Saturday 16 March 2024

Happiness is …. a piece of cake


Every year the International Day of Happiness is held on 20 March It’s a global event organised by the United Nations. The theme this year is ‘Happier together’ and in these difficult times, we are reminded that being happy is a human right. This year’s theme is very much about the connection we have with others and how we should focus on what we can offer to bring happiness. These could be acts of service, volunteer work or just simply a kind gesture.

Although this day is a more recent tradition – it began in 2013 – food has long had a close association to happiness. Every time, I’ve baked a cake for a talk or a family event, I’ve been rewarded with many smiles and cheery words of thanks. So here are some of my favourite ones :

The first talk about my Grandma's life and her homemade delights was for Grandma’s old friends at Furlong Road Methodist Church, Bolton on Dearne. They remembered her sumptuous cakes such as Marmalade Spice Cake and Apple pies – so the pressure was on to bake the tastiest treats!  

I’ve been delighted to do many talks about the History of Afternoon Tea    to support fundraising for numerous charities. These are usually linked to a fabulous afternoon tea with 3 tier cake stands groaning with wonderful delicacies.

I’ve judged competitions including at a Waterstones book shop where I was signing Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking books. The staff were battling for the crown of Baking King/Queen.  The Butterfly Buns won by a short head from the Orange Cake  but the Shortbreads and Gingerbread  were very close behind.

Baking a cake for my team at the London Olympics 2012 was a great privilege. I'll be hoping to do a cake for the Paris Olympics too!

 I remember another group who came to hear about Grandma and her baking. They loved the Lemon and ginger loaf  – not a crumb left! And baking fan, Barrie sent me a recipe for Yorkshire Brack from his Bero Book which became a popular choice.

I was very privileged to be invited to the first Library Cookery Book Club in the country at Wakefield Library. The group had been studying Grandma’s story and were delighted to sample Grandma’s baking on the day. The Museum Service also brought along cookery utensils similar to the ones which Grandma would have used in service.

I’ve often gone back to do other talks at many of the places on other heritage baking topics and it never ceases to amaze me how talking about ‘cake’ brings people together. So, check out Grandma Abson’s and other    recipes I’ve collected over the years and bake a cake for the International Day of Happiness. It’s a piece of cake….!

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Going cheesy with Rhubarb and Ginger cheesecake


Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake

I always love the time in February when the young pink forced Rhubarb from the Rhubarb Triangle comes on the scene. The city of Wakefield in the north of England turns pink with the Rhubarb Festival for a weekend at the end of February. It’s one of the most important food and drink festivals in the national calendar.

We all love cheesecake so here’s a recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake which I was given at one of the talks I did in the Wakefield area. It’s just perfect for this time of year with an added hint of ginger to warm us up!

For the base
70g melted butter
170g ginger biscuits (crushed)
1 tbsp caster sugar

For the Rhubarb
300g rhubarb, trimmed and cu50g demerara sugar
Zest and juice of ½ orange

For the filling
200g mascarpone or cream cheese
1 balls of stem ginger (finely chopped)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
300ml double cream

Lightly grease a 20cm springform cake tin. Line the base with baking paper.

To make the base, crush the biscuits until fine. You can do this in a food processor.  Add the melted butter and mix. Pour into the tin and press firmly onto the base until it is an even layer. Chill while you prepare the Rhubarb and the filling.

Heat the oven to Mark 3, 160C (140C fan). Wash and cut the pieces and sprinkle demerara sugar, orange zest and orange juice over them.

Then cook them in the oven for about 15 minutes until tender. This way the Rhubarb retains its maximum flavour. Drain off any excess juices and allow to cool.

Beat the mascarpone until smooth. Add the chopped ginger and orange zest. Slowly whisk in the cream until the mixture has just thickened. Add the Rhubarb (keeping back 3-5 pieces of Rhubarb for decorations. Spoon the mixture into the biscuit-lined tin and spread into an even layer. Chill for 4-5 hours or overnight, until firm. Carefully release the springform tin and transfer the cheesecake to a serving dish or plate. Arrange the rhubarb pieces on the top to decorate.


And if you want to try more Rhubarb recipes, here are more from Grandma Abson’s collection :

Rhubarb Betty

Rhubarb Crumble

French Rhubarb Flan

Rhubarb Tart/Rhubarb Lattice Tart

Rhubarb Tutti-frutti Crumble

Thursday 18 January 2024

Going on a Railway Pudding journey

From Woodhead to Doncaster

In June 2023, I finally launched a book of my late father's railway photos, entitled 'From Woodhead to Doncaster. A pictorial Railway Journey’ by Fred Abson. The photos and detailed text comprised signal boxes, bridges, crossings and junctions, signal box diagrams along the Woodhead route and the MS&W Railway between 1979 and 1982 as well as photos of Deltics at Doncaster Plant works in the early 1980s.

Growing up on a railway station left me with many memories and a lifelong passion for the railways so compiling the ‘book with the amazing help and support of friends and former colleagues of my father was a real labour of love. This impressive collection of photographs, which my father left, is testament not only to his eye for detail but also to his lifelong passion for railways. I made a splendid cake for the launch in Barnsley to celebrate this pictorial railway journey.

Grandma Abson had a part to play in my railway upbringing story. Her father and husband had both been railway workers, so it’s not surprising that I found a Railway Pudding recipe amongst her collection.

I’m not sure of the origins of this pudding but I have found references to this in various places such as .  Several versions between 1867 and 1902 are highlighted and described as a recipe ‘based around a plain, sweet, raised batter, boiled or baked and spread (or filled) with a conserve’.

A further reference comes in The Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden  - a project between 2011 and 2013 which explored the potential for using community-based heritage projects to look at more sustainable ways of life.  It includes a collection of recipes some of which come from  The Liverpool School of Cookery Recipe Book (1911). This book was described as being “most valuable to young housekeepers, containing recipes most needed under all conditions and circumstances of everyday life”. Grandma’s recipe resembles this one quite closely.

Railway Pudding

1 cupful plain flour

2 tsps baking powder

1 small cupful sugar

2 eggs beaten

¾ cupful milk

Raspberry Jam

Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar together. Beat the eggs with the milk. Mix all well together. Put in a greased Yorkshire Pudding tin and bake in a quick oven for 20 minutes. (375F, Mark 5, 190C). When it’s done, spread the jam over it and roll it up like a Swiss Roll. Serve with custard, cream or milk. It is nice eaten hot or cold.

Meryl’s tips : I used approx. 4oz(110g) for a cup equivalent, 3oz (75g) for a small cup and 120 ml for a ¾ cup equivalent. I used a Swiss roll type tin – large and oblong. 

I found another version of Railway Pudding with cooking apples instead of jam which would make a good alternative. Enjoy going on a Railway journey with this pudding!