Farm House Baking: Lily’s Currant Cake



Lily (right), several years before she started the notebook

I inherited three handwritten notebooks; one from my grandma, Lily Boothman, and two from her cousin, Ethel Ledger.  Lily’s grandparents farmed at Homestead Farm, Roundhay, Leeds and her father ran Boothman’s Dairy in Shadwell and Harehills. Lily died before I was born but Ethel was like a  ‘grandma’ figure to me, as a child.




Ethel and her dad, Walt. South Duffield Mill.

Ethel’s father was a farmer/miller and she sporadically wrote down recipes – for food and household cleaning products – in two of his discarded notebooks.  As a child, I was interested in old documents and odds and ends that the rest of my family probably thought were ‘old junk’ – as a result, the recipe notebooks of both Grandma and her cousin, came down to me.

At least one recipe in Lily and Ethel’s notebooks is identical – so maybe they shared recipes or some of these were old family ones.  The girls’ mothers – Annie and Kate Hemingway – were sisters, who grew up daughters of Master Wheelwright, William Hemingway, in Hensall, East Riding.  The Hemingways also farmed,  in a small way.  So there is a sense in which this is a typical farm house recipe.


Yesterday I made the “Currant Cake” recipe from Lily’s notebook.  Very nice it turned out, too. Currant cake would have been a staple in many a farm kitchen, and they also seem to have been popular as birthday cakes.


The notebooks generally give no method – just list ingredients and how long to bake for.  Looking at the baking time, I guessed the temperature. I made this cake by creaming the butter and sugar, adding wet ingredients, then adding dry.

Here’s the recipe for Lily’s Currant Cake with a few little off-piste additions I made. Like my dad, I can never follow a recipe without changing it.  You can try your own off piste versions or stick to Lily’s plain cake recipe.

Currant Cake

Lily’s Recipe


½ lb Flour (8 oz)

3 oz Butter

4 oz Sugar

4 oz Currants

1 oz Peel

1 teaspoon Baking Powder

2 Eggs

2 oz (3 tablespoons?) Milk

Bake about 1 ¼ hrs.

I baked in a round tin at 160 deg.


Off Piste

I used self raising flour instead of plain. Also, I added:

Vanilla essence (1 tsp)

Mead to soak currants (just enough to cover in small bowl)

Old natural yogurt instead of milk  (By ‘old’ I mean been open a day or two longer than it should have been. Slightly old, but not ‘off’ milk was also often used for baking.  You get good results if you substitute buttermilk, for some of the milk, as well).

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp grated cinammon

½ tsp Allspice





See also:  Uncle Walt’s “Record Off Journeys”



Winter 1940, in the Women’s Land Army

fullsizerender1At the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, we have a fascinating, extensive archive of artefacts and documents relating to the Women’s Land Army, in World War Two.

I’m hoping to share some hidden gems with you from our collection here, from time to time. We have a WLA gallery at the museum – our Land Army exhibition is well worth a visit.

Amongst the many fascinating items in the collection, are original issues of ‘The Land Girl’ magazine, which ran from April, 1940 – the early 1950s.  I started trawling through all the issues, to find knitting patterns for Land Girl clothing (Predictable, I know!) but was immediately drawn in to the whole world of the Land Girl; letters and articles describing what life was really like in the Women’s Land Army.  I’ll share my knitting finds over on but the social history, belongs here.

Here’s a glimpse into the life of a Land Girl in winter, from December, 1940, in a letter to ‘The Land Girl’ from M. Bicknell:



I am writing now in the foreman’s hut. We have done our morning’s measuring and are now consuming the contents of our dinner bags. The assistant foreman is heating some milk in a kettle, and soon we shall be drinking Bournvita out of a rum bottle.

When it is raining hard we cannot work, but we must not go home. The first wet day was really awful; there was nothing to do, and we only had hard logs upon which to sit, and we were reduced to playing ‘squiggles’. The next wet day we made a dash for the hut, and found our farm folk had supplied us with a lovely car seat; we sank into it and read and knitted and wrote letters!

Our farm folk are delightful Yorkshire farmers, and they have made us very happy, and we have grown fond of them. In the evenings, we help them on the farm, sometimes till dark. I have been able to give a hand driving the tractor, harvesting and milking, etc.

We have also had time to make friends with people in the district, and we have had many lovely bike rides, swims, and picnics in the surrounding beautiful country.

So you see, life is busy, and I’m jolly glad I joined your ranks. I am happy, and I think I am doing a good job, so good-bye for the present.

M. BICKNELL, WLA No 32064 (E. Suffolk).







Weekend Workshops May 7th

IMAG1868_1The sun came out, so yesterday I washed about 1lb of fleece for the ‘Spinning For Beginners’ Workshop, here at the Farming Museum this weekend!

In the morning, we have our first ‘Like Fair Isle… But Yorkshire!’ workshop, which is going to look at Yorkshire two colour knitting.

In the afternoon, Beginner spindlers will be at work.  There are still a couple of places left at either workshop (but email me to let me know if you’re coming!)


The spindlers will be trying their hand at spinning wool from our prize-winning flock of Badger-Faced sheep.  As you can see, the fleece I unrolled yesterday is nice quality.  These crimpier staples come from the neck – where you usually find some of the best wool on a sheep.

I have put in some of the first quality, and a little of the second (as well as some of the darker staples, for a bit of variety).  The second quality will be easier to learn with – but our spinners can take some of the first quality back home with them, to continue to practice!

We’ll be spinning with hand spindles. Come and join us if you’d like to learn how to spin on a spindle, or have tried before and can’t quite get the hang of it.




This is a breed I’ve never spun before, so am looking forward to it!


The Shepherd’s Hut


At the Yorkshire Museum of Farming,  there are many things I love, but one of the best is the Shepherd’s Hut.

IMAG1868_1This past month there’s been lambing (there are some beautiful Badger-Faced lambs at the museum right now, as well as two Zwartbles (Betty and Donna), Zwartble lambs, some pretty Shetlands and our old friend,  Billy the Shetland mule.

Lambing was the time of year the Shepherd’s Hut would have been in use, so this seemed as good a time as any to take a closer look at my favourite corner of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.




Zwartble lambs

The Badger-Faced sheep come from prize-winning stock. I will be spinning a bit of their fleece, soon –  it’s one of the few breeds I haven’t spun, in over 30 years’ hand-spinning – so look out for that in a future post!

The hut at the Museum was built by the Quarton family, at Kexby on the banks of the River Derwent. My dad’s ancestors farmed elsewhere on the banks of the Derwent; so this exhibit maybe resonates with me.

This hut was mounted on wheels taken from a reaper.

IMAG1835Shepherds stayed in these huts in Spring, so they were constantly on hand for lambing. The huts contained the bare essentials for living – usually a bed and a stove.

The wheels would be mounted on (often recycled) wheels, so as the sheep grazed on different fields, the shepherds could go with them. A quick Google shows there is a resurgence of interest in the humble shepherds’ hut – and a number of companies are manufacturing reproductions and old huts being rescued.


Rooves were often made from corrugated iron. There seemed to be no shortage of this lying about in the past: I vividly remember various weird lean-tos and structures down our orchard – some of which may well have housed poultry.  I remember my dad saying it was all lying about after the War. Possibly some of our impromptu hen houses were made from bits of recycled Anderson shelter?  I have no idea.  As one structure fell out of use, the materials would often be plundered to make another.

Unlike the similarly romantic structures, romany vardoes (caravans), shepherds’ huts appear to have been more utilitarian in appearance. The one at the museum is unpainted, but the wood may have been treated on the exterior, as it looks to be in fairly good condition on the inside.

A search through the Farming Museum’s archives hasn’t yet yielded a photo of a shepherd’s hut in situ, but we did find an image of a “van” which looked structurally identical.

For Terry Pratchett fans, the shepherd’s hut has become a poignant symbol of the place from which we see Discworld, for the very last time:


… There were three steps up to its wooden door, a horse-shoe and a tuft of sheep’s wool – the sign of a shepherd – already nailed in place there, and the roof arched over a small living space into which she had built a bed, a little cupboard, a few shelves and a space of the wash basin….


[The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett, 330]

I’d live in it tomorrow.  If they’d let me.


First butterfly I’ve seen this year – outside the Shepherd’s Hut, April, 2016