A farm-house Christmas

I came across some more notes about Christmas time in Yorkshire;  visitors were always welcome, especially at this time of year and invited in for mulled ale, spice cake or Yule cake – served with cheese, the Yorkshire way! I’ve written previously about frumenty, which I had thought a west country speciality but apparently it was popular in rural Yorkshire as well…maybe it is traditional in all parts of the country, with variations of name and recipe! It is a simple dish/drink made from boiled grain and with milk/cream and eggs added, and on special occasions more luxurious ingredients such as almonds, dried fruit, and rum!

Visitors during the week following Christmas Day were often given a slice of pepper cake, or spiced ginger cake with a glass of home-made wine and specially made cheese which was marked with a cross. Also traditional was Yorkshire Spice Bread which varies slightly in different districts. In Ripon it is called Ripon Spice Bread and when made at christmas was called Yule bread.

Here is one recipe for pepper cake, although I am sure each home had its own special way of preparing it – I think it sounds very, very sweet, and I would at least double the amount of spice for this quantity of ingredients:

  • 12 oz plain flour
  • 12 oz black treacle
  • 4 oz butter or margarine
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 4 oz soft brown sugar
  • ½ oz ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda or pearl ash (potassium carbonate fist discovered in 1742, and used particularity in the USA in the eighteenth century for leavening bread and cakes)
  1. rub the butter or margarine into the flour and spice, add the sugar and mix in
  2. mix the raising agent with a little milk and add it and the treacle to the mixture
  3. add the beaten eggs
  4. bake for about an hour at 180°C, 350°F, gas mark 4

According to Joan Poulson who ahs written about Yorkshire recipes and customs, this was given to carol singers and other visitors, who would then respond with a little ditty:

A little bit of pepper cake,
A little bit of cheese,
A little drink of water,
And a penny if you please!

I think they would be disappointed to only get water at this time of year!

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