March 2014

March 2014

Friday, June 28, 2013

An English Country Garden

With the sound of chickens clucking, dogs chasing each other, the happy laughter of children and the scent of herbs by the kitchen door, our Clandestine Cake Club ‘English Country Garden’ event could not have been held anywhere better than Vanessa Kimbell’s countryside abode, which is also home to her Juniper and Rose Cookery School.

It just wasn’t warm enough to use the garden as planned but Vanessa encouraged us to place our cakes in several rooms so that we could ‘circulate’ and, once everyone had arrived, the various tables bedecked with large cakes looked really sumptuous. 

To accompany our bakes, we drank premium apple juice produced by The Village Orchard. Sadly the owner, Jonathan Chaplin, could not be with us to introduce us to the drink but I thought you would like to know that the orchard, attached to his Flore home, includes an abundance of heritage apple trees. A couple of years ago, rather than see the apples just drop and be left to rot on the ground, he decided to press them and make them into juice. The resulting drink has now won several awards and it will be interesting to see whether other ‘forgotten’ orchard owners will follow suit.

It was really lovely for me to meet again our special guest CCC founder, Lynn Hill, and I’m sure she chatted to as many members as possible. As I said at the time, if it wasn’t for her inspired idea to start a cake club, none of us would be meeting and chatting as friends – thank you, Lynn, and I hope it won’t be too long before we get together again.

Despite the grey skies, we also managed to snatch a few moments in Vanessa’s kitchen garden - full to the brim with plants of all shapes and sizes, and all beautifully set out in beds and rows. Vanessa kindly said a few informative words about using various plants and herbs as decoration in baking, and many samples of flowers were handed around, sniffed and admired.

Thank you Vanessa, and all the Kimbell family, for hosting our latest CCC event - we all much enjoyed the splendid cakery and I hope we didn’t leave too many crumbs behind! 

More photos taken at this event can be seen here -

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Open Farm Sunday 2013

Having enjoyed a visit to nearby Fallowfields Farm on this ‘open day’ last year – a business mainly specialising in the production of rapeseed and its by-products - we decided to visit another type of farm business in 2013. Only 15 minutes down the road is a company called Bedfordia, not a name I have read or heard about and one which we must have passed by without notice many times but, having now opened their gates to visitors, one which I will certainly now remember in the future. 

The Bedfordia group has many diverse operations. It owns and manages 5,500 acres of predominantly arable farmland and it has one of the largest, state-of-the-art, grain stores in the UK. We witnessed a lorry emptying its load of grain at the start of the process at the giant plant which cleans it, sorts it, dries it and grades it before another transport takes it onwards to other forms of production.

Another part of the business consists of several pig breeding units and we saw piglets in various stages of growth and, twinned with this, were displays showing the renewable energy achieved through pig slurry and food chain waste which is now produced by its Biogas plant.

All in all it was a fascinating afternoon and an educational insight into where some of the flour that I use in my baking is sourced and grown in my local countryside. I wonder where Open Farm Sunday will take me next year?

Monday, June 10, 2013


Having declared summer this week, with warmer temperatures and bluer skies, it seems appropriate to look forward to Wimbledon at the end of the month and our British strawberry season.

On our recent holiday, we sat outside on a pretty restaurant terrace and sipped glasses of Pimms whilst soaking up the sunshine and waiting for our lunch to be served. At home today, the clouds have sadly returned – not a day to sit in the garden with chilled glasses - but I wanted to recreate something of that glorious moment of relaxation.

After a little thought, I decided to bake a cake for the weekend, containing all the flavours and aromas of a Pimms. I adapted a recipe to include all of the luscious sweet and sour fruity tastes, together with the tang of heady mint. It is a beautifully moist cake, perfect for a garden party, and so decadent when accompanied with fresh and juicy British strawberries. It will also keep, undecorated, for about 3 days although, once tasted, I don’t think it will last that long! 

Pimms cake
225g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs, beaten
225g self-raising flour
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
Handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
100ml Pimms
One extra teaspoon of caster sugar
To decorate:
Strawberries and fresh mint leaves

450g/2lb loaf tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg, a little at a time, beating well between each addition.

Sift the flour over the mixture and gently stir to a smooth consistency, then stir in the orange and lime zest and the chopped mint. Stir in 50ml of the Pimms gently and then pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin.

Bake for approximately 40 to 50 minutes (test the cake is baked by inserting a skewer into the middle of the cake – if it comes out clean, then it’s ready).  Turn it out onto a wire rack.

Mix 1 teaspoon of caster sugar into the orange and lime juices and the remaining 50ml of Pimms.

Whilst the cake is hot - using a skewer, prick all over the top of the cake, then slowly and very carefully pour the liquid mix over the cake. You will need to allow the liquid to slowly absorb, so have patience and add a little at a time, then leave the cake to cool completely.

Once cool, decorate the cake with strawberries and sprigs of mint.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


I wonder if others are like me in that when I go on holiday I like to taste and sample the local delicacies, i.e. what the ‘real’ people eat. Recently, we spent a lovely few days on Jersey and we hunted-down some of the rich pickings of the Channel Islands. 
Travelling around the island we couldn’t help but notice several herds of Jersey cows and, naturally, tested and approved the milk, cream, cheese and ice-cream from these beautiful and photogenic animals – it can even be bought with the high-fat content taken out! 

We also saw fields and fields of Jersey Royal potatoes in various stages of growth. To our astonishment, they were offered for visitors to buy when leaving the island at the seaport and airport – seems strange to me to bring home a 1kg bag of potatoes but ‘each to their own’ as they say.

What else did we find? Oh yes, a curiosity really – ‘Black Butter’. Not a butter at all but a preserve made from cider apples, sugar and spices and, occasionally, liquorice is added. I wondered whether I could replicate it during the apple harvest here in the UK and so brought a small, rather expensive, jar home to try. If my results in the autumn are worth reporting, I will blog about it here!

Of course, the abundance of fish caught in the waters surrounding the Channel Islands cannot be omitted from my tale of Jersey produce. Visiting the Fish Market, we saw every conceivable fresh and bright-eyed species on display and I have never seen such a multitude of shellfish, including oysters, lobsters, scallops and glorious, long-legged, spider crabs. 

Finally, true to my heart’s desire, what could I find at the bakers? The only traditional cake I found was something called a ‘Jersey Wonder’. These twisted pieces of dough are, according to local myth, made by the island’s housewives as the tide is going out. Rumour has it that if they cook them on an incoming tide, the fat will overflow the pan. The reasoning behind this is rather unclear but I can relate that these ‘Wonders’ are like scones that have been deep-fried, but are not covered in sugar like a doughnut and, for me personally, are not so very wonderful! 

However, we really did enjoy our Jersey adventure and hope to return next year in May for the Food Festival which is a week long celebration of the iconic produce for which this island is so famous. I can’t wait!