Somerset Easter Cakes and Farming in the Quantocks
I don’t remember having these when I was little…and my grandma was a great baker. But, I do remember her rock cakes being very like the end result…though I am sure she didn’t add brandy to those. And she made rock cakes every week for my granddad to have with tea in the afternoon – not just at Easter. Perhaps its simply that Easter for me was all about chocolate…and mere spicy buns were not going sit for long in my memory!
I found the recipe in a book called ‘Cattern Cakes and Lace’ by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, now out of print, but one from my mum’s collection – then googled to see what else there was around. Most recipes for Somerset Easter Cakes or Sedgemoor Easter Cakes are made into biscuits and rolled out. Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s version is the closest, but is still a rolled ‘biscuit’. This version has a looser dough and is cooked in bun tins (I used my mincepie pans). They are something of a cross between a spiced shortbread biscuit and a rock cake. They also were often made using cassia and there are various voices on google claiming that an authentic Somerset Easter Cake would have to include cassia. But that was just a substitute for cinnamon, so I’ve used a teaspoon of cinnamon as suggested in Cattern Cakes and Lace and as already in my cupboard…!
According to the authors of Cattern Cakes and Lace the story behind these cakes is that the Duke of Monmouth was fleeing from the battle of Sedgemoor (6th July 1685) and fell. A local woman found him and thinking he was a tramp, made him these cakes to help him recover. Now, he was still defeated in the battle and ultimately executed so hopefully the cakes made him feel a bit better in the short term! Quite what the connection is then with Easter I don’t know…but they are known as Somerset Easter Cakes and apparently given as Easter Gifts so, having a Somerset heritage I thought it was an appropriate thing for me to bake. And, once my granddad became an electrician rather than following his father into the farm, they moved to the edge of Taunton and Bridgewater…pretty much on the site of where the battle of Sedgemoor would have taken place.
On that note, my Great Grandparents must have really despaired at the point he changed career. He was the youngest of thirteen children and the only boy. You can see him out with the plough horses above – he’s on the far right of the photo. But, when he married my grandma, he trained as an electrician which meant when my great grandfather became too old to farm the farm at Cothelstone was lost (they were tenant farmers on the Cothelstone estate in the Quantocks).