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Scotland, Week 5: 11 September

Marcel Proust was famously inspired to reminisce (for over 3,000 pages) about his early life by tasting a madeleine cake dipped in a spoonful of tea. Well, mutatis mutandis, there is a food from my childhood in New Zealand that has a similar effect upon me—though not, you’ll be glad to hear, at such length.

Yes, it’s time to celebrate fudge slice, also known as fudge cake, a confection so dense and sweet it warps the very fabric of space-time: not only does it exert a gravitational field strong enough to attract other items towards it across the kitchen counter, its effects reach backwards in time to give your teeth cavities before you’ve even eaten it. Now, you might feel that the nation which brought us the tinned spaghetti pizza doesn’t have much to teach us about haute cuisine: but you would be wrong.

Fudge cake is a tray bake, a blend of ground-up biscuits and a rich melted sugary-chocolatey-buttery mix, which is then left to set before being covered with chocolate icing. It’s so lethal that the cookbooks recommend wearing a hazmat suit during assembly and handling it with the sort of gloves they use during nuclear experiments. It’s safest to eat in pieces about the size of a sugar cube: larger than that and your body sort of collapses around your stomach much as matter does around a black hole.

It’s a taste of my childhood: and while I wouldn’t want it every day (can you even get stomach pumps on Amazon?), it does take me back, to a simpler, happier time; a time before dentists. I made a batch this week and, after the flashbacks about being put to bed by my mother had passed, I took some round for the neighbours to try. I went back later to see what they thought but the curtains were drawn and no one answered my knock; when I lifted the letterbox flap all I could hear was a faint bubbling. I think I also heard someone sobbing—probably just a coincidence, though.

Turning to happier matters, I was on leave last week and so managed to catch up on my knitting. I’ve finished the back and am just over halfway up the front. With luck I shall get the shoulders joined by next week. The pattern is proving straightforward to knit, and designed so that there are two horseshoes to each diamond—so it’s easy to make sure things are aligned properly.

As for dear old Marcel, and the memories unlocked by a piece of soggy cake—all I can say is, if his trigger had been fudge cake his memories would probably mainly have consisted of his being violently sick; and I’d defy even him to get much more than a short story out of that…


TECHNICAL STUFF

The closest online recipe I’ve found is here, though I’d recommend bringing the mixture with the eggs in to the boil to make sure everything’s cooked through; and it takes about 1 lb of biscuits. What?—oh, I beg your pardon. You meant the gansey?

Here are the pattern charts for the yoke (the tree is of course the celebrated “Mrs Laidlaw” of Seahouses which features in many of the books; the rest are Scottish Fleet or Hebridean in origin):

18 comments to Scotland, Week 5: 11 September

  • Shirley Drake

    I visited Sheringham Museum last Friday and they have an exhibition of ganseys on loan from the Netherlands. Interesting to see the different patterns and the stories behind them

    • Gordon

      Hello Shirley, yes, it’s interesting that other cultures also developed ganseys, with their own patterns and history. I haven’t knit many Dutch ones, being a tad fixated on Yorkshire and Scotland lately—I particularly like the ones with bobbles on the collars!

  • Jane

    I could smell the sugar and chocolate as I read the recipe! Thank you Gordon for sharing such a treasure. I can reassure you about next door, tears of joy! What a winner. I, no we, had the flu, I know, in August, a few weeks ago, and have been a bit weary, this will be a great reviver.

    I love the latest gansey, superb colour for the stitches, and a wonderful pattern, a real cracker. Super photos too. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, and thank you. Sorry to hear about the flu—every time I grumble about my cold-cum-cough-that-won’t-shift I try to remember that it could be worse! Fudge cake is easy to make, something like 15 minutes start to finish, then leave to cool—takes about as long to eat it all, too, if you’re not careful…

  • Sharon in Surrey

    I could feel my teeth rotting in place as I read your description!! I had nothing like that when I was a kid. I think the closest I could come is my mother’s Christmas cakes in the stoneware crock. But that was mostly fruit soaked in rum. Or the neighbor’s heavy duty birthday cakes. Nice sweater, by the way!!

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, my parents were splendid cooks, my father especially—he could ice wedding cakes like a professional and his condensed milk tablet/fudge was the best I’ve ever had. So sugar and I have always been in a relationship, even though we agreed some time ago to see other people. But oddly enough the one taste I never acquired was for alcohol (there’s probably a correlation there, if some university would like to do an in depth study; and if there’s tablet involved, I’m happy to volunteer…).

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    Dont know which is more stunning–fudge cake or gansey?

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, experience shows the only important thing to remember is, one of them you eat, the other you wear: just keep in mind which is which…

  • Laura Kilner

    Gorgeous piece of knitting. And the food. How could you put both together? I do love it and will try both in the next few months. x

    Laura Kilner
    Prince Rupert, BC
    Canada

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura, the best way to combine the two is to get someone to feed you pieces of fudge cake while you knit till your eyes begin to bubble! (This is not, alas, the voice of experience…)

  • =Tamar

    My childhood sugar-hit was something Mom called Crackle Candy and I called Sponge Candy, but I found it online under half a dozen names – Cinder Toffee, Honeycomb Foam, Ginger Molasses Sponge Toffee, Violet Crumble, etc. We never coated it with chocolate, though that seems to be a common addition. The stuff coated your teeth while cutting your tongue.

  • Jenny

    Gordon, I love the pattern on the yoke of your pistachio gansey. I would like to have a go at your fudge cake-looks very sinful and it might force me to make my next gansey one size larger! BTW, what brand of wine biscuits do you use please? Do you make them yourself?

    • Gordon

      Hi Jenny, in the UK I tend to use a combination of plain digestive and rich tea biscuits, in any proportion you like, up to about 1 lb. I use a glass bottle to crush them in a bowl, grinding up into a mixture of crumbs and chunkier pieces. The dangerous time is when you mix it with the melted butter cocoa mixture—it’s so delicious warm if I’m not careful very little makes it to the tray to cool!

  • Jenny

    Thanks for the tip on the biscuits, Gordon. I can easily get such biscuits in Victoria. We even have a special British aisle of food items at the local grocer I go to.

    • Julie

      Because you’re “behind the Tweed Curtain”?

      • Gordon

        I like to think this is an exciting new euphemism all the young people are using nowadays: Gordon has locked himself in his room with a jar of mayonnaise, a frozen chicken and his knitting—Better not disturb him, he’s going “behind the Tweed Curtain”, if you know what I mean…

  • Jenny

    Julie, better explain to Gordon what “behind the tweed curtain” means in Victoria. We even have a local magazine called TWEED.

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