Welsh Skillet Cakes: A Tribute to Welsh Ancestors

This simple recipe for a traditional Welsh food, Welsh Skillet Cakes produces a nice little breakfast cake, or a snack for tea time.  One site describes them as half way between biscuit and pancake. It is also closely related to the scone.

Welsh Skillet Cakes

Welsh Cakes with Irish Butter–a special treat.

I used the recipe from the Wales. com website for the Welsh skillet cakes that I made, and that is the recipe that I am going to give you.

This recipe calls for measuring by weight, so if you don’t have a scale, you may want to take a look at this Americanized recipe for Welsh skillet cakeswhich I have not tried. I compared the two, and besides the fact that the All Recipes recipe makes about 4 times the quantity, it leaves out the little bit of spice in the Welsh recipe I used.  It uses more baking powder and more shortening. (I’m sure you could go with all butter instead of half lard, although the lard undoubtedly contributes a flakiness.)

As I point out in the notes, I did not use any milk at all, so I would suggest Judging by the feel of the dough, rather than just automatically adding milk in a specific amount.

Although the recipe I used did not suggest resting the dough in the refrigerator before rolling, that probably would make the Welsh skillet cakes easier to handle, so next time I will take the extra time to to that.

Breakfast or tea time–eaten cold, or warmed form the stove, or rewarmed in the toaster–these easy-to-make treats will become a regular in our house. A tip of the hat to my Welsh ancestors in aprons as I make this traditional Welsh food.

Welsh Cakes

Serves 4-5
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 35 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Meal type Breakfast, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Region European
Website Wales.com
Welsh cakes are a cross between a biscuit and a pancake. Similar to a scone, they are baked on a griddle or iron skillet and delicious for breakfast or for afternoon tea.

Ingredients

  • 8oz white flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 3oz white sugar
  • 2oz currants (See note about alternates)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice (Use pumpkin pie spice mix, or combine cinnamon, cloves,nutmeg to taste)
  • 1 egg
  • pinch salt
  • milk to blend (if needed)

Directions

1. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
2. Cut butter in small bits and rub into flour with fingers until there are no large clumps.
3. With spoon, stir in sugar, fruit, beaten egg to form a dough. Add 1/2 tsp milk at a time if needed. Dough should be thick and not very moist. DO NOT OVERMIX.
4. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4" thick. Cut with biscuit cutter or glass into 2 1/2- or 3-inch rounds.
5. Cook on lightly greased griddle or iron skillet until golden color turning as necessary. Use low heat so they will cook all the way through without too much browning on outside.
6. Cool and sprinkle with coarse white sugar or with a cinammon sugar mix. Serve with butter.
7. These can be served hot or cold. To reheat, simply pop into toaster on low setting. They also freeze well.

Note

Welsh Cakes are quite adaptable. Although the traditional way of making them is with currants, I used dried cranberries. The Wales.com website suggests "as an alternative you can use mixed dried fruit or tropical fruit. Some grated lemon or orange rind is also good. An unusual but delicious addition is 1 teaspoon of lavender flowers with some citrus zest. Add a little orange juice, zest and icing sugar to some soft butter to serve with the Welsh cakes."

I served the Welsh cakes for breakfast, but if you were going to serve them for tea, you could certainly use any of the heavenly clotted creams or curds that you can buy or make.

I indulged by buying Irish butter to spread on my Welsh cakes.

Why Chautauqua County, Jesse Morgan?

When I ask a question like “Grandpa Jesse Morgan, why did you go to Chautauqua County and why did you move to Ohio?”  a lot of people just shrug and say, “You’ll never know.”  I love challenges!

Answering the Basic Questions

Just as in journalism, family historians are constantly seeking What, Who, Where, When. But the all-important Why is the most difficult thing for us to find when the ancestors are long gone and did not leave a journal or letters to explain their actions.

The Who, What and Where

Last week, I concluded that Jesse Morgan moved to Ohio because of the encouragement he received from a nephew, Aaron Purdy in an 1835 letter addressed to Jesse at Volusia, Chautauqua County, New York. Ironically, as my great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan, was moving to Ohio, Aaron was giving up his grocery store in Holmes County, Ohio and taking off for the Pacific Northwest.

In searching for motivations for Jesse’s relocations, I found answers in a very unlikely place. I had searched birth dates for Jesse’s children to see where he lived when they were born, and looked for the cemeteries where they were buried. I had looked at the family of Mary Pelton, his first wife and where they lived. I had read portions of a history of Chautauqua County, a history of the Morgan family and a portion of a book about the Pelton family.

Taking time off from genealogy research (I thought) I was reading the historical account of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She traces the backgrounds of the three men who worked most closely with Abraham Lincoln.  As I read about William H. Seward, who became Lincoln’s Secretary of State, a location jumped out at me: Westfield, Chautauqua, New York. Volusia, the place where Jesse was living in 1835, was a hamlet within the town of Westfield.

The book, Team of Rivals, introduced me to the housing boom in Chautauqua County and the Holland Land Company.  Perhaps that boom is what took Jesse there.  His wife-to-be had lived in the area on the Pelton family farm close to the nearby town of Sherman, so it is likely he met her after he moved. I may never know what Jesse was doing there.  Was he speculating in land? Was he teaching–a sometime later occupation? There was a Westfield Acadamy founded the year that he probably moved to Westfield, so I can speculate that he may have gone there to teach, and met his wife there.

Holland Land Company

Map of Western New York from late 18th or early 19th century,including land owned by Holland Land Company.

 

The Holland Land Company was an investment company owned by investors from Amsterdam. The original landholders never left Amsterdam to see the vast country they acquired in New York and a bit of northern Pennsylvania. One of the many towns that evolved from that original purchase was Westfield, Chautauqua County, New York.

Although the land company and its successors who bought smaller portions of the properties were generous in their terms, sometimes charging no down payment at all, I was interested to learn that settlers complained that interest was too high and a serious revolt developed. This unrest by settlers seems to be a foreshadowing of Jesse Morgan’s fate.

The first settlers of Westfield came from Pennsylvania, just as Jesse did. In 1801 two Pennsylvania men had purchased the land that would incorporate the new town and in 1805 the first post office was established and by 1803 there was a school.

The WHEN

Mary Pelton’s father  moved his family to Cuyahoga County from Oneida County in 1827, and Mary and Jesse Morgan’s first child was born in 1830, so they were probably married in 1829.

Jesse and his first wife lived in Westfield before they moved to Ohio in roughly 1837.  Their four children who survived to adulthood were born in Westfield in 1830, 32, 34 and 36. What drew him to Westfield from his father’s home in northwestern Pennsylvania?  And why did he leave?

In 1835, according to Team of Rivals, William H. Seward was hired as the manager to handle the legal details of land transfers and moved into a  rented house in Westfield, where he also ran the land business with five clerks. That means that William Seward and my great-great grandfather Morgan might very well have known each other, since Seward’s time in Westfield (1835-1838) overlaps Jesse (1829-1837). The “pleasant village” as Seward’s wife described it, had a population of just under 3000 in 1837.

The WHY

I knew that something gave the restless Jesse reason to depart for greener pastures around 1837 or 1838. The reason became clear when I learned about a terrible recession, known as the Panic of 1837, that hit the booming housing developments of Chautauqua County very hard. William Seward had no sooner established himself there with a job with the Holland Land Company, than property sales plummeted.

This “panic” of 1837 brought widespread misery in its wake–bankrupt businesses, high unemployment, a run on banks, plummeting real estate values, escalating poverty.  “I am almost in despair,” Seward wrote home.  “I have to dismiss three clerks…”

From a letter by William Seward in fall, 1837, quoted in Team of Rivals.

Panic of 1837

US Whig poster showing unemployment in 1837

This family of a tradesman parallels Jesse’s family in 1837–two boys and two girls.

  • Father: I have no money, and cannot get any work.
  • Little girl: Father, Can I get a piece of bread.
  • Boy in blue: I say, Father, could you get some Specie Claws? (A play on the “Specie clause” by which president Andrew Jackson mandated that payment for land be in gold or silver rather than bank-printed paper notes)
  • Boy in brown: I’m so hungry
  • Mother: My dear, cannot you contrive to get some food for the children? I care not for myself.
  • Man at door: I say, Sam, I wonder when we are to get our costs? (Poster words: Warrant, Destraint for Rent.)
  • Posters on the wall show Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Jackson had been president during the lead up to the panic, and the unfortunate Van Buren, inherited the panic, which started five weeks after he took office.

In the midst of this great recession, largely driven by land speculation, Jesse joined the large movement into the new state of Ohio. His interest in Westfield continued, as I have a photocopy of a letter sent to him  in Ohio many years later from an old friend in Westfield that outlines the economy.

To Be Continued

As you will see as I continue the story of Jesse, his move to Ohio did not solve his financial problems.  Again, I am not sure what he intended to do in Ohio. Mother thought that he taught at Keene Academy in Coshocton County and that is where he met his second wife, my great-great-grandmother Mary Bassett Platt, but as I look at the documents that possibility is looking less likely.  Jesse and his first wife’s infant son (who probably died as an infant) was born in Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio.

Mary Bassett Platt’s first husband died in 1833 in Killbuck, and she received letters addressed to Killbuck, so there is no record proving that she went back to her home town of Keene to teach in the academy after her husband died. Because the records of Keene Academy seem to have disappeared, I have to say her teaching at Keene and meeting Jesse  could be a possibility, unproven.

Note: If I ever go on a research trip to Westfield, I can stay in the William Seward House which is now a Bed and Breakfast Inn. According to one account, William did not actually live in that house, but purchased it and oversaw (by mail) its remodeling by his brother Benjamin who succeeded him as land agent from 1838 to 1840. Furthermore, the Inn was saved from destruction, by moving it, so it is no longer even in the same location as the original mansion/land office.

Notes on Research

Federal Census, 1830, Chautauqua County, New York. 1820, Oneida County, New York, 1850 Marrion, Oregon Territory.

Letter from Aaron Purdy to Jesse Morgan, August 7, 1835, photocopy in author’s possession

James Morgan and his Descendants, by Nataniel Morgan, 1869, Hartford: Case, Lockhard and Bernard, available on line at archive.org

Genealogy of the Pelton Family in America, J. M. Pelton, 1892, Albany: Joel Munson’s Sons Publishers. Available on line at archive.org.

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005: New York: Simon &  Schuster Paperbacks

History of Chautauqua County, New York: from its settlement to the present time, Andrew White Young, 1875, Buffalo: Matthews and Warren. Available on line at archive.org

 

 

Wales, Food From Another Homeland

The Culture and Food of Wales

Women in Welsh costumes

Women Taking Tea. Toward the end of the 19th century, there was  a fad of making postcards of people in traditional Welsh costumes. Ahh, those hats!!

That delightful photo is part of a large collection of rescued 19th century photos that is held by the National Museum Wales. You can see 104 of them on Flicker and learn more at the collection’s web site. There are a few Morgans identified in this collections, but although they might be distantly related, I have to keep in mind that the Morgan brothers that left for America had been gone for about 200 years when these pictures were taken.

“Welsh expats can be found around the world, but many have emigrated to the United States, in particular Ohio, Idaho and Pennsylvania.” The Guardian Newspaper on line.

That description closely fits the pattern of the Morgan family, my ancestors stretching back from great-great-grandfather Jesse Morgan.  Although when two Morgan brothers left Wales they originally settled in New England, within a few generations, they had moved to Pennsylvania and then on to Ohio.  One of Jesse’s sisters and several of his nephews and nieces lived in Oregon–not Idaho, but next door.

Oddly enough, a strong Welsh community survives in the Argentinian province of Patagonia.  As far as I know, none of Jesse Morgan’s relatives ventured as far as Patagonia. (But I wouldn’t mind an excuse to travel there.)

I want to know more about being Welsh.  Since the ancestors I have explored earlier were mainly English, Scots-Irish or German and Dutch, Wales is a new location with new traditions to look at.  Yes, still Great Britain, but with a very distinctive culture.

The Foods of Wales

Of course, I explored Welsh foods first! Although Jesse Morgan, my great-great-grandfather, was a member of the sixth generation in America, surely some of the traditional foods must have still been served. Lamb is a mainstay of the Welsh diet. Did my New England and Pennsylvania Welsh ancestors raise lambs? And I need to learn about Caerphilly cheese, a Welsh native cheese. Did they attempt to replicate native Welsh cheeses? Did the women of the family stick to tried and true native bread and cake recipes?

Welsh Cheese

Welsh Caerphilly Cheese

A great source is the website Wales.com and its page on Welsh food. I know that for sure I will be trying Welsh cakes–a skillet bread I also like the look of Bara Brith (speckled bread)–a kind of melding of fruit cake and bread that looks dense and rich, like Boston Brown Bread.

Welsh Bread

Welsh Bara Brith Bread

Ancestors in Aprons already shared a recipe for Welsh rarebit, and a discussion of the name.  In Wales, they add a variety of ingredients.

How I would love to take a culinary tour of Wales , attend a food festival, or at least visit some Welsh markets

The Living Language of Wales

On the one hand, I want to relate to the Welsh, but on the other hand, do I want to learn to speak the language?

It’s called Cymraeg, and is a language with entirely regular and phonetic spelling. Our place names may look complicated but once you know the rules, you can learn to read and pronounce Welsh fairly easily.

Our Celtic language is closely related to Cornish and Breton and is one of Europe’s oldest living languages; the Welsh we speak today is directly descended from the language of the sixth century.” Wales.com

Despite the assurances of the website–it does not look easy to me. Take the longest word:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Ah well, the Welsh national saying is  Gwnewch y Pethau Bychain  which means ‘Do the Little Things’. So I think I’ll start with cooking instead of talking.