Diana Dors, my Grandma & Me
|Image: Swindon Advertiser|
She was hardly the kind of person my Grandmother would emulate. Grandma was quiet, domesticated, deeply faithful to her religion and not keen on people drinking. She loved family and loved to bake for us. Every week, we would visit and be provided with scones, custard tart, lemon curd cake, apple pie. You name it, she baked it for us. She once told me I baked a better cake than she did. Maybe that was true when she was in her eighties and still beating cake mix with a wooden spoon, but there was no way I could better her when she'd had more energy.
To come back to la Dors, then. Whilst everyone else associates her name with saucy humour, stylised glamour and a rather sad demise, in my family her name means just one thing - cake. Yes, cake. A boiled fruit cake to be exact. Every week for the last twenty years of her life, my Grandma made "Diana Dors cake." It was full of fruit, and benefitted from a good slathering of butter. I never questioned, as a child, how it came to have the name. It was just one of the things I accepted that adults said: "There's some Diana Dors cake in the pantry."
I finally got to understand the name after Grandma died. Among various bits and pieces she'd kept under the cushion of her chair was a clipping from the Daily Express, in which Dors explained she liked nothing more than to cook this nice, homely cake for her son's tea, and it's so quick she can turn it out in an afternoon, before Jason gets home from school. However unlikely that sounds, various memoirists and biographers have commented that she did enjoy cooking, and a quick Google search will direct you to several recipes published in her name in similar manner to my cake.
The cake itself is very simple to make. The only technical issue, really, is to make sure the fruit mix cools completely before you add the egg and flour. If you add it to warm fruit, you'll lose all the air too quickly and end up with a solid but delicious brick.
Diana Dors Cake
1/4 pt cold tea
1 egg, beaten
8oz self-raising flour
- Put the fruit, sugar, butter and tea in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer very gently for half an hour. Set aside and allow to cool.
- Pre-heat the oven to gas #3, 165C.
- When the mixture is cool, stir in the egg. Sift in the flour and fold it into the fruit mix.
- Tip the mixture into a greased loaf tin and bake for 90 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
When you're cooking the fruit, it could soak in a little or a lot of liquid, depending on what fruit is in the mix or how long you've had it in. If the batter feels very stiff when you've added the flour, you can add a tablespoon or so of cold tea or milk to loosen it a bit. Wrapped in waxed paper or kept in an airtight container, the finished cake will keep very well for over a week. It is a naturally dry cake, which is why spreading it with butter helps. You could, of course, leave it dry and have it as a mid-morning treat with a glass of sweet Madeira.
Next time: a Dream cocktail