Garden Centre and Restaurant

Having your cake – and really enjoying it!

There’s a new way of social networking, and at Walker’s we’ve been finding out all about the fun of getting together – over a slice of freshly-baked cake….

There is nothing nicer, says Lynn Hill, “than sitting down with a slice of cake, and having a chat”. Only Leeds-born Lynn, 62, has taken that idea several steps further.

 She is the founder and director of the Clandestine Cake Club, which, in fewer than three years has clocked up an impressive 6000 members.  The numbers are growing daily, and it isn’t confined to the UK, it’s now a worldwide phenomenon. You’ll find the Cake Club in France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, in Canada, Majorca, the Cayman Islands, and….Finland. News of the Clandestinistas has rippled out from Yorkshire rather as if Lynn had thrown a pebble into a very big pond. “However, we don’t”, she laughs, “all travel hundreds or even thousands of miles, to meet up in one huge stadium! Each meeting is very local, and, while there are ones which are of maybe thirty or forty people, I think the best ones are when a dozen or so get together.  With their freshly-baked cakes, of course.”

 She explains that the CCC all started when she “discovered” the opportunities offered by social media and networking – Facebook, Twitter, texting – all today’s modern methods of communication that are either the joy, or the bane, of our lives. Lynn – who has worked since leaving school in her teens (she’s done everything from working on the GPO switchboards to being in a drawing office and then a stint at the Direct Line firm), and who is a mum to two, can’t remember exactly when, or how, the idea came to her, but “I realised what fun there was when people get together, and share something.  You always seem to be friendlier, more sociable, over a meal….the old ‘breaking bread together’ idea. You relax, you discuss, you talk things over, and you offer ideas….

 “So I thought to myself ‘everyone can bake a cake’ (and believe me, you can, you really can!) so why don’t a lot of like-minded people get together, and share time with each other?  I’d been running a ‘home teashop’ from our house in Woodlesford in Leeds, advertising it on the internet, and the CCC was just a step from there. Oh, and please don’t think that our members are all ladies – far from it – there are many, many excellent male bakers out there, and there are people of all races, creeds, colours and countries involved.  To my sheer amazement, and delight, we have gone global!”

 She laughs again and says: “We have proved that one thing unites us all. The world loves cake! Think what could be achieved if some of the world’s leaders sat down with a nice slice of cake in front of them.”

 She and her husband David, who has now retired, met in Tiffany’s Nightclub in Wakefield and “within three days I just knew that we would get married…it happened, a few months after. I took a bit of time out when the children came along, because that’s what you did in those days.  It was that time, remember, when you could always find a job doing something, whatever it may have been. My mother was a very good cake-maker and was always baking, I loved cooking lessons at school – but I absolutely hated sport, and loathed netball with a vengeance! – and I used to cook and bake at home, and whenever there was a fundraiser for something, a charity, or the children’s schools, then I’d be offering something homemade. I just feel that it is part of the ethos of hospitality – when you turn up at someone’s house, you take something with you.  Some may bring wine, or home-made chutney, I always take cake.  It’s a social ice-breaker.”

 So, with her youngsters growing into adulthood (Richard is 27 now, and Joanne is 31), Lynn found herself with a little more time to do the things that she wanted, and started up her Secret Afternoon Teas.  “I have to confess that I rather surprised myself by getting to know the secrets of the social media networks quite well, and I advertised the teas there. They were an instant success – people who I hadn’t met before getting in contact, and coming into my home to enjoy some food – sandwiches, cakes and scones – and a cup of something. And then I thought ‘Well, this is a lot of fun, but it needs to expand, and I don’t think that it can keep on going at our house.

 “I had a bit of a think, and then Googled ‘Cake Clubs’, and nothing at all appeared on my screen.  I did more research, and what I planned to do was new – no one had thought of it before.  Which I found amazing. And then I came up with the idea of contacting various venues, and asking them if we could meet on their premises – it could be anywhere you like, but their being able to serve refreshments is the big bonus. And then I started to work out a strategy and some rules – people who wanted to come had to bring a cake, which had to be baked by them.  Cakes can be sliced and shared, so muffins and brownies and buns and cup cakes are not allowed. It can be any kind of cake that you want, and NONE of them are in any way judged.  It is not a competition, it is a social occasion.

 “It couldn’t be simpler – the organiser finds a location, advertises, and makes arrangements with the host venue and people turn up.  The hardest part, possibly, is finding that right venue. But when the people at the location, where-ever it may be, understand the concept, they’ve very eager to join in, because it is all new ‘footfall’ for them. You may not know the X, Y or Z Café, but you do when you turn up with your cake, and you buy their teas and coffees (or a glass of wine) and if you like the place, you go back.  Without any input from them, they’ve got free advertising, a lot more customers, and people who will come back time and time again. Where are the venues? Oh, there’s been a cabin in some woods near Loughborough, a canal boat, a small airport departure lounge, the Bishop’s Palace near Durham, and heaven knows where and what overseas….the imagination of the organisers runs riot.  I’m actually thinking of asking the North York Moors Railway if we can have a CCC meeting on one of their summer services next year – I have very fond memories of taking my children to see the Santa Specials that they run at Christmas, and I can’t think of anything nicer than having home-made cake and tea as that glorious scenery rolls by…

 

The CCC started in Leeds, and then started popping up all over the place. There are at least 150 groups in the UK, and the number grows every week. Lynn  says: “It’s not about the biggest number of people, or the wackiest venue, or anything about the tastiest cake.  It’s about people, pure and simple. It is, I think, a bit of a paradox that we are doing the most old-fashioned thing that there is, something that stone age man and woman did, and that’s eating together, and using modern technology to advertise it and publicise it. People say to me ‘Ah, but Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media are generally pretty solitary – people sitting in front of their laptop machines, in the dark, and alone, or with something horribly technical in their hands, just keeping in touch – and often writing the most banal rubbish to each other’, and I reply ‘That’s true – but you can actually use it in a positive way, to bring people together, and that’s what the CCC does!”

 However, Lynn warns: “I tell everyone that their first duty is to turn up to the CCC meetings  If you tell the organiser that you wish to be there, and make your booking, and then you don’t make it on the day, well, you’ve let the organiser down, the venue down and, of course, the CCC down. There has to be a certain level of commitment.

 The CCC has been such a success, in fact, that here in the UK, that even finalists from the TV show The Great British Bake-off have become members; and now there’s the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, which Lynn has been compiling for many months. “Exactly one hundred and twenty recipes”, she says proudly, “with 100 submitted by members, and the rest are mine. I am not a writer, so it has been a bit of a task to get it together, but also a lot of fun, and I’ve prefaced every recipe with a little anecdote or personal history, so I hope that it is both a fun and informative read.”

 She says: “It was a little daunting at first, I admit, so I looked at a lot of other cook books, and the one that I liked the best was the one by Nigel Slater – it has a nice informal tone to it, it can be read as a book and not just as a list of recipes. I adopted and adapted his style.  But the cook book I use a lot myself in one called Bake, by a lady called Rachel Allen, which, I have to admit, is now a bit dog-eared and splashed and spattered with batters and mixes.  But that’s a good thing, isn’t it? A cook book should be used and loved, and not just a decoration on the table or the shelves. I heard of one lady who went to a cookbook signing and who apologised to the author because it wasn’t in pristine condition.

 “And the author said ‘Terrific!  Well done! I am over the moon that you’ve used it and enjoyed it! I am so pleased, because cook books are created to inspire, not to be ornaments!’ and that’s how it should be”.

 Husband David, she says, “is not a cook. At all.  The children are, however, and they are very good at it, too.  David is a great supporter, a marvellous and tireless run-me-to-the-venues help, and a great one for helping with the washing up. He and I enjoy so many things – like membership of the Royal Horticultural Society, and we visit Harlow Carr time and time again, it’s one of our favourite places.

 “A lot of husbands would have said ‘Are you losing your mind?’ when I suggested the idea of the CCC, but he just smiled and said ‘Darling, go for it’. The only time that we ever fell out – and just for a minute or so – was when I’d made this rather good cake (if I say so myself) and he opened a cupboard above it, and a glass fell out, smashed on the kitchen surface, and shattered shards all over the place.  End of glass, end of cake. Well, I admit I was angry.  But not for long.  Accidents happen.”

 And, when you ask Lynn what her own favourite, Top of the Pops, All Time Five Star, Fur-lined Ocean-going cake is, a smile goes across her face, and she admits: “It would have to be a Victoria sponge sort of thing, with a really thick cream middle filling, and a wonderfully luscious topping, like the very best chocolate….”

 There’s a slight pause. “Oh, heavens”, she smiles, “even thinking about it is making my mouth water…..”

Happy baking, and further details about the CCC at www.clandestinecakeclub.co.uk The Clandestine Cake Cook Book is published by Quercus, at £20.00

 

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