Thursday, January 6, 2011

A beautiful message to receive - fruitcake

This email arrived in the inbox today.

Dear John,

It was on New Year's Day and possibly after one of your last gigs for Woodford that I gave you some of our Christmas cake by way of thanks for all your's and Nicole's wonderful music throughout the Woodford Festival. We were both somewhat sleep deprived so I doubt you would remember much of the conversation but I appreciated the pause and chat. You asked if I would send you the recipe.You will find it attached below.

I thought I would also share a few of its all good recipes have stories too.

This recipe originated stuck to the bottom of the 10 inch gold-coloured aluminium cake tin my Mum bought when she was first married, not sure if it was in their first year but sometime around 1960. She has made a christmas cake using it (and the tin) almost every year since. Adding to and changing it a little here and there along the way. I know one year she thought the mixture a little dry so she added the orange juice. At some point the tablespoon of marmalade made its way in as well. Along with the dried pineapple, apricots and ginger.

I made my first christmas cake using her recipe in 1987. I remember it well as my partner and I were sharing a house with some friends in West End. It was on the night of one of the early Boundary St Festivals. I had made the cake and put it in the oven around 7pm and we all went wandering around the festival (nice safe practice leaving an oven on in an old queenslander!!) My Mum's recipe said it takes about 3 hours to cook so I was thinking yeah by 10pm it should be done. We arrived home and it was a long way from cooked. We made a pot of tea, and another, some went to bed and at midnight I decided to do the same. The cake was still not quite cooked so I turned the oven right up to get some heat into it and then turned it off.

The resulting cake was so delicious that it began my own practice of the "slow cooked Christmas cake" I now always cook my fruit cakes on a very low heat for somewhere between 10 and 12 hours the longer I can stretch it out the better. The one you had a sample of was a little quicker at around 9!..the heat in my old oven is a little harder to read these days. My partner still shakes his head if my cakes go into the oven any time after lunch, fearing another late night of cake sitting!

Along the way I haven't changed the recipe much, more the methodology. I've adjusted the quantities for a 10 inch tin and am probably a little more generous than my Mum with the rum!...I weigh my oz. and add a splash more! and I often end up soaking the fruit for a few weeks rather than overnight because I get busy or am waiting for a cooler day to bake. I always like to make it at least a month early so it has time to sit. Last year I had made one in August for my Mother-in-Law's 80th Birthday only to find her sister had made one as well. So I "cellared" mine away for Christmas..a good 4 mths! ..a fine vintage was 2009. This year the fruit soaked for about 4 weeks and the cake got to sit for about the same.

Another little tradition I enjoy is visiting a property I know in the Tallebudgera Valley in the winter where I have discovered some old, gnarled Seville Orange trees and a couple of Bush Lemon trees. We go for a picnic. Climb up the creek to the waterfall, laze around in the sun and then wander back down to collect fruit which we later use to brew up the most devine marmalade. I really love the years when I can use that marmalade in my christmas cake. Sadly this wasn't one of them, life (and Jack doing Yr 12!) just kept getting in the way of such frivolous pursuits! Hopefully in 2011 we will once again visit the trees.

So that is just a few of this recipe's stories. I have, like my Mum made a Christmas cake most years since 1987. Not quite all. I've also used the recipe for the odd wedding cake. My most ambitious was a 3 tier....6, 8 and 10 inch..much maths involved!! Many a person has enjoyed a piece at our kitchen table with a pot of tea, and we usually always take some with us to Woodford.

I guess you could say that if it all began in 1960 this was the recipe's Golden Jubilee Year!

Thanks again for all your wonderful music and in particular for a song I never grew tired of. (The Wooden Spoon of course) ..being the cook in this generation of the family.

We are hoping to make it to The Upfront Club this Saturday, a small celebration for my other son's 21st. I have booked, just depends if this persistent rain does anything crazy with the roads between Brisbane and there!

All the best for 2011.



Lyn’s Mum’s Christmas/Celebration Cake Recipe (for a 9 inch Square cake tin)


1400g Mixed Fruit (I get all the dried fruits from Mick’s Nuts in West End!)

4 oz Cherries (Red and Green)

3 oz Dried Apricots (chopped)

3 oz Dried Pineapple (chopped)

3 oz Glazed Ginger (chopped)

6 oz chopped Nuts (I use a mixture of slivered almonds and walnuts)

Generous 3 oz Rum or Brandy (I’ve always used rum)

12 oz Butter (no margarine here!!)

12 oz Brown Sugar

6 Eggs (I use organic)

1 lge tablespoon good marmalade

1 lge tablespoon treacle

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

14 oz Plain Flour (organic unbleached plain white flour, also from Mick’s !)

4 oz S.R. Flour (I use above flour with baking powder added)

½ teaspoon Salt

Juice and grated rind of 1 small orange


*Put all the dried fruits and nuts in a bowl and mix well with the rum. Cover with cling wrap and soak overnight or longer.

*Prepare tin (see after recipe for details)

*Sift together flours, spices and salt and set aside

*Using a mix-master cream butter and sugar well

* Add eggs, one at a time. You may need to add a little of the flour to the mixture as you get towards the last couple of eggs as the mixture may start to look a little “curdled”.

* Add treacle and marmalade.

* At this point it’s usually good to transfer from mixing bowl to a larger container (I usually use my big boiler saucepan….the one I make marmalade in)

* Gradually fold in Fruit and Flour/Spice mixture alternately. I add about ¼ of the fruit and sprinkle enough flour over it so that the fruit is well coated with the flour and then fold this into the wet mixture. This helps the fruit to stay well distributed in the cake rather than sinking to the bottom as it cooks.

* Continue adding fruit and flour in this way until all combined. (it’s a good workout by the end!)

* Finally add the orange juice and rind

* Spread mixture into tin taking care it is spread well into all the corners.

* cover with brown paper and the “foil lid”

* bake at 300 deg (F) for 3 hours, testing ½ hourly after 2 hours (Mum’s directions) .

* Or ....Slow Bake at ?? 80 deg (F), my oven dial no longer has readable temperature markings!! I call it “10 o’clock” on the dial! basically very cool or should that be slightly warm? for 8 or more hours. Start testing after about 6….just to keep an eye on things.

* Towards the end of cooking (last ½ to 1 hour in slow baked) it’s sometimes good to remove the top layers of brown paper and just have the foil lid. This lets it brown nicely on top.

*Once cooked turn the oven off and allow cake to cool in the oven. Once cooled remove from tin but leave all the foil and paper on. In our family the tradition is to wrap it in a towel and store in an airtight container. I’m sure you could just wrap another layer of foil and do the same!

Lining the Tin:

My Mum taught me to line the tin as follows. I’ve always done it this way to prevent burning but there are probably other ways as well!

*First line the tin with a layer of foil making the edges of the foil come an inch or 2 above the side of the tin.( I usually grease the tin lightly so the foil sticks to it and stays in place)

* Line the bottom of the tin with 4 layers of brown paper (again lightly greased so they stick together) Grease the last layer a little more.

* Line the sides of the tin with 2 layers of brown paper (also greased)

* Once mixture is in tin cover the top with 2 layers of greased brown paper and then make a foil “lid” to sit over the top of the tin. The extra height of the foil lining will help the lid to sit high off the cake.

…….My handwritten recipe from Mum has diagrams of all this! Hopefully the written instructions make sense!

……Please forgive all my little extra bits, but there is a recipe and then there are all its nuances!

The view from cloudstreet

A t-shirt idea from George Jackson. The facebook post has prompted a lot of discussion.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Jolly Solstice & Beyond

Happy New Year This update finds us back in Australia after a busy tour in the UK, a hectic house-finding mission, a squishy Woodford, and a busy time preparing for that which lies ahead...

1. The Past 3 Months

After making it back to a soggy Australia, John was straight back into Spooky Men's business while we both started looking for a new home. We decided that our beautiful home in the mountains was just too small for all that we had in store and so before heading off on our last UK trip, we packed up and put our lives in Australia into storage. On our return, we regrouped and began the hunt, scouring the Sunshine Coast and surrounds for our new home. The going was tough, and eventually we concluded that it might be time to move back to Brisbane. After our first day of searching, we stayed with friends in Brisbane and soon realized that theirs was the house we had been looking for. What luck that they are planning to move to Morocco for a couple of years, in March. And so we have moved to The Gap -a delightful development.

We're settling into life in the big smoke once again, marvelling at such urban accoutrements as public transport, traffic lights and loads of good friends.

2. We Rocked Woodford!

This year's Woodford Folk Festival was an amazing experience for cloudstreet, with Erin Sulman from The Barleyshakes joining us on drums and the wonderful Rebecca Wright returning on cello and voice. We had a complete blast, especially on the final night when we joined Sunas and a couple of other special friends on stage for a concertina/fiddle/flute/cello/bouzouki/mandolin/percussion extravaganza.

And as always, we lashed out in other directions too, with John again joining the crew on his comedy panel show, Game On (click here to see the opening credits of this year's show), and Nicole joining The Brisbane Celtic Fiddle Club as well as the newly-formed Maleny Ceili Band!

3. CD prices cut

The Aussie dollar is booming and so, due to the crazy financial climate, we've decided to drop our CD prices. All of our CDs are now available from our website ( for only A$25. We'll include postage to anywhere in the world in this price. Or if downloads are your thing, you can find us on iTunes by following this link.

4. Cloudstreet & Friends 2011

Come and see us in Brisbane in February when we have some wonderful friends joining us for a great night's entertainment. Our third cloudstreet and friends concert will feature Sunas and the wonderful Cider House and will be held at the Tribal Theatre in George Street, Brisbane on Saturday, 5 February from 7 pm. Tickets are on sale at a family-friendly $25 ($20 concession) and will be available at the door or by pre-booking through Oztix (booking fee applies).

5. More Upcoming Gigs

At the end of the week, we're off to Central Victoria for the Music Under the Southern Cross Summer School where we'll be working with the Traditional Singing class. We're looking forward to what is always an amazing week of music and fun.

Full details of our other gigs are on our gigs page, but here's a teaser of what we have planned:

Saturday 8 January, The Upfront Club - Maleny,Qld.

Sunday 16 January, Melbourne House Concert - West Preston, Vic. ph.9478 0130 for details and bookings

Saturday 12 February, Fairlight Folk - 3 William Street, Fairlight, NSW.

Sunday 13 February, Blue Mountains House Concert - Lawson, NSW. Ph. (02) 4759 1916 for details and bookings

Saturday 26 February, Wanneroo House Concert - Western Australia, email Rob at for details

Wednesday, 2 March, Humph Hall - 85 Allambie Road, Allambie Heights NSW 2100,

6. There's Another Train - cloudstreet and the Indian Pacific

Inspired by a similar Canadian scheme, Great Southern Rail have introduced their Travelling Performers' Program. We'll be travelling from Perth to Sydney on the Indian Pacific in February, paying our way by playing along the way.

We're thrilled at the opportunity (especially because it means that we'll be able to play Down in the Goldmine at Kalgoorlie). If you fancy coming along, check out the Indian Pacific website. Or if you're a performer reading this and think such a gig might suit you, email Michael McGuire at

7. Across the Pond

Some more good news has come our way from the USA. Rich Warren of the nationally syndicated Midnight Special show out of Chicago ( has named The Circus of Desires as one of his top CDs of 2010. He picked 8 favourites this year out of 900 submissions. Here's what he had to say -

Cloudstreet: The Circus of Desires (self 06) (

This Australian duet of Nicole Murray and John Thompson combines the

best of traditional and contemporary with a highly varied repertoire

from old English ballads to Australian folk songs and compositions to

new English ballads. The originals on this CD sparkle with true

originality. Their voices work splendidly together for a lively and

engrossing performance.

We also made the FolkDJ lists of Top Artists of 2010 (just behind Luka Bloom) and Top Albums of 2010 (based on 161 868 airplays from 195 different DJs compiled by Richard Gillman). Yay!

8. An audio snippet

At a recent Sauna Club gathering, Rastas recorded our post-dinner musickings and posted the results on his audio blog. To have a listen, follow this link (

Love from home,

John and Nic