All in the family

by Lauraine Jacobs / 23 May, 2013
Old recipes are like family jewels, handed down from generation to generation.
About 20 years ago, in an act of daughterly devotion, my sister Chris gathered all the recipes my mother used regularly and wrote them into a book. There were recipes clipped from the newspaper as well as from the Ladies’ Home Journal and Sunset – magazines that had sustained her through many years of keeping our family well fed. There were recipes written on bridge-scoring pads, which she had garnered at afternoon teas and bridge lunches, and on scraps of paper that credited Joan, Bee, Marina or the many other cooks with whom Mum had shared ideas and food.

That book, patched with tape, is now falling to pieces, so I should probably follow my sister’s example and copy it out again for our children and my nieces and nephews. The “new” book, now crammed with extra pieces of paper, is a source of inspiration for me whenever I’m reminded by readers that they still love baking, and want even more recipes.

Some food writers are precious about their recipes and demand copyright and credits every time a cook uses them, but I like to think of a recipe as a gift. I feel that if it is good enough for a cook to use my recipe, then it becomes my gift to that cook’s repertoire. “Take it,” I say, “and adapt it to become your own.”

A word of warning, however. Baking is an exact science and the quantities in a recipe are there as part of a chemistry formula. Fiddle with them at your peril. You can’t take the butter out, for example, because you’re on a low-fat diet and expect to achieve the same result.

Whenever readers tell me they’ve had a “failure”, it’s usually the result of incorrect measuring or a lack of understanding of technique. These days I avoid using the term “creaming” when describing beating butter and sugar together, after a reader wondered about the cream. She couldn’t see it listed in the ingredients, but wanted to “cream the butter and sugar together”.

Old recipes are goodies and often become like family jewels, handed down from generation to generation. The following recipes are like that. They have strong family connections.

My mother-in-law, Dulcie, was a great seamstress, baker and gardener. Laden with flowers from her garden, and garments she’d sewn, she would catch the train from Papatoetoe to Newmarket to spend the day with us. I loved the little bouquets of violets she’d been up early to pick for me. She would also bring an apple pie for her son, and her famous sultana cake. This cake is so good that I found it written into my mother’s “new” book. We all make it and it’s a recipe I guarantee will last for future generations of our family.

The second recipe, frosted brown sugar cookies, is also in my mother’s book. It was something her mother-in-law, my paternal grandmother, used to bake. Nana Nancy was a World War I bride, lured to a life in New Zealand by her Kiwi soldier husband. They’d met in the Warrington Post Office in Lancashire. I have fond memories of everything in her kitchen, except her caged canary – I was terrified of that little bird. However, I loved her baking, and this cookie recipe is from her kitchen to mine, via my mother.

Dulcie's Sultana Cake. Photo by Elizabeth Clarkson, styling by Kate Arbuthnot


  • 400g sultanas

  • 180g butter

  • 180g sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 lemon, finely grated zest only

  • 1 orange, finely grated zest only

  • 1 tsp pure vanilla essence

  • 1 tsp almond essence

  • 240g flour

  • 1⁄3 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Prepare a 20cm square cake tin by lining the bottom and sides with 2 layers of baking paper.

Put the sultanas in a saucepan, add enough water to cover them well, then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well in a sieve, then let the fruit cool.

Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, while continuing to beat.

Fold in the lemon and orange zest with the vanilla and almond essences. Add the flour with the warm water and the drained sultanas and mix with a metal spoon until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for an hour. Test with a skewer. Once it comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin before turning out. It will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight tin. To serve, cut into small squares.
Makes 30-40 pieces.

Frosted brown sugar cookies. Photo by Elizabeth Clarkson, styling by Kate Arbuthnot


  • 120g butter

  • 200g brown sugar

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 200g wholemeal flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • pinch of salt

  • 1 tsp pure vanilla essence

  • Topping

  • 2 egg whites

  • 150g brown sugar

  • ½ tsp pure vanilla essence

  • Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Prepare a swiss-roll tin by greasing it with butter. Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks while continuing to beat. Then fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Spread the mixture across the tin to form the base.

Clean and dry the bowl and the beaters, then beat the egg whites until they foam up and thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla essence. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Spread this evenly over the base.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until the top is set. The middle will be chewy and moist. Cool before slicing into squares.
Makes about 25 cookies.

Vanilla. Photo/Thinkstock

The Essence Of Vanilla

When I started cooking in earnest about 40 years ago, vanilla essence was a product the Rawleigh’s man delivered on his door-to-door visits. These days, there’s an artisan range of pure vanilla with a true Kiwi connection, grown and marketed by an innovative family.

Tauranga couple Jennifer and Garth Boggis, with Jennifer’s father, John Ross, grow the exotic vanilla vines on the island of Vava‘u in northern Tonga. The Tongan Government gifted them the land, so they decided to use it to cultivate vanilla. That gift has reaped huge rewards for Tongans, providing jobs and enabling resources for education and other infrastructure that the remote island otherwise might not have had.

The family company, Heilala Vanilla, also grows a small showcase crop under glass in Tauranga, where chefs and cooks can call in and acquaint themselves with this intensively cultivated plant. The products are sold in specialty stores and exported to several companies around the globe.

The range of products includes:
■ beans for infusing liquids;
■ essence for flavouring baking and puddings;
■ syrup for pouring over fresh fruit and icecream;
■ paste for intensive flavour hits in baking and recipes that use vanilla;
■ sugar for sprinkling on cakes, muffins, pancakes and baking;
■ pure vanilla-bean icecream.
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