Every picnic needs cake. We have a family tradition of going for long country walks armed with a thermos flask and a homemade cake wrapped in foil. It’s usually me who ends up having to carry the backpack, which I guess is only fair as I do tend to spend my summer holiday climbing mountains, so I am, invariably, nominated pack horse.
What makes a great picnic cake? Well, I think there are several factors. Firstly, the key is shape. I think loaf cakes work best here. Round or square cakes can collapse if they are transported on their side, and are impossible to lay out flat in the bottom of a backpack. Secondly, keep it simple; some sort of sponge cake here works well, as opposed to iced cakes and tiered cakes as you just end up with frosting everywhere. This is an entirely different matter however, if you are planning on going for a car picnic, which I happen to favour just as much.
Last weekend, my family and I visited Stourhead, the National Trust property near Mere in Wiltshire, which happens to be one of our favourite properties, and that of Trust members too, with over a third of a million visitors last year. As a life long member of the National Trust, I fully support the valuable work that they do. Where I think they could do better is on the catering front. I applaud the fact that some cafes are making an effort to use local produce and suppliers, but I always feel disappointed when I’ve visited their cafes. Bringing your own is so much nicer, not to mention more economical. And if you are just enjoying the countryside at large, what better than a pit stop with a hot drink and a large slice of cake half way?
Our favourite cake to take on a picnic is a recipe that is so old, no-one knows where it came from originally. My mother thinks it might have been from a Marks and Spencer’s cookery book from the 70’s. Either way, it is fantastic. It is pretty much the only cake I recall my mother making when I was young (apart from the obligatory fairy cakes with us children) and it really is the taste of my childhood. There are so many memories which come flooding back to me with each bite. We lost the recipe years ago and thought we’d never find it again, but thankfully, we did. All we have is this paper copy in my Mum’s handwriting. This recipe produces the most delicious, moist loaf which keeps really well. It’s a very simple, somewhat retro cake, but totally delicious. It also freezes very well.
Date and Walnut cake
Makes one 2lb loaf
- 8oz stoned dates, chopped
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- Pinch of salt
- ½ pint hot water
- 10oz Self Raising flour
- 4oz butter
- 2oz shelled walnuts, chopped
- 4oz dark soft brown sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 180/160 Fan/Gas Mark 4
- Place the dates, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl and pour over the hot water. Leave to cool and soak for as long as you have (1 hour works as does overnight)
- Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the butter or margarine and rub in
- Stir in the sugar and walnuts until thoroughly combined
- Stir in the dates with the water, salt and bicarb and the beaten egg
- Pour into a greased 2lb loaf tin and bake for around 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.