August 7th: Wilfra Cakes

An apple pie without some cheese

Is like a kiss without a squeeze.’

Traditional Yorkshire Saying

One of the (many) things I didn’t know before I started this blog was the difference between the Celtic tradition in the early church and the Roman one, finding out about St Wilfra or Wilfrid has sorted that out for me. The early church was either centred around individuals who may have been solitary hermits like St Maddern, or holy men with a group of followers like St David. Differences between the Celtic and Catholic traditions of the church came to a head at the Synod of Whitby in 664 where Saint Wilfrid argued and won the case for the supremacy of the Roman over the Celtic Church. That lead to a tradition of large monasteries in England, but where the reach of Rome was tenuous, the solitary hermit tradition continued.

In 665 Saint Wilfrid was consecrated Bishop of Northumbria. He must have been a controversial figure as he was banished and reinstated several times in his career. Because of his extensive travels he had seen many magnificent European Churches and he sponsored the building of the original Cathedral at Ripon which was apparently adorned with the most magnificent craftsmanship of the age. In a dispute between the Vikings lead by Eric Bloodaxe and King Eadred, the latter sacked the original foundation, although some of its remains are still standing within the later Cathedral building.

In 1108, King Henry I granted the charter for a fair at Ripon. For centuries on the day of the fair, the townspeople formed a procession lead by a dummy on a horse representing Saint Wilfrid, which had been taken it out of the City the night before, so that it could be brought back in triumph on fair day. This practice lasted into the 19th century and a woodcut in the Illustrated London News of 1844 shows the dummy Saint Wilfrid on a horse, accompanied by two musicians with another man carrying Saint Wilfrid's hat around - no doubt for pennies.

The other tradition associated with Saint Wilfrid’s Fair was the making of 'Wilfra Cakes'. These were made early on the morning of the fair, put onto large platters and left outside so that passers-by could help themselves. They are that best of all combinations - apple and cheese. The cheese has to be Wensleydale and the apples need to be sharp.

Wilfra Cakes

12oz shortcrust pastry

1lb peeled and thinly sliced cooking apples

3oz demerara sugar

3oz grated Wensleydale Cheese

Line a well greased swiss roll tin with 2/3 of the pastry, fill with the sliced apple and sprinkle with the sugar and the cheese. Cover with the rest of the pastry and seal the edges. Bake at 180c for about 40 minutes. When cold cut into squares and serve. I think you could also make individual ones in a tartlet tin.

‘They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,

With winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,

Inhabited sky with hammers, defied gravity,

Deified stone, took up God’s house to meet him...’

From ‘Cathedral builders’ by John Ormond (1923-1990)


Anonymous said...

I LOVE fruit cake and cheese, and apples and it makes sense that apple cake and cheese would go well together. I mean to make all your recipes Liz, I really do...sometime soon!!

Liz said...

Thanks Em, Cheese and Christmas cake is one of my favourite things, my husband (who's from Kent) thinks I'm very peculiar...

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

Oh I am a massive cheese and fruit fan... In fact my fave thing is double gloucester on blackcurrent jam on toast... something I inherited from my mother who is a Yorkshire lass...btw Liz, if ever you're in the Lincs Wolds again, please do pop by to say hi! x

Pam said...

They look and sound delicious! Cheese and fruit are a perfect combo. Thanks for the interesting history. Like your quotes also. Great post! Thanks!

Liz said...

Doing the quote bits is the little treat I give myself when I've done everything else. It's the cheese on my apple pie!

Anonymous said...

These sound wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz,

My name is Rose and I work for a television production company called Fresh One. We are researching into Wilfra Cakes and I would love to talk to someone who cooks them. I wondered if you could drop me a line either via email on or 0203 375 5134 - many thanks, Rose