To celebrate the most wonderful day of the year – that’s Yorkshire Day, if there was any doubt – Ripon Museums are bringing back the Wilfra Cake, a traditional fruit tart made in Ripon as part of the festival of St Wilfra.
Wilfra Cakes were made during Wilfra Week, a festival at the beginning of August to commemorate St Wilfra. St Wilfra, or Wilfrid, began building Ripon Cathedral in the 600s and is patron saint of the Cathedral. The festival of St Wilfra, which celebrated the return of the saint to his home town after a long absence abroad, began in 1108, when King Henry I granted a charter for a fair. During the fair, a horse was led through the city carrying an effigy of St Wilfra, in a procession that started at the Town Hall, ended at the Cathedral and (it is rumoured) took in every pub along the way. Along the procession route, Wilfra Cakes were placed on window-sills and doorsteps for passers-by to help themselves. The procession, now known as St Wilfrid’s Procession, still continues today but the tradition of baking Wilfra Cakes has fallen by the wayside.
Not only was the Wilfra Cake enjoyed by residents along the procession route, there is also evidence to suggest that it may have been given as a treat to Ripon Workhouse inmates during the festival. In August 1894, it was reported that “for some years it had been the custom to augment the normal workhouse dinner on St Wilfrid’s Sunday by the addition of broad beans and parsley sauce; this year the Master and Matron thought something should also be done at tea time and one and a half dozen large fruit tarts were served and greatly appreciated”. Whilst it is not specified that these were Wilfra Cakes or Tarts, it is perhaps likely.
To celebrate Yorkshire Day and this wonderful tradition, Ripon Museums will be baking and handing out Wilfra Cakes to passers-by during the Yorkshire Day celebrations in Ripon Marketplace – supported by Visit Harrogate and Ripon City Council – on Wednesday 1 August. We need you to help us reinstate this Ripon tradition by baking a Wilfra Cake, using the recipe above, and dropping it off at the Workhouse Museum on 31 July, or at the Ripon Museum market stall in the Marketplace on 1 August.
We’ll also be baking some of our own Wilfra Cakes at the Workhouse Museum on 1 August, so why not come and join us?
So, what is a Wilfra Cake? Simply, it’s a shortcrust pastry case filled with apples and Wensleydale Cheese – a combination much loved by Yorkshire people. As the saying goes “Apple cake without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze”! The Wilfra Cake is not to be confused with its cousin, the Wilfra Tart, which has a filling of lemon and ground almonds.
Wilfra cake recipe
- Shortcrust pastry
- 8oz plain flour
- 4oz butter or margarine
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-2 teaspoons water
- 1.5lb peeled and thinly sliced cooking apples
- 3oz demerara sugar
- 3oz grated Wensleydale cheese
Rub the butter into the flour, sugar and salt. Mix to a stiff paste with the egg yolk and a little water. Leave to rest in a cool place until required.
Line a Swiss roll tin or pie tin with half the pastry and lightly prick the bottom. Lay on the finely sliced apples and cover with demerara sugar. Grate the cheese onto the top. Put on a pastry lid and brush with milk and sugar. Make a few slits along the top and bake for 10 minutes at 425° F; 220° C; Gas Mark 7; for 10 minutes and then lower to 350° F; 180″ C; Gas Mark 4; for a further 30 minutes.
Serve with cream.