Recipe: Oma’s Gingerbread

No, I haven’t abandoned this blog!  It just turns out that if you take one choir concert, two grant applications and a bunch of grant outcomes, stir in a couple of work events and add an upcoming Shakespeare Feast, you get a recipe for me not having time to sleep, let alone blog.  When you then add in a pinch of having my mobile phone die and a rather large handful of trying to figure out how to use my new phone and find everyone’s phone numbers again… you get no blogging for a week.  You also get a really stressed out Catherine who didn’t remember until today that she has to cook 3 dozen cupcakes for a fundraiser at work tomorrow and hasn’t made dinner yet and is feeling really guilty about her blog!

So I am cheating a little with this blog, and recycling a post I wrote in my online journal a year or so ago, about my Oma’s gingerbread, and her rather idiosyncratic recipe for it…

My Oma’s gingerbread is one of the first recipes in my old notebook from when I was little.  I copied it sometime in the 1980s, I should think – certainly long before I was allowed into the kitchen to cook anything. Oma’s gingerbread was one of the great treats of my childhood.  She made it pretty regularly and it would keep for ages, and whenever we visited her, she’d give us a big chunk of it to eat in the car on the way home.

Oma’s gingerbread was a very cakey sort of gingerbread – full of dried fruit and mixed peel, dense, and spicey and completely unlike the kind of gingerbread you use to make gingerbread men.  (Stories about gingerbread men always confused me a bit for this reason – how could you make a person shape out of a cake like that?  It would fall apart!)

One of the fun things about this recipe is that I obviously copied it down as Oma had it written in her own notebook.  It’s very abbreviated, and while it’s simple, it poses a few challenges to the modern cook – or to the inexperienced one.  For one thing, most of the measurements are in ounces (which I am now adept at converting to grams, but this was not always the case), but some are a little more cryptic.  How much is ‘a handful’ of mixed peel?  (Answer: lots, if you’re me.  I love mixed peel in cakes!) And how do you judge ‘1-2 eggs, depending on size’? (I still haven’t figured that one out).  My favourite measurement is ‘just over half a teacup of warm milk’. I own exactly one teacup, and I keep it solely for the purpose of measuring milk when I make gingerbread.

Then there’s the oral history aspect, manifested on this occasion as the Spice Question.  I know Oma told me to double all the spices, because Australian spices are milder than the ones she had in Europe.  The trouble is, I can’t remember if she told me that before or after I wrote the amounts down.  Or whether it’s still true, for that matter.  Every time I make her gingerbread, I play spice roulette, because I can never remember what I decided last time.   Usually, I wind up with very, very spicy gingerbread, because spice roulette would imply that I actually follow the recipe – or double the recipe – but of course I always add more.  Possibly more than even Oma intended.

As for baking tins and temperatures… well, these are a blank.  Oma’s oven was a Gas Mark oven anyway, and I imagine she could tell – as I can now tell – just by looking at the batter how big a tin it would need.

In short, it’s a proper, old-fashioned recipe for a proper, old-fashioned cake that keeps for weeks and tastes wonderful.

Of course, I fiddle with it. I add glacé ginger or chopped dried apricots or oatbran, use butter and brown sugar instead of margarine and raw sugar, and add nutmeg and allspice and cloves. I ‘veganise’ the recipe with soy milk and margarine, replacing the egg with apple sauce or mashed banana and some bicarb.  I make it with spelt flour or a gluten-free flour mix.  Sometimes I do all these things simultaneously!  Oh, and as a lazy cook, I invariably ignore the bit about heating the milk and pour it in straight from the fridge.

Still, in spirit, it’s Oma’s recipe.

Here it is, exactly as recorded.  You’ll have to guess about the spices.

6 oz Margarine
6 oz raw sugar – cream

1 large / 2 small eggs – beat in

6 oz sultanas + handful of peel

10oz wholemeal flour
3/4 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp each ginger and cinnamon – sieved together

1/4 lb black treacle – 2 heaped tablespoons
just over half a teacup of warmed milk – mix together

Medium oven – 35 minutes

Oh, one more thing: while making this recipe recently I discovered that I had lost the teacup. I was reduced to guessing the approximate volume of a bit more than half a teacup using a water glass, and have been doing this ever since. Fortunately, the recipe works no matter what you do with it, but I fear that this is the beginning of a downward slide into decadence. I’ll have to scour the op-shops for a tea cup of a similar shape and size – otherwise, how can I preserve this recipe to hand down to my children and grandchildren? For want of a teacup, the recipe was lost…

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6 responses to “Recipe: Oma’s Gingerbread

  1. Fascinating read! Love the history aspect (and the choir part). I also love gingerbread, but for the sake of my sanity I must ignore the part about the peel… 😛 Yay Oma!

    • Thank you!

      The best thing about this recipe is that you can do pretty much anything to it and it will still work – so you can skip the peel or double it, depending what your sanity requires…

  2. I love idiosyncratic styles of measurements such as teacups and dessertspoons but sometimes I think they are for people who know their way around a recipe or those who have had the benefit like you of actually getting a feel for the meausurement – that is why we use mls and grams more and more – because we so often make recipes without the connection and memories! Your oma sounds great and I admire your foresight in recording the recipes

    • Yes, this is very much an old-fashioned recipe that assumes the cook knows how to make a cake and just needs a reminder of approximate amounts!

      It definitely works best with a recipe that is very flexible and forgiving, as this one is… I wouldn’t want to try making a sponge cake this way!

      (and you should see my Nonna’s pizza recipe. It goes something like: Mix flour with water, yeast and some oil, knead well, put in tin,add toppings, and bake until done. One or two steps missing there, I think!)

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