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Yorkshire Spice Cake, North Yorkshire

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Although the ancient Cathedral city of Ripon often attaches its name to spice cakes and plum cakes, the tradition is wider, and more references will be found to Yorkshire Spice Cake or Spice Bread than the Ripon version.

The popularity of the cake in late Victorian times is indicated by the huge batch suggested in my old Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, which starts: “Put eight pounds of flour into a bowl...” Even that recipe uses a mixture of lard and butter, rather than just lard as was surely the case in earlier days. The cake is leavened with yeast (which as the Cassell’s writer insists: “must not be bitter.”) and flavoured with nutmeg alone as the spice, though the six pounds of currants would obviously dominate the taste-buds.

This was a traditional Christmas item, perhaps a forerunner of our Christmas cake. There are many more recent variations on the same theme, notably with lemon peel as a key ingredient in some. Modern recipes move away from lard and towards lighter styles, but the simple old-fashioned version with the suggestion of fuel for winter has greater charm than do the more sophisticated later offerings.

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