Vickie and Tristan lived in a chic little mews house behind Paddington Station in Central London, but when they inherited a beautiful ‘chocolate box’ thatched cottage with an Aga beside a fishing cove close to Landsend they decided to move, lock stock and buggy to Cornwall with their toddler Tonsley and baby Briar. Before starting a family, Vickie was a full time counsellor and psychotherapist, her husband Tristan is a marine biologist and oyster farmer who needs to travel backwards and forwards to London a lot.
So how did they adjust to a quiet rural life in the country?
Two and half year old Tonsley loves cooking, Vickie loves baking and desperately wanted to get to grips with the Aga – baking in the Aga is a quite a different skill!
There was lots of trial and error, fun and tears and lots of tempting treats but no matter how delicious, there are only so many cakes you can eat!
Their house is just above the little fishing cove of Penberth close to the coastal path which attracts lots and lots of walkers even on week days.
Traditionally the family, like many in Cornwall, had a roadside stall with an ‘honesty box’ where they sold bunches of choice daffodils and lilies in season.
You’ve guessed, Vicky decided to cover the stall with a pretty cloth; she added a posy of flowers and laid out a tempting plate of brownies with a reasonable price tag of around £1 each and waited to see the reaction – they were snapped up.
Next she tried a whole cake and left out a knife so walkers could cut themselves a slice. To her surprise, people normally cut smaller slices than she would have offered and there was often more money in the ‘honesty box’ than she expected plus an occasional little note of delight and appreciation. Cornish cream teas (scones sandwiched with jam and cream) Brownies and Passion cake are all favourites and at Easter she got high praise for her Simnel cake and sold three full cakes within a couple of days.
When something doesn’t quite turn out according to plan Vicky writes a note and shares the story of the ‘wonky cake’ or less than fluffy brownie and her growing fan club of locals and walkers love it and forgive the imperfections – but she tells me she’s definitely improving and is really “getting the hang of the Aga.”
The little cake-stall is over two miles from the nearest local shop and much further from a café so you can imagine, it is, as one delighted walker wrote ‘like a mirage in the desert’
Vicky has added homemade lemonade to her offering in response to a request from a thirsty walker – what a lovely idea – and one that can easily be replicated in many country and coastal areas in Ireland to delight visitors and provide a bit of ‘pin’ money for stay-at-home mums. Here are some of the suggestions.
Vickie Hugh-Jones’s Passion Cake
It’s not surprising that this is a favourite with Cornish walkers.
Serves 8 – 10
Cooking time: 65 minutes approx.
200g/8oz grated carrot
50g/2oz chopped walnuts
2 ripe bananas, mashed
200g/8oz light muscavado sugar
250g/10oz plain flour, sifted
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 level teaspoons baking powder
180ml/6 fl.oz vegetable oil
200g/8oz cream cheese
200g/8oz sifted icing sugar
pulp of 1 passion fruit, strained to separate seeds (zest of 1 orange can be used alternatively)
23cm/9inch round cake tin
Pre-heat oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F. Place walnuts and mashed banana in a bowl. Add sugar and eggs. Sieve flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into the bowl. Add oil and mix all these ingredients together well. Finally add the carrots and combine into the mixture. Place the mixture into a greased and lined 23cm/9″ cake tin and place in the centre of the pre-heated oven and cook for 65 minutes or until golden brown and cooked in the middle. Turn onto a cooling rack.
Put the icing sugar, mascarpone and cream cheese into a bowl and mix until soft and creamy. Gradually beat in enough passion fruit (or orange zest) so that the mixture continues to hold it’s texture. When the cake is cool, spread the mixture over the top. A rough finish will look appropriate.
Coffee Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts
This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake. Everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee.
Makes 2 cakes each serving 8
225g (8oz) soft butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
4 organic eggs
225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 2 tablespoons Irel or Camp coffee essence
Coffee Butter Cream
150g (6oz) butter
330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved
3–6 teaspoons Irel or Camp coffee essence
toasted hazelnuts or walnut halves
2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/ gas mark 4.
Line the base of the tins with circles of greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.
Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and whisk until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, whisking well between each addition.
Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.
Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes. When the cakes are cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tins. Leave to rest in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, and then flip over so the top of the cakes don’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cakes to cool on the wire rack.
To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.
When cold, divide the coffee butter cream evenly and ice the top and sides of the cake, pipe with a few rosettes of coffee butter cream around and on top of each cake. Decorate with the toasted hazelnuts or walnut halves.
Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies
Everyone has their own favourite brownie recipe and indeed we have several – this is definitely one of the greats.
Makes 9 generous brownies.
275g (10oz) chocolate
275g (10oz) butter
5 organic eggs
350g (12oz) granulated sugar
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
110g (4oz) chopped hazelnuts
cocoa powder, for dusting
deep tin 30 x 20 x 5cm (12 x 8 x 2in)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/ gas mark 4. Line the tin with silicone paper.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture becomes a light mousse. Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse. Fold the flour into this mixture. Finally add the chopped hazelnuts. Spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the surface and cook in the preheated oven for 35–40 minutes. The centre will be slightly wobbly. Leave to sit in the tin to cool and cover the tin with a large rectangular plate or tray.
When set, turn out by flipping the tin carefully. Peel off the silicone paper. Place another tray on top of the brownies to turn them right way up. Cut into squares, dust with cocoa and serve.
Homemade Lemonade and Variations
If you keep some chilled ‘stock syrup’ made up in your fridge homemade lemonade is simple to make. They contain no preservatives so they should be served within a few hours of being made. Many different types of citrus fruit may be used.
Makes 825ml (28fl ozs)
450g (1 lb) sugar
600ml (1 pint) water
To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed. This quantity is enough for several batches of lemonade.
Best enjoyed on the day it’s made.
350ml (12fl oz) approx. syrup
1.4L (2 1/2 pint) approx. still or sparkling water
lots of ice
sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm
Juice the lemons and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste. Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.
Orange and Lemonade
350ml (12fl oz) approx. syrup
1.4L (2 1/2 pints) approx. water
sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm
Juice the fruit and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste. Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.
750ml (1 1/4 pint) water
300ml (10fl oz) stock syrup
sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm
Make and serve as above. Taste and add more water if necessary.
Ruby Grapefruit Lemonade
freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
freshly squeezed juice of 4 ruby grapefruit
450ml (16floz) stock syrup
water or sparkling water to taste
Juice the fruit, add the syrup and add water or sparkling water to taste.
Serve chilled with mint ice cubes.
Fresh blackcurrants are difficult to come by
unless you grow your own. There are only six commercial blackcurrant growers in Ireland – all in Wexford – who export their berries so I was delighted to hear that Des Jeffares from Ballykelly Farms Wexford will now sell direct so you can stock up your freezer for the Winter. The quality is excellent. Des is a member of Good Food Ireland so you can out find more info about his blackcurrants at www.goodfoodireland.ie/ballykelly – or contact him directly 087-2867455.
Look out for Irish blueberries – they’ll be in the shops until early September so enjoy them while you can. John Seager at at Derryvilla Farms, Portarlington, Dublin sells fresh blueberries, contact: email@example.com, 0578642882. Claire Phelan from Rose Cottage Fruit Farm in Co Laois sells blueberries at the following farmers markets… Mahon Point on Thursdays, Midleton and Limerick Milk Market on Saturdays and directly from their farm – contact Claire on 087-2700121 (See my article next week for Blueberry and Cinnamon Sugar Slice recipe)
Stop the Food Waste Campaign at the EPA has done research that proves that 50% of the lettuce we buy ends up in the bin – they offer this advice to make your lettuce last longer. “Make sure to take the lettuce out of the bag when you buy it and wash it as soon as possible. Spin in a salad spinner and store in the fridge still in the spinner. Leave a small amount of water in the bottom of the spinner and top up if needed. This keeps the lettuce fresh, it lasts longer and you have a ready supply of washed lettuce.”