Wednesday 24 May 2017

Cattle cake

I spent 10 days with my mother recently, triggered by the fact that she had a cataract op and needed drops to be popped into her eye. She asserted that she'd be able to do the drops if it was okay to touch the tip of the dropper in the corner of her eye - which it is not! You don't want to contaminate the bottle with whatever is growing in the tears. It was a long time between drops 4x a day, so I did a bit of deep cleaning in the kitchen. Not a lot, I didn't want to get officious and, by implication, judgmental. My father used to visit his cousin pretty much every year: not the lesbian cousin, but the sailor cousin who lived romantically on the shores of Lough Derg. One day during his visit, he went into Nenagh, the nearest town, and bought half-a-dozen crisp new t-towels and 'helpfully' presented them to his cousin because he'd decided that her existing towels were a health hazard. The cousin was more bemused than offended. I am aware that there are aspects of our kitchen that would not pass muster if the food safety authority descended for an inspection but they are effectively invisible to us. Because nobody has gotten ill yet and we have neither mice nor cockroaches in residence, there isn't a huge amount of pressure to change.

The first morning I was with my Mum, I went at her primary food cupboard which hangs off the wall over the work-surface between the hob and the oven. Like many elderly ladies, my 97 y.o. mother has shrunk from a rather tall-for-her-era 1.75m to something at least 10cm shorter - it's the bone density, silly. She can, therefore, barely reach the top shelf of this cupboard let alone see the surface. Nobody, or no kind person, is going to recommend that she gets her wobbly pins up on a step-ladder or stool to reach the back. Accordingly, I found some interesting things up there.  With macular degeneration and a rheumy right eye it is impossible to read the sell-by date and she often can't find whatever she's looking for . . . so she buys more. I found 6 cartons of Cadbury's Bournville Cocoa, 3 opened; 5 slabs of Green&Black organic chocolate; 7 containers, various, of white pepper; 4 containers of black pepper; three small tins of Lyell's Golden Syrup two open; two ancient packets of flour. It's a hassle living on your own because you cannot buy 50g of flour to make a white sauce.

In between eye-drops, we had plenty of time to catch up and Mum told me about the olde days (within my life-time) when the local grocer had biscuits displayed in 30x30cm tins with glass tops. As a naval wife, she had to shift house every year or two which meant establishing a relationship with another grocer. If you sell biscuits by the pound [450g] or half-pound, there are going to be broken biscuits in the bottom of the tin. These were sold cheap as Broken Biscuits and were a source of shame "That Mrs Doohickey, I heard her ask for broken biscuits at the grocer, her husband drinks and that's all she has to feed the children".  Our family [no shame] bought them regularly because they were an essential ingredient of cattle-cake
  • Ingredients:
    • 8oz + 3/4 broken digestive biscuits 
    • 3oz butter
    • 2oz sugar
    • 2oz cocoa power
    • 1tbs golden syrup
    • note 1oz/ounce = 28g
  • Method: 
    • melt butter in saucepan, 
    • cast thereto sugar, cocoa and golden syrup
    • stir into broken biscuits
    • press into swiss-roll tin to set (fridge recommended)
This is clearly from the same family as Bob's Famous Flapjacks which I made the other day for the walkers on the Blackstairs Challenge and also periodically for the starvin' graduate students at The Institute. They are both essentially a carbo-vehicle + butter, sugar and golden syrup.

It also explains the presence of so much cocoa powder and golden syrup in my mother's store cupboard. The neighbours are not above dunning the Oldest Person in the Village for a batch of cattle cake when the village fĂȘte, or a cricket match, or the duck-race, needs something to go with an urn full of strong tea. I came away with half the pepper, and the oldest cocoa that was sell-by 28 04 2014 and a tin of syrup sell-by end May 2015. As well as shrinking, elderly people get a bit sketchy on the immune front and readily succumb to Listeria etc. and I don't want my Mum to go from a terminal case of botox.

On the morning of the Blackstairs Challenge, I thought it might be Der Tag to make up a batch of cattle cake which I proceeded to do, using a tin of, now bendy, ginger biscuits (which I found behind atop the fridge) instead of digestives. The cocoa was a bit caked but sieved out fine, and the golden syrup was darker than the more up-to-date stuff but it all worked out . . . except that I forgot the sugar. But that's okay: I discarded half the sugar from the original flapjack recipe when I inherited it and that less-is-more improved it. But I declined to serve the cattle cake out to strangers the walkers in case the antient sirope was awash with Clostridium botulinum.

Notes: two questions will have occurred to the curious:
  • Why cattle cake: not because of its resemblance to the compressed protein-rich livestock feed cobbled together from the byproducts of the brewing industry or ground-nut Vigna subterranea oil factories. It was so called by my elder brother when, in short trousers, he was helping make a batch in the mid-1950s. My mother brightly asked the young shaver what they would call the new treat and he looked dreamily out of the window at a field full of Friesian cows.
  • and what's with the 3/4 biscuit on top of the 8oz of digestives? That seems a spuriously accurate quantity given the long-as-a-piece-of-string "tablespoon" of syrup. I guess that one batch, long long ago, turned out a bit gloopy and someone threw in an extra biscuit to thicken up the mix. I do that - throw in a handful of extra oats - with my flapjacks. It's a bit like Primo Levi's famous story of a [paint] recipe that demanded 23 [not 22 or 24!!] drops of one component.

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