Granny's thrifty dessert recipes, from Michelle Darmody

Cookbooks are often passed from generation to generation within families, mapping out stories that can be traced through time, says Michelle Darmody.

They trace a history of what was available to certain generations, what was scarce, what was in fashion, and what was not. 

I have many such books covered in scribbled recipes and notes and crossings out, creating a new story within the book, layering up ideas and recipes making these books unique to me.

There are certain recipes that have been passed on to me by my Grandmother and are very special to me. These are simple, sensible recipes using ingredients that were available to her in the 1950s. 

Thrift was necessary, food was hard got and appreciated as such. A cake was a treat, kept in an old biscuit tin and sliced into rectangle fingers. It was served with a cup of tea when visitors called to the house or on a Sunday afternoon.

The lemon cake recipe is a simple Madeira cake with the zest of a lemon added and then a tart crisp icing on top.

The icing makes the cake a little bit more special and it is delicious eaten on the day it is baked but will last in the biscuit tin for a few days.

A Dundee Cake or a light fruit cake was very much an Irish staple and the dried fruit was a mixture of currants, sultanas and mixed peel. 

Now I often substitute the currants or cherries for dates and some dried figs and it adds a tasty twist to the cake. Here I have stuck to the original recipe but feel free to experiment with different dried fruit and nuts.

A tart will always remind me of my Grandmother’s kitchen. I used to love when the fruit and sugar bubbled up from inside the pastry and created a sticky, toffee like layer around the outside of the tart. 

I would pick it off and eat it while it was still warm; getting a scolding, but always with a smile.

Granny Nora’s Lemon Madeira Cake

Granny's thrifty dessert recipes, from Michelle Darmody

  • 175g butter, soft
  • 170g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • the zest of 3 lemons
  • 200g of self raising flour
  • 50g of ground almonds
  • 1 tbs of milk

for the icing:

  • 200g of icing sugar
  • 2 tbs of lemon juice, more if needed

Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin and preheat your oven to 170 degrees.

Beat the butter and sugar until it has turned a pale colour and it is light and fluffy.

Add the eggs slowly combining them. If they begin to curdle add a tablespoon of the flour.

Stir in the lemon zest, the rest of the flour and the ground almonds until combined fully.

Fold in the milk in, to lighten the batter and scoop it into the prepared tin.

Bake in the oven until it has turned golden and a skewer comes out clean. It will take about an hour.

While it is cooling in the tin make the icing. Mix the icing sugar and lemon juice until it has melted. Pour over the warm cake and allow to cool completely in the cake tin.

Rhubarb and strawberry tart

Granny's thrifty dessert recipes, from Michelle Darmody

for the pastry:

  • 225g flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 140g butter
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • the zest of 2 oranges

for the glaze:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbs of milk

for the filling:

  • 340g of rhubarb
  • 220g of strawberries
  • 100g of golden caster sugar

Mix the flour and salt.

Rub in the butter and orange zest until it looks like rough breadcrumbs, do not over mix.

Stir the sugar into the eggs, mix it lightly and add to the flour.

Rest the pastry for an hour in the fridge or over night.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line an 8in tart case. Roll a base for the case and gently lay it into the tin, pressing it down around the edges. Cut off any excess pastry and save it for the top of the tart.

Bake the case blind. Cover it in parchment and beans and bake for 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolk and milk together for the glaze.

Brush the base with half of the glaze and place back into the oven for a further five minutes.

Layer the rhubarb and strawberries with a sprinkling of sugar and repeat until all of the fruit is in the tart case. If the rhubarb is bitter in taste you may need a bit more sugar.

Roll out the rest of the pastry and make a top for the tart. Pinch it around the edges and cut a hole in the centre. 

Brush with the rest of the glaze and bake for 25 minutes until the rhubarb is soft and the top of the tart is golden.

Dundee Cake

  • 150g of soft butter
  • 130g of brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 225g of plain flour
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 170g of sultanas
  • 170g of currants
  • 50g of glacé cherries, washed and dried
  • 50g of mixed peel
  • 20g of ground almonds
  • the zest of 2 lemons
  • the zest of 2 oranges
  • a handful of whole almonds

Grease and line an 8in cake tin. I use either spring form or loose base.

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees.

Beat the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add the eggs slowly combining them. If they begin to curdle add a tablespoon of the flour.

Stir in the dried fruit, ground almonds and zest, the flour and the ground almonds until combined fully.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange whole almonds in circles on the top of the cake.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 160 degrees and cook for a further 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin.


We hear a lot about the geese, ducks and swans that arrive here from colder climes for the winter, but much less about smaller birds that come here to escape harsher conditions in northern Europe.Keep an eye out for redwings this winter

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