Sponge Cake

Anyone who has been reading this blog so far will know that Harriet’s recipes are known for their brevity and this one doesn’t disappoint. Crammed on to the bottom of a page, it’s little more than a list of ingredients, although it is pleasingly splattered and singed, as if it’s been consulted many times.

‘Sponge Cake. Weight of 3 eggs in castor sugar weight of 2 in flour the grated rind of 1/2 a lemon. Beat the eggs & sugar together for 1/2 an hour mix in the flour gently don’t beat after adding it. Add grated lemon rind last thing. Bake in a slow oven.

When I first saw this recipe – historical cake novice that I am – I immediately thought ‘where’s the fat?’ Cakes in my book need butter or lard or oil. But research soon revealed that, this time, Harriet had not made a mistake. Fatless sponges were indeed a thing. In 1861, Mrs Beeton’s recipe for Sponge Cake was almost identical to this one. Other recipes in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods are similarly lacking fat, although some do include baking powder, whilst others separate the egg whites and beat them until stiff.

These days, we are fortunate to have electric hand whisks and so I confess I didn’t spend a full half hour beating the eggs and sugar together. I did make sure that they were light and fluffy, however. Based on a similar recipe from the period, I baked it for about half an hour. So, how was it? Well…disappointing. The top had formed a hard crust and the sponge underneath brought to mind dried-out sponges from a beach rather than airy bath sponges. I had hoped it would rise enough so that I could at least whack some jam in the middle but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps I should have beaten it for half an hour after all.

In my last post about Harriet, I wrote about her mother Eleanor, who died young. There only appeared to be one surviving photograph of her. She died in 1888 and, as they were not a particularly wealthy family, photographs would have been a rare event. I didn’t imagine for one moment that there would be a picture of Ann – Eleanor’s mother, Harriet’s grandmother and my great-great-great grandmother! But, whilst sifting through yet more family paraphernalia, I turned over a photograph of an old lady to see: Ann Blakelock, September 20th 1900 Westgate Pickering.

My own grandmother (Harriet’s daughter) had written ‘my grandmother’ on the back of this photo.

Ann was born Ann Dale in 1822, so she would be 78 in this picture. She was born in Hovingham, near Malton and just a few miles away from Huttons Ambo, where Harriet was working when she started her recipe book. Her father David Dale (born 1799) was an agricultural labourer. He lived until the ripe old age of 87 although, sadly, he was widowed in his forties as Ann’s mother, Ellen Graham, died in 1840, aged just 38.

In November 1843, Ann married Luke Blakelock, a shoemaker. Their first child, Eleanor (Harriet’s mother) was born in 1844 and five more children followed over the next eighteen years: Thomas, James, John, Mary and Harriet. In comparison to other Victorian mothers, Ann was lucky to see all of her children grow to adulthood. Ann and Luke began their married life in a village called Swinton but from about 1860 lived in a street called Westgate in Pickering. The censuses over the decades show them living at various numbers in the street.

In addition, the census records appear to show that Ann was never one to live alone. In 1871, in addition to three of her own children, she is looking after Elizabeth Simpson, a two-year-old ‘nurse child’, who appears to be the illegitimate granddaughter of a neighbour. In 1881, the couple are living with their daughter Harriet and Harry, the illegitimate infant son of their other daughter Mary, who was working away as a cook. By 1891, Harry is still with them and they have also added William Blakelock, the grown-up illegitimate son of their late daughter Eleanor, as well as Herbert (8) and Alice (5) Ibson. These last two were Harriet’s younger siblings, presumably taken in by Ann and Luke after their mother died.

Not long after this photograph of Ann was taken, she was recorded still living in Westgate. She was a widow by then, aged 79, but still with her family around her, as William, Harry, Herbert and Alice continued to live with her. William never married and was still living with Ann in 1911, whilst working as a gas stoker. I suspect he lived with her until she died, aged 97, in 1918 from ‘senile decay’. She had outlived her husband Luke, who died in 1897, and four of her children.

It’s nice to know that, although Harriet had lost her mother at her young age, her grandmother would have been around to see her grow to adulthood. In 1901, Harriet was working as a servant for a solicitor and his family a mile from the centre of Pickering where her siblings, half-sibling and cousin Harry were all living with Ann. She started her recipe book when she had moved just ten miles away so, with all the mouths that Ann had fed over the years, it’s not inconceivable that Ann had some part in teaching Harriet to cook.

10 thoughts on “Sponge Cake

    • Yes, with the constant stream of grand-children living with her, I suspect she was busy! It’s a great picture, isn’t it? A real mixture of confusion and pride! I wonder what she was holding in her hands.

      Liked by 1 person

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