The incredible true story of a two decade old cake and a quiet act of charity.
‘I have no idea where this mixture originated,’ says South African born Patricia Van Graan-Brun as she hands me a piece of her apple laden Friendship Cake. ‘I was given a piece of the dough by a lady called Josie Warburg, she has since died, but I’ve continued baking it nearly every week. So I’ve been making this same cake for twenty years now!’
Friendship cakes get going when someone makes a start culture. This means mixing flour, milk and sugar and leaving it for around ten days until it ferments. Then further flour, milk and sugar are added, the mixture is divided in two, one half is baked and the remaining dough becomes the new culture and left to ferment for another week when the process is repeated. As a jar of the culture can be divided and passed on to other people, who in turn pass it on, it becomes the baking equivalent of those chain letters that promise the recipient a fortune as long as each person in turn harangues ten of their closest friends. At least with Friendship Cakes there’s a higher chance of a reward, you are at least guaranteed to get something to have with a cup of tea.
Patricia’s cake has done more than just that though. She is seated at her familiar table after Quaker meeting in Forest Hill, South London and is dishing out pieces to a small crowd and taking payments of 50p in return. She is doing a brisk trade as clearly a morning spent in quiet reflection is hungry work.
Patricia tells me that every few months when she has made £100, she sends the takings off to the Quaker run Cape Town Peace Centre in South Africa. This centre has a decade long track record of results in improving life in that still troubled country. It runs courses and projects on subjects ranging from Young Women in Leadership, Alternatives to Violence and Youth at Risk.
The centre’s mission statement is: ‘to build a non-violent society where: diversity is celebrated; the energies of conflict are turned into a positive transforming power and where the democratic rights of every individual are respected, protected and pursued’.
This is clearly admirable work that deserves support and over the years sales of Patricia’s Friendship Cake have raised around £3,600, which goes a long way in South African rand.
However perhaps the reason why the cake sale has been successful is it is actually incredibly tasty. I’ve noticed before that the belly quickly rebels against largesse if it is force-fed piety. And I’m sure that even Quakers, who are a notably philanthropic bunch, wouldn’t keep on buying this cake if it was simply a charitable donation. Patricia adds Bramley apples, cinnamon and sultanas to her dough making a cake that is light, crumbly and slightly sweet.
‘I don’t know how it is possible that this mixture doesn’t die or go off. I don’t even understand how it works, it just keeps on going,’ she says with a smile as another 50p drops into the jar.
I am sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a charitable act that raises much more money and kicks up far more hoopla than this cake sale. But few fund-raisers are such a metaphor for the longevity and dignity of hope than this quietly nurtured twenty-year-old cake which creates a network between those who eat it, those who bake it and those who benefit from the money it raises.
To find out more about the work that the Cape Town Peace Centre carries out visit:
And just for the record, I am not a Quaker, although many members of my family are, however I occasionally attend meeting because I appreciate the calm, the sense of self-reliance and the pure optimism that the occasional Sunday morning meeting gives me.