Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Feasts and Festivals: Harvest Home Seedcake

So, we're pretty much moved in to our new house. As I write this, I am waiting on delivery of my refrigerator. The house's previous owner wanted to sell me hers for $750! It was moldy and didn't even fit in the space. We're lucky she didn't expect us to pay separately for the rest of the appliances! Anyway, we've learned very quickly that owning a house is an adventure. Paul and I are still getting everything sorted and decorated, so I hope to show you some photos soon. I did take some time out this weekend to make a seedcake for tea in honor of Harvest Home. Seedcakes were traditional for Harvest Home festivities in Sussex,1 so it seemed like a good idea to try my hand at one. It's my first time to use caraway seeds for something sweet. Paul and I like it, but I don't know if I'd spring it onto unsuspecting guests. (You can definitely just leave out the caraway seeds and you'll have a nice, lightly spicy pound cake.) I have to overcome my taste buds immediately screaming, "rye bread! rye bread!" It's weird but I like it and seed cake goes so well with a cup of tea.

The inspiration for this recipe is from an 18th-century "receipt" in Dorothy Hartley's Food in England.2 It actually called for caraway comfits, which are basically caraway seeds inside a sprinkle. When I read what was involved with making them I said, "screw that!" Thankfully, I also have a copy of Peyton and Byrne British Baking which has a Madeira Cake recipe with optional (uncandied) caraway seeds. The brandy and spices are from the 18th-century version.


6 oz. (¾ cup) very soft butter
6 oz. (¾ cup) turbinado or demerara sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
½ teaspoon brandy
¼ lb (1 cup) self-raising flour*
¼ lb (1 cup) sprouted whole-wheat flour**
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 335ยบ Fahrenheit. (If you have an older oven, set to 325 and bake a bit longer.) Butter a loaf pan and line with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time until well-combined. Stir in the brandy and set aside.

In a smaller mixing bowl, stir together the self-raising flour, sprouted flour, cinnamon and cloves. Mix into the butter/sugar mixture a bit at a time, being careful to fully incorporate the flour without over-mixing. Stir in the caraway seeds and spoon batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in the middle of the oven about 50 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack then slice and serve.

8 to 10 slices

Inspired by 1744 seed cake recipe in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England and adapted from “Madeira Cake” in Peyton and Byrne British Baking.

*Or substitute 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder + ½ teaspoon salt
**I used King Arthur Flour’s sprouted whole wheat because it’s very finely milled. If you don’t want to bother with it, just use another cup of all-purpose flour.

Download and print

From Sussex to Wessex... (That's Thomas Hardy's fictional county, which is based on the Saxon kingdom, in case you were wondering.) So why are we talking about Thomas Hardy and Wessex? I actually picked Far from the Madding Crowd to go with this post because an important scene in the book occurs during the Harvest Home celebrations on Bathsheba Everdene's farm. Seemed perfect. Not that I've read Far from the Madding Crowd recently (well, "read," at any rate--actually Nathaniel Parker read it to me while I knitted an Aran sweater for Paul which actually turned out to be way too big, but that's another story) but the 1967 film adaptation of the novel seemed pretty faithful (if not terribly inspired--I LOVED the book and felt the movie was pretty good) except that Julie Christie doesn't look like how I pictured Bathsheba. I'm pretty sure the character is supposed to have really dark hair.3

Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene and Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak

Reading Thomas Hardy is great because everything is pretty and bucolic and then it all goes to hell. Far from the Madding Crowd is, thankfully, not nearly as bleak as some of Hardy's other novels, though. I love Hardy because it's like he was writing directly to silly teenage girls. It's totally important to know the warning signs of undesirability in a potential romantic partner. If he's anything like Sergeant Troy, run in the other direction!4 If you haven't read Far from the Madding Crowd (or maybe seen the movie if you've only got three hours to spare), I recommend it. Anyone seen the 90s TV movie? What did you think?

Terence Stamp as Frank Troy and Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene

  1. Anna Franklin's Autumn Equinox
  2. Did you happen to see Lucy Worsley's documentary on Food in England? Highly recommended.
  3. P.S. Found this at sparknotes.com: "Gabriel had reached a pitch of existence he never could have anticipated a short time before. He liked saying "Bathsheba" as a private enjoyment instead of whistling; turned over his taste to black hair, though he had sworn by brown ever since he was a boy..."
  4. However, Sergeant Troy on Midsomer Murders is adorable.

Never miss a post and get exclusive member content by signing up for The Past on a Plate's free weekly newsletter: