Art and Culture Community Enfield Food Tottenham

In praise of a pink delight from the gentle Quakers

Melton Mowbray has its pork pies,
Eccles has its cake,
Devizes has its ciders,
But what does PG make?

At first glance, we do seem to be a little lacking in our culinary specialities, though I know that some will right now be thinking of the dolmade, the kleftiko, and the gently, deliciously oozing, nutty, honey filled baklavas of Aroma.

But perhaps the truly authentic Palmers Green originating speciality doesn’t really exist – or exist yet. Palmers Green Pudding? What would be in that, I wonder….? Please send in your recipes!

2014-12-30 15.46.41But there is one overlooked localish speciality that perhaps we should be tucking into. It doesn’t belong to Palmers Green, but it does come from a place not much more than two miles from here, though in a sense, like all our delicacies, it simply belongs to us all. I am talking, of course, of the pink, square, delight, Tottenham.

As I get older, as in the adage, my taste in music gets sweeter, and my taste in food gets more savoury (have you tried to eat a Kola Kube recently?). But perhaps my liking for Tottenham is hereditary.

My mother tells of how as a child just after the war, she’d get up in the darkness for a trip with my granddad, Charlie Freeston, to Spitalfields Market to buy fruit and veg for his shop in Ongar high street. First would be a visit to the market itself (and with luck, a sixpence from Mrs Kent, who kept a keen eye on the money sitting on high on her perch), then a trip to the wholesalers in Leytonstone, and then, best part of all, a warm-up with tea and Tottenham at a stall outside Bearmans department store on Leytonstone High Street.

2014-12-30 15.47.31A bite through the soft icing and into the springy madeira-like sponge with a gulp or two of hot sugary tea must have made a fine restorative. As equally it might today.
Note by the way, that in my family at least, it is ‘Tottenham’, not Tottenham Cake. The ‘cake’ is superfluous. We always know what you mean.

The origins of Tottenham like many of these things are not entirely clear, but Tottenham is certainly well over one hundred years old. It was baked by the North London’s Quakers, with the pink icing traditionally made from the mulberries from the Tottenham Friends’ burial ground (the Quakers built their first Meeting House in Tottenham in 1714).

Many websites will tell you that the cake was popularised by Thomas Chalkley, who sold it for a penny (or half a penny for misshapen offcuts), and that it was given away to the children when Spurs won the FA Cup in 1901. Local historian Peter Brown and his wife Doreen describe it as a children’s cake, a crowd pleaser, reflecting values of simplicity, sharing and equality, a view echoed by a cook book from 1931, quoted on Haringey Council’s website:

It sometimes happens that a large number of pieces of cheap cake are required at very short notice for such functions as children’s treats or tea meetings, and in such circumstances it may be almost impossible to prepare some thousands of buns or small cakes. Resort is then had to cheap sheet cake, which is easily made and looks large at the price at which it is sold. The cheapest cake of this sort that may still give entire satisfaction is Tottenham cake.

Give entire satisfaction it does. You can buy it from Greggs’ or Percy Ingle, as sadly we no longer seem to have a proper baker in Palmers Green (other than the aforementioned, excellent but Tottenham-free Aroma patisserie), but why not make your own? The Browns have continued the tradition of baking the cake for the Friends, using their old recipe, tried and trusted for over 50 years – in 2013 Doreen appeared on the Great British Bake off.

This is the way they make it:
Quantities as for a 7″ round tin (38 square inches)
• Cooking margarine – 6 oz
• Caster sugar – 6 oz
• Eggs – 3
• Self-raising Flour – 8 oz
• Vanilla essence – a teaspoonful
• Grated nutmeg (if desired) – a little
• Milk

Mix margarine and sugar (as for Madeira cake) beat eggs and mix in. Fold the mix into the flour. Add vanilla, nutmeg and mix well. Add milk as required to form a ‘dropping’ consistency. Pre-heat oven and bake at 150°C for 50 minutes. o achieve a flat-top cake, cover with foil.

Icing: This is either lurid pink or shocking pink: Icing sugar. Mulberry juice – from the Friend’s Mulberry Tree, (or Blackcurrant, or Cherry). Add Lemon juice if desired. Coat the cake with a weak mix of icing sugar and warm water, and allow to soak in. Coat the cake with the lurid (or shocking) icing.

This article first appeared in Palmers Green and Southgate Life