A wrinkled, foil covered rectangular block was sitting, alone on the vast expanse of my mother-in-law’s black granite kitchen worktop. A sliver of winter light escaped through the wooden window slats, resting on that silver carapace: it shone like a beacon. There was no alternative direction my mind could have taken when I entered the kitchen. The food obsessed areas of my brain (that’s most of it) involuntarily zoomed in on the promise of a baked good. I think perhaps the reason I was drawn to it is, that one, it was obviously homemade and two, my mother-in-law never bakes. So this stranger in a familiar land peaked my curiosity.
Cue the hustle and bustle of stripping kids out of winter coats, hats, scarves and other items of insulation, while piling into the cosy back room of the house. As usual, we were talking over each other’s heads; voices calling out, ” YES!!!” to the question of, ” Tea?”. After settling the kids and smoothing the ruffles in my hair, my thoughts went back to that silver covered block. My mother-in-law brought in the tea tray. On it, was a plate holding thick slabs of raisin studded cake. Well, now. This might be interesting, especially as there were no signs of vile candy peels or worse, those horrid, lurid cherries, the colour of clowns noses. I dislike clowns. Actually, I am rather scared of them. But that’s not the point, I digress.
I like an ordinary fruit cake. Simple, unaffected and unpretentious. It does not mean, that stale spiced , dry cardboard will do, just because it’s there. It must have substance. I waited politely for the tea to go around, before napkins and wee plates were passed for the cake. If it were in my house, I’d have slapped the brown slab into a napkin ( if I remembered) and onto your outstretched palms. My in-laws, however, do things right. So, a steaming cup of tea sat at the ready, I proceeded to eat this cake that occupied so much of my mind for the last quarter of an hour. And it did not disappoint.
I caught the scent of mixed spice as soon as I picked it up, good start. This was a firm textured cake, very much a tea fruit cake but sweeter than usual. The fruit was plump and moist and the spices came through, warm and cosy. It was rather satisfying and I found myself eyeing another slice, which my mother-in-law spotted. She lifted the plate to me and I didn’t bother protesting. The cake is a standard bake of one of their friends, who regularly makes this for my father-in-law, knowing his penchant for something ‘fine’ with his ‘fly’ cup in the afternoon. Or around nine pm even, when his tea (dinner) has settled. On my request, my mother-in-law asked her pal for the recipe and she very kindly gave it to me. And I have since, baked this cake every few months and usually have some mini loaves stashed in the freezer for those inevitable, desperate days.
It’s an everyday cake and by saying that I am probably doing it a disservice. See, the world of baking is occupied with the indulgent. I suppose, by its very nature, baking is a luxury and one could argue, an unnecessary one at that. My point is this – I sometimes feel that if a cake is not toweringly three-storied , billowing in buttercream or piped to perfection, it isn’t worth the consideration or the post space. Now before I get pelted with piping bags, understand that I am in awe and admiration of all those cake artists, who truly express the breadth and creativity of the medium, going beyond anything my limited abilities (or patience) can produce. I just don’t see a simple, everyday, plain ol’ fruitcake often.
Every time I get the scent of this warm, spiced cake meandering its way through the house, I remember that day and so many others, I had with my in-laws. I have shared many an engaging conversation with my MIL while we both munched at a slice each. I think of the pleasure on my FIL’s face when I made a stash of these for their cupboards or a happy email received, when I had this baked and sent for Mother’s Day, after I moved to Qatar.
I do not wish to glorify its simplicity; it does not require such noble service. For me, it’s homely and that’s the charm it possesses. It’s more than enough.
To view and print recipe, click here.