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Moggy and Victorian funeral biscuits - food traditions from Yorkshire that are lost in time

PUBLISHED: 15:49 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 April 2015

Moggy cake - its recipe origins are lost in time

Moggy cake - its recipe origins are lost in time

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Do you know what a moggy is? Or have you ever been presented with a courting cakes? David Marsh discovers some obscure baking specialities

Funeral biscuits celebrated the lives of loved onesFuneral biscuits celebrated the lives of loved ones

Maggie Barraclough likes to look to the past to make the most of her baking today. Victorian funeral biscuits are a favourite along with courting cakes and a regional treat called Yorkshire moggi or moggy cake, its origins are obscure and recipes vary but Maggie uses stem ginger in hers. ‘My mum collected lots of recipes and I went back through a lot of those to see what would be worth trying,’ said Maggie. ‘I love old recipes that have a story behind them.’ Funeral biscuits, for example, are a caraway and shortbread biscuit stamped in the middle with a heart shape, traditionally given at Yorkshire funerals in Victorian times in memory of the dead.

‘I find that with funeral biscuits people either love the idea or consider it too morbid,’ said Maggie. ‘Back in Victorian times a bakery on occasions would have worked through the night to produce hundreds of biscuits for a funeral. I like the idea of them being wrapped in commemorative paper with details about the person’s life and achievements. It’s rather jolly and a nice way of celebrating someone’s life.

‘Girls working in the factories and mills would bake a courting cake to impress the man they had their eye on. Many a chap will have been won over by a Madeira or Victoria sponge laced with cream and strawberries.’

As for moggy, this is a Yorkshire ginger biscuit/cake made with ginger and treacle according to some recipes and sounds reminiscent of Yorkshire parkin. Maggie says the name moggy is understood to come from the Norse word for flour. Scripture cake is another of her specialities, inspired by ingredients mentioned in the bible.

Courting cakes were made by mill girls to catch their manCourting cakes were made by mill girls to catch their man

Maggie serves these traditionally baked regional treats at her tea garden at Dale Head Farm, the family farm near Pickering and they are especially welcomed by customers just discovering Yorkshire. ‘I started with these traditional cakes because when I go away I always want to find something to eat that is associated with that particular area or region, Grasmere ginger bread in the Lakes for instance.

‘If those specialities aren’t there, you could be anywhere in the country from a culinary point of view.’

Her reputation for forgotten regional cakes is growing and, although she started baking them by researching traditional regional recipes, people are now sending her some of their own family recipes handed down through the generations, to try.

Maggie opened the farm tea garden about four years ago inspired by her daughter’s wedding reception held on the farmhouse lawns. She realised the combination of location in the heart of the North York Moors with stunning views across Rosedale and the number of walkers, cyclists and other visitors to the area could add up to a successful business venture.

Scripture cake inspired by ingredients mentioned in the bibleScripture cake inspired by ingredients mentioned in the bible

Dale Head Farm is a working hill farm run by her and her husband, Chris. A little off the beaten track, it stands at the top of Rosedale Valley on the eastern side making its tea garden something of a hidden gem. From the village of Rosedale Abbey you head up the dale towards Castleton and take a left signed Dale Head only. The farm is about two miles further on.

The tea room’s menu is not confined to cake and biscuits. Hearty soups, egg and bacon pie and sandwiches made with bread baked by Maggie are also on the menu. Comments in the visitors’ book confirm fruit scones, served with cream and strawberry jam are however, among the most popular.

‘I did go through a phase of buying my bread in but I was never really happy with it,’ said Maggie. ‘I like things to be authentic and I also prefer locally-sourced ingredients. The eggs come from our farm’s chickens, we have locally-cured ham, our preserves are homemade and the honey for our flapjacks comes just from down the road.’

The tea garden, which for some time has had a shooting butt to protect customers from the wind, now has a timber shelter with tables, comfy chairs and a wood burner for those days on the moors when the weather is less than perfect.

Summer closing time is given as 5pm and the tea room is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but Maggie has a refreshingly relaxed attitude to such things. She said: ‘I don’t like those places that virtually shoo you out as closing time approaches. In the summer I’ve still had people sitting at the tables at 7pm. Although we are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, if you knock on the door and I’m around I’ll have a cuppa for you.’ n

Find out more about Maggie at daleheadfarmteagarden.co.uk

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