Dust, Dirt and first Drafts

No one died of a dusty house, right?

MSOn Wednesday, I completed the first draft of my latest novel – working title Redemption Song. It’s a story of guilt, love and forgiveness – or Buildings, Bats and Love – set in a remote seaside town in Wales. It’s fair to say that for months my house has been absolutely rammy and I should be awarded an A star in slovenliness. But as I said in the sub-title: no one ever died of a grubby house. And in mitigation I was immersed in my characters’ worlds.

Now that I have to stay away from the manuscript for at least a couple of weeks (oh how my fingers itch for the keyboard) my house is spotless, mounds of paperwork have been filed, the lawns have been mowed and I even baked a cake with Ginger2 on Saturday – with disastrous results. Nigella Lawson, I’m not.

All this cleaning is fine preparation because soon enough, though not soon enough for me, I’ll be tidying up messy areas of the novel. I might rearrange the furniture in some scenes, repaint others, polish certain characters, bin others, or even go out shopping for a new look for one, to give the character a little more va-va-voom. I do love this process because, when I’m lucky, a kind of alchemy occurs: the base metal of a story is transformed into narrative gold, though I’ll settle for a second draft of silver because after draft two comes draft three …

Food on a Budget – 80s style – and lots of CAKES!

blog 80s 002There are a number of themes in Public Battles, Private Wars, one of which is food. Mandy Walker, my lead, likes to cook and she loves to bake cakes. As a cook-the-basics-when-I-have-to (i.e. for the kids) and a non-baker, I had to do some research. Given that the novel is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, I needed to look at old cook books and those with budget recipes, as well as swankier dishes. Luckily for me, I work part-time in a school and one of the more experienced teachers is a keen baker, and a jolly fine one too. She kindly leant me some of the cookery books she used as a young wife and mother in the late 70s and 80s. Thank you, Julia Cook – and yes, that is her real name. You couldn’t make it up.

blog 80s 003It was such a joy to read (and feel) these plain but somehow beautiful, obviously very well loved, tomes. I believe it’s the love that makes them beautiful.  Public Battles, Private Wars is set in a fictional Yorkshire pit village so you can imagine my delight to discover that the Farmhouse Kitchen was based on a series broadcast by Yorkshire Television during the timeframe. The Dairy Book of Home Cookery was published by the now defunct Milk Marketing Board and, though we are much more cholesterol conscious these days, there are plenty of wonderful, non-dairy recipes in it. Over the coming months, I’m going to share some recipes of dishes and cakes mentioned in the novel. Have a go a baking some and let me know how you get on. I might just tell you how I fared when I attempted some.

I’ll start with a cake that is, for me at least, quintessentially Yorkshire: Parkin.

Parkin is a form of gingerbread, and Yorkshire Parkin is made using oats. Traditionally, it is eaten on Bonfire Night (November 5th and my son, Ginger1’s birthday) celebrating the famous failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was a Yorkshireman.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz/220g soft butter
  • 4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
  • 2oz / 55g black treacle/molasses
  • 7oz / 200g golden syrup/ corn syrup
  • 5oz/ 120g medium oatmeal
  • 7 oz/ 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk

Preparation

Heat the oven to 275°F/140°C/gas 1
  • Grease an 8″ x 8″/ 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
  • In a large heavy-based saucepan  melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.
  • In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
  • Remove the parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavors really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container.

Enjoy! Next time, one of Mandy’s favourites: Victoria Sponge