WHEN SHE MARRIED A FARMER, A YOUNG BRIDE EMBRACED RURAL LIFE AND PERFECTED A FAVOURITE FAMILY RECIPE.
Susannah James shares her mother’s recipe for Deutsche kuchen, or German cake, which is a much-loved favourite in her family.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HARD for Marcus Beeck not to notice Léonie Robertson at the country dance in Badgebup, a small farming community in WA’S Great Southern region. It was July 1949 and the outgoing young woman and her mother (pictured together above) were returning to Sydney after a holiday in Europe and had stopped off to visit relatives in nearby Katanning. “I’ve been told by those who were present that Léonie’s classic beauty and elegant style did not go unnoticed,” says the couple’s daughter Susannah James, 62. After meeting the charismatic farmer at the dance, Léonie corresponded with him for a few months before they married in April 1950 and moved to Coyrecup, Marcus’s sheep and grain property. “Léonie really embraced rural life,” says Susannah. “She loved farm work and preferred it to housework.” The 24-year-old bride, who had worked as a mothercraft nurse and nanny, didn’t have much experience in the kitchen and it’s said that “her cooking skills were pretty much limited to boiling an egg”. Léonie set about learning to cook and was particularly keen to perfect this Deutsche kuchen (German cake) — a family recipe that had been handed down through the generations since the Beecks emigrated to Australia from Prussia in the mid 1800s. “Mum was so pleased with her new recipe that she baked it for every family occasion. For years we had Deutsche kuchen for morning tea, afternoon tea and in our school lunch boxes,” recalls Susannah. Over time, Léonie became a proficient cook — she got hold of a French cookbook and began flavouring her food with garlic and wine, which was very adventurous in those days. “She always had a soup or casserole on the stove and made sure there was plenty of food in case unexpected guests dropped by. “My parents were very sociable and I remember them having big parties in the shearing sheds. There would be a band, and the women dressed up in their long dresses and furs.” The children were supposed to be in bed, but Susannah — along with her brother and sister — would sneak in to the party at suppertime and help themselves to their mother’s wonderful pavlova and sponge cake. Léonie began baking other cakes and biscuits for her children after they complained that they were sick of Deutsche kuchen, but it remained Marcus’s favourite morning tea — particularly when he was working in the paddocks at seeding time. “I remember the smell of the freshly ploughed soil, the waft of diesel from the tractor and the steam rising from Dad’s tin mug as he sipped his tea and ate a chunk of Deutsche kuchen,” says Susannah. Not long after her mother died in 2010, Susannah found Léonie’s handwritten recipe for Deutsche kuchen and was inspired to make it for a family get-together. “A few days later my niece, Amy, phoned to ask me for the recipe. Her young daughters, Scarlett and Lulu, had begged her to make the Deutsch kuchen. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face!”
Serves 10–12 2 cups self-raising flour ¾ cup caster sugar 1 cup mixed dried fruit 1 egg, lightly whisked 1 cup milk 60g butter, melted, cooled 1 teaspoon vanilla essence ½ cup cold mashed potato TOPPING ¾ cup plain flour ¾ cup caster sugar 1 teaspoon mixed spice pinch of ground mace* 125g chilled butter, chopped
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 30cm x 20cm lamington pan, then line base and sides with baking paper, allowing it to overhang. To make topping, combine flour, caster sugar, mixed spice and mace in a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside. Combine flour and caster sugar in a large bowl. Add dried fruit and mix until well combined. Add egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla essence, and mix until well combined. Stir in mashed potato and mix until well combined. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle topping evenly over cake mixture in pan. Bake for 35–40 minutes or until topping is lightly golden. Cool in pan. Cut into squares to serve. *Available at specialty spice shops, some specialty food stores and Indian grocers. Substitute ground nutmeg. SHARE YOUR FAMILY FAVOURITES Do you have a recipe that has been passed down through generations? Send us your recipe, the story behind it and a photograph (preferably a copy or scan) of the relative who passed it on. Remember to include a daytime telephone number. Email Sarah Neil at email@example.com or send a letter to Heirloom Recipe, Country Style, Locked Bag 5030, Alexandria NSW 2015. Note: recipes may also be published online at homelife.com.au