With a Runcible Spoon

From Ngaire’s Journal, 17th April 1959
Tonight we went to a family party to meet Laughton’s new bride Lela.’

Tonight we have all gone our separate ways – one to the football, one to a party, another to the couch. And one to the kitchen, to deal with the quinces that have been lurking in a basket under Myrtle’s tea trolley for the best part of a week. They came from my lovely friend Jennifer’s garden. Jen has the good fortune to live in Port Fairy, and has a very abundant garden.

CCMM - Quince TartI generally either poach quinces for breakfast fruit, or make jelly (or both), but this evening I was in the mood for baking, and so made a tart.
A quince and rhubarb tart with almond crumble topping.
No effort spared.

The rhubarb gives this tart its tang – necessary, I think, to offset the sweetness of the quinces and of the crumble.
Serve it warm with loads of cream, with or without a runcible spoon.

Recipe: Quince & rhubarb tart with almond crumble topping

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.”
From The Owl & the Pussycat, by Edward Lear

Pears Go With…

From Ngaire’s Journal
1st March, 1956
Made pear ginger and pear sauce and bottled 10 quart jars of pears. Carol went to Phyllis’ millinery class this evening.’
2nd March, 1964

Bottled pears (Bon Chretien), made plum jam, baked.’
4th March 1951
Bottled pears. This evening went to the Annual Meeting of the Young Marrieds Group.’

Cooking with pearsInspired by a new season (I love Autumn – beautiful days, crisp evenings, the promise of boots and scarves…), and spurred on by my friend Sas’s return to blogging (you’ll find her at oneequalstwo), I have decided it is time for my first post of 2105.

The crate of pears in the laundry prompted me too. Dad delivered them the other day, picked from the trees my partner and I planted along the corrugated iron wall of the shearing shed. We’ve been surprised at how well they’ve done – the ground is stoney and the iron gets very hot in summer, but they’ve thrived. Dad’s kept a close eye on them of course, and kept up the water all summer, so we’ve had a fabulous crop.

Old Delhi marketsI was going to bottle them, but I waited a day too long and they were a bit ripe, so instead I stewed some for breakfasts and turned the rest into sweet treats for the long weekend.

Pears go with chocolate like a Young Marrieds Group goes with 1951, so I made an old favourite that we call Capricious Pear Pudding (a name I’ll explain in another post – it’s a long story) and a Chocolate Pear Tart. The subtle sweetness of pears seems to call for spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamon all work well. We’ve recently returned from a trip to India, and in Delhi, where we stayed at the  lovely Devna B & B, our host David took us into the old town, including to Paranthe Wali Gali (yum!) and the spice markets. This afternoon I cooked my pears with some of the saffron and cinnamon we bought there. They’ll make a perfect Autumn breakfast – porridge with stewed fruit, toasted almonds and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

PS Banana Paranthe would make a perfect breakfast too  – I’m on the hunt for a recipe, though it will never taste as good as in Delhi.



On a Roll

Harrison farm by Menzies Gibb

Harrison farm by Menzies Gibb

My grandmother Ngaire was related to the Harrisons of Christchurch in all sorts of complicated ways. With twenty-three children in the Harrison family, it was probably hard not to be related to them.

The Harrisons’ house ended up on Francis Avenue when their farm was subdivided around 1910, and a number of the children built in the street as they married and left home. William Menzies GIbb’s painting ‘A bit of old Christchurch’ is of the original house, with the Port Hills in the distance.

Choc Roll Pudding2Gertrude Harrison (who is said to have commissioned the painting) was married off to Ngaire’s father after the death of his first wife, and while she proved to be a less than tolerant stepmother, she was a wonderful cook. Given this I’m sorry that I had no success with her Chocolate Roll, but I have had more luck today with her sister Ollie’s Never Fail Sponge. I’m not sure if that would please Gert or not!

I added a generous quantity of good cocoa to Ollie’s recipe and turned it into a roll. The result was not quite the light-as air sponge I was hoping for, but an even better pavlova-meets-cake concoction with a chocolate fudge centre. As good as this is, I’d still like to master a proper chocolate sponge roll – I’ll just wait for our cholesterol levels to settle down.

The daunting Harrison sisters (1950s)

The daunting Harrison sisters (1950s)

Ollie Harrison’s Never-Fail Sponge (turned into a chocolate roll)

3 eggs, ½ teaspoon bicarb. soda, 1 small cup of castor sugar, 1 large cup of flour, 2 large tablespoons cocoa, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Beat eggs well. Add bicarb. and beat well. Add sugar and beat for 3 minutes.
Add sifted flour, cocoa and cream of tartar and mix through.
Bake in greased and lined lamington or slice tray at 180º for 10 – 15 minutes.
Turn out onto sugared grease-proof paper and roll up in the paper while still warm.
When just cool, gently unroll and fill with strawberries and cream then roll up again. Dust with cocoa and icing sugar.

Something Special

From Ngaire’s journal, 24th September 1953
This afternoon a class of students from Lincoln College came for instruction from Gerald. I served afternoon tea which they apparently enjoyed. I had made scones, sausage rolls, chocolate eclairs etc.’

choc roll2My grandfather Gerald had a long association with Lincoln Agricultural College.  The college was quite close by, and Gerald was a member (and President for a period) of the NZ Fruitgrowers Federation. Although he came to agricultural life somewhat by accident, and not entirely by choice, he was serious and very knowledgeable about orchard life.

Lincoln College Woolclassing school 1958

Lincoln College Woolclassing school 1958

Students visiting Prestons Road might have learnt about grafting techniques or perhaps new varieties, but however fascinating those visits were, I suspect afternoon tea was the highlight  – especially if it included ‘chocolate eclairs, etcetera’. Ngaire seemed to think the vast majority of men were under-fed, and would have seen students as an especially needy group.

Gert Simpson's Chocolate Roll

Gert Simpson’s Chocolate Roll

Anyway, today as promised I made Something Special to mark Ngarie’s birthday. Gert’s Chocolate Roll (Gert being Ngaire’s stepmother), with no etcetera required.

The result – OK, but not fabulous. The family demolished it of course, but I thought it was a bit ‘cakey’ so back to the drawing board. There’s another recipe in Ngaire’s book which I’ll try out tomorrow.

And a final aside. My father Stan attended Lincoln College as a woolclassing student during his 1957/58 wife-finding tour of New Zealand. He’s on the far left in the front row of the graduating class photograph, having set the auto-timer on his Voigtländer and raced back into position.


A Nice Simnel Cake

Simnel CakeFrom Ngaire’s journal, 10th April, 1952
‘I have made a nice Simnel Cake for Easter’

And so have I. Made a nice Simnel Cake that is, complete with eleven marzipan balls – one for each of the disciples (excluding Judas). The exclusion of Judas, by the way, is tradition, not a decision on my part.

Simnel Cakes originated in Britain and date back to medieval times. Some sources say it was convention for young women in service to bake the cake as a gift for Mothering Sunday. Since this fell during Lent, the cake couldn’t be eaten immediately and therefore came to be associated with Easter.

It’s an odd sort of cake, with a layer of marzipan baked in the centre, and the marzipan topping and balls, which you toast under the grill or with a torch. Who knows what the significance of that is, particualrly in the absence of Judas. Perhaps it just makes it taste better. I’m taking my cake to friends in the country tomorrow and  plan to toast it when we get there.

There’s no recipe for a Simnel Cake in Ngaire’s book, so I went searching on the web. Originally different towns had their own recipes and even shapes of the cake, so there are many variations on the theme. The Shrewsbury version is the one that has endured. I used a recipe from the BBC site but, being Good Friday,  couldn’t run to the supermarket for ingredients so had to improvise a little. Instead of mixed peel I used marmalade (and a bit of extra flour) and to compensate for mixed spice I added a dash of strong Chai plus cinnamon and nutmeg. Fortunately I had plenty of blanched almonds in the pantry so was able to make my own marzipan paste.

Easter Simnel Cake

For the almond paste: 250g caster sugar, 250g ground almonds, 2 egg whites, beaten, 1 tsp almond essence.

For the cake: 175g butter, 175g soft brown sugar, 3 eggs, beaten, 175g plain flour, pinch salt, ½ tsp ground mixed spice, 350g mixed raisins, currants and sultanas, 55g chopped mixed peel, zest from ½ lemon, zest.

To assemble: Apricot jam, 1 egg white, beaten.


  1. For the almond paste, place the sugar and ground almonds in food processor. Add enough beaten eggwhite to mix to a fairly soft consistency. Add the almond essence and pulse  until the paste is smooth and pliable. Divide  into thirds, and roll out one pice into a 18cm circle (the size of your cake tin).
  2. Preheat oven to 140C. Grease and line an 18cm tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs then sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice  a little at a time. Finally, add the mixed dried fruit, peel and grated lemon zest and stir into the mixture.
  3. Put half the mixture into the greased and lined cake tin. Smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste. Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise. Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours, until a skewer comes away cleanly. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. Brush the top of the cooled cake with the apricot jam. Take another third of your almond paste and roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake. Make 11 small balls with the remaining paste. Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge. Brush the cake topping with a little beaten eggwhite.
  5. Preheat the grill to high. Place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1-2 minutes, or until the top of the marzipan begins to brown. Alternatively, lightly heat the cake topping using a cook’s blow torch, until the marzipan is golden-brown.

Happy Easter everyone.


A Very Hot Day

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th February 1949
‘Another very hot day. There was a sharp earthquake at 5.30 am and Mt Ngauruhoe is in eruption. I bottled plums and made jam, and went to choir practice in the evening.’

Mt Ngauruhoe postcardI must say that my first inclination on a very hot day – and we’ve had more than our fair share lately – is not to crank up the bottling or make jam. Not that bottling is something that can generally wait. I remember as a teenager (not desperate to help) that cases of fruit always seemed to appear on the hottest days. Mum had the Vacola set up in the laundry, which was outside, but I’m not sure how much difference that made. Warracknabeal in February is hot, and before we had air-conditioning installed in the late 1970s we relied on a portable evaporative cooler, sometimes with a huge block of ice perched on a stool in front. Of course, in 1949 Ngaire wouldn’t have had anything remotely advanced in the way of cooling, especially in Christchurch where the summers are generally much milder. I don’t imagine she would have lowered her dress standards too much either, no matter what the temperature.

While I’m keen to walk in Ngaire’s footsteps, I really couldn’t be bothered bottling today and since I didn’t have any fruit waiting to be dealt with I made a pudding involving plum jam instead. Homemade jam of course, though not by me. Thanks Andrea Webster!

Baked Cinnamon Crumb Pudding

Cinnamon Crumb PuddingBase: 2 oz (60 g) butter, ¾  cup sugar,  1 egg, 1 ¾  cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp cinnamon,  ½  tsp salt, ¾ cup milk, ½ tsp lemon essence

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat well.
Sift in flour and other dry ingredients.
Add milk and lemon essence and mix well.
Turn into well-buttered and floured baking dish then make topping.

Cinnamon Crumb Pudding 2Topping: Rub 1 tbsp butter into 1 tbsp cinnamon and ½ cup sugar. Sprinkle over the cake mixture.
Bake at 180° for approx. 30 mins.

Sauce: Combine 6 good tbsp jam with 1 cup of water and heat. Allow to reduce until thickened but still easy to pour.
Pour the sauce over the warm cake, reserving some for serving.
Serve with cream or ice cream then have a nice lie down and congratulate yourself on having cooked anything at all on such a hot day.

Postcard found at Skufan Postcards.

Royal Family’s Favourite

Christmas 1952 - Warwick

Warwick (my uncle) with Christmas presents, 1952

From Ngaire’s journal, 22nd January, 1954 (holidaying in Akaroa)
‘I brought my typewriter with me so have written a number of letters and have finished entering
recipes into my loose-leaf recipe book, which Warwick gave me for Christmas 1952.

Royal Family's Favourite - Egg & Tomato Pancakes

Royal Family’s Favourite – Egg & Tomato Pancakes

Given that WE SAW THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND only a few days ago, it’s seemed fitting to cook the ‘Royal Family’s Favourite’ from Ngaire’s recipe book.

A correspondent recently asked me what Ngaire would have made of contemporary attitudes to the royals, and sent an irreverent clip of the Windsors on the couch.
Well John, Ngaire would have been appalled, but these Egg and Tomato Pancakes do make an excellent TV dinner.

I followed the recipe exactly but was fairly liberal with the salt and served the pancakes with a salsa of diced tomato and basil.  Another time a bay leaf in the bechamel wouldn’t hurt.

Royal Family's Favourite

A January Wedding

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th January, 1965
A January Wedding‘We went to Hawarden, arriving at the little Methodist Church at 2.30pm. It was a lovely wedding. The bride looked beautiful in an embroidered white satin dress and the bridesmaids wore pale pink, rose-pink and mahogany pink.
The weather was perfect. Fruit punch and savouries were served on the lawn in front of Mr Wright’s home and at 5pm the guests adjourned to the marquee in an adjoining field. It was a delicious wedding breakfast: ham, salmon and potato salad, curry and rice, stuffed eggs, cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes. The sweets were fruit salad, piles of strawberries and cream.
There were 40 telegrams, including a cable from Warwick and several from Melbourne. Speeches were made and items were given – two humorous recitations, a violin solo, two vocals solos (one by an uncle, aged 83, which was excellent) and a vocal duet by the mother and an uncle of the bride. Hubert (the bridegroom) made an excellent speech of thanks. The telegrams were read by the best man and two groomsmen alternately, which was a very good idea.
Herbert and Ruth left on their honeymoon at about 8.30 pm. The bride wore a beautiful outfit of peacock-blue, with black accessories.’

What better way to start the new year than with an elegant wedding and piles of food — Ngaire’s two favourite things. As it happens, stuffed eggs are high on my list of favourite things. Happily, they’re practically carb free and are packed with protein so no New Year’s resolutions need be broken. Just don’t think about the fat.

A good stuffed egg must include just the right quantity of excellent mayonnaise (for flavour and for texture) and, in my opinion, must be presented simply and without any attempts at modernisation.

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled; 2 tbsp very good whole egg mayonnaise;1 tbsp sour cream; few chives and a little dill, finely chopped; good pinch dry mustard, salt and pepper
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and scoop the yolks into bowl. Set whites aside.
Mash the yolks with a fork, gradually adding the mayonnaise and sour cream. The mixture should be creamy but not too moist — it should hold its shape. Add the seasonings then gently stir through the chopped dill and about half of the chives.
Fill the whites with the yolk stuffing. You can use an icing bag to do this or just spoon it in. Sprinkle with remaining chives and garnish with some flat leaf parsley.
Tip: If the eggs are a week or so old the shell will come away easily, leaving the white smooth.

By the way, Ruth and Herb now live in Auckland and, amongst other things, conduct tours of the WWI battlefields in France. Ruth is as elegant as ever.

Thank Goodness

From Ngaire’s journal, 1st September, 1951
Polling Day.  The National Party has been re-elected, thank goodness.’

Melbourne, 1st September, 2012

I thank goodness for:

My dad Stan

My dad Stan

  1. Dad.  It’s Father’s Day today.
  2. Spring.  The novelty of Winter has well and truly worn off.
  3. Only six more days until Polling Day.  It’s been a very dispiriting campaign.

My parents are holidaying in Queensland  (home of the very entertaining Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australian Party), so I didn’t see Dad today.  He’ll be having a ball up there, following all the goings on.

Sunday Night Coffee Sponge

Sunday Night Coffee Sponge

We celebrated Father’s Day today with Oasis Bakery’s Big Lebanese Breakfast (yum) and tonight I made a coffee sponge from Ngaire’s recipe book.  Mum often made this for special Sunday night teas when we were growing up.  She made a wicked whipped butter and sugar filling with glace cherries and walnuts, but tonight we had it with sort-of-fresh raspberries (from the freezer) and cream.

My cake was a bit gooey in the centre.  Because I didn’t have any coffee essence, I tried to cheat by adding a (very) short black coffee to the mixture and a little extra flour.  Truth being the first casualty of any campaign,  I told the family it was a coffee fudge cake and was meant to be that way.

Sunday Night Coffee Sponge (3 Minute Butter Sponge)

Grease and line an 8″ round cake tin and preheat the oven (180 degrees).
Sift 7 oz flour into a basin then stir in 6 oz of sugar.
Lightly beat 3 eggs with 2 tablespoons of milk.
Stir in the eggs then add 3 oz of melted butter. Beat vigorously for 1 or 2 minutes until it forms a nice smooth batter.
Add 1 dessertspoon of coffee essence and 2 tsp baking powder.  Beat gently for just  long enough to combine the ingredients well.  Bake for approx 40 minutes.

Assorted Creams and Thoughts on Marriage

In a letter from Ngaire to Caroline (my mother), written at the Parkway Hotel, Bayswater, London, August 1958
We all have our trials and tribulations to overcome, and it is better for our characters in the end.
All the engagements here are very formal…naming the man first, without fail.
Kindness to each other is a tremendous thing in marriage and makes up for a lot of defects.”

Assorted creams - Monte Carlos, Orange Crisps & German Cream Sandwiches

Assorted creams – Monte Carlos, Orange Crisps & German Cream Sandwiches

I was going to be clever and talk about home-made making up for any defects in the assorted creams my daughter Alex and I made, but it seemed a bit of a stretch.  Besides, the defects were strictly aesthetic – imperfect shapes and smeared jam.

Well, the Orange Crisps were a bit odd.

I’ve written a little about Ngaire and Gerald’s ‘Grand Tour‘ of England and the Continent before.  They were away from Christchurch for over five months, during which time my mother Caroline moved into a flat with friends.  She talks about this as being great fun and very liberating, but clearly marriage was firmly on my grandmother’s mind, even from a distance.  In fact, Mum was seeing my father Stanley by this stage, and agreed to marry him, defects and all, a few months later.

Orange Crisps (Gert Simpson)

Orange Crisps

Orange Crisps

4 oz (120 g) butter, 2 oz (60 g) sugar, 1 packet orange jelly crystals, 1 egg, 2 oz (60 g) ground rice, 2 oz (60 g) coconut, 4 oz (120 g) flour, 1 tsp baking powder

Cream butter and sugar. Add jelly crystals then other ingredients.
Put in small spoonfuls on cold greased tray and press out flat.  Bake in hot oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
Cool then fill with chocolate icing (or may be left unfilled).
Honestly, more interesting than inspirational.

German Sandwiches (Gert Simpson)

German Biscuits

German Biscuits

½ lb (250 gm) butter, ½ lb sugar, ½ lb flour, ½ lb ground rice (rice flour), 1 tsp baking soda, 1 teacup milk, 1 tbsp cinnamon, pinch grated nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar.  Dissolve soda in milk and add to the mixture.  Sift dry ingredients together and fold in.  Beat briskly.
Chill the dough for 30 minutes then roll out on floured surface and cut out shapes.  Bake in hot oven for approximately 10 minutes.
When cool, fill with vanilla cream icing (see below).  Also delicious unfilled – roll the dough out quite thinly to make a crisp biscuit.

Monte Carlos (Australian Women’s Weekly)

Monte Carlos

Monte Carlos

6 oz (185 g) butter, ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 egg, 2 cups flour, 1¼ tsp baking powder, ½ cup coconut, ¼ cup raspberry jam.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and vanilla then stir in dry ingredients. Put in small spoonfuls on cold greased tray and press out flat.  Rough surface with a fork.  Bake at 180 for about 12 minutes.
Cool and fill with vanilla cream icing (see below)  and raspberry jam.

Vanilla cream icing

2 oz butter (60 g), ¾ cup icing sugar, ½ tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp hot water.

Beat butter, vanilla and icing sugar until fluffy.  Add the water, a few drops at a time, until you are happy with the consistency.