The cake is a Norfolk vinegar cake. It's an old recipe, a plain farmhouse cake made when the hens were off lay for it is eggless. I discovered it some years ago when searching for eggless cakes for Katie who couldn't tolerate them when she was little. It is not a moist cake but nor is it dry. It has a pleasant crumbly texture and it keeps well. The vinegar is undetectable in the finished cake but it helps the cake to rise without eggs (see the science bit below).
The recipe I use is in Favourite Norfolk Recipes by Dorothy Baldock (I have lots of these little books and they are full of excellent simple recipes for old fashioned food).
Norfolk Vinegar Cake
Grease and base-line a 9 " round cake tin which has a removable base.
Rub 8 oz butter into 1 lb of plain flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in 8 oz sugar and 1 lb of dried fruit.
In a roomy jug measure out 8 fl oz of milk and 2 tablespoons of cider or white wine vinegar.
Blend 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and 1 tablespoon of milk.
Combine the bicarb mixture with the milk and vinegar. It will froth up*. Mix the frothy liquid with the dry mixture. It will not be very wet. Scrape it into the tin.
Bake for 30 mins at 180°c (160°c fan oven) then turn the temperature down to 150°c (130-140°c fan oven) for another 60 -75 mins.
*The science bit
First of all bicarbonate of soda is sodium bicarbonate is baking soda -I call it bicarb.
An acid (vinegar) + an alkali (bicarb) + moisture = carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide raises your cake, that's what is frothing about in your jug. It is a bit more complex than that but for cake purposes that's what you need to know.
Bicarbonate of soda it is not the same thing as baking powder.
Baking powder is mixture of bicarb and cream of tartar which is an acid. If you use it as a substitute for bicarb you will have too much acid and things will not rise properly. Some recipes require both bicarb and baking powder, this is because they also contain an acidic ingredient, buttermilk or yogurt for example. Extra acid means you will need extra alkali, so bicarb to the rescue.
So, you ask, why can't we leave out the vinegar and the bicarb and just use baking powder to make the cake rise?
Because then it would be Norfolk baking powder cake and not Norfolk vinegar cake, and presumably the recipe predates commercial baking powders.
Do feel free to correct any scientific inaccuracies, my only qualification in science is an o level in physical science which isn't really a proper subject.
There you are, cake, flowers and unexpectedly, chemistry.
And laundry drying on the washing line, another old faithful.