In May 1902, the gates opened on the Cork International Exhibition with hundreds of exhibitors and exhibits in pavilions sprawled across what is now Fitzgerald Park.
One of the exhibitors was Harutun Batmazian who had set up a stall selling handmade Turkish Delight and other exotic confections thinking they may attract some attention.
By the end of the first year, the Exhibition had attracted over a million visitors, and it was decided to run again for another year. Batmazian’s gamble had paid off, too. His confections were a hit with Corkonians, mesmerised by these “succulent sweetmeats” in flavours from places far away.
Harutun Batmazian was an Armenian Christian who had fled Istanbul (modern day Constantinople) where he learned the art of making Turkish Delights while studying law. He settled in Cork with his wife, Ester, and saw an opportunity to make his mark.
He spoke no English, and had no money, but through hard work established one of Cork’s most famous confectionery brands. He opened an emporium on MacCurtain Street filled with Turkish Delights, jellies, fondants, chocolate coated figs and other delectable morsels. The shop was named Hadji Bey et Cie, meaning Hadji Bey and Co, an homage to where he learned his skills in Istanbul — Hadji Bekir, or Hadji’s Bakery, and Hadji Bey meaning “Gentleman Hadji”.
Harutun and Ester welcomed their baby son, Edward, into the world in 1906. By the time Edward was a teenager, he had learned his father’s adept skill making Turkish Delight. Business was booming and their treats sold widely, including high-end department stores in England. It was a favourite gift given by Irish diplomats, and Hadji Bey confections were even dispatched to Buckingham Palace.
Growing up in the city, Edward spoke with a pure Cork accent and carried on his traditions, firmly establishing them as a Cork speciality. Edward retired in 1970, and from that point the legacy began a steady decline. Forty years later, in 2010, Hadji Bey was purchased by UHC Confectionery, based in Kildare, who specialise in old fashioned Irish sweets, including Cleeves and Merrytime.
To their credit, UHC Confectionery have reinvigorated Hadji Bey to its former glory and standing, respecting the original recipes and traditions that made it so famous.
In 2019, the Hadji Bey range was expanded. In addition to original Rose and Rahat Lokoum (an assorted gift box of sweet rose, orange and lemon flavours), they added Fruit Jellies and Crystallised Stem Ginger made to an original recipe from Batmazian’s archive.
Hadji Bey may not be made in Cork anymore, but for so many Corkonians, it isn’t Christmas unless there is a box of Hadji Bey on the dresser. As Louise Horan said, posting on Hadji Bey’s Facebook page: “Our family celebrations are never complete without a box of Hadji Beys. Generations of delicious joy that have made wonderful memories!”
Ask any Corkonian if Donkey’s Gudge Cake is a speciality of Cork, and they would reply with an emphatic Yes, Bai! But this confection is not entirely unique to our city by the lovely Lee. Dublin has a version they call Gur Cake, so-called after kids that skipped school (on the gur, or gurrier), and in England it’s known as Chester Cake.
If I took an educated guess as to what makes them different, maybe it’s down to the brand of tea used to bind the mishmash of stale bread and Christmas pudding together. Any self-respecting Dubliner would surely only think of using Lyons Tea. In England, Twining’s. In Cork, naturally, the only tea to reach for is Barry’s!
The cake itself is made and eaten all year round.
Bakers use up left over breads, bakes and fillings from the day’s offerings and mix them into the semi-soft, almost fudgy-like filling sandwiched between two sheets of shortcrust pastry and finished with a layer of thick, sticky icing.
To me, it always looks festive, but it has a more distinctive festive taste in December and January to use up Christmas cake, pudding and mince pies.
One of the best I’ve tasted was courtesy of Jackie Moore, mum to Aishling Moore, head chef of Goldie Fish & Ale restaurant. This is Jackie’s recipe, kindly gifted to all of us.
10 oz stale bread
3 cups strong Barry’s Tea (cold)
4 oz plain flour
6 oz muscovado sugar
2 oz butter
8 oz leftover Christmas Pudding (or jars of mincemeat)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground clove
2 large eggs
25ml Irish whiskey
2 tbsp marmalade
Two sheets of readymade short crust pastry
8 oz icing sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, fan.
2. Brew the tea strong, allow to cool, pour over the stale bread and soak for half an hour.
3. In a bowl, combine flour, spices, baking powder and sugar. Rub in the butter.
4. Crumble the Christmas pudding (or mincemeat) in a bowl and mix with the soaked bread. Add this to the dry mixture.
5. Add the egg, milk, whiskey and marmalade to the mixture and stir well to combine.
6. Grease a roasting tray (about the size of a sheet of pastry) with butter. Use half of the pastry to cover the base, top with the cake mix, and cover with the other half of the pastry.
7. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and bake for 1.5 hours.
8.Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
9. Mix up the icing sugar (follow packet instructions), and ice the top layer of pastry.
10. Allow to set, then cut into squares. Store in a tin with a tight lid.