Can’t Cook, Shouldn’t Cook…II

Part 2 – More sponge puddings, Wacky Cake and cruelty to animals.

We had a lot of sponge puddings when I was growing up. They hadn’t started life as puddings though. All were Mum’s attempts at producing light, airy sponges of the cake variety. Unfortunately, instead of falling out of the baking tins on to the cooling rack like angel wings falling down from Heaven on to thick snow, they flopped out with an unusual ‘thud’, like someone dropping a rather heavy pillow from a first-floor window. ‘Turn it upside down and put custard on it’ was Mum’s Get Out Of Jail Free card.

One of the more curious recipes she found was one for an abominable creation called ‘Wacky Cake’. These days, any product prefixed with ‘wacky’ tends to mean that whatever you are about to consume or inhale, contains recreational drugs. Maybe the heartless swine who devised that recipe was already as high as a giraffe’s nuts. I can think of no other reason for its creation. I can’t recall the complete list of ingredients but the most overpowering was vinegar. I hadn’t knowingly tasted vinegar in a cake before so it was to be my lucky day, obviously.

The mixture was prepared in the cauldron and spread to a depth of about 1 cm inside a circular glass dish. It was then offered to the Gods in order to cook and rise to cake dimensions. When it emerged from the bowels of the altar it was still about 1 cm thick but congealed and much tougher. The smell of baked vinegar was something else. It reminded me of my Dad drying out sodden, thick leather work boots and his hefty Postman’s coat by the gas fire, after doing his morning deliveries in the pouring rain.

It looked awful and by Christ it tasted worse. I can remember it being scraped into Sam’s bowl once cooled. Sam sniffed at it and looked at Mum as if to say “Must I? Really??”. He walked away. Even the dog didn’t want to eat it and this was an animal that had once scoffed a pair of my Father’s big white underpants BEFORE they were laundered.

In extreme cases such as this, the last option was to feed it to the birds who would (foolishly) flock into our back garden. They used to gather on the roof of Dad’s large brick shed which had a sloping corrugated roof on it. Even they seemed to draw the line at Wacky Cake and it stayed there for ages. If a cake or sponge had turned out too dense, dry or simply inedible to humans and a Labrador then the birds on the shed roof would get it. We used to wonder if they gathered on the sloping roof on purpose so that after ingesting something cake-like with an atomic mass unknown to science, they could use the slope of the roof to gain just about enough momentum in order to become airborne again.

For the most part, my Mother’s days of culinary experimentation are over, although she does tease us by occasionally buying cookbooks from charity stalls. Just hearing her say “I’ve bought a new cookbook….” sends a shiver down my spine and I get flashbacks. You wouldn’t understand – you weren’t there man!!