Modern flour, Madeira cake, and clips around the ear

Here’s a fact for you: there was no such thing as self-raising flour (or self-rising flour as it’s called in the UK). Lots of you probably already know this, but just in case this is news to you, yes, the convenience of self-raising flour is a modern invention.

Along the same note, today I learned today that self-raising flour can lose its effectiveness over time, especially when it’s stored in the paper bags it comes in from the store. I’ve never noticed this happening before, but owing to the humid Queensland climate and previous problems with moths and weevils, we’ve always kept our flour in plastic canisters stored in the fridge, which would have stopped the flour from absorbing moisture.

When my nan was learning to cook, accurate measurements were super important. Pantries weren’t as well stocked, they lived out of town so ‘heading down the shop’ wasn’t a possibility, and they didn’t have the disposable incomes many of us have now to restock when mistakes were made.

So on the day she was helping her mum make a Madeira cake, when my nan put too much baking powder into the flour mix, she got a clip around the ears and yelled at her for wasting ingredients. She didn’t tell me why they didn’t just dump it all out and forget about it, but they went forward and cooked the cake.

I dug around in my retro recipe books for a Madeira recipe, and found one in my mum’s copy of The Margaret Fulton Cookbook and in honour of my great grandmother teaching my nanna how to cook, I made this simple Madeira cake.

I’m happy to report that it had no self-raising flour listed, instead it used baking powder with plain flour. Full disclosure though, I think the lack of SR flour made it quite dense and I may have also left it in the oven too long because it was fairly dry as well. It did have a lovely lemony flavour, and if it was lighter, would have been a really nice afternoon tea cake.

I can’t show you the recipe because the book is still within its copyright period, but if you’re one of the thousands of people who have a copy of The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, you should be able to find this recipe, or you could visit Nigella’s website and make her mother-in-law’s Madeira cake (which might be my next one to try because it has both SR and plain flour, and the juice of the lemon where Margaret’s only includes the rind in the actual cake).

I am pretty sure that up in heaven, my great-grandmother is giving me a well-deserved clip around the ears for wasting ingredients. But I promise, I can bring it back (more on that later)!

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