28 May 2014

The Welshcake Cometh!



There is light in the world. Or at least in this semi-rural corner of mid-Kent. Or to be even more specific on the shelves of the bakery department in West Malling's Tesco Metro where I found, for the first time, packets of Welshcakes. Made in Wales. With Welsh butter. 


And, 'hand-turned' no less, which is the kind of detail that manages to sound both anoraky and sensuous at the same time. But I am not complaining. My Welshcake fix has been met, up until now, by my own fair hand-turning, usually around March 1st, St David's Day (Patron Saint of Wales) and on my regular trips back home along the M4, at Leigh Delamare Service Station where Marks & Spencer stock their all butter Welshcakes a mere 30 miles or so east of the two magnificent Severn bridges, Pont Hafren (1966) and Ail Groesfan Hafren, the Second Severn Crossing (1996) that swing across the Rivers Severn and Wye and the start of the Severn Estuary, and usually set me off singing.

But here they are now, a mere two and a half miles from my doorstep, soft, crumbly, dusted in sugar, and imbued with hiraeth (longing, yearning, nostalgia, desire).

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about longing, yearning for something or someone from your past.

But why? 
'Is it part of a cunning plan towards Welsh domination of the Home Counties?' I asked the stock controller at the West Malling branch.
'Pardon?' he said.
'I was just wondering why you've suddenly started stocking them,' I said. 'Any further east of Wales and we'd be in France.'
'They're part of the Finest range we can stock,' he said. 'And we're an upmarket store.'

You read it here first: Welshcakes Bring Sophistication to Plebeian Kent.

If you're not in Wales or a sophisticated part of Kent you can make your own by following the recipe here.

21 May 2014

Eating cake with Sir Edmund Hillary

"How about a Kendal Mint Cake?" asks the woman in Outdoor World, Porthmadog, North Wales.

"No thanks," I say. "I don't like the idea of mint flavoured cake." I'm due a 60p refund on an exchange of women's waterproof trousers, that could have seen me and the Andrews Sisters wearing them all at once, (and dancing), for a pair that the packet says fits 11/12 year olds. All I can say is, 'they breed 'em big in North Wales'.

I tell her not to worry about the refund. "Put it in the charity box when you cash up," I say. But the 'system' doesn't allow for that.

"You've paid for it so you might as well try it now," she says, handing me one. Then, "You're not diabetic, are you?" 

I needn't have worried about the 'cake' because it's not cake at all as I'm sure a lot of you already know. Committed hikers and climbers are now probably all shaking their heads in despair because they eat these babies for breakfast. But only because that's the last thing remaining at the bottom of their rucksack after being stranded on a hail-scarred mountainside for 72 hours and it's either that or your fellow climber's arm. Just kidding. 

If I had been a diabetic then I should have been worried. The quantity of sugar and glucose syrup in one of these bars makes your gums ache with even the smallest of slices. Not that they slice that well. They shatter.
But they do soften surprisingly quickly in your mouth. Think After Eight Mint on steroids and you'll get a pretty good idea of their texture and taste. And enjoyable in small amounts. I'd be happy to share my bar, in the event of a desperate food shortage, with at least three others.

And Sir Edmund? Romney's, a mint cake manufacturer in Cumbria since 1936, were asked in 1953 if they could quickly come up with enough mint cake to supply the Everest expedition which allowed Sir Edmund Hillary and Sirdar Tensing to munch their way through a couple when they reached the summit.

And in honour of Sir Edmund here's a little icy cliff face of mint cake for you to climb in your imaginations.

See those specks of chocolate? You're nearly at the top, keep going.

Hungry writing prompt
Write about climbing something: stairs, a tree, a mountain.

13 May 2014

Breakfast at Llanelly's (House)

Llanelly House
It is an anonymously grand and intriguing beacon in the centre of the town, a Georgian town house that's really a manor house: its only neighbour at the time of construction, at the beginning of the 18th century, was the parish church opposite. 

Restoration started in 2003 and it opened to the public last year: guided tours that illuminate the house's aristocratic, mercantile and ghostly past, a shop (with chocolate love-spoons, oh yes!) and a fine little cafe/restaurant that serves everything from Welsh breakfasts (with cockles and laver bread), to three course lunches and cream teas. I've never had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with breakfast before, but it was just past midday and as the woman who served us said, with a smile and drawing from that rich repository that is Welsh colloquialism, 'whatever floats your boat'. We're multi-cultural now.

In the 19th and 20th century the ground floor of the house was home to Margrave Bros, Blenders & Bottlers, Vintners and Suppliers of Spirits. During the tour I took with Mam and Dad, who were born, raised and married in Llanelli, our guide pointed out the original front door and as we leave Dad remembers Mam coming out of that door in the early 1950s with a bottle of wine and stopping to examine the label on the pavement.

Display case at Llanelli House featuring Margrave Bros' first ever accounting book.
'It was sweet or medium sweet white wine,' he says.
'Why were you buying it?' I ask. 'Was it someone's birthday?'
'No,' he says, 'we bought it for ourselves.'

Mammy can't remember the event or the bottle of wine. But December 1953 would have been their first wedding anniversary. 'I did keep the top layer of our wedding cake for that,' she says.

So I want it to be true. The careful choice of a bottle to match the occasion. The taste of marzipanned and iced rich fruit cake wrapped up in a tin for a whole year, the tilting and glimmering meniscus of white wine raised in a toast and sipped in a time when they were young and beginning a life they would offer to my elder sister, me and my younger brother. Such a gift.

Mam and Dad, to the left of the cake, December 6th 1952.