WHEN JOYCE CAREY’S FAMILY get together for their annual gathering in the NSW Hunter Valley, it doesn’t take long for someone to ask the inevitable question: “Where’s Auntie Mick’s gingerbread?”
“The gingerbread is always on the morning tea table,” says Joyce, 89, who lives at Taree on the mid-north coast of NSW. “It has become a family heirloom and everyone loves it.”
While Auntie Mick (whose real name was Mildred Eva Watson, pictured above) never had any children of her own, her niece Joyce and other relations keep her memory and love of baking alive. They ensure Auntie Mick’s famous gingerbread, which is traditionally eaten slathered with butter, is served at all family celebrations.
Born in the 1890s, Mildred was the granddaughter of Henry York, a prominent early settler and mayor of Singleton in the Hunter Valley. After growing up on the family property with her seven siblings, Mildred left home to become a governess. “She moved from country home to country home, educating children before they went off to boarding school in Sydney,” Joyce explains. “Auntie Mick was an elegant lady and quite well educated… as was my mother who was a music teacher and taught piano.”
Mildred worked throughout NSW until she met Oscar Roland Watson, a widower with three children, who was the postmaster of Balmain Post Office in Sydney. “They married and lived in the residence above the post office,” says Joyce. “My sisters and I would visit them in the school holidays. It was always an adventure going to the big city. I remember playing croquet in their garden, and Auntie Mick would take us to David Jones to buy an outfit and have lunch. She really doted on her nieces… we used to call it our ‘finishing school’.”
A keen entertainer, Mildred hosted regular afternoon tea parties where local ladies would play cards and enjoy her gingerbread, gem scones and other baked treats.
“I’m not sure why we called her Auntie Mick — it was the kind of thing you did in those days,” Joyce says. “We also called her husband Uncle Dick! The gingerbread recipe came from his sister and was called Plain English Gingerbread, but it will always be Auntie Mick’s gingerbread to us.”
In 1955 when Joyce was newly married and moving to Queensland with her husband Max, she made an urgent plea to her aunt to share the much-loved recipe. “I think she was happy I wanted it. It has now been passed on to my daughter and granddaughter, so it’s a real heirloom recipe.”
Serves about 16
200ml boiling water
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2½ cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
125g butter, softened
⅔ cup caster sugar
1 cup golden syrup
1 tablespoon icing sugar, to dust
extra butter, to serve
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 30cm x 20cm lamington pan, then line base and 2 opposite long sides with baking paper, allowing it to overhang.
Combine boiling water and bicarbonate of soda in a heatproof jug.
Sift flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together into a large bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and caster sugar until pale and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add golden syrup and beat to combine. Add boiling water and flour mixtures, and mix with a spoon until well combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30–35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean. Cool in pan.
Remove gingerbread from pan and dust with icing sugar. Cut into slices and serve with extra butter.
Do you have a recipe that has been passed down through generations? Send us your recipe, the story behind it and a photograph (preferably a copy or scan) of the relative who passed it on. Remember to include a daytime telephone number. Email Sarah Neil at email@example.com or send a letter to Heirloom Recipe, Country Style, PO Box 4088, Sydney NSW 1028.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING CHINA SQUIRREL FOOD PREPARATION AND RECIPE TESTING CHINA SQUIRREL ■