Chocolate for your garden

In the week before Christmas I realised I had become hugely dependent on chocolate. Like an alcoholic who needs to keep topped up throughout the day to stay functioning, I was at the point where I was reaching for the 72 % proof almost as soon as I got out of bed (and I was getting up seriously early). So on Christmas Eve I gave myself a stern talking-to and since then, apart from accidentally eating a choc-dipped ice cream, I’ve been chocolate-free.

For the most part it’s been extremely easy and it wasn’t until I was watering the garden last night that I realised why. Just before Christmas we spread sackfuls of cocoa bean husks over large sections of our garden and for most of the ensuing month it has smelled like Willy Wonka’s place.

The cocoa mulch was the idea of this clever gardener and it comes from the Whittaker’s chocolate factory 20 minutes away (though we buy it from here, if you are keen to get some). As well as smelling amazing – for a while everyone who walked up our path arrived at the house expecting some sort of chocolate extravaganza) – it’s very good nutrition for the soil and it’s good for the gardener because it suppresses weeds. You can use the sacks it comes in as weed mat too! The fact that it totally nullifies any desire on the part of the gardener to eat chocolate for breakfast has been an unexpected bonus.

Have you been doing anything creative with chocolate this month? This month’s We Should Cocoa is all about using chocolate in recipes that don’t contain any cane sugar – I’m looking forward to see what people have come up with. In the meantime I’m going to content myself with deep sniffs of the chocolate in my garden (and making miniature wine glasses from the chocolate wrappers discarded by everyone else in my house).

Treat me: Date and lemon cake

We have a little lemon tree

Nothing does it bear

Not a silver nutmeg, nor a golden pear

Our lovely neighbour Jacqui came to visit me

And said, if you want some of our lemons, do feel free!

Our neighbours have the most fantastic lemon tree across the fence and they are very generous with its fruit, which is just as well because our tiny specimen is taking a while to get going. I’m hoping we’ll be able to reciprocate in due course. In the meantime, I’m planning to make them a cake that uses every last bit of the lemon except the pips.

Date And Lemon Cake

Date and lemon cake
When we were going through my mother’s recipes this was the one I was most desperate to find. During my ‘between food processors’ phase I developed a terrible craving for this cake, because it’s really hard to make without one. It’s not impossible, but it’s much easier with Mr Magimix or whoever doing the heavy lifting.
There’s a chance this could be an Elisabeth Pedersen recipe, based on the newspaper font and age of the clipping, but in Mum’s book it’s just called ‘Mary’s Date and Lemon Cake’. Mary, wherever you are, I salute you. I’ve also rewritten your recipe to make it easier to follow and I’m making this my entry in January’s citrus-themed Tea Time Treats, a bit o’ blogging fun organised by Kate of What Kate Baked and Karen of Lavender and Lovage.

1 lemon, quartered, pips removed
1 cup dates, roughly chopped
100g soft butter
100g caster sugar
75g brown sugar
2 eggs
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream

Heat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 24cm tin.
Put the dates and lemon in a food processor and whizz until they form a finely chopped mushy mass. Warning: this will be noisy. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.
Sift the flour and baking soda together and set aside.
Put the butter and sugars into the processor and whizz until light and fluffy. With the motor running, crack an egg through the feed tube and whizz until well combined. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides, and repeat the procedure with the second egg. Add the sour cream in the same way, then add the date and lemon mixture. Lastly, add the sifted flour and baking soda and pulse until mixed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 35 minutes, until a skewer plunged into the middle comes out clean. Let it sit in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out on a rack to cook. Ice with Lemon Sour Cream Icing (recipe follows).

Lemon sour cream icing
This is absolutely addictive. I’ve scaled back the original amount, but this is still enough for a generous coating (which is to say, you can eat a few spoonfuls and the cake won’t suffer).

2 Tbsp soft butter
1 2/3 cups icing sugar
2 Tbsp sour cream
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp lemon juice (or more, according to taste)

Put all icing ingredients in the (rinsed out) processor and whizz until smooth and fluffy.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

A berry good day

Yesterday was brilliant. The sun came out, the gala was a huge hit (not least because I came home with empty tins, a pair of Zambesi trousers and some heirloom tomato plants),  and we had barbecued Murellen pork chops a la Bill Granger for dinner. Even better, the first of our strawberries were ripe enough to pick…


It’s hard to say who was more excited about this, me or the owner of the little hand in the photo. Slightly shamefully though I must admit that they don’t taste as good as the ones I bought last week. I might have to try the trick an old workmate once told me about, whereupon you line a bowl with cabbage leaves and put the strawberries in it for 30 minutes. Some chemical reaction apparently makes them taste sweeter. I’ll be sure to give it a go when the next berries are ripe.


How was your weekend?

The 24-carrot weekend

It has been a long weekend here thanks to Labour Day today – in which we are supposed to have the day off in honour of our forebears who fought for the eight-hour working day. Instead we worked our iPad-tapping fingers to the bone outside.

In between various other achievements over the weekend we dug out hundreds of flax roots, ripped up metres of weed mat, rehomed the ailing lemon tree, dug in compost and scattered coffee sacks of mulch. Then I planted eight sweetcorn seedlings, six strawberry bushes (I know, I should have planted them weeks ago), one patty pan squash and one unidentified curcubit – my little helper took the label off the punnet and I’m not sure if it’s a cucumber or watermelon. There’s a lot more planting to be done but I ran out of steam (and Zoodoo).
Oh and the Boy Wonder harvested 24 carrots planted by our house’s former owners, a little bonus that wasn’t in the real estate advert. We’re going to roast them with cumin seeds and garlic, though the carrot in the far right of the picture above looks like it is ready to get up and run away before that happens.

How did you spend Labour Day? And how is your spring/autumn garden looking?

Treat me: Golden Kiwi Cake

If you think you’ve had a bad week, spare a thought for New Zealand’s kiwifruit growers. A bacterial disease is slowly, insidiously, infecting crops across the country like something out of a horror movie. Every week at the supermarket I think about those growers and how devastating it must be to discover your livelihood is at risk. Then I put a lot of kiwifruit into the trolley. It’s the least I can do.

Golden Kiwi Cake
I’ve used golden kiwifruit in this upside down cake because the green variety go a bit khaki when cooked. The mellow flavour of the golden ones are also more suited to cooking, I think, so save the green ones for eating from the shell like a boiled egg.

8 golden kiwifruit, peeled and sliced into 1cm rounds
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp brown sugar
150g soft butter
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
100g ground almonds
150g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Heat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin – I used a ring tin, but a round tin is fine. If you’re using a springform tin, be sure to have a lined tray underneath it in case anything leaks out.
Pour the melted butter into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the brown sugar, then cover with a single layer of sliced kiwifruit. Set aside.
Beat the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the ground almonds, then sift over the flour and baking powder. Stir to mix. Pour half of the mixture into the tin, then cover with another layer of kiwifruit. Carefully spread the remainder of the mixture on top.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed and a skewer comes out cleanly when plunged into the cake. Let cool for five minutes, then carefully turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Have a good weekend, everyone x