Category: Seasonal recipes

From the Witch and other Cooks whom the Witch admires


Rhubarb is a surprisingly good cake ingredient.  There are many recipes for rhubarb cake but this one is the simplest.  It is made in a rather old-fashioned way, but sometimes, the old ways are the best.  


Before you start…

Take 3 large eggs and weigh them in their shells.  Whatever their weight it, you need that amount of butter, sugar and flour.


  • Eggs, 3 large
  • Butter, see above. It must at room temperature and soft.
  • Sugar, see above
  • Self-raising flour, see above
  • baking powder, 1 tsp
  • Rhubarb, about 3 sticks
  • Mascarpone, 125g (half of a 250g tub)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

You will need 2 x round cake tins 18 cm or 7 1/2 inches

 To make

  1. Heat oven to 180/350 or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Grease the cake tins and line with grease proof paper.
  3. Chop the rhubarb into pieces about the length and width of your little finger.
  4. Weigh out the ingredients, as described above.
  5. Cream the butter and sugar together, until the mix is light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each egg.
  7. Sift the flour and baking powder together, and gently fold in to the mix with a large metal spoon.
  8. Put the mix into the two tins and scatter equal amounts of rhubarb pieces on top of each, enough to cover in a single layer. The rhubarb sinks into the mix as it cooks.
  9. Put in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes, until the cake feels firm to the touch.
  10. Remove from the oven, allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes.  Then carefully turn out onto a wire wrack and peel off the greaseproof paper.
  11. When cool, spread the mascarpone in the middle, sandwich together and dust with icing sugar.

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A word to the wise: this cake will be eaten very quickly!



Woodruff, or Galium odoratum to give it its botanical name, is a pretty little plant which can be found growing in beech woodland.  It forms dense mats, and so is a good ground cover for gardens, looking very fresh and lovely when it flowers in the middle of May.


Fresh, the plant has a mildly pleasant smell.

BUT… when you dry it for a few days, it gives off a powerful aroma of almonds and maraschino cherries, and as such it is the key ingredient for Maibowle, or Bowl of May, a traditional German punch to celebrate the coming of the summer.

To dry the woodruff: pick a small bunch of about 9 stems, tie some string around them and hang up in an airy place for a few days.



  • Woodruff, a small bunch
  • Strawberries, sliced
  • A bottle of sweet German wine
  • A bottle of sparkling white wine, ideally Sekt

You will also need a large glass bowl.

  1. Pour the sweet white wine into the bowl, add the strawberries and the woodruff, and steep for about an hour.
  2. Add the sparkling wine and stir gently.
  3. Ladle into glasses, say Prost! and welcome in the summer.
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A word of caution: two glasses is delightful, but don’t overdo it.


There will be one book in your kitchen, different from all the rest.  You can recognise it by the grease splatters on the pages, the pencilled comments you have made in the margins  and the binding coming apart. These are the signs that you have a great cook book on your shelf.  Mine is Claudia Roden’s ‘The Book of Jewish Food’. It’s a celebration of tastes and places and people and jokes and feasts and families and friends and vanished worlds. It was a revelation to me and made me realise that food is about so much more than just eating.

Inspirational cookery writer, Claudia Roden.

Claudia Roden’s recipe for Pishkado kon Salsa de Tomat, or Fish with tomato sauce, is one I make often because it is quick, simple, classy and delicious.  She says that fish cooked with tomatoes is characteristic of every Judeo-Spanish community. It is done with whole fish such as red mullet, fresh sardines, mackerel, or with fish steaks or fillets.  I make it with cod pieces, a thriftier alternative, which works very well.

The language, by the way, is Ladino, spoken by Sephardic Jews of mediterranean background. It is based on medieval Spanish, with some Hebrew, Greek, and Turkish words. If you are a Spanish speaker, you will see how close it is to Pescado con salsa de tomato.  


Serves 4


  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 small, mild or semi-hot pointed green pepper, sliced thinly (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt & pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 kg (2lb) fish pieces, or 4 individual fish
  • 4 TB finely chopped dill, or flat leafed parsley

To make

  1. In a large frying pan, fry the garlic in oil till it begins to change colour.
  2.  Add the tomaotes and green pepper, season with sugar and a little salt and pepper, and cook 10 minutes with the lid off, until the sauce is thick.
  3. Then add the lemon juice and the fish.  Cook 10 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and flaky.
  4. Add the dill or flat leafed parsley a few minutes before the end.


  • In Salonika, Nicholas Stavroulakis adds a little white wine and a pinch of cinnamon, but no lemon, to the sauce.
  • In Derby, I make it with a green jalapeno chilli and a 400g tin of tomatoes and serve it with rice.


You waited a long time for this, didn’t you!  (See previous post ‘R is for rhubarb’) Well, it’s worth it because a dish of rhubarb and custard is more versatile than you think.

Remember the penny sweets from your childhood?  The sticky paper bag with Parma violets, black jacks, licorice laces and … rhubarb and custard boiled sweets.  And you can still get them!  But I digress.

All I wanted to say that rhubarb and custard is a classic British combination, delightful if made with real custard, but oh-so-horrid if not.  Here is a way to channel childhood nostalgia into an excellent cake recipe where you can use cheap custard. (Save the real stuff for a sophisticated Rhubarb Fool).


Rhubarb & custard cake
Rhubarb and Custard Cake


  • Cooked rhubarb (see previous post)
  • Softened butter, 250g (it must be soft)
  • Ready-made custard (Ambrosia or Morrisons cheap stuff), 150g pot
  • Self-raising flour, 250g
  • Baking powder, 1 tsp
  • Large eggs, 4
  • Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
  • Golden caster sugar, 250g
  • Icing sugar for dusting

To make

  1. Grease and line a 23 cm loose bottomed cake tin.
  2. Heat oven to 180C, Gas Mark 4.
  3. Reserve 3 TB of the custard in a small bowl.
  4. Beat the rest of the custard together with the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  5. Spoon one third of the mix into the tin, add some of the rhubarb, then dot with one third more of the cake mix and spread it out as well as you can.
  6. Top with some more rhubarb, then spoon over the remaining cake mix, leaving it in rough mounds and dips, rather than trying to be too neat about it.  Scatter the rest of the rhubarb over the batter, then dot the remaining custard over the top.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes until risen and golden, then cover with foil and bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes more.  It’s ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the tin, then dredge with icing sugar when cool.
  9. Enjoy!
Rhubarb and Custard: remember them?

This recipe comes from the Good Food magazine.



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Such a brilliant colour combination, you would never have thought it up yourself. There are some Unexpected Outcomes from cooking rhubarb, so read on.



  • Rhubarb stalks, about 6
  • Runny honey, 3 TB
  • Cinnamon Stick, 1
  • Orange 1, juice

To make

  1. Heat oven to 180/350/Gas Mark 4.
  2. If your rhubarb still has the leaves on, cut them off and compost them.  They should not be eaten as they contain oxalic acid, which is not good for you.  The stalks are fine, so trim away any manky bits , then cut into pieces the length of your little finger.
  3. Put into an oven-proof dish made of ceramic or glass, drizzle over the honey and squeeze over the orange juice.  Break the cinnamon stick and tuck it in.
  4. Cover with tinfoil, or a lid, and cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the rhubarb is tender, yet still retains its shape.
  5. This is your basic unit of rhubarb. It is delicious just on its own like this, or the classic English way is with custard (but use the posh stuff), or a dash of cream.

However, using the basic unit, you can go on to other things.


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Rhubarb produces a lot of pink juice when you cook it.  It makes a wonderful Bellini.

Strain the juice into a jug .  Fill champagne glasses about a quarter full with rhubarb juice and top up with chilled Prosecco.  Mmmm!

For other Unexpected Outcomes, see the next post.






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Although April is green and lovely, for the people of the past, it was ironically the start of the ‘hungry gap’, when last winter’s stored roots were eaten and there was not much by way of fresh vegetables until June. For those who had to grow their own food and eat seasonally because they had no choice, nettles must have been a welcome gift.

So here is a recipe for Green Nettletop Soup, made with the tender top leaves of nettles.  When the nettles are cooked, they loose their sting. But don’t put raw nettles in your mouth! Nettles have a definite green taste, a bit like spinach.

When you pick them, choose only the tender top leaves and wear rubber gloves. (See previous post N is for Nettles.)



  • Leeks, 2 large
  • Potato, 1 about the size of your fist
  • Nettle tops, about 2 hand fulls
  • Oil for frying 1 TB
  • Stock 1 litre
  • Salt and black pepper

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To make

  1. Remove the manky outer leaves of the leek.  Slit the green part vertically to expose the lurking grit, and wash carefully under cold running water to remove it.  Slice the leeks finely into rings.
  2. Peel and chop the potato into small pieces, about 1 cm cubed.
  3. Wearing your Marigolds, chop the nettle tops small.
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan, and gently fry the leeks, taking care not to let them burn. Add the potato and stir.
  5. Add the nettles and the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer very gently for about 30 minutes.
  6. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve in bowls and enjoy the pure flavours of this delicious soup.

Serves 4

And finally a bit of Nettle Lore…

It is said that in the First World War, the uniform of the German army was made from nettle cloth.  Ray Harwood, Professor of Textile Engineering at De Montfort University, heads up a research project into the use of nettles to make sustainable textiles. The stem fibres are woven into a yarn that is cool in summer and warm in winter, a bit like linen.

More remarkable though, are the remains of  nettle cloth worn by bronze-age Danes in the National Museum of Denmark.

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Nettle cloth








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Alder thicket

This afternoon I went for a wet, wet winter walk in the fields and woods around Osmaston village.  The ground was sodden, the rivers and streams swirling with brown water and every so often, more rain poured from the steel-grey sky.


However, I was there by choice, in the company of good friends and a dog, and in spite of the squelching mud underfoot, we had a very enjoyable time.  The first snowdrops were spotted in the hedgerow.

Once we got home, it was good to warm up again with a bowl of soup.  I’d made it earlier in the day and was rather pleased with how it turned out.  I’ve called it Cheat’s Tomato Soup because it has the satisfying gunky taste of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup, but it is secretly healthy and dead easy to make.  So without further ado, here is the recipe.


  • Onion, 1
  • Garlic, 1 clove
  • Oil for frying, 1 TB
  • Large tin of reduced sugar baked beans (400g*), 1
  • Large tin of tomatoes (400g*), 1
  • Marigold stock powder, 1 tsp
  • Fresh red chilli, 1, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • To serve:  creme fraiche* (half fat) and one spring onion chopped finely, or chives

To make

  1. Chop the onion coarsely. Mince the garlic.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes to soften.  Add the garlic and stir.
  3. Add the beans and the tomatoes plus one tin full of water.  Bring to the boil.
  4. Stir in the stock powder and the chilli. Turn the heat right down, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and liquidise.  If it’s too thick, you can let it down with stock.
  6. Serve with a spoonful of creme fraiche and scatter the spring onion in an artistically japanese sort of way over the surface.



*If you live in America, the imperial equivalent is 14.1 oz, and I think creme fraiche would be sour cream