Tuesday 30 November 2010

Nigel's Double Ginger Cake - Because I ignored St Andrew!

To all you Scots out there, happy feast of St. Andrew! I know so little about him, that to pretend anything else would be a big fat fib. But, no sooner than I made a post about crumpets, a friend of mine has asked for a recipe for ginger cake. It is a good traditional Scottish treat, and should be celebrated today above all days. Andrew was the first of the disciples to be called by Jesus, and perhaps that is why, at the beginning of the Church year, he is also the first to be remembered, martyred on that famous x-shaped cross. If you would like to find out about St. Andrew, Godzdogz have a good post up today, and you can check out the amazing photographs of fr. Lawrence Lew OP and read his well-informed notes.

Nigel's Double Ginger Cake (Yes, he is still my hero)

250 self raising flour
2 level teaspoons of ground ginger
half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
a level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
stem ginger in syrup - 3 lumps, about 55g
2 tablespoons of syrup from the stem ginger jar
2 heaped tablespoons of sultanas
125g dark muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
240ml milk

a square cake tim 20 - 22cms, lined with greaseproof paper.

Set the oven at 180C. Sift the flour with the ginger, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda and salt. Put the Golden Syrup and the ginger syrup and butter into a small saucepan and warm over a low heat. Dice the ginger finely, and add it to the pan with the sultanas and sugar. Let the mixture bubble gently for a minute, giving it the occasional stir to stop the fruit sticking.

Break the eggs into a bowl, pour in the milk and beat gently to break up the egg and mix it into the milk. Remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the flour, stirring smoothly and firmly with a large metal spoon. Mix in the milk and the eggs. The mixture should be sloppy with no trace of flour.

Scoop the mixture into a lined cake tin and bake for thirty five or forty minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Unless you are serving it warm, leave the cake in its tin to cool, then tip it out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. Wrap it up in foil, and if you can leave it to mature for a day or two before eating. Because this cake is so dark naturally, you might need to cover it during cooking, and keep a very close eye on it to ensure it doesn't burn. :)

Homemade Crumpets - a joyful treat to begin the waiting

The view from the kitchen
 Advent - a time of waiting. It is traditionally a time of preparation and associated, food wise, with giving things up. However, it differs from a Lenten fast. Advent anticipates the Nativity; it is laced with joy. What better way to begin that with a little homemade treat perfect for freezing cold snowy days? People stuck indoors, particularly during the long cold evenings need something to make them smile. Homemade crumpets can do just that! Yes, you can buy crumpets and bring them home and toast them. They are okay - but sometimes horribly rubbery if left in the hands of someone who knows not the ways of the toaster. But homemade, straight from the pan and covered in butter and jam, served with a big pot of tea - nothing can be better (a tea cosy is optional, but it does give a seasonal feel!). And, as a cook watching the little bubbles on the surface of the crumpet burst to form those traditional holes is such a delight! Almost as fun as frying poppadoms or making 'quavers' from chinese pastry!

You need:

1 level tablespoon of dried yeast
1 level teaspoon of caster sugar
1 level teaspoon of salt
8oz (225g) plain flour
1 pint of milk

Metal egg rings. I know no one who frys their eggs in these, but they are cheap and they do a great job of crumpets, drop scones, mini pancakes, sweet waffles and all sorts, so just get some :). Use lots and lots of grease each time you fill them though, or you will end up is a right stuck.

Lashings of full fat butter - the real thing
Your favourite jam

This is what you do:

Frothy batter ready to go
Heat the milk and 55ml of water in a saucepan until hand hot. Pour into a large jug and mix quickly with the level tablespoon of dried yeast and a level teaspoon of sugar. The yeast should dissolve. Place the jug in a warm place for 10 - 15 minutes until there is about 2 cms of froth on the top. I know the trials of finding a warm place. I have lived for years in draughty student accommodation. When in doubt, turn the oven on to just below the 50C mark and leave the door open.

Meanwhile sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle. When the yeast milk is ready, give it a quick stir and pour the whole lot into the well. Using a wooden spoon stir and whisk until you have a completely smooth batter. Cover with a tea towel and return to your warm place for about 45 minutes, by which time your batter should be light and frothy.

Magic frying pan from Norway
Grease your pan and the eggs rings really well, and turn on the heat. I abandoned using the rings in favour of a special pan we have with deep recesses for making Norwegian fishcakes, but I suspect you cannot buy this pan in the UK, so....sorry but you might have to struggle releasing your crumpets! I can only advise using lots of grease, and being very patient. When the pan is hot gently pour about a tablespoon of your mixture into each ring. Let them cook for about 5 minutes: first tiny bubbles will appear on the surface, then, suddenly, they will burst, leaving lots of little holes!
 Browner than they should be. But yum.

Using a large spoon and a fork, lift off the rings and turn the crumpets over. Cook the crumpets on the second side for about a minute. 

Each time you cook a batch you need to regrease the pan and the rings, and heat the pan.

Serve with lashings of butter and jam. Smile - this is just about as good as a snack gets. :)

Enjoy Advent. Wait patiently.

Monday 29 November 2010

Fr Austin Milner OP RIP (1935 - 2010)

Very sadly, Fr. Austin Milner OP died peacefully this morning at the Priory of the Holy Spirit (Blackfriars), Oxford. Godzdogz have posted a notification of his passing, and will, in due time, publish a full obituary. May he rest in peace.

Saturday 27 November 2010

The end of days - A cure for cold filled pagans

I love the last day of the liturgical year. The readings are magical. The great dream of Revelation comes to the fore. A prophecy of the end times. 

The angel showed me, John, the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street. On either side of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are the cure for the pagans.
The ban will be lifted. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its place in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever.

The angel said to me, ‘All that you have written is sure and will come true: the Lord God who gives the spirit to the prophets has sent his angel to reveal to his servants what is soon to take place. Very soon now, I shall be with you again.’ Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book.
Apocalypse 2: 1 - 7
How evocative of this time of year is that? Oh, I know, it is hard to understand. But, it is romantic and beautiful, and full of that most important thing - hope. Out in the garden everything is still, covered in thick frost and a covering of snow. At the front of the house, by the door, a single red rose is in bloom. The raspberry canes and fruit trees are bare. The apples have all fallen - except one - it is being stubborn for the sake of the birds I think. The ground feels frozen to walk on. Yesterday there were clear blue skies and a chill wind that cut to the bone. Today is more overcast, snow threatening - but that cold wind is still out there. It is funny how the readings from Revelation have the same colours as a northern winter sunset, the one we see so early in the day at the moment. I love those colours, the sun at its most vivid: reds, pinks, purples, oranges. Also,  the seasonal afflictions of the season have taken hold in my house. I have a blocked up nose, a sore throat and poor, exhausted lungs. I need a fruit filled cure. So, whilst the log fire heats the front room, and before I settle in to watch Merlin on the telly, sunshine and cures from the kitchen.

The cure for (cold filled) pagans 

6 blood oranges (the red centre is beautiful, and the juice sweet - but if you cant get them, just get good big juicing oranges instead). 2 grapefruits.

 Just squeeze them up, and gulp it down. You are sure to be better by morning. Or if in real need, try grating some ginger into a saucepan, adding a little honey and a few cloves, and gently heating the freshly squeezed juice. Don't boil it though, just hot enough to warm your insides up.

Dal and Pumpkin Soup (Nigel Slater - again!)

a small onion
2 cloves of garlic
a chunk of ginger
225g red split lentils
teaspoon of ground tumeric
a teaspoon of ground chilli (I sometimes use fresh ones)
250g pumpkin
a bunch of roughly chopped coriander

For the onion topping: 2 medium onions, ground nut oil, 2 small hot chillies, 2 cloves of garlic

Chop the onion for the soup roughly. Peel and crush the garlic with the back of your knife. Add them to a heavy based pan. Grate in the ginger. Add the lentils and pour in one and a half litres of water. Bring to the boil and then turn down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the tumeric and chilli, season and leave to do its thing, with a lid on, for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a medium sized pan of water to the boil. Peel and scoop out the pumpkin, then cut it into the fat chunks. Boil for about ten minutes, or until they are tender. Drain them and set them to one side.

To make the topping, peel the onions and cut them into thin rings. Fry them gently in a pan with the groundnut oil, until they colour. De-seed the chillies and slice them finely. Peel and slice the garlic finely too. Add these to the onions. Cook until the onions are a deep golden brown.

Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for five minutes. Remove from the heat and add the drained pumpkin. Blend the soup with a handheld blender until smooth (be careful!). Stir the roughly chopped coriander through the soup and serve. Topping each deep bowl of goodness with a spoonful of the spiced onions.

Nigel says that this is a soup that both whips and kisses. It is warm and releases a slow build up of heat from the base notes of chilli, ginger and garlic. For today it is perfect. We had it with hunks of rustic bread and poachers cheese on the side. You can't go wrong. The colours are right for today too, all fiery oranges, reds and deep ochre. Perfect. And, as I was serving up I look at my watch, 6pm. The new year begins, quietly...waiting.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Comfort Food - The year is drawing to a close

There are weather warnings on the evening news. Snow and ice are expected across the mountains and hills by morning. The London rush hour is going to be chaos. Wales is going to be icy. Rain and cold no matter where you are. The winter has begun and is set to last.

Meanwhile, the end of the year is upon us. The last week of the liturgical year is perfectly placed. I love the dark, the weather, the little flickering lights blinking in preparation for Christmas. A time to look out for the first frost and the last light. Brilliant.

But, let us face it, this is no time of year to spend hours and hours in the kitchen. You need all the energy you have to absorb the calories of the seasonal food! And to catch your winter sleeps (everyone needs more sleep in winter - it is to do with light and biology - don't argue). 

Next week is Advent - Hurrah! I love it. But for now, let us just chill in the sofa. Note 'in' - you need a sofa that does that. 'On' will not suffice.

Meatballs and Tomato Sauce (yes, on top of spaghetti all covered in cheese)

Step one: Get your meatballs. 

Buy them organically, hand crafted from your nearest butcher - or.....

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g/5oz onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 900g/2lb freshly minced beef
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped herbs, such as marjoram, or 1 tbsp rosemary
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
    Heat the oil and sweat the crushed garlic and chopped onions. Mix the minced beef, herbs, seasoning and egg in a separate bowl. Mix the onions and garlic with the meat. Form into 24 little meatballs and refrigerate until needed.
    Then for the sauce: 24 meatballs, 3 slices of smoked bacon, 1 large spanish onion, 2 cloves of garlic, oregano from the cupboard, salt and pepper, olive oil, tomato puree and 2 tins of crushed tomatoes.
    Sweat the onion and garlic in the oil in large saucepan, and add the oregano (to taste). After these are soft add the tomato puree and the tins of tomatoes and leave on a very low heat to reduce for up to 30 mins. Here you can add wine if you have it. In a separate frying pan, brown the meatballs in olive oil, add bacon and season. When brown, add to the tomato sauce, with a slotted spoon or ladle (so as not to add extra oil to the meal). Lea and Perrins is good if you have it. :)
    Cook pasta how you normally do. Make it good pasta. Try fresh pasta. Please. 
    Serve and cover with cheese (parmigiano-reggiano is good, cheddar - don't do it, mozzarella is fun but unnecessary :) )

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Mood Food - Te Deum

OK, I admit it, I have been out of the kitchen for ages. I haven't cooked so much as a pan of pasta pesto since I made cheese on toast on the Feast of St. Martin de Porres. The reasons for this are many and various, but mostly I find it hard to feel like cooking if I am glum or challenged. Don't get me wrong, I have not been mopping about doing nothing, but my instinct to cook up a feast wanes if I am not laughing. But, today, enough of all that nonsense. Today is a day for rejoicing. In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum.  

It is the feast day of St Margaret of Scotland, St Gertrude and St. Edmund of Abingdon. Aside from sounding like characters lining up for a CS Lewis adventure to Narnia, this little trio have some great attributes. Hungarian born Margaret is remembered for the happiness of her marriage to King Malcolm III of Scotland (she had eight children), for her devotion to prayer and learning, and her generosity to the poor. I know of her because her statue hangs out in Lourdes, near the Gave. St Gertrude was particularly talented at literature and philosophy, and is famous for her devotion to the Incarnation. And, St. Edmund of Abingdon, elected to be Archbishop of Canterbury even though he preferred monastic life, is reknowed as a peacemaker, distinguished commentator on the scriptures and as a talented spiritual writer.  Three saints with passions I particularly admire: learning, literature and philosophy and peacemaking. Marvelous. 

Perhaps you have guessed by now. I am in a good mood. So my recipie, which I am about to go downstairs and make for the family, is for good mood food. A little Te Deum in the kitchen. Something tasty for the time of year. Something which evokes indoors what Autumn manages outdoors and which Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses in the poetry of Pied Beauty: 

Glory be to God for dappled things - 
For skies of couple-colour as brinded cow;
for those rose moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut falls' finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow and plough;
and all trades, their gear and tackle trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour, adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him                   (GMH 1918)

Glorious autumnal simplicity for about 4 people. Sauteed Chicken with spices, fennel and cream. Yum. It's a Nigel Slater and he is my hero.

8 large chicken thighs (free range, organic, etc etc) 
groundnut oil
2 medium sized fennel heads
300 ml double cream
fresh coriander leaves
brown rice - to serve

Spice Paste:  4 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 crushed chilli flakes
2 small cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon grainy french mustard

Rub the chicken with salt and pepper and fry gently in a tablespoon of the groundnut oil until the skin is golden and crisp. Over a low to moderate heat this will take a good twenty five minutes, during which time a savoury golden sediment will attach itself to the pan. After fifteen minutes' cooking cut each head of fennel into six long wedges and tuck them around the chicken.

Whilst the chicken is cooking make the spice paste.  Crush the cardomom pods, discarding the green husks, and smashing the black seeds with a pestle and mortar. Add the tumeric, cumin, chilli and garlic, and continue pounding. Mix in the mustard and a tablespoon or two of the groundnut oil.

When the fennel is tender and the chicken is cooked, remove them from the pan and place to one side. Pour the oil out of the pan and discard. Add the spice paste to the pan on a gentle heat (spices catch very quickly on too high a heat), scrape up any sticky sediment from the pan and mix in. Leave to heat for a minute or two. Stir in the cream and immediately return the chicken and fennel. Leave to bubble for minute or two, toss in the coriander leaves. Serve with brown rice.

Godzdogz Post

An excellent post by the Godzdogz team draws attention to recent events in Iraq. Click the banner to read more.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Dulce et decorum est

Those of you who shared my English Literature class at school might remember us learning by heart the poem I have chosen for today. Perhaps you might also recall our vivid 'acting out' of what it would be like to froth at the mouth, roll your eyes, and drown in gas. It was a laugh that lesson, a real laugh. I remember we did impressions of our teacher saying 'Quick Boys!' in her Black Country accent for weeks afterwards. What harm is there, after all, in poking fun at history?

There might be others reading this who remember August 1999 when we caught the bus from London Victoria to Zdroj, Poland. The mountains were beautiful. We spent a day at the Old People's home. I spoke to a lady whose family, every single one of them, had been taken away in the War. They had not died, she was quite clear, she saw them being taken - they were alive when she saw them - they were not sick, they had not died. And, do you remember the journey to Auschwitz afterwards? It lasted forever. The landscape changed after the first few hours, it turned flat and desolate. Everyone went quiet, everything hushed. Silence. Do you remember what we saw there? Rooms full of hair, glasses, teeth; empty gas chambers. The cell of a priest, Maximillian Kolbe, who gave his life for the love between a father and son. What a day out that was. We went for a meal afterwards. Do your remember? It was the best food we had ever tasted, and it hardly cost us a thing. We were happy to be alive and free.We laughed.

Other people, I am told, have different memories of what happens during war, ones which have kept them from sleeping all their lives, haunting images and desperate losses. It is for them that today I recall this poem which I first heard in an English Literature lesson when I was 13.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,  
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,  
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs  
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.  
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots  
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;  
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots  
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! –  An ecstasy of fumbling,  
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;  
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,  
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .  
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,  
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,  
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace  
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,  
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,  
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;  
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood  
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,  
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,  
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory,  
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est  
Pro patria mori.
Wilfrid Owen
8 October 1917 - March, 1918

If, like me, you have no real experience of war, and find it hard to imagine the suffering humanity has inflicted upon itself over the years, read the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker this November: Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road. My Da gave it me one Christmas. I had it read by Epiphany, but I didn't ever think of war in the same way again.  No matter which side they fought on, the loss every soldier in war is a terrible tragedy, a sign of humanity's brokenness. A sign we have gone so far wrong it is hard to turn back. Sadly, people are still dying in war, even though in my heart of hearts, all I want to hear is the resounding cry of 'never again, there has to be another way'. Remember all of them, on every side, and live for peace.

Monotony is a most beautiful and most atrocious thing

Simone Weil, in the 1940's, went off to work in Parisian factories. She did this out of necessity, but from the experience wrote some of her most powerful work, including the essays, the mysticism of work, and the prerequisite to dignity of labour. In both essays she remarked that monotony, an inevitability of work, is both the most beautiful and most atrocious thing. A circle is a symbol of monotony, but also of the divine and the eternal - it is beautiful.  It is  a source of life because it contains its own purpose. It accomplishes itself but does not end. A swinging pendulum, on the other hand, is a symbol of monotony, but it is atrocious. Its purpose it always just out of sight, so distant it seems it will never come to fruition. It counts life away.

For me, life since the end of August has been marked by monotony. I have been working in order to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. Working to live, not living to work. It is hard. It is hard not because the working is hard, but because there seems little reason to follow the instructions you are given except for a material need for money, food and shelter. Sometimes you feel like telling someone to 'F*** Off', but you can't, because if you do, it will not be possible for you to come back and put yourself through the same thing this time tomorrow. Don't get me wrong, I have worked in boring jobs before, but always with a sense of where I was going and what I was about to do. I love to work, and work with a passion, when I have a real sense of mission.

How do you get back the sense of the beautiful in something that has become atrociously monotonous? I suspect the answer lies in something at the heart of what it means to be alive - hope. For me, to make the most of each and every opportunity that comes my way, no matter how small, or how daunting it appears, I have to see hope within it. No one ever achieved their greatest ambition overnight. No  good philosopher, saint, artist, musician, artisan, writer or dedicated practitioner of any trade or profession, woke up one day and thought - I have made it, I am now the best I am ever going to be. The secret is in in hoping that today you can do the best you can for the day that is in it; in hoping you will bring only good to each and every minute. When that happens, it doesn't matter even if you are engaged in the most boring job in the world, tasked with something you thought you would never have to do, atrocious monotony seeps away and beautiful monotony emerges. Every second of every moment is a treasure, a time in which you can show a glimmer of everything you were ever born to be. 

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Play nice with mice

I am a little short on time today, so no long recipes or experiments in the kitchen. Is it me, or have there been a wealth of feasts and festivals of late? Anyhow, today is the Patronal feast of Martin de Porres. He makes into into my good books with just one act of kindness, although the effect of his simple life on world history is truly amazing. Martin de Porres was nice to mice.

He was born in 1579 in Lima, Peru. He was the son of a lady named Anna, and a Spanish merchant called John de Porres. Because he was born out of wedlock, and because he was mixed race his father did not stay around too long. He was brought up in poverty. When he was a young man he worked with the Dominicans, and later became a Professed Lay Brother. His job was to tend the sick in the monastery infirmary, and to distribute food to the poor and needy of the district.

Martin is known for being very holy indeed. But, what I really like about him is that he is often pictured holding a broom, with a dog and a mouse
at his feet. And in the image here, he has a cat and a dove aswell. That makes me happy. He was a practical chap, but very friendly and kind. In the monastery there was a little problem with mice in the wardrobe of the hospital. They feasted on the finest linen garments and sheets, leaving the old ones untouched. Some of the monks wanted to poison the rodents, but Martin would not hear of it. One day he caught a little mouse and held him gently, and said, "Little brother, why are you and your companions doing so much harm to the things belonging to the sick? Look; I shall not kill you, but you are to assemble all your friends and lead them to the far end of the garden. Everyday I will bring you food if you leave the wardrobe alone," After Martin let go of the mouse, there was scurrying from every nook and cranny and the procession started towards the monastery garden. Martin, tall and slender, with long strides, led the mice to their new home. Everyday he brought them a meal and no mouse ever set claw or tooth in the monastery wardrobe again. Thats the way to deal with a rodent infestation, I say.

In memory of Martin de Porres, I think today is a day to go easy on the stock cupboard, use what you save to help some poor soul in need, and then make yourself a decent snack of mousey cheese on toast. Go all out, splash on the Lea and Perrins. Do it with a smile.

St. Martin died on 3rd November 1639. He was canonized by John XXIII on 6th May 1962. Look at those dates again. And now look at the image of Martin de Porres. I guess the good example he set, whilst it took a while to catch on, had a lasting effect on human society as well as the Peruvian mouse population. St. Martin suffered racial abuse all his life. It was not until generations later that his light helped others to recognize prejudice and fight against discrimination. And, he did it by living simply and in faith. Look after the little things....

Tuesday 2 November 2010

The Afternoon Play

Okay, I admit it, I have a Radio 4 habit. I love it. Today though, they have excelled themselves. A story that fits with today. Story telling at its best. And a palpable reminder of how we remember the most ordinary things about those we have loved and lost. They way they laughed, spoke to people in the street, slammed doors or walked softly into a room; what they looked like when they were sleeping, how it felt to hold their hand. I recommend Setting a Glass, by Nick Warburton, directed by Peter Kavanagh. Get to it just as soon as you can on iPlayer. The fox is important.


A man is summoned to a hospital where his elderly mother is fading away. He arrives in the middle of the night and walks through empty corridors looking for a coffee machine. So why is he avoiding sitting at his mother's bedside?

He gets talking to an auxiliary nurse a disgruntled but determined young woman whose life is starting, just as his mother's is ending. As he tells this complete stranger about his mother's uneventful life, her small achievements, he comes to understand some of the mechanisms at play in his strange inability to sit with her.

Barmbrack, Soul Cakes and Good Strong Tea

'Trot the horse round the stable again, Mary' - That is what my Nana used say if you poured the tea from the pot too soon. Tea making was a ritual, and it should never be rushed. You had to take time to warm the pot, gently pour boiling water over the leaves, tuck the tea in under its cosy and allow it to brew. I tend to rush making a cup of tea these days, and I rarely make a pot of it, but today, today is the day for drinking tea.

All Souls. A day for remembering those who have been loved and lost. Those who live in the heart. Those whose voices you hear when you find yourself doing something they always did, or something they would never have done. All Souls. A day for going slowly, remembering, and telling stories.

On days like this, you need to invent meal times. It is a day for elevenses and afternoon tea; something after supper or a quick bite for visitors. Traditionally, in Ireland, Barmbrack is the food you need. Beautiful toasted and buttered. A light something no one can turn down. In England, Soul Cakes fit the bill, and are about the right size that everyone will be tempted to just one and sit down to pass the time. Both foods are traditional to Samhain, the coming of winter. They are left out, candle lit, on the eve of All Hallows to feed hungry souls that passed that way. Today, served with tea, they can serve the same purpose.

Barmbrack (makes two small loaves)

You need:

1oz Fresh Yeast
3oz Caster Sugar
10 fl ozs tepid Milk
1 egg, beaten
1lb strong white bread Flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Salt
2ozs Butter
8ozs Sultanas
4ozs Currants
2ozs Mixed Peel
2 tbsp sugar dissolved in 2tbsp hot water to glaze

Cream together the yeast and 1 teaspoon each of the sugar and milk. Mix well and then add the remaining milk and egg. Sieve flour, spices and salt into a mixing bowl, rub in the butter and add the fruit and peel.

Stir in the yeast mixture and beat well with a wooden spoon then, using your hands, form a dough and knead on a floured surface for about 10 minutes until the dough becomes elastic. Place in a greased bowl, cover with oiled polythene and bring it to a warm hotpress (airing cupboard). Leave there for about an hour.

Divide the dough in half and knead each for a few minutes, then place each in a cake tin and return to the hotpress for another hour until well risen. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Bake for 30 - 35 mins and then remove from heat. Dissolve sugar in hot water and glaze while hot.

Soul Cakes

I live in the Wychwoods, Oxfordshire. It is a place that is full of stories and traditions, and here is one that goes well for today.

A soul, a soul, a soul cake
Please, good Missus, a soul cake,
An apple, pear, plum or cherry,
Or anything to make us merry

The Old Soulers' verse was a kind of begging song that asked for reward for the Soulers' services of offering prayers for the departed on All Soul's Day. In the Cotswold village of Bisley there is a 13th Century Poor Souls' Light in the Churchyard - thought to be the only one in England outside a Church. Inside its carved stone spire, candles were placed for masses to be said for the poor of the parish. It stands on the site of an ancient well head, which became known locally, as The Bonehouse. The story is that one dark night a priest was summoned to take the Blessed Sacrament and never reached his destination. Later, his body was found at the foot of the well, and the parish was subsequently excommunicated for a period. No burials were allowed in the Churchyard, and the dead had to be carried for internment to Bibury - seven miles away. There is still a corner of the Churchyard at Bibury called 'Bisley Place'. Soul Cakes became the traditional 'reward' for the itinerant Soulers. As with so many cakes devised for religious festivals, the Soul Cake is spiced. An echo of the spices brought to the Nativity, they say.

You need:

1lb Plain Four
6ozs caster Sugar
1 level tsp ground Mixed Spice
6ozs Butter
4ozs Currants
3 Eggs yolks

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks gradually. Sift the flour and spice together into the butter mixture. Beat well and add the currants with enough milk as necessary to form a soft, but not sticky dough. Cut into as many pieces as you would like cakes, and form into rounds. Place on a greased baking sheet and mark each cake with a cross. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 15 minutes, until risen and golden.