A delight to read and to bake from.
Regula Ysewijn is a Belgian-born writer and photographer with an interest in food history. She appears regularly on radio and television including the Belgian version of The Great British Bake-off. Her particular passion for the history of British cookery has led her to work for the National Trust, including writing a book about the great British pudding!
Oats in the North is her latest work, an expansion of a book originally written for a Flemish readership.
Ysewijn writes with a fabulous combination of passion and authority. Aiming at both the beginner and the seasoned cook, she lists out basic ingredients and baking techniques, before plunging into the recipes themselves. Each recipe contains the history and story behind it and a full-page colour illustration. Ingredient lists and instructions are clear and logical. Dotted throughout are quotes about baking, and photographs of some of Britain’s many landscapes, urban and rural.
I have loved British baking since I bought my very first cookbook at the tender age of 15. It was Jane Grigson’s seminal English Food. And one of my most-used recipes from there is for Banana Tea Loaf. I adore a good British tea-loaf, slathered in butter, so for my first plunge into Ms Ysewijn’s work, what could I choose but her version of tea-loaf?
Tea Loaf (page 68)
I particularly liked the fact that the fruit is soaked overnight in strong tea, adding a subtle, smoky flavour to the resulting cake. Although she recommended only ½ teaspoon of mixed spice, I like my cakes spicy and so added a little more to my taste. If you don’t like the flavour of tea or spice you could leave the latter out and soak the fruit in rum, coffee or even just alcohol. The main point is to get the fruit plumped-up and moist, but the liquid also goes into the cake and is therefore vital to the final product. This is a great, basic recipe. I just found the final product a little too dense and heavy for my preference but flavoursome nonetheless.
Tottenham Cake (page 51)
I love a recipe with an interesting story, so the next project I tackled was the Tottenham Cake. This was made in 1901 to give to the children of Tottenham when Spurs won the FA Cup. I believe the last time that happened was 1991, so whether the children of Tottenham have been deprived of cake since then, I don’t know!
This is a basic butter slab cake, which is iced and served in squares.
Very easy to make, Tottenham Cake is a high-egg butter cake made in a rectangular tin. I found with the irregular rising pattern that the resulting squares were less than identical. However, for everyday consumption, this doesn’t really matter. I took her advice in icing the whole slab, then cutting it into squares and dipping them into a variety of toppings. This is a fun way to present cake at a party. I enjoyed raking through my daughter’s considerable collection of cake decorations.
The cake itself is rich, dense and delicious, although slightly less spongey in consistency than I was expecting. Ysewijn recommends redcurrant juice for the icing, both for colour and flavour. I had trouble finding said juice, so substituted pomegranate juice and red food colouring. This made for a sweet and tangy icing.
Other recipes which caught my eye included Whitby Lemon Buns on page 120, Yorkshire Christmas Pie on page 197, and Fat Rascals on page 129.
Food history is an essential facet of social history and is therefore intrinsically fascinating. Ysewijn knows how to write engaging history, making this book worthwhile just for the read, let alone the recipes. It is a delight for anyone interested in Britain and food history, for the beginner baker, and for the experienced cook looking for new inspiration, Oats in the North is a worthy addition to both bookshelf and kitchen.
Now I’m off to make the Dundee Cake…
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: March 2020