I am well aware of the old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, but I completely disregard it when considering the purchase of a vintage cookbook. The cover for “Home Cookery illustrated” is so fab I wouldn’t have cared if the book was just blank pages. Except for the child with the red horns at the front, this picture could be a portrait of Mr CC and me when I’m preparing dinner. I still can’t work out the husband’s expression; is it one of delight, horror or surprise at what’s in the pan?
There is no date anywhere in the book but online resources place it in the region of 1955-57. I like the subtitle of “A practical guide for the beginner and the experienced housewife” and wonder what purpose it serves, why not just “a practical guide for housewives”?
Published in the 1950s this book highlights that Britain, even post rationing, was still an austere place. The introduction to the book, which covers buying, preparing and cooking food stresses: “Nowadays it is more a question of making the most of what is available than choosing what we prefer.” It goes on to suggest it is the housewife’s duty to ensure that shops sell all their stock: “Whenever you see a plentiful supply of any kind of perishable food, buy that in preference to goods that will keep. If the shopkeepers do not sell that food it may mean that it may have to be wasted. Help avoid that by buying.”
I chose this recipe because I am a fiend for coconut, plus I loved the inclusion of ratafia essence in the ingredients list. I’d heard of ratafia biscuits but not essence; some hunting around online told me that ratafia essence is made from peach, almond and apricot kernels and is no longer available. The closest modern substitute is good quality almond extract as that contains ground up bitter almond kernels – so that’s what I used!
This is a versatile cake – you can have it, as we did today, plain with a cup of tea, but Mr CC was mooting adding some jam to it. Tomorrow night I’m going to warm two slices and serve as dessert with custard.
Coconut and almond is a lovely combination and this flavoursome, light, cumbly sponge is a worthy teatime treat in any era – austerity or otherwise! It is a plain cake...but in a good way! The coconut is the dominant flavour with a hint of almond coming through at the end. The one aspect of austerity cooking I couldn’t let lie was the meagre quantities; my quantities below are double those of the book.
230g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g / 6oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract (or ratafia essence – but good luck finding it!)
340g / 12oz self raising flour
115g / 4oz desiccated coconut
6 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4
Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.
Beat together the butter and sugar until you have a soft, whippy, pale cream. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this stage as this is where you get the air into the sponge.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond extract.
Beat in the flour.
Beat in the coconut and milk.
Spoon into the prepared baking tin and level the surface.
Bake for approximately 1 hour. It’s done when a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour 5 minutes.
Leave to cool, still in the tin, on a wire rack.
Remove from the tin and store in an airtight container.
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.