Nonno Anni told me when he received an orange for Christmas during his childhood in the 1920s, he treasured it. I knew he and his Mum were poor and village life in Italy was hard at that time, especially with his father far away in Australia to seek work, but an orange… I couldn’t quite believe it when I found this out as a child in the 1970s and oranges were so easy to get then. But fresh oranges were considered treasures before refrigeration and faster transport. Especially at Christmas considering that since ancient times, oranges have been said to bring joy, good luck and to ward off evil. (What must Nonno Anni have thought once he had a whole display of oranges at his fruit shop and milk bar!)
So, with Christmas oranges in mind, I decided to bake an orange cake since it’s that time of year and it wasn’t until making it that I realised, this one cake of simple ingredients is also made up of elements from several generations… the Christmas orange story from Nonno’s Italian childhood, the cake tin well-used in baking for countless cake stalls and Australian country shows before my mother-in-law handed it onto us, the orange cake recipe in her mother’s 1930s cookbook, also passed on to us with affection. (And I love how the recipe’s first line is, three eggs and their weight in sugar…)
If I’m honest, Christmas isn’t always the easiest time for me as it feels bittersweet with the happiness of those present mingled with the quiet of those unable to be or now gone. But food is so special in that certain dishes can trigger those lovely memories of people dear to us no matter how long it may be since we’ve seen them and this year, I feel happy that oranges can bring that little bit of sunshine.
Warmest wishes and thank you for your lovely support and messages throughout the year. May 2020 be filled with light and some happiness no matter what else it may bring! Wishing you tante belle cose – many beautiful things, Zoe xx
These lovelies are some baking treats from having more time in the kitchen of late (and there’s been some fiascos as well as triumphs, I admit!) Roger is the scone baker in our house so gets credit for these. He likes following set recipes, while I’m more of a ‘bit of this and that’ cook, assessing as I go. The last time I baked scones was in a school ‘home economics’ class where the teacher said my hands were too warm for the dough (cool hands are better so scones aren’t tough apparently).
Great-grandma Charlotte was the scone baker in my family. She even entered some at the Ipswich show and gained second place for ‘best plate homemade scones’ in 1927 (her breads won several firsts!) Her daughter, Lorna, my grandma, preferred talking politics with a cigarette in hand than cooking, though she did make a mean fried rice. I feel for her as she’d have been great in a professional career but most women in those days didn’t get that chance. I had a thing for pancakes and pikelets from a young age and that page of my first cookbook is splodged with attempts. Just like the kitchen now wears flour over the benchtop and a bit on the floor too.
The thing about home cooking is, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out quite right. When there’s that comforting, cooking scent in the house (if not too burnt!), a cloth spread over the table and a cup of tea or coffee ready, eating what you’ve cooked while it’s still warm can unexpectedly bring back happy memories and stories of people loved, now long-gone, and just for a little while, all feels well.
I love cooking from old cookbooks for their connection to the past and family recipes.
This 1934 Goulburn Cookery Book belonged to my grandmother-in-law whom I didn’t get to meet but I know and much admire that she cared for her eight children in their country town through prudent circumstance and for many years independently after she was widowed.
I love that her middle name was Philadelphia and that in this cookbook she pasted cut-out recipes and wrote some in as well. (Roger has made the grapefruit jam like his grandmother’s handwritten recipe.)
There’s even a recipe for Eggs in Purgatory, albeit a bit different to the version likely cooked in 1930s Italy or the ‘eggs in tomato’ my great-granny Maddalena cooked!
Interestingly, recent studies have revealed that despite the use of ingredients like butter and eggs, most recipes in 1930s cookbooks have a third less calories than current ones, often due to their smaller portion sizes.