Tag Archives: cookery

Yorkshire turf wars and rock cakes

I remember my Dad making a turf fire in the garden …

He’d start by just constructing a small mound of dry paper, twigs and other combustibles; then set it alight and gradually add turves around it, grass side downwards, until it was transformed into what looked like a pyramid of earth. It was a very useful means of disposing of a large quantity of grass which had grown where it was, for instance, covering soil needed for cultivation. The turves kept the heat in and (presumably) just enough oxygen seeped in to maintain combustion. The most memorable thing about it for me was that it just kept burning for days on end, usually with a thin wisp of sweet-scented smoke curling around the top of the ever-growing pile, with occasional flare-ups. At the end there was a large pile of useful, weed-free ash, which could be spread around the garden and acted as a cleanser (or so I was told), whilst adding valuable nutrients such as potash.

Now that was back in Wales, but I was reminded of those fires when I came across this postcard in our family archives. It shows an indoor turf fire – with a remarkable caption: “Turf fire at Huckaback, Castleton, Yorks, which has not been out for 70 years (1910)”.

If ever proof were needed that turf fires can burn for a very long time, this is surely it; except that there used to be one in The Saltergate Inn in Teesside which is reputed to have burned continuously, until fairly recently, since the 1730s!

By chance another postcard caught my eye with a related subject. This one is captioned “THE TURF BAKE KITCHEN SLEIGHTS”, Sleights being a village in North Yorkshire, located in the Esk Valley in the postal region of Whitby.

Despite my best efforts, I haven’t managed to find out how common turf cake kitchens were – whether they were “a thing”, in current parlance – but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a large number of them back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Yorkshire. The Foods of England Project website, whilst helpfully describing how turf cakes were made, also points us in the direction of a wonderful quote from the utterly charming Yorkshire Painted And Described by Gordon Home: “I stepped into the little parlour, with its sanded floor, and demanded fat rascals’ and tea. The girl was not surprised at my request, for the hot turf cakes supplied at the inn are known to all the neighbourhood by this unusual name.” So it seems that turf cakes are directly related to what are nowadays known as “fat rascals”, similar to both rock cakes and scones.

(By the way, for anyone interested in the history, cities, towns, villages, ports and beautiful countryside of Yorkshire, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Project Gutenburg Yorkshire Painted And Described ebook, which is freely available online and contains some twenty-five chapters and thirty-one paintings).

There’s a little more information about Sleights Turf Cake Bakehouse on the Facebook page of Rustic Baking Co Ltd, a small artisan bakery based on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors near Whitby. who also point to the link to fat rascals. But here the plot thickens …

In 2017, in what you might call a turf war, a small cafe in Whitby, Sandgate Coffee & Delights, was taken to court by Bettys Tea Rooms, who claimed to own the trademark in Fat Rascals. Bettys Tea Rooms won the case, despite Miss Matos, of the Whitby cafe, being able to show that fat rascals were baked on peat fires in Whitby as long ago as 1855.

Fat Rascals at Betty’s of York, UK

Rustic Baking continues to make turf cakes, but they call them Bossy Bettys.

I wonder why?



Fat Rascals at Betty’s of York, UK – Attribution 2.0 GenericĀ (CC BY 2.0) – author Wendy Slattery

Leave a comment

Filed under Cookery, Gardening, History, Society

Critical Path Analysis – and all the trimmings

I don’t suppose John Lennon had Christmas dinner in mind when he wrote Come Together, the opening track of the Abbey Road album. But it’s the song that I found myself singing all the way through the process of cooking our festive feast (my turn …) this year.

p1020889The challenge is to get all the food, piping hot, onto all the plates at exactly the same time – an unreachable goal, of course, but an ideal that we strive to attain in the true tradition of Man’s enquenchable desire to control the natural world.

I tend to think of cooking Christmas dinner as a problem of project management. It’s all about planning, using estimates, making assumptions and peeling sprouts. It’s a situation in which I try to apply a touch of the old Critical Path Analysis, mostly unconsciously, but always with it in the back of my mind.

I remember first finding out about CPA (as we exponents routinely refer to it) in an edition of Reader’s Digest (still, by the way, the largest circulating magazine in the world), when I was a boy. In some respects, Reader’s Digest was our equivalent of the smartphone, as many people would be seen with their heads bowed, swiping through its A5 pages, oblivious to the world around them.

It featured all sorts of interesting stuff like updates on space technology (asking questions such as “Will Man ever walk on the Moon?“), “The Challenge of the Desert” and (a regular favourite) “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power“. One of the most popular strands was an analysis of what happens in a car accident. In the cover below, you’ll see the 1957 story headline “Slow Motion Picture of Death on the Road“.


Articles on this specific theme were included very often, providing readers with a gory, millisecond-by-millisecond analysis of what happens to “Gerald” (say) as his cracking forehead begins to pass through the ever-so-slowly shattering windscreen. There’s an example of this kind of thing in this classic reprint, the original published even before my time.

But I digress.

One such fascinating piece was about Critical Path Analysis, and it included all kinds of thought-provoking advice on how to plan the timings of a project so that everything “comes together” on time. And now, of course, it comes in so useful in situations such as cooking Christmas dinner.

cpa280I got up especially early on the day, and began planning my approach. Clearly getting the turkey underway early enough was of “critical” importance. So I immediately built that event into my CPA plan. Next I analysed the time differentials involved in peeling the potatoes, parsnips and swede, allowing a suitable period for key elements such as the relative time:space in the oven:temperature variation quotient.


In a matter of a few hours I was able to see that the project was coming together really well. I allotted some fast tracking variables to creating the gravy pathway, prior to building in an Activity-on-node diagram, showing my revised critical path schedule, along with total float and critical path drag computations. With the project planning nearly complete, I prepared a PERT chart insert to ensure that the pudding arrived at exactly the right time.

With all planning documentation, drag factor diagrams and PERT scheduling completed successfully by 1.00pm, I began unwrapping the turkey.



Image credit: on-node analysis – By NuggetkiwiOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


Filed under Cookery, Humour