Me, You and the Cake


Mum: How come you get to come first in the title?

L: Because I’m awesome.

Mum: And I am …?

L: Do you really want me to answer that?

Mum: Hmmm. Perhaps not.

L: Anyway, you should be asking how come the cake comes last. It’s the most important thing here.

Mum: Aaahhh …


Here’s the story. Yesterday, I decided to clear out my baking cupboard. I found … golden and flame raisins (left over from the Haroseth I made for a school Passover meal), cranberries (left over from something I definitely made to do with cranberries), dates (left over from a sticky toffee pudding I made for Boxing Day), apricots (left over from the jewelled rice we also ate on Boxing Day). These all went into a large casserole pan. The dried mango-that-went-out-of-date went into the bin.

I hunted around the kitchen and came up with three clementines, a lemon, a lime, a bottle of whisky and a bottle of sherry. I added the fruit juices and good glugs of alcohol to the pan. I stirred in some molasses sugar, light muscovado sugar, vegetable suet, cinnamon, ginger and mace, then put the whole pot in the oven for three hours.


Now … over to L for the rest of the story ….

Mum didn’t know what to do with all the mincemeat that was left over so I said, “I love mince pies, but I’ve had a lot of them lately. Maybe we could put them into something else I really love like… fruit cake! So that is how it came into being – ME! Mum said shed. No, that looks wrong. Try again. Mum said she’d (that’s better) make up a recipe if I took some photos. I told her she looked like she had a long neck like a giraffe in the jumper she was wearing, so she’d have to change if she wanted me to take any photos of her. Mum said she didn’t want photos of HER … she wanted photos of THE CAKE. I said whatevs and she went to change.


Ha mum, a photo of you!

So, I took a photo of Mum with some eggs …


… Mum mixing up some batter …


… Mum with a pile of dirty dishes …


… and oh, look! There’s me!

Made with Love Fruitcake

3 1/2 oz unsalted butter
7 oz golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
10 1/2 oz self-raising flour
14 oz mincemeat

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Grease and line an 8″ square baking pan.

Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour and mincemeat until evenly combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level the top.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35 to 45 minutes until golden brown, risen and springy to touch.

Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Serve as slices of cake with glasses of sherry … or with dollops of custard or ice cream for a pudding.

Boxing Day Pasties


“I am sooooo full,” says Aunty Marg.

“Me too,” says Grandpa Bert.

“I couldn’t eat a wafer-thin mint,” says Mr C.

“Not even a bit of Wensleydale?” asks Wallace.

“Goo goo,” says the baby (but he only had milk, which always fills him up. Besides, he has an inbuilt overflow mechanism for those I’ve-eaten-too-much moments).

There you all are, mindlessly eating chocolate-covered Brazil nuts and hanging around for the Queen’s speech (I had a friend whose Mum used to make them all stand to attention throughout that speech – seriously). Uncle George is trying to solve the fiddly little metal puzzle thing from a Christmas cracker while Oor William is wandering around with what looks like a black slug balancing on his upper lip (another cracker gift). And then someone asks …

“What shall we do tomorrow, then?”

Now, instead of running kicking and screaming from the living room and hiding under the pillow on your bed just to escape your oh-so-wonderful-but-by-now-incredibly-irritatingly-annoying relations for just one tiny moment of peace, why not propose … a Boxing Day walk? Come rain or shine, just wrap up warm and march the troops outside for a bracing blast of fresh air. And here’s the best part. You can gather up all those leftover sprouts and carrots and turkey trimmings and bread sauce and roasties and stuffing, and parcel them up into warm, steaming Boxing Day pasties to hand out to everyone as portable lunch feasts. Outdoors entertainment with the added feel-good factor of counting towards your exercise and economy-drive regimes. Skill.

These leftovers pasties are the easiest things in the world to make, and everyone always loves them. Trust me.

Here’s what you need to do …

Put 10 oz plain flour, 2 1/2 oz butter and 2 1/2 oz lard in a mixing bowl with a good pinch of salt (this gives enough pastry for four large pasties – increase the quantities as needed to make enough pasties for your Boxing Day party).


Use your fingers and thumbs to gently rub the fats into the flour. Don’t squeeze too hard or you’ll end up with a crumble topping mixture. Aim for a fine breadcrumb texture.


Use a tablespoon to sprinkle water over the mixture, cutting it through with a knife until it begins to hold together.


Use your hands to bring the dough together (gently, gently – it needs a bit more handling than the pastry for a sweet, crumbly lemon tart, but you still don’t want it to end up being too tough to bite through). Divide the dough into four equal parts (roughly equal is fine). Wrap each part in clingfilm, flatten with the heel of your hand and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour or so).


When you’re ready to make the pasties, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Gather together your Christmas dinner leftovers.


Chop the chunky meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and mix together with enough bread sauce/gravy/cranberry sauce/stuffing/etc to make a moist but not too sloppy filling.


Roll out each slab of pastry into a rough circle (‘rustic’ is good – there aren’t any Michelin-star inspectors watching!). Place a good dollop of filling into one half of each circle. Wet the edges of the pastry with water using a pastry brush (or one of your kids’ paintbrushes, if all else fails). Fold one half of the pastry circle over the filling and press down to seal the edges. Make some little folds and tucks around the edges to hold the whole thing together (technically called ‘crimping’, but anything that stops the filling escaping in the oven is all that’s needed).


Transfer each pasty to a baking tray (use a spatula if you need a bit more support underneath during the transfer).


Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp.


It’s best to leave the pasties to cool a little on wire racks so that the bottoms don’t go soggy from the steam as they’re sitting on the baking tray, but do parcel them up while they’re still warm and head out with your crowd for the hills and wide open spaces …

These pasties were designed for the Feeding the Masses project hosted by Most Wanted, the lifestyle magazine from This project aims to create a collection of recipes for feeding large groups of people over the festive period. Importantly, some dinner hosts face a great deal of financial pressure around this time of year, and they want to prove that feeding a small army needn’t be costly or too stressful – no matter how big their appetites are. Each recipe in the collection should therefore feed 10 or more people for around £3 per head. I hope that these Boxing Day pasties achieve this aim … assuming you have sufficient leftovers from a previous meal, the only real cost involved is in the ingredients for the pastry. I find that coming up with tasty ways to use leftovers is one of the most thrifty food tips that we live by in our family. Between you and me, I often enjoy the leftovers more than I enjoyed the meal they were leftover from … but shh, that’s a secret 😉

Great British Wind Meal


I received an unexpected invitation a few weeks ago to something called a ‘windmeal’.

Yes, that’s right. Wind. Meal. Okay, okay – snigger away. Finished? Can I continue?

Well … the invitation was not only unexpected but also unusual in that it was happening locally (and therefore accessibly) to me here in Devon. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is all well and good, but I’d have to be up very early to get there on time.

RenewableUK and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are delighted to invite you to their Great British Wind Meal and panel discussion … To celebrate the wind industry’s role in sustaining Britiain’s farming communities RenewableUK are working with energyshare and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to host a roundtable discussion and meal where the ingredients are from farms and suppliers powered by wind energy.

By now I was more than interested, and the deal was sealed when I read the menu (see below*) for the seasonal wind-powered lunch at the River Cottage Canteen and Deli on Plymouth’s Royal William Yard.


And so that’s how I found myself arriving at Mount Edgcumbe House on the Cornish side of the River Tamar yesterday morning. Putting aside memories of the SW Coast Path marathon that doubled as our honeymoon, I joined a group of around 50 delegates keen to discover the advantages of wind power in the context of UK farming.

A panel of experts was equally keen to tell us.

The discussion was chaired by Bill Martin, the Editor of the Western Morning News. He highlighted the salience of the event by pinpointing wind turbines as the number 1 point of discussion in the newspaper’s letters pages. I’m guessing that most of those letters go something like this

“Wake up people of course farmers think its a great idea to have a sodding great wind turbine on their land because they then get all their electricty paid for by every other electricty bill payer in the area inculding their family, friends and neighbours and whilst they are driving around in their brand new 4X4 they have just bought with the thousands of pounds of YOUR MONEY you are all struggling to pay your electricty bill and freezing your nuts off!!” [sic]

Maf Smith, Deputy CEO of RenewableUK set the scene however with a call to rise above the adversarial debates about wind power. Rather than circle acrimoniously around the contentious (and easily refutable) issues of house prices, infrasound and net energy costs, the central questions should be those that recognise the complex and subtle nuances of a mature, informed discussion about the key concerns. Where will our energy come from in the future? How will we create that? Who will benefit? How do communities get involved?

But further, what are the links between wind and food? Why do we need a banquet to celebrate food produced with green energy?


Maf Smith explained that the actions of farmers are important – these are people who know about energy. Not only are food and energy global products with the produce of farmers meeting the calorific needs of consumers, but also energy is a significant cost on most farms. From building insulation to lighting, heating systems, pumps, ventilation, water heating and milk cooling, wind power is one of the ways in which farmers and producers can bring down their energy costs, lower their carbon footprint and provide an additional source of much-needed income.

As a fuel, wind costs nothing. This allows farmers to sidestep the butterfly effect of changing energy prices and concentrate their efforts on the provision of quality produce.

Nicky Conway, Principal Sustainability Advisor from Forum for the Future, acknowledged that smaller farms that don’t have the capital or size are taking on a big risk if they invest in generating their own renewable energy. She emphasized that it has to be about “the right technology on the right farm at the right scale.” Although, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighted, wind power is hardly a new concept and wind turbines should be seen as a vital and normal part of the future, nobody on the panel yesterday was advocating a wholesale blanket approach to the installation of wind turbines across the country.

I can hear some mumbled coughing in the background. Harumpph subsdiharumphies.

Okay. Perhaps it’s not so mumbled. Yes, it’s coming across loud and clear

“In the most part, for ‘UK farmers’ read ‘extremely wealthy UK landowners who already benefit from obscene levels of agricultural subsidies’.”

It is at exactly this point that it is easy to fly away on emotive-driven wings of narrative. The issue is neither as black nor as white as sources on either side of the debate often attempt to portray. While it is true that all forms of renewable energy generation benefit from specific government support, the ‘external’ subsidies related to power generation from conventional fuel sources are usually not included in the calculations. Pollution, fuel spills, accidents, clean ups, health costs … when these costs are not covered by the industry responsible, then they are effectively subsidised by society through taxation.

Robin Hanbury-Tenison provided a compelling example of how wind power can become ‘an additional crop’ for farmers. Renowned explorer, author and hill farmer on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, Robin’s farm hosts a wind turbine, solar array and an electric car. Each year, he exports enough energy into the grid to power around 30 households.


And so, armed with this new set of information and questions, I stepped onto the ferry that would carry me across the water to Plymouth’s Royal William Yard. Whilst originally having accepted the invitation to the Great British Wind Meal largely on the basis of the deliciously tempting menu that was dangled in front of me, I was now entering the River Cottage Canteen with a different focus. Yes, the food was superb (aka Wow, Drool, OMG I’m in heaven) … but the concept of the meal took on a greater meaning through being able to sit, chat and mingle with not only the 50 or so delegates but also with the speakers, organisers, farmers and producers who had combined to present such an informative, entertaining and, above-all, thought-provoking day.


* The Great British Wind Meal was a completely unique meal, with the menu specially put together by River Cottage Canteen and Deli Plymouth. The menu was designed with consideration for the ingredients supplied by its donors, with remaining ingredients locally sourced, using River Cottage knowledge and expertise.

Vine House Farm organic cauliflower soup with Lincolnshire Poacher fritter
Lower Gazegill Farm pork terrine with spiced pear chutney


Vine House Farm butternut squash, Greenvale potato gnocchi, merguez spice and
Dewlay Garstang blue cheese
Sheepdrove Organic Farm lamb, parsnip and thyme gratin, green sauce


St Helen’s Farm goat’s yoghurt panna cotta with Vine House Farm honey
Caramelised apple tart with Mackie’s traditional ice cream & Yummy Yorkshire vanilla
ice cream


Selection of beer from Wold Top Brewery specially matched to each course:
Hello Velo (chilled) with the cauliflower soup,
Scarborough Fair IPA with the pork terrine,
Wold Gold with the butternut squash,
Headland Red with the lamb,
Wold Top Against The Grain (chilled) with the panna cotta,
Shepherd’s Watch (room temperature) with the apple tart.

Selection of wine from Dedham Vale Vineyard:
Dedham Vale Bacchus 2011
Dedham Vale Reserve 2009

Pulled Shoulder of Lamb (Recipe by River Cottage Canteen and Deli Plymouth, exclusively for the Great British Wind Meal in association with RenewableUK)

For the marinade:
3 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tbsp. rapeseed oil
2 whole bulb of garlic chopped
½ bunch of fresh thyme
½ bunch of fresh rosemary
3 big pinches of salt
330ml of pale ale
3lt of chicken or lamb stock

Put the shoulder of lamb into a roasting tray.

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl then cover the lamb in
the marinade and leave for 10/12hours. This can be done first thing in the
morning ready for overnight cooking at 10pm in the evening.

Pre-heat the oven to 240°C.

Put the lamb into the oven for 20 minutes or until nicely coloured.

After 20 minutes take the meat out, add the stock and cover with foil.

Reduce the heat to a cooler 110c for 9 hours to slow wet roast the lamb.

9 hours later it should pull from the bone and will be lovely and tender.

While it is still warm, remove all the meat and fat from the bone into a
large bowl and break it down into small pieces, shredding some of it.

Pass off the remaining stock into a container as this will form your sauce

Combine really well and check the seasoning, then roll into clingfilm
barrels, about 70/80mm in diameter.

Refrigerate until set.

Goat’s Yoghurt and Vanilla Panna Cotta (Recipe by River Cottage Canteen and Deli Plymouth, exclusively for the Great British Wind Meal in association with RenewableUK)

125g un-refined caster sugar
7 leaves of gelatine
1080ml double cream
415ml whole milk
600ml Goats yoghurt
7 vanilla pods

Combine milk, cream, sugar and split pods – scald in a clean pan.

Allow to cool slightly.

Soak leaves in cold water until soft.

Add leaves to mixture mix well and pass a sieve into a bowl.

Allow to cool to blood temp or cooler.

Add the yoghurt, mix well.

Pour into moulds and chill 8 hours plus.

Dip moulds to turn out.

Pie: The Book and the Reader Offer


I have a confession to make … I’m a recipe hoarder.


I have bookshelves full of cookbooks, boxes full of cookbooks, folders full of recipes on loose sheets of paper and photos of recipes on my phone. I even carry a small notebook in my handbag so that I can jot down any stray recipes I might happen to meet when I’m out and about. It’s probably safe to say that I’ve collected a few recipes since I started food blogging.


Perhaps inevitably therefore, I’ve become very fussy about which recipe books I consider buying. I’m no longer interested in rehashes of the same old spotted dicks and chicken chasseurs, while my three rapidly-growing children don’t leave me with either the time or the energy to recreate Michelin 3-star classics. In short, the cookbooks that appeal to me now are full of interesting recipes that inspire me to make them at home and use ingredients that inspire my family to eat them.

I don’t buy many cookbooks these days. I’m very fussy.


It was lovely therefore to receive a copy of PIE: Delicious Sweet and Savoury Pies and Pastries from Steak and Onion Pie to Pecan Tart by Dean Brettschneider and discover a brand new recipe book that I’m more than happy to add to my bookshelves. The pies on these pages just sing out to be eaten.


Sausage, Sun-dried Tomato and Potato Tart. Bacon, Curried Egg and Ricotta Pie. Chicken, Sweet Potato and Stilton Pot Pies. Chicken, Cranberry and Camembert Pies. Fish Pie with Leek and Chorizo. Tomato and Thyme Tarte Tatin. Dark Chocolate Banoffee Slab. Hazelnut and Coconut Shortbread with Strawberries and Blueberries. If you tell me you’re not drooling, then honestly, you’re lying.


In this book, Dean gives us more than eighty recipes for pastry classics and innovations using flavours from around the world. Chapters include meat, seafood, vegetarian and sweet pies, plus a chapter on ‘not-quite-a-pie’ – pastry treats such as flapjacks and sausage rolls. There’s even a recipe for traditional Cornish Pasties (although, as everyone knows, the pasty was invented here in Devon …).

All in all, this book gets a big thumbs-up from me. Perhaps the best praise I can give is to tell you that my own copy is already looking used and dog-eared. And as I said, I’m very fussy.


To order Pie at the discounted price of £20.00 including p&p* (RRP: £25.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG18.

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:

Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department,
Littlehampton Book Services,
PO Box 4264,
Worthing, West Sussex
BN13 3RB.

Please quote the offer code APG18 and include your name and address details.

*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Mum, You Need to do Your Own Baking!


Children can be very direct. My daughters especially seem to have an ability to cut straight to the heart of the matter. I remember once trying to help L with her Maths homework (I’ve given up on that one now, by the way – Year 7 Maths is way too hard for me!). Here’s how it went …

Me: If it costs £2.40 for 4 pens, how much does it cost for 1 pen?
L: It usually tells you how much it is for one. This is a rubbish shop.

So when they try to tell you that Maths is an essential life skill, you know what? They’re lying.


M has the same habit. She’s been working very hard at school and filling her evenings with six hours of ballet every week. Unsurprisingly, she reached yesterday morning and wanted to just ‘chill out’ for a bit. I took pity on her, boiled her an egg and allowed her to eat it in the living room so she could watch TV. Here’s how that one went …

Me: Try not to spill your egg.
M: But Mum, I was going to try to spill it coz I really like spilling egg on the sofa.

Okay, okay. Give me break. And she’s only 8 years old … we still have the teenage years to navigate.


Yesterday afternoon had its own ‘get real, Mum’ moment too. M was writing up a post for her own blog about a cake she invented last weekend …

M: I really like this. Can I write about it on A Merrier World too?
M: Mum, you need to do your own baking.

As I said – straight to the heart of the matter. But her cake is so lovely, I begged, pleaded, threatened and eventually bribed her until she agreed to let me show it to you over here …


Flumpies (by Madmu)

6 oz butter
3 large eggs
6 oz castor sugar
6 oz self raising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

raspberry jam
marshmallow flumps

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Grease and line an 8 inch round cake pan (and also line 6 to 8 cupcake holders with cases. This recipe makes 2 x 7″ round cakes, so there’s a bit left over for cupcakes if you just make one 8″ round Flumpie cake).

Make sure that the butter is very soft – beat it for a bit first in the mixer.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add all the other ingredients.

Beat on medium speed for a minute until everything is smooth and mixed together.

Fill the cake pan no more than 2/3 full and divide the rest of the batter between the cupcake cases.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Spread raspberry jam on top of the cake.

Cut up some marshmallow flumps and make a star with them on top of the cake.