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Sunday, 19 February 2012

Cold but no snow....

..... to speak of anyway.  Snow showers and showers of tiny white frozen balls that hurt when they hit your face, but no soft snow to crunch underfoot.  Not that I'm complaining really!  I do fear for my plants which had thought it was Spring.  Thee early daffodils are a dwarf variety but are WAY too early. The crocus are so fragile but have so far evaded the wind with protection from the stone dyke behind.

Pretty crocus among the willow trees

Daffodils (narcissi) among the willow trees - these are dwarf daffs - so the snail shell in the foreground isn't a giant one!

Definitely baking weather.  I have returned to my Welsh roots baking Bara Brith. Well I'm only half Welsh, as my father was from Brynamman in South Wales, but I was brought up in a house full of Welsh culture - I still support Wales at Rugby! Sadly I never learned my Dad's native language. For him Welsh was his first language. In a rather poignant story - during his last few hours of consciousness at the end of his life he could only speak Welsh. As you can imagine this was a traumatic experience for him and us, his children, as we found it almost impossible to communicate. There was a bit of a bizarre pantomime with my brother rushing to a phone to try and repeat what Dad had said to a Welsh speaking relative. But it was like Chinese whispers and didn't work very well so we resorted to hand signals. He could understand US but we could not understand him. As you can tell it's something that has stayed with me over the last 20 years. But is an interesting reflection upon how our brains work - bearing in mind he hardly used to speak Welsh after leaving the valleys in the mid 1930s to find work in the south of England.

Anyway in a lighter vein, I've had a go at baking Bara Brith (translated this means speckled bread) - it is often made with yeast and is more of a bread, but I choose the one which is more like a cake (of course - given my passion for Cake).

The recipe is below - I eat it with a little butter spread over it, reminiscent of visiting elderly relatives in Wales for tea on summer holiday visits. I'd be sent up the road to "Frances the Baker's" bakery, knock on the back door and hand over some pennies for a lovely crusty loaf, which would then be sliced wafer thin by Great-Auntie Rachie and spread with Welsh Butter (quite salty), and eaten along with bara brith, and froice (welsh crepes), welsh cakes (more of welsh cakes another day) and accompanied by a strong cup of tea in delicate china cups. I loved watching Great-Uncle Lewis drinking his tea. His knarled miner's fingers would delicately hold the cup and pour the tea into a saucer and then he would drink from the saucer! I would watch round eyed at this, but politeness instilled in me by my parents prevented me ever commenting or indeed asking WHY?!

Bara Brith (note - you need to soak some of the ingredients overnight!).

50g currants
100g sultanas
1 mug strong tea
75g dark brown soft sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
350g self raising flour, sieved.

1. Soak the currents and sultanas overnight in the tea along with the sugar (warm tea, not too hot).
2. Line a buttered loaf tin with parchment and preheat the oven to 150C/Gas mark 2 (reduce heat a bit for fan ovens).
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the fruit mixture and stir. Add the flour along with the mixed spice. Turn into prepared tin in a preheated oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin and turn out to cool completely.
4. Enjoy!


  1. Now that's what I call a proper Bara Brith, Sian! One of the few cakes I can make reliably, using a recipe on of my churchwardens gave me, which has marmalade in it. Yum! I'll try your recipe next time.

    I loved your story about your father and am not at all surprised that he reverted to the language of his upbringing at the end of his life. Hard for you, though. When my father was dying, nursed by my mother, he sometimes spoke to his first wife who had died 40 years before.

    PS Though we had rain all day yesterday, I woke up this morning to a covering of snow! All gone now, but it was a surprise. :-)

  2. Your bara brith sounds wonderful. I had to look up a recipe (before I got to yours), and they used dried cranberries instead of currants. I'll have to try that sometime.

  3. Perpetua - OOoh could I have your recipe please? I'm experimenting with baking this winter.

    And I know my dad was speaking to someone too. Though we had no idea who. Fortunately he had a peaceful passing (as peaceful as being in hospital can be).

    You have snow!! Ours has all gone now. Must watch Countryfile to see forecast for next week.

    MaryZ - ah yes I've seen some recipes with cranberries in. I'm sure it's delicious, though not authentic as my grandmother wouldn't have had access to those ;-)

  4. Thanks for a delicious sounding recipe! I've never tried making Bara Brith but may be tempted now. It's definitely baking weather, as you say!

    It's fascinating to speculate on how the brain works and how memories are there but hidden under more recent layers, as with your story of your father reverting to Welsh. My own father told me of an uncle of his who, when delirious with fever (in adulthood) spoke in Hindi, as taught him by his ayah in India when he was a child. He left India when he was two and had no conscious memory of a single word of Hindi - and couldn't speak it when he recovered from the fever. And then when I had my head injury in 2010, I was speaking fluent Italian immediately afterwards, having not done so for nearly 20 years (and I certainly can't now). It does suggest that the subconscious retains far more than we know!

  5. I'll email the recipe to you today, Sian. :-)

  6. It makes me sick. I prefer to have a sunny day.

  7. My granda alway drank his tea from his saucer, much to the delight of all his grandchildren. As far as I know it was just to cool it off.

  8. My mom had aphasia from a stroke. She could not understand spoken words and the words she spoke made no sense. I visited her a couple of times a week. Somehow we managed to convey our love for each other without language ... but oh ... it was a sad time.

  9. Dancing Beastie - I'd forgotten about your experience with Italian. I remember you mentioning this before. Oh if we could only tap into those recesses more easily (though there are some in my brain I would definitely avoid!).

    Krk - well I suppose cloudy days make me enjoy sunny days more!

    Sybil - Yes it is a sad time, when there is so much to say, and even *with* language it can be hard enough.