Rhubarb or Gooseberry Cake

This book was a present (cheers Anna!) and is fitting for these straitened times, being divided into three sections according to budget – cheap, not so cheap and simply extravagant, each being sub-divided by starters, mains and puddings. There is a short section of salads and vegetable side dishes at the end.

Published by in 1979 by the New English Library, the introduction states that this is not intended to be a foundation for new cooks, but something to extend the repetoire of people who already know their way round a ladle. She begins ‘When I last wrote a book on the subject of ‘entertaining’, things were very different. It was still reasonable to recommend a bottle of Chateau Margaux with the grouse (it was still reasonsble to recommend grouse!)  and I could assume that on special occasionals a helper could be hired or bullied into back stage duties‘.

I don’t know where to start with that quote, suffice to say ‘getting help with entertaining’ usually means letting friends know if wine or beer will go better with what I’m cooking. (For reference, grouse are currently about a tenner each and Margaux is upwards of £100 a bottle.)   The intro also gives plenty of sensible advice about cooking and catering – on planning a three course menu “Try to avoid two fishy things, two meaty things, two creamy things or two boozey things”.

Categorisation of dishes reflects the pricing of thirty years ago and a skim-read  shows most are rich or hearty or both (also, Prue will stuff anything she can). ‘Cheap’ dishes include Greek lemon soup, ham and chicory mornay, pork and sage meat balls,  pizza, orange sorbet, queen’s pudding and apples baked with honey and cider. ‘Not so cheap’ suggestions: fish soup, avocado and bacon pate, tarragon baked eggs, lamb chops with haricot beans, brisket of beef stuffed with oysters, plaice stuffed with courgette, ginger syllabub, coeur a la creme. For a ‘simply extravagant’  menu: oeufs a la villeroy, stilton soup, chicken gallentine,  blanquette of veal, turbot stuffed with lobster and raspberry bouluchons (langue de chat batter made into cups,  filled with pistachio ice cream, topped with raspberry sauce).

Prue Leith is a maven of all things food-related –  caterer, cookery school founder, author of twelve cookbooks  and chair of many boards including currently the School Food Trust. A short biography can be found here and a more revealing current snapshot here.

This recipe comes from the cheap section and while flour, eggs, butter and castor sugar are cheap as chips, gooseberries and  rhubarb certainly aren’t.  Apples sliced up fairly small  or blackberries swiped from a hedge would bring the cost down. (If you want to free fruit in London, some local groups here.)

One thing I noticed when I started this recipe was the relatively small quantities of ingredients compared to the recommended size of tin, but I decided to stick to the recipe as specified. However, when all was mixed, it was clear there was barely enough batter to cover the base of the tin and I whipped up (in a separate bowl), my remaining egg with another 50g of flour, butter and sugar and then folded the two together. Very annoying.

The cake looked lovely fresh out of the oven, with the fruit popping through the surface of the brown sugar topping. After 30 seconds however, the fruit slumped back into the cake, which was so thin, it looked like more like a traybake than a sponge.

Contrary to the warning on the recipe, I found the texture of the cake held up very well after several days and wasn’t ‘hefty’ at all, although the crispiness of the streusel is lost very quickly when you use flour, rather than crumbs. In future, I would add some cinnamon or lemon zest to the cake, but apart from that, it’s perfect.

Goosed by Elly


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