Unlike many foodies of similarly frugal inclination, I am not particularly green fingered.
Our meagre veg patch doesn’t actually host any vegetables, but contains a few strawberry plants (of which we harvest a few handfuls each summer), a thornless blackberry (gifted by a neighbour) and some woody herbs which are more than a little outta control (rosemary, anyone?). My mother in law (who, by the way is a very talented gardener) potted up a tomato plant for us which is producing a few tomatoes each week, and our cherry tree generously granted us SIX edible cherries this year. But that’s the sum total of our garden’s bounty. And it ain’t gonna keep this fruit loving family going for long.
I’m no Margo Leadbetter; I love the idea of self sufficiency. I do, with a bit lot of guidance occasionally give the home grown variety a bit of a go. But let’s just say I’m no Barbara Good either. My vegetables usually fail. My fruit trees have a paltry yield. Even house plants who are unlucky enough to come under my care have a mediocre (albeit mercifully short) existence. My green bin is littered with the folorn carcasses of peace lillies and spider plants.
Of course I want my kids to see real produce being harvested from the actual ground rather than bought from sterile counters in supermarkets. But given my skills with living things (the failed radishes nearly finished me off last week) I often feel deflated, and when you’re up to your eyeballs in nappies and late for nursery runs, tending to vegetables is the least of your priorities.
So when friends gift me surplus veg of the home grown variety, I’m super happy. We have the privilege of being part of a large church family, many of whom are keen gardeners. And though I hate to acquiesce to the clichéd cutesy stereotype of ‘minister’s wife’, I’m known for my love of cooking and often get bags of homegrown goodies left on my doorstep.
Beetroot was the bounty I was pleased to be passed this week. I’d tried it before in a bake, namely chocolate cake, and although I enjoyed the earthy flavour and succulence it brought, the texture was a little damp, and I have to say, it tasted just a little too ‘beetrooty’.
This cake has grated beetroot in, more akin to a traditional carrot cake, and is less obviously beetrooty than the chocolate cake I tried. It still has an earthy sweetness and is beautifully moist, but light too, not cloyingly soggy.
It’d have to be the most majestic of cakes that ever overtakes carrot cake in my affections, but this recipe definitely comes close. It’s naturally sweet (but not overly so), has an autumnal comfort from the spices, and gains chewy texture from the walnuts and raisins. The orange zest brings a fruity dimension, and the slight tang of the frosting is the element that brings a sense of equilibrium to this delectable rooty bake.
I’m not going to give up on my dreams of having a more productive kitchen garden, but for now, I’ll leave it to the horticulturally talented. Maybe when the kids are older I’ll have time to sow, grow, harvest and cook my own veg.
But for now I’ll stick to making cake.
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
A pinch of salt
100g light muscovado sugar
50g caster sugar
50g chopped walnuts
50g raisins or sultanas
3 free range medium eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
200ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
2 raw medium beetroot (approx. 200g), grated
1 orange, zest only
50g unsalted butter
100g icing sugar, sifted
125g full fat cream cheese
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins
Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. Add the sugars and mix well to combine.
Whisk together the eggs, vanilla and oil and pour onto the flour/sugar mixture. Add the grated beetroot, walnuts, raisins or sultanas, and half the orange zest.
Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake for approximately 25 minutes, checking after 20. Turn the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack once cool enough to handle.
For the frosting, beat together the butter, cream cheese and the icing sugar with a little more vanilla. Use enough of the mixture to sandwich the cakes together, then, if desired,spread the remaining frosting on the top. Sprinkle the rest of the orange zest on top and serve.