Foula Peat Cake

by Elizabeth Atia -

Shetland is known for its very popular community Sunday Teas. Groups of volunteers regularly host these food-orientated gatherings in villages around the islands as a way to raise funds. Shetland is also well known for its fundraising efforts for a wide variety of charities, including Cancer Research UK. This year will see Shetland's biggest fundraising event, the biannual Cancer Research Relay for Life at the Clickimin in Lerwick, and teams are very busy around the islands raising money. The last relay in Shetland, in 2012, raised a massive £275,370 in donations!

Last weekend, Becky Johnson, the lovely team leader for The Ramblers Relay for Life team, invited me to attend their Pancake & Waffle Sunday Tea fundraiser in Bixter, on the west side of Shetland, as their special guest pancake tasting judge. In addition to the traditional sandwiches, cakes and biscuits usually found at a Shetland Sunday Tea this event had a very tempting pancake and waffle stall with every manner of filling. They also had a pancake competition.

The winning (very tasty!) pancake entry has a lovely story behind it which I hope to share with you all one day. After the competition I may have indulged in a few delicious home bakes, fancies and cups of coffee and I was introduced to something called Foula Peat Cake, brought to the Sunday Tea by Becky's mother, Fiona Sinclair. She'd found the recipe for this no bake chocolate cake in an Orkney SWRI recipe book, but I knew there had to be a story in there somewhere. When I returned home after the Sunday Teas I began investigating.

My investigations led me to the remarkable woman Isobel Holburn, Isobel's son Bobby and his aunt Mary Henry. Bobby grew up on Foula, the most remote, permanently settled island in Britain located 20 miles off the west coast of Shetland and he fondly remembers his mother making Foula Peat Cake over forty years ago. He was very happy to share his recollection of the recipe, originally known as pressed cake.

Long time fae I made it, fairly simple though canna mind exact quantities. The normal (peerier size) o' digestive biscuits brucket doon tae at least half da size o' your fingernail in a bowel, sprinkle twartree teaspoons o' cocoa (canna mind how many, try two or three, mix in an see what it looks laek, add more if need be), add a fist full o' raisins, put a pan on a low heat, add a large tablespoon o' margerine, a large tablespoon o' syrup an a sloosh o' milk, (add milk till it looks enough to bind biscuit mix together), keep stirring in pan to prevent burning, then pour ower mix an steer together well, put greaseproof paper in your baking tray or cake tin, add mixture to about three-quarters inch thick, roll and press doon wi a tumbler on its side, place in a cool place to set then enjoy! If you laek cherries, chop up an add to dry mixture first!

Mam put twartree cherries in da mixture unless she was makin it solely fur me, as I dinna laek dem. It wis her dat christened it peat cake, though it wis aunty Mary wha showed me how tae make it!

For those of you who prefer more accurate measures, below is the recipe that Fiona Sinclair makes. I couldn't find out where the original recipe came from, possibly a magazine somewhere, Bobby suggests, but it was Isobel who christened it Foula Peat Cake and I can see why. The chocolate squares are crumbly and do resemble peat with the texture of the coconut. Nonetheless, they're easy to make, nice to eat and they are quite popular with children.

Foula Peat Cake

Course: Main

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

  • Digestive biscuits - 250 grams (broken into small pieces)
  • Mixture of raisins/sultanas/cherries - 10 oz
  • Dessicated coconut - 3 oz
  • Cocoa powder - 2 tbsp
  • Margarine - 5 oz
  • Golden syrup - 2 large tbsp
  1. Grease a 9" x 13" tin and set aside.
  2. Mix crushed digestive biscuits, dried fruit, coconut and cocoa powder together in a large bowl.
  3. Melt margarine and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat, being careful not to allow it to boil.
  4. Stir melted ingredients into the dry and mix well, ensuring all the crumbs are well coated.
  5. Turn the mixture out into the prepared tin and press down firmly all over with a hand inside a poly bag.
  6. Leave until set before cutting into squares.

Optional: drizzle the cake with melted chocolate after pressing it down in the tray.

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I am indebted to Bobby Gear, Mary Hill and Wendy Gear for all their helpful information in researching this post. Thank you to Fiona Sinclair for the recipe and Becky Johnson for inviting me along to the Bixter Teas!

Posted in: Recipes, Community