old fashioned brownie


My grandmother recently gave me her mother’s recipe for brownie. Now this is brownie not as most of the world today knows brownie, (a chocolatey, decadent dense slab.) This is brownie that was born out of two world wars and one great depression. A time when making do and frugality skipped hand in hand and landed with a plop on your kitchen table top.

During this period, sugar was readily available, locally grown sultanas were in abundance and a simple slab of this would easily fill up hungry bellies. My grandmother in the 1960’s did the same thing with her children, reducing the sugar somewhat (it’s achingly sweet) and filling my dad’s childhood bottomless belly along with that of his siblings. I remember eating great squares of it when I would go and visit. The ting of the metallic cake tin as eager hands would cut just a little more.

Twenty plus years went by and speaking with Grandma she reminded me of it again. Asking whether I would like the recipe for the bottomless bellies of my own Monkeys. I sure did, but…. couldn’t promise I would adhere strictly to the recipe. (I have a proud “Hack Baker” reputation to uphold here!)

(original recipe without the mixed spice)

First go, and I did follow it to the letter, (well almost, I didn’t have any mixed spice, which sort of loses the ‘brown’ effect. Ooops.)

It’s tooth achingly sweet, but gets a thumbs up from Little Monkey and visiting friends tasting it. One friend said it’s exactly as her grandmother would have served up during the same era in the UK. I do like it, it’s very plain and simple, but I think I could probably fiddle with it and jazz it up just a little.

So I did.

Now I had set my self rules with this though. It still had to be frugal and simple, with minimal butter, and no egg at all. I did wonder to myself as I handed out another slab for The Monkeys to eat, what my Great Grandmother would have thought about this slightly jazzed up version of her trusty old recipe.

I like to think she’d have liked it.

Great Grandma’s Brownie

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup sultanas

1 tbls butter

1 cup plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice and baking powder

Boil water, sugar, sultanas and butter together for approximately 5-10 minutes. Allow to cool, add remaining ingredients. Bake in a greased and lined tin at 180C for approximately 30 minutes.

My Old Fashioned Brownie

1 1/2 cups currants and raisins (or mixed fruit)

2 cups water

3/4- 1 cup brown sugar

50g butter

zest of a whole orange

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

3 cups self raising flour (450g)

Add all ingredients together (except flour) in a pot and boil for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Add flour, fold through and pour into a greased and lined square tin.

Bake at 180C for approximately 40 minutes.


41 thoughts on “old fashioned brownie

  1. I remember my grandmother making something similar! Brydie I love that sentence: “A time when making do and frugality skipped hand in hand and landed with a plop on your kitchen table top.”


  2. My mum has a very similar brownie recipe and it’s a family favourite. There’s a great story about how my great aunty used to make the best CWA brownie but my nan always claimed she only gave out her recipe with missing ingredients. We thought it was a bit of sour grapes on my Nan’s behalf – until my great aunty died and her daughter shared her recipe. Some of the spices and golden syrup were missing from Nan’s recipes when compared!


  3. How lovely to have your great grandmother’s recipes. My grandmother gave me the Edmond’s cookbook and that harks from the same era of frugality where there are quite a few baking recipes without eggs because eggs where hard to come by during the Depression. I see your recipe has water in it and I’m sure that’s probably because they couldn’t afford or source milk. I think our generation could learn a lot about making a lot from a little xx


  4. I love reading and experimenting with these old fashioned recipes which are usually very low on butter and sugar. Really shows how much fat and sugar we put into standard ‘everyday’ cakes now, not just decadent desserts, doesn’t it? I usually try and reduce the amount of sugar and butter in everything I bake…but seeing how I was at the supermarket this week buying a kilo of unsalted butter (an embarrassing profusion of those silver blocks in my shopping basket), I really can’t speak too much about this!


    • There is an alarming amount of butter and sugar used these days isn’t there. Sugar I quite often decrease a lot when I’m cooking but butter for baking I don’t tend to fiddle with. I might try and tweak a few other recipes I use and see if I switch things around a bit.
      What are you going to bake with a kilo? 🙂


      • I want to try home made puff pastry…and croissants. We are missing the fantastic croissants we had in France so I figure it is time to give it a try! Scary amount of butter though….


  5. This is what I thought of as a brownie too! Its the sort of thing you would always find in a country kitchen, and always waaaay too sweet 🙂 great job!


    • The original recipe is truly very sweet. My taste buds weren’t quite sure what was going on when I bit into it. My version is a lot less sweeter. I think it’s absolutely fine with just the 3/4 cup of sugar but others might think it needs to be upped a little.


  6. It is the sort of thing my mum would have made – I can imagine that in my childhood this would be eaten with a slab of butter. Maybe that is a sign of my generation finding a taste for richer foods! But I like your addition of orange zest – it is the sort of modern touch I love – but I guess your gran might not have had fresh oranges on tap like we do


  7. I think this would be called a blondie (no chocolate) here in the US. It sounds delicious whatever the name and I love the orange rind in your updated version. Love the passing down of recipes and the history and memories that go with each one.
    Lovely post, Brydie!


  8. Brydie, as always, loved your sweet writing…and there’s something about bringing our grandmas (or greats) into our kitchens and our posts that is so dear. Thanks for this one! xx


  9. Hi , Brydie…have been away on hols and have been catching up on all your posts. Looks like some lovely stuff going on in the city. Even though I have commented on this post, I had to come back to it to read alllll the comments. Isn’t it marvellous what an influence grandmothers have had on all these people – looks like you really hit a soft spot with us all here!
    And my grandma’s was just so sweet …I think perhaps they made them so sweet so you couldn’t possibly eat it all at once. The other thing my grandma made were things called ‘Johnny boys ‘ which looked a bit like a biscuit and a bit like a cake… I am inspired to go looking in mum’s recipe cupboard and see if I can find the recipe.


  10. A “Brownie”used to be a stock camp special. Glad you posted the recipe. We cooked them regularly out on the cattle stations when I was younger so long ago forgotten the recipie . Home brand had an ok plain dark fruit cake but unable to find it anywhere now. Those brands around now are way too oily. Looking forward to having a crack at making a Brownie again
    Thank you.


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