Grow your own Cake: vegetables

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I’ve never really known what to call my husband on here or in the big bad world of social media. So many other writers have already picked good names for their loved ones that both protects their identity and projects a good image of them and their relationship. Laetitia Maklouf calls her husband the Hunk, others use names like ‘Best Beloved’. I don’t want to go down the ‘Him Indoors’ route – our marriage is alive and kicking thank you very much – nor do I want to be reaching for the vomit bag. Suggestions on a postcard please!

Anyway, my husband doesn’t like carrot cake. This is both a pity (I do), and a Good Thing, (capital G, T) for my waistline. However, it’s nothing to do with the carrots – it’s the additional dried fruit and nuts that are used that he’s not a fan of. So, this year my veg plot will be taking a new direction, and devoted to all things cake. By the autumn I hope to have developed a recipe or two for veg-based cakes not including dried fruit and nuts, and to have eaten a lot of other veggie cakes in the meantime! I imagine I’ll be using lots of recipe books, but to start off, you can’t go wrong with Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth, which has a good number of fruit and veg cakes, not always in the combinations you’d expect. (The picture above is of her recipe for pear and parsnip cake).

Subsequent posts will look at fruit for fillings, jams, jellies and drizzles; herbs and flowers for flavourings; and edible flowers for decorations, but let’s start off with the veg.

Root vegetables are the classic ingredients for cakes, and were used widely during the Second World War to add bulk, moisture (in place of eggs) and sweetness to cakes baked in the face of rationing. I will therefore be growing carrots, good long thick ones (steady on) such as ‘Kingston’ and ‘Resistafly’ that will be easy to grate.

Beetroot, so good in chocolate cakes, will be sown successionally from spring to late summer to ensure a regular supply. It’s hard to beat ‘Boltardy’ for this kind of sowing schedule, but it will be fun to experiment with some different coloured varieties to see how they affect the cake and to find the sweetest roots.

Then there will be parsnips and squash for the autumn and winter, and courgettes for the summer. Savoury muffins often include spinach, so I’ll grow some of that too. There’s a rhubarb crown in what used to be the neighbour’s garden, so I can pinch some from there! My north-facing, heavily shaded, plot is unlikely to give good crops of sweet potatoes and sweetcorn, but if you have the space and sun these would be good baking crops too.

There is never any point to growing things you are not going to eat. If you’re a baker, why not grow veg specifically to bake with? Growing vegetables for cake gives the veg plot a new purpose – and if you’re trying to encourage children to eat vegetables, getting them to help grow the plants, then serving them up as cake, is probably the easiest way there is! Even if you’re an urban baker with no garden, try growing a few crops in pots – beetroot is ideal, and you can get smaller carrot varieties such as the ‘Chantenay’ types that will fit into a pot or windowbox.

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