Gool Peran Lowen! Or, Happy St Piran’s Day (for yesterday)! Everyone is familiar with St George, St David, St Andrew and St Patrick but not so many have heard of whom I consider to be the British Isles’ fifth patron saint – St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall. I’ve been fascinated by my family history since a small girl and feel a stronger tie to my ancestry on my maternal grandmother’s side than to that on the others, probably because she was the grandparent that I knew for the longest. My grandmother was Cornish, born in St Austell (Snozzle) in 1908, where her father was a china clay miner before he went off to fight in the First World War. With the help of censuses, parish records and other family historians far more adept than me, I’ve managed to trace my Cornish ancestry back to the 16th Century, which is as far back as most of the un-landed un-gentry can go. My great-grandmother was born in Mevagissey, to the south of St Austell, which was once the centre of Cornwall’s pilchard fishing industry. Hevva cake, also known as heavy cake, is a traditional cake which is said to have been made by the fishermen’s wives for their husbands returning from the catch. ‘Hevva’ was apparently the cry of the men as they pulled in the nets, jumping with pilchards, and was presumably also a cue for the wives to pull their finger out and get the cake in the oven! My mum making hevva cake is an enduring memory from my childhood and I remember there always being some in the cake tin. I haven’t eaten any for years and thought that there was no better way to celebrate St Piran’s this year than with a gluten-free Cornish taste of my childhood.

Gluten-free Cornish hevva cake

These cakes are very much like flat fruit scones. There are a number of variations for this recipe – some add lemon zest and others, nutmeg. I add allspice (not remotely traditional) but it’s what my mother always puts in and the taste takes me back to my childhood. If you don’t like the taste of allspice (or think it’s anathema to add it!), do leave it out. The criss-cross across the top is, however, non-negotiable: it represents the pilchard fishing nets and would be blasphemous to omit. These are great with a cup of tea or coffee, either adorned with a dollop of cream (Cornish, obviously!) or as nature intended. I tend to eat them plain, however, as I think they are rich enough.

Makes 9 servings

180g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp ground allspice (optional)
90g salted butter, cut into small cubes
50g caster sugar
50g sultanas
60ml milk
2 tsp Demerara sugar

You will also need a non-stick baking (cookie) sheet

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan-assisted). In a large bowl, sift together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and allspice. Rub in the butter, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar and the sultanas until evenly distributed. Pour in the milk and mix to a stiff dough, first using a knife in the bowl and then kneading with your hands on a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a rough square or oval about 2cm in depth. Using a knife, lightly score a criss-cross pattern across the surface and sprinkle with the Demerara sugar.

Place on a non-stick baking (cookie) sheet and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and cut into 9 squares whilst still warm.

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