Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Story Goes With It

There was this tipster see. And I think his name was Harry The Horse, or it might have been Spanish John, or perhaps, Nicely-Nicely Jones ... Well, anyway, were you so inclined, you could slip this character a couple  of bucks for which he would, in return, recommend for you the name of a horse on which you might then bet your life's savings and be certain to kiss them goodbye.  

Naturally, you would only do this once, having only one set of life's savings, except that you would be drawn back again and again because,  as Damon Runyon (our author and creator the unsavoury crew named above) would have it, ' a story goes with it'. And what a story! One of such pathos and persuasion that it seemed the horse could not lose, and to fail to place a bet on it was a very foolish act indeed. You may read these stories for yourself. I recommend them.

Horses, however, have never been my thing, though I did once win £35 on a mare, 'Chasing The Bride' on my 35th Wedding Anniversary. She hauled up from last place in the final furlong to the astonishment of all, especially me. No, horses have never been my thing, I'm more into cake.

I love baking cakes, but because they sit on my waist and refuse to budge, I do not do so as often as I would wish. But when I do - they are spectacular. I specialise in cakes with names. Proper names with Capital Letters and if you eat cake with me, whether you wish it or no, you will learn the cake's name and history.

I have another, what might safely be called 'conceit' in that if I'm making dessert for American friends, I leave Betty Crocker on the shelf and get stuck into a Victoria Sandwich, a Sally Lunn or an Eton Mess. If I have no story on hand, I will make one up. The one I am about to tell you, is, however, true.

My uncle Bill was the last Banbury Pitt. He died having sired only daughters, so it being the way of things in those days, the title 'Banbury Pitt' died with him. I'm sad, because this bit of family history is likely to vanish, unless my daughters, on reading this, will think it worth the retelling. Uncle Bill was, as was every William Pitt before him ( we speak of artisan bakers here, not Prime Ministers, by the way) named after a pastry. 

Once upon a time (I swear) a family of Romany Gypsies, by the name of Pitti, landed up in the town of Banbury, in Oxfordshire, on route to God knows where, but let's say, Gloucester, where they sold the recipe for a sweet and curranty delight which is today known as a Banbury Cake. The Pittis became Pitts and settled down in Tredworth, In Gloucester. Where they continued to ply their trade as bakers, until bankrupted during a smallpox epidemic in the mid nineteenth century. That much at least is true. The Pitt Baker Ancestor hung himself in his shop, I have read the report in the Gloucester Citizen. I don't usually tell the bit about the suicide, because, I don't know what you think, but I reckon it rather dampens the spirits and makes cake- eating seem a little inappropriate, somehow. I include it here, for the record.

That's the Americans sorted. My English friends and cake aficionados will be treated to the mighty Williamsburg Orange Cake, the delicate Lady Baltimore Cake, fruity Johnny Appleseed cake, or, my personal favourite, the grand Waldorf Astoria Red Cake. 

I paid two dollars for the recipe for the Waldorf Astoria Red Cake back in 1971. I was a student teacher at the Elementary School on the US Army Base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire. This is, I admit, a very long way from the prestigious and eponymous New York hotel, but that, I think. serves to make this cake story even more interesting. 

My 'Master Teacher' Ann Bamburger, told me the history of the cake: I have googled it and found it to be true. Her aunt, who could obviously afford to do so, took tea at The Waldorf Astoria, where she sampled The Cake. She was so impressed, that she sent a note down to the kitchens complimenting the chef, and requesting the recipe, which duly arrived with a bill  for $200.  Ann's aunt paid up, and  subsequently sold the recipe on, for a dollar or two, to anyone who wanted it, giving the proceeds to charity.

(Ann was a respectable and serious-minded woman, who would not have made the cake-eating aunt up. She is, I believe, the real source of the Legend of the Red Cake!) 

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