Polly put the kettle on

Nanna and me
Nanna and me c. 1967

The G.O. is not a devotee of Christmas cake i.e. fruit cake so it’s many years since I made one. Back in the days when I did, the version I made was simply dried fruit mix boiled in a combination of butter & orange juice and when cool flour, eggs and spices were added; very rich more like a pudding. A little went a long way so I baked it as cupcakes and distributed them widely amongst the family.

Last festive season visiting my aunt, she produced Christmas “mini muffins” made, she said, from my Nanna’s recipe. The G.O. uncharacteristically helped himself to extras, so my aunt emailed me the recipe labelled Polly’s Fruit Cake scanned from Nanna’s book. My sister’s middle name is Beulah, named after our Nanna but Nanna was always called Polly.

I hadn’t given thought to making it until the G.O.’s son recently mentioned he had already eaten the Lions charity Christmas cake he’d bought. Upon my suggestion it wouldn’t be difficult to bake one, his suggestion was I do so… for him.

Speaking to Dad I mentioned I was making the recipe and asked if he was interested in sampling the test batch. Paying lip service to his diet, he replied “No… Hmmm… Yes… Hmmm… You may as well drop some in”.

Polly's Fruit CakePolly’s Fruit Cake

250 grams / 1 cup softened organic salted butter (or margarine)

500 grams / 3 cups mixed dried fruit

250 g / 1 cup brown sugar

250 g / 1 3/4 cups organic plain flour

1 tablespoon organic self-raising flour

6 medium eggs, free range

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs then flour and mixed fruit, and combine.

For whole cake bake in slow oven 160 C (325 F) approx. 2 1/2 hours. For muffins bake at 180 C (360 F) approx. 30 minutes. (Fan forced ovens 10-20 C lower)

The margarine ingredient is controversial. My grandparents were dairy farmers. We always had butter. Dad said Nanna wouldn’t have used margarine. I tend to agree. However, my aunt follows the recipe and uses margarine.

The address recorded on the page as well as the recipes give an idea as to its time. The address is for my uncle when he was conscripted into National Service during the Vietnam War.

“Under the National Service Scheme [1964 -1972], twenty-year-old men were required to register with the Department of Labour and National Service (DLNS), they were then subject to a ballot which, if their birth date was drawn, meant the possibility of two years of continuous full-time service in the regular army, followed by three years part-time service in the Army Reserve.”

It may be that’s the clue to the margarine. My uncle was called up and sent to Townsville, North Queensland for army training. Possibly Nanna sent fruit cake to him in a care package. He was a long way from home -1800 km, bad news as far as the family were concerned but mitigated eventually when he wasn’t sent to Vietnam but met, and later married his wife at nearby Rockhampton in December 1971 only months before Nanna died in February 1972 age only 50 + 2  months.

the cook's breakfast
the cook’s breakfast

I’ve made the Christmas cakes, so… Polly, put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea.

Cook’s notes:

As I beat the mixture it turned into a golden batter, and  I knew by appearance and taste I’d been there when Nanna baked this cake.

The cakes come out of the oven browned, looking a little oily but as they cool they crisp.

I ate three for breakfast.




29 thoughts on “Polly put the kettle on

  1. Eating 3 sounds like real lip service to a diet. I bet the G.O. and your Dad both enjoy them. My sister in law is making me a cake this year. It’s one of the very few cakes I actually eat and quite enjoy. I’ll have a slice and think of you both, but the marzipan is mine.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx.


    1. Real time, real life blogging has its challenges but I put myself on the line for authenticity!
      Ok, this time you can have the marzipan, usually my sister and I share a piece but seeing as I hogged the cakes, I’m a little replete 🙂


  2. I love looking at hand written recipes from that era. My mother has an identical script. I may have learnt that way, but it has changed over time. No, the farmers would have used butter for sure- they were all quite hostile to ‘marge’ taking over. The reference to ‘Nasho’ is also of great interest.
    Eating little Christmas cakes for breakfast sounds very sensible- it is a weekend thing. I just ate some apricot crumble, two serves, as Mr T went to the loacl shop for the ‘Age’. All bad news on the front cover, so I am happy to read your lovely post instead.


    1. My aunt also writes in that script, I had to ask her whose handwriting it was. I have messy handwriting like Dad.
      We don’t hear much about Nasho’s these days. Sometimes I wonder if a year of NS wouldn’t be a good thing.
      I well earned those cakes… after I finished all the Saturday morning stuff at home, I walked 5+ km doing errands, the last part carrying weighty shopping bags!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this. Not only are you sharing a great recipe, you’re keeping the memory of ‘Polly’ alive for generations to come. Who knows, maybe 100 years from now someone will find our blogs in an archive somewhere and go ‘oh, I must try Polly’s recipe!’

    I’m not sure if I’m strange or what, but part of my reason for posting recipes online is to keep my memories of Mum alive. She only cooked Hungarian food so not all the recipes are hers, but the blame for teaching me to love good food is definitely hers!

    One day we should put together an anthology of tried and tested family recipes – one per author. How many do you think we’d get?


    1. Thank you. I’m the only one of the grandchildren who knew Polly so she’s really special to me. That’s the first ever family recipe I’ve made from something written down. I’m happy to contribute it to an anthology 🙂 Mainly I attempt to recreate memories. We were lucky to have family that gave us good food experiences rather than visits to fast food outlets!


      1. Yes! That’s exactly the experience we should re-create. Food was a bedrock thing in my family too. When we went through lean patches we did without holidays or entertainment or new clothes, but the food was always there, always good. 🙂

        I am definitely going to start giving this anthology idea some serious thought. Just need to make sure it can be done successfully in an ebook format.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you, I have treasured copies of pages from my mother’s cookbook, but unexpectedly last year my younger sister told me she had my mother’s original cookbook – a surprise, since she’s not an enthusiastic cook. I claimed it, not because I particularly need the recipes, but because I hadn’t seen my mother’s eccentric handwriting for years and it was a huge nostalgia trip, evoking all sorts of ghostly smells and tastes!


    1. Wow, your Mum’s handwritten cookbook would be wonderful to have. I was bit teary this morning when I realized the fruit cake was indeed familiar: a cookbook would bring me completely undone! Other than the fruit cake recipe I have no idea what others my aunt has… Dad had said he’d give me the Commonsense Cookery Book that belonged to Nanna, a gift 45 years ago from him, mum and I where mum has written on the flyleaf, however when I suggested it for my upcoming birthday he said “but what will I use then”… so we’ll see!


      1. It’s an interesting time capsule too. She had a habit of tucking into it recipes she cut out of newspapers, handwritten notes from her friends, drawings, advertisements and flyers. It’s a treasury of 1950s and 60s ephemera!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the handwritten, time worn and stained recipe! Interesting about the margarine vs butter. They do taste different to one another. As soon as I was old enough to know there was an alternative to margarine, and it tasted good, I would choose butter whenever possible. Except when I make my mother’s Christmas cookies, I sometimes still use margarine. The taste just isn’t the same with butter, even though normally I prefer the taste of butter. Aren’t we funny creatures?? Lovely post, EllaDee. x


    1. Thank you 🙂 I just couldn’t bring myself to use margarine. Maybe one day I’ll try it out of curiosity. I remember when margarine was new, trendy & healthful, and I really tried but I was pleased when Atkins made butter better!


    1. Thank you. I used butter, and the still warm cakes were crisp and very tempting. After a day they were a little dryer but still good, the G.O. assures me, with a cup of tea 🙂


    1. It is wonderful, and made me curious as to if anyone in the family has any other’s tucked away… I shall investigate… but cautiously… food memories as well as being wonderful can be contentious as with the margarine, and my uncle’s attempt to recreate Nanna’s egg salad dressing, which he declares is the same but no-one agrees!


  6. Those family recipes – there’s something about them. It sounds delicious. I’m thinking about making and baking this year as well…although I can barely contemplate it on such a hot day as this has been,
    PS never use margarine 🙂


    1. It’s been many years since we had margarine in the fridge. The cakes at their best warm, next time I’ll make sure the G.O. is home when I bake them but he’s happy enough to take them to work for smoko.
      It’s not baking weather, but in Sydney we have aircon and I did have it on while the oven was on. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. Our TA neighbours reported 45 degrees yesterday. In my early years there we had a Christmas eve where it was that and I was trying to roast a turkey… first & last time!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Aww … How lovely to have a copy of that original recipe from your grandmother. Reminded me of a Ginger Biscuit recipe MIL#2 gave me once, and I’m very sad to say, I’ve lost. I read your other post on the 3 x MILs and was smiling – oh the bath mat thingy. I’ve only had 2 as my current husband’s Mum was already deceased when I met him, but sounds like you’re well able for the challenges. Lovely posts as always, Ella.


  8. I’ve never been a fan of Christmas fruit cake, but this looks and sounds delicious. And to have such a precious family recipe. Wow. That’s so wonderful. 🙂


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