As a single mother with three kids and three jobs, plus a set of extended family commitments and volunteer activities my mother was an expert economizer – of both time and money. Mum’s baking is an excellent example. She never baked one thing. What was the point of heating the oven for just one cake? Better to pop in two or three baking tins and an extra one for the freezer at the same time.
In order to have multiple cakes ready to go into the oven, Mum usually mixed one cake in the Kenwood mixer and another one in a pot on the stove. The machine-mixed cakes varied, but the mix-in-a-pot cake was often fruit loaf.
How I loved Mum’s fruit loaf! Thick slices, often with a slather of butter on top, were a regular after-school snack. (In 1970s New Zealand, we hadn’t yet heard that high fat was a bad thing.) Now, thirty-plus years later and several continents away, I make this cake every few months, enjoying this taste of my childhood – albeit without the extra butter.
Making this fruit loaf is a two-part process, as the hot mixture needs to cool before the egg is added. For Mum, that was the time to mix another cake in the Kenwood. For me, it was the opportunity to surreptitiously skim my finger across the top of the mixture and grab a big dollop of the sweet froth. Several times, if I could get away with it. Mum surely knew I was doing it; just as surely as I – and my kids – continue to do it now.
Bake the fruit loaf in a ring tin or a couple of loaf pans. In true Shirley Wiseman fashion, you can easily make a bigger cake by using an extra-large egg and multiplying the rest of the ingredients by 150%. Or, do as I do, and double the whole recipe, so there’s always a cake in the freezer. I learned well.
Shirley Wiseman’s fruit loaf recipe
As she dictated to me 20-or-so years ago, hence the imperial measurements.
1 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas / dark raisons
¼ cup chopped moist dates
1 cup water
1 tsp. baking soda
2 oz butter
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2 cups plain white flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Put sugar, sultanas, dates, water, baking soda and butter in a saucepan and bring to boil.
Set aside to cool and then beat in the egg.
Add nuts and sifted flour and baking powder.
Pour mixture into a greased 8-inch ring tin and bake 45 minutes at 350 deg. F.
Shirley Wiseman, early 1987. A rare moment when she actually sat down.