Bake a good old fashioned 1920's Recipe for a classic Chocolate Cake with some history of BeRo and St Valentine's Day, as featured in The Target on 5th February 2014.
St Valentine’s Day, Celebrated on the 14th February
St Valentine’s Day as we know it now, is synonymous with all things romantic. In many countries the 14th February is celebrated as a time to show your affection and love for your Valentine. In Britain alone we spend around £503 million pounds on gifts and cards. One of the most popular choices for couples to celebrate St Valentine’s Day is by sharing a romantic dinner together. Our old festivals and customs seem to always have two things in common in that they inevitably revolve around sharing traditional food in the company of loved ones, friends and family.
As chocolate is one of the most closely associated foods with romance, my recipe for you for this month is for a delicious chocolate cake. This recipe is from a 1920’s Be-Ro recipe book, the first edition was published in 1923 by Thomas Bell to promote his new Self Raising Bells Royal Flour. Thomas held a series of baking exhibitions to promote using this new “novelty” flour. He sold scones, cakes and pastries for a shilling each. Visitors were so impressed they wanted the recipes to try at home and so the Be-Ro book was born. Little did Thomas know that this was the start of one of the most popular and successful baking books of all time. Millions of copies have been sold or given as gifts over nearly one hundred years, the latest one being published in 2013.
It all began in 1880 when Thomas Bell opened his Grocery Store at Newcastle’s Tyne Quays. Thomas then went on to found the company – “Thomas Bell and Son Ltd” and the Bells Royal Works which produced Bells Royal Flour. He invented the world’s first self raising flour after experimenting with various raising agents. The original name of Bells Royal, was changed after a decree was issued after the death of King Edward V11 forbidding the use of the Royal name. Thomas shortened the two names to Be-Ro. After Thomas died in 1925, the family continued to expand rapidly with depots all over the country. In the 1950’s the family sold the company to Rank Hovis. It was then subsequently sold again and the Be-Ro brand is now owned by Premier Foods. This chocolate cake recipe appeared in the first edition of the Be-Ro book back in the 1923 and is so popular it has remained unchanged in every edition, up until the latest one. I have also included the recipe for milk chocolate icing, as this goes perfectly with the cake.
How did we come to celebrate St Valentine’s Day on the 14th February each year. Well the origins are pretty obscure. To start with there appears to have been three St Valentines , Saint Valentine of Rome, Valentine of Terni and a third known as Saint Valentine. They were all intriguingly martyred on the same day – 14th February. The first version is that in the third century Saint Valentine of Rome served at a time when Claudius II was Emperor. The Emperor forbid that his Soldiers were allowed to marry and they were less effective if they had wives or families. Saint Valentine of Rome defied Claudius and saw this ruling as cruel and unjust. He performed secret marriage ceremonies for young soldiers who wished to marry. The story goes that Valentine wore a ring made of amethyst with cupid engraved in it to identify himself, this may be a reason why this crystal is associated with February. Unfortunately for Valentine he was caught and sentenced to death.
The second version is that St Valentine was a holy priest living in Rome in the third century. Back in those days it was not unusual for the Roman authorities to round up practising Christians and dispose of them in rather unpleasant ways. During one of these religious purges Valentine helped Christians to flee the city of Rome and Prisons to the relative safety of the countryside. Sadly he was captured and imprisoned himself. During his incarceration he was interrogated in person by Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly the Emperor was impressed with Valentine and tried to get him to convert to Roman Paganism and save his life. Valentine refused and instead tried to convert the Emperor to Christianity. Legend has it that he did this by performing a miracle of healing Julia the Blind Daughter of his Jailer Asterius. Valentine had at some time during his imprisonment fallen in love with Julia who had taken pity on him and regularly visited him. Fearing that he was soon never to see her again he wrote her a note signed “From your Valentine”, an expression that is still used on cards today. Despite the miracle that had been performed, because he would not convert, Claudius II sentenced him to death and he was beheaded on 14th February AD 273. However Asterius the Jailer, Julia the Daughter and the forty plus members of their household converted to Christianity and were all baptised. Sometime later Pope Julius built a church near Ponte Mole to commemorate the memory of the martyred Saint and a gate to the city was called Porta Valentinni.
Hardly anything is known about the third St Valentine, other than he ended his days in Africa. Even though the truth behind all of these legends is very murky, the theme throughout is that they had a reputation for compassion and sympathy and were portrayed as heroic and romantic figures.
There are those that believe that St Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 14th February to commemorate the death of the three St Valentines. There is the other belief that the middle of February was chosen to Christianise the Roman Pagan Fertility Festival of Lupercalia which was celebrated on 13th -15th February by young Romans of a marriageable age. On the same dates there was also the wider pagan festival of Februata Juno. It is thought that when the Romans occupied Britain the festivals were brought to this country and adopted by the ancient Britons. When people were converted to Christianity the pagan and Christian Festivals were merged.
The 14th February is also the date in folklore when Birds find their partner and start to mate and nest. The day was first associated with romantic love by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. Chaucer wrote “For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan every bryd comyth there to chese his make” (For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”)This poem was written to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Valentine’s Day was further reinforced when Ophelia mentions it in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and it is found in other works of literature.
Traditional rhymes associated with Valentine’s Cards are much older than the actual cards. The well known “ Roses are Red…..” has its origins back as far as 1590, when it can be traced back to Edmund Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queen. “She bath’d with roses red and violets blew, and all the sweetest flowres that in the forrest grew”.
It was in the early to mid-19th Century with the advent of a more inexpensive postal service and mass factory produced paper Valentines cards that really saw it take off commercially, as cards could be sent relatively cheaply and most importantly anonymously! The latest evolution to sending your Valentine greetings is via the internet, with digital messages and e cards being sent in their millions.
Certain foods are linked to Valentine’s Day, the most popular being chocolate. Anglo-Saxons called February Sol-Monath (cake month) as this was when cakes were offered to the gods. Baking seems a bit tame against a backdrop of all this history and legend, however it seems quite apt that it should be something homemade, chocolaty and a cake. The recipe is for one family size cake, but you could just as easily bake it in a heart shaped tin or little individual fairy cakes. Just ensure you adjust the timings and scale the recipe accordingly to the size of your tins. It’s nice and moist cake and keeps very well.
Equipment You will need
2 x 7” cake tins (not loose bottomed as the mixture is quite runny). Grease and line them.
Bit of greaseproof paper to grease your tins with, Mixing Bowl, Measuring Spoons, Measuring Jug, Fork, Broad Bladed Knife, Large spoon, Sieve, 2 cooling racks, tin opener, saucepan, wooden spoon, little pan or jug to heat up milk for icing and scales.
Preheat your oven to 170c (Fan oven) Moderate Heat
Ingredients for Milk Chocolate Cake
7oz Be-ro Self Raising Flour
8oz Caster Sugar
½ tsp Salt
2 TBSP Cocoa
4 oz Margarine (I use stork in a tub)
2 Local Free Range Eggs (Beaten)
5 TBSP from a Small Tin Evaporated Milk
5 TBSP Water
1 Tsp Vanilla Essence or Extract
Ingredients for Milk Chocolate Icing
2 ½ oz Margarine (I use Stork in a tub)
4 TBSP Cocoa Powder - sieved
8oz Icing Sugar - sieved
3 TBSP Hot Milk
1 tsp Vanilla Essence or Extract
Method for the Cake
For the cake sift together the flour, sugar, Salt, Cocoa together.
Rub in the margarine
Mix together the beaten eggs, evaporated milk, water and vanilla
Stir this into your cake mix
Divide between your two tins (if doing individual little fairy cakes, divide your mixture up accordingly)
Bake in the centre of your pre heated oven for approximately 30 minutes.
Whilst your cake is baking make your icing (see below)
After 30 minutes check if cake is done, if it springs back when you touch the centre and if you put a skewer in and it comes out clean then it’s done. If it doesn’t give it another 5 minutes and then check again.
Cool in the tins for 5 mins on your cooling racks.
After 5 minutes carefully turn them out onto your cooling racks
Cool completely before you ice your cake.
When ready to ice turn the bottom layer onto a plate or cake stand, ideally with a doily on (it is for Valentine’s Day)
With your broad bladed knife smooth over your milk chocolate icing. Do the centre first, then the top and if you have enough left do the sides too.
I sometimes decorate it with some crumbled flake or buttons, but I will leave this to you. It’s good on its own.
Method for the Milk Chocolate Icing
Melt the Margarine gently.
Gradually stir in the sieved cocoa then stir in the sieved icing sugar and then the milk and vanilla.
Keep beating until smooth and thick.
Spread on your cake as directed above.
I hope you enjoy making this good old fashioned Be-Ro chocolate cake and sharing it with your loved one or family this Saint Valentine’s Day.