When I was small we grew rhubarb in the back garden. Whatever variety it was – we had sourced the crown from some friend or relative so there were no labels – it grew gigantic stems, as thick as a baby’s wrist, topped by enormous leaves that we thought looked like child-sized umbrellas. I was never a fan: it was so stringy that it had to be peeled before cooking and I was always extremely dubious about any fruit or vegetable that did such a good job of shining the inside of the saucepan in which it was cooked.
There are days when nothing but a loaf cake will do. When I’m calling round to a friend or heading to stay with a cousin, I like to bring something with me and these days I’m going through a phase of loaf cake making. I normally make a pair so there’s one to take and one to eat at home – otherwise the Husband might just starve to death!
As a child, autumn was one of my favourite times of year. Going back to school was much eased by the fact that there were blackberries available for eating on nearby hedges, crab apples down the fields to be gathered and plenty of field mushrooms to be picked. This year, Little Missy in her sling for our daily walks, trying to grab any bramble that comes near her, we’ve been keeping an eye out for plump sloes and watching as the elderberries ripen, while eating lots of blackberries.
My Clonmel Cousin has been getting into the gardening gifts lately – and I’ve been the lucky recipient, getting a cheerful pink petunia and fuschia pot for my birthday and a Christmas present of a hazel tree with a pair of blueberry bushes. We had tried blueberries in the garden previously but they’re big fans of acidic soil and I don’t think we added enough peat moss into the spot where we planted them. This time round, when I was planting the bushes, I landed plenty of peat moss into the hole – with good results.
When we were in college, the Brother’s Housemate came from a catering household. His mother used to make hundreds of superb Christmas cakes and puddings each year, cook for parties and events and, most importantly to us, make the best Caramel Squares known to students.Living on an unbroken biscuit diet of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers – our habitual study food (oh, the excitement when a white chocolate variety came on the market) – these were manna from heaven. Every time the Brother’s Housemate was able to sneak or was given (we never knew, never asked) a box of them, we would descend on his house like a plague of biscuit-seeking locusts.
I’ve always liked to bake. As soon as I was old enough to co-ordinate reading recipes and using a wooden spoon, I was anxious for any cake-making excuse – and most of them involved copious amounts of chocolate. Over the years there have been many good chocolate cakes, from my early attempts using chocolate-flavoured cake covering and marg to (when I started paying for my own shopping!) butter and 70% dark chocolate. This cake, however, although it may not look like much, stands head and shoulders above the rest.
When I was small, picking blackcurrants was a big job. My Nana had several large, old bushes in the orchard under her apple trees. Every year, little fingers were pressed into service to strip the bushes of their black bounty so that she could make, or supervise the making, of the pots and pots of blackcurrant jam that were to see the household through the winter.
Since Little Missy arrived on the scene, the breadmaker has been working at full tilt. The loaves aren’t the most beautiful but, then again, looks aren’t everything and the convenience and flavour more than make up for it. A few mornings a week, before the Husband heads out the door to work, he loads it up with the ingredients for a Fennel-Aniseed-Caraway Loaf and, as Little Missy and I snooze away, it kneads, proves, knocks back and bakes a loaf of warm, sweet-smelling bread. At least, that has been the routine.