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”