Did You Know

This was my inspiration behind Aiden and Marina’s wedding cake. I’m actually going to make a much smaller version of this next week when we have friends over for tea. The recipe for the cake pictured is as follows:

Currants 1 lb. 12 oz./800g.
Sultanas (Golden Raisins) 1lb./450g.
Raisins 9 oz./25 oz 250 g.
Shredded Almonds 7 oz./200g.
Glace Cherries 70z/200g.
Peel, cut, mixed 70z/200g.
Flour 1lb 3oz. 525 g.
Salt 1 teaspoon
Mixed Spice 2 1/2 tsp.
Butter 1lb.450g.
Rich Dark sugar 1lb. 450g.
Black treacle 2 tbsp.
Orange and Lemon zest 1 1/2 tsp. each
Eggs 8 large
Vanilla essence 1 1/2 tsp.
Brandy 4 tbsp.
cooking time: 4 1/2-5 1/2 hours

1. Grease tin and line it with three layers of greaseproof paper, extending about 2″ above the top of the tin.

2. Tie a thick band of folded newspaper around the outside of the tin to protect the edge of the cake from over cooking.

3. Have a suitable sized piece of brown paper to put over the cake if it is in danger of over browning.

4. Cake will be cooked when a skewer put into the center comes out clean

5. Sort the fruit and remove any stalks or irregular pieces.

6. Mix fruit with halved cherries, peel and a tablespoon or two of the flour.

7. Sift flour, salt and the spices.

8. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

9. To the butter add the treacle, zests, and essences. Beat well.

10. Add the eggs, one by one with a tablespoon full of flour with each-beat well. Fold in the fruit and remaining flour plus the brandy. Mix well.

11. Turn mixture into the prepared tin and smooth down with tablespoon making a slight hollow in the center.

12. You may leave the cake over night or till ready to bake.

13. Pre heat oven to 300 degrees F., 150 degrees C, Gas mark 2 bake cake in center of the oven for 1-1/2 hours.

14. Reduce heat to 275 degrees F, 140 degrees C, Gas mark 1 for the remaining baking time or until the top of cake feels firm to the touch and skewer comes out clean and dry.

15. Watch cake as it bakes. Cover if it looks like it might overbrown.

16. Cool cooked cake in tin then remove paper and turn upside down onto a board. Make small holes into the cake with skewers and pour on some extra brandy.

17. When brandy is absorbed wrap cakes in double layer of greaseproof paper and then a layer of foil. Seal and store in airtight container and place in a cool place for at least a month. You should finish the cake about a fortnight before the wedding.

18. Cover with white Irish Royal Icing or Fondant Icing


Gork Anyone?

 What exactly is gork? It is a mythical creature in my historical fantasy series, which resembles a woolly pig, and quite the delicacy. So, no, it’s not something you can try. Since the backdrop for the fantasy realm of Rinefield, is based on Scotland and Ireland, I went on a culinary journey into some of the classic fare.

One of the things I enjoy as a writer, is giving my characters memorable moments, many of which are centered around a meal, whether a romantic intimate setting, family gatherings, wedding feasts, or political matters. The food is not only reflective of the cultural background and settings but also the mood of the scene. Tolkien did this, throughout his epic saga. The meals often symbolizing the characters’ feelings, well being, and general mood, in which the setting placed them in. The thing I found the most interesting aspect was not only the vivid descriptions, be it feast of meager rations, it was always based on the classic food of  the UK or Ireland.

I wanted to fully appreciate how my characters would feel when sitting down to a meal. The sexy Leprechaun (aka the hubby) and I, researched as many authentic recipes as we could find, and actually cooked or purchased what the characters would be eating. I am not a big meat eater, but I still found it very interesting as well as tasty, the dishes we decided to explore. The famous stout stew, which features Guinness cooked with cubed beef, potatoes, carrots, and we added mushrooms and turnips, was amazing.  This inspired me to create for my books, the famous venison stew served at the Standing Bear Pub, highly favored by Fergus, the King of Heathwin.

My favorite dish was, the rich potatoes and cabbage combination of Colcannon. I could not get enough of it, and make at least once a week. The smoky, salty succulent Scottish style smoked salmon, has always been a treat. The hearty and satisfying bubble and squeak, as much fun to say as it is to eat. The lovely pasties, that I baked with or without meat. Of course, the soda bread, filled with sweet moist raisins, and let us not forget the shortbread. Even something as common as butter and cheese, took on a whole new perspective, as we tried Irish style butter and various cheeses from Ireland and Scotland. The beautiful but satisfying simplicity of boiled potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and kale, dressed in butter and a bit of salt. Beans on toast is now something we have with breakfast several times a week.

We also enjoyed having traditional tea time. Not always the dainty finger sandwich type tea. Though this was fun, we relished the idea of the more hearty fare, which I loved incorporating in my books. The smoked salmon, the oat scones with clotted cream or lemon curd.  The rich flaky pasties, served with various pickled vegetables, sliced apples and cheese, were a delight.  We tried and fell in love with Irish hard ciders, both apple and pear. All of these wonderful culinary experiences, made us respect and appreciate our Scottish and Irish heritages even more. It also helped me to create a more in depth and vivid world for my characters to dwell in. By using not only the rich and passionate history of our forebears, but exploring the ways they ate and showed hospitality, made me value so much more where we come from. It helped me to have a better understanding of how important sharing a meal was, either with family or associates.  The warmth and heartiness of the meals served, the earthiness and comfort the food gave, added much to the history of these beautiful and majestic places. Experiencing the joy of cooking these meals, gave me a wonderful sense of family, of belonging. It was something I will always treasure, and was honored to implement in my books and will continue to.

Now what of Haggis? Well, I am not that brave. Though I did promise myself if I ever have the privilege to go to Scotland, I will try the “real” stuff. I do however make mention of it, with all due respect, in my books. Though for now, it will remain as fantastical and mystical as gork.

Does A Fantasy Author Need to Research?

I have been asked on a several occasions did I actually research for my book and the next books in the series, as this is a work of fantasy? The answer is a resounding YES! I wanted to have as much real history and real names of places from Scotland and Ireland as I could place in a mystical realm called Rienfield an the two kingdoms of Gwenlais and Heathwin. I felt by adding these “real” elements it would give the stories an authentic feel, and a unique and memorable journey for the readers. By researching real villages and towns from both Scotland and Ireland and what they were known for in the 12th to the 15th centuries and incorporating that into the stories and the characters’ lives, it gave the the world a much richer feel and vibrancy I feel would be absent if I hadn’t used this. I also did extensive research on the family and social dynamics of the people of these regions at the time. What I discovered was both fascinating and eye opening. Not everyone in these time periods lived in filth and yes people did indeed bathe. Fragrant herbs and spices were used in soaps for not only their rich scents but their healing properties as well. Especially the use of lavender and rosemary. Soap making most often became a town or village project, and done around the time livestock such as swine or cattle were butchered, so that the rich fat of the animals could be utilized. Family ties were most important, so socializing with relatives and neighbors was done often and encouraged. Often accompanied by feasting on seasonal produce as well as dancing and game playing.
Yes, the parents in those days were often strict but the brutality of children and women was still not something that was encouraged or even looked upon favorably. Though this did happen at times, sadly to this day it still does. The men of Scotland and Ireland at that time were known as “lovers and romantics”. And well they should have been called thus, as some of the most beautiful and romantic love poems and wedding vows come from these regions and are still used today in traditional Scottish and Irish wedding ceremonies. Here is a beautiful example of such a tradition. In a old Irish custom which dates back to the 12th century, the couple after reciting their vows to each other while hands being bound together, (hand fasting) would face the families and guest and recite The “Vow of Unity” together. It went this way,
“We swear by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand. Mark O’ LORD, and hear us now, confirming this our sacred vow,” truly lovely. Many couples are bring this back to their traditional wedding ceremonies. I also loved researching the beautiful Gaelic language which I used and continue to use throughout my stories. So mo chairde daor, yes I do indeed do research.