I am the granddaughter of someone I regard as one of the best chefs ever. Regrettably, compared to her skills, I am just an average cook. I have phases. Lately they are less and less frequent, since I work day and night.
More than a simple gesture of doing things with pots and pans, cooking is surrounded with tantalizing memories and precious stories. I still remember sinful aromas and the dark room where my grandmother Antonia kept the final product of her baking. It was a bit irritating for us, children, to see the perfection of her cakes and cookies, since we were only allowed to feast on her rare mistakes. Because she never talked with other people or visited family and friends, I believe she inherit from her mother or grandmother the recipes she knew. She lived recluse at home, with two single daughters, managing her rather successful kitchen business. Her house used to be wealthy, before her husband, my grandfather Jacques, suffered an accident and changed his activity from businessman to addicted gambler.
I’ve been remembering grandmother Antonia since Christmas, the perfect baking time of the year. I don’t own my grandmother recipes. I just try to reproduce them. I shall always remember how she cooked and what she cooked. Probably, I feel guilty because I picked other recipes for my Christmas baking. This one I found while reading a newspaper. It wasn’t ingredients or method. I felt attracted by the story surrounding it. Surprisingly, this recipe never fails. It also proves that cooking somehow is related with our grandmothers.
On one occasion, during WW II, this lady’s grandmother took shelter in the doorway of a little bakery. Another woman took shelter there and they got to talking. Her son was fighting in Egipt and she regularly sent him her quick-to-make fruit loaf, containing no eggs or butter and only a touch of sugar. It was war time, after all. She shared the recipe. It’s a sort of “stone soup”. The recipe is good as it is, but you can add a couple of eggs and a little of this and that to improve it. It’s a baking proof recipe.
The Stranger in Plein Street
500g self-raising flour
250g (1 cup) raisins
250g (1 cup) sultanas
250g (1 cup) currants
250g (1 cup) sugar
Pinch of salt
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and add enough milk to make a slack mixture, not quite dropping but not too stiff either. Pour into a well-greased loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake at 180C for 65-75 minutes.
1 to 3 eggs; 2ml of oil or melted butter; rinse the fruit and add a good dollop of brandy; substitute part of the fruit for nuts; use any other dried cake fruit; almond flour instead of plain flour, half is really good; brandy poured over the hot cake and a teaspoon of mixed spice.