Little plum cakes

If you’re not a fan of Christmas cake or feel defeated by Christmas pudding, these 18th century plum cakes may be for you!

Plum cakes were often presented at Georgian celebrations, from weddings to Christmas feasts. These lightly-fruited sponges were not wildly different from everyday tea-time treats such as pound cakes and tea breads. However, for special occasions they would be decorated with icing and sweetmeats. 

This recipe suggests making ‘little plumb cakes’ in individual tins or pans. Dividing the batter up into smaller portions does help to reduce the baking time, but the recipe nevertheless demands a great deal of stamina. For the required rise, the cake batter needs an hour’s beating before being baked in the oven:

These recipe should produce lovely lightly-fruited sponges - but you'll need to beat the mixture an hour to get the desired effect!

These recipe should produce lovely lightly-fruited sponges – but you’ll need to beat the mixture an hour to get the desired effect!

To Make Little Plumb Cakes

Take a pnd of flower well dryed, 1 pnd of butter & a pnd of currants well washed &  pickd, 3 qrs of a pound of white sugar well sifted, six yolks and 2 white well beaten. Beat the butter with a little orange flower water with yr hand till it cream, then put in yr corrants & a whole nutmeg. Then beat it again. Then mix the flower & sugar & put it in by handfulls, till all be in. Keep itt beating an hour after and when the oven is hot, butter yr pans. Yr oven must be as hot as for cheesecakes. 

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Currant wine

This makes a seriously large amount of currant wine: 86 pounds of sugar to over 100 pints of water and 80 pounds of red or blackcurrants… Wow!

"To make a quarter cask of curran wine": a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“To make a quarter cask of curran wine”: a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Quarter Cask of Curran Wine

86 pds of the best Jamaica sugar

27 half gallons of fine soft cold water

80 pds of pickid whole carrans full ripe

10 eggs put in to the cask hole.

The liquor is put in the caske & 2 qurts of good brandy

Not to be dranke till 4 years old

Brandy was added to fortify the wine, and the eggs to clarify it. The only yeast included in this recipe is that which is found naturally on the fruit skins. But while the list of ingredients looks reasonable enough, the method is minimalist to say the least. For a better idea of what was involved in brewing this kind of fruit wine, this second recipe is worth a look:

Currant Wine

Take 16 pounds of full ripe currants. Break them small, stalks & all, in an earthen pan. Put to them 16 quarts of pipe water. Let it stand 24 hours, stiring it 3 or 4 times. Strain it throw a hair sieve. Then put [for] every four quarts of liquor 3 pounds of ye best Jamaica sugar. Let it stand 2 or 3 days, to work. Then fill up your cask. Save some of the liquor to keep ye vessel full till it done workeing. When it has done working, stope it close. It will be fit to bottle at Christmass.

It’s worth noting that this recipe calls specifically for pipe water rather than the river water used in our Irish Sack recipe – and consequently requires a lot less time in skimming the liquor for scum!

Lemon cheese

This is a zesty cream cheese, flavoured with fresh lemon peel. You can add as much sugar as you like, but we think the unknown ladies of our Cookbook may have liked it pretty sweet: they recommend serving it with candied oranges or a dab of currant jelly on the side.

18th century for lemon cheese from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century for lemon cheese from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Lemmon Cheese

A qurt of good thick sweet creame. Put to it the juce of four lemons as as mutch peel as well give it an agreeable flavour. Sweeten it to your taste & add a littile peach or orange flower water if you like it. Whip it up as you would for sellabubs but very solid. If you have a tin vat, put a thin cloath in it & pour in your cream. If not, put it in a napkin and tye it pritty close. Hang it up to let the whey run from it. Make it the night be fore you use it. Garnish it with currant jelliy or candied oranges.