"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

50 posts, 16 years, one cake

This is my 50th post in this bit o’fun I call Yumbo McGillicutty! – my quiet and unassuming little food blog.  Fifty posts may not be much by other über-blogger standards, but it’s got me thinking about when I got into the Internet, about 16 years ago.

The Internet – even though it was far more advanced and bore little resemblance to the “first”, government- and nerd-populated Internet others knew through the ‘70s and 80s – was quite a different place then than it is now.  It was rough-and-ready, and looking back, quaint.  And it opened up the world for me.

In those days, I was isolated and lonely, raising children on acreage and holding the fort through some happy but hard days, unable to really count on a husband who worked unspeakably long and impossible hours.  Perhaps to my detriment – I dread to think how many hours could have been spent doing something constructive instead of “research” that steals hours in the blink of an eye – I turned to the Internet to draw closer to everything and everyone who was far away, and to amass and absorb information in a way that not even a mad reader such as me had been able to before.  It was awesome.  

One of the most awesome things was access to recipes.  Recipes for anything, courtesy of your favourite search engine!  Delivered to your Inbox via e-mail!  Recipes everywhere!  But they weren’t like you might see them today:  set up to food stylist standards with photography to match.  They were just… recipes.  Recipes that were sometimes backed up with lovely words that made you want to cook that thing, right now, but more often recipes by people whose judgement and taste you’d learnt to trust by virtue of their presence in a particular forum or noticeboard, where Experience and Knowledge was a beacon.

Look at me.  Getting nostalgic over the Old Internet.  But there were people who taught me so much and have been proven by time to be unforgettable.  “Limey Rik”, a teetotaller who compulsively made vats of wine from whatever he foraged each year:  dandelions, brambleberries.  Marie from Countrylife, whose knowledge of bread baking was encyclopaedic.  And Raz, whose grammar and spelling were woeful but whose every home-style recipe was guaranteed to make the people you cook for forget that things such as grammar – or even language! - “Mmm… mmm!...” – exist.

It was Raz who first posted a recipe for something called Spanish Bar Cake.  I’d never had it before, but she posted my favourite part of a recipe besides the eating:  the anthropological context.  She said it was a standard in A&P grocery stores in the U.S.  Here in Australia, I’d never been to an A&P store, much less had the cake, but even though the cake seemed nothing special to me, I trusted Raz, and I was intrigued that enough people rhapsodised about it, were nostalgic about it, and wanted to reproduce it at home.  So I made it, and understood why they did:  it isn’t a cake for sissies.  It is Serious Cake.  Very sweet, very spicy cake.  Dense cake.  Happy-to-be-home cake.  Not for dessert, but for chowing down.

Raz said, “Eat it, drink milk.  Makes a complete dessert meal.  Protein, fat, carbohydrate, pleasure.”

Yes, I wrote that down.  Now, it’s history.  When Raz first posted the recipe, it was one of just two or three recipes for Spanish Bar Cake on the Internet.  Since then, it’s been reproduced countless times in many websites, and the name of its original contributor has been lost to the virtual sands of time.  Or whatever.

But I remember.  I may be reproducing the recipe yet again, but I’m returning credit where credit is due.  I don’t know who Raz is, or was, but she shared something with me that has been part of my life now for 16 years, and part of my kids’ lives, and who knows?  Maybe my kids’ kids and theirs.  None of us in the U.S., none of us giving a damn about no A&P.  Just the cake.

A slice for you, Raz, and a nice cuppa herbal tea (although I did have a piece with a glass of milk for breakfast a few days ago), and a slice for everyone at the birth of this super information hyper highway who took the time to share a special recipe, and the reason it was special.  Because of you, the food blogosphere would not be where it is today.

This is Raz’s original recipe, almost as exactly written back in the day.  Raz didn’t include milk in the original recipe, but you may need it due to the variables in homemade applesauce:  if it’s too thick, you’ll need milk, if it’s more liquid, you won’t.  Remember, however, that this is a dense cake with a dense batter, so add just enough milk to slacken it, not liquify it.

2 1/2 cups Plain flour
1 tsp. bicarb soda (baking soda)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated for preference
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
Milk, as needed
1 tsp. vanilla essence
1 cup chunky applesauce, homemade is best
1 cup plump raisins
1/2 cup roughly-chopped walnuts (opt.)

For the icing -
250g. cream cheese
4 tsp. butter
2 1/4 cups icing sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

What you do:
1. Grease and flour rectangular cake pan, or brush with Baker's Secret.  Preheat oven to 175oC.
2. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside.
3. In mixer on high speed, cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs.  Blend well, then turn to low speed, and add vanilla and applesauce.  Add raisins, and dry ingredients.  Mix with a wooden spoon only until dry ingredients are moistened, then stop.  If necessary, add a little milk to slacken mixture slightly.
4. Turn mixture into pan, and bake for about 45 min., or until cooked when tested.  Leave to cool in pan, and cover with icing, making squiggle patterns with a fork.

*  To make icing, beat all ingredients together well.

Yumbo McGillicutty!


  1. Congrats on hitting your 50-post mark! Sixteen years ago is just about right for me discovering AOL and spending way too much time (and money) on my dial-up connection.

    This cake looks fantastic, though I have to admit that the main draw for me is the cream cheese frosting. I love the stuff and think I could eat it on a cake made of liver. Maybe.

  2. Oh, yeah: I'm not an icing maker (after all, the term "The icing on the cake" is, to me, for anything NOT NECESSARY), but it is a must-have on this cake. It really makes it. I wouldn't even consider making the cake without it - that's how important it is.

    Thanks for stopping by and the congrats!


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