Saturday, August 11, 2007

Having my cake and eating it too

We're still off the junk food. This is good for us in so many ways but I must now work harder to sate my sweet tooth. I was always more of a savoury lover, choosing cheese over chocolate for example, but pregnancy changed that. With both Lu and Nell I had an overwhelming craving for bleach, rubber boots and cuttlefish; only XXX peppermint lollies could temporarily assuage the need. All that sugar permanently re-built my tastebuds and I look for sweet things daily. In the absence of lollies and ice cream I've returned to baking cakes.

I've got a few posh, glossy cookbooks but I'm most often guided by the Kenmore State School Cookbook. I'm not sure when exactly it was published but the Brisbane phone numbers are only six digits so it's getting old now. Other telling signs: the recipe titles are capitalised and maraschino cherries make regular appearances. A far better indicator of its age, this is the book I used as a child - turning the pages pulls me back to Saturday afternoons in rural Victoria: Bran Loaf, Chocolate Sponge Cake (always served with whipped cream) and Simplicity Chocolate Cake, made up by my mother in double quantities, baked in a large rectangular tin and served with chocolate icing on very special occasions.

It's the relative frugality of these cakes that strikes me most. Contemporary treats suggest chocolate with 70% cocoa solids, lots of nuts and lashings of cream. Those cooking in Kenmore circa 1970 worked variations of the basic theme of eggs, S.R. flour, sugar and butter. Many recipes don't even require creaming the butter and the sugar, my great failing as a cook. Using this book is a return to those times when cakes were a no nonsense way of filling bellies, when they were not 'sinful', 'indulgent', 'decadent', and made no obvious moral judgements. Standing at the bench, I feel I should be wearing a pinny and sensible shoes, and that's a feeling I'm quite comfortable with.

In this book, between Energy Cake and Pudding Cake lies Peach Blossom Cake, one of the minor disappointment of my childhood. When I baked this for the first and only time, I expected magic, wonder and beauty but it's just a tea cake with some pink colouring mixed in. The bubble of excitement deflated on the very first nibble. I couldn't have been more than nine, and I've never eaten it again. To this day I remember its stale, dull taste.

I'm not sure how a peach blossom cake should taste, but I know it should smell of daphne. Each day as I walk to the bus I pass a bush with its modest flowers and remarkable scent, almost overly sweet but with a tang that shifts it back from cloying. Daphne has been one of the surprises of my life down south. I had been excited about raspberries, daffodils and roses but had never really thought much about this plant. Now everyday it pushes itself into my senses. In one of those odd associations, my first sniff, the day after I had dragged out the Kenmore book, pulled the peach blossom cake into my head and I thought, 'This is what it should have been'. I am so very pleased that a little of that childhood expectation is restored to my life each morning. To keep me happy, I clipped a little bit of the daphne (really, there's plenty on the bush) and popped it into a jar to sit on my desk and sniff when the anxiety started to gather in my chest.

Yesterday was blustery, cold, sometimes sleeting and never welcoming; a very good day to sit inside and eat cake. Which is what I did, in my office, with a cup of green tea. I had packed the All in Together Cake in my lunchbox, the same cake Lu spat in (but surely 40 minutes in a moderate oven solves those sort of issues?); the crumbly slices, together with the flowers, made a little bubble of calm in an otherwise overwhelming day.

So here I'd like to record my thanks to the person who placed the daphne so close to the path, so that we can all share in that remarkable scent: Madam/sir, you made my day.


Kez said...

I love the old cookbooks - I have some from my childhood going right back to some my Nan had. The ingredients are so 'basic', no-nonsense and taste yummy!

I'm not commenting on the craving for bleach, rubber boots and cuttlefish ;) - I thought my Hungry Jack's craving was bad enough! (Hamburger chain like Maccas but much nicer if you don't have it)

traceyleigh said...

I knew someone who craved and satisfied said craving of washing powder when they were pregnant. Totally bizzare. Mine was smoothies and/or gelato with the first and KFC chips (ewwwwwwwwww) with the second. There was not much I could eat at all with the second, it was a miserable time in my life considering I'm such a foodie.

I love cake. But only want one slice and then I'm done, which is probably why I don't make it. Tara only likes the icing and Molly is the same as me and tends to be a slice-then-I'm-over-it type of girl. Which is why I would prefer to go to a lovely cafe/restaurant and indulge in a large slice of whatever looks the most appealing and sharing it with someone.

Things like tart or cheesecake on the other hand, I can make and it will all be gone in a flash.