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Nelson Squares - A Recipe for a Delicious Wartime Cake Made From Scraps
Writing the recipe for Gypsy Tart reminded me of another cake that children ate in the early 1950s. On our way home from school, we would call in the bakers' shop to see if they had a concoction they called Nelson Squares. Apparently, this was fairly common throughout the country and kids would buy a slice and eat it before we got home. We didn’t know the details of how they were made only that they were delicious and cheap. I think they charged 1 penny a slice which was just within the reach of most impoverished school children. The basic mix was any stale bread, cakes or buns that remained at the end of the day and for that reason, the flavour would vary more or less each time.
Every baker would have their own recipe and it would vary from county to county, according to local taste and what was left over.
The following seems to be about as close as can be remembered from those in the know.
Using a large mixing bowl put the equivalent of half a standard loaf of stale bread (or any old cakes or buns, it all adds to the flavour).
Add some cold water and mix by hand until it’s nice and moist (not too wet). When thoroughly mixed add mixed dried fruit (perhaps anything that’s left in the cupboard) then roughly a dessert spoon of mixed spice and any variety of sugar to taste (keep trying it until you like the flavour.)
Continue mixing by hand until it feels right, adding more ingredients to taste, if necessary. The filling mixture is now ready.
Make or buy some shortcrust pastry, roll out quite thinly and line a large baking tray with the pastry. On top add the Nelson Square mix making sure it is well filled with no empty spaces, brush beaten egg on the pastry rim and roll out more thin pastry to cover the top, seal around rim then brush the surface with beaten egg (wartime they would probably use whole milk or powdered milk mix) and sprinkle with a little sugar. Put into the oven and bake until golden brown on Gas Mark 3 or 160 degrees C or 325 degrees F.
When golden brown, turn the oven down to Gas Mark 1 or 135 degrees C or 275 degrees F and let it continue cooking for about three-quarters of an hour to an hour, sprinkling the top with sugar when cooked.
When cool cut into squares and serve with a nice cup of tea.
I was talking with my local baker who produces a huge selection of cakes but has to throw away many that have a short life (cream cakes, cupcakes etc). If you remove the cream and most of the icing the basic cake should make a good addition to the Nelson Square mix.
If I can find any more of these utility recipes or anything quintessentially British I will add them to my hubs.
Kentish Gypsy Tart
- Gypsy Tart - A local Kentish recipe for a cheap but delicious sweet sticky tart from 1950s England.
Gypsy tart is perculiar to the county of Kent and is a very sweet tart made at a time when foods were still on ration in the UK? It is easy to make and delicious - however it is a dentist dream.
English treacle tart
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Manchester Tart or Pudding
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At the start of WW2 foodstuff, clothing and many items were rationed. Sweets gave a feeling of normality as the population suffered nightly bombing raids and widespread deaths.
Liverpool Tart or Liverpool Judy
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London Pie and London Pudding
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As part of the series of local foods, these are old recipes for savory pie and sweet puddings both vegetarian and made from scraps
© 2012 Peter Geekie