Empower yourself by learning to bake a wonderful Carrot & Banana cake

Carrot & Banana cake with pecan nuts. A delightful, simple flop-proof cake.

Empowerment is one of the buzzwords circulating freely today. But have you ever taken five to consider what “empowerment” really means?

Educationist Dr Seth Kreisberg  of the University of Massachusetts suggested in 1992 in his  educational classic**  that empowerment was “the capacity to implement”.

Implicit in this concept is that change (and growth) is involved. Through learning to make or do stuff, you gain (change) in self-confidence and ability. Skilling is a very self-empowering process.

I took Seth Kreisberg’s sense of empowerment to heart and devoted much of my time at home to “empowering” my extended family members with home skills (carpentry, mucking around with engines, reading for pleasure and information, growing things, and preparing food).

The first non-essential, but very rewarding, skill everyone learnt in the kitchen was how to bake a flop-proof Carrot & Banana cake.

We have been baking this cake since the end of 1992 when Matt (Thabethe) and I modified a recipe from the “Great Baking Classics” supplement in the July 1987 Living and Loving magazine.

Further modifications followed over the years with suggestions and tweaks from Puggy (Xaba), TZ (Thabizolo Msimang), Philani (Khumalo),  Khaya (Mwelase), Bam (Phumlani Hlatshwayo), Senzo (Khanyile), Zotha and Zazi (Shange), and Phila (Msimang), along with Michael and David. David, now living in Derby, England, also bakes really good-looking  proper bread (made with yeast – not the “health” variety soda bicarb bread). Michael, a fine artist, knows that man does not live by bread (or meat) alone — he is continuously experimenting with simple, tasty, vegetarian dishes.

As with many of our basic recipes, the basic measuring unit is one of our cups (a 250 ml coffee mug). But any standard cup will do. Cooking is not so much about precise quantities, but rather about correct proportions and understanding what is going on with your ingredients. A “pinch” is the amount that can be held between the tips of the thumb and fore-finger. A “generous pinch” is between thumb and crooked fore-finger. I don’t do ml. I have never understood the pedantic translation of those early rough-and-ready recipes with handfuls, tablespoonfuls, and cups of this, and a pinch of that, into precise metric equivalents.

We do not use an electric mixer. All mixing is by hand with a wooden spoon. You have better control and reduce the risk of the gluten in the flour reacting too quickly through over-mixing, forming a “doodgooi” heavy dough.

  • 1 cup grated raw carrot (thinly peeled first)
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (4 ripe bananas)
  • I cup raisins
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped or broken pecan nuts
  • I cup sugar (brown is nice)
  • 2 cups cake flour (I prefer SASKO®)
  • 125 g butter or margarine (quarter of a block)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (slightly heaped)
  • 1 teaspoon soda bicarbonate (dissolved in half a cup of warm water)
  • a pinch of mixed spice. This is an essential flavourant for carrot cake – a ground mix of pimento (all spice), cloves, cassia, and nutmeg.
  • 1 teaspoon (cap-full) vanilla essence
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Switch on the oven to preheat at 180 degrees C.
  2. Into a mixing bowl add the sugar and the diced butter. Microwave on high for one minute. Stir well.
  3. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla essence. Mix well (hand mix with a wooden spoon).
  4. Add the mashed bananas. Mix well.
  5. Sieve into the mix a cup of flour and the baking powder, salt and mixed spice. Mix well. Add the second cup of flour. Mix well.
  6. Add the grated carrot, raisins and broken pecan nuts. Mix well.
  7. Add the half cup of water with dissolved bicarbonate of soda. Mix well.
  8. Divide the cake batter evenly into two  pre-greased medium loaf-shaped tins (wiped generously with a torn-off square of butter paper or sprayed with Spray n Cook®). Use either anodized aluminium, glass Pyrex®, or heavy silicone rubber  pans (Woollies ones are best).

Bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on oven size, age, and whether fan oven or not. We use a 32-year-old Defy® Thermofan 418. Most of the wiring, all the rings, a number of switches etc have been replaced by us over the years. But it still keeps going.

Test for doneness while still in the oven by probing the loaves at either end with a wooden skewer. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done. If it comes out with gunk, they are not ready. If gunky, close the oven door and let them do for another 15 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in the loaf pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing them from the pans. Let them dry and cool further, bottom-side down, for another hour before wrapping them in aluminium foil. You can slice and eat them while still warm – yum, but crumbly. If you let them cool properly then they will firm up and slice well with a sharp knife. They keep well, wrapped, for several days.

** Kreisberg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empowerment, and education. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992)

Minced fruit “cuppa” chutney (excellent!)

Minced fruit chutney and the SIF 99 hand mincer.

After repeated experiments, and following the acquisition of a vintage hand-crank  mincer (a Suffolk Iron Foundry, or SIF,  no. 99, thanks to a close friend, Brigette Johnson, whose Baobab Antiquity Trading imported it from England), I have come up with what I think is an excellent chutney with  taste, consistency and time advantages over  my previous efforts.

I should point out that the present recipe is subtly different from the one I previously posted here. I have increased the fruit, reduced the water and sugar, stepped up the cayenne, and suggested a tad of ground cloves to enhance the flavour.

The result is a not too sweet, tangy fruit chutney that will go with curry, cheese or any bland dish that needs a bit of livening up (brilliant on cheese and ham sandwiches).

I call it a “cuppa” chutney because everything is measured in cups. The exact volume is not essential, but use the same size cups (well, we don’t have any tea cups, we use small, sturdy 250ml coffee mugs). This recipe was made on Sunday 16 September 2012 with Khaya (Mwelase) aiding and abetting the process (and cranking the mincer!).

  • 1½ cups dried peaches and apricots (just apricots if you don’t have peaches – we use the bitter , hard South African product, not the nice soft, sweeter Turkish variety).
  • 1½ cups raisins (we use cheap bulk “economix” odd-sized sultanas and raisins)
  • 1 cup chopped tomato (or a tin of chopped tomato)
  • 1 coarsely diced onion
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups brown vinegar
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar (we like the Italian  Varvello®, but just use brown vinegar if you don’t have balsamic)
  • ½ cup tomato sauce (All Gold®, what else?)
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire Sauce (we use Lea & Perrins®, or the Colman’s Holbrooks® Worcestershire sauce, which is an acceptable substitute)
  • 3 heaped teaspoons Maizena® corn starch (mixed in half a cup of water)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional, but adds depth to the taste)
  1. Soak the dried apricot, peaches and raisins in the three cups of water overnight.
  2. Drain the soaked fruit (keep the water!) and put it through the mincer with the onion, and  tomato.
  3. Put everything (except for the Maizena®), including the water drained from the fruit,   into a 4-litre stainless steel pot. Bring to the boil.
  4. Once the mixture starts boiling turn down the heat to a slow boil or simmer. Keep stirring the mixture, to prevent burning on the bottom, for three-quarters of an hour to an hour.
  5. When the time is nearly up add the  Maizena® and water mixture. Stir rapidly as it thickens for two to three minutes.
  6. Take the pot off the heat and immediately spoon the mix through a large funnel into bottles. Cap immediately. Using an indelible koki marker label the caps with the date.

Makes 5 to 6 glass honey jars (not plastic unless you want them to go funny-shaped with the hot chutney). Quantity produced depends on how long you boiled the mix, and how you full you made the bottles. This vinegar and sugar rich chutney bottled hot in clean glass jars keeps well on a shelf (out of direct sunlight) for months.

And no. You can’t use one of those electronic blender thingies. This is a chunky chutney, not baby food. Either use a (clean!) hand mincer or an electric mincer (using a coarse disc). Previously I laboriously hand-diced the dried fruit but could not get it small enough. And dicing raisins is hard, messy work! Believe me, mincing is the way to go for this chutney.

A note on mincers: You can get a very expensive stainless steel hand mincer, but the good old-fashioned tinned (giving it that silvery colour) cast-iron hand mincer that Granny used is hard to beat.

Fruit and vegetable mincers generally have a slotted cutting disc that cuts against a coarse multi-holed exit plate (usually a single series of 9 holes each 6mm in diameter).

Meat mincers typically have a propeller-like set of four cutting blades that cut against an exit plate with much smaller holes in several series.

You can use either. But it is essential that you clean the mincer, and particularly the plates, extremely well after each use. Just wash in soapy warm water, rinse and dry, using a pipe cleaner to dry the holes. You can prevent rust by using Spray and Cook® or Cook ‘n Bake® on the mincer and its parts and then assemble it. The spray works well but makes it a bit sticky. If you don’t like that you can keep the dried mincer parts in a container of dry rice instead.

If you bought an old mincer and the plates were a bit rusty use steel wool and a fine metal sand paper (400 grit) to remove the surface rust and a needle file to remove rust in the holes. Then wash, dry and store as above. Never use a rusty mincer until you have thoroughly cleaned it and removed ALL the rust. You don’t want to go down in history as the Daisy de Melker of your street.*

*Using a rusty mincer to prepare meat can give rise to food poisoning, or botulinism, if the meat is not thoroughly cooked afterwards. On 30 December 1932 Daisy de Melker was hung in Pretoria Central Prison at the age of 46 for poisoning her 20-year-old son, Rhodes, with coffee laced with arsenic. This was after she had “lost” two husbands from strychnine poisoning and had inherited the proceeds of their insurance policies. The murder of her two plumber husbands was never proved.

Traditional South African steamed breads

When I was young my mother would make steamed bread in 1 lb (500g) baking powder tins prized for the purpose because they were rust-proofed, smooth sided and had tight-fitting screw on or slide on tops. She made boston bread (a raisin and molasses tea bread), ginger bread and mealie bread. She had three tins kept for the purpose and could always be relied on to whip up a tasty high tea treat in the late afternoon whether for guests or just her own hungry boys. If you don’t have any old baking powder tins (or old cocoa tins that also came with tin caps), you can buy similar-sized “steaming” tins from a

Baking powder tin with tight-fitting lid.

baking goods shop (shame on your mother for not passing on her old baking powder or cocoa tins. Today most brands of baking powder and cocoa come in useless plastic containers – absolutely not suitable for steaming bread!).

Later in life, when I began living with Zulu people, I was introduced to a completely different steamed bread, ujeqe (pronounced: u- ch- eh- tongue descending plosive click- soft, disappearing  uh). Recently a friend inaugurated me in the rites of making ujeqe.

So give tradition a go! A good ginger bread is made somewhat differently to these simple recipes. I will add it later (I need to do some experimenting!).


Zulu steamed bread (ujeqe)

No traditional feast or ceremony (umsebenzi) is complete without slices or hunks of freshly-made ujeqe, traditionally served on a wooden platter (ugqoko), alongside chunks of meat (usually the sacrificial goat) and small mounds of salt for dabbing the meat. There is a bit of controversy over the correct name of the wooden platter. Purists call it ugqoko, but current usage is to call wooden serving platters isithebe (traditionally a name reserved for the finely-woven small mats on which ground maize is collected, also used for serving vegetables).

This was the recipe given me by Khumbuzile, the other half of good friend and journalist, Sbu Mboto, and mother of his, at the time of writing, last born, Zander Satchmo. She made it for me on Christmas day 2011 when the three were around for lunch, along with Bam – Phumlani Hlatshwayo – Khaya Mwelase and his lively young brother, Sanele, Girlie Makhathini (Khaya’s grandmother and my vegetable gardening mentor),  and Senzo Khanyile and his fiancée Sle (short for Slender) Mthalane.

Traditionally ujeqe is made from crushed fresh mealies rather like the traditional South African steamed green mealie bread. The  recipe below, however, is the one all township folk use.

  •  2½ cups of cake flour
  • 1 dessert spoon sugar
  • 600 ml warm water
  • 2 teaspoons Anchor brand instant yeast
  • 1 pinch salt

Mix dough and knead lightly. Place in a covered glass dish in the sun to rise for an hour (or any other warm place).

The dough wrapped in an oiled plastic shopping bag and placed on a steaming rack inside a pot.

Oil (with olive oil or margarine) the inside of a plastic shopping bag (which you have wiped first – you never know what has been inside it, says Khumbuzile). Place the risen dough in the bag and tie the top to stop water getting in.

Place on a legged expandable vegetable steamer in a pot with boiling water up to the steamer platform. Lightly boil for an hour. By then the bread should be done. Check the pot from time to time to see that it has water (you are making steamed bread, not potjie roasted bread which is another recipe).

Opening ujeqe to check that it is cooked.

After an hour of boiling open up the bag and slip a wooden skewer into the middle of the bread. If it is done it will come out smooth. If still sticky with gunk then close up the bag and continue boiling for another 20 minutes. When done the steamed bread has a light tan “skin”. Allow to air on a rack for a few minutes before serving.

The result is a delicious, coarsely-textured, slightly chewy bread which is not wet (as you may have expected) but light and firm with a nutty aroma. Wonderful bread. I eat it with honey or fruit preserve. Or even with (to the horror of my friends) with my favourite full-cream maas (thickened sour milk) (amasi), traditionally prepared in an igula, a calabash (the dried outer husk of the fruit of iselwa, the squash family calabash gourd plant, Lagenaria siceria).

Traditional South African steamed green mealie bread

This is really a steamed soda bread, as opposed to a yeast bread. If you don’t have mealies then use most of two drained tins of corn (or sweetcorn emptied into a sieve so you can wash out all the creamy gunk).

  • 2 ½  cups minced or coarsely blended green mealies cut from the freshly-picked cob.
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 beaten egg

Mix mealies, salt, sugar, baking powder in a bowl. Add beaten eggs mixed with the melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a greased 500g baking powder tin. Place a disc of greased waterproof paper a little larger than the tin diameter on the tin (also known as greaseproof paper) (if you don’t have any just grab a sheet of paper from your printer and rub butter on both sides – works even better!). Screw the lid down over the greased paper. Place on a trivet or pot stand inside a large pot and add water to reach two-thirds up the side of the tin. Lightly boil for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Very nice with golden syrup, honey or just a dab of butter. A nice bready side-dish instead of boring rolls (rolls – yuk! Only plebs or fast-food joint habitués have rolls with a meal. Rolls and boerie  or chicken sausage on Friday night are acceptable. But not with a dinner – puhleeez!).

Traditional steamed Boston bread

A tea cake steamed soda bread.

  •  1 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup blended dry oats
  • 1 cup mealie meal
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 handful raisins (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup (I prefer molasses)
  • 1 ¼ cups of lukewarm milk

Mix dry ingredients. Blend the warmed milk and syrup and add to the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly.

Makes enough batter for two tins. Fill each tin two-thirds with the mixture and cook as above for steamed mealie bread.

Philani’s melktert

If music be the food of love, play on. But food itself is more than nutrition for the body, it is also the music of loving memories. Last night my youngest own-blood son, David, sent me a skype message from faraway England asking whether I still had Philani’s wonderful melktert recipe. David’s request triggered a rush of memories, but I was sitting on a deadline so said I would get back to him today.

When I woke this morning I decided not only to dig up Philani’s recipe, but whip up two melktert with different bases and write it up for the blog. Working with me on this project was long-time member of our extended family, Khaya (Mwelase), a trainee paramedic with NetCare 911, who was off-duty for the day.

Philani, let me first explain, is Philani Khumalo, a tall easy-going, seriously intelligent young attorney who now works in Johannesburg. For many years, while completing school and then studying law at university, he was a much loved member of our household. He loved nothing better on Saturday afternoons than putting on his favourite Philip Glass opera, Akhnaten, and cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Invariably, due to popular demand he would produce his justly famous melktert which he had perfected and to which everyone still refers nostalgically.

South Africa is a hunter’s hotpot of cultures and their foods. The Dutch contributed not only their language, the backbone of Afrikaans, but also several delicacies which have joined the ranks of our popular national food symbols: melktert, intertwined koeksusters, and the ball-shaped vetkoek. Although melktert is sometimes translated as milk tart, or baked custard pie, most people know it as melktert.

The basis of Philani’s melktert was a recipe he got from the back of the box of another South African traditional symbol, Maizena® (the South African standard household cornflour brand). I still have the old original recipe, as well as our modified recipe given here, but do not have all Philani’s variations. Nonetheless melktert in our household is still fondly known as Philani’s melktert.

You can use any shallow pie or rippled flan dish with an outer diameter of around 26cm. Grease the dish with a piece of butter paper, or spray it with an anti-stick agent like Spray ‘n Cook®. You will be glad you did when removing a wedge of melktert at the end.

Khaya pressing out the shortcrust pastry base. On the left is the crushed biscuit base.

 shortcrust pastry base (makes one)

  • 250 ml (1 cup) cake flour [375 ml (1½  cups)]
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) Maizena
  • 62,5 ml (¼  cup) sugar
  • [2 level teaspoons baking powder]
  • 1 pinch salt (a pinch is between thumb and tip of forefinger, a generous pinch is between thumb and crooked forefinger)
  • 90g (a fifth of a 500g block) butter or margarine [100g]
  • yolk of an egg

Mix together dry ingredients. Work the butter into the dry ingredients, rubbing between your fingers until there are no lumps of butter left and you have an even-coloured, gritty mix (a bit like fine sawdust). Put the egg yolk in a cup and top up to half-way with cold water, then beat with a fork. Using the fork whisk the beaten egg into the flour mix then with floured hands lightly compress the mix in a ball, put it in a pie dish in the fridge for 20 minutes or so to chill. Once chilled press the pastry evenly out and up the sides. Prick the base with a fork (to prevent unseemly swelling) and bake the shell in the oven for 10 minutes at 180C.

Pricking the base of the shortcrust pastry shell.

alternate base (makes one)

  • 1 packet tennis or marie biscuits (crushed in a plastic bag with a rolling pin)
  • 140g melted margarine or butter

Melt the butter in the microwave for a minute on high. Stir in the crushed biscuit and press out in a pie dish with the back of a spoon.

filling for one melktert:

  • 500ml (2 cups) milk
  • 1 heaped (or 1¼ ) tablespoon Maizena (cornflour)
  • 1 heaped (or 1¼ ) tablespoon cake flour
  • 1 level tablespoon butter (or margarine)
  • 1 egg (separated)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 capful (½ teaspoon) of vanilla essence

filling for two melktert:

  • 1 litre (4 cups) milk
  • 4 level tablespoons cornflour
  • 3 ½ level tablespoons cake flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 capsful (1 teaspoon) of vanilla essence

Melt the margarine in the microwave. Beat in the sugar with a wooden spoon. Beat the eggs and then mix thoroughly with the margarine and sugar mix. Add the vanilla essence. Begin gently heating the milk. When warm, not hot, add some warm milk to the mix and stir well until the mix combines evenly. Add all of your mix now to the warm milk in the pot, stirring all the while.

Pouring the cornflour and cake flour mix into the warm milk mix in the pot. Keep stirring!

Meanwhile mix the cornflour and cake flour with some cold water, adding a bit at a time until you have a smooth mix that will just pour.

Add this to the warm milk mixture in the pan, keeping on stirring. As the mixture approaches boiling it begins thickening. Let it bubble (boil) for a minute or two as you stir.

If you rush this process (too hot a cooking ring) you will get the odd lump or two. But that is not a disaster. Just keep on. The lumps will reduce and you will remember next time to use a lower ring heat, or take the pot off the heat from time to time so that you can match your stirring to the thickening.

Pouring the thick cooked custard into the shells.

Pour your thick custard mix into the pie shell(s). Bake at 180C for 15 to 20 minutes, then put on a wire rack to cool and set. Sprinkle powdered cinnamon over the baked custard top.

The finished product fresh from the oven, with a dusting of cinnamon.

You will know that you got it right when you cut and remove that first slice. The custard should be firm and not flow into the space left!

You should experiment with both bases. Crushed biscuit is fine (and quick). But the shortcrust pastry recipe we use is great for all sorts of dishes, whether as the shell for a quiche or for a pie topping (chicken pie, steak and kidney pie, savoury mince pie).

Sinful summer temptations

As one who firmly believes that a melting sin on the tongue is worth two furtive sins behind the bush, I take great pleasure in concocting sins in the kitchen. Especially now that summer’s here and one’s activity meter has thawed into life once again.

Recently I decided to tackle two delicacies that most of us resort to buying because we think they are just too complicated to successfully make oneself: passionfruit ice-cream and lemon meringue pie. As with all my recipes I like to get down to the core of what makes a dish work without the frilly bits. Professionalism is the ability to understand what you are doing and to practice doing it so that you can get it right every time (barring earthquakes, electricity failure and your son arriving with a pregnant stranger at the kitchen backdoor).

Start by switching on the oven to 180C so that it will be ready when you need it.

Lemon meringue pie with lemon curd filling

The best lemon meringue is made with your own lemon curd, so the first step is making a honey jar of lemon curd as follows:

 Lemon curd filling

  • 50g (level tablespoon) butter
  • 200g (1 cup) white sugar
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 2 lemons (juice strained through a sieve)

Melt the sugar and butter in a small saucepan on the stove at low heat, stirring as you go. Once fully melted add the lemon juice mixed with the beaten eggs. Keep the heat low and keep stirring until the mixture begins thickening a little. Turn up the heat a little and let it boil for a minute or two while continuing to stir. Bottle and let cool. The recipe works really well if you don’t rush it. And no, for this one you don’t have to use a double boiler. It was given to me by a friend, Sue Rushton, who got it from another friend, Jenny Henrico, who lives just up the road from her.

Rich shortcrust pastry pie shell

  • 1½ cups  cake flour
  • 100-150g butter (or cooking margarine) cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 generous pinch salt
  • grated zest from the lemons
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 80ml cold water

 Rub the butter into the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Rub until the flour has become a yellowish granular meal and there are no butter chunks left. Beat the egg yolk in the water and pour slowly into the flour mix, stirring with the tines of a fork. Work quickly, then lightly compress the mixture into a light ball and place in the mixing bowl in the fridge. Never overwork flour when adding liquid, otherwise a gluten reaction kicks in which will turn the baked result into the Dwarf Bread lovingly described by Terry Pratchett. While the pastry is chilling you can make the meringue topping.

After half an hour grease a pie dish with a torn off corner of the butter paper (I like those pyrex dishes with the crinkly edges used for soustert, flans and shallow quiches). Put the ball of pastry in the centre and work it outwards. If your fingers get sticky then lightly flour them. Work it to the edge of the flat and then up the rim. Pat the jutting edges level with the rim and then work your way around the rim gently pushing a finger into each crinkle valley to give a nice ripple effect. Cut some slits in the base to stop it developing bubble bottom. Bake the shell in the pre-heated oven for 10 to 15 minutes until it starts browning. Remove and let cool for 20 minutes or so.

Meringue topping

  • 3 egg whites
  • ½ cup sugar (chopped to castor sugar in the blender)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • remainder of grated zest from lemon
  • 1 dessert spoon of lemon juice

 Beat the egg whites stiffly with a hand mixer (not a machine, they mix too quickly – we’re not mixing cement here y’know). Beat in the cream of tartar, castor sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.

 Assembling the lemon meringue pie

Spoon the lemon curd over the base of the pie crust (you will use about three-quarters of the curd you made earlier). Spoon the meringue over the lemon curd. Place in the pre-heated 180C oven for 20 minutes, turning the heat down to 120C ten minutes after putting the pie in the oven. Best eaten chilled.

Passion fruit (granadilla) ice-cream

We grow the large yellow passion fruit (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa) but have to beat off the monkeys to get at the fruit which is harvested when it ripens and falls to the ground. We preserve the pulp with sugar (1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of pulp), dissolving the sugar in the pulp in a mixing bowl over several days at room temperature before bottling (cover with a plate when not stirring). Kept in the top of the fridge or on a cool dark shelf it remains usable for months. Just give the bottle a shake every few weeks to mix up the pulp and natural syrup.

The ingredient proportions for ice-cream are: for every cup of cream you use 2 egg yolks, three table spoons of sugar, 40ml (1 tablespoon) passion fruit pulp. The basic ice-cream recipe (without the passion fruit) was given to us by a Japanese friend, Takeo Horigutsi, in the late 1980’s.

  •  750 ml (three cups) cream
  • 9 table spoons sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 125 ml (half a cup) of passion fruit pulp syrup

 Vigorously stir the egg yolks and sugar until they form a nice light yellow creamy consistency. Whip the fresh cream until it forms stiff peaks then add slowly to the creamed egg yolk and sugar mixture, stirring all the while, until you have a nice even consistency.

 Pour into a 2-litre ice-cream container, stir in three tablespoons of the passion fruit pulp, close the container and place in the freezer for one hour. Remove from the freezer and stir thoroughly once again, ensuring even distribution of the passion fruit pulp. Cover and return to the freezer for a further five hours.

 Warning: this is a rich, smooth, real ice-cream that rarely lasts more than a day!

A firm favourite – our mild fruit chutney

Once you make your first batch of this delicious fruity chutney, family and friends will give you no peace. After much trial and error we finally settled on a basic practical fruit chutney that makes 5 honey jars at a time. We also make a hot chutney using our own home-grown and dried Cayenne peppers for those who prefer something with a bit of a kick. But it’s the mild chutney that keeps them coming back for more.

Soak for half an hour in 4 cups of hot water:

  • 1 cup dried seedless raisins (or cake mix)
  • 1 cup sliced and diced mixed dried fruit (or dried peaches, apricots etc). If you don’t have, then just add another cup of raisins.

Pour water and fruit into a thick-bottomed pot together with:

  • 2 cups peeled, cored and finely diced apple (3 Granny Smith apples)
  • 2 cups vinegar (we use Pick ‘n Pay brown grape vinegar)
  • 1 diced onion (one large onion or two medium onions)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • half cup (125 ml) tomato sauce
  • quarter cup (60 ml) Holbrook’s Worcestershire Sauce
  • one cup chopped, peeled tomato (or use 1 tin equivalent)
  • half of a level teaspoon of finely ground Cayenne pepper (use two level teaspoons for a hot chutney)
  • two generous pinches of salt

Bring to boil then turn down to simmer, stirring every so often to prevent burning on the bottom, for one and a half to two hours.

When ready, before taking off the simmer, add three heaped teaspoons Maizena cornflour mixed with a little water. Stir until the Maizena thickens.

Ladle into jars. The simplest way is to hold a jar at an angle over the pot and fill using a small pouring jug. Otherwise ladle into a funnel in the jar and use a wooden bamboo skewer to push the fruit lumps through.

Wipe the jars (and their rims) and screw the lids on tight. Date each jar (year, month, date).

You can eat it straight away, but it improves in flavour with keeping for a week or two. Keeps well for months in a cool dark cupboard.

KwaKhehla fail-proof four-fruit marmalade recipe

I still hold firmly to the belief that one is not adequately educated or skilled to useful purpose until you have mastered the art of making marmalade. Marmalade is neither jam nor jelly, but rather (the way I prefer making it) a chunky fruit preserve. Winter is citrus season, so this is the time you lay in a good stock of marmalade to see you through summer. Valuable as home-made gifts, and far preferable to a bottle of cheap red plonk when visiting friends.

All citrus are fair game for marmalade. Traditionally many prefer a mix of one lemon to three oranges. The smaller virtually seedless Valencia (sweet) or seeded Seville (bitter sweet) oranges are preferable to the larger, pithier seedless Navels. For a sweeter marmalade you can use Valencias, prized as a source of stable orange juice which does not become sour when kept (unlike the less stable juice of the Navel orange). But the marmalade afficionado prefers the tarter taste of the Seville orange which also has better setting quality because of its higher pectin content.

Adding a lemon or two will give a sharper, bitter-sweet tang. Adding a grapefruit gives marmalade a distinctive taste and lighter yellow colour. If you don’t like the chunks and just want the jelly, then strain the boiled fruit through a thin cloth (authentic cheesecloth – or kaasdoek – is best) before adding the sugar.

The following recipe has been developed through trial and error over the years and it works every time. As with most of our recipes I have stripped it down to the bare essentials – the stuff that works. Once you get it right, then you can ring in the changes (just jelly, or a few thin strips of peel, for example).

This recipe uses four citrus fruits and makes just over 3 bottles (350ml, 500g size, honey-jars) of marmalade.

You will need: 1 litre of chopped fruit (3 medium oranges and 1 medium lemon; or 6 of the smaller Valencia oranges), 1 litre (4 cups) of white sugar, 4 litres of water.

This is a simple marmalade recipe that works well, especially if you are using Valencia oranges with or without a lemon. Lots of pips! Pips are rich in pectin and there is also some pectin in the pith. The pectin is activated by the overnight soaking.

Cutting up the fruit. The Victorinox 11cm tomato knife with its rounded point and sharp serrated blade is best for this.

Preparation of fruit and soaking overnight: Cut off the thick tops and tails and then cut the fruit in half long ways. Taking a half fruit, face down, cut it in half again (also long ways) and then holding the two quarters together, thinly slice.

Slice all the fruit, place in a bowl (including the pips) with three litres of water. Cover bowl with a plate and leave to soak overnight until the next day.

Making the marmalade the next day: Boil quickly for an hour to an hour and a half to soften the fruit and reduce the water by several litres (you must boil off at least two litres of water). This gives an al dente chewy peel. For a softer peel add a further litre of water before boiling and boil off three litres of water.

After the peel is suitably softened (you should be able to easily push a matchstick through a piece of peel), add 1 litre of sugar (4 cups – you usually use a cup of sugar for each cup of fruit you cut up in the beginning), stir using a wooden spoon and bring back to the boil and then turn down the ring to let it simmer for another hour or so. This is the time to fish out the pips as the seed testa turns a tawny orange and is easily visible as it floats to the top. You have to boil off sufficient of the remaining water until the mixture reaches setting point. Time this takes could be shorter or longer depending on size of pot – water boils off more quickly in a wider pot with a larger surface area.

As the mix thickens it will foam up a little briefly, forming some scum at the side of the pot. Don’t remove the scum, just stir it back into the mix.

Setting test: Test for setting by chilling a bit of the marmalade syrup from the pot. Either put a quarter spoon full on a chilled plate in the freezer and then push with your finger after five minutes. If it wrinkles and threads when you lift your finger it is ready. Or by dripping a few drops of jam in cold water on a plate (a block of ice in the water helps). It is approaching setting when the jam in cold water does not immediately dissolve (as it does at the syrup stage), but leaves a clean path when you draw your finger through it. It is closer to setting when you can draw a thin thread from the marmalade immediately you put it in the cold water. It is ready when you pour a few drops of syrup in the water and part seems to float to the top and a thicker thread forms when you touch the blob and lift your finger.

Bottle it straight away: Pour the marmalade into a large heat-proof jug and using a ladle or small beaker fill the bottles to within a few millimeters of the top. Makes three and a half bottles if there is sufficient pectin. Wipe the bottle with a clean damp cloth, especially around the rim. Screw on the lid tightly. Using a marker pen either write directly on the lid (or on some masking tape stuck on the lid) indicating date, month and year. I also indicate what fruit mix I used (2L 2O for example).

Some people pour melted candle-wax on top to protect the jam from mould. A bit pointless since the wax shrinks from the sides when it sets solid. Better is soaking a pre-cut disk of wax paper in brandy and placing that on top of the marmalade before sealing the jar. Adds a bit of zing to the first few spoonsful! Both are unnecessary, however, if the bottle is clean and you screw on the lid firmly when the marmalade is still hot (hold the jar with a cloth – it really is hot!).

Happy marmalading!

Since it’s my birthday – let them eat cake!

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

The famous phrase – “let them eat cake” – is often attributed to the ill-fated 18th century French queen, Marie Antoinette. The phrase in fact comes from her contemporary, best-seller serial writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

“Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: ‘Let them eat brioche [fancy bread, or cake]’,” he wrote in 1769 in volume six of his largely fictional, but racily scandalous, “Confessions” (published in 1782). He was describing his temptation for pastry to accompany wine he had just stolen.

Just which princess he was referring to is not clear, but it was not Marie Antoinette who was only 14 at the time, and had not yet arrived at the French Court at Versailles.

There are three quite different, but simply excellent never-fail cake recipes that we have adapted and used for many years at KwaKhehla: boiled fruit cake, banana (carrot) cake, and chocolate cake. In today’s blog we talk about the first.

fruit cake

Nan Elsworth’s never-fail boiled fruit cake.

Nan Elsworth’s never-fail fruit cake.

I met Nan Elsworth, 94, on Leisure Island, Knysna, in April 1986. Despite her great age she was still very active with her favourite occupations – gardening and working on her recipe book in the kitchen. She had invited me to tea and served slices of a fruit cake she had baked the day before. It was so good I asked for the recipe which we have used every year since then. I never found out whether she managed to publish her book.

Here is the recipe she gave me:

  • 500g (750 ml or 3 cups) dried cake fruit mix (raisins, sultanas, currents, candied peel)
  • 125g (125 ml or 4oz) butter or margarine
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda
  • 250ml (1 cup) sugar
  • 375 ml (1.5 cups) water

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and boil gently for 25 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool to finger warm (if you can put your finger in and keep it there without screaming, then it is probably cool enough).

Add, in the following order, to the mixture in the saucepan, stirring as you go:

  •  200g (500 ml or 2 cups) sifted cake flour
  • 10 ml (1 heaped teaspoon) baking powder
  • 1 large egg (or two smaller eggs) beaten gently with a fork
  • 1 tablespoon syrup (golden or treacle)

Stir well.

  • Option (highly recommended): add a handful of broken, shelled walnuts or pecan nuts and a handful of glace cherries.

Pour mixture into a medium (21 cm diameter) cake tin with removable bottom, lined on the bottom and sides with grease-proof paper.

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for two hours. If you have an oven that tends to get a bit hot then bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees C and then turn it down to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F) for the remainder of the time.

Turn out the cake while still warm, running a knife between cake and bottom plate to gently part the two. Peel off the grease-paper from the bottom of the cake and let stand on a cake rack to further cool.

At this stage we usually prick the top and pour on half a glass of Old Brown sherry (but you can use brandy or what-ever takes your taste).

Once cool wrap the cake in foil. You can eat it straight away, but it will also keep perfectly well for weeks.

Wonderful to eat, wonderful to give as a present.

Musings from the kitchen, garden and library at KwaKhehla

“Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

The quote, which roughly translated, means “If you have a garden and a library, you will want for nothing” comes from a letter he wrote to his friend Terentius Varro on June 13, 46 BC. It was recorded in Cicero’s “Epistulae ad Familiares” (Letters to his friends), book IX, epistle 4.

In addition to Cicero’s famous public speeches, he wrote on a wide variety of subjects including agriculture and the joys of farming and growing grape vines, olives and wheat. He also wrote about the pleasures of a garden with water, shrubs and trees, where one could retreat to a bench in the shade when hot.

Philosophers such as Epicurus, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato loved gardens for relaxing and discourse. Plato’s school at Akademeia, Athens, was once an olive grove (hence institutions of learning are often figuratively described as the “groves of academe”). So yes, gardening and gardens would seem to have been a good place for meditation for a long time.

Which serves as a useful introductory note to a blog which will largely deal with our experiences in learning to make do with what we had at KwaKhehla. A blog that will deal with cooking, jam-making, vegetable gardening, wood-working and even sculpturing. Liberally sprinkled with information about home personalities, literature, music, anecdotes and viewpoints.

I bought KwaKhehla in early 1992 during a time of great upheaval in my own life and in our country, South Africa. My wife, Fiona, unhappy and filled with foreboding about the future, had left to try and start a new life in England. She hoped that we, or at least our sons, would eventually join her there. A university lecturer then writer and finally a highly skilled academic publishing editor she eventually found peace and happiness in Glasgow, Scotland.

She saw no future for our sons as young whites in a South Africa on the brink of becoming a full democracy with the black majority of South Africans at last being able to vote, govern and decide the future of a country which, for some 400 years, had largely been run by white colonialists.

I was more worried that Michael, then aged 14 and David, 11, would grow up in isolation with me from the rest of the country. At this point I should explain that in my various careers I had been a daily newspaper journalist, a local newspaper editor, a museum natural scientist and finally, at the time, a museum natural science educator.

In the latter role I had devoted myself to teaching township teenagers to help them get through their school exams and improve their abilities in reading, writing and speaking in English. I and my colleagues at the Museum ran after-school “clubs” to boost their academic skills and general knowledge through the resources and facilities we had at the Museum.

For those that needed it I found myself taking on other roles in career guidance, negotiating their entrance to university and technical college, sourcing bursaries and scholarships, providing academic support,  finding appropriate work experience for them and helping them enter the world of earning a living.

It was as a consequence of this that I was able to resolve our own family problem; that of isolation. For by the end of 1992 we had transformed from a family of three, to an up-and-running extended family of seven. Four Zulu-speaking youngsters, experiencing problems in their respective homes and in urgent need of extra coaching in English and studying to improve their academic prowess, had joined us.

Museum workers at the best of times do not receive much in the way of salary. This meant that we had to be extremely resourceful to meet our needs. We had to do everything ourselves, whether cleaning the house, working in the garden, cooking, or laundry. If an appliance or vehicle stopped working we learnt to fix it ourselves or do without. Food we supplemented by learning to grow vegetables and preserve food. Where furniture was needed we learnt to build it ourselves.

One of the first sacrifices was the television. It interfered with all sorts of activities including studying, doing things and conversation. The focus was on learning to use one’s mind as well as learning useful practical skills (in kitchen, garden and workshop). Making and repairing things (whether wood or metal), growing plants, cooking, music, writing and reading (literally thousands of books line the walls) became the pattern of our lives.

Little did I realize that a Rubicon had been crossed in the process and that the impulsive decision to help those I had been teaching, and who had been adversely affected by political and social turbulence, would affect the rest of our lives so profoundly.

Re-union of some of the KwaKhehla family April 2011. With me, from left, are: Phakamani Xaba (senior Chief Horticulturist at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town), David (three-dimensional computer graphics modeller, from Derby, England), Zotha Shange (kinetic sculptor whose fantasy rolling ball machines have found homes in North America, Australia and various parts of South Africa, including the permanent collections of the Natal Museum and the Tatham Public Art Gallery, both in Pietermaritzburg), Phila Mfundo Msimang (researcher and writer, whose first book, on the philosophy and theory of how we communicate, was published earlier this year).

The re-invented family grew. At the start of each year there would be one or two changes as some left to go and study further afield and others came in to take their place. Artists, writers, a sculptor,  graphic designers, engineers, educators, horticulturists, medics, and a lawyer have all cut their teeth here.

So this is our story and what we learnt in the process. All of us have loved living and sharing our lives at KwaKhehla – our rambling, eccentric home and garden. The “monastery on the jungle hill slope” as Phila, 20, the youngest member of KwaKhehla, affectionately calls it. Last year (2011) we celebrated publication of Phila’s first book Analytic Aesthetics: An Inquiry on aspects of the philosophy and theory of communication.

Historian and writer, Stephen Coan, in reviewing it across a three-quarter page spread in The Witness, wrote “As someone who works with words I found the book stimulating, provocative, and enlightening.” Phila’s book, in addition to being published physically, is also available for free download from the publisher’s web-site at http://www.natalia.org.za

Phila Mfundo Msimang

Another cause for celebration this year was when the oldest, Phakamani m’Afrika Xaba, Senior Chief Horticulturalist at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, completed his B.Tech degree and began writing up his M.Sc. thesis. He was in China at the end of 2011 reading a paper on his ground-breaking cycad pollination research at the 9th International Conference on Cycad Biology, in Shenzhen, China, from 1-15 December.

Phakamani m’Afrika Xaba

This year Phakamani and I also completed final page-proofs of our joint book commissioned by Cambridge University Press, Traditionally useful plants of Africa – their cultivation and use, for their Library of Indigenous Knowledge series. The book went on sale in book stores in June (2012).

We have long been interested in studying and growing traditionally-useful indigenous plants of Africa. Phakamani has established Traditionally Useful Indigenous Plant gardens in three of our national botanical gardens, in Pietermaritzburg, Betty’s Bay, and Kirstenbosch.

His particular interest, however, is in the growing and conservation of some of our oldest, and most

Our book!

threatened, plants, the cycads. He curates the country’s oldest, and largest, public cycad collection at Kirstenbosch and travels all over South Africa to study them in the wild.

Presently Phakamani is over in England working  with members of the Low Temperature Biology research group at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew on a scholarship provided by Kew.

Before returning to Kirstenbosch in December he and David, who has been working in Derbyshire as a three-dimensional computer graphics modeller for the past five years, are heading off to spend a week exploring Italy.

Dr Vivek Naranbhai, Zotha Shange, Anand Naranbhai & Dr Raj Naranbhai with sculpture commissioned by Vivek 29 April 2012

In 2012 we also celebrated the third-youngest, Zotha Shange, who designs and builds metal rolling ball machines (when not studying to be a Mechanical Engineer), completing a rolling ball sculpture commissioned for a University of KwaZulu-Natal medical research institute. Zotha has held several local exhibitions of his fascinating machines which are now in in the collection of the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg and in private collections in North America, Australia, and Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. This sculpture was made in brass and copper using high tensile strength silver solder. We hope it finds a happy home at the institute in Durban. It was commissioned by a young medical researcher, Dr Vivek Naranbhai. Vivek is currently a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England where is completing a PhD in biochemical medical research. His particular research interest is studying the HI virus and the efficacy of various agents being developed to combat it.

The year 2013 has been an exciting one so far for three of us at home. So proud of what they have achieved.

Khaya (Mwelase)

Khaya (Mwelase)

Khaya (Mwelase) this year won two awards for “going the extra mile” from NetCare911 and from St Anne’s Hospital, Pietermaritzburg, where he is based as an ambulanceman.

On top of this his has just been selected for three months’ Intermediate Life Support training at the NetCare911 College in Durban, starting April, after passing all the selection exams.

His dedication to becoming a fully-fledged paramedic is exceptional and his track record of service and commitment is legendary. Well done my big!

Senzo (Khanyile)

Senzo (Khanyile)

Senzo (Khanyile), whose presentation at the International Plant Propagation Society conference in the Cape in March 2013 was selected as the best by a student, has been awarded a full expenses paid study trip to Australia in May..

He will visit, work and learn at plant propagation organisations in Australia.

This will enable him to learn new techniques and procedures which he will be able to test and implement at SAPPI’s Shaw Forestry Research Centre in the Midlands where he works as an assistant horticultural researcher.

Well done Senzo! It has been a long, enriching road that we have walked together. You have studied and worked so faithfully and steadily. That dedicated commitment is now bearing wonderful fruit!

Chilli (Zwane)

Chilli (Zwane)

Last, but no means least is the achievement this year of the fifth youngest (or seventh oldest) of the 11 kids – Mthokozisi, whom we call Chilli (Zwane).

Chilli, who was supervising Graphic Designer at “The Witness”, took up a challenging new position in February 2013 as a Deputy Director in the Department of Justiice in Pretoria.

He is working in the publishing division of the department’s education and community outreach section.

We are quite excited because he will be home next week to tell us all about adapting to life on his own in the big city (we are just a village compared with Tshwane).

So proud and happy about his achievements and the fine young man he has become (and missing him terribly!).