Troedyrhiw – go on, for all you non Welshie’s that is your pronunciation challenge of the day! Its significance? It’s the name of the village in a South Wales valley where my grandparents lived, and where I spent many a weekend, school holiday and new year.
Today I suddenly had a desire to make some welsh cakes, the first batch in my twenty years of living the wrong side of the Severn Bridge, and it really struck me how many memories can be evoked from a humble food.
My nan used to make the BEST welsh cakes in the world and it really was standing next to her in her kitchen that ignited my love for baking. My nan and I had the same sweet tooth so sweets, cakes and bakes were a common love. Today in my kitchen, I was thrown back into my 7 year old self, desperately trying to rub butter into flour to make it look like breadcrumbs; it always seemed to take AGES and my little hands used to ache from the amount of effort I put into it. I can remember splitting the mixture in half so we could add fruit to one lot and leave the other plain so you could always choose which welsh cake you wanted, with “bits” or “without bits”. Nan used to roll out the mixture and then I’d jump in with a glass, ready to cut out the mixture into rounds ready for baking.
Her bakestone for cooking the welsh cakes was always a source of envy, a great big heavy cast iron thing which used to be her mums, and it took ages to heat up on her electric cooker. It was kept in the cupboard under the stairs which was screened by a curtain of plastic strips (you could plait the strips when no-one was looking!) and even though I could just about reach the bakestone, it was always too heavy for me to lift.
Even the cooking utensils are vivid in my mind, she used to turn the welsh cakes over with an old palette knive, it had a turquoise handle which was cracked and broken at the top. My job was to cover the welsh cakes with caster sugar once they were taken off the stone and still warm, and I used her sugar shaker; I think it was a victorian one and it was made of pink glass and had a silver top with holes big enough for the sugar to come out. I took my job VERY seriously. You can’t rush baking welsh cakes, if the bakestone is too hot, they burn and the mixture doesn’t cook through, too cool and they lose all their moisture. You are also limited in the number you can cook at any one time depending on the size of the stone. I surprised myself today by re-igniting a familiar sense of impatience and annoyance at waiting for them cook!
As I got older my nan and I struck up a deal when I’d go and stay. It didn’t matter how hard I tried I never managed to make welsh cakes that tasted anywhere near as good as hers, but I had perfected the art of making Victoria Sponges which she could never master. So she would send me home with batches of welsh cakes (much to my dad’s delight) and I would make sponges which she would put in the freezer, and then defrost and claim them as her own whenever she had visitors.
Welsh cakes always make me think of my dad as well. When my parents used to call me when I was staying with my grandparents, he’d ask what I’d been up to, and I could hear the grin on his face down the phone when he knew that I’d be coming home with welsh cakes in a tin. In latter years he would go down “the front” in Penarth (seaside and pier) every morning and would order, without fail, a cup of coffee and a welsh cake.
Sadly neither my nan and my dad are around now, but it’s amazing how such a simple cake can bring back so many vivid memories and make me smile.
Oh, and to my nan, if she’s watching from somewhere beyond; my welsh cakes are still nowhere near as good as yours!