Sunday, 14 December 2014


Have you noticed how the smallest of things can trigger a memory of a happening many years ago and bring it all back as though it were yesterday?

I had absolutely no cake for tea unless I broke into my Christmas Mince Pies which are frozen and in the freezer for chance-callers over the Christmas period.  So I decided to make some fairy cakes (or queen cakes as we always called them when I was a child) - they only take a few minutes to make and are not absolutely loaded with calories, which the farmer and I are both avoiding in the run-up to Christmas.

And as I was beating the mixture the memory came flooding back. My Uncle Albert was a confirmed bachelor and lived alone in a lovely cottage in a village in Lincolnshire.   He had lived with his mother until she died and had carried on where she had left off - keeping the house cleaned and polished, the silver gleaming and everything neat and tidy.   His hobby was embroidery and he embroidered each of his nephews and nieces a tablecloth for a Christmas present (I still have mine more than sixty years later and it is beautiful).   His day job was being a plate-layer on the railway - what could be more different?

It was while doing this job that he met his wife, my Auntie Jessie.  She was a spinster, also living alone, and her garden backed on to the railway line.   Whenever Albert was working in the vicinity of her garden they would chat, she would bring him tasty little cakes (and it is rumoured port wine) to the fence.   They married and Albert, who had visited our house regularly, began to enthuse about Jessie's cooking.

My mother, I think, was rather jealous of Jessie's ability in the kitchen - and particularly of her Queen cakes.   If Albert was working near our house he would pop in for lunch and if I was at home (I was a very young child) he would give me Jessie's Queen cake from his lunch box.   And so it was that I began to enthuse about Jessie's Queen cakes too.

Mother asked her for the recipe, but it was jealously guarded.   Mother insisted that she used her butter ration to make them (it was war time) while Jessie insisted that she only used margarine.   The feud continued for as long as I can remember.   Mother would try to make them but she never succeeded it getting them as good.   Jessie triumphed.

And obviously she is doing so still - she must have been dead for at least forty years and yet I still remember her superiority in the Queen cake department!


Mac n' Janet said...

Memory, what a wonderous thing. Good luck on your fairy cakes.

Twiggy said...

Food can bring back wonderful memories can't it? I always use my Bero book for Christmas cakes, cake recipes in general. My Mum still has my Grandma's copy (comple the with string tag she made to hang it in the pantry, my Grandma died in 1977!).
When I do a Bero recipe it reminds me of my Grandma and Mum having weekly baking days, where the table would be laden down with pies, scones, cakes and buns, a lovely homely memory.
I came home from school one day last week after collecting Twiglet, it was cold and dark outside, the house was warm and cosy and smelt of ironing and jam tarts that I had baked. It took me right back to my childhood.

Heather said...

Such a lovely memory. Your uncle must have been a remarkable man, but what a pity Auntie Jessie didn't pass on her secret.
I am often reminded of things from my childhood. We lived with my grandparents during the war and my mother worked, so it was Granny who looked after me. She was always busy with chickens, goats and a large garden, and had little time for cooking but made wonderful stews and casseroles. I wonder if that is why I love making them too.

Tom Stephenson said...

Fairy Cakes used to be called Queen Cakes?

Devon said...

What a wonderful memory. I'm curious... how did your queen caked turn out?

Joanne Noragon said...

I had to look them up! Now I'll have sme.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Woman who can cook marries man who can sew and dust - a match made in heaven!

Barbara said...

What a great story!
Isn't it funny how jealous we are of our "special" recipes?
I do hope you cakes turned out. You've made me hungry!
I'm off to look up queen and fairy cakes, as I don't think we have anything like that here in the states.

Rachel Phillips said...

I have triggers too sometimes.

angryparsnip said...

I have read about Fairy Cakes but really don't know what they are. I just thought small cakes beautifully decorated. Now I must look the recipe up.
Memories always come flooding back.
I would say take a photo for us but by the time you read this I am sure they have been eaten.

cheers, parsnip

angryparsnip said...

I just looked them up on BBC Cooking.
They look like cupcakes I like the butterfly ones.

cheers, parsnip

Terry and Linda said...

Fairy cakes...I love the thought!


JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

What a lovely story - though I have no idea what queen cakes are fairy cakes are. I must find out. Maybe I'll try and make some if I can find a recipe.

It is funny how small things can trigger such great memories.

Penny said...

My wicked grandmother, a lot of her past is shrouded in mystery, we know she missed a marriage of supposedly 4 and could have been a bigamist! A beauty in her day, ended up here in Australia and lived in pretty poor circumstances but out of a very basic wood stove produced the most wonderful feather weight sponge cakes, with no recipe. Lots of memories there.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

Hi Pat,
Found this on the Huffington Post.
Do you agree with their explanation?

Fairy cakes are, simply stated, smaller versions of cupcakes. They're widely popular in the UK, and tend not to pile on the icing in the same way that American bakers do with cupcakes. Mich Turner, a British baker and champion of the fairy cake, describes American cupcakes as having "the wrong icing: great wodges of lurid buttercream, rather than the traditional non-fat glace stuff." Conversely, fairy cakes use a lighter glace icing. They also are traditionally made with a lighter sponge cake as opposed to the thicker butter cakes used in cupcakes.

Alternatively, a fairy cake is a type of cupcake with its top cut off and replaced in two pieces, like wings. These are also called butterfly cupcakes.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

PS: That was a lovely post!

donna baker said...

Do tell. What is the recipe for the Queen cake?

Cro Magnon said...

I thought you meant that Uncle Albert was a 'Confirmed Bachelor' in the traditional journalistic sense; then you tell us that he later married. What a shock.

p.s. I think people who keep closely guarded secret recipes are ridiculous!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I had a good laugh at these replies! As for the recipe - there are countless different ones - no I am not jealously guarding my recipe - in fact I thought they were pretty pathetic and no way would I take a photograph. The farmer has eaten them but then he would eat anything if it was called cake, as I ration it carefully.
Do agree with Cro though. I think it is quite a compliment to be asked to pass on your recipe.