Wednesday, April 01, 2009


To say that Welsh Cakes are the cookie of Edey family pride is the truth, but not the whole story. While thousands, possibly millions have been consumed by family members over the years, they were introduced to the family by Iris Lewis, a woman from the coal-mining village of TreHarris in the south of Wales. Iris married a Canadian soldier and came to this country at the end of World War II. She is the beloved grandmother of my children. When Lawrence was a child, and I was telling him that some day I would be the grandmother of his children, he said I couldn’t be a Gramma unless I could bake Welsh Cakes.
When Gramma was a child, her mother baked Welsh cakes in the fire place on a cast iron bake stone. Later she used the bake stone on a gas stove. Our family cakes are not exactly the ones Cassie Lewis baked. Gramma says, “”My mother didn’t use nutmeg.””
It would be tempting to think that Gramma settled right down to Welsh caking immediately after arriving in this foreign land of ours, but that is not the case. She started baking them fifteen years later, when she met Mrs. Shaw, a fellow Edmontonian of Welsh descent. It was Mrs. Shaw who provided the recipe. Cassie Lewis never used one.
”You can get out the recipe book,” says Gramma to Ruth. It is Sunday afternoon and we have gathered at Gramma’s for a session of Welsh Cake baking.
“Will we be using the recipe?” asks Ruth.
“No,” says Gramma. ”Even if we were using it we’d be doubling it.”
Ruth leaves the book on the shelf. “Gramma,” she says, turning to the counter where all the ingredients and utensils have been carefully laid, “this looks just like a cooking show.”
Normally Gramma would simply bake a batch of Welsh Cakes and give them to us. But these days she is tired after a bout of pneumonia and her back and legs ache if she stands for long. Undeterred from her mission, she tried to make it easier by using the recipe instead of doubling it, but that seemed so pointless to her. These days she tends to put the ingredients together one day, then do the cooking the next day. Our mission on this day is to bake Welsh Cakes with and for her, to do it the way she’s been doing it for so many years. There’s no room in the kitchen for me so I sit in the livingroom with Gramma. Ruth has taken up the challenge. Her dad is there to help.
We had expected to start from scratch, but Gramma has started ahead of us. “What’s in the bowl? asks Ruth.
“Five cups of flour and a pound of Marge,” says Gramma. “The recipe says six cups of flour, but it’s better to start with five and add more later if it’s too wet. The pastry blender is right beside the bowl. Work the marge in until you get crumbs.”
Ruth brings the bowl to Gramma for a certified approval of her crumbs. “Now add a cup of sugar,” says Gramma. “The recipe says to use more than that, but that’s not how we do it. Mrs. Mitchell next door rolls them in sugar after they’re made, but we don’t do that either.”
Ruth adds the sugar, then 4 teaspoons baking powder, two teaspoons nutmeg and a teaspoon of salt. Now she mixes in a cup of currants and makes a well in the middle. In a separate bowl Gramma has measured out a quarter cup of milk to which Ruth adds four eggs, then beats before pouring the wet stuff into the hole in the middle of the dry stuff.
Now Gramma is on her feet. She has set the temperature on the electric griddle somewhere above 300 but not quite 350. Meanwhile, Ruth is adding extra flour, putting more flour on a board, and rolling the dough just a little thinner than she wants the Welsh Cakes to be. A Welsh Cake really shouldn’t end up being more than half an inch thick, a centimeter is maybe better, but too thin isn’t so good either. She uses Gramma’s cutter to make disks about 2 inches across. Gramma places 4 of the disks along the centre at the griddle and sets the timer for 5 minutes. “Satisfied with their brownness after four minutes, she flips them for slightly less cooking on the opposite side and goes back to the living room. “Set the timer for four minutes for the next batch,” she says.
Ruth continues cutting. Her dad takes over the grilling. The griddle can hold twenty cakes at a time. You have to leave a bit of space between them so you can peek under and flip them.
The house now smells exactly like Welsh cakes. David, Ruth and I are disciplining ourselves to wait until the cakes are cool enough not to burn our tongues. Gramma requires no such discipline. She prefers them cold. Seventy-two delicious Welsh Cakes are cooling while Ruth and David clean the kitchen, returning all items according to Gramma’s instructions.
“Do you think you can do it on your own now?” says Gramma to Ruth.
”Oh, I don’t know Gramma,” says Ruth with a twinkle in her eye. Ruth is a capable cook in her own right. But why would anybody pass up the chance to do this together again?
“Maybe we’ll have to make them at your house,” says Gramma. ”Your dad will have to take me there.”
The batch is divided up and bagged. Ruth takes some. We take some. Gramma keeps some. Gramma will likely give most of hers away. Ruth will eat hers slowly. Ours will be lucky to make it to the end of the day. And all of us will have something to treasure, something far more valuable than Welsh cakes.

No comments: