The fruit loaf recipe that time forgot.

This is a recipe for a special fruit cake. It is a family recipe handed down the years.Check your drawers and cupboards for handwritten recipes written with biro pens on lined paper ripped out of old school jotters.They could be very valuable. There should be a kind of ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for such gems. If you find some they may be worth recreating. I just did and here are the results.

Like always if you only want to skip straight to the recipe just scroll down and dive right in and get baking, if not read on.

This recipe was described by my relatives as ‘Belgian Loaf’. It is not ‘loaf like’ it is more of a rich fruit cake but is very nice sliced with or without butter and a big mug of tea. The Belgian link makes me think it relates to the kind of World War One ‘trench cake’.The basic cake that was made and posted to troops in the trenches. It had vinegar of all things in it but otherwise it has some similarities. Perhaps this recipe is a more decadent version of it when things like sugar and fruit became more available.

First World War Trench Cake

Trench cake sent by post

In my family the recipe seems to have been doing the rounds for over forty years. My parents and uncles and aunts used to holiday together and they made batches of it to take on holiday. Diets and bereavement mean such gems get forgotten or shoved to the back of kitchen cupboards and drawers.

Recent changes in my own living situation made me think about this lost treasure . I think it was also the pale insipid sultana cake that passes for ‘cake’ in the supermarkets that challenged me. I knew I could do better. I just had to find the recipe. Not any recipe you understand, the recipe.

After rummaging around drawers and kitchen cupboards I came up empty handed. I even looked optimistically in files and folders on my computer. No joy. Siri and Alexa were not going to help me either as this was a bit unique, at least in my mind. No, I knew I would have to go to the source in order to recreate this recipe. At 94 my Dad is about as reliable as it gets in terms of historical accuracy.

On hearing my request he shot up from his chair and went straight to the old hand written phone/address book in the hall. He still keeps it there even the phone got moved years ago. Sure enough out came the recipe from the inside front page.It was carefully sealed in a small sealed poly bag as if to preserve its contents for all of humanity.

hand written cake recipe

The baking equivalent of the Turin Shroud

Although the recipe was clear enough, if a bit discoloured , I struggled to remember how to do justice to it. With all recipes there are variations, optional extras. The older the recipe the less likely they are to factor in things like fan ovens. So I took 10 minutes off the cooking time. The only other ‘secret’ ingredient which came to me as I was preparing my first ‘batch’ was a spoonful of treacle.It is not essential and tastes fine without it but it does add a certain something in terms of colour and taste. It should be added at the first stage to the pot with the other ingredients.Those of you who jumped straight into baking may miss the secret ingredient but hopefully not too many of you.


4 oz of margarine or 113.39 g. Half a packet- look out for the measuring lines on the packaging


For the rest of the measurements I use a cup like this. A normal tea cup.

These measures are enough for one 2lb loaf tin ( see images below)

1 cup of mixed fruit (half sultanas and half raisins)

1 cup of Demerara sugar

1 cup of milk

Put all of the these ingredients in a small pot and heat until boiling

Simmer for 5 minutes

In a mixing bowl sieve two cups of self raising flour

Sprinkle in half a teaspoon of baking powder

Cool the pot mixture slightly then add to the flour in the mixing bowl

Mix well

Add one egg and mix making sure all the flour has been absorbed

Pour mixture in a prepared baking tin. I used a loaf tin with butter but baking paper can also be used

Oven needs to be pre-heated to 180 degrees

Bake for 40-45 making sure you get nice ‘cracked’ appearance on the top and the ‘loaf’ is firm

Remove from tin to cool. This will not slice properly until it has cooled down considerably.

Trench or Belgian fruit cake

An ingot of crumbly, fruity happiness

The result should look something like this. It is an easy recipe to try so why not give it a go? It is also easy to do two or more at one time and it keeps very well. It would make a great gift and who knows the way things are going it may even serve as currency one day.

Enjoy this recipe and watch out for your own hidden treasures, they may be well worth rescuing.

loaf baking tin

Use your loaf tin!


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5 replies »

  1. “An ingot of crumbly, fruity happiness”. Exactly. I love this kind of cake – with butter on – and yours looks truly scrumptious.
    You write of the old recipes, tucked away…..we got an old book in one of the Stromness charity shops – cost something like 50p. It’s called ‘Mrs. Beeton’s All-About Cookery – New Edition’. ‘ New Edition’ dated 1915! Not only is it a gem in itself, it contains old newspaper cuttings with recipes, hand written recipes, even a photo of, I presume and hope, the lady who had the book, with her two children.
    The ads. include one for ‘Russell’s Patent Lifting Fire Herald Range – as used by Her Majesty Queen Alexandra’s Technical School, Sandringham’ and also, ‘Wellington Black Lead’ for polishing up your range, when it got manky. I remember my Mum blackening the range, in our house when I was a little girl. What a job!
    One, hand written, recipe in the book, is for ‘Hallowe’en Pudding for Guides.’ Why specially for Guides?!
    And a cutting from the ’People’s Friend’ of June 20 1936, for ‘Drinks That Cool and Refresh’. With a drawing of two suitably ‘shingled’ ladies, sipping their cooling drinks, in a garden.
    A recipe for ‘London Curls’ isn’t a hairdressing hint, it’s for what sounds like some yummy little biscuits – the writer says that “It is an old recipe, and the origin of the name I do not know.”
    We’ve also got a copy of the ’Radiation Cookery Book’, given to us by a chum. The inscription is dated 1939, and it’s described as ‘A Selection of Proved Recipes for Use with Radiation ”New-World” ”Regulo”- Controlled Gas Cookers.” Note – “Proved Recipes”! It reminds me, though, of what a revolution in cooking, easy to use cookers must have been. No more blackening the range, for one thing, or having to get a fire going before you could even start cooking. But there again – bread, hot from the little oven next to the fire……
    And the newspaper cutting in that one, tells us that Mrs. W. Mustard, 27 Seafield Street, Cullen, Banffshire, won 10s 6d for her recipe for Chocolate Crumble. Mrs. Mustard?!
    I’m afraid I’ll probably never use these recipes, as I’m a lazy little devil, and there’s always Harray Stores for home-bakes.
    Well. Mr. Angus, you’ve set me off, there – memories, different times – different approaches to cookery – different ways of cooking.

    And these days, we have two ring-files with our own recipes, either made up, or copied/cut from things. Oh my – that leads me to a story – some years ago, Mike and I went to visit his Dad, who made us a really excellent risotto. This risotto had been concocted by Mike’s Dad’s friend, a Mr Wylie. I liked this so much, that I asked Mike’s Dad for the recipe, and he was very pleased to dictate it to me, while I wrote it down. It’s now in one of our folders, in the ‘Rice’ section, under the tile of ‘The Wylie Risotto’.

    As both of these people have now passed from this life, it’s a good reminder of them, and of a good friendship, and a good visit. Food memories don’t just connect with the actual food, they also, sometimes even more so, connect with the times and people we’ve enjoyed the food with.
    I know, I’ll send the recipe to the Orkney News recipes section – it really is yum – and a good feed on a cold day.

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