Fanny’s Whist Cake – A simple and delicious treat!

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” 
~  Ray Bradbury

On Wednesday we mustered and did cattle work here at the farm. It’s always incumbent upon me to provide cake for smoko when the workers break for a cup of tea, and I have a host of favourite recipes to choose from. But our friend and her little boy were visiting later in the day. Eli loves cake, but mum was hoping it might be low sugar, so I decided to go through my old recipe folders and there I found a recipe I’d never made, one that was copied from my Nana Cody. My beloved Nana passed away in 2012, but she’s still a strong presence in my life – especially in the kitchen! Nana was always good for recipes and simple life wisdoms. This particular recipe was called Fanny’s Whist Cake. It was lower in sugar than most other recipes and seemed worth making. Well, I thought, why not?

The name of the cake was quite curious. First I googled Whist Cake but there is no such thing. There is a card game called Whist though – it’s a simple trick taking game that was a popular parlour game in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Perhaps it was a cake that Fanny liked to bake and take to her Whist games? Seems logical to me.

But who was Fanny? If she had been a friend of Nana’s I didn’t recall her ever being mentioned. I rang my sister, who is the family’s genealogy sleuth. Fanny Wheaton, Simone declared. She was Nana’s (our Dad’s mum, Joyce Cody, nee Heppell) grandmother. So that makes Fanny Wheaton my second great-grandmother. Here’s a photo of Fanny, circa 1915, courtesy of Jon Heppell who uploaded it to Ancestry.com. She’s the lady in black in the middle of the picture, holding the baby. Nana’s parents are Doris Minta Parish & her husband Frederick William Heppell, Fanny’s son (back row, right). Isn’t it wonderful to think that I am now baking her recipe, one that she was making over one hundred years ago!

So, is a cake made to a recipe that’s easily over 100 years old any good? My word it is! It’s a light and buttery cake, made interesting with the addition of dried fruit and a simple cinnamon-spiced crumb topping. It is quite firm to slice. We found it excellent served plain with a cup of tea, and our young friend Eli found it even better served with lashings of vanilla ice-cream.

I don’t think it will have very good keeping qualities so I advise that it is best served on the day it is made. We did eat the last of it the following day and found it a little drier, but still acceptable and very good buttered!

I hope you enjoy Fanny’s Whist Cake as much as we did. I’ll certainly be making it again.

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter (115g or 1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup sugar ( 170g)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups self-raising flour (300g)
  • 1/2 cup sultanas (golden raisins – 88g)
  • 1/4 cup sliced glace cherries (40g)
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup warmed milk (58ml)

Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, chopped (30g)
  • 2 tablespoons soft brown sugar (30g)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour (20g)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder ( 12g)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to moderately slow (160 degrees Celsius or 325 Fahrenheit)
  2. Grease and paper line a 20cm round baking tin
  3. Make the crumble first by rubbing the butter, sugar flour and spice together with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Note: Make sure the butter is cold!
  4. Warm milk (Warm, not boiling!)
  5. Cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy – sugar is dissolved
  6. Add eggs one at a time, beating slowly after each to combine
  7. Add pinch of salt
  8. Alternate the flour and milk in small amounts, gently folding in to the mixture.
  9. Add the dried fruit and fold through.
  10. Spoon mixture into prepared pan.
  11. sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter
  12. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until top is golden and cake springs back when lightly pressed in centre.
  13. Cool.
  14. Best served on same day.

 

Reminders from my Younger Self

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“Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.” 
~ Neil Gaiman, M is for Magic

 

One of the most disorienting things about chronic illness and long bouts of treatment is that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Living in this half-alive place for so long you can begin to forget bits of who you are, and what was once important to you.

Luckily my sister recently sent me some images from our childhood. Last night I looked through them to see if my younger self could shed any light on this life I am living now. I’m so glad I did!

Here I am on board my maternal grandfather’s yacht, as part of the flotilla that went out to meet the Queen’s yacht HMY Brittania as she sailed through Morteton Bay and then up the Brisbane River to Newstead House. I’m sitting on my dad’s lap with the binoculars, trying to get a better view. I need to know what’s going on. I have never wanted to miss out on ANYTHING! That’s my little sister in front with my beloved Nana (Dad’s mum), ready to wave her flag. I remember: I adore the ocean, boats and adventures. I love the act of charting a course and navigating, and the smell of salt air, well… that’s heaven for me.

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And here we are, my sister and I, playing dress-ups at Nana’s house. We spent so many happy hours dressing up in her box of old clothes, necklaces and jewels, funny hats and handbags. I always made up stories of who we were and what we were doing and then we would act them out all over the house. The stories were the thing, and the clothes were the vehicle to take us there in our imaginations.

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Here’s me, wiping sauce off my face after a particularly satisfying meal. If Mum, Nana or Marga (my maternal grandmother) was in the kitchen, that was where I wanted to be. Cooking,eating and anything to do with food, including growing it – they are some of my fondest early memories. (We shall not speak of my baby brother whose biggest childhood crime was pulling the carrots I was so carefully nurturing out of their pot, eating their little orange bodies and then sticking the tops back into the dirt again!)

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Whenever I sat on the swing-set in our backyard I would think about the books I was reading and I would escape into my imagination, inventing the most fanciful stories. I was especially fond of fairies, pirates, knights, Kings and Queens, dreadful enemies, trees that could talk and horses that could fly. Of course there were also lots of castles, witches and scary forests too. Sometimes I would gather the children of the neighbourhood together and we would act them out, or put on a performance for our parents. Swinging was very conducive to thinking. Many of my best ideas were hatched there.

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As I was looking over these old pictures, remembering my essence – sailing, the ocean, food, magical stories, family, adventure – I came upon this precious photo of my three grandparents.

Here they are: Marga the Regal Queen who is also a Pirate Fancier, grand Mystic Visioner and Magical Charmer, Ceddie the handsome ship’s Captain and bold Commander who always gets his crew home safely, and my little Nana who was the closest thing to a living Fairy that I ever met.

Darling Pa had already passed when that picture was taken. Pa was a returned Soldier, a Global Explorer, an Artist and a Tour Guide. He opened up strange new lands to me.

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How could I ever doubt who I am or what’s important to me? Every cell of my body has been singing this song since I was born.

I like to think of my beautiful grandparents on a luxury ship up in heaven, leaning over the side amid the clouds and whispering encouragements and rememberings that drift down from above and into my ear to be retold as stories.

I shall lie here in bed today and think of my Pirates and Fairies and invent more impossible adventures for them. How lovely!!!

Calling me back…

Post Office in Longreach, Queensland, circa 1908. Image courtesy of the John Oxley Library

Post Office in Longreach, Queensland, circa 1908. Image courtesy of the John Oxley Library

“When we illuminate the road back to our ancestors, they have a way of reaching out, of manifesting themselves…sometimes even physically.” 
~ Raquel Cepeda, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina

 

All things going well, I shall be on the road this Sunday, heading out to Longreach in Western Queensland for a few weeks. Ben and I will pack the ute and depart at dawn for the long trek into the heat and dust. I’m hopeful my health will hold. I could use the break away, and it’s been two years since I was last there – that big wide space which always feels so familiar. No matter how much part of me yearns for salt water, yet another part craves the forever skies, the emptiness, those Outback vistas.

Part of my DNA is anchored at Longreach. Of that I am sure. My grandfather was born here, the son of a drover. His feet walked these same roads. His mother and father’s too. So much history speaks to me as I stroll the wide gracious streets of this town, as I sit by the river or wander the plains.

The cemetary at dawn, Longreach

The cemetery at dawn, Longreach

I’m not quite sure what I expect to find on this next trip. The bleached bones of old stories? A fragment of myself? Rememberings and reconnections?

All I know is that the voices calling me to return have been growing steadily louder and more insistent.

I’ll be celebrating my Nana’s birthday in Barcaldine. My first year without her gentle presence in my life. It will be good to be so far away for that one, I think, and I’m sure I’ll find a little bakery or coffee shop with the sort of food she would have considered a fitting birthday treat.

And for my own birthday I’ll be whooping it up in Longreach. Really, how much more fun could a girl have? LOL!

So, as I’m walking around my little farmhouse this week I’m packing too. Video camera. Hat. Boots. Sunscreen. Jumpers. (It’s still so cold at night there!) Snacks. Books. Journal. Camera. My billy (an old pineapple juice can with wire for a handle) and the fixings for tea down by the river.

Not a glamorous adventure by any stretch. But a real one. With a sky full of stars above me, the whisperings of my ancestors, and a good dose of Aussie fresh air and sunshine. I promise I’ll keep you posted!

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Someone to watch over me…

A light in the darkness by crywolf

A light in the darkness by crywolf96

“It is the custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.” 

~ J.M. Barrie

Remember, I was telling you about the lady who came and sat on my sister’s bed when we were little? Back when I was four, and Simone was two and a half?

I felt quite afraid those nights when my sister was sick. Her skin and hair was sticky with sweat. She was so hot, and she tossed and turned and whimpered in her sleep.

Each night after the world was asleep the beautiful lady surrounded by the silver-blue light would come to our room.  Each night she would comfort my sister, sing to her, and talk to her in her low, sweet voice. She spoke the funny language that I found out much, much later was French.

At the end of one of these visits, when I sensed she was about to leave, I asked her why she was visiting.

“I am her Mummy,” she said to me somehow. “Her Mummy from another time. When a mother loves her child, the love lasts forever.”

She touched my hand. It made me feel so warm inside. “We are family,” she said.  “Remember that.  Family means love forever. There is always someone watching over you.”

She kissed me on the forehead. “One day you will remember…”

And then she was gone.

At the darkest times of my life I have recounted that conversation. After my grandmothers passed away, Marga in 2011 and then Nana late last year, I finally understood what that meant – to have someone watching over you. I felt it in my heart.

As my sister and I research our family tree, and connect into previous generations and our more ancient lines, I feel the weight of this love more and more.

For all of you – those who already feel loved, and those who feel lost or alone – let me reassure you. There is family stretching far back, whose lives are braided through with yours over and over again.

Some call it family, some call it ancestors, some call it soul group. It really doesn’t matter by what name we know it.  All that matters is this – the magic in this world is love. It’s the energy that follows us, sustains us, and lifts us up. It’s all around us, even when we can’t see it.  Even if we choose to believe it’s not there.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of that magic with you…

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Alice’s Lifelong Invisible Friend

Image from Meltys

Image from Meltys

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery The Little Prince

Alice is the oldest person to have ever sought out my services as a psychic.  She came to see me late last year, at age 98, driven to my house by her grand-daughter Donna.

After she was settled, and her family had gone off for a drive to give her some privacy, Alice gravely informed me that she needed some spiritual advice before she died. Could I work with someone who had already lived their life and was right at the end of their time here?

“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “Let’s just do what I would ordinarily do in one of my sessions, and we’ll see what comes up.”

We sat at the table where I work, and I held Alice’s frail hands in mine, closed my eyes, bowed my head, and offered up a prayer for the Highest Good. Then I sat quietly for a moment

It is wonderful to work with the elderly, and anyone drawing close to the end of their time here on earth.  Their lives stretch out richly before them, and the connection to the spiritual world is always strong and immediate.

Immediately I got a name, ‘Agnes’, and sensed that she was one of Alice’s guides. It was the most powerful and immediate connection, as if Agnes was right here beside us.

When I opened my eyes and looked up at Alice, so that we could begin our session, her soft grey eyes held mine. There was a bright curiosity there.

I explained how I start my session, with the prayer and the connection, and that I then opened myself up to any first impressions.  I told her about Agnes, and how strong her presence was.

Then we sat for over an hour, as I shared information about Alice’s aura, and why she had chosen to come to this life.  We discussed love and family, and I was able to give her clarity about some of the incidents and relationships that she was still trying to come to terms with after nearly a century of life.

Finally, as the session was coming to an end, Alice became quite teary, and told me she had a terrible confession. I couldn’t imagine what it could be – Alice has led a good life, filled with caring for others, kindness and love.

“I have an imaginary friend,” she whispered through her tears. “She’s been my friend since I was little. I’m always talking to her, and sometimes at night in my room, after everyone else is asleep, she comes to visit me, and she sits on my bed.”

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I didn’t say anything, just reached across so I could hold her hand.

She laughed. “I must be a bit funny in the head,” she said. “And there’s one other thing… My whole life I have felt lonely on the inside, like something precious is missing. I have no right to feel like this.  My parents were very loving, and I had tremendous brothers. I had a happy marriage and my own two girls and their families have been very good to me. And I had plenty of friends, although, of course, they are all gone now.”

“And your sister,” I prompted. “You must have been very close to your sister.”

Alice looked at me strangely, and the energy between us suddenly became very uncomfortable. “I never had a sister,” she said crankily. “You’re very much mistaken.”

We moved back to safer ground, and I answered the last of her questions, and then her grand-daughter arrived back at my house and Alice and I said goodbye.

Alice’s grand-daughter knocked on my door last night, to let me know that the old lady had died peacefully in her sleep on the weekend. Donna had sat with her grandmother for the last few days of her life, and Alice had been conscious and lucid til the last.  Alice was insistent that Donna contact me after her death.

Donna had a large envelope with her, and she took out the contents to show me. In it were photocopies of some old documents. One was the death certificate of Alice’s mother.  It clearly showed that she had given birth to three sons and then after a gap of six years, two twin girls, Alice and Agnes.

My skin prickled with recognition. Agnes… The presence I had felt so strongly in the room with us that day.

There was also a death certificate for Agnes, who had died at age four from scarlet fever.  The family had lived in a small town in Outback Queensland. Donna had discovered that her great grandmother and Agnes were buried in a family plot in that small town.  She was now planning to go out there to find their graves.

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Alice had told Donna all about her session with me on the drive back to her nursing home, and Donna had then diligently visited the State Archives to see what she could learn of her family history.

She had found the information weeks before her grandmother passed away, and Donna told me it had given her grandmother much peace.

Alice’s family had never spoken of Agnes, and Alice had grown up believing that Agnes truly was imaginary. She had learned from a very early age not to speak of Agnes, but had maintained that love and connection with her twin sister for her whole life.

We both cried, and hugged, and as she left, Donna withdrew another small envelope from her bag. “This is for you, from Gran,” she said.

I opened it after she left. In a spidery hand, Alice had written me a short note. In part, it said Thank you for restoring the missing part of my heart.

Last night I lay in bed and thought of my own beautiful grandparents who have now all passed away, and some dear friends whose lives ended too early.  I felt the weight of all their love. And it made me smile to think of Alice and Agnes, together again, and catching up on a lifetime’s worth of being apart.

Love truly is a force powerful beyond all we can imagine.

 

Getting My Hands on My Inheritance!

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“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

In a quiet corner of an organic cafe somewhere in Brisbane yesterday, history was made.

My mother (that’s her hands in the top of the picture above – like me she’s quite camera shy!) finally lent me the precious Family Recipe Book. Several times she stated in front of my sister and I (quite loudly I might add…) that it was only a loan, to facilitate the idea she had for a post for my blog based upon the comfort to be had by making and eating slices.

And in the grandest of gestures she actually let me take the tatty old exercise book – stuffed full of hand-written recipes, magazine clippings and scribblings on the backs of envelopes – home to the farm with me so that I may transcribe the wisdoms within its pages into a book of my own.

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I was made to promise, PROMISE, that I wouldn’t share some of the most secret recipes with you, my Bloggerverse friends. And I wouldn’t, Mum, honest.  Not with my grandmother peering down from Heaven in her imperious way. Goodness, some things – like the Heavenly Tart Recipe – are sacred.

But I am excited.  There is so much good stuff between the pages of this book that I’ve grown up with and added to over the past few decades.  My family history, and my inheritance, is the stories and recipes and memories contained here.

I look forward to sharing some of my family’s legacy with you.  And I’ll start later this week with a post dedicated to Slices, for my Mum, whose idea it was.  Just so we are clear about that…

It was Mum’s idea!  Did everyone get that? Good.

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