Tuesday, 23 May 2023

A spoonful of Jam makes the perfect Raspberry Bun


It was just before Easter that I did a talk at Castleford Library. I was very privileged to be invited back to talk to the Friends of Castleford Library group. My talk was about Lenten and Easter baking and how different cultures celebrated this time with food. One of the great things about this group is their interest in all things baking. The topic of ground rice came up and where to buy it as they had experienced some difficulty sourcing it. I did a quick search of the usual places and did manage to buy a packet.  

So what is ground rice?

It’s a type of rice, either brown or white which has been milled and ground into a powder. It has a slightly coarser texture than rice flour but both are considered an excellent source of fibre, which can help with digestive health and reduce cholesterol levels

Raspberry Buns are my favourite

My favourite Ground Rice recipe from Grandma Abson’s collection is Raspberry Buns and since I bought my (large) packet of Ground Rice, we’ve made it quite a few times with my grandchildren. What they love best is to stick their thumbs in the centre of the dough to make a hole for the Raspberry Jam! Here’s Grandma Abson’s recipe :

Raspberry Buns


6oz/175g plain flour

4oz/110g butter or lard

6oz/175 ground rice

4oz/110g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs (leaving out 1 white)

Pinch of salt

Milk to mix

Raspberry jam

Rub the butter into the flour and then add the ground rice, sugar, baking powder, salt and eggs (well beaten) and milk. Mix to a stiff consistency. Form small buns from the dough and put these on well greased tins. Brush over with the white of egg. Put a little jam in the centre of each. Bake for 20 minutes in a fairly hot oven. (400F, Mark 6, 200C)

Ground Rice is guaranteed its place in traditional British baking with a whole series of dishes such as Ground Rice Pudding and features in recipes from Tudor times onwards. In more recent times, it was a popular choice for school dinners in the 1940s and 50s. Grandma Abson served Ground Rice Pudding regularly and as a special treat with a spoonful of homemade raspberry jam in the centre of your dish which you swirled round to make a pattern, using a spoon not your thumb this time!

Saturday, 15 April 2023

A different take on Scones

Rhubarb and ginger Scones

Scones fit the bill perfectly for a quick afternoon tea bake and can be made from store cupboard items. Grandma’s fruit scones always came out light and airy and won many plaudits but I like to try out different versions and chanced upon a recipe for Rhubarb Scones. It was from the Queen's Mill Castleford  cook book ‘Born and Bred’. I was privileged to visit the Mill several times to do talks and was delighted to hear they had recently received funding for renovation work.  I’ve tried out a couple of recipes from the book for Mint Pasties  and Bean, pea and bacon tart previously using the famous Queens Mill Stoneground wholemeal flour and they are brilliant.


I’ve slightly amended the original recipe from the book which was an amalgamation of several recipes collated by Yvette Cooper MP. I’ve also added ginger to the recipe for a distinct flavour.

Rhubarb and ginger Scones

8 oz/225g self-raising wholemeal flour

2oz/50g butter

3oz/75g soft brown sugar

2 stalks (forced) Yorkshire Rhubarb

1 tsp ground ginger

2 eggs

Milk to mix


Preheat the oven to 220C (Fan 200C). Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture ressembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar. Chop the Rhubarb into small slices and add to the mixture together with the ginger. Beat the eggs and add enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll out and cut into sections with a cutter. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven when the scones are golden brown.

 Meryl’s tips : Serve with a generous portion of crème fraiche, cream or clotted cream for a winning afternoon tea.

Why not try out some home baking this week? Who can resist the joys of a plate of scones, warm, aromatic and straight out of the oven? And these Rhubarb and ginger scones making a talking point for sure!

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Wilkins Cake has its day


Today is the National Day of Reflection and I’ve been reflecting on when I first started to collate Grandma Abson’s recipes and put them in the book which inspire such interest for me in traditional baking.

 This was one of the first cakes I baked from her collection and everyone who tasted it was quite taken with its simplicity and ease to bake. It was one of the winners at Grandma’s book launch too. I love the idea of a cup of this and a cup of that which takes away the problem of metric translations. 

Wilkins Cake

3 oz (75g) butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

¼ grated nutmeg

1 cup raisins

1 cup water

 Melt butter in a pan. Boil the sugar in water for 3 minutes. When cold, add the flour and the baking powder. Add the spices, salt and raisins. Mix well. Bake for 1 - 1 ¼ hours in a warm oven.  (300F, Mark 3, 150 C)  

I never found out who Wilkins was – but Grandma’s husband was William Lionel so, if it was his nickname, maybe it was his favourite!


Monday, 27 February 2023

Bakewell Tart or Bakewell Pudding?


Bakewell Pudding

I often get mixed up between Bakewell Pudding and Bakewell Tart. The story goes that Bakewell Pudding had its origins in Bakewell in Derbyshire back in the 1800s. It was allegedly created following a mishap by the cook at a local inn, who misunderstood the recipe for a strawberry tart and ended up topping her creation, most likely made with puff pastry with a soft set almond custard. On the other hand, Bakewell Tart was developed a 100 years later  with a shortcrust pastry case, spread with strawberry jam and topped with an almond frangipane sponge, topped with white fondant icing and a glace cherry or almonds or lemon icing.

Grandma Abson’s recipe comes somewhere between the 2 versions and she uses either strawberry or raspberry jam.

Raspberry or Strawberry jam


1 cupful plain flour

1 dsp baking powder

½ cupful ground almonds

4 tbsps sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

A little butter (melted)

Flaked almonds

Line a tin with a layer of pastry. Spread with raspberry jam. Mix together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, sugar and eggs. Melt the butter and add this to the mixture. Put on top of the jam and sprinkle flaked almonds on the top. Bake in a fairly hot oven for 20 minutes and reduce for a further 10 minutes.” (400F, Mark 6, 200C to 350F, Mark 4, 180C)

Pudding or Tart, we love them both and there’s always delight in the house when it’s ‘Bakewell ….’ in reply to ‘What’s for Pudding?’

Friday, 13 January 2023

Piimakakku – the friendly cake



I have never visited Finland but my friends in the north of England often visit the country as their grandchildren are growing up there. They tell me that Finnish people love to eat baked cakes and pastries, especially in winter with coffee or hot chocolate. Some of the most popular baked treats are Runeberg torte, Pulla, Rönttönen as well as fruit pies and cookies.

Pimakakku is one of their favourite cakes and they say that it appears on coffee tables at gatherings of family and friends year after year. Finnish people often say it is sometimes called ‘the friendly cake’ as it reminds them of their childhood and the friends of their youth.

This is a recipe from the children’s Finnish Grandma who is called Maarit. It’s quite easy to make and one of the essential ingredients is buttermilk.

What you need :

300g flour

150g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves ( or ground mixed spice)

1 tsp ground ginger

75g melted butter

300 ml buttermilk

How to bake :

·        Mix all the dry ingredients

·        Add the melted butter to the dry ingredients

·        Add the buttermilk and stir well until smooth

·        Pour the mixture into a greased and floured tin (e.g. a bundt tin)

·        Bake in the oven for 1 hour (175C)

·        When slightly cooled invert the cake onto a wire rack.

Enjoy a taste of Finland to bring in the New Year. This is a fantastic cake to share with friends.

Monday, 19 December 2022

Brightest and Best of the mince pies


Carol singing round the village

Whenever I see a mince pie, I always think of carol singing. Every Christmas Eve, from about the age of twelve or so, I was allowed to go out with our local Church Choir and sing carols around the small mining village in South Yorkshire where we lived. It was magical. Wrapped up in coats, hats, gloves and scarves, we went from street to street and our voices soared in harmony and cut through the cold air.

Our last stop for Grandma’s best mince pies

Our last call was always the Railway Station at around about 10.00 p.m. We lived in the Station House so I was home. Grandma would have warm mince pies which she’d baked earlier in the day in the top warming oven of the cream coal-fired range. The smell of the spices in the mincemeat wafted over you as you came into the house. We always performed Grandma’s favourite carols before we were allowed to tuck into her mince pies. The first was the rather mournful ‘Cradled in a Manger meanly’, a carol much loved by Methodists. The second of her favourites was the more rousing ‘Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning’. The words ‘Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid’ no doubt having a strong resonance for many in the village who had lived through the bleakness and deprivation of the twentieth century. Only when we had finished did Grandma lift the mince pies out of the oven and we were treated to hot tea and those mouth-watering marvels.

Why are they called mince pies?

Food such as Mince pies served during the Christmas period often have symbolic meanings. Just as their name, early mince pies were meat based and filled with lamb, with added spices and fruits. They were made in an oval shape to represent Baby Jesus in the manger with the lid representing his swaddling clothes. Although in the 1850s, cookery writer, Eliza Acton’s recipe for mince pies still contained three tablespoons of diced beef, the recipe had already begun to change to something sweeter and reduced in size to a small round shape. Duncan Mcdonald in his ‘The New Family Cook Book (1809) contains an early meatless recipe with apples, lemon, orange and spices. Cooks at this time often made mince pies using puff pastry instead of shortcrust. Here's  Grandma Abson’s recipe for homemade Mince pies

Finishing touches

Grandma would cut out the round shapes for the baking tins, filling the pies with mincemeat before putting traditional lids on top and brushing them with egg wash for a shiny top. Nowadays, I like to decorate my mince pies with shapes –Christmas trees, stars and bells. Whatever you do, put plenty of mincemeat in.  Cook in a warm over (about 190 degrees) for 15 minutes. A final touch, once they are cooked, sprinkle a little icing sugar over the top.

Go with the tradition and eat a dozen

There is a tradition of eating one mince pie each day over the 12 days of Christmas from Christmas Eve to 5 January. This was believed to bring good luck and happiness for the next 12 months. I’ll be baking a batch of mince pies to treat my family and friends and even indulge in a spot of carol singing, remembering the brightest and best of Grandma Abson’s mince pies.

Happy Christmas to you all!🎄⭐

Sunday, 13 November 2022

Stir it up with carrots

What is Stir Up Sunday?

‘Stir Up Sunday’ is the day when home cooks ‘stir up’ their Christmas puddings. It falls on a different date each year but always towards the end of November, before Advent begins. This year it’s on Sunday 21 November. The term came from the Anglican church, where the collect for the last Sunday before Advent is as follows : ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded …’  This turned into a  reminder to the congregation to ‘stir up’ their puddings, since most recipes require them to be prepared well before Christmas Day.

WW2 recipes with carrots

During World War 2 many cake recipes included carrots and potatoes since they were an alternative for sugar and reasonably plentiful. The Ministry of Food produced leaflets with recipes. In the case of Christmas Pudding, any spices you might use would have probably been in the kitchen pantry since the outbreak of war, so it might be mixed spice or all spice or any combination of these. Coupons for dried fruits would have to be saved up for several weeks. 

WW2 Christmas Pudding

3 oz (75g) carrots, grated

3½ oz (100g) potatoes, grated

3 oz (75g) plain flour (this would be wholemeal

1 oz (25g) breadcrumbs

1 oz (25g) shredded suet

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tbsps water

2 tbsps mixed dried fruit

1 tbsp water

1 tbsp rum or brandy (if available)

Prepare the pudding basins for steaming by greasing them thoroughly. Mix together the carrot, potato, flour, breadcrumbs, suet and spices. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the water and add to the mixture. If available soak the dried fruit in the rum or brandy then add it to the mixture. Mix well then place in the basin. Cover with greaseproof paper or foil and place in a saucepan with boiling water. Steam for 4 hours, topping up the water as it cooks.


Where did Christmas Pudding come from?

Christmas pudding was reputed to have originated in the 14th century when a dish called frumenty, made with oats, milk and seasoned with cinnamon and saffron was served. Later, traditional Christmas dishes, such as mincemeat, were normally made with meat until the 1700s, when Georgian cooks started to experiment with meat less versions, flavouring the mixture with lemon juice and zest, alongside the dried fruit and spices. Here's a traditional Plum Pudding, including instructions for cooking in a microwave.


Stir it up and make a wish!   

In some families, ‘stirring up’ the Christmas pudding became a tradition where everyone took a turn in stirring the mixture and making a wish for the year ahead. The pudding should be stirred from east to west, in honour of the Magi (Wise Men) who came from the east to visit the baby Jesus. Some cooks also added silver coins to the mixture to bring good luck to whoever finds one in their portion.

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Autumn Squash Soup


In many ways, I love this time of year with the rich colours of Autumn and it’s the start of getting out the comforting recipes to keep us warm.  The dark, cooler evenings and misty mornings also mean it’s soon time for the change of clocks. So, herald the Autumn and ‘fall’ back on this warm and comforting soup!

1 kg/2lbs squash (peeled, seeded  & chopped)

1 onion (sliced)

1 stalk celery (chopped)

2 carrots (chopped)

2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)

4 tbsps vegetable oil

2 sprigs sage, thyme & parsley

(or a pinch if dried)

1 tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

Pinch of cumin

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 litre/1¾ pt chicken stock

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6. Place the squash in a roasting tin and drizzle with oil. Roast for 30 minutes until soft. Fry the onion, celery, carrots and garlic on a gentle heat in the remaining oil in a large pan for 15 minutes until soft. Add the squash, black pepper, herbs, spices, lemon juice and stock to cover the vegetables. Bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Whizz the soup in a blender until smooth. Return to the pan and heat gently. Season to taste.

Meryl’s tip :  You can use any type of squash for this recipe. Spice it up as much as you wish.  Serve with crusty bread and a dash of crème fraiche or yoghurt.

Friday, 23 September 2022

Best of British is … Apple Pie

 Best of British is … Apple Pie 

Autumn beckons with cooler and darker evenings but alongside glorious harvests of fruits and vegetables to store for future use in the even darker depths of the winter.  

What’s so special about Apple Pie?

If I had to pick one quintessentially British food, it would have to be Apple Pie. It’s one of the best and most popular winter desserts and a reminder of the comfort and warmth of Grandma’s kitchen range. Its origins are thought to come from England in the 14th century with influences from Europe, in particular the Netherlands, with its fabulous Dutch Apple Pie.


Grandma Abson’s Apple Pie

Carl Sagan, the famous American astronomer is alleged to have said "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." Fortunately, Grandma Abson left us a simpler version.Bottom of Form She regularly baked fruit pies, cakes and biscuits in her own village community, where people would bring along something to share for an event such as a harvest supper. They cooked baked potatoes with homemade meat pies followed by blackberry and apple pies. Everyone wanted a slice of Grandma’s Apple Pie, so they could taste her melt in the mouth pastry.  She always said you needed cool hands to make pastry but you can use a food mixer. Sometimes she varied her recipe by using half quantities of plain and self-raising flour to achieve a softer texture.  When you put a lid of pastry on your pie, her final tip is to brush it with milk and sprinkle with sugar before putting in the oven. This will give a crisp golden topping.

Shortcrust pastry

4 oz(110g) butter

8 oz (225g) plain flour

1 egg

A little water (or a little milk and water)

Rub the butter into the flour. When the mixture is like breadcrumbs, make a well and add the egg. Add the water to make a dough. Let it stand for ½ hour in a cool place before rolling out. 


1 lb (500g) apples (peeled, cored and sliced)

Lemon juice

Line a pie dish or plate with pastry. Stew the apples in a pan with a little lemon juice (to stop them going brown). When the apples have fallen and cooled a little, spread them over the pastry in the pie dish. 

Roll out the pastry for the lid to cover the apples. Make a pattern round the edge of the dish with end of spoon. Brush the top of the pastry with a little milk and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake in a fairly hot oven for 25 minutes. 400F, Mark 6, 200C (Fan 180C) Serve with custard or cream, crème fraiche or ice cream.

I’m keeping up Grandma’s tradition of mouth-watering apple pies. A few years ago, with much trepidation, I entered the annual competition in the fruit pie category for our local Gardeners' Association. I baked an Apple Pie, from Grandma’s tried and trusted recipe. I was over the moon to win gold first prize and collect my winning certificate - not quite #GBBO but I hope Grandma would have been proud of me!