Queen Cakes

by Kate C
Publish date
15 March 2011
Comments (10)

Last week, just in time for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Eliza Duckmanton's Recipe & Remedy book was added to Collections Online. This blog post pays tribute to her in the most delicious way.

Eliza Duckmanton was a bush nurse and mother of 12 who lived in Dunkeld, Victoria. She created the book in 1870 and its contents - recipes for cakes, pickles, jams, jellies and biscuits - reveal what pioneer women cooked for their families. Eliza's book of clippings and handwritten recipes is also dotted with the odd sketch.This treasure was passed down the generations of the Duckmanton family until it was donated to Museum Victoria in 2002.

While the food section in any bookshop today is spilling over with cookbooks about every kind of edible, published cookbooks were relatively uncommon in Victorian times. The English & Australian Cookery Book written by Walter Abbott in 1864 is considered the first Australian cookbook. Recipes were handed around between friends and family members, or torn from newspapers, and compiled in books like Eliza's. Hers is particularly interesting for its remedies, too - her cure for cancer is a concoction containing saltpetre, sulphur and molasses!

I quite liked the idea of reviving one of Eliza's cake recipes, so on the weekend I baked her Queen Cakes. I assume these are named for Queen Victoria but would love to know the full story if there are any food historians reading. Although Eliza didn't specify that Queen Cakes are baked in individual cases, my copy of the CWA cookbook did. The recipe is transcribed below along with a few changes I made to the order of operations.

As I cooked, I thought about the 140-odd years between Eliza and I. My ingredients came in neat supermarket packages and an electric mixer saved me a lot of elbow grease. Eliza might have made her own butter and hauled home sacks of drygoods. She probably collected and chopped the wood that fuelled her oven and it certainly didn't have a thermostat. Despite this, I'm sure her cakes were just as buttery, dense and delicious as the modern remake. 

Queen Cakes Queen Cakes made from Eliza Duckmanton's 1870 recipe.
Source: Museum Victoria

Queen Cakes

1 lb flour

½ lb butter

½ lb pounded loaf sugar

3 eggs

1 teacupful of cream

½ lb currants

1 teaspoonfull of soda

Work the butter to a cream. Dredge in the flour and add the sugar and currants. Mix the ingredients well together. Whisk the eggs, when fluffy, mix the cream and flavouring and stir these to the flour, add the soda, beat the paste well for 10 minutes, bake from ¼ to ½ hour.

*Changes made: I creamed butter and sugar together, then added eggs and cream, mixed lightly, and cooked about 15 minutes at 180ºC. This made about 20 small cakes.

Comments (10)

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Philip 15 March, 2011 15:44
Kate C 15 March, 2011 16:13
Philip, I know - what a fabulous word. I can't be sure that's what she meant since the handwriting is a little spidery. But dredge I did!
Simon 15 March, 2011 17:01
Dredge is a perfectly cromulent word. From Dictionary.com: dredge –verb (used with object), dredged, dredg·ing. Cookery . to sprinkle or coat with some powdered substance, especially flour. Origin: 1590–1600; v. use of dredge (now obsolete or dial.) mixture of grains, late Middle English dragge, dregge, apparently to be identified with Middle English drag ( g ) e, dragie (disyllabic) sweetmeat, confection < Anglo-French drag ( g ) é, dragee, Old French ( see dragée); compare similar dual sense of Medieval Latin dragētum, dragium
Liz 16 March, 2011 09:55
Dredge is a very heavy word for spinkle.Are the cakes heavy or light?
Susan McB 15 March, 2011 15:44
The name of this little cakes is very familiar to me - my mother used to make what she called Queen cakes, but she used sultanas instead of currants. The were also cooked in paper patty pans, or in a tray like muffins, except the base was rounded not flat. They were also delicious, and a fond memory of a long ago childhood. Well done for trying the recipe yourself.
kim 7 April, 2011 23:14
I am Eliza's great great grand-daughter and I am delighted to see the book on line. She must have been such a competent mother, as all her 12 children survived to be adults - except Leo who was killed on the Western Front. He chides his sisters in one letter to stop writing to him about the food they are cooking at home in Dunkeld. 'Reading about mum's cheese cakes nearly sent me spare!'
Jane 4 July, 2012 16:38
Do you have suggestions where I could look for information and recipes from 1861 onwards?
Kate C 4 July, 2012 18:06
Hi Jane, you could try openlibrary.org - I did a search under for the subject 'cooking' and found lots of old cookbooks that you can read online.
Discovery Centre 5 July, 2012 16:33

Hi Jane,

 Project Gutenberg can be searched for ‘cooking - 1860’.  These titles can be downloaded in several formats for free as copyright has expired.

The Food Timeline is another good site that also includes historical information on ingredients. 

simone 21 October, 2012 11:27
was wondering how much one tea cup translates to, and also what is pounded loaf sugar? sounds like a great recipe would like to try it if i can get these answers! thanks!
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