Not as an ingredient or course, I find that is usually reserved for ladies of a certain age who reside in edible houses, deep in the woods.  But, cooking with children is such an important skill to impart.  I remember watching a programme years ago where people living in a commune were allowing 2 and 3 year olds to chop up peppers with proper sharp knives and at the time thinking it was a bit extreme. Now, as a parent of a 3 year old, I find myself regularly hovering over her as she brandishes a ‘proper’ knife and does her best to decrease the number of digits she owns whilst ‘helping’ me to cook supper.

Life is busy, life is hectic, life is running between activities and cramming in the odd chore (like magicking up clean clothes) and 5pm is probably most parent’s least-favourite time of day.  Tired, hungry children, tired parents on the ‘t-minus-120’ to wine-o-clock doesn’t set the ground for teaching children how to feed themselves. Still, I’ve found it’s amazing how much kids can do when you involve them – it is so true that they will eat what they’ve made themselves.  Middle daughter requested that we make Gumbo after watching Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’.  We fully embraced modern technology, googled a recipe on the iPad using ingredients we had in stock , we chopped up peppers, chicken, onions, spring onions and added herbs, spices and seasoning (including a very robust spoonful of chilli powder) – the result was delicious, but seriously spicy, and to my amazement, they chomped it up and asked for seconds (and many, many glasses of water)!  For a few minutes extra effort, we’d created something that will be added to my repertoire and had expanded the children’s palates and experience.  

Eldest daughter, sadly has very little interest in baking, but did happily design and help bake her own birthday cake.  When it came to making butterflies to decorate her masterpiece, she was at school so littlest daughter decided she would like to have a go.  Little fingers are actually very useful for fiddly things and I was amazed at how competent she was and how able to follow instructions – I think all too often I underestimate what the children are actually capable of.  She rolled out sugarpaste, cut and embossed the shapes, painted them with lustre dust, glued on edible pearls and painted glitter on to the wing tips all with great concentration and skill – but she’s always liked fiddly things.  Maybe eldest daughter is better suited to bread making, kneading after all is good for releasing pent-up frustration…and having two little sisters can’t be easy…

So, when middle daughter asked (and when I say asked, I mean wrote a beautiful, slightly hard to decipher, letter signed by all 30 kids in the class, and the teacher) that I come in and help them bake as part of their Great Fire of London topic, how could I say no? Back to the iPad and we find a recipe from 1669 for ‘small cakes’ (where I realise that middle daughter had simply been using authentic Stuart spelling…) which with the help of a brilliant friend and a slightly frenetic afternoon is the school science room produced wonderful smells and 30 happy children with a new-found knowledge of currants and nutmeg as ingredients and how to separate eggs.

So, for anyone studying the Great Fire of London – here’s the recipe (which I’ve adapted again slightly to make smaller quantities).

Samuel Pepys’ Cakes

Makes 6-8 cakes
150g self-raising flour
75g caster sugar
150g currants
1tbsp milk
1 egg yolk
75g melted butter
Pinch of nutmeg
Extra sugar for sprinkling
  • Preheat the oven to 200°c or 180°c (fan)
  • Line a tray with baking parchment 
  • Mix together the flour, sugar, currants and nutmeg in a bowl
  • Mix the egg yolk, milk and melted butter together in a separate jug
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well
  • With floury hands, form 6-8 balls of dough and place apart on the tray. 
  • Flatten with your palm and prick with a fork
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and risen
  • Sprinkle with sugar
Just in case you’re interested – this is a recipe for making small cakes like the cakes which people think caused the Great Fire of London. The recipe comes from a book written more than 300 years ago by Sir Kenelme Digby. It was printed in 1669, three years after the Great Fire. Sir Kenelme’s father was killed for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. Sir Kenelme was the first cook to say that bacon and eggs would be nice for breakfast.