While waiting for their giant mug cake to cook, Nanny Piggins regales the children a story about her cousin Margarite and the Stone Cake she made.
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Stone Cake as told by Nanny Piggins
Normally Nanny Piggins was shocked and appalled at the state the children were in when they returned home from school. They were often tired, always hungry and they had absolutely no chocolate stains on their clothes. Nanny Piggins considered this a terrible state for a child to be in at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. But on this day, as Derrick, Samantha and Michael got off the school bus they did not look that way at all. There was a spark in their eyes, a smile of their faces and definitely brown smudges on their fronts.
‘What happened?’ asked Nanny Piggins. ‘Did you take the day off school and break into a chocolate factory? And if so, why didn’t you invite me?’
‘No, we went to school,’ said Derrick. ‘But there was a new student teacher. She offered an extra lesson in the library at lunch time.’
‘You had to do an extra lesson at lunch?!’ exclaimed Nanny Piggins. ‘When you should be outside eating and running around releasing all your pent-up emotion after a horrific morning enduring education.’
‘Yes,’ said Samantha. ‘But it was a lesson on how to bake a cake.’
Nanny Piggins gasped. ‘Finally your school has taught you something worth knowing.’
‘It was awesome,’ said Michael.
‘But you already know how to bake cake,’ Nanny Piggins pointed out. In the time Nanny Piggins had been living with them, the children had indeed learned so much about cake baking, souffle baking, tart baking, gateux baking, Danish baking, pie baking and even baking ice cream in the form of bombe Alaska that they knew more about baking desserts than the most highly trained pastry chefs in the world.
‘But this was a different type of cake,’ said Samantha.
‘She taught us how to cook a cake in two minutes,’ said Derrick.
‘Two minutes?!’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘How? Using C4 explosives? If so, that’s just not fair. The Headmaster never lets me bring C4 explosives to school.’
‘No,’ said Derrick. ‘It was a mug cake. And she cooked it in the microwave.’
‘A mug cake?’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘What is that?’
‘It’s a cake that you make in a mug,’ said Michael. ‘So it’s an individual size. For just one person.’
This concept baffled Nanny Piggins. ‘I don’t understand, all cakes are individual servings for just one person if just one person eats them. When my sister Diedre ran away from her own wedding because she decided she didn’t want to marry a devastatingly handsome heart surgeon, she’d rather elope with the wedding celebrant instead, the original groom was so upset he didn’t want the 12 tier wedding cake any more. So, out of the kindness of my heart, and to tidy things up for him, I ate the whole thing myself. It was quite filling and it did take me nearly an hour to eat the whole thing, but I did it, so that was a single serving.
‘Okay, well we didn’t make 12 tier wedding cakes,’ conceded Michael. ‘But it was definitely cake in a mug. And it only took 2 minutes to cook in the microwave.’
‘Has the headmaster suffered a head injury?’ asked Nanny Piggins. ‘This is wonderful news, but it sounds unlike him to suddenly be including actual educational things in the curriculum. Has he suddenly realised the importance of fostering high standard baking skills in the community. Because goodness knows, if there was more cake in the world, there would be more happiness and less hunger, which would lead to a reduction in crime. And ultimately end all wars. Really our politicians should be ashamed of themselves that they haven’t make cake baking the sole focus of the educations system earlier.
‘Oh, they didn’t teach us how to make a cake so we would know how to make a cake,’ admitted Derrick. ‘They did it to teach us maths.’
‘I knew they would ruin it somehow,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Measuring the ingrediants was meant to be the educational bit,’ said Derrick.
‘Measuring?! Pah!’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Measuring is for amateurs. Did they at least talk about the chemistry of it? The elements combining? The thermodynamic effect on protein molecules?’
‘She was only a first-year teaching student,’ said Samantha. ‘I don’t think she knew about that.’
‘But it tasted like cake,’ said Michael. ‘So that was the main thing. It wasn’t as good as one of yours Nanny Piggins. But it was good enough to make you forget about the maths part.’
Nanny Piggins hugged Michael. ‘You’re such a good boy. I’m so proud to have raised a human with such good values.
But you shall have to teach me how to make this cake. I’m intrigued by the 2 minute aspect of it. That seems like a very good point in this cake’s favour. We might even be able to reduce the cooking time to 30 seconds if we put some C4 explosives in the microwave as well.
Fortunately, on the rest of the walk home, the children were able to persuade Nanny Piggins not to put C4 explosives in the microwave. When they got inside, they taught Nanny Piggins the recipe they had learned at school.
Nanny Piggins was deeply impressed. They used one egg, some flour, some sugar, cocoa powder. Mixed it all up and put it in the microwave. She actually squealed with joy when the cake started to rise up in front of her eyes in just a matter of seconds. And when she shoved it in her mouth. She agreed it was definitely cake and it was definitely chocolate cake.
‘What do you think, Nanny Piggins?’ asked Samantha.
‘I like that the mug has a handle,’ said Nanny Piggins as she licked the inside of the mug. ‘It makes it easier to rip out of the microwave and shove it in your mouth quicker.’
‘What do you think of the taste?’ asked Michael.
‘It’s chocolate cake,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Chocolate cake always gets five out of five stars from me. Unless you’re Nanny Anne and you put beetroot puree in it.’
‘So you liked it then?’ said Samantha.
‘I did have one reservation,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘What was that?’ asked Derrick.
‘I want to be 100% sure before I say,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘We’d better have another one, so I can double check my conclusion.’
So they mixed up another mug cake for Nanny Piggins. And another three for themselves. Then they called in Boris from his shed in the backyard and mixed up another one for him to.
Nanny Piggins had almost confirmed her opinion after this cake. But to be sure. They collectively baked another 25 cales so they could have another 5 each, just to be on the safe side. And after eating 7 chocolate mug cakes, Nanny Piggins felt confident in stating her definite opinion.
‘I have decided that chocolate mug cake is… brilliant!’ declared Nanny Piggins…
The children and Boris cheered, ‘Yay!’
‘…Except for one crucial flaw.’
‘Oooh,’ groaned the children and Boris.
‘The problem with mug cake is that it is mug sized,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I am a growing pig. I do not have a mug sized appetite.’
‘If only there were some way we could make the mug bigger,’ said Boris.
‘Hmm,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Sadly the people who standardised the size of the mug, seemed to have been thinking of how much coffee a human might like to drink, not how much cake a pig might like to eat.’
‘A mug is just a round receptacle,’ said Boris. ‘We must have something round that is bigger.’
‘That’s an idea,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But what do we have that is larger and round?... I know, one of Mr Green’s Ming vases!’
‘I don’t think they’re microwave proof,’ said Samantha.
‘There’s only one way to find out,’ said Nanny Piggins. She hopped up to go and fetch one. But Derrick put his hand on hers to get her attention.
‘Nanny Piggins,’ said Derrick. ‘You know you promised our insurance broker you would stop using Ming vases for cooking.’
‘That man is such a spoil sport,’ said Nanny Piggins, sitting back down. ‘What’s the point in having a big pot if you don’t use it.’
‘I know what’s round and bigger!’ said Boris. ‘What about a cake tin?’
‘Oh yes, I’ve got loads of cake tins that are much bigger than mugs,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Yes, but you can’t put a cake tin in the microwave,’ said Samantha. ‘They’re made of metal. It’s dangerous. Remember what the insurance broker said about setting fire to the kitchen.’
‘I mustn’t do it again this financial year if I can avoid it,’ grumbled Nanny Piggins. ‘So tiresome. How am I supposed to make culinary masterpieces when my creativity is so inhibited?’
‘Oooh, you could put the cake tin in the oven instead,’ said Boris.
‘Good idea!’ said Nanny Piggins.
So that is what they did. Nanny Piggins made up a much bigger batch of cake batter. Put it in a large cake tin and popped it in the oven.
‘That will take longer to bake,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘What shall we do while we wait?’
‘Why don’t you tell us a story?’ suggested Derrick.
‘Alright,’ said Nanny Piggins. So they all sat down on the kitchen floor in front of the oven to listen to the tale, while they watched the cake bake.
‘Have I ever told you the story of my cousin Margarite?’ asked Nanny Piggins.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Derrick. It was hard to keep track. Nanny Piggins had so many spectacular relatives and stories about these spectacular relatives, being asked if you knew the story of one was like being suddenly asked to give the date of the moon landing. Even if you thought you knew you couldn’t be entirely sure.
‘She invented an ingenious recipe,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘For cake?’ guessed Michael.
‘Of course for cake,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I said it was ingenious didn’t I? But her cake was particularly brilliant because she made it out of stone.’
‘Huh?’ said Michael.
‘Did she grind it down into a powder and mix it with flour?’ asked Derrick.
‘No, it was much cleverer than that,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The only ingredient she had was a stone. And yet she managed to make a delicious cake with it.’
‘Was it some sort of alchemy?’ asked Samantha. ‘You know how magicians try to turn lead into gold. Was it something like that? Did she use a magic trick.’
‘No no no,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘We Piggins don’t need to resort to tricks. Not when we can use cunning, ingenuity and manipulation of humans.’
‘If you’re going to use big words,’ said Boris. ‘You had better just tell the story from the beginning. I won’t be able to follow what you’re saying otherwise.’
‘Yes, of course dear,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I do apologise. I hate it when people use unnecessarily confusing language. But sometimes there are just lovely words that are a joy to say whether you or the person hearing them understand them or not.’
‘It all happened many years ago after the war,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Which war?’ asked Derrick.
‘Does it matter?’ asked Nanny Piggins.
‘It will help us visualise,’ said Samantha.
‘All wars are the same,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They’re horrible and miserable. And they usually involve mud. Unless they’re in the dessert. In which case there’s a lot of sand and sweating. It’s all deeply unpleasant in every imaginable way. I highly recommend not imagining it or visualising it if you want to sleep properly tonight.’
‘What shall we visualise?’ asked Michael.
‘Just imagine the olden story days,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘A village in Europe with a forest and humble dwellings.’
‘What’s a humble dwelling?’ asked Boris.
‘It’s the type of house you build when you want to keep things small so it’s easier to keep it warm in winter,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Because in the olden stories days winters are always bitterly cold.’
‘Why?’ asked Michael.
‘For drama,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘When have you ever heard a fairy tale start with “it was an unexpectedly mild winter?’”
The children realised stories never ever started this way.
‘In stories you always have to have extremes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘So this story begins in a small, humble village, on a bitterly cold winters day after a terrible war had raged for years.’
‘This story is dreadful,’ wailed Boris. ‘It’s so sad and it’s just the beginning.’
‘You’ve been visualizing haven’t you?’ accused Nanny Piggins. ‘I told you not to do that.’
‘I’m sorry, Sarah,’ sobbed Boris. ‘My imagination is just too strong.’
‘I know dear,’ said Nanny Piggins, hugging him reassuringly. ‘That is why you are such a superb ballet dancer.’
This lovely compliment cheered Boris up a little bit.
‘Anyway,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It was a grim cold winter and my cousin Margarite had been walking for days.’
‘Why?’ asked Michael. ‘Wasn’t there a bus.’
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It was the olden story days, so buses hadn’t been invented yet. Nor trains, nor taxis, nor limousines. She was returning from the front line where she had been valiantly fighting for her country.’
‘Did women fight in the olden story days?’ asked Samantha.
‘Not normally,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It depends on how olden the olden story is. In the ancient Celtic story days my cousin Boudica Piggins lead a whole army. And in the 19th century story days, my aunt Joan lead the whole French army against the British. But that was a misunderstanding. She thought she was fighting to liberate their fudge stockpile. She didn’t realise she was leading a religious war until it was too late. Fudge wars are always more amicable than religious wars.’
Anyway, Margarite was trudging home with her three children,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘She was a mother?’ said Derrick.
‘And she went to war with her children?’ asked Michael.
‘Oh no,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘She was a nanny. And of course she took the children with her when she went to fight. It would have been irresponsible to leave them behind unattended.’
The children puzzled over the logic of this. They were pretty sure unattended behind the lines would be safer than attended in a war zone. But they knew from experience that applying logic never improved the dramatic flow of Nanny Piggins stories, so they stayed silent.’
‘They were exhausted after a hard campaign,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They just wanted to return to their own village. But they still had many days to walk and they were dreadfully cold, and dreadfully hungry. When they came upon a village.
‘We’ll ask here to see if anyone can spare some food,’ said Margarite Piggins.
They knocked on the first door they came to.
‘I’m not interested in buying a set of encyclopaedias,’ said the householder.
‘No, that’s not why we’re here,’ said Margarite. ‘We are returning to our village after fighting bravely in the war, but we’re dreadfully hungry. Would you be able to spare some food.’
‘We have very little food too,’ said the householder. ‘The army came through here and took all our spare food. We have only the meagre food we managed to hide before they could take it. We must save that for ourselves, so we survive the long winter.’
With which she slammed the door in their faces.
‘That’s very rude,’ said Michael.
‘Yes,’ agreed Nanny Piggins. ‘But we mustn’t be too judgemental. ‘They only had meagre supplies of firewood as well, and standing there with the door open was letting all the heat out.’
Margarite tried every door in the village but all the villagers were struggling and they had no extra food to spare, with grubby vagrants.
‘Oh, no what are we going to do,’ wailed Mikhail. The youngest of the three children in her care. ‘I am so hungry I don’t think I can continue walking tomorrow if I have nothing to eat.’
‘Never fear,’ said Margarite Piggins. ‘I will make you a fine cake for your supper.’
‘But you have no cake ingrediants,’ said Durrock, the eldest boy.
‘No,’ agreed Margarite. ‘But I have my cooking pot and I can build a fire. I will make us a fine cake out of this stone.’ Margarite bent over and picked up a stone from the street. It was an ordinary enough stone. About the size of a fist.
‘You can’t make a cake out of a stone,’ said Samateria. The girl child.
‘Oh can’t I now,’ said Margarite. ‘Just you watch. I shall make the finest cake you’ve ever eaten with just this pot and this stone. But first we must make a fire.
The children helped Margarite find kindling and soon they had a good little fire burning. Margarite put her empty cooking pot onto the embers and then placed the stone inside.
The children were very confused and somewhat concerned that their dear nanny had lost her mind.
They looked at the pot and the stone. It did not appear to be magically transforming into a cake.
‘Now what do we do?’ asked Durckson.
‘We watch and we wait,’ said Margaritte.
The children and their nanny peered into the cooking pot and watched the stone.
It is always nice watching a nice warm fire so they peered at it comfortably for some time before a voice interrupted them.
‘What on earth are you doing?’
It was one of the villagers. She had seen them sitting around the fire staring at their pot and wondered what they were up to.
‘We are making cake,’ said Margarite.
‘Really?’ said the villager. She hadn’t had a slice of cake in years, not since before war. But when she peered into the pot all she could see a stone.
‘What sort of cake?’ asked the villager.
‘Stone cake,’ said Margariite.
‘Is that anything like rock cake?’ asked the villager.
‘Oh no,’ said Margaritte Piggins. ‘Stone cake is much more delicious. It is a beautiful, light and fluffy sponge. It is wonderful to eat. I can’t wait to have a bite. The only problem is, I’m not sure how it will turn out. A truly delicious stone cake must have a pinch of lemon zest. For that last finishing touch of flavour. We didn’t have any lemon zest though.’
‘I’ve got a lemon,’ said the villager. ‘I can spare the zest if you like.’
‘That would be wonderful,’ said Margarite.
The villagers hurried back to her cottage and returned moments later with a lemon and a grater. She handed it to Margarite who zested the lemon sprinkling the flavouring all over the stone.’
‘And that will make a delicious cake?’ asked the villager.
‘Oh yes,’ said Margarite. ‘The finest you’ve ever tasted.’
‘What are you doing?’
Another villager, a herdsman was returning from working in the fields. He was surprised to see a pig, three children and his neighbour sitting around a fire watching a stone cook.
‘We’re making stone cake said the first villager.
‘Stone cake,’ said the herdsman. ‘Is that good? I’ve never heard of it.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Margarite, ‘It’s the finest cake you can imagine. The only trouble is we don’t have any butter. A truly good stone cake is always better with a bit of butter.’
‘I’ve got some butter I can spare,’ said the herdsman. With which he returned to his cottage and brought back a dab of butter.
They put it on the stone and watched it cook.
‘Now there were six of them sitting around watching the stone cook. More and more villagers came out to see what was going on. And while none had much to spare in those difficult times they each could manage something. An egg, or some flour, or a little honey. After each person in the village added their small little ingredient the pot was full.
Margaritt was magic at combining things. She whisked the butter with the sugar. Added the eggs. Then folded in the flour. Until they blended into a beautiful golden batter.
‘Nanny Margarite,’ said Mikhail. ‘I think the pot is going to overflow.’
‘Yes, we wouldn’t want that,’ said Nanny Margarite. ‘I know, I’ll take the stone out now. I think it has flavoured the cake enough. Then we will leave the batter to bake.’
And that is what she did. She cooked the mixture for 45 minutes in moderate heat embers. And at the end of that time it was done. They had made – a stone cake. It was golden brown on top, fluffy and yellow inside and a subtle hint of lemon in flavour. It was the most exquisitely divine cake. And it was big enough that everyone in the village got to share a slice. So the children got a delicious dinner and all the villagers had the first dessert they had eaten in years.
‘Thank you so much,’ said one of the villagers. ‘For sharing your stone cake. It is by far the finest cake I’ve ever eaten. And to think you made it with just one pot and one stone.’
‘I know,’ agreed Margarite. ‘That is the magic of cake, you only need a few ingredient – a pot, a stone and a lot of friends.’
‘Wow, that was a lovely story,’ said Samantha.
‘I know,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I like to mix things up every now and again.
Just then – the oven timer pinged.
‘It’s ready!’ cried Nanny Piggins. She grabbed her oven mits, ripped open the oven door and pulled out the cake.
Even after a lifetime of baking fabulous cakes every day, usually several times a day, Nanny Piggins still got teary eyed at the beautiful sight of a freshy baked cake. Although not so teary as to slow her down for long. In less than a minute they were all sitting around the table, eating enormous slices.
‘Mmmm, so good,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I think I’ve cracked the secret to making this mug cake even better. Once you ten-tuple all the ingrediants and bake it in a large cake tin in an oven – this mug cake is flawless.