You can guarantee every contestant in the new series of The Great British Bake Off will utter one phrase at some point during the competition.
They’ll say they want to bake something: “just like Mum used to make”.
Well, how did Mum make it? Why were the cakes, puddings, soups meat and veg of the past so good?
There is only one person who can answer that. Your mum.
But, sometimes, for various and mostly sad reasons, it isn’t easy to ask them for all those kitchen secrets, the little tricks and techniques they used to make their food so wonderful.
A good thing, then, that they left a record of all those hard-won little advantages, tips and ways to “save” what seemed like impending disaster.
They used to write to newspapers and magazines to pass their secrets on – and were often rewarded by a few shillings or a pair of towels for the best tips.
Scottish author Steve Finan has spent a year combing through hints and tips columns of the 1950s and had produced a book of 1,000 of the best of them.
Here are 55 tips every GBBO contestant might have to use in the Bake Off Tent.
1. May 17, 1959
CAKE MAKING — After greasing a cake tin, put in a tablespoonful of breadcrumbs which have been dried in the oven. Shake them thoroughly round the bottom and sides of the tin and tip out any which haven’t stuck. When the cake is cooked it slips out without sticking. – Mrs l. Waugh, 18 Wardlaw St., Edinburgh.
2. January 27, 1957.
SCONES — If you like your oven scones nice and crisp on the bottom, grease the oven tray well before putting scones in oven. If you like them soft, sprinkle the oven tray with flour. – J. Caldwell, 10 Murray Pl., St Andrews.
3. January 7, 1951.
NEW CAKE TINS — Always bake new cake tins in the oven until discoloured before using them. They absorb the heat better and cook well underneath. A shiny cake tin baffles heat. – Miss L. Wilkie, 33 Sciennes Road, Edinburgh.
4. February 5, 1950.
HOT TIP! — Cake tins don’t need to be greased when you’re baking large cakes, if you put the tins in the oven and make them really hot. The mixture should then be put into a hot tin and the tin returned to the oven. When turned out, the cakes have a smooth appearance, and aren’t so apt to burn or stick. – Miss M. L. Richardson, Duncarse, Dundee.
5. July 29, 1951.
PASTRY — When making pastry, instead of using the usual wooden rolling pin, fill a glass bottle with cold water. You’ll improve the texture. – Mrs Elizabeth L. Thomson, 82 Main St., Cumbernauld, by Glasgow.
6. April 29, 1956.
BAKING TIP — Milk should be used at room temperature to get the best results in baked products such as cakes, muffins, and biscuits. This is particularly important when melted shortening is used. – Mrs Marshall, 30 Staffa St., Glasgow.
7. February 10, 1952.
ONION — A teaspoonful of grated onion put in a pie filling five minutes before serving is worth a whole onion put in earlier in the cooking – Mrs J. Brown, 12 Springfield St., Leith.
8. April 14, 1957.
GRAVY — I’ve found the best and most appetising way of thickening fillings for meat pies is to grate a small potato into it 15 minutes before serving, and simmer rather quickly. This does not give the glossy floury effect when cornflour or plain flour is used. — Mrs Helen M. Galloway, 26 Alexandra Street, Kirkcaldy.
9. May 24, 1959
NUT DECORATION — Before putting almonds on top of a cake, drop them in milk. They bake a pale brown and don’t burn. – Mrs E. W. Wallis, 9 Hillview Tce., Edinburgh.
10. March 5, 1950
SWISS ROLLS — To prevent a Swiss roll from sticking to greased paper when ready, turn it out on to a clean cloth. Grease the paper at the sides then dip a tablespoon in water and rub the back of the spoon all over the top of the paper. The paper comes away quite cleanly. – Mrs A. Thomson, 259 Blackness Road, Dundee.
11. May 14, 1950
NEW CAKE — New cake usually crumbles when cut with a knife. Use ordinary cotton thread as a cutter. Work the thread, saw fashion, through the cake. It will be a clean-cut job. – Mrs Priestley, c/o 25 Ramsay Road, Kirkcaldy.
12. July 16, 1950
PASTRY CASES — Instead of filling small pastry tart cases with dried breadcrumbs or rice to stop them rising, turn the patty tins upside down and put pastry on the outside. When baked and taken off, the cases will be just right for filling. – Mrs E.A. M. Gear, 2 Warehouse Flats, Woodgreen, Witney, Oxon.
13. October 19, 1952
OVERCOOKED — If a fruit cake has been over-cooked on top, scrape the burnt part off, brush over with beaten white of egg, dust with castor sugar and replace in oven for a few minutes. – Mrs J. Scott, Hairmuir, Benholm, Montrose.
14. July 23, 1950
OIL ICING — When icing a cake, add a teaspoonful of glycerine to the icing sugar when beating it. No cracks will appear when you cut the cake. – Miss M. Gallacher, The Abbey, North Berwick.
15. July 10, 1955
GOOSEBERRIES — To keep gooseberries for presentation tarts whole while stewing, boil the water and sugar first and add the fruit to the boiling syrup. – Mrs C. Struthers, Inverarran, Stonehouse.
16. July 30, 1950
TASTY — Next time you make an apple tart or plate pie, take it out of the oven just before the pastry is ready and sprinkle the top generously with grated cheese. Put back for a few minutes to melt. Served hot or cold, this makes a delicious change. – Mrs J. Milne, 63 Clouston Street, Glasgow, N.W.
17. January 21, 1951
QUICK COOKING — A cake takes half the time to bake if a small, earthenware jam jar is greased and put in the centre of the tin before you add the mixture. — Mrs McGrath, Holyoake, Hurlford, Kilmarnock.
18. December 30, 1951
DRY CAKE — Fruit cake that has been baked too long and is rather dry can be moistened by pouring a little sherry into holes made with a skewer. – Mrs J. M. MacKenzie, 7 Davaar Avenue, Campbeltown, Argyll.
19. March 31, 1957
IMPROVES FLAVOUR — When cooking apples or rhubarb for a crumble I always add a pinch of salt. It keeps the colour of the fruit and improves the flavour. The crumble provides all the sweetness you need. – Miss A. C. Robertson, 250 Dalry Rd., Edinburgh.
20. March 9, 1952
RICH CAKE — With no time to get dried fruit, I used half a jar of mincemeat to add to my usual sultana cake mixture. Result – a rich cake with time saved. — Margaret Hudson, 11 Minto Street, Glasgow.
21. August 31, 1952
SCONES — Always mix dough for scones with a knife, cutting through the dough as you mix. Don’t handle the mixture much and you’ll have lighter scones. – Mrs C. Munro, 104 Bothwell Street, Glasgow.
22. December 20, 1959
BETTER ICING — When plain white icing is required, replace one tablespoonful of icing sugar with the same amount of cornflour. This keeps the icing thick, makes it softer to cut, and prevents cracking. – Mrs D. Bruce, 36 Kinloch Street, Carnoustie.
23. August 13, 1950
FRUIT — If currants and raisins are scalded, drained and then tossed in flour, these are less likely to sink to the bottom in the baking of a rich cake. – Mrs J. Nicol, Gordondale, Port Elphinstone, Inverurie.
24. November 23, 1952
CAKE MAKING — if your butter and sugar for a cake goes oily, stand it in a basin of cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll find it creams quite easily. – Mrs J. D. Hildreth, 13 Dean Road, Norton Malton, Yorks.
25. November 9, 1958
MARBLE ICING — Place chocolate peppermint creams on cake immediately after removing from oven. As patties melt, spread chocolate over cake in marble effect. – Mrs A. Yeaman, 4 Featherhall Grove, Edinburgh.
26. March 15, 1959
TOFFEE APPLES — When making toffee apples, put a stick at each end. It is much easier to hold and eat. – Mrs W. Stewart, 51 Cairndhuma Tce., Wick.
27. February 1, 1953
PASTRY — When making pastry, add a dessertspoonful of semolina to 1 lb. of flour. The result is a lovely short crust and no sticking to pastry board or rolling pin. – Mrs C. B. Ross, 80 Beaufort Gardens, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow.
28. March 21, 1954
CAKE-SECRET — When making a cake, put the tin in a warm oven for a few seconds before dropping in the cake mixture. Then there’s no fear of the cake being heavy or sinking in the middle. – Mrs A. Bird, St. Anne’s, 101 Westcliff Park Drive, Westcliff-on-Sea.
29. March 22, 1953
OVERFIRED — To prevent a cake being overfired on top, run cold water tap over buttered greaseproof paper. Shake well and place over cake before putting it in oven. – Miss J. Dobbie, 1 Auld Castle Rd., Inverness.
30. March 6, 1955
DON’T BURN — When baking cakes in paper cases, place a small dish filled with water at the bottom of the oven, below the jets. This stops discoloration of the cases. – Mrs I. Neish, 31 Holburne Pl., Menstrie.
31. November 11, 1956
FOR FLAVOUR — When making a beef steak pie, get your butcher to cut a marrow bone the depth of your pie-dish and use in place of a funnel. This gives a delicious gravy. – Mrs C. Chambers, 1296 Maryhill Rd., Glasgow.
32. May 15, 1955
BISCUITS — Use a grater for pricking biscuits quickly and neatly. Roll out the dough, run the coarse part of a round grater over it firmly, and cut the dough in the usual way. – M. Whiteside, 83 Aitkenhead Ave., Coatbridge.
33. February 10, 1957
UNUSUAL ICING — Bring four tablespoons of red jam slowly to the boil, and boil for a minute. Pour it over a stiffly beaten egg white, and beat until mixture is stiff. Pour at once over a plain cake for a tasty and unusual icing. – Mrs M. Thompson, 12 Davidson Street, Lancaster.
34. March 4, 1956
CRISPS UP — If the bottom of an apple cake is too soft when taken from the tin, slip it on to a warm, dry frying-pan for about five minutes to firm it. – Miss M. Brown, 414 Edinburgh Rd., Glasgow.
35. December 26, 1954
ICING — When using royal icing, keep a damp cloth over the bowl. This keeps the icing from forming a skin before the cake decorating is finished. – Mrs M. Carmichael, 28 Wylie Avenue, Alexandria.
36. November 11, 1956
NEW FILLING — Put eight or ten marshmallows in a basin and stand over boiling water till melted to a cream. Cream together 1 oz. margarine and 1 oz. castor sugar till light and fluffy. Then beat in the cooled and melted mallows, and use for sponge cake filling. – Mrs L. Waugh, 18 Wardlaw St., Edinburgh.
37. December 9, 1956
CAKE WITHOUT PEEL — For those who don’t like peel in cake, use a large tablespoonful of orange marmalade. This gives the desired flavour without the hard pieces of peel. – Mrs M. Murray, 17 Strathblane Rd., Milngavie.
38. September 6, 1959
SPONGE CAKE — When making a sponge cake, separate the yolks from whites of eggs and whisk the whites stiff. Add yolks first in usual way, then fold in whites. This makes the sponge much lighter and fluffier. – Mrs Joan Williamson, 41 Parkhead Ave., Edinburgh.
39. December 29, 1957
PREVENTS BURNING — When baking large cakes, wrap a double layer of brown paper (or greaseproof paper) round the outside of the cake tin. Tie on with a piece of string. This keeps the cake from burning and it comes out a nice golden brown. – Mrs A. Armstrong, Easington Demense, Belford.
40. December 28, 1958
LAYER CAKE — When making a layer cake which requires a soft filling, such as jelly, try putting a thin icing on the layers. Then spread the soft filling. It prevents the cake becoming soft and soggy. – Mrs R. Davies, 167 Station Rd., Lochgelly.
41. May 17, 1959
DOUGHNUTS — One teaspoon of vinegar added to the fat in which doughnuts are fried prevents the cakes from absorbing the fat. – Miss L. Sinclair, 35 Lorne St., Edinburgh.
42. November 22, 1959
PANCAKES — When going to make pancakes the other day I found I was rather short of fresh milk. I had a tin of evaporated milk in the house, so I used it – one-third water to two-thirds milk. The pancakes were delicious and the evaporated milk was an improvement. – Mrs Borland, 2001 Dumbarton Rd., Glasgow.
43. November 14, 1954
TASTY PIE — When making a meat pie, put a whole onion in the centre. It gives the meat a nice flavour and holds the pastry up beautifully. – Mrs E. Law, 103 High Street, Renfrew.
44. August 25, 1957
ICING SECRET — When icing a cake with a syringe or bag, the mixture often becomes thick and difficult to squeeze out. Hold syringe/bag under the hot water tap and the icing flows freely. – Mrs M. Dow, 162 High Street, Laurencekirk.
45. December 2, 1956
TARTS — When making apple tarts or fruit pies, sprinkle the sugar on the bottom crust instead of on top of fruit. This sets the juice, there is less chance of it running out, and the bottom of the tart is nice and crisp. – Miss J. McNaught, High St., Moniaive, Thornhill.
46. December 17, 1950
SAVES SUGAR — Here is an easily made icing using no sugar. Mix the required quantity of sweetened condensed milk and dessicated coconut to a stiff paste. Spread thickly over the top of the cake, using a wetted knife. Then press the cake, icing downwards, into a plate of loose coconut. Shake off surplus coconut. – Mrs C. A. Ballardie, 67 Kintore Road, Newlands, Glasgow.
47. November 10, 1957
DELICIOUS — When making a baked custard pie, pop a few marshmallows into the pie dish. They rise to the top, melt, and make a delicious meringue. – Mrs M. Caldwell, 51 Colinslee Dr., Paisley.
48. February 9, 1958
PASTRY — Always roll out pastry on greaseproof paper. Then it’s quite a simple matter to roll paper and pastry up together. Unroll from the top of the pie or on to oven tray. The pastry doesn’t stick or break up. – H. Reid, 24 Dumbarton Rd., Clydebank.
49. April 19, 1959
RHUBARB PIE — Before putting the top on the pie, cut small pieces of a red jelly and mix with the rhubarb. It makes the juice set and also improves the flavour. – Mrs Cox, 59 Low Road, Balby, Doncaster.
50. July 5, 1959
SUGAR FOR FRUIT — When sweetening fruit such as gooseberries and plums, for tarts or sweet, slit the fruit before stewing. Then the sugar goes through better and you use less. – Mr W. Mustard, 27 Seafield St., Cullen.
51. April 26, 1959
JAM TARTS — Heat the jam almost to boiling point and the pastry is crisp and not sodden, as it is when cold jam is used. – Miss A. W. Caw, 19 Falcon Gdns., Edinburgh.
52. December 20, 1959
IMPROVES CUSTARD — When making custard, try stirring in a little lemon curd. It not only sweetens, but also gives a delicious flavour. – Mrs M. M. Kilbride, 57 Whitburn Street, Glasgow.
53. October 4, 1959
FOR MILK PUDDINGS — Add a pinch of finely-powdered oatmeal to the milk before cooking milk puddings and they turn out much creamier. – Mrs Davidson, 18 ½ High Street, Turriff.
54. July 29, 1956
SAUCES — Stir sauces and custards with a perforated spoon. There’s less sticking, and the results are smoother. – Mrs M. B. Brown, 1039 Tollcross Road, Tollcross, Glasgow.
55. May 13, 1956
CUSTARD — To prevent a thick skin forming on pouring custard, stir in a little cold milk after it is made. Put the lid on and leave till ready for use. – K. Hutchison, 26 Millbrae Terrace, Thankerton, Biggar.
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