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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Battenburg


Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas NOVEMBER. 20, 2020


[107-365] 20th. November 2020- First I will tell you what it isn't. It isn't a hill in Antarctica, or a town in Hesse, Germany or another town in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, or any one of multiple Princes or Princesses of Battenburg, not Julia, Louis, Marie, Alexander, Henry, Francis Joseph or Alice of Battenburg, nor is it an American sculptor called John Nelson. It's not an American Naval Award either. It's not a mausoleum in Bulgaria or a large Square, also in Bulgaria, or a chapel on the Isle of Wight. It's not even the anglicised Mountbatten-Windsors descended from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.


It is a cake, a very British cake, but the cake, and all of the above, all originate from the same German family.


Battenburg is a light sponge cake held together with jam. The cake is covered in marzipan and, when cut in cross section, displays a distinctive two-by-two check pattern alternately coloured pink and yellow. The large chequered patterns on emergency vehicles in the UK are officially referred to as Battenburg markings because of their resemblance to the cake.


But if you collapse in the street and someone says are you OK? Do you need help? Probably best not to say, yes I need a Battenburg. Not unless you are diabetic, hypoglycemic, and need a sugar hit of course in which case this cake could actually save your life.


Charles Nevin wrote in The Independent: “Battenberg cake is exemplarily British. The first cake was baked in 1884 to celebrate Prince Louis of Battenberg marrying Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and Prince Philip’s grandmother.” Food historian Ivan Day refuted the royal connection, and states the simplification of the four-panelled cake occurred when “large industrial bakers such as Lyons” got in on the battenberg game – “I suppose a four-panel battenburg is much easier to make on a production line”.


So there you have a good insight into inbreeding. The current Queen and her consort are related through Queen Victoria. What beggars belief though is why if all the European Royalty were essentially one extended family, was Europe almost perpetually in a state of war until those monarchies disappeared, or ceased to rule?


I suppose if you take that fact together with the fact that most family arguments start at Christmas when those families actually have to spend time with each other it starts to make sense. European Royals were infamously very into Christmas and still are. So if we had just separated all the Royals at Christmas and stopped them buying all those Faberge presents for each other we'd all have had a bit more peace.


All of that apart, this cake has to be one of my favourites, if only for the fact that it is covered in Marzipan, which I know for a lot of people is just the work of Satan. You either love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground with Marzipan, especially as it is ground, ground almonds and sugar. What is there not to like? You notice even in the first photo half is already missing. What? So I couldn't even wait to photograph it without eating half of it first? Well, no obviously.


Why Mountbatten? Well, when your name is Battenburg and your country is at war with Germany, it's not a good look.


It reminds me of my favourite line from the comedy Blackadder, the one set in the First World War. Blackadder is in the trenches and there is a fear of German spies. He has tied up and blindfolded Captain Darling and is interrogating him to prove he is a German spy.


Darling: [desperate] Ah! No, no, no, wait! No, look, I'm English! I was born in Croydon! [breathing heavily] I was educated at Ipplethorpe Primary School! I've got a girlfriend called Doris! I know the words to all three verses of "God Save the King!"


Blackadder: Four verses!


Darling: Four verses! Four verses! I meant four verses! Look, I'm as British as Queen Victoria!


Blackadder: Ahaaa! So your father's German, you're half-German and you married a German?!


Darling: [breaking into tears] No, no! LOOK, FOR GOD'S SAKE, I'M NOT A GERMAN SPYYYYYYYYYY!



To quote Emma Thompson. Something I wouldn't ordinarily do, because I will declare an interest here, I can't stand her.


Britain is 'A tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island.'


What a very sad view to have of your own home, because you lost an argument. I would challenge anyone to look at this cake and call it's home, misery-laden, or grey, anything but. Of course Emma, bless her does not have good judgement. This is the woman who proudly announced to the world how she was leaving Britain (just too much cake for her) and moving to a small palace in Venice (like you do) not like Venice is ever grey, even when you are wading to the shops and the drains have backed up. This was back in February 2020.


She left for good with her husband who, guess what? Played Earl Mountbatten in The Crown. That's a full cake circle right there. How dare she criticise cake while marrying a man who played one.


Luckily they kept their two British homes and their British passports as only a month later when the biggest pandemic in human history hit cake free Northern Italy they fled back to cake country, very quietly and with no big announcement. I'll leave that there for you to savour, I have the rest of the Battenburg, calling me from my misery-laden, grey old kitchen, Yipeeee!



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