever...or at least as far as the hedge

Looking at the strawberries that my wife picked and that I picked there didn't seem much difference between them - except the price. On Sunday the eating strawberries were £1.15 per pound and the jam strawberries were £1.00 per pound. This is less than quarter of the price of strawberries in supermarkets.

I didn't pick the jam strawberries for jam-making but for making a strawberry sorbet. Here's how to make it without the need for an ice-cream maker.

500g strawberries
250g caster suger
140ml water
Juice of one lemon

Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water and bring to the boil. The moment all of the sugar is dissolved remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Rinse and hull the strawberries and whizz them in a blender or food processor with the lemon juice until smooth.

Stir the puree into the cold sugar syrup and pour into a plastic container (I use an old ice-cream tub) and put it in the freezer.

Leave for two hours, then take out the tub and beat the frozen edges into the middle with a whisk. Put it back in the freezer for another two hours and then take out and beat again. Make sure that all of the frozen areas are thoroughly mixed in with the rest of the liquid. You can use a small wooden spoon to right into the corners of the tub.

Return to the freezer and leave until firm.

You now have your own delicious home-made strawberry sorbet.

On the way home we found some more elderflowers so we picked enough to make some more cordial - so there's still time to pick some elderflowers but they are starting to lose their 'whiteness'.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Elderflower Cordial

For the next couple of weeks Elderflowers are in full bloom and is therefore the time to go out into the Norfolk countryside, pick some elderflowers and make your own cordial.

Some Elderflower and some delicious Elderflower Cordial

I found loads of elderflowers at Limpenhoe (near Cantley) down a small lane to the right of the parish church and there was still plenty left last weekend. Here's the map.

My recipe for Elderflower Coridal (makes about one litre)

15-20 large heads (or umbels if you want to get technical) of elderflower (make sure that the flowers are open and bright white and use them within the couple of hours of picking otherwise they lose their whiteness and flavour)

900g caster sugar (I know this sounds a lot but you are making a cordial not a drink)

1 lemon

40g tartaric acid (You can buy this at any homebrew shop. I got mine at the homebrew section of Roys of Wroxham)

500ml of water

Slice the lemon thinly and put in a large pyrex or glazed bowl along with the elderflowers, sugar and tartaric acid.

Boil the water in a saucepan and then pour into the bowl. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.

Leave to cool, then cover and leave undisturbed in a cool place for four days.

Remove the elderflowers and lemon slices from the bowl. Now strain the cordial into bottles through a muslin-lined sieve. I bought my muslin at Thorns in Norwich - one of my favourite Norwich shops.

The cordial can be drunk straight away but will keep for some time in the fridge. I freeze a couple of small bottles for Christmas. When it defrosts the liquid is opaque but is still delicious.