Five Go Wild in Wales

February 28, 2013 at 12:22 am | Posted in Anne, Eating and Drinking | 2 Comments
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bara brithIt’s been quieter here at Famous Five Style than the winter term at Gaylands School. I’m a little bit horrified to see that my last post was written nearly half a year ago. Since then I’ve been busy moving house, hibernating and becoming enamoured with many things Welsh. With this last in mind, I thought I’d bake something traditional to celebrate St David’s Day this Friday, 1 March. It also gives me an excuse to at last write something about the Famous Five’s trip to Wales in Five Get into a Fix.

It’s the depths of winter and the Five have been sent to Magga Glen Farm to recuperate from bad coughs and colds that kept them in bed (and – horror of horrors – appetite-less) over the Christmas hols. Their legs feel like jelly and poor George is looking particularly rough, with black rings around her eyes and a terrible hacking cough. The family doctor recommends that the children go somewhere cold with a high altitude to aid their recovery before they have to return to school. Switzerland would be ideal but is too costly. Happily, old Jenkins the gardener comes up with the perfect solution:

‘Jenkins came in, carrying a basket of ripe, yellow apples, and some plump, yellow-brown pears.

“And how are you now?” he said, in his soft Welsh voice, for he came from the Welsh mountains. “It’s pale you are, and thin too. Ah! It’s the mountain air of Wales you want!”‘560high+1442909

It certainly is, and before you know it, the cousins have packed up their skis and toboggans and are off to stay with Jenkins’s Aunt Glenys (aka old Mrs Jones) up in the snowy Welsh hills. They arrive at Magga Glen tired and weary after a long day’s drive. The description of their arrival at the old farmhouse and their bedrooms is incredibly enticing:

‘”Go through that door, look – and up that little flight of stairs [said Mrs Jones]. The rooms up there are all yours – no-one will disturb you.”

The Five went out of the door and found themselves in a stone passage, lighted by a candle. A narrow flight of stone steps led upwards to a small landing on which another candle burned. The steps were very steep, and the children stumbled up them, their legs stiff after their long drive.

Two bedrooms opened off the little landing, opposite to one another. They seemed exactly alike, and were furnished in the same way too. There were washstands with basins, and in each basin was a jug of hot water, wrapped around with a towel. Wood-fires burned in the little stone fireplaces, their flames lighting the rooms almost more than the single candles there’

Ever the romantic, Anne decides that “I shall go to bed early, and watch the flames”.

And Mrs Jones is, of course, a top notch cook and the Five eat extremely well during their short stay at the farmhouse [although after Timmy has a run in with the farm dogs the Five retreat to a chalet up in the hills and start feasting on tinned food and cocoa made from melted snow and finished off with a good glug of thick, fresh cream]. Mrs Jones gives them crusty fresh bread (home-made), new-laid boiled eggs, ham, and apple pie (also home-made) plus an ‘enormous’ cheese (maybe a good Caerphilly?). Sadly though, there is no mention of either Welsh cakes or bara brith, both of which would be perfect to sustain the Kirrin cousins during a long day of winter sports and mystery-solving in the Welsh hills.

To make up for Mrs Jones’ failings in this respect, I decided to make a bara brith. The name means ‘speckled bread’ and it’s basically a sticky tea loaf which can be made as a yeasted bread or as a fruit cake without yeast. One benefit of the latter is that the brith lasts longer – ideal if you want to take it with you on a winter break far away from civilisation. It’s also very simple to make, although you do need to plan ahead and soak your dried fruits in black tea the night before.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from the ever-reliable Great British Book of Baking:

Welsh Bara Brith

250g mixed dried fruit

100g dark brown muscovado sugar

225ml hot strong black tea (no milk)

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 tbs dark rum or brandy

1 large egg, beaten

250g self-raising flour

Put the dried fruit and sugar into a mixing bowl. Brew up some tea, pour over the fruit and leave overnight (or for a minimum of 6 hours). When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas mark 3 and butter a 450g loaf tin. Line the tin with one long strip of paper to cover the bottom and the two short sides of the tin; this will make it easier to get the loaf out later.

Add the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum, and beaten egg to the tea-soaked fruit. Stir well with a wooden spoon and then sift in the flour. Mix well and then transfer to the loaf tin ensuring the mixture is spread evenly. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before turning out and wait (if you can) for the brith to be completely cold before slicing and eating it with a generous spreading of butter. A cup of tea goes quite nicely with it too.




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  1. Hello. I made the bara brith at the weekend, and it was delicious. I can’t vouch for its keeping qualities, though, as it didn’t last long enough to find out!

    Glad to have you back. You’ve been missed.


    • I’m so glad the brith turned out well (mine didn’t last that long either) And thank you for such a nice comment, it’s lovely to be appreciated! I’ll try not to stay away for so long again…

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